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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Welcome to Heaven
Text:Ephesians 2:6 (View)
Occasion:Ascension Day
Topic:God The Son
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-05-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 47:1,2                                                                                

Ps 92:1,2  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – Ephesians 2

Ps 68:2,12

Sermon – Ephesians 2:6

Hy 69:1,2,3

Hy 40:1,2,3,4,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, probably a good many of us have had the experience of going to the airport in order to see someone off on a long journey. There might even be a whole group of people making the farewell, and only one who is traveling. You go with the person as far as you can, right up to where he needs to enter the security area. There’s tears and hugs and good-byes, and then the person walks away on his own—looking kind of lonely, actually, embarking on that journey all by himself.

At first glance, that’s what the ascension of our Lord Jesus looks like. It appears to be a solitary act, for Jesus is very much on his own when He ascends into heaven. His disciples are all standing there on the “departures level,” you might say, looking on—looking up—and staying behind. This was something that Jesus had to do by himself.

But that’s not the whole story. The ascension of Jesus into heaven is full of meaning for his disciples of every time and place. We know that Jesus hasn’t gone into heaven to stop working, as if long ago He departed on a heavenly holiday and now He’s just waiting for the day He needs to come back. No, Christ went into heaven in order to progress God’s plan of salvation, to begin working out the next and final phase.

Christ has gone into heaven for us—and, in a certain sense, Christ goes into heaven with us! That’s right: the ascension isn’t just about how Jesus earned a glorious position at the Father’s right hand. But his ascension also means that believers are allowed to share in his glorious and heavenly position. This is what Paul writes in Ephesians 2:6, “[God] raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” We share in his journey upwards, and we share in his destination—a wonderful privilege that is granted through God’s amazing grace in Christ. I preach the gospel to you on this theme,

God has seated us in the heavenly places together with Christ:

  1. a dramatic change
  2. a present calling
  3. a future hope

 

1) a dramatic change: In some ways, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is similar to his letter to the Romans. You might know that Romans is like a summary of the Christian gospel. In it Paul explains the core teachings of the faith: our sin, God’s salvation, and our service; or if you like: guilt, grace, and gratitude. Ephesians has a similar content to Romans, albeit in a much shorter form.

Just consider how chapter 2 begins, as Paul describes our sin-filled condition and desperate need: “[You] were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” (vv 1-2).

“You were dead,” Paul says—and the problem with being dead is that there can be no man-made escape from this condition. “This is how it used to go for us,” Paul reminds his Ephesian congregation, “We all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (v 3). And the result of this perpetual spirit of rebellion? “[We] were by nature children of wrath” (v 3). Because of our sinfulness, we were in line for God’s everlasting condemnation. We didn’t deserve heaven, we deserved hell.

That’s the guilt—now the grace. For God reached down to us with his loving arm, and He pulled us out of our lowly state: “God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (vv 4-5). You should draw a line under the central verb in that summary of the gospel: God made us alive. That was our fundamental need, because we were truly dead: incapable of living without constantly sinning, and liable to an unending sentence of death.

We were dead, but Christ made us alive. By his death he paid the just penalty for all our sins and removed the obstacle to our fellowship with God. And then by his resurrection he showed decisively that the state of death has been reversed and broken; Jesus rose from the grave and He prevailed over sin’s terrible curse.

These are all historical events in the life of Christ. What I mean is that they happened at a moment in time, and they won’t be repeated: Jesus died, He was resurrected, and yes, He also ascended. They’re history, but then Scripture also applies those events of Christ’s life directly to us. When we believe, these are events that continue to have an incredible effect in us and for us.

This is the teaching of our union with Christ. Being joined to Christ by faith means that every good thing and every high position that belongs to Christ, God says is also ours. Every perfect work that Christ accomplished, God says that we also accomplished. This union with Christ means that our death for sin has already happened—it happened at the cross, when He died in our place. Paul speaks about this in many places, like in 1 Corinthians 6:17, “He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.”

In our chapter too, Paul wants to unfold just how closely we have been connected to Christ. He does it with three compound words—and these are words that he’s actually put together himself. In each case he’s taken a normal verb and stuck onto the front of it the preposition “together.” The first one is in verse 5; in Greek it’s just one word, but in English it takes three words to translate it: “made alive together.” Paul’s next compound word is in verse 6, translated as “raised up together,” and again, “made to sit together.”

These customised words make it clear that whatever God did for Christ, He did at the same time for his chosen people. He made us alive, He raised us up, He seated us with him in heaven. In that respect, Christ’s resurrection and exaltation are not isolated and solitary events, but they’re universal—applicable to all who are joined to him by faith!

Let’s look at verse 6 more closely, where the Spirit says that with Christ our resurrection has already taken place: “you have been raised up together.” Now, it’s true that our resurrection from the dead is a future hope. When someone dies, we are comforted that one day they will rise again: their body won’t stay in the grave forever but will be resurrected and made new.

