Some of you might be familiar with the Shakespeare tragedy entitled Romeo and Juliet. During one of their night time encounters at her balcony where they suddenly fall madly in love with each other they finally must part company and this dialogue ensues:
Juliet says to Romeo:
‘Tis almost morning, I would have thee gone-
And yet no farther than a wan-ton’s bird,
That lets it hop a little from his hand,
Like a poor prisoner in his twisted gyves,
And with a silken thread plucks it back again,
So loving-jealous of his liberty.
I would I were thy bird.
Sweet, so would I,
Yet I should kill thee with much cherishing.
Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.
Of course the fact that the romance of Romeo and Juliet has become the norm from what love is could be a critique of modern culture in itself but that’s not why I picked the portion. I picked it because part of that exchange has become accepted by many to be some sort of Proverb. That modern proverb is this: “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”
I was commenting on this to a couple of military families last week when I started mentioning the message for today and we all agreed that it’s a dumb phrase. It makes for a good romance story where fantasy doesn’t count for anything but, in real life, parting is not sweet at all. It’s painful.
I still vividly recall holding James in my arms in January 2003 at 0500 in the morning in the dark near an awaiting bus that was going to drive me to the airport to fly to Kuwait for Operation Iraqi Freedom. James was 7 months old and I wondered if he would remember me when I returned. I didn’t know how long that would be. I kissed him and said: “Don’t forget me James” and started to break down. I then turned to my beautiful wife and hugged her and kissed her. Such a fleeting moment. Nothing sweet about it. Only pain. Only sorrow. The only thing that impelled me toward the bus was duty.
All the men and women in this congregation have had to leave loved ones at times or have even had to bury those they love. There is nothing sappy or sentimental about parting from loved ones. The physical presence of the ones we love is very important to us. I haven’t lived under the same roof as my Mother for almost 22 years except for periodic visits but I still miss her presence. Our separation is never sweet and I never rejoice when I depart from her.
So, these two passages that describe the same event about Christ’s Ascension into Heaven are very interesting. Why? Because in Luke 24:51-53 it states that: “51While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.
52And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy,
53and were continually in the temple praising God.”
Did you notice something about this? Christ has just departed from them. He will be with them no more in bodily presence. When Peter and John had first heard that Christ might be alive from the women that visited His tomb they ran to the tomb in excitement. What tremendous joy to have Christ again in their presence but now He has finally ascended into heaven and, “…after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy“.
Why would they be joyful? Where they callous and didn’t care about the departure of their Savior? Obviously not. In the parallel passage in the Book of Acts it speaks of them gazing intently into heaven. Perhaps they were hoping that Christ might come down again. But then angels came to them and reminded them of a Truth that Christ had promised to them: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”
This was why they left rejoicing.
Jesus had promised the apostles that he would be with them to the end of time in Matthew 28:20 as we learned last week. The angels remind the Apostles of the fact that Christ is with them always and they have continuity with him. “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”
Remember what Christ said elsewhere in Luke 21:27 that men would see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. The angels remind the Apostles that just as Christ has ascended into heaven, so he will come back. Jesus will return physically, in the same glorified body that He went to heaven with. He remains true to his word the he will direct the increase of his church and prepare a place for his followers.
We really need to understand the ascension not as some sort of space travel but the next step in Christ’s mission after the Resurrection of Jesus’ return from death to the height of glory. Sometimes those that study the Scriptures talk about the humiliation of Christ and the exaltation of Christ. You can think of the trace of his ministry as the Son of God first emptied Himself and was born into a poor estate and then went through a life of sorrow to eventually bear sin and death and take away the sins of all who believe. His humiliation ended with His death but then He rose again and began His exaltation until this culminating moment where we witness Him ascending on high to return to His Father’s side in glory where He reigns forever.
Jesus foretold of the Ascension in John 6:62, 14:2, 12; 16:5, 10, 17, 28; 17:5; 20:17) and Luke has described it for us at the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts.
Paul teaches us in Ephesians 4:8-10:
8Therefore it says,
“WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH,
HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES,
AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.”
9(Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into (D)the lower parts of the earth?
10He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)
Paul expresses that this ascension on high emphasizes Christ’s Lordship over all.
