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THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, February 10, 2013

“When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men” (Ephesians 4:8).


The Jebusites were the enemies of Israel. They held the city of Jerusalem long after the rest of the land had been taken by God’s people. But David and his men finally took the city. David remembered how his soldiers had stormed the heights of Jerusalem. This was the mountain of the Lord, Mount Zion, where the Temple of God was to be located. With songs and shouts of rejoicing, David brought the Ark of the Covenant up Mount Zion, to the place where it would remain. But David looked beyond that earthly scene. He saw Christ ascending, taking captives as He went, and winning victory for His people, so He could dwell among them as their Lord and Saviour. And so, in Psalm 68, David wrote,

“Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them” (Psalm 68:18).

A thousand years later the Apostle Paul was moved by the Spirit of God to apply those words to our David, the Lord Jesus Christ, when He ascended back to Heaven, to the right hand of God. And so the Apostle quoted Psalm 68:18, applying it to the resurrected Christ,

“When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men” (Ephesians 4:8).

The Lord Jesus Christ descended from Heaven when He came as a baby to the manger of Bethlehem. He descended further when He became “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). He descended lower when our sins were placed upon Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He panted and groaned and sweat “as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). He descended even lower when He “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8). And He descended lower still when His dead body was laid in the tomb. As the Apostle Paul said, “He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth” (Ephesians 4:9). Long and dark was His descent, down into humiliation, affliction and death. Deep in darkness and desertion He cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Low in the grave He lay as the Roman soldiers sealed His tomb and set a watch.

But on the third day, early in the morning, the earth quaked, the angel of the Lord rolled back the stone from the door; Jesus rose from the dead and walked out of that dark tomb into the morning sun!

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
The three sad days have quickly sped;
   He rises glorious from the dead;
All glory to our risen Head! Alleluia!
   Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
(“The Strife Is O’er,” translated by Francis Pott, 1832-1909).

On that bright Easter morning Christ began His glorious ascent! To prove that He had risen, flesh and bone from the dead, He stayed on earth, and “shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days” (Acts 1:3). Mary Magdalene and James saw Him alone. The eleven Disciples saw him when He stood in their midst, “And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them” (Luke 24:42, 43). Two on the road to Emmaus spoke with Him. Five hundred brethren at one time saw Him. He said to the Apostles, “Handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Luke 24:39). Thomas put his fingers into the holes in His hands, and even thrust his hand into the wound in His side, made by the spear that had pierced Him on the Cross. The fact that Jesus had really died was proved by that gaping wound. And the fact that He had risen from the dead was proved by Thomas handling the resurrected Lord. Beyond any doubt, Christ Jesus had risen from the dead!

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
The powers of death have done their worst,
   But Christ their legions hath dispersed;
Let shouts of holy joy outburst. Alleluia!
   Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

When he had proved to them that He had risen from the dead, Christ took His Disciples to the Mount of Olives. While they watched, “He was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). Surely the poet was not wrong when she said,

Golden harps are sounding, Angel voices ring,
   Pearly gates are opened, Opened for the King:
Christ, the King of Glory, Jesus, King of Love,
   Is gone up in triumph To His throne above.
All His work is ended, Joyfully we sing;
   Jesus hath ascended: Glory to our King!
(“Golden Harps Are Sounding” by Frances R. Havergal, 1836-1879).

The Lord Jesus Christ has gone back to the Heavenly place from whence He came. Oh Christ, Thou art the King of the universe! Thou art the eternal Son of the Father! Thou sittest in the highest Heaven, enthroned with glory, clothed in power, King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

Jesus, Saviour, reigneth forever and ever;
   Crown Him! crown Him! Prophet and Priest and King!
Christ is coming! Over the world victorious,
   Power and glory unto the Lord belong:
Praise Him! Praise Him! Tell of His excellent greatness,
   Praise Him! Praise Him! Ever in joyful song!
(“Praise Him! Praise Him!” by Fanny J. Crosby, 1820-1915).

Which brings us back to our text,

“When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men” (Ephesians 4:8).

And from the text we learn three great truths about Christ’s ascension back to Heaven.

I. First, Christ’s triumph was seen in His ascension.

Christ came down to earth to fight the enemies of God and man. The battle He fought was not against flesh and blood, “but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). Christ fought against sin, death, and Hell. He fought against hatred of God and love of false religion. He fought against the Devil and his demons. He battled these enemies until He sweat great drops of Blood, and “poured out his soul unto death” (Isaiah 53:12). But when the battle ended, He rose victorious from the dead and ascended to the Father’s throne!

The shame, suffering and blasphemy are far behind Him now. He has gone up beyond the reach of sneering Sadducees and accusing Pharisees. Judas cannot kiss Him now.  Pilate cannot scourge Him now. Herod cannot mock Him now. He is far above the reach of His enemies for ever!

He who came to save us, He who bled and died,
   Now is crowned with glory At His Father’s side;
Never more to suffer, Never more to die,
   Jesus, King of Glory, Is gone up on high.
(“Golden Harps Are Sounding,” ibid.).

Christ’s work on earth was finished. When He cried out from the Cross, “It is finished,” nothing more needed to be done for our salvation. Now He sits upon His throne interceding for us as our high priest. Now He is exalted above every name, and all things are put under Him! This is the Christ that we trust, and that we love!

And we must never forget all the benefits that come to us through Him. It is through Him that we receive all blessings. “He ascended up on high.” “He led captivity captive.” He “gave gifts unto men.” Let us rejoice in the ascent of Christ up to His throne. His ascent is the proof of His victory, and the evidence of His triumph! All things needed for our salvation are now found in the ascended Christ. Truly, His ascension shouts, “It is finished” – all that is needed for our salvation is found in Christ Jesus at the right hand of God in glory!

