Mr. J. Verwelius
Brugkerk, Waddinxveen, Holland.
Ascension Day 1977.
“And it came to pass, while He blessed them. He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.” Luke 24.51.
Jesus led His disciples outside Bethany and arrived with His disciples at the Mount of Olives. For He knows that the time has come for Him to return to the Father. He gives them a final address which we read in Acts. He told them not to depart from Jerusalem but wait for the promise of the Father – the Holy Spirit, about which He spoke so often. “When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself;.. .He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.” Then the Saviour speaks for a short while about the establishment of His kingdom; for we read in Acts, the disciples asked Him, “Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” Then He stretches forth His hands in blessing over His disciples and also His Church. The text says “While He blessed them He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.” It is this final section which takes our special attention today.
It is Ascension Day; again God’s Church may remember this sacred event. Friends, it has a rich meaning for it has a place in the chain of sacred events. Christ is here as Mediator between God and Man, He will continue the work God gave Him to do. On earth He suffered Himself to be sacrificed as the Lamb of God; as the only High Priest He has shed the blood of reconciliation. Now this Saviour, this only High Priest burns with longing to go with His blood-bought Church and appear before the face of His Heavenly Father. For friends, where the High Priest is, there also is His people.
In the old covenant, the High Priest had the names of the twelve tribes on a breast plate. The great High Priest carries the Church on His heart. When He had been received into heaven, taken up into heaven, the doors of heaven opened for Him, then. His Church, with Him has been placed in heaven. Paul speaks rightly, “Our conversation is in heaven from where we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
On Ascension Day God’s church must remember. How necessary it is that we mind heavenly things there where Christ is, for, if it is well with them. His people are strangers and pilgrims in one land. They, like Abraham look “for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” Is that manifest in
‘your life? Is that true? For even after we have received grace our life can be so earth centred. Even on Ascension Day it may be possible that our thoughts come no higher than earthly things. How many times we are putting the tent pegs of our earthly tabernacle deep into the earth’! Surely we should say, “here we have no continuing city”. But do we seek the one that is to come… ? Ascension teaches all His people that we do not belong to the earth – in the world but not of the world. We should be “Homesick” in our hearts “whom have we in Heaven but thee and whom on earth desire but thee. ?”
“Taken up into heaven.” This also means that Christ is there for the good of His Church. In the Heavenly Sanctuary is He working for His Church. Did He not say in John 14, “Let not your heart be troubied; ye believe in God, believe also in Me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” So He is there working for His people in heaven.
Christ is also the Advocate. He appears before the Father with the blood of reconciliation. He shows the Father His finished work. Â“Father see them through Me.” He is the praying High Priest who said to Peter, “I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not. “But the High Priest is also the king. “To him is given all power in heaven and in earth.” The Heavenly Sanctuary is His Palace. He is there, sitting at the Father’s right hand. His Ascension to heaven, is the second ,of His Exaltation, and sitting on His Father’s right hand the third part. There is “He crowned with glory and honour” and, from there He gathers His Church, looks after and protects His Church. How rich and comforting it is that this day we may each remember God’s church has a King, a priestly King who lives and labours for His Church, and as Paul says in Romans, “who also prays for
Possibly you may say, how lonely I am in this life, does no one think of me? It may be true that you think, has God forgotten to be gracious and in anger shut up His tender mercies? But remember, there on the right hand of the Father sits Jesus Christ and He sees all His own and cares for them. It is the king of the Church who protects and saves them. How marvellous, friends, in this time when everything appears to be collapsing, how marvellous is the King who governs His Church, and continues to go out on that white horse with the gospel message, conquering and to conquer. We do not have to be discouraged, how unspeakable, because we know Jesus Christ – He lives and He is the King who gives the most blessed gifts excelling what any earthly king may give.
I CAN tell you friends, it is worth the struggle to serve this King, to kneel down before Him, to learn His ways. How marvellous it is if we can say, “The Holy One of Israel is our King.” He sits on the right hand of the Father. The powers that attack and tempt me, they prevail not against this King because, by His word and Spirit, He protects me and grants me and grants His peace which passeth all
understanding. So I am protected and defended. Paul writes in Philippians 4.6-7, “Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
He was taken up into heaven. But also notice how He was taken up into heaven. It is written in the text “that it came to pass while He blessed them He was parted from them.” In verse 50 we read again “He lifted up His hands and blessed them”: I would like to emphasize the second part of the text, “And blessed them.”