As we’ve been studying the Book of Hebrews with the men on Saturday morning, we’ve repeatedly noted how the author of Hebrews continually emphasizes that Christ is on high interceding for us and that He applies His sacrifice for us continually as an encouragement for all of us who are faint-hearted.
Jesus Christ is the Lord of the universe and this is a source of enormous encouragement for all believers.
Christ’s Ascension was, from one standpoint, the restoration of the glory that the Son had before He came in human flesh. From another standpoint His ascension also represented a glorifying of human nature in a way that had never happened before. Finally, in a third way, His ascension represented the start of a reign that had not existed in the form it had before. The Son of God had always reigned eternally with the other members of the Godhead but now a human nature was united to the Divine nature in the person of Christ and reigned in glory.
Three facts are established by the Ascension:
The first fact of the ascension is Christ has all glory and honor. He reigns on high and sits at the right hand of the Father. To sit at the Father’s right hand is to occupy the position of ruler on God’s behalf. 1 Corinthians 15:27 states: “27For HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him.”
1 Peter 3:22 states: “22who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.”
The second fact of the ascension is that Christ is spiritually present everywhere. In the heavenly sanctuary of the heavenly Zion (Heb 9:24; 12:22-24), Jesus is accessible to all who call on His Name. He is powerful to help them anywhere in the world. He is no longer confined to the boundaries of Judea where He can only be present with His closest disciples but is very near to all.
Heb 4:16 says: “16Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
The third fact of the ascension of Christ is the importance of His heavenly ministry for you and for me and for all who believe upon Him. Christ, who reigns in heaven, prays for His people. Romans 8: 33-35
33Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies;
34who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was [d]raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.
35Who will separate us from the love of [e]Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
Christ has secured salvation by His death and resurrection for all who believe upon Him. That promise is backed up by the power of God’s Word. Nobody, and I mean nobody, has the power to separate us from that love. What is more, Christ is in heaven praying for those who believe upon Him. He prays for us that we would not be separated from Him and that prayer is answered. He who reigns on High sits at the right Hand of God and is God Himself. Do you suppose that those that Christ prays for are not saved to the uttermost?! What confidence we have that Christ prays for us.
Christ doesn’t merely sit in heaven and have sympathy for us and worry that things might not turn out right. He’s not praying as we might with concern that things may not work out. Christ’s prayer intervenes in our lives. It sustains us. It keeps us. It fixes us. Because He has status and He has authority to keep us by His prayers for us. In His power over everything, He now lavishes His love upon us and the benefits of the suffering that He won for us. He applies His perfect once-and-for-all sacrifice for us so that every sin we commit is paid for on the Cross. This is truly amazing. This is amazing Grace because the work that saves us is not our own but it is the work that Christ did both to die and rise for us and even now, right now, it is the work of Christ in heaven as He intercedes for you to bless and keep you until that day that you are presented spotless and holy to Him as the Bride of Christ with the rest of His Church.
Indeed, beloved, we have been blessed from above with every rich spiritual blessing in the heavenlies. Our great Savior and High Priest has ascended into heaven and reigns on high. As we remember back a few weeks ago we recall the sorrow and pain of our dear Savior who set His face toward the Cross to take the scorn and the shame and the wrath that you and I deserved. The Son of God who deserved all worship was treated with contempt by humanity who killed God on a Cross in their utter act of hatred toward His holiness. But, in the grace of God, He used the wicked intentions of men to put to death our Sin. He used this act to put away the Curse for those that believe upon Christ’s work.
Then, even as we remember mourning over our sin that put our Savior to death we recall the glorious news that Christ had risen again. Glorious news that the sacrifice was accepted by the Father. Christ lives!
And now, Beloved, we rejoice even more. We understand, perhaps, why the disciples would want to hug Jesus for a long time. Oh, He’s alive! We walked with this man for 3 years and forsook everything for Him for He alone has words of eternal life.
But then, as they looked heavenward with tears in their eyes and gazed long into the sky thinking: “Parting is such a sorrow…”, the angels reminded them even as they remind us again.
Christ reigns on high! He has returned to the right hand of the Father and ever lives to reign and draw men unto Him by the power of the Gospel. He is seated at the right hand of the Father and keeps all of His sheep in His hand and no one can snatch them out of His most powerful hands.
And so our sorrow turns to joy. We bow down to worship the King who has been restored to His majesty on high. And we rejoice!