II. Second, Christ’s ascension defeated all our enemies.

“When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive...”
       (Ephesians 4:8).

We were slaves. We were captives of sin, enslaved by Satan, “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). We were captives of lusts, captives of error, captives of the deceit of our own hearts. But Christ has “led captivity captive.” Never forget that you were held captive by all those enemies. Never forget that you were a hopeless slave like the children of Israel in Egypt, and like Pharaoh, Satan held you in cruel bondage. But Christ, our Moses, has set you free! At His ascension, “He led captivity captive!” Oh, praise His holy name!

There are undoubtedly some here this morning who are still held in bondage by Satan, the Prince of Darkness grim. You are “taken captive by him at his will” (II Timothy 2:26). But Christ has ascended back to Heaven to set you free from that foul fiend! Trust the risen Christ, and He will set you free from Satan’s snare, from the guilt of sin, and from the sting of death! I know that is true because Jesus did that for me! “He led captivity captive” and saved me by His mighty hand!

From sinking sand He lifted me,
   With tender hand He lifted me,
From shades of night to plains of light,
   Oh, praise His name, He lifted me!
(“He Lifted Me” by Charles H. Gabriel, 1856-1932).

III. Third, Christ ascended provides gifts for us.

The full text says,

“When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men” (Ephesians 4:8).

In the context of Ephesians, chapter four, we read about some of the gifts the ascended Christ gives to us.

“He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:10-11).

He gave us the Apostles, who wrote most of the New Testament for us to read. He gave prophets to warn us. He gave evangelists to preach the Gospel to us. He gave pastors to guide us. He gave teachers to explain and apply the Bible to us. He gave these gifted men,

“For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:12-16).

Amen! Read the writings of the Apostles. They are gifts from the ascended Christ! Hear the words of the prophets, and benefit from them. Their words are gifts from the ascended Christ! Listen to your pastor, and thank God for him. He is a gift from the ascended Christ. Do the same with the gifted teachers He sends to guide you! Yes, He “gave gifts unto men.” Praise His name!

Another great gift that Jesus gave us in His ascension was the promise of His Second Coming. His descent to the earth ensured His ascent back to Heaven, and His going up ensured His coming down again. Jesus said,

“If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself...” (John 14:3).

The promise of His coming again is a very great gift to every true Christian, “that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope” (I Thessalonians 4:13). The people of this world don't have any hope at all! But the Christian has great hope,

“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (I Thessalonians 4:16-18).

That is our hope, even “that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). The “blessed hope” of Christ’s return to this earth is one of the greatest gifts secured for us by His ascension back to Heaven. His going up ensured His coming down again! When He ascended, the angels said, “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Amen!

He is coming again,
   He is coming again,
With power and great glory,
   He is coming again!
(“He Is Coming Again” by Mabel Johnston Camp, 1871-1937).

Christ’s ascension up to Heaven ensures us that He will come down again for us. That blessed hope is a gift the ascended Christ gives to His people, “that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.” What a great gift! Amen and amen! But there is more.

To the unsaved, the ascended Christ sends down the Holy Spirit. Jesus said,

“It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:7-8).

The ascended Christ said, “I will send him unto you.” He sends down the Holy Spirit to “reprove the world of sin.” That is no small work. That is the Holy Spirit’s “chief work,” His main work. Christ sends the Holy Spirit to convict lost sinners like you of your sin. When you feel sinful and lost, it is not because you are strange or “weird.” It is because the Holy Spirit is showing you your sin, and warning you of judgment to come. The Holy Spirit convicts your conscience, and causes you to feel the need for the Blood of Christ to cleanse you from sin. Do not treat the gift of the Holy Spirit lightly. Obey His convicting work and come to Jesus by faith. Christ will pardon your sins and give you peace with God!

“When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men” (Ephesians 4:8).

One of the most important gifts the ascended Christ gives us is the gift of His precious Blood! Christ’s Blood is available to you right now. It is there, up in Heaven, with Christ. And the Bible says, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (I John 1:7). The moment that you trust Jesus, His Blood will cleanse you from all sin – and you will be ready to meet God and enjoy Him forever! How we pray that you will trust the Saviour, and be made clean from all your sin by His holy Blood! Amen!

If you would like to speak with us about being saved, and becoming a real Christian, please step to the back of the auditorium while we sing hymn number seven on the song sheet. Dr. Cagan will take you to a quiet place where we can talk and pray. Go now while we sing.

Jesus is the sweetest name I know,
   And He’s just the same as His lovely name,
And that’s the reason why I love Him so;
   Oh, Jesus is the sweetest name I know.
(“Jesus is the Sweetest Name I Know” by Lela Long, 1924).

Dr. Chan, please lead us in prayer for those who have responded.

(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: Ephesians 4:4-13.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Golden Harps Are Sounding” (by Frances R. Havergal, 1836-1879).


THE OUTLINE OF

THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men” (Ephesians 4:8).

(Psalm 68:18; Isaiah 53:3; Luke 22:44; Philippians 2:8;
Ephesians 4:9; Matthew 27:46; Acts 1:3;
Luke 24:42, 43, 39; Acts 1:9)

I.   First, Christ’s triumph was seen in His ascension, Ephesians 6:12;
Isaiah 53:12.

II.  Second, Christ’s ascension defeated all our enemies, Ephesians 2:2;
II Timothy 2:26.

III. Third, Christ ascended provides gifts for us, Ephesians 4:10-11, 12-16;
John 14:3; I Thessalonians 4:13, 16-18; Titus 2:13; Acts 1:11;
John 16:7-8; I John 1:7.