Back In Heaven Where He BelongsErwin W. Lutzer | April 3, 2005
Selected highlights from this sermon
After Jesus rose again, He did not stay on the Earth for long. He left to His royal seat in heaven, having accomplished His task on earth.
His current activity in heaven should instill confidence in every Christian. Jesus has a right to be in heaven, and He continues to provide strength, direction, and representation for His people. The good news is this: He is coming soon, and His public coronation on the earth will put all things at rest.
Science has made some wondrous strides in the last few decades but there is one realm in which science cannot penetrate, and that is on the other side of the curtain that we call death. There is some scientific evidence for the continuous existence of the soul beyond death, but nobody really knows the condition of that soul. In fact, when it comes to what is happening on the other side, many people are given to speculation only. Most of the other religions of the world are given to speculation if you ask them what Krishna is doing or Bahal or Muhammad. But in the case of Jesus it is entirely different because He not only had a near death experience, as some people do (and then try to come back and tell us what lies on the other side of the grave), He actually was dead, very dead, and yet is alive forevermore, Amen. He is qualified to tell us what lies on the other side. Furthermore, we know something of what He is doing on the other side, not as much as we would like to know, perhaps, but we do know what Jesus is doing now that He is dead, buried, raised and ascended.
The Scripture says that Jesus ascended into heaven. It is found in many passages there in the Gospels, but I’ve chosen a few verses from the book of Acts. It says in chapter 1 beginning in verse 9, “And when He had said these things, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.’”
Now let’s be clear that when Jesus Christ ascended from the Mount of Olives His body actually moved. It went up. He didn’t disappear in the sense of being vaporized. I mean He actually disappeared because eventually people couldn’t see Him, but His body continued on that trajectory. Some people say it’s not scientifically valid because “up,” if you’re at the Mount of Olives, may be “down,” if you’re in Australia. So His ascension may have been a descension. Well, the Scripture says that Jesus passed through the heavens and beyond the heavens.
Heaven is presented in the Bible as both a place, the very dwelling place of God, but it is also a state, which means that Jesus went from the material world to a whole new order of reality. We wouldn’t call it the spiritual realm lest we begin to think that His body was a spirit. It was not. He said, “Handle me for I have flesh and bones,” but it was totally remade. It was a glorified body but still had nail prints. The arrival of Jesus in heaven was a great event because it was the first time that perfect humanity arrived in heaven. It was the first time.
You see Jesus was God, and in that sense His Spirit permeated the Universe, and He was in heaven, having glory, but now that He came to Bethlehem, and took on humanity so that you have the divine nature and the human nature joined, it is the first time that a human being with a human body, albeit a glorified body, was in heaven. You say, “Well, what about the saints of the Old Testament?” Yes, they were in heaven, too, but their spirits were there and their spirits took on the function of a body. But the resurrection, even for them, as it will be for us, is still future.
So Jesus arrived in heaven, and when He arrived it is the first time now that a man with nail prints is at the very center of the whole Universe. I can imagine the angels singing, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.” If Jesus had not ascended, His work on earth would have had no effect. When you trust Jesus as Savior you are trusting in His death for sinners. You are also believing in His resurrection, and then as part of that you believe also in His ascension, in His authority, in His greatness and in His triumph.
Now what we’d like to do in the next few moments is to show you Scripturally, by quoting a number of different Scriptures, how the ascension of Jesus was proof of the rights that He had as the God-man, and in the process we’ll discover that the ascension applies to us, and we’re going to leave here today as transformed individuals. That’s why we came. We came to worship. We came to learn, and we came to leave differently than we came.
The three rights of Jesus! First of all, it signified His right to ownership. When Jesus ascended into heaven nobody asked whether He had a right to be there. Nobody had to be there to open the door. There was no mediator. There was no one who was there on His behalf. He did not have to plead for mercy. When He marched in, everyone (all the hosts of heaven) knew that He was where He belonged. He had the right to be there, first of all, because of who He is. Who is He? He’s the Creator. Colossians 1:16 says, “By Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created through Him and for Him.”
Let me say it again. “All things were created through Him and for Him,” and He’s greater than the Universe that He created. He has to be. That’s why the Bible says that He fills all things beyond our imagination, first of all because of who He is, and secondly because of what He has done.
There is a phrase in the book of Hebrews that may trouble you. It says in Hebrews 5 that Jesus learned obedience by the things He suffered, and being made perfect, He became the heir of eternal salvation. You say, “Well, did He have to be made perfect? Wasn’t He perfect?” Yes, of course, He was perfect in His person, but until He ascended into heaven He was not yet perfect in the work that God had given Him to do. He had a right to be in heaven as the Son of God, but now He had a right to be in heaven as the Son of Man. He had a right to be in heaven as Creator, but now He had a right to be in heaven as Savior. He had a right to be in heaven by His divine nature and natural right. Now He had an earned right, and so all of heaven was filled with breathless wonder at this mission that was accomplished.
