Jesus Has Ascended--It's Time for Growing Up
Dear Jesus, as I come to hear Your Word, send Your Holy Spirit with His blessing. Cause my faith to grow. Lead me, equip me, and enable me to fulfill the role You have prepared for me within Your Church on earth. Amen.
Waiting was what the disciples did in the ten days between Jesus' Ascension and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit comes to sinful hearts (barren, desolate, fruitless) and brings righteousness, peace, life to the soul, and vitality.
The woman who came to Jesus pleaded for her daughter. She persisted even though the disciples wanted Jesus to send her away, and even though Jesus tested her faith. The woman's faith persisted, because she was so confident that Jesus could and would help.
Text: Ephesians 4:11-16
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
Christ Jesus is ascended! He reigns over all things for the benefit of the children of God. In His name, dear fellow-redeemed:
King Solomon, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us in Ecclesiastes: “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven…” Solomon continues with examples: “A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to [harvest] …a time to weep, and a time to laugh…a time to keep silence, and a time to speak…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1ff).
In life there may be clear indicators that it’s time to do something or move from one season to the next. For example: When a lawn gets to a certain height it’s time to mow; or when a pizza becomes golden brown, it’s time to take it from the oven. Of greater significance—when the class credit requirements are fulfilled, it’s time to graduate. Of even greater significance, but less known to us—when the days which God has appointed for us on the earth are completed, then it’s time to die and enter eternal life through Christ.
This past Thursday we celebrated Jesus’ ascension. As we consider this event there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, Jesus’ ascension was a part of God’s overall “salvation plan” for the souls of sinners. Secondly, Jesus’ ascension does not signal the end of His work for souls, it only signifies the end of his visible presence on earth. After His ascension, He is preparing a place in heaven for each child of God.
This brings us to the disciples staring up into heaven after Jesus had disappeared. Now what? What was next for them? Jesus had told them to “wait in Jerusalem” for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. That wait would turn out to be 10 days (we will celebrate Pentecost and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit next Sunday). The next season for the disciples began after Jesus was no longer visibly with them and ten days later they would be equipped for that season through the gift of the Holy Spirit. That season continues with the disciples of today—you and me—and we continue to be equipped by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel. JESUS HAS ASCENDED—IT'S TIME FOR GROWING UP. I. Jesus gives gifts to promote growth II. Continuing growth characterizes spiritual maturity and III. The whole body matures as each part matures
The apostle Paul tells us that Jesus Himself “gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers…” [v.11] Jesus gave by the authority He has as our exalted and ascended Lord. Earlier in Ephesians, Paul writes: “[God] put all things under [Jesus’] feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23).
Before He ascended Jesus told the disciples, “All power—all authority—is given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). Our victorious, exalted, and ascended Lord is ruling in heaven with all authority. He wields that power for the benefit of His Church—all believers. He wields that power to preserve the faith of believers already in the Church, and He uses that authority to guide all things with the goal of bringing even more sinners into the family of God. This is the work which Jesus is doing right now. To accomplish that work on earth, He—the ascended Savior—gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.
Jesus gives gifts to individuals on earth to enable them to serve in these offices and capacities within His church. He gave gifts to the apostles many years ago, then He gave the apostles as gifts to the Church. He led them to opportunities, gave them power to use their gifts, and with that they evangelized the world of their day—spreading the Gospel wherever they could. Through the action of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were inspired to write the very words of God in order to provide a written Scripture for generations and centuries upon centuries of God’s people. The ascended Lord gave the gifts that were needed for these men to be the apostles we know them to be, and as such they were gifts to the church.
Jesus continues to give gifts to individuals and in turn gives them to the church right down to the pastors, teachers, and other leaders in the Church of today. Jesus gives gifts to individuals within the family of God to serve in specific roles in the Church by using their particular gifts.
Jesus gives these gifts to the Church is “for the equipping of the saints” [v.12] Our ascended Lord gives gifts to the Church with the goal of equipping fellow believers. Paul wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that a man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-16). Jesus gives individuals as gifts to the Church so that they will use the Scriptures for their intended purposes and thereby equip others to also use the Scriptures.
