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Online Text Sermon - Christ's Ascention, John ch.20 v.17

PreacherRev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness
Sermon TitleChrist's Ascention
TextJohn ch.20 v.17
Sermon ID388

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"Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (John 20, 17).

The Lord Jesus Christ spoke these words and we should notice that they were addressed to a woman - Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene was first that morning, to come to the tomb (grave, sepulchre) of the Lord Jesus Christ. There are many things that women are not permitted to do in connection with the Word of God. They are not permitted to preach in an official capacity or to administer the sacraments. That is not to say that women may not be just as spiritual as men and, indeed, it is not to say they may not be more spiritual than men. Though God has forbidden a woman to do certain things, yet, He has conferred great honour on believing women; not least, in that it was a woman who first came to the tomb of the resurrected Christ and a woman who first heard our Lord speak such words as form my text. We should then keep things in a biblical balance. It is possible to carry our views about the role of male and female sexes in churches a little too far. We mustn't go beyond scripture, to the right hand or to the left. We must pay respect and honour to women because believing women do an immense amount to further the cause of Christ. If it were not for them, where would so many of our churches be today.

Christ here is speaking about Mary and He is checking her - "Touch me not," He says, "for I am not yet ascended to my Father" (text). We can understand that Mary Magdalene's feelings and emotions suddenly underwent a tremendous revolution. She had come to the grave weeping. She had found it already empty. The stone at the mouth of the cave where our Lord's body was laid had been removed. She went there in the morning, I suppose, for meditation - supposing our Lord to be still dead. To her astonishment, she found our Lord was not there. She rushed to tell Peter and John and then followed them back from Jerusalem to the tomb. It was on that second occasion that this conversation took place. She supposed our Lord dead and was weeping when she discovered He was not dead but alive and beside her; we can well understand there was a revolution in her affections and thinking. It would have been instinctive for her, presumably quite a young woman, to throw herself at our Lord's feet in adoration and in love. All of that was very beautiful but our Lord, on this occasion, stopped her - "Touch me not."

The commentators and the writers even, all through Christian history have found difficulty in understanding and explaining these words. I think we would have to say that there are practical lessons to learn from the words of Christ. You recall later on in Matthew's Gospel that when a group of women came to the tomb they were allowed to touch His feet and to hold Him by His feet but He doesn't allow Mary Magdalene to do that. Possibly one lesson is to teach us discretion. What may be allowable in a group of people may be indiscrete when there are just one man and one woman. We have to observe the proprieties of life. However, that is no doubt just a fraction of what our Lord intended to teach us here. Far more to the point is the thought that He was saying something to her like this: "Mary, you have been used to having me in a physical sense with you. I was with you these three and a quarter years, ministering the Gospel in public and in private. You were close in your relationship and in your affection but now, Mary, that time is over. I am now in a different state. I am not simply raised from the dead as Lazarus was - to die again; I am raised from the dead in preparation for my exaltation." That is what He says, "Touch me not; I am not yet ascended to my Father. I am as it were," He says, "in an intermediate state. My relationship to you and to all Christians will be different." One lesson we have from this is that we must think of Christ differently now from the way they thought of Him when He was in the world before His death. If you want to study it in the New Testament, you will see that the way disciples spoke to our Lord and thought of Him before His death and resurrection was different from the way they thought and spoke to Him afterwards. Afterwards there was deeper reverence. Afterwards there was a more profound understanding as to Who He was. There is a lesson for us all in that. It is all very well for people to call our Saviour, Jesus, but my friends, don't overdo it. We must remember He is the eternal Son of God. The characteristic way of referring to Him in the Gospel after our Lord's resurrection is not as Jesus but as The Lord Jesus Christ.

There is a spirit abroad today which has crept in to even good churches that we must always call Him Jesus. Beware of slipping into that. He is the Lord of glory and the Lord from heaven. He is the uncreated Son of God. Mary had to learn that - "Touch me not," Mary. We must learn our relationship is now different.

You see this again in the case of the writer here, the apostle John. When the Lord was in this world, before His death, John used to lay his head upon Christ's breast (or bosom or chest). In these times people did not sit at their meals, they lay on couches. It was possible to lean back and lay your head on the chest of the man who was to your left. This evidently was what John used to do. He was the apostle who was in many ways most intimate with Christ. No one was closer to Christ than John but you notice in the book of Revelation where he sees the vision of Christ; he doesn't attempt anything which may remotely be called intimacy. He falls upon his face - he says, "I fell at his feet as dead" (Revelation 1, 17). That is the way we think of Christ today: He is transcendentally glorious, beyond all thought - excellent. We must keep that view before us because that is the view that Christ is here teaching. "Mary, the relationship with you is different. I was with you in the flesh but now I am going to sit upon the throne of glory. I shall be raised to the highest pinnacle of exaltation with My Father." All these then are lessons which our Lord brings before us here as the resurrected Son of God.

