“No chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11
How happy are tried Christians, afterwards. There is no calm more deep than that which follows a storm. Who has not rejoiced in clear shinings after rain? Victorious banquets are for well-exercised soldiers.
After killing the lion–we eat the honey;
after climbing the Hill Difficulty–we sit down in the arbor to rest;
after traversing the Valley of Humiliation, after fighting with Apollyon, the shining one appears, with the healing branch from the tree of life.
Our sorrows, like the passing keels of the vessels upon the sea, leave a silver line of holy light behind them “afterwards.” It is peace, sweet, deep peace–which follows the horrible turmoil which once reigned in our tormented, guilty souls.
See, then, the happy estate of a Christian! He has his best things last, and he therefore in this world receives his worst things first. But even his worst things are “afterwards” good things–harsh ploughings–yielding joyful harvests. Even now . . .
he grows rich by his losses,
he rises by his falls,
he lives by dying, and
he becomes full by being emptied.
If, then, his grievous afflictions yield him so much peaceable fruit in this life–what shall be the full vintage of joy “afterwards” in Heaven? If his dark nights are as bright as the world’s days–what shall his days be? If even his starlight is more splendid than the sun–what must his sunlight be? If he can sing in a dungeon–how sweetly will he sing in Heaven! If he can praise the Lord in the fires–how will he extol Him before the eternal throne! If evil is good to him now–what will the overflowing goodness of God be to him then?
He is gone! Jesus is no longer here because He has ascended. There are tensions in the Christian life we are meant to feel, and the ascension presents us with one of them. It is true that Jesus said He would be with us always, even to the end of the age, but He did not mean that He would always be with us bodily. Though He is with us in one sense, His absence is something with which every believer must wrestle.
We feel His absence daily as we look at this world. He has left us with His word which speaks authoritatively to everything we need to know regarding faith and practice, but if we could see Him, some of our concerns would begin to fade. Though there are those who claim to have taken His place while He is gone, their fraudulent claims are evident by how far they fall short.
While we are left to wrestle with the truth of His absence, we begin to get a glimpse of how important the ascension is to Christian life and doctrine, and while His absence is painful, we must also remember that it is good. Jesus Himself said it was to our benefit that He go away.
Why is the ascension important, and how does it benefit us? Here are four reasons it is good that Jesus has left us.
1.) We receive the Holy Spirit.
After the ascension, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit (John 16:7). Though we are consciously aware of the absence of Jesus, the Holy Spirit comforts us in our distress. The Spirit continually points us to Jesus and His word. He guides, convicts, and keeps us at all times. It is the Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of our salvation. He never leaves us. In this way, we are never truly alone, even while we long for Christ’s return.
2.) We see Jesus properly crowned as king.
When He took on flesh and came to walk among us, He emptied Himself of His rightful glory to do so. The ascension returns Him to His glorious state, seated at His Father’s right hand. From there He rules and reigns over all things until His enemies are made his footstool (Hebrews 10:12-13). We live during the time when the Kingdom has been established but not yet fulfilled, and we are to march on with the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers, and as we march as citizens of His kingdom, the gates of hell will not prevail. Our King is on His throne and will reign forever.
3.) We see our acceptance with the Father.
We long to be with the Father, and through the ascension, Jesus enters the presence of His Father on our behalf. We see this in the fact that Jesus is seated with the Father. His sitting down shows us that the atonement He made for our sins is complete, for no other high-priest in the old covenant was ever allowed to sit in the holy place. Since we are in Christ, we see our acceptance before the Father as well.
4.) He is preparing a place for us.
He has gone to prepare a place for us, and He will come back for us as well. At that point all things will be set right, the kingdom will reach its full expression, and we will spend eternity with our Savior. Though His absence has its difficulties, those difficulties find their comfort in the Holy spirit and they cannot outweigh the glory that awaits. As believers, this tension should move us to worship. We glory in His ascension while longing for His return.