The equipping of the believers is “for the work of the ministry and for the edifying of the body of Christ.” [v.12] At Immanuel we have two called pastors—two individuals who are specifically called to share the Gospel with the congregation—to equip the saints. You then are the other believers who are equipped by the Gospel, and are equipped for the purpose of doing the work of the Gospel ministry and edifying the body of Christ. So we see that the reason Jesus gives gifts to His church on earth is not so that select individuals can go about the Gospel ministry and be the only ones doing so. Rather, they are the spark plugs, they are the instructors, they are the ones who prepare even more to use the Gospel. As more and more are equipped and share the Gospel, then by sheer numbers the Gospel spreads because the saints are equipping the saints to equip more saints so that they all share in the ministry of the Gospel.
So the work of the Gospel ministry within a congregation or a church body is never just for the called servants. It is never just for those in a leadership role. It is for every saint—every believer. Those who are called and given particular gifts are to equip the rest and the whole body of Christ is to edify one another and strengthen one another’s faith by sharing the Gospel with each other.
This morning in our Bible Study we began a discussion of the work that will lie before our synodical convention in three weeks. We will continue that study in our next Bible Study two weeks from today (June 11). At Convention there will be called servants and lay delegates – it is a group endeavor. As we consider the work of our church body, it is not for the sake of those called servants, it’s not for the sake of a synodical hierarchy and organization. It is for the sake of the Gospel ministry. There are individuals who are called to serve in specific capacities who are given by the ascended Lord as gifts to the church, these gifts are to promote growth; but the work that lies before us is work for all of us.
As this work continues there will be spiritual growth—growth in knowledge of God, in faith, and in the confidence of faith. This growth continues “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—” [vv.13-15]
Making use of God’s Word will create growth leading to spiritual maturity. Peter wrote in his first epistle, “Desire the pure milk of the word that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2). Recall the Gospel reading this morning. Jesus did not grant the woman’s request immediately. He tested her faith. He challenged her faith. That process of circumstances strengthened her faith, but it wasn’t apart from the Gospel. As Jesus tested her faith, she relied upon the truth of what she already knew about Jesus—He was willing and able to help. In a similar way, God will test our faith with what He gives or takes away or allows to come into our lives. At those times, our faith will be strengthened when we make use of God’s Word and rely upon the truth we find there.
Consider this example from a Christian author: If you came to doubt that Old Faithful, the geyser in Yellowstone Park, would really erupt on time and with regularity, how could you become convinced that it really was faithful? Would your faith in Old Faithful improve by staying home and telling yourself over and over, “I need more faith in Old Faithful I just need to believe it!”? This wouldn’t help at all. The best way to become convinced of the geyser’s reliability is to go and see for yourself, or at least research it’s past faithfulness. Similarly, the way for us to be strengthened, to be built up, to come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, is not to expect a stronger faith simply by going through life and thinking, “I need a stronger faith.” Rather, our faith is strengthened when we go to see God in action through His Word and when we research His past faithfulness there. In God’s Word we find a witness to how faithful He was in providing salvation for us, and how faithful he was in guarding and keeping the believers of Biblical times. When we learn God’s faithfulness, hear His promises, and apply that to ourselves, then we will continue to grow and develop a deepening spiritual maturity.
We understand the need for maturity and growth. We desire that our children mature physically, emotionally, and intellectually into adulthood. The desire that God has for our hearts and our faith is no less. Growth in spiritual maturity is certainly something we wish to pursue.
Spiritual immaturity is characterized by being pulled this way and that by every new spiritual fad and doctrine; or easily blown into doubt concerning God with every new human challenge to His truth. Think of a young child who easily changes his preferences and viewpoints depending on who has said what most recently (i.e. “Daddy, your favorite color is blue? Mine too!” and then two minutes later… “Mommy, your favorite color is yellow? Mine too!”). As a child matures, he develops a consistency that comes with maturity. Spiritually, we want to grow into maturity that isn’t easily pulled from one thing to the next so that instead of being tossed about by every new fad and doctrine we will stand fast and not be pulled from the cornerstone of our Savior.