My dear friends, the resurrection of Christ is all-important for our understanding concerning the Christian faith. You could say that the resurrection is the great difference between Christianity and all other religions. Many a time people say, "Does it really matter which religion you have?" Some are Christians, some are Jews, some are Muslims, some are Hindus, some are New Age Movement. Does it really matter as long as you have some sort of faith? I am here to say to you, there is one thing about Christianity which is entirely different from all these other religions and it is this: in the case of Christianity, Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. That is not true about the founders of any other religion - but it is true of Him. You could say everything rests upon this single point - that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. How do I know that Christianity is true? Jesus Christ was raised from the dead!

Many people have denied the resurrection and I will take a minute or two therefore, just to remind you of how they have argued against the resurrection and how we are to answer them. One argument against the resurrection goes like this: some would say that the disciples stole the body and pretended that He had risen from the dead - that is the way in which some people try to explain this away. The Jews did this in Matthew 27 and 28; the Jews did this very thing. What is the answer to that? Did the Disciples come and steal the body when the soldiers were sleeping? The answer to that, my friends, is very simple. Roman soldiers never slept on duty because the penalty for that was death. His commanding officer would get a sword and run it through him. So, you can understand that whatever Roman soldiers did on duty, they never slept. Their very lives depended on not sleeping. People don't go to sleep on duty when their very lives depend on being awake, as theirs did, so there was no way that Roman soldiers slept.

Another way they tried to explain it away is this. They say that Jesus did not die but that He simply swooned and when His body was placed in to the cold tomb, He revived and came round. Supposedly, when He came out of this swoon He found strength enough to move the stone and return to the disciples. I am here to explain to you that that is absolutely ridiculous! The stone outside the grave was like a huge millstone, a huge piece of stone or rock. It probably weighed at least a ton. Are you going to tell us that a man, who has been in a swoon and manages to come round, has the strength to move a stone on his own weighing a ton? Not to speak of the fact that the soldiers are there. How would He get through these soldiers and back to convince the disciples that He is risen from the dead? No, no - altogether beyond credibility.

Our third area of doubt goes like this. Someone suggested that the resurrection is not true because, they suggest, the Jewish leaders - the Pharisees and so on - took away the body and that is how the rumour got round that our Lord had risen from the dead. It was the Pharisees, Sadducees, high priests and others who took away the body of our Lord and that is how the rumour got out into the world that Jesus had risen from the dead. What is the answer to that? The answer is simple. If the Jewish leaders had been the ones who had removed the body of Christ, as soon as the rumour of His resurrection got around, all these Jewish leaders had to do was to produce the body and so to dispel the rumours. They didn't do it because they couldn't do it - they didn't have the body. If they had had the body, as I say, they would have produced it - so that one doesn't fit.

Another one is this. Some have suggested that Mary Magdalene had a hallucination: a waking vision. She was, after all, a woman. I am quoting other people here; this is not my own sentiment. Merely a woman: weak and susceptible, liable to extremes of emotion. Her attachment to Christ was so great that when she went to the tomb she imagined all this. She didn't really see anybody; it was just something in her imagination - a waking vision. Then she rushed back and told the disciples. That, they say, is the real explanation for the resurrection. How do we answer that one? There are several things to be said. First of all, how is it that in the Upper Room the eleven disciples had this same hallucination? And how is that on a certain mountain, we are told by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, about five hundred people saw Him all at the same time? How is it that when the day of Pentecost came, all these hallucinations, so called, suddenly stopped? No, it doesn't make sense. The transformation that came upon the disciples and upon the church, arose from the fact that they knew very well our Lord was risen from the dead. Thomas had the opportunity of putting his fingers into the nail prints of our Lord, and thrusting his hand, if you please, into the side where the spear had pierced.

