At a foundational level the spiritual impoverishment of contemporary Australian Christianity can be traced to our inability to enter the worldview of the first followers of Jesus. They were seized by a sense of being on the edge of eternity with Christ coming “soon” (1 Cor 10:11 ESV; Rev 1:1, 3 ESV; Rev 22:10, 22 ESV) and believed that the veil between heaven and earth had been lifted.
God’s plan for the reconciliation of all things was now revealed in Christ (Acts 3:21 ESV; Eph 1:10 ESV; Col 1:20 ESV). They knew that everything “in heaven and on earth” had been made through and for Jesus as the “the Beginning and the End” of all God’s eternal purposes (Col 1:16-17 ESV; Rev 22:12 ESV).
Compared with this limitless horizon most teachers in today’s Church are fixated on the horizontal, they have much to say about a better life on earth but little testimony about the heavenly world.
We may rightly decry the progressive exclusion of godly values from the arts, education, commerce, justice, medicine, government and so on [UCA this week re SSM] but we ourselves have largely “lost the plot” of living under a sacred heavenly canopy which gave centuries of European civilisation a sense of order and meaning in everything.
Sexuality, for instance, was once about conformity to the design of the Creator but today it’s been reduced to a coveted expression of personal identity. Everything is being desacralised, stripped of sacredness e.g. euthanasia and defacing human dignity in the image of the eternal God.
The Church will remain powerless to halt the advance of dark cosmic powers in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12-13 ESV) unless it receives a revelation of the reality that heaven was made for Jesus so that he rules from there now (Acts 2:32-34 ESV). In the urgency of the hour this series is about what it means for us to be under Christ’s heavenly canopy (cf. Isa 4:2-6 ESV).
The Reality Of Heaven On Earth
For Jesus heaven was a concentration point of attention and the source of his guidance, inspiration and empowerment. Before breaking the loaves and fishes to feed the 5,000 Jesus “looked up to heaven” (Matt 14:19 ESV) and he was moved to do the same at the tomb of Lazarus and as he commences his great prayer in John 17 (John 11:41 ESV; John 17:1 ESV). This was an action of conscious communion and dependence on “my Father in heaven” (Matt 7:21 ESV etc.).
Of particular significance for tonight’s message is Jesus’ ecstatic response to the news that the demonic powers were subject to the authority of his disciples, “vs.20 rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” vs.21 he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth…” (Luke 10:20-21 ESV).
As communion with the Father in heaven was totally real to Jesus when on earth it can be real for us because he is now in heaven on our behalf (cf. Rom 8:34 ESV; Heb 7:25 ESV).
The power of Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians flows from this realisation, “vs.1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. vs.2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. vs.3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. vs.4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Col 3:1-4 ESV).
Why am I (and the pastor I spoke with yesterday etc.) constantly hearing of the fragmenting of the lives of individuals, marriages, families… churches.
It’s because this saying is wise saying is as true as it is tragic, “Unless there is within us that which is above us, we shall soon yield to that which is about us.” (P. T. Forsyth).
Without a living witness in our hearts of the unity/solidity of the heavenly world disintegration here below is inevitable.
Thankfully for us the New Testament writers frame the existence of the Church in terms of Jesus’ heavenly journeys.
Ascending And Descending
Baseline God’s place and man’s place
Baseline God’s place and man’s place
Luke’s account of the ascension at the start of Acts is completely clear, “vs.9 And when he (Jesus) had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. vs.10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, vs.11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”” (Acts 1:9-11 ESV).
Jesus left for heaven, is in heaven, and will come back from heaven (Phil 3:20 ESV; 1 Thess 1:10 ESV; 1 Thess 4:16 ESV; 2 Thess 1:7 ESV). In terms of saving history our life in God is surrounded by heaven and knowing this magnifies our sense of who Jesus is.
A living consciousness of Christ’s ascension into heaven frees us from thinking of him, as Paul puts it, “from a human point of view” (2 Cor 5:16 ESV). Jesus’ triumphant entry into the heavenly world where “all God’s angels worship him” (Heb 1:6 ESV; Rev 5 etc.) marks his exaltation in a way that this earthly sphere could not contain.