Spiritual maturity is very important in this world because there are, as Paul told the Colossians, many who will seek to “cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the traditions of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8-9).
Another part of Christian maturity is to speak the truth in love (cf. v.15). It doesn’t take any particular spiritual maturity to simply take God’s law and “hammer” anybody and everybody with it, condemning everyone. That is just taking one aspect of God’s Word and “letting them have it.” It doesn’t take much spiritual maturity to simply speak as if sin doesn’t matter—ignoring sin and talking about God as love but never really explaining why He is love, or how He demonstrates that love, and conveniently forgetting God’s judgment and anger against sin.
It just doesn’t take much spiritual maturity to use God’s Word as we want to and according to human logic when it is convenient. It does take a growing spiritual maturity to know when to apply Law to a heart and when to apply Gospel. It takes a spiritual maturity to speak the truth without compromise, but to do so in connection with Christ-like love with the well-being of a sinner’s soul in mind. This is why Martin Luther commented that it is a true theologian who can rightly divide between Law and Gospel and apply them correctly—something he never claimed to have mastered despite his God-given insight and years of study.
Continuing growth will characterize spiritual maturity that stands fast in the truth of God’s Word, relies on His promises, continues to delve into God’s Word for even greater knowledge and faith, and then also shares it with others by speaking the truth in love.
In Paul’s writings, the Holy Spirit uses the illustration of a human body to visualize the body of Christ—all believers. Jesus is the head—the operating center of the body. All believers are the individual parts that make up the rest of the body. Paul speaks of this in more detail in Romans chapter 12 and 1 Corinthians chapter 12. In Romans 12, Paul speaks of all the different gifts and says if you have a particular gift, use it! “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:6-8).
Paul writes similarly in 1 Corinthians but then he goes on to say that the body is incomplete without the other individual parts. If the body were all one big eye ball, how would we hear? If it were all one big ear, how would we smell? In other words, it takes every single believer to make the whole. Paul writes in our text, “…the whole body, joined and knit together by whatevery joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” [v.16] There are no spare or useless parts in the body of Christ.
Years ago doctors would extract tonsils without much hesitancy. Tonsils were considered largely useless with no great benefit to the body, so it was no big loss if they were gone—just leftovers from some evolutionary process, I suppose. Doctors still remove tonsils if it becomes necessary, but if at all possible they leave them in because it turns out that when God created us He did have a purpose for the tonsils after all. Yes, we can survive without tonsils or an appendix or with only one kidney or only part of other organs, but in those cases our body is incomplete. We can survive, but our body will not function as fully or perfectly as when every organ and every part is working properly and doing its share.
The same is true about the body of Christ. The work of the Gospel ministry will continue without you. God’s Word will prevail. But because you are a child of God who has been called to faith you have a role to play. You are part of God’s chosen generation to proclaim the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). You can ignore it, you can avoid it and the Gospel will go on; but not as completely as if you serve using your gifts in the way that God has called you.
Another illustration offered by a Christian author contrasts the difference between viewing our life’s work as a career or a calling. We will all pursue some form of activity in our lives. To speak of it in terms of a career focuses on us: “It is my career. It is how I find satisfaction and it is what I’m going to use to make money.” To view this life’s work as a calling turns it away from us and to God. God has given each one of us and every other child of God a calling. God gives gifts, He calls individuals to faith, He places them in the body of Christ and He has a calling—a purpose—for that individual to serve. The whole body benefits when the individual part uses his gifts for the work of the Gospel and to edify one another in love.
This means that the parts of the body who are stronger can edify and build up those who are weaker. Those who are strong shouldn’t leave the others behind. No one should strike out on his own way, but being joined together and knit together with Christ when each individual grows in spiritual maturity, the whole body grows. When the whole body grows it thrives and when the body of Christ thrives, the Gospel goes forth for the salvation of more souls.
Jesus has ascended. He is living and reigning in heaven for us—His Church on earth. Now it’s time for growing up. Amen.
—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt