Because He Descended and Ascended...

R. Stanley

In His incarnation Jesus descended from Heaven to earth; in His crucifixion He further descended from earth to Hades; in His resurrection He ascended from Hades to the earth; and in His ascension He ascended back to Heaven. Through such an infinite journey He cut the way that “He might fill all things” (Eph 4:10).

We are repeatedly beckoned to identify ourselves with these historical and redemptive acts of Christ. “Crucified with Him... Buried with Him... Seated above with Him” (Rom 6:3; Eph 2:6). Every spiritual blessing is ours because of this identification (Eph 1:3). Psalmist David sang this profound truth prophetically; “You have ascended on High... You have received gifts for men... that the Lord God might dwell there! Blessed be the Lord who daily loads us with benefits!” (Psa 68:18,19).

The greatest benefit of the descent and ascent of Christ is the liberation of captive souls.“He led captivity captive” (Eph 4:8). “Glorious liberty!” (Rom 8:21). Let’s study here seven gleaming facets of this liberty we can enjoy.

1. Liberation from Carnalism
“Since Christ suffered for us in the flesh” we need “no longer live in the flesh for the lusts of men” (1 Pet 4:1,2). No more “licentiousness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties
and abominable idolatries” (v3). No longer slavery to sin! (Rom 6:6).

This is what baptism is all about. Immersion is a symbol of our death and burial with Christ. The old man of carnality is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away (Rom 6:6). As we come out of water, we put on the new man “created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness” (Rom 6:3-5; Eph 4:24). Noah was saved through water from a world sold to carnality and corruption. Baptism which is the antitype is meant to minister the same blessing to us “through the resurrection of Christ” (1 Pet 3:18-22).

We are no more debtors to the flesh (Rom 8:10-12). We are released from the slavery of sin, because Christ is risen (1 Cor 15:17). Whereas the death of Christ frees us from the penalty of sin, His resurrection frees us from the power of sin (1 Cor 15:3,17). Faith in the resurrection of Christ grants us an instant supply of power to say no to sin. The “Spirit of Holiness” which resurrected Jesus works mightily in us also. The “exceedingly great promises” and the “exceeding greatness of His power” become ours. We are thus enabled to escape devilish lust and enjoy divine life (Rom 1:4; 2 Pet 1:3,4; Eph 1:19,20).

When Christ left Heaven, in His farewell address He said to the Father: “Sacrifice and offering You do not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me... Behold I have come to do Your will, O God!” (Heb 10:5,6). So also we are to present our bodies a living sacrifice to Him. By this act is meant that we accept transformation to God’s will and refuse conformation to Satan’s world (Rom 12:1,2).

2. Liberation from Materialism
His encounter with the Risen Christ on the Damascus Road blinded Paul to earthly gains so he could behold eternal glories. He pledged, “God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14). His tears were uncontrollable when this liberated man thought about preachers in the clutches of materialism: “They are the enemies of the cross of Christ—who set their mind on earthly things” (Phil 3:18,19).

“A satisfied soul tramples on the honeycomb” (Prov 27:7). When spiritual blessings satisfy us, material benefits fail in their attempts to allure us (Col 3:1-3). We turn down the booty offered by the King of Sodom because we are taken up with the “bread and wine” of the King of Salem (Gen 14:18-23). To the surprise of the worldlings we refuse to bow before the goddess of wealth (Col 3:5).

But unfortunately a new breed of Christians and preachers has come which considers the material and earthly benefits as “the” blessing from God. This health-and-wealth gospel is
the most popular stuff served by pulpits and press. The customers are obviously the Biblical illiterates. No one has properly taught them why Christ descended and ascended. There is a striking example to this situation in the gospels—

Many disciples of Christ left Him when He contrasted the heavenly bread with earthly manna. They called it a “hard saying!” Jesus confronted them, “Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?” (Jn 6:58-66). Jesus did not become nervous when His entourage fell sharply. He asked the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” He rejoiced when Peter replied that it was the words of “eternal” life that held them stuck to Him. In this context, Jesus called Judas a devil because he was moneyminded (vv 67-71).