This Mediator between God and Man, He went, blessing, to heaven. What a rich comfort is in this word, what an encouraging message! You know at the end of a church service it is a good custom that the minister gives the benediction. ** So Christ does the same -the great Office Bearer, and Servant of His Church. At the end of His service on earth, He stretched forth His hands in blessing over His disciples and at the same time over His Church. But His service on earth was more than preaching, more than praying; His service is the work of reconciliation which the Father appointed for Him. For this reason He was laid in the manger at Bethlehem; for this reason He became poor “that ye through His poverty might be rich.” He suffered Himself to be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, to be scourged, to be subjected to the judgement of the Jews and to be hanged on the cross of Golgotha. In this way He paid the ransom for sinners. He said Himself, in Matthew, “the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister and give His life a ransom for many.”
The hands He now stretches forth are nail-pierced hands and therefore are truly blessing hands; pierced through on the cursed wood of the cross for a people who lay under the judgement of God and deserved to die. Do we know ourselves in this way? Have we knelt under the judgment of God? “Lord, I deserve to sink under Thy judgement eternally.” Look, then to those nail-pierced hands of Jesus that are stretched forth in blessing. “The chastisement of our peace was upon Him and with His stripes we are healed.” He was nailed on the tree, died a cursed death, and so took away the curse for all who believe in Him. Therefore is He our peace, for as the great and only High Priest has He made peace through His blood.
When in the Old Testament the High Priest, on the great Day of Reconciliation, had sprinkled the blood of reconciliation on the golden mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant, then He came out to the Outer Court where the people were assembled. The priest stretched forth His hands to bless the people and in that blessing was expressed the fruit of Christ’s finished work of reconciliation. The Old Testament was a picture of this work – a shadow of the true work which was to come.
Jesus Christ is the only true High Priest taken up on the Mount of Olives after He had, by His death of bloodshedding, sealed the new and eternal testament of the covenant of grace; sealed it when He aid, “It is finished.” And see, friends, this Jesus stretches forth His hands in blessing over the Church and He goes higher and higher to heaven, to show His Church that He goes to Heaven to give the blessings of His work to them. The poet says of Him, in Psalm 68 ‘thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive, thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them.” What a rich Christ! What a wonderful event the Ascension! In blessing He departs from His church on earth and His Church sees Him go in the assurance that her King and Priest will never withdraw His hands of blessing. No; it is in blessing He goes. What a comfort to be able to live under those blessing hands; they are the same hands which were laid on the repentant heart. It was those hands that were nailed on the cross and those hands which “shower sweet blessings down.”
Today it is Ascension Day, let us ask each other, are you seeking these blessing hands? Do you find it difficult to do without Him as YOUR Saviour? Even now, be persuaded, in Him only and only in Him is salvation for sinners. Peter speaks further on, “there is no other name, under heaven, given among men whereby we must be saved”
– that is the name of Jesus. We by our sins deserve eternal death from which we can never redeem ourselves. Is that our grief today? Do we sit with sadness and sorrow over this fact so that we have to say, “How shall it ever be possible for me to find peace with Thee -such a sinner as I am, so sinful, so damnable.” Then you have to say, ‘Lord, it is impossible, if I look to myself it is impossible.” But this morning I say to you, look to those nail-pierced hands of this blessed Christ. He gave His hands to be pierced to carry away the curse of sin and to grant us the blessings of reconciliation. In blessing He departed that there still might be salvation for damnable sinners.
How terrible it will be if you do not esteem such a Saviour; then, on the day of His return those same hands will send you to your eternal misery. Now He is still the Saviour and we can still preach Him as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. However deep you sink, however guilty and corrupt your life has been, there is reconciliation in Him and salvation for the greatest of sinners. If you despise Him, later He is your Judge. To those who love His appearing – they will hear, “Come in thou blessed of the Father inherit the kingdom prepared for you before the foundation of the world.” But all those who have despised Him; who went their own sinful ways without Him; who did not acknowledge Him and who counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing – will suddenly and sadly realise their sin. How terrible it will be when we must say, “Lord I did not want Thee to be king over my life.”
