Thursday, May 30, 2019

Thursday, May 30, 2019: Happy Ascension Day! | The Ascension is Humanity in the Presence of God




The Story of God: The Ascension of Jesus Provides Everything We Desire and More


Because Jesus ascended as a real physical person from a particular time and place He brings human culture into the presence of God so that through His humanity He makes a place for people like you and me from all tribes, tongues, nations and cultures to be represented in the new heaven and earth through Him. + Tim Chester and Jonny Woodrow

This weekend is the celebration of the ascension of Jesus. While the crucifixion and resurrection are key events in His life that most people are familiar with, His ascension isn't discussed much. However, its vitalness and vitality for life are becoming more and more apparent to me.

To help you learn a bit more of what I learned, I am including in this post an excerpt from Tim Chester & Jonny Woodrow's excellent little booklet The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God. If the content below intrigues you, I encourage you to pick up the book and prepare to wonder at all that Jesus is accomplishing right now for you.

The World is Full of Ascension Language Because the Hope of Ascension is a Basic Human Aspiration

The world is full of ascension language. Things can be "on the up," but they can also take a "downward turn". We want to "rise" in our career. Charities try to "lift" people out of poverty. We want to "rise above" our problems and avoid a "downward spiral". People are "lifted" out of obscurity and "rise above" the crowd. We love stories of successful people because we want to emulate the "heights" to which they have "risen". Or perhaps we want secrets that will bring them "down" in our estimation so we do not feel ascension failures by comparison.

The hope of ascension is a basic human aspiration. We want to rise above the difficulties and reach our full potential. Most people want to end the day with a sense of achievement. We are gripped by rags to riches stories, the Cinderella story is deeply embedded in our culture. We want to become what we were always meant to be or what we were born to be. Every human being wants to "ascend".

What Has the Ascension of a Human into Heaven Done for Our Humanity?

Who are we in the light of the one and only ascended man? The ascension of Jesus is the ultimate rags to riches story. A child born in a barn becomes the king of the world. But it is not His story alone. It is the story of the restoration of humanity. The story of Jesus is the story of His people. All believers participate in this rags to riches story. We ascend to become who we were born to be.

Humanity was made by God to be a royal family. Psalm 8:5-8 says: "You made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas." We were made in the image of God to be kings and queens over God's world. We were crowned with glory and honor. God is the great King and His children image His glory and honor to the world through their kingship under Him. God ruled by His Word in creating the world, subduing the chaos and forming it into a habitable home for the display of His glory. Adam and Eve as God's image-bearers act in His likeness, filling and subduing the earth (Genesis 1:28), naming creation (Genesis 2:19-20). Humanity was to represent God's character to the world through our ruling stewardship of creation.

The role of stewarding creation as God's royal children was carried out through the Holy Spirit. At creation the Spirit hovers over the formless void (Genesis 1:1-2). The Word of God that orders the chaos comes on the breath of the Spirit of God (Psalm 33:6). The Spirit breathes life into a lump of clay to create the first man (Genesis 2:7).

The image of God in humanity becomes marred and twisted when we rebel against God's rule. Now we exercise our rule over the world in destructive and self-serving ways. We rejected God's Word and opted instead for a self-referential rule by our own words. As a result, creation itself is subjected to frustration (Romans 8:19-21). Our status as God's royal children is lost.

Ever since then we have had an inbuilt hunger to return to the throne. This is the source of our drive towards ascension. This is the reason why our language is littered with references to ascension. We know we are not what we are meant to be and we are not what we are born to be.

But our own attempts at ascension are sinful. They follow the pattern of the Fall, attempting to engulf the throne of heaven in the glory of man. Our role as kings and queens was to be worked out through the task of stewarding creation for God's glory. The tower of Babel was the archetypal attempt to ascend to heaven to "make a name for ourselves" (Genesis 11:4). Humanity exercises rule over creation – building a tower from clay – to conquer heaven in the name of humanity. The tower was built under the continuing influence of the Serpent's words, "you will be like God" (Genesis 3:5).  The story of the tower of Babel is the story of everyone's daily attempts to ascend: to work for our glory and to restore our kingship on our terms, to control our world for our glory. We have not escaped the lies of Satan. His words still enthrall us and direct our stewardship of creation.

But God promises to restore humanity through His people, Israel. This hope becomes further focused in the king. Israel's king is to embody what it means to rule over the world and restore creation (Psalm 72). King Solomon, filled with wisdom, begins to look like something approaching a restored Adam. In 1 Kings 4:29-34 his wisdom includes flora and fauna. At the height of his rule justice and fruitfulness flourish under God's blessing. But Solomon's reign ends in disappointment as he pursues foreign wives and foreign gods.

Isaiah 11:2, however, speaks of a coming Spirit-empowered king who will reign in righteousness: "The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD." Isaiah speaks of a man who fulfills all that humanity was designed to be, and who will be God's agent of restoration for both humanity and creation. 

Luke portrays Jesus as the Spirit-filled king and the new Adam. In Luke 3:22 He receives the Spirit at His baptism and hears the words of Psalm 2:7 spoken to God's king, "You are my Son." Jesus is "the Son of Adam" (Luke 3:38) who, filled with the Spirit, rejects the temptation of Satan in the wilderness (4:1-13). Like the first Adam this man has been declared the Son of God (3:38) and equipped with the Spirit (4:1). Satan "takes him up" in pseudo-ascension and offers Him the kingdoms of the world if He will rule under the banner of the Serpent (Luke 4:5-7). It is the same offer he made to the first Adam, to ascend to a throne under the Serpent. But this time the true Son of God rejects ruling under the Serpent and chooses a route to the throne through submission to, and dependence on, God. The temptation story signals Jesus as the beginning of the new humanity who will fulfill its royal identity under God.

