The GOSPEL TRUTH
Sermons on the Resurrection:
THE ASCENSION OF JESUS
George C. Findlay
Jesus said to her (Mary Magdalene), "Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren, and say to them, 'I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'" -- John 20:17
Mary Magdalene had returned alone to the empty grave, after Peter and John paid their hasty visit. She stands there lost in grief: outrage is heaped on outrage; the body of Jesus has been removed, and there is denied to His friends even the poor consolation of paying the last rites of a hopeless love. The vision of the angels in the cave fails to rouse her from her stupor; only when Jesus speaks a second time, calling her by name, does she see through her tears who it is! Then with the cry, "My Master," she flings herself at His feet in a wild revulsion of feeling, reaching out her arms as if to grasp and hold Him fast. But He shrank from this too passionate embrace, as perhaps from some of our modem demonstrations sensuous and sentimental as they are, saying, "Touch Me not" -- do not cling to Me thus! "For not yet am I ascended to My Father" -- there will be other opportunities of meeting. "But go to My brethren and say to them, I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God!"
The Lord Jesus speaks as one upon a journey, with His face set toward another country. He has not returned to the mortal state, but looks in upon the way to reassure His friends and to tell them whither He is going. The old familiar relations of earthly companionship cannot be resumed; the deeper spiritual union with Him that awaits His disciples, is not yet established. Everything is in transition; and our Lord lingers by the way--certainly for our sakes, possibly also for His own -- as He proceeds in two mighty strides from the Underworld to Earth, from Earth to Heaven, "travelling" on from world to world "in the greatness of His strength, mighty to save."
He travels alone, of the people none may be with Him; but He would have His brethren know of His movements, He directs their eyes to the goal of the journey. "Say to My brethren, I ascend!" Not downwards, but upwards in His march. Not defeat and death; but victory, eternal life, and power and glory, are the end of the ways of Jesus, for Him and for His.
This is the watchword of Ascension-tide, -- the happiest, surely, of all the Christian festivals to a heart that shares the Saviour's joys and griefs: "If ye loved Me," He said, "ye would rejoice because I go to the Father!" While our hearts follow Him above the clouds, let us consider what His ascension means; let us ask ourselves in what character, and for what ends Jesus Christ has gone up to the heavenly places.
I. In the first place then, and as concerns Himself, our Lord ascends as the Son of God returning to His proper place: "Tell My brethren, I ascend unto My Father."
The ascent of Jesus is a final seal put upon His divinity; it consummates the resurrection; by which He was "declared to be the Son of God with power." It is the resurrection finished, as the incarnation of the eternal Son was, in a sense, His death begun. "What," He said once to His questioners. "if you should see the Son of man ascending up where He was before," would you still doubt His origin and challenge His authority? The mode of His existence certifies that He bore a supernatural life and was here upon a heavenly errand. He entered this world as never man did; He lived and spoke and wrought in it as never man did; He died, and rose again, as never man did; and He took His departure as no mere son of man ever did or could have done, -- He who was "separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens."
All is in keeping from first to last -- pure, sublime, human at once and superhuman, full of Divine propriety and moral majesty. The history of Jesus, in conception and description, transccnds human analogies and imaginings even as His departing feet rose above the earth and the clouds. "Touch Me not; I ascend!" it is the voice of the Son of God rising in His awful glory, before whose face the keepers of His grave fell like dead men, at whose feet His disciples joyously worship as He floats above them through the clouds.
How quiet and calm, in the deepest sense of the word how natural, the account of His departure which is given by another of the Evangelists. To the witnesses it must have seemed quite beautiful and in the fitting order of things that Jesus should thus part from them -- as the ship casts off her cables and launches out to her own element. He breaks the chains of sense as naturally as He had burst the bands of death, for in neither case "was it possible that He should be holden of it" longer than He chose. "Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust," is the sentence last pronounced upon our sinful bodies; but this doom cannot fall upon the Holy One of God, His flesh might not "see corruption." By the same law He gravitates upward -- the heavenly heavenwards, the Divine to the Divine. The ascent of Jesus from the hill-top fronting Bethany is the manifest and due expression of this supreme affinity. As the bent bow returns to rest when its bolt is sped, as the son sets his face homewards when evening comes and the day's task is over, so Jesus goes back to His native sphere. "Now, Father," He cries, "I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do; and I come to Thee." The Son of God returns to the Father's house.