Beware of the Sadducees in the Church today! They live for this world only. They laugh at the thought of the other world (Acts 23:8). But God’s word warns us, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead!” (1 Cor 15:19,20). Those who stress the earthly blessings over the eternal are no better than beasts! (v32).

3. Liberation from Ritualism
The death of Christ rang the death bell to ritualistic religion. When He gave up His spirit,“the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom” (Mt 27:51). There was no more to be an exclusive place called the Holy of Holies. It became a thoroughfare. Also there were no more to be two categories among God’s people, namely clergy and laity. Wherever God’s people would meet in the Name of Jesus, the very presence of God was assured. Whoever became a child of God was instantly declared a priest unto God. “All” the people of God have become a royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:5,9).

How sad that we still have so-called altars in our worship places! How unscriptural it is under the New Covenant! Sheer idolatry! What God Himself has torn— “from top to bottom”— why should man stitch together? Reality has come. Let go rituals. Setting up altars, attaching sanctity to particular places, burning candles and incense, bowing before crosses and crucifixes, ministers wearing special dresses, etc, are nothing but “dead works” (Heb 9:1-14).“Arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Eph 5:14).

The Throne of Grace is open anytime to anyone who trusts in the shed blood of Christ (Heb 4:14-16). We can enter the very presence of God instantly in simple faith without any human mediator, because Jesus the Forerunner has entered there “for us” (Heb 6:19,20). Because He has become “higher than the heavens,” He is able to save us from the guttermost to the uttermost! (Heb 7:25-27).

Commandments given to the Old Covenant people regarding food, drink, festivals or sabbaths were merely shadows. “But the substance is of Christ” (Col 2:11-17).

Adding ritualistic flavour or attaching ceremonial importance to the Lord’s Supper is also idolatry. It is just simple bread and wine to remember the death of the Lord until He returns.
Believers can come together anywhere anytime to celebrate the Lord’s victory through these emblems of His body and blood. No “special” order of service is necessary, or “fulltime” minister a must. Is it not a bread which “we” break, and a cup which “we” bless? (1 Cor 10:16,17; Acts
2:46).

Sure such a teaching will invite the fury of some “clergy,” but it will invoke the favour of Christ!

4. Liberation from Legalism
“Christ is the end of the law” (Rom 10:4). While contrasting the righteousness which is of the law and the righteousness of faith, Paul wrote, “But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way: Do not say in your heart, Who will ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, Who will descend into the abyss? (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)” (vv6,7).

“Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (Gal 3:13). He has “wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col 2:14). Christ was crucified, but He came back alive. The Law was crucified and was cast away, never to be resurrected. The New Covenant was not added to the Old, but the New annulled the Old!

Before his conversion Paul was a legalist. But he dumped his long-cherished legalism as dung that he might know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings (Phil 3:4-10). Next to the Epistle of Romans, every Christian must study the Epistle of Galatians thoroughly. Otherwise having been justified by faith we will be easily jolted by false teachers who would enter secretly to steal away our liberty in Christ (Gal 2:4).

Some choose to gather for worship on Saturdays, others on Sundays, and still others on anyday. Let each one decide for himself according to his conviction and convenience. Some freely eat pork and crab, others only mutton, beef and fish, while still others only vegetarian food. Let each one decide his menu for himself. “For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again... But why do you judge your brother?” (Rom 14:1-10).

Even spiritual disciplines like tithing and fasting cannot be made legal commandments for Christians. How much to give and how often to fast are left to the discretion of individuals, though under the Better Covenant we should excel the Old Testament folks. It was to the question why His disciples did not fast like the disciples of John and the Pharisees, Jesus answered, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins!” (Mk 2:18-22).