Therefore today we may proclaim to you, young and old, whoever you are, Jesus Christ is still the Saviour, the perfect
Saviour who can renew your life, who can redeem you, from your sins, and bring you into the blessed experience of communion with God. Young people, does it mean anything to you when, in the events of your life and through His word He says, “My son, my daughter, give me your heart.” Then is your life happy when you live under those blessing hands. Maybe your life is consumed by loneliness, disappointment and cares, but be assured, in Him is true Peace and Life, “for, whosoever believeth in Me shall live.” Seek it in Him, nowhere else. This Jesus who has gone to heaven as the Saviour of the Church shall presently come again. Then it is too late. Then the door will be closed forever, you have despised the day of grace and the day of salvation.
Some people call the time between the Ascension and the Second Coming the Intermediate Time. It is in this time we live. How dark are these times as we observe what happens in the world around us! It seems as though the power of the Evil One will conquer. How many things seem to appear under the curse! But how marvellous on Ascension Day when we may look unto Him. Through the clouds we may see Him who is crowned with glory and honour. We may see Him, too, with those blessing hands. “In blessing He stretched forth His hands over them.” We may still, even today, proclaim to each other that His hands “shower sweet blessings down”. For all who feel they will sink away in the miry pit of sin, those Hands will lift them up, put them on a rock and put a new song in their mouth – praise to God. Truly those hands “shower sweet blessings down”. Do you know in your life whether those hands have raised you up? Do you know whether you are carried in those hands?
How unspeakable! No one can pluck us from those hands! This is the great privilege of those who have found life in those hands. When He holds us fast – the High Priest, the Good Shepherd, then He keeps us most firmly. It is a great wonder, an eternal wonder, not that we keep Him fast but that He keeps us fast! Then may we walk in the path of sanctification and say with the Apostle, “but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which I also am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” When you know you are held fast in those hands you are blessed and when sheltered in those hands you are rich. Through those hands streams the peace of the Father into your heart. Then you experience what He said, “My peace I give unto you, my peace I leave with you, not as the world giveth give I unto you.” Never, friends will those hands let you go! Child of God, your name is written in the palms of His hands, it is engraved there, and the Saviour says, “none shall pluck them out of my hand.” What a rich comfort!
So many times you move between fear and doubt, between fear and unbelief; How low one can come! But be assured He keeps you fast and He will finish the work He has begun in your life. What a comfort are those blessing hands of Jesus, now, for His Church and for each individual member. In temptation and conflict they may look unto those hands by the eye of faith and they may know in all
temptations and dark billows that go over their heads, the gates of Hell will not prevail against His Church.
His blessing hands can lead and protect. Sometimes His people have to go through deep and dark ways, through cares and
disappointments. How wonderful is it when we may experience that those blessing hands keep us fast. His hands are helping hands full of power.
It is understandable when the disciples saw Him “taken up” that they worshipped Him; and doubtless they saw a little of the glory and majesty of those hands. They knew He was gone and yet He was with them. He did not forget them. So “the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy”. If we, too, look up in that way to the blessing Saviour, then we too shall worship Him for, in Him we have everything; then through faith we may travel on our way with great joy.
However dark it may be (surely the struggle is sometimes fierce and strong), however dark the way may be by looking unto Him they know that nothing, no, nothing, will separate them from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. Yes, it is yet a short time, “a tribulation of ten days”, then will be the final victory for His people. Then all His people will inherit the heavenly kingdom. The separation from Christ will have passed. He will wipe all tears from off their faces, those tears of difficulty and care, those tears of backsliding and going astray. There will be eternal happiness. To all who look for His appearing – lift up your hearts to heaven and know your
redemption is nigh. So, even now we may sing:
“Let all the streams in joyous union
Now clap their hands and praise accord,
The hills rejoice in glad communion,
And skip for joy before the Lord,
He comes. He comes to judge the people,
Arrayed in truth and equity;
The world shall He redeem from evil,
And righteous shall His judgement be.”
Psalm 98 verses 7,8,9 paraphrased in
The Psalter of Dutch Churches in America.
*Translated from the Dutch by Mrs W. Van Dam.
** At the end of the service in Dutch churches the minister stands with arms outstretched over the congregation as he repeats the words of the Blessing.
*** Part of a well known Dutch hymn.