A man called Frank Morrison set out to disprove the resurrection; he didn't believe in it. He was a journalist and a clever man. He said he was going to study all the evidence on the resurrection of Jesus Christ and then write a book showing it is all rubbish. So he read the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, he read the epistles and anything he could find on the subject from the early church. When he finished his research he wrote his book; however, it wasn't the book he thought he was going to write. It was called Who Moved The Stone? In the preface to this book he explained he didn't intend to write the book that now is written. He intended, he said, to disprove the resurrection; but when he writes his book, it is as a believer. He has seen there is no other explanation for the evidence but only that He did rise; He is risen. That is what our Lord here says to Mary Magdalene: "I am not yet ascended to my Father, and to your Father; and to my God, and your God" (text). The way our Lord puts it is very interesting. Why does He use, what seems to be, excessive words here: "to my Father, and to your Father; and to my God, and your God" (text)? Why does He not just say, "I'm going to our Father, and to our God?" The reason is very important to notice: His relationship to God is very different from ours. His relationship to the Father is very different from ours. If our Lord had said, "Our Father and our God," He would have been implying that there is more or less identity between His relationship to God and ours. Nevertheless, no, it is not identical. He is the Son of God - the only Begotten Son. His relationship to God is that He is everlastingly the Son of God: He was always the Son of God. He always will be the Son of God. There will never be any change in that relationship. He was so before the world began: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1, 1); He dwelt "in the bosom of the Father" (John 1, 18). This 'Jesus', as many refer to Him as, is no less a one than God Himself, the Son, the Second Person of the glorious Trinity. We are, after all, sons of God in a very different sense: He is our Father by adoption; He is our God within the covenant of grace. Jesus is the Son of God in a far higher sense and we in another sense.

When the Lord is speaking here, He refers to His ascension. The resurrection was but one stage in the exaltation and glorification of Christ. Christ had His estate of humiliation: He was born and that in a low condition, made of a woman, made under the law, lived as a poor Jewish man for all those thirty-three years, until He died the accursed death of the Cross and was buried and continued under the power of death for three days. All of that is His humiliation, His estate. Then, beginning with the resurrection, a new state of our Lord occurs - the estate of exaltation. Having come down, He now goes up again. He does so in different degrees, not all at once. You mustn't think that Christ now, at the throne of God, is as Mary saw Him. We make a lot of mistakes if we think like that. We mustn't think that Jesus, right now, is sitting at the right hand of God as Mary saw Him. Not at all! He is bright like the sun, only probably a million times brighter than the sun. His whole human body and soul are radiant. He is as highly exalted, as it is conceivably possible for any created being to be. I refer there to His human nature. His own divine nature is God but His human nature is a created nature, and in the human nature, our Lord is as highly exalted as it is possible for any created being to be. He is at the supreme pinnacle of exaltation and glory. Angels, principalities and powers are all made subject unto Him, says the Word of God.

Therefore our Lord is exalted by degrees: first, the resurrection, and then after forty days, the ascension. You remember that the ascension occurred on the Mount of Olives. The eleven disciples were with our Saviour and He did something very beautiful. As He was about to depart from them He lifted up His hands to bless them. As they watched Him, His feet left the earth and began to move up. They followed Him with their eyes in astonishment, as you would expect them to do, until they saw Him disappear into a cloud. As they looked up, angels came down clothed in white and they said, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). Meaning, that as He went up physically, so in the end of time, He will come down physically and all will see Him.

That was the exaltation of Christ. He was now being prepared for sitting at the right hand of God in Glory. As He went up and was received into the cloud, no doubt in the cloud He underwent a transformation so that His human nature was raised to the highest degree of glory and exaltation. "Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in" (Psalm 24, 7). As our Lord sat down in the place of supreme honour - the right hand of God - He was worshipped by the whole heavenly host. All beings in glory, all spirits of just men made perfect, rejoiced that now the Saviour had finished His work. This is what He is referring to when He said to Mary, "Touch me not" (text). You could translate it like this, "Stop clinging to Me Mary; stop holding on to Me Mary. Don't keep Me back in this world. I have begun a journey which is not to end now but which will end at the right hand of God. I must ascend to My Father and to you Father, to My God and to your God. Go and tell My brethren that is where I am going." She, Mary, had to preach to the preachers. Many women do. Wives and friends of ministers, they have to give them advice many a time. They preach to preachers and so does this woman. She had the great mission to go and tell the disciples, "I have seen the Lord risen from the dead and this is what He said, He is on His way to glory, He is going back to the Father - His Father and our Father, His God and our God." "Isn't that glorious and amazing: I was about to touch You when You said, Mary, touch Me not; I am about to ascend to the right hand of God."

We refer to the "Degrees of Christ's Exaltation": first, His resurrection, then His ascension and then His coronation as He sits down on High. My friends, all this is good news for Christians. The world in which we live is a place which is governed by the right hand of God. We talk about our political leaders in America and in Britain, elections in Zimbabwe, China and Japan. We may think that these men are the ones pulling the strings. Never believe it! One is ruling in the world - Jesus Christ our Lord in His exalted glory above. That is His great work at the moment. These men who pass papers one to the other in Downing Street, in Whitehall or Washington, or Moscow or anywhere else, they are doing what they are doing under the surveillance, under the control, under the authority - little though they may realise it I'm sure - they are doing this under Christ. He is ruling and He is bringing His purposes to pass. He is opening the seven seals upon the Book of Destiny, the book of God's Providence. He is guiding until all things come to their consummation and to their predestined end.