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul presents Jesus as the true Adam (v. 22). He quotes from Psalm 8 which describes humanity's rule over creation (v. 27). Christ restores our rule over creation by defeating His enemies (vv. 24-26) and becoming subject to God (vv. 27-28). Royal order is re-established: humanity in Christ ruling creation under God. T.F. Torrance says, "The humanity of Jesus, although risen and triumphant over all decay and corruption, was fully and truly human, and indeed more fully and truly human than any other humanity we know, for it was humanity in which all that attacks and undermines creaturely and human being is vanquished."

The Ascension of Jesus is the Foretaste of the Ascension of a New Humanity to Our Desired and Needed Restoration

"And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man" (1 Corinthians 15:49). Those in Christ will once again be what we were meant to be and what we were born to be. Douglas Farrow says, "Redemption does not mean the prising apart of creation to liberate what is divine in it, but rather the prising open of creation to the Spirit of God that it might be filled with divine glory. ...  Salvation does not make us something other than human, but makes us rather to be human in another and truer way." Nick Needham says:

Who is the one who is a true and perfect human being? It is the Lord Jesus Christ. So how do I define human nature and its capacities? Well, surely from what I find in Christ. Jesus Christ is the true definition of humanity. And at what point in Christ's life do we set our marker and say there is the final perfect definition of what humanity is – the new born baby Jesus, the teenager Jesus, the full grown man? No, we have to go on through Christ's public ministry, his passion, his death, his resurrection, his ascension into heaven. In other words, it is the man Jesus in his final condition: ascended, glorified, exalted who finally stands before us as the perfect definition of humanity. It is only in the exalted Christ that human nature comes to its full bloom, its full flowering, its final development of powers and capacities. If I want to see what human nature is ultimately capable of I do not look at my own stunted, shattered shell of humanity. No, I look at the man Christ Jesus, risen from the dead and exalted to the right hand of the Father. That is real humanity, human nature according to God's final definition and purpose. That is human nature brought to its ultimate maturity of grace and glory.

The ascension secures our royal identity and locates it with Jesus in the presence of the Father. Far from the ascension and absence of Jesus being a pause on the delivery of our royal identity, it is the event that secures it. Because of the ascension we are seated at the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 2:6).

In the present our life is currently hidden with Christ (Colossians 3:1-3). Until the revelation of the sons and daughters of glory at the return of Jesus we express our royalty in the power of the ascension and through the pathway of the ascension. The power of the ascension is the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost the completion of humanity through the crowning of Jesus coincides with the restoration of humanity through the giving of the Spirit. And the pathway of ascension is the cross. It is by taking up our cross and following Jesus that our royal status is shown in this world. Jesus demonstrated His kingship by walking the road of suffering now through the cross before receiving glory. Until our glory is revealed, restored humanity looks like crucified humanity in the sense of people who embrace the sacrifice, submission, self-denial and service modeled in the cross.

The Gospel Story Helps Us See What it Means to Be Truly Human with God as He Brings Life to the World

The gospel declares that humanity is remade in the image of the glorified human Jesus. It is the gospel that makes us truly human, reclothes us in glory, fills us with the Spirit and seats us with the ascended Christ. It follows that restored humans will demonstrate their royal status by living in line with the gospel story. Death and resurrection is the true pattern of restored humanity. "Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him" (2 Timothy 2:11-12).

The story ends with John's wonderful vision in Revelation 21:1-7 when he sees a new earth in verse 1, a new city in verse 2 and a new temple in verse 3 ("God's dwelling place"). The chapter introduces us to a new heavens and a new earth, but what John describes is a garden-city. Moreover, a number of the dimensions and features of the city are drawn from Ezekiel 40-48, which describes the dimensions and features of a future temple. And like the Holy of Holies in Solomon's temple, the city that John sees is a perfect cube (1 Kings 6:20; Revelation 21:16-17).

So which is it? Is it a new earth like a city? Or a city like a temple? Or a temple like a city? Greg Beale's argument is that all along it has been God's intention to bring temple, city and earth together. Eden was a temple garden that God intended would extend throughout the whole earth. Jerusalem was a partial fulfillment of this. The new creation is the ultimate realization of this: the whole earth is God's city is God's temple. An angel, says John, "carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God" (Revelation 21:10). But the bejewelled city that John describes echoes Ezekiel's vision of a new temple which itself echoes the Jerusalem temple which itself echoes Eden (Revelation 21:10-27). Here for the final time God's people ascend "a mountain great and high" to dwell in the presence of God forever. And from the throne of the Lamb flows a life-giving river that brings healing to the nations (Revelation 22:1-5).

"Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD?" the Psalmist had asked before answering, "The one who has clean hands a pure heart" (Psalm 24:3-4). And John echoes that answer when he says: "Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Revelation 21:27). We may not have clean hands and a pure heart, but Christ our King does. And those who by faith are in Christ share His merits. Our names are written in His Book of life. We can ascend the holy mountain to enjoy the presence of God forever. We will ascend. And we have ascended. "God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6). Christ's ascension is our ascension.

+ pgs. 73-80, 91-92, The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God

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