No wonder the early Church believed that Psalm 24 should be interpreted as Jesus Christ’s arrival in heaven. “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.” Jesus arrives there because of who He is.
He says in the 17th chapter of John, “I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work that You gave Me to do. And now, Father, glorify Me in Your own presence with the glory that I had with You before the world existed.” He comes back now as a man to reclaim what is rightfully His – what He owns.
Secondly, it also shows His right to headship – to ownership, to headship. The Scripture says in Ephesians 1 that Jesus is above all principalities, all powers and every name that is named, both in this world and in the world to come, and the Lord has put all things under His feet, and then it says, “And made Him to be the head of the Church, His body.” He is the head of the Church, and as such, He gives us strength. Ephesians 4 says that because He is the head, every ligament and every joint is helped and given strength, and given unity because the head has arrived in heaven.
Now this morning I am sure that you looked at your head. As I look over this congregation I can tell that you look far too pretty to think that you never looked at your head. But your head has the same life as your feet and your fingers and as your toes. Jesus is our head in heaven, and as such He gives us life, and He gives us strength.
I have a pastor friend who has a disability, but he’s a marvelous preacher. And he was telling me, “You know, I sometimes get so tired,” and I said, “I can identify with that, but isn’t it wonderful to know that even when we are tired, Jesus isn’t? Even when we are weary, Jesus isn’t. His work and His power keep going on. He strengthens us.
Secondly, He represents us. “We have now a high priest who has passed through the heavens – Jesus Christ.” And He is there at the right hand of the Father representing us to the Father. In fact, in Ephesians 2 it says that we are there with Him in heaven already, legally at the right hand of God the Father, too, and He stands in for us as our representative and as our high priest.
You know, I could win a court case in California today without even being there if I had an attorney who was there and if there was a court case like that happening. In the very same way, I am winning victories in heaven because of my high priest. I am already legally in heaven. When you die, there is no big hassle at the border because you’ve already been there with Jesus, and you are welcomed as if you are Jesus. And so Jesus is there at the right hand of God the Father, and He is our high priest. There is one God and one Mediator between God and man, the Man, Christ Jesus, and there He is. He stands in for us.
It was Charles Wesley who said,
“Five bleeding wounds He bears;
Received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers;
They strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, oh forgive,” they cry,
“Forgive him, oh forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die.”
He represents us. He also welcomes us. I love that passage in Acts 7 where Steven is being stoned and as the rocks are flying, the Bible says that the heavens opened and he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Now you’ve heard me say this before but God wants you to hear it again. In all the other instances it says that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father. This is the only instance in the New Testament where He is standing at the right hand of God, the Father. It is almost as if He is saying, “Steven, look, be faithful unto death because I am here to welcome you home.” And Jesus stands there.
What about those who trust Christ as Savior? They are welcomed by Jesus into heaven and need not have an intermediate stop. They go from this life to the life to come because of Jesus.
Now some of you don’t have that assurance, and I can tell you why. First of all, maybe it’s because you have a ritualistic faith, the belief that somehow you are saved by baptism or communion and the ritual does it. Some of you may have what I call a scattered faith. You have faith in Jesus. You have some faith there. You have some faith in yourself, some faith in somebody else, and you hope that if you cover the bases, you are in. Listen to me carefully. When you add to the Gospel, you always subtract from the Gospel. Your faith has to be in Christ alone, and when it is in Christ alone and what He did, and you embrace that for yourself, you not only are saved, but you know it because you know that you will be welcomed into heaven on the basis of Christ’s merit, and not your flawed performance. And so Jesus welcomes us into heaven.
So it’s a sign of ownership. It’s a sign of headship. It is also proof of kingship. Paul says that Jesus went far above the heavens. You say, “Well how far is that?” We must understand that the issue is not distance. That’s not why the Bible pictures Him so high. It’s not because of distance. The issue is dominion. That’s what it is. It’s not a matter of travel (how far He travels). It’s a matter of triumph. Jesus Christ is there as King of kings and Lord of lords.
You say, “Well, is Jesus a king already?” Yes, He is a king already. Think of it this way. Jesus at no time is going to know more than He does today because He is already omniscient and knows all things. He will never have more power than He has today because He is omnipotent, all-powerful, as He is today seated on the heavenly throne.
There are two aspects to His rule. One is the present aspect. You say, “Well, if Jesus is King, if He is Lord, if He is God, why doesn’t He take care of the messes in the world? Look at the terrible experiences that people are having with natural disasters and war and poverty and cruelty of every kind. Why doesn’t He just come and straighten it all out?” Well, the good news is that He’s going to; He’s going to straighten it out, but He’s giving time. The Scripture says that He is waiting until all enemies be put under His feet. He’s waiting until that happens. And He’s giving Satan time. He’s giving people time to show that they can’t organize themselves in this world, that they can’t ultimately get along, that human nature is as bad as the Bible says it is, and so God gives this cursed earth time. But He’s waiting.