5. Liberation from Defeatism
The defeatist mentality of Peter and the other disciples disappeared the moment the ascension gift of Christ, even the Holy Spirit, descended upon them. Addressing the confused Jewish community on the Day of Pentecost, Peter authoritatively declared, “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear!” (Acts 2:32,33).

If Jesus had not ascended, the Holy Spirit would not have descended. The disciples got into feelings of fear when Jesus began telling them that He would leave them soon. But He assured them, “It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not got away, the Helper will not come to you” (Jn 16:7).

The greatest blessing therefore of the ascent of Christ is the descent of the Spirit with His gifts and power. “When He ascended on High, He... gave gifts to men... some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints” (Eph 4:8-12). Not only corporately but also individually every Christian is gifted (Rom 12:4-6; 1 Cor 12:7). The Church is thus fully equipped to assault the enemy and accomplish its call and commission on earth.

When Christ came out triumphantly from the grave, He gave the disciples marching orders:“All authority is given to Me. Go therefore!” When He ascended, the disciples advanced. He caused them to triumph everywhere (Mk 16:19,20; 2 Cor 2:14). They went plundering hell and planting churches in colonies and countries. The gates of Hades could not stop their aggression. They kept challenging, “O Hades, where is your victory?” (Mt 16:18; 1 Cor 15:55,57).

But the Church of today is bowed before the world because Christians have not had their eyes enlightened yet to know God’s power which was demonstrated at the resurrection and ascension of Christ (Eph 1:17-21).

Onward Christian soldiers!
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before.
Christ the royal Master,
Leads against the foe;
Forward in the battle,
See His banners go!

6. Liberation from Factionalism
“There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free,” because Christ has become “all and in all” by virtue of His descent and ascent (Col 3:11). Because He is supreme and sovereign in His Church, there is no place for national, racial or social distinctions. All are equal before the majesty and splendour of the ascended Lord. Boasting or despising is ruled out.

If there were two groups who perhaps could never come together; they were Jews and Gentiles. The Jews would despise the Gentiles to the extent of calling them dogs. Even with Samaritans, who were half-Jews, the Jews would not have any dealing—including asking a drink! (Jn 4:9). The Jews would rather travel a few extra miles than passing through a Samaritan village! But Christ broke down “the middle wall of partition” (Eph 2:14). He put to death the “enmity” between the two groups (v16).

Christian groups which are factionalised by caste, class, colour or any such thing are not founded properly on Christ (Eph 2:19-22). The apostle hammered the Corinthian contenders with the root question: “Was Paul crucified for you?” (1 Cor 1:10-13).

We the Indian Christians are yet to realize that the major cause of our weakness and witnesslessness before the non-Christian majority is our individualism and denominationalism. May we rise above the interests of our little kingdoms to serve the King of kings and the Lord of lords!

7. Liberation from Pessimism
Pessimism is another word for unbelief. The immediate outcome of a pessimistic attitude is fear. Following crucifixion the disciples locked themselves in out of fear. But the Risen Lord entered the room greeting them, Shalom! To blow away their fear He breathed on them the Spirit. And He urged them not to stay shut in but go sent out! (Jn 20:19-22).

Christ’s message to the churches of today is just the same: “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore. And I have the keys of Hades and Death” (Rev 1:17-19).

Forty days after resurrection when Jesus ascended in a cloud, pessimism and uncertainty once again gripped those men of Galilee. God therefore sent two men in white uniform—not in black which would symbolize death—to tell the disciples something like this: “Why do you stand gazing as if all is lost? As He went up, so He would come back. You get on with the job He has given you!” (Acts 1:9-11).

The ascension of Christ is the pledge of His Second Coming! The Jesus who lived, died, and rose again in history past will come again, and His return will mark the beginning of history’s end! Friend, live everyday and do everything with these words of Christ sunk in your heart: “Let not your heart be troubled ... I go to prepare place for you... I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also!” (Jn 14:1-3).

Because Christ descended and ascended, all “isms” have become “wasms”, and we will soon leave this lowly habitat for the lofty Heaven! Hallelujah!