The difference, for instance, between the way the resurrected Jesus talked, walked and ate with his disciples (e.g. Luke 24:13ff ESV; John 21 ESV) and the glorious revelation of Christ from heaven which blinded Paul and caused John to fall down as dead is immeasurable (Acts 9:1-9 ESV; Rev 1:12-20 ESV).
Jesus is no longer “the bearded sandaled one of the Gospels” (Ortiz). A Christian classic was titled, “Your God is Too Small” (J.B. Phillips), our crisis is that our Jesus is too small. We fail to be grasped by the breathtaking reality that by ascending into heaven Jesus has transformed the essential nature of heaven on our behalf.
The psalmist made a categorical distinction between God’s place and man’s place, “The heavens are the LORD’s heavens, but the earth he has given to the children of man.” (Ps 115:16 ESV). Now however Jesus has humanised heaven and heaven is where Christ is. Heaven and earth are now essentially united in Christ as God-and-man.
Through the ascended Christ the glory of heaven visits earth.
Pentecost was the first sign of this all embracing union.
Peter tells us that having received the Holy Spirit from the heavenly Father Jesus “has poured” him out” (Acts 2:33 ESV). The “wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below” he describes are prophetic signs of the cosmic significance of Jesus’ heavenly lordship gathering up all things (Acts 2:17, 35 ESV cf. Eph 1:10 ESV).
Peter spoke boldly of these things because filled with the Spirit he is filled with a sense that having arrived in heaven Jesus began to reign over all things (Acts 3:21 ESV). As he says in his letter, “vs.21 through …resurrection…Jesus Christ, vs.22 …has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” (1 Pet 3:21-22 ESV).
The sovereign heavenly reign of Christ is expressed in its most concentrated form in the New Testament in relation to the throne of God.
Everything proceeds from the throne (e.g. 1 Kings 22:19-23 ESV; Isa 6 ESV; Ezek 1 ESV; Rev 1:4 ESV) because the One who sits there is God (Rev 4:9 ESV; Rev 5:1; 7, 13 ESV; Rev 6:16 ESV; Rev 7:15 ESV; Rev 21:5 ESV).
When the apostles preach the elevation of Jesus “at the right hand of God” (Acts 2:33 ESV; 5:31 ESV; 7:55 ESV; Rom 8:34 ESV etc.) they do not mean that the throne of God is partitioned in two with Jesus to the side of the centre of all things.
By quoting Psalm 45 about “the Son”, Hebrews testifies that the glorified Jesus shares completely the rule of God with his Father ““Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of your kingdom.” (Heb 1:8 ESV citing Ps 45:6 ESV).
There’s is a communality of enthronement in a shared glory (cf. John 1:18 ESV; 10:30 ESV). Revelation makes this transparently clear where Jesus says having “I…conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (Rev 3:21 ESV). The Lamb is in “the midst of the throne” (Rev 7:17 ESV cf. Rev 5:6 ESV), and “him who sits on the throne and…the Lamb” are consistently paired (Rev 5:13 ESV; Rev 7:6 ESV; Rev 22:1,3 ESV). The vision of the End is that the glory of the intimate familial throne relationship between Father and Son will irradiate the whole new creation (Rev 22:1-5 ESV). Such visions have great power, power that is to make us more like Jesus.
This is what happened to Stephen; “vs.55 full of the Holy Spirit he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. vs.56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”…. vs.58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him…. vs.59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” vs.60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:55-60 ESV).
The spirit of the all forgiving sacrifice of the cross was poured into the heart of Stephen because he saw the glory of the heavenly Lord (cf. Rom 5:5 ESV). The power of the enthroned Christ we need to see and receive today has, I believe, a particular tone.
Hebrews chapter one continues its citation from Psalm 45 with, “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”” (Heb 1:9 ESV from Ps 45:7 ESV).
The rapturous reception of the Son into heaven (Heb 1:6 ESV) is the perfect fulfilment of the delightful familial scene about God and wisdom in Proverbs 8; “vs.30 I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,vs.31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.” (Prov 8:30-31 ESV).
Having completed the atonement of the world in the death and resurrection of his Son the Father took Jesus back into heaven and sat him down on his own royal throne immersed in infinite joy (cf. Heb 2:10 ESV; Heb 5:9; Heb 7:28 ESV).
