Reformed Free Publishing Association
The following is a Standard Bearer meditation called "Ascension Thoughts" by Gerrit Vos, published in 1956 for the Standard Bearer Vol 32 Issue 16. May it lead you through this next week to reflect on the meaning and the hope of Ascension Day.
“Thou hast ascended on high, Thou hast led captivity captive: Thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them.” (Psalm 68:18)
How thoroughly theological is the Word of God!
The Word of God is a loving letter addressed to the chosen race of mankind by our Father in heaven.
And in this letter He tells us in many variations of His glorious work of salvation.
And throughout this letter of God to us, He emphasizes over and over again that it is He which did all the work of salvation.
Salvation is of the Lord!
That is also shown here in Psalm 68, and more in particular in the 18th verse.
Thou hast ascended...
Thou hast led captivity captive...
Thou hast received gifts for men...
And if anyone of us should hesitate and utter his plaint: "Lord, depart from me, for I am a despicable sinner," He writes to us:
Thou hast received gifts for the rebellious...
How thoroughly theological!
Look where you may, you will find no place in the great work of salvation of which you may triumphantly exclaim: Behold, it is mine!
Indeed you have a place in the scheme of salvation, and that place is the place of the sinner.
You and I appear as the awful, black, filthy spot that must be erased.
We have just one property, and that is sin and guilt.
And that one property you lose, for God takes it and dresses Himself with it, is permeated with it in the form of guilt, and departs on His lonely journey to hell and damnation.
We saw Him go in sulphurous flashes of hellish flames on Good Friday.
Yes, we saw Him go, clothed in darkness and gloom of the crucifixion.
Those three days, part of Friday, all of Saturday, and part of Sunday, are strange days. The whole church of Jesus Christ is weeping. They are as sheep whose shepherd has gone away. They have one solitary theme in all their thought and conversation: that awful cross!
But then came the wondrous story of the resurrection!
The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared unto Simon!
The tears were wiped away; even Peter’s tears, and they were bitter. I know—I have tasted them.
And in their stead came a joy which shall make the new kingdom of God musical forever.
The Lord arose from death and shame.
And here is the gospel of the resurrection: the whole church of Jesus Christ arose with Him. Here is not the place to enlarge on this theme.
For forty days the Lord appeared time and again, and at the last such occasion, He gathered them on the slopes of Mount Olivet. He talked to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God; He gave them instructions as to their immediate conduct, as well as concerning the life’s mission of the church; and then He blessed them. He spread His holy and loving hands over them, and uttered the blessing. Perhaps He said: The Lord bless thee, and keep thee; the Lord make His face to shine upon thee and be gracious to thee; the Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace!
And then, while they beheld, He was taken up into the highest heavens.
Ah, yes, we believe in the ascension of our dear Lord Jesus.
And of that truth my text speaks in Old Testament language.
It is so beautiful, so clear, so wonderful. It could have been written in New Testament time. It matches the prophecies of Isaiah in his 53rd chapter.
Imagine: this prophet lived hundreds of years before Jesus came. But he certainly understood the incarnation of Bethlehem; the atonement on the cross; the glory of the resurrection; the majesty of the ascension; the rich harvest of the pentecostal Spirit; yes, and even the fulfillment of the blessed covenant: God dwelling with men!
Beloved reader: in my text you see the counsel of redemption in its entirety.
Come, let us look at it.
"Thou hast ascended on high."
No, this does not mean the simple godhead. It is blasphemous to say: the godhead ascends on high, for the simple reason that the godhead always dwelleth on high. Ascending presupposes descending into the lowest parts of hell.
"Thou" here is the exalted man Jesus Christ. And in the same breath I must add: and with, in this exalted man is the godhead of the Son of God. That is the reason both that Jesus ascended, but also that He was taken up.
No, I cannot loiter too long with this mystery, for I do not comprehend this truth. Although with equal emphasis I must say: nevertheless, I know this truth. I know it, and worship: God, the Son of God, “is gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of the trumpet!” (Psalm 47:5).
I believe that we must specially emphasis here that Jesus the Mediator went up to God with a shout of triumph—the exalted man Jesus Christ.