2. Jesus went up where He was before, but not as He was. He resumed the glory which He had with the Father before the world was; but He assumed a new glory hitherto unknown, that follows on His sufferings. We are to understand that the Lord Jesus ascends as the glorified Son of man, as the acknowledged and exalted Christ. He mounts upward as the Conqueror on our behalf of sin and death, the Head over all things to His Church.
In this sense the Church, by the mouth of St. Peter, at once interpreted the event: "Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God hath made both Lord and Christ this Jesus whom ye crucified." So the apostle declared to the Jews on the day of Pentecost. For proof of this he pointed to the scene then enacted: "Being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Spirit, He hath shed forth this, which ye see and hear." The descent of the Spirit proved the ascent of the Lord Christ. The heir to some great property, who has been your friend in exile and obscurity, leaves you to take possession, promising to send you a splendid gilt so soon as he has entered on his rights. In a short time that very gift arrives; and you know now that your friend's title is proved and that he is raised to the anticipated place of wealth and power. Thus the apostles reasoned; Pentecost verified to them the ascension of the Lord Jesus. By the coming of the Spirit of power on the disciples they knew, beyond a doubt, that their Master had reached His journey's end; that when He passed from their sight through the parting clouds above Olivet, He had not vanished into empty space, but had taken His seat on the Messiah's throne at God's right hand. His sacrifice for sinners is accepted; His promises to men are honoured by the Father; the crown is set upon His head, and henceforth "all authority" is His "in heaven and upon earth."
Now this is the issue of the ascension which supremely concerns ourselves, and the prospects of God's kingdom upon earth. For the Son of God did not come into this world on a visit of inspection, nor on a romantic adventure; He came to identify Himself with men, to redeem our race from iniquity, to proclaim and to found God's kingdom in this evil, rebellious world. What then does the departure of the Son of God mean, in view of this declared mission and enterprise of salvation? Is the attempt abandoned? has the task proved too great for our would-be Redeemer? Some such fear rose to the minds of His disciples, when Jesus first spoke of leaving them by death. It was not so much their personal loss, as the thought of His defeat and the failure of the Messianic kingdom that distressed them. He has to show them that His going away is expedient, that He will be able to serve them better and to do more for the common cause when translated than if He had remained bodily present with His Church.
Instead of forsaking His work of redemption, He is now going to carry it on from heaven far more gloriously and effectively than hitherto. If He is, in appearance, quitting the field, He does so like some wise and confident military captain, who has struck for himself the decisive blow and then mounts the hill-top, from which, above the smoke and din of the conflict, he may survey the whole battle and in full command of his forces may direct the course of victory. Our Lord goes up with the government upon His shoulders, to wield on our behalf His new-won "authority in heaven," to direct and inspire from that lofty seat the work of His Church and the life of His people, to represent them evermore before the throne of God, while He draws forth from the depths of the Godhead new and infinite resources for the effecting of His purpose of salvation.
Jesus goes to His own place, the due place not only of the Son of God but of the representative and ruling Son of man, that He may "appear in the presence of God for us"; for He is the High Priest of mankind, now by His life and death identified with the race for ever and bearing the names of all the tribes upon His heart. The headquarters of the Church will henceforth be no longer at Jerusalem, nor certainly at Rome, but at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens. There "He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet."
