Despite the Fall of man, or perhaps, because of the Fall, there has always existed in the human breast the desire ~ the need ~ to rise above one’s circumstances; outside of one’s own limitations.
Whether it be for escape, or self-improvement, or just for adventure and a yearning to explore the unknown, there has always been a reaching upward-and-outward from every mode of expression known to man.
The athlete works many hours of every day toward an ever-higher goal. The scientific researcher burns the midnight oil to find that ever-elusive answer.
Dorothy sings of a place ‘over the rainbow’. Don Quixote reaches for the unreachable star. Peter Pan laughs heartily at the poor, unbelieving earth-bound, and sets his course for ‘second star to the right, and straight on till morning‘.
H.G. Wells, Isaac Assimov, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Bradbury, Gene Roddenberry and so many others have granted us passage on board their imaginations and taken us, as Roddenberry put it, “...to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before”.
Astronomers have lost themselves in the stars since long before they even knew the shape of their own planet; and since the late 1950s our own scientists have dedicated their lives and careers to getting away from this earth as far and as fast as possible.
Y’know what? The more I think of it, the more I’m inclined to believe that it is because of the Fall, and not despite the Fall.
Man, in his original state, un-fallen and in harmony with his Creator, would have been content in the most perfect and absolute definition of the word. But sin entered in, and death through sin, so that all died.
And that death was much more than physical; and the effects of man’s spiritual death cover an infinitely broader scope than I think we’re capable of realizing.
Everything about us was immediately and progressively affected by sin (or should I say, ‘digressively’ affected).
Our physical health, our average life-span, and, cutting right to the topic, our ability to reason and to imagine.
And as is the nature of all men, the fact that we cannot, makes us want to all the more.
We can’t fly, so we imagine super heroes.
We can’t travel through space, so we make up people who do it and show us what it is like.
We can’t understand the spiritual realm, so (and this is the sad thing), instead of going to the One who knows about the spiritual realm, we make up our own ‘facts’ about it, absurdities with no foundation in any known truth, thereby proving Paul’s words, when he said, “Professing to be wise they became fools”.
But it all comes out of that innate longing to know what’s around the next bend; over the next hill; past the next star; even, the other side of death.
Now, I know that it is due to our sin nature, that no man can come to God apart from the Holy Spirit’s enlightening and regenerating power. We do not need here to go over all that territory again.
We remember that Jesus told Nicodemus he could not see the kingdom of heaven unless born from above. We know Paul well-established to the Corinthians that the natural mind cannot comprehend the things of the Spirit. We’ve said that several times in recent weeks.
But aside from that, it just strikes me as so ironic, that men continue to refuse to consider the claims of the very One who came from there. Came from heaven. Came from the other side of death. Came from that other ‘morning’... and could eventually give them all the answers they need; could someday take them to see for themselves.
Let’s look at these words of Paul’s close to the end of the first chapter of Ephesians today, and get a clearer idea of what awaits us who are called “...His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all”.
“...which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but in the one to come.”
THAT POWER RAISED HIM FAR ABOVE DEATH
You may remember that last week we talked about the strength of His might and the things He accomplished for and in us by the working of it; and we established that the word “working” implies an on-going, never-ceasing exercise of this energy.
Well, this same power has placed our Lord far above death.
Romans 1:4 tells us that the Father ‘declared’ Jesus to be His Son, by the very act of raising Him from the dead.
Throughout the ministry of Jesus there were evidences given that the Father was pleased with the Son. He declared Him through the angels at His birth, then in a voice from Heaven He proclaimed Him at His baptism, and on the Mount of Transfiguration He interrupted Peter’s babblings to say, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!”
But the ultimate stamp of approval on His Son’s life and atoning work, was in raising Him from the dead. It was a divine announcement that He was without sin, and that He was precisely who He said He was.
This is why, as I said last week, the message of the resurrection is central to the Christian faith. It was the main point of every sermon the Apostles preached, and it was the message that stirred up so much trouble everywhere they went; but it was also the message that had thousands upon thousands falling to their knees and asking, “What must we do to be saved?”
And the answer to that question is the one that has given abundant hope and victory to every sincere seeker since then, because the fact of His rising provided forever, justification in the presence of the Father for all who put their trust in Him.
Listen to Romans 6:8 - 11
“Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so, consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
That power Paul talks about in Ephesians 1:19 raised Christ Jesus far above death forever; and it is the same power that raises the one who puts his trust in the death and resurrection of Christ, also, far above death, forever.