It’s our expectation for times to come, yet our resurrection is also a present reality. When Christ triumphed over death, all his people triumphed too! Death isn’t really the end for any of his believers. And already now we enjoy a new life in Christ. Already we’ve been raised from our state of spiritual deadness, and been made alive with a life that lasts forever. This is why the Spirit exhorts us in Romans 6 to “to walk in the newness of life.” Your life is already new—you’re no longer dead in sin—so now you need to live that way!

We join in Christ’s resurrection—and now for the focus of this sermon—we share in his ascension: “God made us sit together in the heavenly places with Christ.” Do you see how Paul speaks about that event as if it’s already happened? Again, it’s not just a future hope, that one day we get to go up to heaven to be with Christ. No, it’s an accomplished fact: we are already in heaven with him! We already have a position in God’s presence, a welcome place by his throne.

And this is only possible “in Christ” (v 6). When He finished his work on earth, the Father was pleased with what He’d done. Christ had been obedient, suffered everything that He needed to, and remained loyal throughout. This is reason that God, according to 1:20, “raised [Christ] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.” Jesus was being given his reward when He ascended: crowned with glory, granted a place of honour, vested with authority over all things in heaven and earth. There on his throne Christ has access to unimaginable riches and resources: He controls every spiritual blessing, He commands the myriads of angels, He governs the universe itself. 

It’s a most exalted position… and it’s one in which we share! Remember, God looks at us as so closely united to his Son that we’re actually with him, there in heaven. If Christ is in the presence of God, then we are in the presence of God. And that means we too, are given access to untold riches and resources, even all of the assets of heaven. You’re connected to the strength of the Holy Spirit. You’re protected by the mighty angels. You’re provided for by the Almighty God. Already now, you possess eternal life and there’s a room for you in the Father’s house.

Even more fundamentally, more basically, being “seated with Christ in heaven” means that God welcomes us into his presence. You can go to heaven, if you will, through prayer and worship—and God accepts you. We’re no longer his enemies, but now we’re his beloved children, given free access to the Father.

Ponder what a dramatic change this is for sinners. Think about where Ephesians 2 began, just five verses before: we were dead in trespasses and sins, subject to the devil’s slavery, subject to God’s wrath. But now we’ve been made-alive-together, we have been raised-up-together, and we’ve been seated-together with Christ! From rolling in the dust of death, wallowing in the mud and mire, to sitting in highest heaven! Rescued from Satan’s dominion, and transferred into the kingdom of Christ, where we enjoy a seat next to our Saviour. His glory is our glory. His triumph is ours. His riches and honour are all ours.

I understand that this is hard to relate to. It sure doesn’t look like we’re seated with Christ in heaven, and it doesn’t feel that way either. Our feet are still very much planted on this earth, and we’re immersed in all the stresses and difficulties and limitations of daily life. We’ve all got weaknesses, temptations, sins, losses, frustrations, struggles—not a lot of glory. For us the victories don’t happen too often, and there’s not much honour, it seems. Is it really true then? Has anything changed?

But God says that there’s much more to life than what we can see. There’s certainly much more than what we feel. We’re talking about spiritual realities, about things that are often unseen, about things not yet fully revealed. But in our text God pulls back the veil. He lets us go behind the scenes and see that this is what’s really real: you have been raised up, and you have been exalted with Christ! If you are joined to Christ by faith, this is your position.

No matter the job that you’re going to tomorrow morning, in Christ you’re actually a king, you’re a queen. No matter what your passport says, your citizenship is in heaven. Through Christ, you do have a place in the presence of God the Father. Anytime of the day you can approach his heavenly throne and ask Him to forgive you, to help you, to strengthen you—and He will, for He has promised it.

 

2) a present calling: All of this means a change in our attitude and conduct. Our life must be marked by that movement from guilt, to grace, to gratitude. If we used to be dead in sin and we “walked according to the course of the world” (2:2), then being alive and exalted in Christ means that we have to walk according to his way! Being a citizen of heaven needs to change how we travel here on earth.

When we work that calling out in Ephesians, we see that Paul has something specific in mind. In this letter he says a lot about the powers of the devil. Back in chapter 1 he refers to “all principality and power and might and dominion” (v 21), and when he says that, he’s not thinking about earthly powers, like presidents and armies. He’s thinking about the spiritual powers of darkness, and the forces of the evil one.

He mentions these forces again at the beginning of chapter 2, saying that we used to walk “according to the prince of the power of the air” (v 2). Satan is like a prince or a ruler, because  he does have a real authority, not by right but by brutal force and cunning influence. Satan is very good at putting people in subjection to him, enslaving them, then using them in his own attacks against the Lord.

But now Christ has dominion over all. Jesus has been lifted up, chapter 1 says, “far above all principality and power and might and dominion” (v 21). God has “put all things under his feet” (1:22), even all the plots and cruelties of Satan. With Christ seated at God’s right hand in heaven, we know for a fact that there’s someone greater than the devil—someone who was a human like us in every respect, but who shattered the devil by his death and resurrection. Today Christ is triumphant, seated in heaven as the one who demolished Satan’s power. He doesn’t have to listen to Satan anymore, but Satan has to listen to him.

