1 Peter 4:12-14
Today is Ascension Sunday, and according to John Van Heest who wrote The Ascension of Christ, there is no more important day in the Christian calendar.
For if Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead and ascend into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father in heaven, then neither would we ascend into heaven.
But to rise and live with Christ, we must first die with Christ, as Paul tells us in Romans 6:4:
4. Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
What is this newness of life in which we are to walk?
Are we not the same people we were before we came to believe in Jesus Christ?
Physically we are, but spiritually we should not be, as Paul explains in Galatians 2:20:
20. "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.
In essence we are being told that if we are going to be able to live with Jesus Christ, we also must be willing to die with Him.
But die how?
Listen to what Jesus tells us in Luke 9:23:
23. And He was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.
Why do we have to take up our cross daily?
Then doesn't this imply that we are also to die daily?
Yes it does, but not physically.
By denying ourselves, we eliminate our lustful and prideful desires.
We, in essence, die to our sins; and since we sin daily, we must repent daily, we must take up our cross daily and die to our sins as Christ died upon the cross to pay the price of our sins.
It does no good to say weíre sorry, if we are not truly sorry.
When we are truly sorry, we nail our sins to the cross.
It's as though our sinful nature weighs us down so that we are unable to ascend into heaven.
So, to live with Christ, we must also die with Him.
But then Paul goes a step further, and says to die physically is even better (Philippians 1:21-24).
As we read these words, consider carefully, for yourself, "Are these words also my words, or at least the intent of my heart?"
21. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
That's quite a profound statement.
The average person would consider their present physical life the most important thing.
But Paul says that to live merely in the physical is really not that good; but when we live in Christ, He indwells us and is the most important aspect of our life.
What could be better?
As Paul says, "to die is gain." To physically die is better than to continue to live upon this earth, for if we die in Christ, we become alive with Him in heaven.
Then we would no longer live is this corrupted world where humans and animals have so much pain and suffering, and there is so much destruction
Then why doesn't the Lord take all believers home?
Listen to what Paul says:
22. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose.
23. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better;
24. yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.
This is also dying to self, that others might live in Christ through the example we set for them.
Peter even says that we are to suffer with Christ (1 Peter 4:12-14):
12. Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you;
13. but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation.
14. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
Do we see how our being willing to die with Christ, also makes us able to live with Him?
And do we see how we are also exulted with Christ, how we are resurrected with Christ, and how we are to ascend with Christ?
Do we have the faith to believe what we are being told?
Since we haven't seen Jesus physically taken up into heaven, we must have the faith to believe it, because those who actually saw His Ascension told us about it.
And there are many who wouldn't change their way of life, even if they had been there when Jesus actually ascended into heaven.
But those who were there, and saw, didn't walk away afterwards, and say as so many do today, "Itís over; what do we do now?"
In Acts 1:6-14, listen to what we are told of their reaction:
6. And so when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?"
That's a very logical question, considering that they were talking with the resurrected Jesus.
But note how Jesus answers them:
7. He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority;
8. but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."
This could have been very discouraging.
They expected Jesus to usher in the New Kingdom, and He says it's not time yet.
And what adds to their disappointment is that they are being called upon to work even harder for the ministry.
And what about us? We been waiting for nearly 2,000 years, and it still isn't the time.
And then after telling them this, and before they could question Him further, do you know what Jesus did?
9. And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.
Are they going to give up, as many people do when they don't like something in church?
10. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was departing, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them;
11. and they also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven."
Were they disappointed?
I'm sure they must have been.
But they didn't lose Christ; they only misunderstood the time sequence.
So what did they do?
12. Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away.
13. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James.
14. These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.
They didn't give up, they continued in the ministry.
And something even more important is that they functioned as with a single purpose, as with a single mind, but whose?
With Jesus', for they were all of one mind with Him, even if not completely so with each other at all times.
Why did this happen?
It happened because they were willing followers of Jesus.
And it happened because Jesus prayed for them, as we are told in John 17:1-11:
These things Jesus spoke; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify Thy Son, that the Son may glorify Thee,
2. even as Thou gavest Him authority over all mankind, that to all whom Thou hast given Him, He may give eternal life.
Our hope is in Jesus Christ.
Our hope is Jesus Christ.
3. "And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.
4. "I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do.
5. "And now, glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was.
6. "I manifested Thy name to the men whom Thou gavest Me out of the world; Thine they were, and Thou gavest them to Me, and they have kept Thy word.
7. "Now they have come to know that everything Thou hast given Me is from Thee;
8. for the words which Thou gavest Me I have given to them; and they received them, and truly understood that I came forth from Thee, and they believed that Thou didst send Me.
9. "I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine;
10. and all things that are Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.
11. "And I am no more in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to Thee. Holy Father, keep them in Thy name, the name which Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, even as We are.
This is not a prayer for everyone in the world. It's a prayer for the believers who have died with Christ.
And God will keep us in His name, if we are one with Christ.
Angie has made that decision.
Thatís why she's up here with me this morning, and that's why she is being baptized.
Let each of us remember our own baptism, as we participate in hers.
Let us all be willing to die with Christ, that we might live with Him.
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