As such, He returned to the glory which He had with the Father ere the world was: God out of God, the eternal Word who IS before Abraham was, the Son of the Father, the playing wisdom before the worlds were created.
But this God, this Son, this wisdom had come down from heaven to assume you and me in the very heart of the generations of the elect: Mary’s womb. God, clothed with man, is our Savior.
And this is the first chapter of this book of my text: God, clothed with us, ascended! Thou hast ascended on high! It is a shout of triumph, of wondrous victory.
Because there were eternal doors to shut us out from God and heaven.
They are the eternal doors of the wrath of God and of man.
There is a door that is shut in our faces, and it is the door of a righteous and just God. God cannot have us in His holy heaven the way we are by nature.
And this is the horror, that we do not want to go through that door. There is a door shut unto God in our hard, and cruel, our godless and hateful heart. We throw the door of our heart shut in the face of God. And unto all eternity we would never seek for God. If we hear the call of the gospel with our natural intellect, we say: Depart from me, I have no pleasure in Thy ways!
And this is the beauty of the ascension, dear reader, God opens the shut doors.
He opened the door of heaven when Jesus ascended. You may read of that in the Old Testament also. Psalm 24 sings of the command, inspired by God: Ye gates, lift your heads, the glad summons obey! Ye doors everlasting, wide open the way!
And why this command?
The king of all glory shall enter in state! And this king is God and man reconciled. This king of all glory is God and Jesus with you and me in His arms. And on ascension day we celebrate this fact.
Indeed, Thou hast ascended on high!
"Thou hast led captivity captive!"
That captivity is the captivity of sin and death, of damnation and hell.
These four words are used in God’s vocabulary to express our natural estate.
God’s elect people are by nature not any different from the poor people whose name is reprobates.
We are damnable sinners, guilty unto death and hell.
And here is the horror of our captivity: we love it. We are bound in our hearts. In our hearts we cling to sin as our natural element. If anyone would come with the key to our prison, we would curse him to his face and say: Leave me alone! They sing: Throw out the lifeline! Well, if and when the lifeline reaches us in the breakers of eternal wrath, we throw it right back. We do not want to be saved.
If there is any fact at all that is sure and steadfast, it is that. When God came in the garments of the suffering servant of Jehovah, and when He explained His mission, we said: Keep still, or we will kill you! And kill Him we did.
But Jesus came and entered our prison house. He opened the door in His incarnation, and dwelled among us. And He took upon Himself the whole prison house of death and eternal wrath of God.
And He suffered our Sentence, to the last second of an eternity of dying.
You say that this is nonsense?
How else can I express it?
Does not the Bible teach that Jesus bore the wrath of God in His lifetime? In 33 1/2 years Jesus emptied the eternal wrath of God.
I cannot help it if I cannot expound the touching point between time and eternity. I might as well attempt to outline the spot where divinity and humanity touch.
But He did. He did overcome death and hell, by suffering it Himself.
And He led that same prison house a captive in His train.
Even death and hell will and doth serve Him in the work of salvation.
Our prison doors are open, and we “walk at liberty!”
"Thou hast received gifts for men, even rebellious men! "
That is the way you must read the text.
It is not so that Jesus received gifts for a category of men in general who were not so very rebellious, and that the Lord as an afterthought meditated on a special category of rascals among the elect who were so very intractable, so that they also might have comfort in the glorious ascension. Oh no, but we are all rebellious. Isaiah says that everyone of us turned to his own way. We are all gone away backward, there is none that seeketh God, no, not one.
But Jesus received gifts for us, and what gifts!
I will say more about that the next time, when I must meditate on Pentecost.
Just in outline: they are the gifts of forgiveness of sin, the right to eternal life, adoption unto children, and peace with God.
And the end is glory unspeakable: the covenant of God realized: God dwells among us forever.
He doth now dwell among us: we walk with Him in consequence.
And God shall be all and in all everlastingly.
Glorious ascension! Amen.
Gerrit Vos (1895 - 1968) was ordained a minister of the Word of God in 1927, at the age of 32. He served in 4 different Protestant Reformed Churches until his retirement in 1966.