How Is It Good for Us that Jesus Left Us (HC LD 18, QA 46-49)?

The ascension of Jesus is one Biblical truth I struggle to understand. How was it better that he leave us? Jesus said in John 16:7, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away.” How is that true? I want Jesus physically with me. I don’t say this in a flippant or irreverent way – I truly mean this – I would love to eat a delicious meal with Jesus and talk long into the evening, listening, questioning, and learning. I want to see his facial expressions and hear his voice speaking to me. I’d truly love that. Prayer is difficult for me because Jesus is not physically with me. I can’t see him. I can’t hear his voice. Prayer is an act of faith because it recognizes and trusts that the invisible triune God is indeed present. But alas, my faith is weak, and I find myself preferring visible physical presence to invisible spiritual presence, both of which are equally real.

As Christians, we believe and confess that Christ ascended into heaven. Though weekly Lord’s Day worship is the God-appointed day to celebrate the person and work of Christ throughout the year, some Christians set aside one day of the year to celebrate his ascension. The ascension is important. But I wonder how many of us understand why the ascension is precious to us, why it’s good for us, how it benefits us. I readily admit I’m still learning how the ascension of my Lord benefits me.

Heidelberg 46 asks, “What do you confess when you say ‘He ascended into heaven’?” Before we can know how the ascension benefits us, we must be clear on what the ascension is. Heidelberg 46 clarifies:

That Christ, before the eyes of His disciples, was taken up from the earth into heaven, and that He is there for our benefit until He comes again to judge the living and the dead.

Jesus Christ is true God and true and righteous man. Jesus physically raised from the dead, after which, he physically walked around, conversed with others, ate, etc. When he was taken up into heaven, he was physically taken up. His feet left the earth and ascended up, up, up even more and out of sight. Luke recorded the event in Acts 1:9: “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” Luke said in his gospel, and this is comforting:

And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. (Lk. 24:50-53)

He was being carried up into heaven while he blessed his disciples. That’s his heart. As he left, he extended grace and favor. And his disciples worshipped him. They didn’t return to Jerusalem with sadness but with great joy, mega joy, big-time joy. If the disciples who spent years with him were overjoyed after the ascension, why would you and I be disappointed that Christ is not physically with us? Perhaps they were further along in their faith and understood things we struggle to understand. Heidelberg 46 says that Christ is “there for our benefit.” I want to better understand how Christ’s ascension benefits me.

Heidelberg 47 and 48 contain extremely important Christological truths. Please meditate on those truths to better understand the two natures of Christ. I also recommend reading and contemplating the Apostles’, Nicene, Athanasian, and Chalcedonian Creeds. They are immensely enlightening and helpful. The creeds also help us understand how Jesus is indeed still with us along our pilgrim way to the celestial city, and they hearten and comfort us.

Heidelberg 49 is where we learn how the ascension benefits us. Certainly, we must first have knowledge of the ascension and accept it as true. But we must also have confidence in how the ascension benefits us. Heidelberg 49 asks, “How does Christ’s ascension into heaven benefit us?” I love how the Heidelberg positions massive doctrines like the ascension with our benefit and comfort in mind. How does it benefit us? The answer given is as follows:

First, He is our advocate in heaven before His Father. Second, we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that He, our Head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself. Third, He sends us His Spirit as a counter-pledge, by whose power we seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God, and not the things that are on earth.

First, you and I have an advocate, Jesus Christ, in heaven promoting our favor. Hebrews 9:24 teaches that Christ has entered heaven “to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” Jesus is alive and living in the presence of God for our benefit. Romans 8:34 teaches that the crucified and risen Christ is at the right hand of God interceding for us, and Hebrews 7:23–25 says Christ “lives to make intercession for [us].” 1 John 2:1 teaches that when you and I sin – and we sin a lot in our thoughts, words, and actions – “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” I love that! Jesus Christ the righteous. This righteous Advocate desires God to accept and love us, and his suffering, sacrifice, and satisfaction are eternal witnesses to and defenses of our salvation. [1] He himself is our salvation. Zacharias Ursinus stated:

It is by making intercession for us in this manner that Christ applies unto us the benefits and merit of his death. And the entire glorification of the mediator, consisting in his resurrection, ascension and sitting at the right hand of the Father, was necessary in order that this application might be made unto us. [2]

Jesus needed to ascend to the Father to be glorified and to apply the benefits and merits of his substitutionary death to you and me. We have the benefits of his life, death, and resurrection because he is interceding for us now in heaven.

Second, Jesus Christ is in heaven preparing a place for you and me. Jesus told his disciples:

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (Jn. 14:1–3)

He ascended into heaven. That benefits you because it is certain that you too will ascend with him into heaven. [3] He has gone before you, dear believer, and has promised to come back to take you with him. As John 17:24 reveals, Jesus desires that you (his disciple) would be with him to see his glory. He is there preparing a place for us to forever delight in his glory.

Third, he entered into heaven in order to send his Holy Spirit to us to help us, to gather, comfort, and defend us. [4] If he didn’t leave, the Holy Spirit would not have come. Jesus needed to ascend in order to send the Holy Spirit to dwell with you and in you (Jn. 14:16-17; 16:7). The Holy Spirit is our seal and guarantee of heavenly residence with Christ. The Holy Spirit’s activity in you comforts you that you belong to and with Christ.

We must remember, dear ones, that Christ is not gone for good. He left. He also will return, and when he appears, God promises we too “will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4). Take comfort that Christ is not physically here but that “with respect to His divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit,” he is with us helping us along till the last day. The Spirit of Jesus Christ is in you compelling you to love and good works. Do not fret that he will not be at dinner; instead, rejoice that his divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit are ever with you to strengthen and help you until you see his face.

[1] Zacharias Ursinus, trans. Rev. G. W. Williard, ed. Eric D. Bristley, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (RCUS: 2004), 458-459.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Quotes from the Heidelberg Catechism and creeds are taken from Zacharias Ursinus & Jonathan Shirk, The Heidelberg Catechism: True Comfort for Life & Death (Manheim: Small Town Theologian, 2021), 395.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

About the author

Jonathan Shirk

Welcome to the online home of Jonathan Shirk, family man, Reformed pastor, author, podcaster, and small town theologian. Whether you're from a small town or big city, may this website help you find deeper comfort and joy in the gospel.

View all posts