That now brings me to speak a little about the work of Christ, at the right hand of God, now, today and until the end of time. That is what our Lord is saying to Mary, "Mary, don't keep holding on to Me. I must ascend to the Father; I have work to do there." We may say, "But Lord, what work hast Thou to do in the glory of heaven above? What will Thy work be there Lord?" I want to enter briefly into that.

First of all, His work was to present His blood before God the Father: the efficacy of His death. The high priest in this world, on the Day of Atonement, entered through the veil with the blood of a slain beast and he sprinkled it seven times upon the Mercy Seat and seven times before the Mercy Seat - before the very presence of the glory of God with the cherubim on either side. He did so with the view of sanctifying the people - removing their guilt; that is what our Lord has done. He is now appearing in heaven for us. "For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Hebrews 9, 13-14) That is what He has done; He has sanctified the people; He has purified the people. He is sprinkling many nations. That, my dear friends, is your only hope of entering into heaven, as it is mine: it is Christ - His blood, His death, His virtue, His completed work, His sufficiency as the Priest of the right hand of God - Christ. That is why we have the Lord's Supper. It is to remind ourselves that it is by that one offering of Himself upon the Cross in death that we have any hope at all of acceptance with God. You must ask yourself, "Are you sheltering under that blood? Have you trusted the Saviour for that washing, cleansing experience? Are you trusting in His completed work?" That is our only place of safety. "A man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land" (Isaiah 32, 2). Christ, Christ, Christ alone. Not the church, not human tradition, not human intelligence or education but Christ alone in the Gospel is our only hope. We must settle it in our own conscience before our Maker and our Judge, whether we, personally, have yet come to put our trust under the shadow of His wings. Pray God you will.

Another thing our Lord is doing which I touched on a moment ago is, He is ruling the universe - He is King, ruling the world. Christ has a twofold kingship: He has a spiritual kingship and a universal kingship. Both of them are true of Him. As the spiritual King, our Lord Jesus Christ rules over the Church: He is the Head of the Church; He is the true Pope of the Church. His laws are supreme, final, authoritative, infallible and they are given to us in the Holy Scriptures. The Bible is the Book of Christ for the church in this life. It will be out of date once we go to another world; we will need other information there. However, in this life, the Book of God is our final authority. Christ rules the church as its King and Head by the Book and we must stick to the Book. We daren't move away from it to please anybody - not to please popes or cardinals or bishops or archbishops or general assemblies or anyone else. This Book is our absolute and total final authority because it is the Word of Christ Who alone is the Head of the Church. That is our teaching and many of our forefathers, as you know, gave their lives for this very point. We must be prepared to give our lives for this very point too. We mustn't give up the headship of Christ for anything. It is treason to Christ to do so.

Christ also has a universal kingship: He rules the nations. He tells us about this. He says, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them o observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28, 18-20). He is ruling, and that is of great assurance to us, my friends. We must remind ourselves of it, Christ is ruling this world. Troubles we see in the Middle East, or anywhere else, are all controlled by Him. He is well able to quell the nations. When the waves roar He can still them again. We must trust our Lord for His providential control.

A third thing our Lord is doing is this - He is interceding for us. He is, if you like, praying for us, although it is not prayer on His knees. We mustn't think He is down on bended knee asking His Father for things. No, no! When we talk about Christ interceding we mean His very presence before God; it is a continual prayer, a continual act of intercession, guaranteeing that all our prayers are heard. When we come to Prayer Meetings - and they are very good things to come to, let me remind you - we always pray in the name of Jesus Christ. That is to say, we are trusting that His mediation will bring our prayers to the Father and that the blessings will ensue which we seek from Him. That is what our Lord is doing: He is an Advocate with the Father, reconciling us all to God. He continues to make intercession for us that we may all come to a state of grace and glory and that the whole church will be saved, not so much as one left behind.

Fourthly, what is He doing at the right hand of God? He is waiting till all His enemies are made His footstool, and then He will return. That is where we are at, my friends. Two thousand years have gone by and this is where we are at: Christ in His glory waiting still for His enemies to be made His footstool. He may come back at any time. When He comes, time will be no longer and the door will be shut. As I close this evening, having meditated a little with you upon Christ's words to Mary Magdalene at His resurrection, I would have to say to you, the voice of Christ is coming home to you once more, dear friends, in the Gospel: to men and women, to boys and girls. The voice of Christ is saying to you, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11, 28); "Neither is there salvation in any other" (Acts 4, 12), but only in Christ. He is knocking on the door. The Communion time is coming round again - these seasons and times He has appointed. Once again, He is knocking on the door of your life saying, "How long will you harden your heart against Me? How long will you refuse to bring testimony before the world that you are Mine and I am yours?" You must answer and pray God you may answer wisely!

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