Our Lord's departure therefore should afford us, instead of sorrow, the greatest comfort and satisfaction; as in fact it did afford to the apostles at the time, who, when they had witnessed it, "returned to Jerusalem with great joy." St. Paul in his wonderful outburst of praise in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, grounds on Christ's ascension the entire hope of the Christian calling; he bids us measure God's "power to usward," the might of the forces at work for our salvation in Christ, by the sweep and lift of the Almighty Arm which raised Him from the dead and set Him on the topmost throne of heaven. Thus highly is the Captain of our salvation exalted and approved; such power and glory has God the Father given to Him as our Saviour, engaged in the very act of redeeming us from iniquity. It is the Son of man, in bodily human form, who has gone up on high; the Head of the Church, remaining incorporate with His earthly members, He has sat down by the Father's side. Our hopes and our rights are lifted as high as He has risen, for we are "joint 'heirs with Christ Jesus." The ascension of the Lord Jesus means His earthly course not broken off but carried onwards and projected into the heavenly places, His plans and counsels of mercy not abandoned but endorsed as the policy of God, His incarnation and sacrificial death not rendered abortive but brought to their ripened and eternal fruitage in His heavenly rule by mighty work of His Spirit throughout the earth and the ages. While thus translated He remains, on His own part, the same yesterday and today -- the same Jesus teaching and healing amidst the multitude, sitting weary by the well-side, dying as the good Shepherd for His sheep, and seated now at the right hand of God in everlasting power and glory. When He says, "Tell my brethren, I ascend!" this is not to be defeated, exiled, forgotten, but to live for men and rule over men for ever.
Our lot and our work are cast in an age far removed from the time of these first events: and to many eyes the haze of distance obscures their glory and dims their certainty. Faith has its ebbs and flows; the heart of the Church is like the heart of a man, and has its hours of weariness, its moods of faintness and dejection. The Lord delays His coming; the battle is long, and the powers of evil make desperate and repeated rallies, beating back again and again the armies of the living God when victory appeared in sight. But we lift our eyes unto the hills. We "look away to Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith," -- from the Christ that was to the Christ that is, and again with restored assurance to the Christ that was and that is. and that cometh. As we gaze upward to the Living One, where He sits at the right hand of the throne of God, the light of His glory returns to our eyes; the dimness passes from our vision, the despondency lifts from our hearts. There He sits, -- His brow serene, His purpose sure, His power unbroken, His arm unwearied: "It is Christ Jesus that died, yea rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us."
The throne of God has not fallen: and while it stands, the dominion of Jesus is secure. His name is waxing and not waning through the earth. He is the King of the ages, and every prediction that set a limit to His ascendency has been falsified. He understands the twentieth century as perfectly as He did the first, and is master of the situation still. Our science and our art, our material progress and modern enlightenment, and the new powers and new forms of opposition that the advance of His kingdom has called into play, these are all within His grasp. The Church of God declares by the power of the Holy Ghost, standing in the midst of the proud and rebellious forces of the age, that "Jesus is the Lord," and that the day is coming fast when in every land of earth Hia crown shall flourish and to Him shall the gathering of the peoples be. It is the will of the Eternal "that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord."
3. Still another note sounds for us in this exultant word of Jesus. He ascends as the Forerunner of His people, the Firstborn from the dead of many brethren.
Had he coldly said, "I ascend to My Father and My God," and stopped there, it would have meant a severance,-- His quitting the world that had disowned Him, shaking earth's dust from His feet and returning on His own account to His proper place. Had Jesus familiarly said, on the other hand, "I ascend to our Father and our God," He would have ranged Himself with men, claiming only such power and honour as might belong to the greatest of our race, ascending by Himself and leaving us to follow as we might by His example. But it is to be noted that, with all His humility and brotherhood towards men, the Lord never once uses this communicative expression, nor do the Evangelists by any chance put a word into His lips. It is always "My Father" or "your Father"; in the Lord's Prayer He bids us, "When ye pray say, our Father which an in heaven"; but He never adopts the phrase in His own prayers. Always, even in His closest fellowship with men, there was at the back of the mind of Jesus Christ this distinction and reserve, the secret consciousness of a unique Sonship to God, which came out in His first recorded words spoken in boyhood.