That is Christ’s position—and now connect it to our own. Remember that already now we share in his heavenly glory: we are “seated with him.” So Christ’s victory over Satan is our victory! We too have a dominion over him and all his demons.

That’s a rich encouragement, for every day we face the devil’s attacks. Paul writes later in Ephesians, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against the powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (6:12). There are those demonic powers again, and Paul doesn’t minimise their clout at all: they are strong, they are persuasive, they are many.

So in this age it’s not easy to be holy—in fact, it’s a constant fight. If you stop paying attention, you soon begin to slip. And if you slip once, invariably the next time it’s easier. The devil is so good at wearing down our resistance, weakening our resolve, priming us to fall: waiting for the right mood, the right day, the opportune moment. It’s not for nothing that Satan is said to be “crafty” or “wily.” He can be deliberate with temptation, stubborn, calculated, which makes it so hard for us. He’s too strong—he’s got dark powers behind him, demonic armies, worldly principalities—and we’re too weak.

Can we really endure this? God says, “Remember who you are. Remember what you’ve become in Christ: a champion, a king, a queen, an all-time winner. You have already been seated with Christ in heaven, in a place far above the devil’s power.

Once more, it doesn’t feel like it. We’re up to our neck in the fight against sin, and I suspect that most of us don’t reckon very often that we’re winning. But this is real: in Christ, you have power and wisdom to resist. You’ve been given every resource for victory, so you don’t have to yield to Satan’s attacks. But you do need to make use of Christ’s mighty strength! You do need to be connected to Christ with a faith that is living.

If we’re being lured by the devil into some sin, and we’re often not praying to God, we cannot expect to stand. If we’re struggling with our weakness and worry, and we’re not receiving strength from daily time in Scripture, we cannot expect to persevere. If we’re confused or tempted, and we’re not sharing this with a godly person who can help us, we’re ignoring another important support for the fight.

By this I’m not saying that it’s all up to us—remember, Christ has given the victory already—but we do have the calling to press home our advantage. Paul looked at it that way too. In this letter he speaks about our triumph in Christ, but he also speaks about the serious work that we still have to do. Again in Ephesians 6, “Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (v 13).

You have dominion, now show your dominion! Don’t let the devil boss you around. Like God said to Cain so long ago, “Sin desires to have you, but you must master it.” You don’t have to say yes. Don’t be driven along by the world’s persuasion, but stand firm in Christ. Put your entire life under his rule, where every thought, every word, every deed is made subject to him.

 

3) a future hope: On that day when the disciples stood on the mountain and watched Jesus ascend into heaven, the angels told them that this wasn’t the end. “He will come again in the same way that you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). One day Christ is going to return, and He’ll bring God’s plan to a perfect conclusion. That’s our future hope, and one that also connects directly to our being “seated with him” in the heavens.

Listen to what Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 19:28, “When the Son of Man sits on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Jesus promises the disciples a heavenly position, a place of rule and authority in the kingdom. And that’s not just a promise for a select few. God says that all who have followed Christ are seated with him in heaven. We are, and we will be, rulers and lords!

When we open the book of Revelation, we see a marvellous picture of what will happen at the end of time. In that book we also hear the saints singing their jubilant songs of victory to Christ; and this is what they sing, “[You] have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev 5:9-10). Note that well: God has redeemed us to make us kings, and we shall reign on the earth!

For that’s what God created us for in the beginning. From Revelation go back to Genesis, when the LORD gave us the mandate to have dominion over all creation, to rule it for him and under him and to his glory. We failed in that task, and we chose the pride of disobedience over humble service. We listened to the prince of this world instead of the King of the universe, and we entered the darkness.

As a consequence, this world suffers immensely under the weight of sin. There are horrible disasters and lethal diseases. There is constant war among the nations, and endless conflict among peoples. There is widespread lawlessness, and a mounting persecution of believers. We know that it will get worse before it gets better.

But there’s nothing that can undo the plan God has established. For through the victory of his Son, God is working on a new world—a new heavens and earth—and over this coming world, we shall have dominion forever. Like we were meant to in the beginning, but this time  without flaw: “If we endure,” it says 2 Timothy, “we shall also reign with him” (2:12).

That’s how Paul continues in the next verse. After speaking about how we’ve been made to sit together in heaven with Christ, he points us to where it’s all headed: “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us” (v 7). The church that looks so weak and insignificant today will be revealed as God’s royal house, a holy nation of kings and queens in Christ.

Beloved, our future hope is certain, which means that our present purpose is clear. When Christ ascended, you ascended with him, and you were seated in the heavenly places. God made you to rule, so in Christ’s power exercise that rule today: resist the devil, and have dominion over sin! In Christ, God brought you back to himself, so cherish that blessing and enjoy your place in God’s presence! God made you for glory, so look forward to that day when Christ will return and we are glorified with him forever.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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