Ascended above His Enemies Acts 1:1-11; Ps 47; Eph 1:15-23; Matt 28:16-20 St Marks 28.5.17
Today we celebrate Christ’s ascension, the day when Jesus went back up to his Father in heaven. The Ascension elevates Jesus beyond the status of a resurrected human being on earth to equality with the Father in heaven. Theologian Thomas Torrance comments, “In the incarnation is a meeting of man and God in man’s place [earth], but in the ascension we have a meeting of man and God in God’s place [heaven]”. The Ascension is the stone which completes the arch of God’s plan to perfect the whole of creation in Christ. Whilst the New Testament describes the Ascension in only a few places Christ’s present heavenly status position is everywhere assumed as the foundation for all his ongoing acts (Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9-11; Heb 4:14; 1 Pet 3:22; Rev etc. ). This means that within the biblical story the Ascension is as important as Christmas; but few churches understand and honour the Ascension of Jesus into heaven as if this were true. Surely Aussie Christians fail to be grasped by the Ascension because we are comfortably a part of the “live and let live” cultural inheritance we so treasure. Because the Ascension completes Christ’s victory over Satan, sin and death crowning him as reigning King of Kings and Lord of Lords it is impossible to be moved by this great event apart from appreciating the situation of ongoing constant warfare between God and his enemies.
The Enemies of God
When you hear Christians praying about “the Enemy” who are they referring to…. Satan (Rev 12:9; 20:2). The King James Version famously translated Isaiah 14:12-14 like this, “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer,…For thou hast said…I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God…14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.”. Satan became the arch enemy of God and humanity because he wanted to ascend higher than his Lord. Jesus spoke of the devil as the author of another great enemy of God, death (1 Cor 15:26), when he said to those trying to kill him, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning…” (John 8:44). Death is an enemy of God sown by Satan into the world when he tempted Adam and Eve to rise up to be like their Creator (Gen 3:1ff.). God has never taken these assaults on his kingdom laying down.
Throughout the Old Testament God is a warrior who fights against the enemies of Israel (Ex 15:3 etc.). E.g. ““if you carefully… do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.”” (Ex 23:22; cf. Deuteronomy 30:7; Jeremiah 30:20). “The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.” (Nah 1:2; Ps 68:21). Israel however could not afford to turn smug, when she turned to idols “he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them. “” (Isa 63:10; cf. Isa 1:24; Pss. 37:20; 67:21).
Important for our theme today often in the Old Testament God ascends to fight; “Moses said, “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered…”” (Num 10:35); and in the Psalms, “God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered….You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train … even among the rebellious….when you lift yourself up, nations are scattered,”” (Ps 68:1, 18; Isa 33:3). The Old Testament text about the Messiah most quoted in the New Testament (who knows what it is?) continues this theme of conflict; “The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”2…Rule in the midst of your enemies!” (Ps 110:1-2; Matthew 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42, 43; Acts 2:34, 35; Hebrews 1:13. Cf. Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62; 16:19; Luke 22:69; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12, 13; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22). In the escalating climate of anti-Christians sentiment in the world today the Church today can no longer afford to neglect the biblical theme of the exalted Lord and his enemies.
When the father of John the Baptist prophesies concerning the imminent arrival of Messiah; “the Lord…has raised up a mighty saviour for us…7 that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us;” (Luke 1:69, 71) he was surely thinking of a warrior who would trample the Romans underfoot. Jesus however knew that Israel’s main enemy wasn’t flesh and blood but the evil spiritual power of the devil (Eph 6:12).
In the parable of the wheat and the weeds he teaches, “The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil” (Matt 13:38-39). When the 72 missionaries return with joyful news about the growth of God’s kingdom Jesus declares, ““I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.” (Luke 10:18-19). When we see Christ in the Gospels “binding the strong man” i.e. Satan by casting out demons , healing the sick, feeding the hungry and proclaiming a gospel of forgiveness he is already fulfilling Psalm 110, “reigning in the midst of his enemies” (Matt 12:29; Luke 7:22; 13:16, Acts 10:36; 1 John 3:8). But Satan was not Jesus’ only enemy; he unambiguously declares, “The world…hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.” (John 7:7 cf. Luke 19:27; John 3:19-20; 8:40, 44).
There was however a major down side to Jesus’ miracles; they consolidated the conviction of the disciples and the crowds that he was the Messiah who would defeat all their spiritual and material enemies by sheer force (John 2:23; 6:2). In love with power they were unable and unwilling to internalise the deep teaching of the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matt 26:51-52); “if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….bless those who curse you” (Matt 5:39; 44; Luke 6:28), “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven….if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?….48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:45, 46, 48). This teaching is very clear; in Christ’s eyes the perfection of the Father in heaven is his ability to love his enemies. No-one besides Jesus really believed this was a truth to live by.
So when Christ used ascension language about his victory over the devil; “The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out. 32 And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”” (John 12.31-32), none of his hearers could imagine he was first of all referring to a lifting up on the cross.
Jesus alone understood that the only way he could share the perfect love of his Father in heaven was to take on himself the hatred of the enemies of God. As predicted in the Psalms, “the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me” (Ps 69:9; Rom 15:3), and in the Prophets, “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard.” (Isa 50:6). Jesus actively took upon himself the hostility of his Father’s enemies. “No one takes it (my life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”” (John 10:17-18). At this point we must pray earnestly for understanding about the meaning of the cross.