In John 8:51 Jesus made a startling declaration that He prefaced in a method familiar to the ears of Bible students; “truly, truly”. In that culture, to say something twice was to emphasize as strongly as possible that what was to follow was vitally important for the listener to grasp and remember. So He said,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death”
This is His promise to you and me, Believer in Christ. Because He died, we will not see death. God reckons us as having died with Christ through our identification with Him, and we have been raised to newness of life in Him, FAR ABOVE death, forever.
THAT POWER RAISED HIM FAR ABOVE THE EARTH
I want you to consider that it wasn’t simply the fact of His rising that had people believing.
Just a week before His own death, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, but we don’t see any record of Lazarus enjoying a great following. There are no churches today called “Disciples of Lazarus”, or “Cornerstone Lazarusian Chapel”.
It was the whole picture. It was the teaching and the claims of Christ as He went about doing good and healing those who were oppressed of the devil. It was the fact that He was the one who called Lazarus out.
But it was even more than that. The capstone on the whole picture is His ascension into Heaven.
Now, this event, as far as is recorded for us, was witnessed only by the eleven (remember, Judas Iscariot is dead) and a couple of angels.
But the people apparently had no problem believing the Apostles when they told about it. Keep in mind that the Jews, which the infant church was almost entirely made up of, would immediately think of the account of Elijah being swept up to Heaven in a whirlwind.
In addition, very many of them have seen and heard and touched the risen Jesus over a period of about 40 days after His resurrection; and the credibility of so many family members and business associates and acquaintances would have been very strong, when telling about something that at the time could have easily been refuted, simply by producing a body.
There are writings by smarter men than I that very systematically substantiate all the resurrection and ascension proofs, so I’ll leave all that to them.
Let it suffice to say that our hope is made more sure, in that we have not only a risen Savior, but an ascended Savior.
His ascension out of our sight and the promised coming and indwelling of the Holy Spirit only raises our expectations of joining Him there when the time is fulfilled.
“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
Folks, at the very heart of the Christian hope, is the expectation of finally being there, with Him, forever... far above this earth ~ what now is.
Far above the material, far above the circumstantial, far above the temporal.
I remember a song from the ‘70s, sung by Evie Tournquist (now Karlsson), asserting “if Heaven never was promised to me, nor God’s promise to live eternally, it was worth just having the Lord in my life...”
Now, I’m not criticizing the song by any means. I understand the sentiment, and to a point I concur with it whole-heartedly. But I want to go there!
What keeps me going, is the knowledge that all of this will not be in vain; that my vindication for tolerating all the pain and struggle this life offers is that I will be raised far above it all, and never have to come back.
A good friend and brother of mine jokingly says that he’s decided all of this is a hologram. None of it is real, and one day God is just going to say, “computer, end program”, and it’s all going to go away.
I chuckle when I think of him saying it, but I know that he really knows as I do, that before all of this goes away, we will go away from it.
The verse I quoted from Colossians last week about us being seated with Christ in the heavenly places is lent a greater sense of victory and blessing for me when I go to Hebrews 1:13 and hear the Father say to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet”
THAT POWER HAS RAISED HIM FAR ABOVE ALL RULE AND AUTHORITY AND POWER AND DOMINION
It so often seems that there is so much set against us. The constant swirl of black clouds of threat and imminent doom from every quarter can be so overwhelming.
I had a friend who was fond of saying that if he didn’t have bad luck, he wouldn’t have any luck at all. And if I had time to tell you of the many and varied disasters that came his way over the years, you might tend to agree with him.
And less directly, there is so much trouble in the world today; and the attack on the World Trade Center, if nothing else, served to awaken us to the fact that there is no place safe from death.
When Paul lists his sufferings for the Corinthians in II Cor. 11, aside from the fact that his trials were directly a result of his ministry, still, we can identify with the feeling.
“Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure...”
And I would not be fit to pastor, if I would dare to chide you for not suffering for your faith as Paul did. I know pain and grief and rejection and danger, and I am well aware that so many of you here have traveled the same, well-trodden road.
In addition to the cares of life and the wages of sin, the scriptures assure us that as Christians we are also in a spiritual battle. The enemy’s minions are set against us to oppress and vex, and if we are not aware of them then we have little defense against them. So Paul tells us right here in this letter:
“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (6:12)
But the surpassing power of God is working in us to raise us far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of the Father.
