Sustained by Jesus’ promise to return

Jesus ascended and started a new chapter for us, his disciples. While we do his work here, we treasure his promise to return.

John A. Vieths

Ten years ago we took our oldest child, just a 14 year-old girl then, a thousand miles away from home to prep school. After a weekend of unloading luggage, working through registration lines, attending orientation meetings, and gathering for the school’s opening worship, the time came. We all went to the car. We talked, somewhat uncomfortably, about schedules and whom to contact and when we would see each other again. We knew what was coming next: saying good-bye. There were hugs and tears. Then hugs and tears again. It was time to stop delaying. It was only making it harder. I told my wife to get into the car. I began to drive away. In the rearview mirror were my daughter and a friend, crying, watching us go. They didn’t move until we were out of sight. I don’t know how long they stayed there, looking down the street after our car had disappeared, before they finally turned and went to start this new chapter in their lives.

It’s not hard to understand why it took some time for Jesus’ disciples to leave the Mount of Olives on the day he ascended. The angels didn’t ask them, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?” because they were confused. It was a gentle way of telling them that it was time to go, time to start the new chapter in their lives.

The angels’ urging came with a promise. “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Jesus has promised to return, and that sustains us in this long wait while he is away.

Unchanged by time

Time has a way of changing us, sometimes for the better, but not always. Time also has a way of changing our relationships. No doubt you have known the awkward moments when you meet up with a friend or family member after long years apart. Something seems unfamiliar. Sometimes pauses and short silences punctuate the conversation. As you get reacquainted you sense different views, different values, a different person than the one you remember. Something has been lost.

That is not a worry while we wait for Jesus to return. “This same Jesus” is coming back, not a different one. He “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He “loves me every day the same,” we learned to sing as Jesus’ little lambs. That is still true. It will be true on the day he returns. He once came and loved us all the way to the shameful cross and an ugly death. The same love brings him back to raise our bodies and take them home to live with him.

Time also has a way of aging us, and with each passing year our powers fade. By the time we reach the end we are often just a shadow of the person we were in the glory of our youth. The reality of the slow but certain changes become troublesome to us. But time has no such effect on Jesus while he is away. It cannot reach him there. He is no longer bound by earthly time, aging, sin, and death.

Visible for all to see

The disciples watched the mighty Victor over sin and Satan ascend from the Mount of Olives to claim his heavenly throne. He will appear in power and glory undiminished on the day he keeps his promise to return. Visually, he will return in even greater glory than he left.

Then, finally, our long wait of faith will be replaced by sight. Then we will see what now we can only believe. Even now his cross asserts that all our sins have been forgiven. His resurrection seals the promise and makes us doubly sure. But who can see their sins forgiven? We don’t see them fall from our bodies like dust shaken from our clothes.

“Your iniquities have separated you from your God,” Isaiah once warned (59:2). That, we might think, is a truth about sin we can see. After all, haven’t we been separated from Jesus for nearly two millennia? Doesn’t our world seem more godless as more people abandon all that is good and wholesome? A vast canyon appears to stretch between us and the Almighty.

Still, Jesus has left us with promises that not all things are as they appear. “You who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). “Surely I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). God has reconciled us and brought us near. Sin is not keeping us apart, in spite of the apparent separation. Invisibly, Jesus is still here, still with us. For now, we take God’s promises on faith.

At Jesus’ return, we will see. The apostle John already gives us a little glimpse of what will be. Those who once were soiled with sin “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14). Those to whom God once seemed so far away “are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence” (Revelation 7:15). Cleansed of sin, we will see God face-to-face and live in his presence with glorified bodies.

Ready to take us to heaven

So we look forward to the room waiting for us in our Father’s house and cling to Jesus’ promise, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).

Have you ever met anyone famous? Are you the kind of person who wouldn’t wash your hand for a week if you shook hands with your idol or hero? My personal encounters with the rich and famous are limited—a couple of retired NFL hall-of-famers, a relative of a well-known politician. Our meetings were polite, but brief. I’m certainly not going to be invited for dinner anytime soon.

However, the most influential person in all of world history, the founder of the world’s biggest world religion, the Creator of the Universe and Savior of the human race holds out more than a dinner invitation. He has prepared a room in his Father’s house, the most magnificent home ever imagined. Better than having a luxurious place of our own somewhere down the road, all alone, we will live at home with him, surrounded by the love and laughter of the great extended family of faith reunited in his presence. He will move us in permanently. He promised to return to take us there himself. The time is drawing near.

That makes our waiting now a little easier to bear. The days outside, the days away, the days of work and travel are almost over. Jesus will come back soon. His promise keeps us going until he does.

John Vieths is pastor at Grace, Norman, Oklahoma.

This is the final article in a four-part series on Jesus’ ascension and the work he continues to do for us.

 

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Author: John A. Vieths
Volume 103, Number 8
Issue: August 2016

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