We’ve been going through an old list of questions and answers contained in the Westminster Larger Catechism published in 1648. In particular we’ve been looking at how Christ was exalted by his ascension. Last week we saw that Christ was exalted by visibly ascending into heaven. This week I want to show that Christ is exalted in his ascension by giving gifts to humans.
When you ascend higher than others there is a feeling of exaltation. An example of this is kids in playgrounds shouting ‘I’m the king of the world’ from the tip of the play equipment.
Now when Christ ascended to heaven, he certainly was exalted by being physically higher than us. But ascending to higher levels often serves a purpose, it is not simply a demonstration of status. For example, I don’t like climbing the stairs in our home unless it serves a purpose. I go upstairs when I need to get something that belongs in our upstairs bedroom, like a jacket. Otherwise, it’s too much effort.
When Jesus ascended into heaven, he went with a purpose. One of those purposes was to give gifts to his church. Paul says: ‘But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ’ (Ephesians 4:7-15).
This passage teaches us that Christ’s ascension led to Christ giving grace to his church in the form of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. The allusion is to the triumphal entry of Roman conquerors into their cities with captives in chains and free gifts for the cheering crowds.
So Christ gave much more in his ascension than I achieve by going upstairs to get a jacket. He gave people to his church who would help it mature and grow. Thus Christ is greatly exalted by his ascension. Yes, it was quite an achievement for him to go up to heaven in the first place, and for that, he is worthy of praise. But he is all the more praiseworthy for the gifts that he has blessed the church with as he ascended.
So do you praise Christ for his ascension? Do you praise Christ for the gifts that he has given to his church as part of his ascension?