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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:The sending Christ was taken up into heaven
Text:Mark 16:19-20 (View)
Occasion:Ascension Day
Topic:Our Calling
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-07-09
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 41

Hymn 39

Psalm 87

Hymn 1

Psalm 68:1,2

Scripture reading:  Mark 16:9-20

Text: Mark 16:19-20

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


Beloved in our Lord Jesus,

When I was a missionary some years ago, I once preached at a church somewhere in Canada.  I preached on a passage which connected to the missionary calling of the church.  The passage spoke of how a church of Jesus Christ has to care about the world.  It was about how Christians are to have a heart for the lost and witness to them.

Afterwards an older brother came up to me outside the church.  He disagreed with the sermon.  He said something like, “We don’t have to tell unbelievers about the gospel.  We don’t have to invite them to church either.  Look, they know where the church is.  They know the doors are always open at the church.  If they want to come and hear the gospel, they can come if they want.  But we don’t have to tell them.”  Sadly, in that particular church there were other people who thought the same way.     

There have always been people who question, dispute or minimize the necessity of outreach, evangelism, mission.  There have always been those who just don’t see bringing the gospel to the lost as a priority.  They would rather not hear about it and they certainly don’t want to do it.  I hope it’s not a common problem today anymore. 

But it is a problem.  When people don’t care about the lost world around us, it reflects a lack of love for Jesus and it reflects a lack of love for our neighbour.  Christ said in John 14:15 that if we loved him we would follow his commandments.  Christ showed us what it means to love our neighbours.

In our text for this Ascension Day, we read about Christ our Saviour ascending into heaven.  Right before that moment, he gives a command, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”   And right after that moment, we read that the good news of Jesus was indeed preached everywhere.  This shows us that there is an intimate connection between the ascension of our Lord and mission or outreach.  We’re reminded that mission matters supremely.  So I preach to you God’s Word this evening with the theme,

The sending Christ was taken up into heaven and sits at God’s right hand.

Before we go any further, we have to deal with a preliminary matter.  You may have noticed that above verse 9 in our ESV Bibles there is a note, “Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20.”  Taken at face value, these words are true.  But they do not take away from these verses being the canonical Word of God.  Because this gets quite technical, I’m not going to go into all the reasons for saying that.  Let me just mention two points here. 

First of all, speaking historically the consensus of the Christian church has been that these words are part of the inspired Word of God.  True, in the last century that consensus has been brought into question, but if you read Calvin’s Commentary on the Gospels you’ll find he had no problem with these verses.  If you check the Latin Vulgate, the Bible the Church used for centuries, these words are there.  Our Heidelberg Catechism directly quotes Mark 16:16 in QA 71.  And so on. 

Second, the note in the ESV says, “some of the earliest manuscripts” do not have these verses.  What is not mentioned is that almost all of the thousands of available Greek manuscripts of the New Testament do in fact have these verses.  Also, earliest does not necessarily mean best.  One of these earliest manuscripts that doesn’t have Mark 16:9-20 has been described by at least one respected scholar as a “reject.”  That’s as far as I’m going to go on this matter.  There is a lot more, but suffice it to say that there’s no reason to doubt these verses are the Word of God.  We can receive them as being inspired by the Holy Spirit.  He is speaking to us in these words.

So, with that in mind, verse 19 says, “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them…”  And to find out what it was that he said to them, we have to go back to verse 15 and following for a moment.  Let’s just concentrate on what he says in verse 15. 

“And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.’”  The Holy Spirit says, “he said to them.”  We need to consider carefully who these words are addressed to.  Verse 14 tells us Christ appeared to the eleven disciples (Judas was no longer with them).  So we have to conclude that these words in verse 15 are also addressed to them.

So, these words come to the eleven disciples.  These words are what we call the Great Commission; they parallel the more commonly known form of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20.  Jesus commissions them and makes them into apostles – apostles are literally those who are sent out.  The eleven apostles represent the church of Jesus Christ.  So we can say it is the church of Christ that is sent out here before he ascends into heaven.  The church of all ages and places – and that includes us!  We too are commissioned to be a missionary, outward-looking church.   

And where does Jesus send the church?  Well, he says, “go into all the world.”  Jesus didn’t say, “just work among the Jews or the people that are like you.”  He said “all the world” and that means the whole world as it was known at that time.  For us today, this means that as a missionary church we’re called to have a universal concern for the cause of the gospel.  Whether it’s on a foreign mission field, or here in our own city, the church is called to have a heart for those lost in darkness wherever they may be.  We’re called to care.  

Jesus sends the church into all the world.  To do what?  To proclaim the gospel, to preach the good news.  That means:  to herald or to proclaim in an official way the fact that Jesus Christ is the Saviour for sinners.  It means to proclaim the gospel call to faith and repentance.  It means calling people to place their trust in Jesus Christ for rescue from the punishment their sins deserve.  It means calling people to repent, to do a 180 degree turn away from sin and turn to God.  The call here means to proclaim that the only way back to God the Father is through God the Son.  The church is called to go into all the world and proclaim who Christ is and all the wonderful things he has done, is doing and will do.  Remember that Mark’s book starts off with a title, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ the Son of God.”  Now at the end of the book Christ commands his church to go out and make that gospel known!  Not just the gospel according to Mark, of course, but the good news about the Saviour who is revealed in Mark and elsewhere.

There’s one more thing we need to consider here and that’s why he sends them.  That’s where there is a direct connection with the ascension.  The ascension is part of Christ’s glorification.  It’s only fitting that his glory would be recognized and honoured, not only in heaven, but also on earth.  Having ascended to heaven, he sits at the right hand of the throne of God, and there the saints and angels adore him with unceasing praise.  Meanwhile, his church on earth is busy bringing the good news to all creation so that more and more praise would be offered to Christ Jesus here on earth.  Why does Christ send the church into all the world with the good news?  For his glory and the glory of the Father. 

Some might say that this leaves out the salvation of the lost.  Doesn’t Christ send out the church because he cares about the lost?  Yes, that’s true.  In his mercy Jesus does want unbelievers to be converted.  But here’s the thing:  that results in glory for God and that is his ultimate concern.  And that has to be our ultimate concern as well.  Realizing that also shapes how we approach the whole question of results.  God’s purposes are not only fulfilled when unbelievers humble themselves with repentance and faith in Christ.  Remember Proverbs 16:4, “The Lord works out everything for his own ends – even the wicked for a day of disaster.”  God has his purposes and he will be glorified through the preaching of the gospel whatever the results from our perspective might be.  The gospel always does something.  Your labour in the Lord is never in vain. 

Verse 19 of Mark 16 continues by saying that Christ was taken up into heaven.  Notice it doesn’t say he “ascended into heaven.”  Rather, he was “taken up.”   In other words, the Father drew the Son to himself.  The Son’s work on earth was done and the Father, recognizing that, brought his Son back to the heavenly dwelling place. 

There Mark tells us, “he sat down at the right hand of God.”  Sitting meant that his work of atonement was completed.  In the Old Testament, the high priest was not allowed to sit down in the holy of holies.  He came in once per year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and when he did he was not allowed to stay around for longer than necessary.  He was certainly not permitted to sit.  That’s the point made in Hebrews 10:11-12.  About Christ, the author of Hebrews tells us, “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.”  His work of atonement was completed and now he could sit. 

And he sat down “at the right hand of God.”  This means Christ was then given the power to rule the world.  He is now ruling all things and he’s doing that for us and our benefit.  Christ didn’t go up into heaven to enjoy some rest away from us, but in order to rule all things for our good.  His sitting signifies the end of his atoning work and the beginning of his exalted rule.

We see that in the last verse of Mark as well.  This verse can be understood as a sort of brief summary of what happened in the book of Acts and afterwards.  Verse 20 says the disciples went out and preached everywhere.  Perhaps we read this and it’s pretty hard to impress us with it.  But really what Mark says here is amazing.  These eleven men were not highly educated.  Some of them were from a rural background; they would have been regarded as the dregs of society.  One of them had been a tax collector.  None were highly respected.  They certainly hadn’t earned any respect during the trial and death of their Rabbi.  Every single one of them had deserted him.  Peter even went so far as to deny Jesus three times, even denying him by taking God’s name in vain.  But now we read that these men, foolish and weak by normal human standards, went out and preached everywhere.  Merely by the sound of their voice they were God’s instruments to bring thousands of people to faith in a man who had been crucified in shame and weakness.

We look at this and we have to say it would have been impossible by human ability.  Who would have expected it?  That’s why Mark adds the words, “and the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.”  This was truly a work of God.  The apostles received God’s help to bring the gospel to the nations.  One of the ways he did this was with certain signs.  Some of those signs are mentioned in verses 17 and 18.  Exorcism is mentioned – we see that happening in the book of Acts.  In Acts 5 we’re told that the apostles were instrumental in the healing of those who were tormented by unclean spirits.  The speaking in new tongues happened on the day of Pentecost and at other times.  We see Paul picking up a deadly viper in Acts 28.  The only thing we don’t find in the book of Acts is the drinking of poison.  However, there are stories about this happening in early Christian literature outside the Bible.  The point is that Christ confirmed his word with these signs.  With these miraculous things, Jesus was still working and telling people that these apostles were his ambassadors and he was present in them and with them. 

Today, Christ continues to be present with the preachers of the gospel, whether in our regular established churches or on the mission field.  Our ascended Lord Jesus opens the eyes of the blind.  He brings life to those who are dead.  Jesus makes the spiritually deaf hear and the mute to speak and sing his praises.  These are the signs we see today as a result of his working with the preachers of the gospel.  It’s all part of his exultation.   Christ is still working today to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth.  For that, we can praise him today! 

His ascension resulted in his sitting at the right hand of God.  But the day is coming when he will again stand up.  He will rise to judge the nations at the last day.  That last day comes when all God’s chosen ones from every tribe, tongue and nation have been gathered into his church.  So one way of looking at his ascension is to say that it kicked off the age of New Testament mission.  His ascension resulted in this day when the church is to be busy.  We’re going to be busy with this missionary task among the nations until he descends just as he ascended.

That brings us to think more about how we are to be busy with this task today.  There are a few things we can note here this evening.  First of all, we’ve already noted that the Great Commission was not given to individual believers, but to the Church as a whole.  In today’s context, people often look at mission in an individualistic way.  There are those who speak about being called to be a missionary when no church has called them or sent them out to be such.  However, in the Bible Christ sends out a missionary church.  The Church is the way people are sent out in missionary work. 

Yet there is still an important place for the individual witness of believers.  Not everyone is called by God to serve as a missionary in the official or formal sense of the word.  Only a few are going to be sent out to establish and build up churches.  Still, we know from the broader context of Scripture that all believers are called to be prophets.  We all have that general office of all believers which includes witnessing to the lost around us to the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  We’re not preachers, but we are witnesses.  Christ has called us to be those who are always ready to give an account for the hope we have in him.  We do that wherever God has placed us in his providence:  in our neighbourhoods, in our schools, in our workplaces.  Wherever we are, that prophetic calling to be witnesses should always be seen in relation to the church.  When we’re witnessing, our goal is to see people believe in Christ.  We believe that the key instrument to bring people to faith is the official preaching of the gospel in the church.  Inviting people to our public worship services, to be under that preaching, is therefore important.  So is encouraging people who are already believers to attend and become part of a faithful Bible-believing church where the gospel is preached, so they can be strengthened.  Naturally, we would invite them to our church.  You see, the church is not peripheral or on the edge of our calling to care about the world.  Rather, the church is central.   

Another concrete thing which follows from our passage is that we can and we should pray for and encourage our existing missionaries.  Here you can think especially of the missionaries we support. [It would be fitting to name them here and where they serve]   They are the ascended Christ’s instruments on this earth to gather in his church.  Why not send them and their families a card or an e-mail every now and then and ask them how you can specifically pray for them this week?  Prayer is an enormously powerful tool in Christian missions.  Perhaps we can’t be there alongside our missionaries in person, but we can be there working with them through prayer.  James 5:16b says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”                    

Finally, the advent of the global village means there are more opportunities than ever for all of us to be involved with foreign mission work in a short-term capacity.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re young or old.  In a small way, you can be involved with missionaries sent out by churches to various parts of the world.  Here’s a concrete way that we too can be going out into all the world with the gospel of Christ and supporting those for whom this is a life-time calling. 

Loved ones, when our Saviour ascended, he didn’t set himself at a distance from this world and its affairs, at a distance from us.  With his Holy Spirit, he is still present.  With his church filled with the Spirit, he continues to work.  He continues to ensure that the gospel message of hope in him goes out in this dark and broken world.  He will do so until he comes again to judge the living and the dead.  AMEN.     

Prayer:

Our Lord God in heaven,

For the completed atoning work of Christ our Saviour, we praise you.  For having an ascended Saviour at your right hand, we thank you.  Lord Jesus, we want to be your mouth and hands on this earth.  Help us to be a church that cares about the lost.  Help us to be a church on fire for the missionary task you’ve given us.  Give us more grace through your Spirit so that we would be eager to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth.  We pray especially that our young men would see the fields white for harvest and be motivated to study to become ministers and missionaries.  Father, we ask for more young men who would be dedicated to the cause of your Son.  And we pray this all because we care about your glory.  We want to see you made much of.  Please hear our prayer in the name of our ascended Lord Jesus who intercedes for us before your throne.  AMEN.         




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

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