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 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 from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” – Acts 1:6-11
The imputed righteousness of Christ will answer all of the fears, doubts, and objections of your soul. How shall I look up to God?–In the righteousness of Christ. How shall I have communion with a holy God?–In the righteousness of Christ? How shall I find acceptance with God?–In the righteousness of Christ. How shall I die?–In the righteousness of Christ. How shall I stand before the judgment seat?–In the righteousness of Christ. The only sure way under all the temptations, fears, conflicts, doubts, and disputes, is by faith to remember Christ and the sufferings of Christ your mediator and surety.
Oh Christ, I am your sin, but you are my righteousness; I am your curse, but you are my blessing; I am your death, but you are my life; I am the wrath of God to you, but you are the love of God to me; I’m your hell, but you are my heaven. His righteousness answers all objections, though there may be a million of them made against a good estate of a believer. This is a precious truth, worth more than a world, that all our sins are pardoned. In Christ, justice and mercy kiss each other, yea justice says, ‘I am pleased.’
We own a Kingdom that will not shake, one eternal in the heavens. We have a certificate of guarantee for all the happiness and blessedness of the world to come. The righteousness of Christ is your life, your joy, your comfort, your crown, your confidence, your heaven, and your all. In righteousness you may safely and comfortably live, and happily and quietly die. Ah, that believers would dwell much upon this truth. The righteousness of Christ cannot be lost; it is from everlasting to everlasting. When once this white raiment is put on a believer, it can never fall off. Interest in his righteousness guarantees all the glory of the Heavenly Kingdom!
There are tensions in the Christian life which are the direct result of knowing Jesus. These are tensions we are meant to feel. They seem to be two desires pulling us in two different directions, but in reality, they are two balancing forces driving us toward holiness and happiness. One of these tensions is the desire to depart and the eagerness to live. Paul expressed it this way.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. – Philippians 1:22-26
Every believer will long to die and be with God from time to time. Conflicts, persecutions, and illnesses can cause us all to long for home, and during those times, we are often more willing to depart than usual. The problem is, if we only long to die and be with our Savior in times of trouble, then maybe we desire to avoid difficulty more than we desire to be with Christ.
When the scripture talks about longing to die, it is talking about our desire to be with Jesus, and this yearning should be something that is steady in times of pleasure as well as in times of pain. To be with Christ should be our daily desire, and if going through the door of our enemy death is the only way, then death becomes our hope.
At the same time, we are to be eager to live, because to live is also Christ. Every moment of life, whether it be lived in weakness or strength, pain or pleasure, or joy or sorrow, can be a testament to our glorious Savior. Some of the greatest men and women of the faith were men and women who lived in constant weakness and hardship, yet their lives were beacons pointing the world to Jesus.
Since Christ is both our desire to depart and our desire to live, we should never desire one more than the other. Both longings provide us with a balance that keeps us steady. To desire death more than life is to neglect Christ’s work in this world through our lives and shows us that personal peace is more important to us than Christ. At the same time, desiring life over death produces a fear of dying which indicates that being with Christ may not be our true desire.
Both the fear of death and the desire to die to escape difficulties, to the neglect of our calling, shows us that Christ is not our greatest hope. Both of these errors will produce a discontentment in us which will be revealed in times of trouble. During those times, we will be tempted to seek our answers outside of Christ. Only if Christ is our greatest longing will we both long to die and be eager to live, and in that we will find joy in any situation.
For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. – Acts 21:13
“These all died in faith . . . they confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” – Hebrews 11:13
The day of life with them is ended. Its duties are ended. Its responsibilities are passed. Its hours are fled away.
What a trying day some of them had! How stormy. How sultry. How often overcast. How gloomy. But it is now past–and past forever! The toils of the wilderness are over! They had much to afflict and pain them . . .
a difficult and dangerous journey,
a long wearisome march,
many a heavy cross to carry,
many a stubborn foe to face,
many a painful doubt,
numerous gloomy fears.
But now the wilderness is all behind them! The afflictions of the pilgrimage are terminated. Those sufferings were sharp, and some of them continued long. Many of them were endured in secret, without sympathy and without relief. They were soul sorrows, agony of mind–as well as sharp pains of body. But however multiplied, however severe, however protracted those sorrows–they are past and gone, never, never to return!