Enthroned by the government of God Christ is himself the perfect reality of the supreme sovereignty for which we pray, “vs.9 “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. vs.10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt 6:9-10 ESV). “heaven rules” in the affairs of men (Dan 4:26 ESV cf. Ps 110:1 ESV, cited 17 times in NT) because it rules through the one who was illimitably ruled on our behalf.
Contrary to human thinking the throne of God in Christ is a throne of joy because it is a throne of righteous rule (Matt 6:33 ESV). The Old Testament wisdom writers pair righteousness with “shouts for joy” six times (Job 33:26 ESV; Ps 32:11 ESV; Ps 33:1 ESV; Ps 35:27 ESV; Ps 68:3 ESV; Ps 132:9 ESV) and righteousness with having joy five times (Ps 97:11 ESV; Prov 10:28 ESV; Prov 21:15 ESV; Isa 64:5 ESV; Rom 14:17 ESV).
It is to Jesus seated in heaven that the psalmists expectation of a joy saturated life properly belongs, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Ps 16:11 ESV).
Filled with joy at the completion of his good work in Jesus (Gen 1:31-2:3 ESV; John 19:30 ESV) from his throne our “Abba! Father!” has initiated a reign (John 20:17 ESV; Rom 8:14-17 ESV; Gal 4:4-6 ESV) from heaven for the Church (Eph 1:22 ESV). Jesus and the Father cannot and will not keep their joy to themselves (John 15:11 ESV).
Filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4 ESV) and communing with the heavenly Lord Peter preached at Pentecost, “vs.32 “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. vs.33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”” (Acts 2:32-33 ESV).
Surely as he proclaimed the outpouring of the heavenly life of Christ in the Spirit Peter’s own heart was filled with “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Pet 1:8 ESV). A joy which when communicated through the gospel bound the first church in a common life filled with the gladness of the Father-Son relationship in the heavenly world (Acts 2:44-47 ESV).
Pentecost may be unrepeatable but the fruit of the Spirit filled gospel preaching is reproducible. To the degree we are caught up in the Spirit sent from heaven (1 Pet 1:12 ESV) to adore the one who sits on the Father’s throne in heaven, “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5 ESV), we will share his boundless joy.
This is intensely powerful and practical.
Standing before his disciples pronouncing the liberality of his Father, ““All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me”” (Matt 28:18 ESV cf. Dan 7:14 ESV) Jesus is filled with the joy of the righteousness of the gospel (Rom 14:17 ESV), a righteousness empowered joy that makes disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19-20 ESV). This is what he would impart from heaven to us.
As the Father has happily shared his authority with his Son so the resurrection joy of the Lord is the power by which our own lives are transformed and the power by which we share Jesus with others (cf. Neh 8:10 ESV; Luke 24:41 ESV).
A righteousness empowered heavenly joy is the only solution to the dearth of discipleship that’s overtaking the Church. I was talking this week with a young adult’s pastor who’s mourning the problems of alcohol, pornography and so on amongst Christian young people. I said to him there’s only one solution, an outpouring of the life of Christ from heaven.
For Christians “heaven” stands for the superiority of the newness that’s come in Christ over the brokenness of present earthly existence (2 Cor 5:17 ESV).
The present heavenly dimension is as real as the fact that Jesus has been raised from death. An enduring spiritual revival hinges on the recovery of the revelation of heaven as the place where Jesus lives today.
In an age when personal fulfilment is thought of only in terms of this world a vision of the heavenly man will fill us with a sense of the limitless dignity what it means to be in the image of God in Christ (1 Cor 15:47-49 ESV).
P. T. Forsyth did put it wisely, “Unless there is within us that which is above us, we shall soon yield to that which is about us.”
Without a vision the “things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1 ESV) the world will (continue to) dominate your life.
The psalmist said, “I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy” (Ps 43:4 ESV). Our altar is in heaven (Heb 13:10 ESV) and Jesus is our superlative joy. Let us come to Jesus “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2 ESV) and let us ask him to pour out on us his “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Pet 1:8 ESV cf. Ps 51:12 ESV).
MESSAGE DELIVERED: 15th July 2018 | Alive@5
Author: Dr. John Yates
MESSAGE YouTube or PODCAST: 15th July, 2018
Related Link: Nil