And even though His coronation in heaven was somewhat private, believe me that when He comes to earth as King, it is going to be very, very public. “For as the lightning shines from the east to the west, even so shall the coming of the Son of Man be when the whole earth realizes that Jesus is King, and every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” And He will have no rivals, no competition, nobody else to stand to dispute Him. They will recognize Him for who He is. It’s going to happen, folks. It will happen. So His kingship also was recognized in his ascension – His right to Kingship.
Well, what does all of this have to do with us? Well, first of all, because we are in Christ that means that we are already owners too. We don’t own a piece of heaven because of who we are. We own a piece of heaven because of what Jesus has made us to be. That’s why we own a piece of heaven. And so today if you have trusted Christ as your Savior, there is a crown in heaven with your name on it that only you can wear. There’s a condo that only you can enter. The Bible says that He has reserved a place for you. I love that phrase. You are in a restaurant and everybody is standing in line and you walk ahead of everybody else because you have a place reserved for you. You have a place reserved in heaven for you. You own that because of Jesus.
So as a result, we participate in ownership, but that means that Jesus also owns us. It goes both ways. Some of you came this morning with anxieties. The problem with your anxiety is ownership, isn’t it? If you didn’t own so much you’d have nothing to worry about. You say, “Well, I’m worried about my children and that husband whom I should have looked at a second time before I married him. I’m worried about my health.” I know. And these are our personal concerns, but my friend, today, Jesus, the triumphant one, comes alongside us and says, “Let me bear your burden and do it along with you and take the weight off your shoulders. Yes, you are still going to have the concerns but take the weight off your shoulders and transfer them to Mine.” His shoulders are strong enough. Someday, it says, the governments of the worlds shall be upon His shoulders. Your burden is like a fly on an aircraft carrier. That’s how heavy it is to Jesus. So why are you bearing it alone? You own a place in heaven but He owns you, and you are acting as if you are the only one who owns whatever pertains to you. Bring it under His sovereignty.
And then we shall indeed be kings before God. The day is coming when we are going to rule with Him. What Jesus has by divine right, namely kingship, you and I are going to have because of divine mercy. It’s going to be given to us by sheer undeserved grace, not because of some silly New Age idea that we are really all gods - you know, Shirley MacLaine running onto Malibu Beach, shouting, “I’m God, I’m God.” Aren’t you glad she’s wrong? It’s not because of that. It’s because God, in His grace, is going to exalt us. Christianity is sometimes criticized. When I attended the Parliament of World Religions here in Chicago in 1993 where you had 5,000 delegates from all over the world coming to discuss the possibility of unifying the religions of the world, someone said, “You know, the problem with you Christians is you have such a dismal view of human nature.”
Well, I think of what Chesterton said. He said, “Why would anyone deny the doctrine of original sin when it’s the only doctrine that can be proven by reading the morning newspaper?” We do have a very dismal view of human nature but we are realists. But that’s why we love grace so much because what God does is He takes us out of the mud, and says, “Come with Me and walk on marble.” He says, “I’m going to scoop you out of the pit and bring you to a palace,” And that is undeserved grace to huge sinners, and that is the generosity of God, and that is the Gospel. We get what we don’t deserve, and that’s the Gospel.
When we were in Florence a few years ago, that great city with all of that art and the tremendous gifts that God gave people back then, we went over to the large churches and we saw some of the paintings. We saw some of the works of Michelangelo. I think we missed his David, but there was one spot that I wanted to go to that was more important to me than all of those things, and that was I wanted to go where Savonarola was burned. And if you’ve been in Florence you know there is that fountain right next to the town square, and if you go about 50 feet from the fountain you will find it says there on the ground, “This is where Savonarola was burned,” and I wanted to find that spot. There were tourists walking, of course, over that sign and understandably so because it’s part of the concrete, and the tourists were all here looking for where to buy the good ice cream, because Florence has good ice cream.
I’m looking for Savonarola. He was a preacher of righteousness in Florence in the late 1400’s. In 1496 he had the Bonfire of the Vanities. He sent young men throughout the city and they picked up lewd books and other things that were improper, and they burned them. It was a pile that apparently was 27 feet high. I would be interested to know what in the world those things were in comparison to what we have today, but because of a controversy that is far too interesting for me to tell you about today, the Papacy, of course, wanted him dead, and they eventually got their wish, and that’s where he was burned. It was right there.
But this is what he said before he died, and I want you to never forget this. Are you ready for what Savonarola said? He said, “He who believes that Christ reigns above need never fear what happens below.” (applause)
He who believes that Christ reigns above need never fear what happens below, because all things are under His feet. The triumphant Christ, the risen Christ, the ascended Christ! You never have to fear what happens here because He reigns above. Don’t you love Him? I hope you do.
Let’s bow in prayer.