Though always sinless Jesus could never attain to the heavenly perfection of the Father until he loved and forgave the enemies of God in the very extremity of suffering and death (Matt 5:46-48). This is why Hebrews tells us three times that the Son of God was “made perfect” through his suffering (2:10; 5:9; 7:28). Only through suffering for sinners could Jesus perfectly image the limitless love of God. We see Jesus conquering, judging and overcoming all evil by praying from the cross, ““Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”” (Luke 23:34). By unlimited love Christ has “reconciled all things to himself …through the blood of the cross” (Col 1:20), he has taken “taken a host of captives” (Eph 4:8) and conquered all the hostile evil powers (Col 2:15), he has bound the strong man and abolished the fear of death from Satan’s captives (Mark 3:27; Heb 2:14-15). Jesus has received “all authority in heaven and on earth” because he was one in his suffering and death with the limitless all forgiving love of the Father (Matt 28:18). He is the exalted heavenly King of kings and Lord of lords sharing the heavenly throne of God because of the limitless nature of his sacrifice (Eph 4:10; Rev 19:6; 22:1). Amazingly, all of this is for who….?,us, Jesus has been “raised far above all rule and authority and power and dominion ….for the benefit of the Church” (Eph 1:19-22). Does this mean peace on earth – no way; according to Jesus if we follow him ““a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”” (Matt 10:34-36). Christ’s ascension into heaven means glory through trouble for the Church (cf. Luke 24:26).
The Church and its Enemies
The visions of Revelation testify that when Jesus was “caught up to God and to his throne (ascended)…” an angel cried out, “woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”” and he “makes war” on the Church i.e. us (Rev 12: 5, 12, 17; cf. 13:7). This is why Jesus’ prophecy will come true; “you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.” (Matt 24:9 cf. John 15:18). Every time Jesus has been lifted up by the Church in a way proportional to his exalted glory demonic hostility has broken out; against Christians in the Colosseum, the burning of the English Reformers, the Wesleys and the early Salvation Army preachers were pelted with stones, dead animals, offal, spat upon and attacked in other ways. All this must happen (2 Tim 3:12) because greatest gift King Jesus has given to the persecuted Church is….? the opportunity to share his glory by forgiving her enemies (Acts 17:1-9)?
There is an intimate connection between the first Christian martyr praying, ““Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”” and having this vision, ““I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”” (Acts 7:54-56, 60). Only because the Church was oppressed by the evil empire of Rome was it given the visions of the heavenly Lamb in the book of Revelation (Rev 1:13ff; Rev 11:5, 12). Hear the words of the Church in Egypt directed to terrorists after the Psalm Sunday bombings this year when 45 people were killed and 126 injured.
“We Christians don’t have enemies. We don’t have enemies; others make enmity with us. The Christian doesn’t make enemies because we are commanded to love everyone. And so, we love you because this is the teaching of our God–that I’m to love you–no matter what you do to me.I love you very much. And I want to say one last thing to you: we’re praying for you….In one of the dioceses…there is a man who gets on the microphone every week to say terrible things about Christians–unheard of things. So the servants [Christians of the diocese] are hearing this man and are so upset….Every Friday he comes out and curses the Christians. So the bishop is sitting with his servants (these believers), and he asks them, “Are you upset by what this man says?” And they say, “Of course! We are so upset! What’s he doing to us!” The bishop gets quiet and his face darkens with sorrow. The servants/Christians say to him, “You have a right to be upset from what he says, Your Grace. You have a right.” “I’m not upset with him,” the bishop says, “I’m upset with you! You are servants/Christians–you? How many of you pray for him every day? Because if he tasted of the love of God, if he knew who our Lord is, he could never hate again because God is love.” (http://www.copticdadandmom.com/fr-boules-george/)
Only a Church which has had a revelation of the glory of the all forgiving all loving ascended Lord can live like this.
A heaven sent revelation is crucial to the future of the spiritually impoverished Church in our nation (Acts 2:33-36). How could local Christian identity Tony Overhue (who I know) smash a pie into the face of prominent homosexual and Qantas CEO Alan Joyce; only because lacked a revelation that the glory of the ascended Lord is to forgive his enemies. Is there any limit to the glory of God’s forgiveness…..?
I was speaking with a friend a few days ago encouraging him to visit ex-pastor Dawid Volmerin prison; Volmeris a member of the Evil 8 who had sex multiple times with the drugged daughter of the leader of their paedophile ring. Jesus died to forgive even theworst of sinners. Do we actually believe this? Are we offering heartfelt prayers for the cruel fanatics behind the Manchester bombing that they might experience the loving reconciling power of the cross? Or have we conveniently forgotten that the Bible says that before we knew Jesus we too were enemies of God who deserved hell just as much as these evil people (Rom 5:10; Col 1:21). We are in a very bad state brothers and sisters. For a variety of unacceptable reasons very few Christians have enemies who seriously hate us because we love Jesus. (Phil 3:18-19; James 4:4). In the providential wisdom of God this however may be changing. I think when past AMA president Dr Kerryn Phelps, said recently about the AMA policy of supporting same-sex marriage, “Christians now have nowhere to hide”, this was a prophetic piece of good news because so many of us have been hiding for too long and need to come out of the closet.
The spiritual revival we need today is not one of raw power, but one with the highest rule, authority, power and dominion in this time and eternity to unconditionally love and forgive the enemies of God, of Christ and of the Church (Eph 1:21; Phil 3:18). This is the glory of the Ascension, of Jesus ascended above all his enemies.