But when He says, "My father and your Father, My God and your God," there is the distinction in the union! We are redeemed, uplifted, dignified by Him just because He is so far above us. The eternal Son, the Heir of all things, returning to His throne and reassuming His Divine rank, is not ashamed to call us brothers; "Go, and tell My brethren, I ascend!" This is not the language of a child of earth, a human upstart, one of ourselves promoted, pushing his way (as one might speak) to the heavenly court; it is "the Son" who by this message "makes us free" of the Father's house where He is Lord, who assures us of a welcome and "prepares a place" for us, since He holds both with God and men, since He blends in Himself the two natures and links the two worlds. This brief conjunction comprises our Lord's whole work of reconciliation; the double "and" of the resurrection message-- "My Father and your Father, My God and your God" -- bridges the abyss which parted man from his Maker and earth from heaven,
Jesus Christ is our "way" to the Father, our Jacob's ladder with its foot set upon the grave-mounds and its top leaning against the stars. As He mounts upwards -- the Son of God, the man Christ Jesus -- every cloud parts, every door opens, every power yields homage; all the peers of the universe -- thrones, lordships, princjpalirles, dominions --" bend before Him while He ascends from rank to rank, from realm to realm; and He virtually says, "Where I Pass, My human brethren, My poor earthly friends, must pass too." The flaming sword that barred the path to Eden is put back into its sheath; the angel sentinels and heavenly warders are become "ministering spirits" the to the kindred of their Lord. None can hinder, nor would wish to hinder our admittance, since He is not ashamed before His Father and the holy angels to call mankind His kinsmen.
The name of the ascended Jesus will be our password at the gates of Paradise and to the heaven of heavens. For the Son of God has said in our hearing, -- has said it to the Most High God; "Father, I will that they whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am."
G. G. FINDLAY (1849-1919)G. G. Findlay was born in 1849, the son of the Reverend James Findlay. From the time of his entering the Wesleyan ministry in 1870, his whole life was devoted to the teaching of the theological students of his church. For awhile he taught in Headingley and Richmond Colleges, and in 1881 he was made the Professor of Biblical Languages and Exegesis at the former of these two institutions located at Leeds. For almost all the years of his active life until near the very end, he carried for eight months, each year, a teaching schedule of eighteen hours a week. Out of this rich ministry came a number of invaluable works in the field of Biblical Exposition. This is the Dr. Findlay who wrote the commentary on Galatians in the Expositor's Bible, and the commentary on Colossians for the Pulpit Commentary Series, and then the famous commentary on First Corinthians in the Expositor's Greek Testament. To him was entrusted the writing of the Article on the Apostle Paul in Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. My own opinion is that his commentary, or series of lectures, if you will, on First John entitled Fellowship in Life Eternal is one of the three greatest works on the Johannine Epistles in our language. Then one must mention a series of three volumes which I am afraid are not too well known today, that would be a treasure for any library, entitled Books of the Prophets. A friend of his many years, the late Professor W. G. Moulton, said in an article on Professor Findlay at the time of his death, "For public life, Dr. Findlay had little inclination. He is probably the only Wesleyan minister who has ever declined the highest honor in the power of his brethren to give him, namely, the Presidency of the Wesleyan Conference." In reading again the other day the autobiography of Dr. Dinsdale T. Young, 1 came on this beautiful tribute to Professor Findlay, with which I would close this sketch.
"Dr. G. G. Findlay was the classical tutor during the major part of my College course. The learning, and humility, and sensitive kindliness of that great scholar and genius charmed me. And the charm multiplied with the years. His golden books are my constant companions. Dr. Findlay was always a sweetly gracious friend to me. I often consulted him on expository questions, and he always gave me sovereign help. All along my course he encouraged me. The last lime I preached, in connection with a College Celebration, he said, 'You have inspired us all!' What a glorious man he was! In intellect and in heart he was magnificent. His power to sympathize with lines of life remote from his was positively wonderful. My great regret concerning this glorious man is that he was never the President of the Wesleyan Conference. We. ought to have taken him by force and made him our king. I believe it would have done him good, both physically and in every way. But now he has outsoared earthly eminences. He lives and will live in the reverential and grateful love of a multitude of deeply indebted brethren."
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