The sweetest repose is now enjoyed. The poor tabernacle has been taken down, and is laid in a quiet resting-place until the resurrection morning. The soul is gone to be with Jesus. It has traveled through the rough path of life–and is now in God’s presence, where there is fullness of joy, and pleasures for evermore!
As Christians, we are going to the same place. The graves will soon be ready for our bodies–and the mansions of glory for our souls. We are going home! Home to our Father’s house! Home where our hearts have long been. Home where all our prayers will be answered, and all our best desires will be gratified. “Home, sweet home! There is no place like home!” Especially our home! A paradise without a tempting serpent! A paradise where all are holy, all are safe, all are happy. Those pure and perpetual joys, which are at God’s right hand, await us! We taste them now and are delighted with a sip–but there we shall soon drink full draughts of eternal glory, eternal joy, and eternal blessedness!
Amidst present toils and trials, dangers and distresses–when wearied, way-worn, and tempted to fret–remember that you will soon be HOME! Think, think, O my soul, of an eternity of enjoyment–when the sufferings of time are ended!
“Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away!” Revelation 21:3-4
In our text we see Jacob, who is coming to the end of his life, prophesying over his sons; the twelve tribes of Israel. As we read the text, we can see him propped up in bed weak from age, blessing his sons with perfect accuracy as to what God had planned for them. As he finished blessing Dan and was ready to bless Gad, we see a man weary of his travels in this world show his true desire, which was to end his waiting and be with his Lord.
Salvation had been his since God established a covenant with him. After that, there was never any doubt that Jacob had salvation, or that the promise would be fulfilled, but being saved in the land of our sojourn is not the same as reaching the land of promise. No peace on this earth, though it is wonderful at times, will ever compare to having our destination reached and our salvation complete.
Let us learn from Jacob, who at this point in his life was living comfortably in the land of Goshen. Jacob and his family had all they needed as they lived in Egypt’s finest land. This time of peace would have been a needed retirement for a man who, by God’s sovereign decree, had been through many rough waters, but even though he is in a pleasant land, we find his desire is to go home.
Waiting is never easy, even in our lands of Goshen, but God has promised to satisfy our desire. He has promised to complete the work He has started in us, but it is all in His time. What we do not want to do is become so comfortable that we forget we are waiting for something better, or to become so overwhelmed by affliction that we cannot see the Celestial City waiting at the other end of the dark valley.
Though some may have all the comforts of this world, and others may be in times of affliction, together we wait for this one desire to be fulfilled. Let us, in the middle of our God-given work, speak our deepest desire. Let us, whether we are in the land of famine or the land of plenty, make our longing to be with our Father known.
The world in all its pleasure,
Nor pain in all its measure,
Will change my one desire,
His salvation to acquire.
Theodore Roosevelt was coming home from Africa, where he had been hunting big game. When he boarded the ship at an African port they rolled out the red carpet for him. The crowds gathered on the dock and applauded him. When he boarded the ship he was given the finest suite on board. All through the voyage he was the center of interest. Everybody went out of the way to favor the great man… Another man boarded the ship at the same time. He was and old missionary who had given his life away for Christ in Africa. Now his wife was dead, his children were gone, he himself was old and worn out, going back to America. But no one noticed him… No one applauded him. He was just a lonely old man.
When the ship docked at San Francisco a great crowed greeted Mr. Roosevelt. They applauded him. When he walked out upon the deck the bells rang, the whistles blew, and again they rolled out the red carpet and he landed amid pomp and glory… But no one was there to meet the old missionary—no one noticed him. He went to a small hotel to spend the night. That night he knelt by the side of his bed and prayed, “Lord, I am not complaining, but I just don’t understand. I gave my life for You in Africa, but it seems that no one cares. There was no one to greet me, no one to encourage me when I came home. Lord, I don’t understand.” And then it seemed that the Lord reached down from heaven and laid His hand on the old man’s shoulder and said, “Missionary, you are not home yet.”
1Co 2:9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.