When I think of the powers of this world and the spiritual powers of wickedness in the heavenly places, I am comforted; I am encouraged: I am raised up, by passages such as these:
“...I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory”.
“...I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war. And His eyes are a flame of fire, and upon His head are many diadems; and He has a name written upon Him which no one knows except Himself. And He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. And from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations; and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS’.”
My friends, this is the One who is on your side. This is the One who purchased you with His blood, redeemed you back to God, introduced you to this grace in which you stand, and with the assurance that all authority had been given to Him in heaven and on earth, then promised, PROMISED to come back and rescue you once and for all...and remove you from the very presence of sin, forever ~ far above all other rule or authority or power or dominion, and every name that is named. forever with Him!
There’s a story that came out of WWII, about a small village in Poland and the day the Nazis came to town.
The people were gathered in their church there worshiping, when troops of the Third Reich swarmed into the village, entered the church, escorted everyone outside and set fire to the structure.
As the soldiers then trained their weapons on the congregation, these people began to sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, the words and music themselves being written by a famous German; Martin Luther. A song these German boys grew up singing.
The people sang a verse, then went on to the next verse, waiting for the bullets that they expected to rip into their bodies and stop their song. But the bullets didn’t come.
Finally, looking around at the German soldiers surrounding them, they were astonished to see guns lowered and every hardened Nazi face, streaming with tears.
The soldiers, one by one, two by two, slowly turned and climbed back into their trucks and jeeps. As they pulled away from the little town, leaving behind a congregation of the faithful, standing outside their burning church, singing, no doubt these words still echoed in their ears:
“Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side; The Man of God’s own choosing;
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His name, From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.”
People of God, I want you to see that although this may not all really be a hologram, still, what you see and feel with your senses is not what is going to last. What is more real, what is going to last forever, is what God has wrought in you, and what the working of the strength of His might is continuing to accomplish for you; to make you like Jesus; to raise you far above death; to raise you far above this earth; to seat you with Him who is far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named , not only in this age, but also in the age to come.
Before we close today I want to show you something. I want you to turn to the passage I read from Revelation a few minutes ago. Revelation 19:11-16
Just open your Bible there and pause for a moment.
Since I’ve mentioned this ‘hologram’ reference twice now, I may as well stick with the Star Trek theme to illustrate my closing point for you.
On the Star Trek shows, they love to mess with the space/time continuum.
It seems like whenever the ratings sag, or the writers are floundering, it always helps to find a rift in the space/time continuum. It has become a running joke among Trekkers.
The frequent theme of those episodes is that they confront their future selves.
Now here is an example of one of those programs. The ship’s navigator announces to the Captain that he or she is detecting a disturbance some 70 light years ahead. Upon closer inspection, their instruments identify the disturbance as a rift in the space/time continuum.
Then they pick up another ship coming out of the rift, and the Captain instructs them to attempt, with their instruments, to identify the other ship.
The officer at the instrument panel looks up in shock and says, “Captain...it’s us!”
DA-DUM!!! goes the music and they cut to commercial.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Holy Spirit has given you and me a glimpse of us in the future, here in Revelation. Listen to verses 13 and 14 again:
“And He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white Horses.”
Now I know that many, if not most, of you here today already know this, but I’ll bet you haven’t thought about it often, so hear it again today; that’s us!
We are the people of the armies of heaven who will return with Christ, on white horses! Squint! Look closely at the faces!
The Holy Spirit has made a rift in the space/time continuum just for this one verse, and there you are, ... your future self, glorified, robed in His righteousness, white and clean, and riding behind the Victor on your own white charger, as He vindicates you finally and forever with one little word that will smite the nations.
Take one last, long look at yourself in the flesh, believer. Then leave it behind. Set your affection on things above, where you are seated with the One who Himself is raised up and seated far above all things, forever.
Ann Herring, of the singing group, The Second Chapter of Acts, sang a song in the early ‘70s that used the analogy of the traditional ‘Sleeping Beauty” type fairy tale. The words of the second verse go like this:
“My sleep is over, I’ve been touched by His fire,
That burns from His eyes and lifts me higher and higher,
I’ll live forever with Him right by my side.
He’s coming again, on a white horse He’ll ride;
He’ll clothe me and crown me, and He’ll make me His bride.
You know what I mean.”
You know what I mean.