This article was first written as a Meditation in The Standard Bearer and was penned by Rev.Jason Kortering, now an emeritus PRC pastor living in Grandville, MI.
"For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands which aye the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us."
Little fingers point upward, it's up there.
Profound minds delve into its mystery, how supernatural.
The aged gaze upon the setting sun and as the darkness of the night enfolds them their thoughts instinctively turn heavenward and they ask, how long?
And sometimes on their death beds they tell us that they see it in the distance. A blade of envy cuts deeply into our hearts, for when they fall asleep in peace they have all the answers.
We long for heaven!
It's interesting to walk slowly through the corridors of life and stop here and there and ask people, do you anticipate going to heaven? Usually the answer is in the affirmative. If we penetrate a little deeper and ask why, the answers are as variegated as the circumstances in life. The sick, groaning on the brink of death, sigh with expectation, for death shall bring relief from the sufferings of this present time. To the blind and deaf the thought of heaven means sight and hearing. The grieving anticipate the day of great reunion. To the poor brother and sister who struggle to stay alive with their meager bread, heaven means the streets of gold and pearly gates. The soldiers in the battlefield who know that death is but one blink of the eye away, see heaven as the dwelling place of perfect peace. To the burdened sinner who knows the meaning of a long-suffering Father, heaven speaks of perfection and perfect liberty wherewith Christ has set us free. The church in the midst of the battle of faith anticipates the day of perfect peace where righteousness shall dwell secure.
Entrance into heaven is a day of great salvation.
There must be, however, more. There is something wrong with us if we view the present as one long road of defeat that ends with the valley of the shadow of death and is replaced with the splendor of heaven. If this is so, then we will inevitably have a sour view of the present and a sickly attitude toward the future. If this attitude pervades our sojourn here below, we become dissatisfied with life, we long to die so that our future hope can be realized. We so want to get this pain over with, to get rid of this loneliness, to be relieved of the cares of this world that we almost rebel if God doesn't come soon and take us away. Death for such is an escape from the harsh realities of the present. And all of this is so selfish, so self-centered, that God is not in our thoughts.
If we have no joy in this life, even in the midst of trials, we can never expect to rejoice on the other side of the grave.
And what is the joy that the pilgrim experiences here below? In one word it is fellowship with God. The thought that causes ecstatic praise from the lips I of the weary pilgrim is that already now through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ we have the victory. The marvelous love of God fills us to overflowing, we gaze upon His cross and our redemption, we meditate upon His resurrection and our justification, His Holy Spirit guides us in the way of sanctification. This makes life worth living. Here in the midst of evil, with pain and sorrow sweeping round about, we have the grace of God to acknowledge that God is our God and our only joy in this life is serving Him and dwelling in friendship with Him.
For such the thought of heaven is not an escape from the present, it is a fulfillment! What we desire here, namely, that God dwell with us and that we abide with Him, will be given us in the splendor of heaven. Freedom from sin and sorrow then will not be an end in itself, it will be a removal of all these obstacles in order that the purpose of our life may reach its fulness: the praise of our ever blessed God.
The reality of all of this is impressed upon us in the words of our text, "For Christ is entered. . .into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us."
Heaven itself is contrasted to the holy places made with hands. You understand that the book of the Hebrews was written with the converted Jew in mind. The special emphasis throughout this book is to point out the close relationship between the Old Testament and New Testament. Here in our text, we are reminded that after the resurrection, Jesus did not ascend into the holy place of the temple, which was made with hands; rather He went directly into heaven itself.
The Old Testament most holy place, within the temple, was a specific type of heaven. It was there that God dwelt in the midst of His people and Israel congregated together with God. Throughout the generations, children and children's children had assembled there to worship and meditate and bring their offerings before the Lord. It was, however, typical. This indicates that it had limitations. Our text suggests three such limitations. It was made with hands, human hands had constructed this building according to the divine plan. The material used was earthly, subject to decay and a frequent object of the plundering nations round about. Besides these, the most holy place was not open to all Israel. A heavy veil separated it from the holy place and the outer courts.
Because Israel enjoyed a typical heaven within the temple, it must also be remembered that they enjoyed a typical ascension day as well. The importance and reality of heaven depends upon one's occupying it. Having a beautiful place, such as the most holy place certainly was, would mean little if no one could enter it. The thought of God dwelling without His people could bring little joy to Israel. God instituted the celebration of the Great Day of Atonement in which the High Priest would take the blood from the altar of burnt offering and take it inside the most holy place and sprinkle it on the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant. This was the Old Testament Ascension Day, it represented Christ entering into heaven, it pointed to the day when God and all His people would be gathered together in perfect peace. The Great Day of Atonement must have been a thrilling feast for Israel. The scapegoat, burdened with the sins of Israel, was driven out into the wilderness, the people would bow before the Lord as the High. Priest sprinkled the typical blood of Jesus before the Lord. Justice and mercy kissed each other there.
Into this typical heaven Jesus did not ascend when He completed His redemptive work. The fact is that He was not even allowed within the most holy place of Herod's temple. His priesthood was not according to Aaron, but Melchisedec. He had come to elevate the priesthood to a higher order, namely, that through His work as priest He would also become King of Righteousness. Jesus was not determined to get inside that typical heaven, rather He had come to remove it from the scene. The rent veil at the time of His majestic death cried aloud that former things have passed away, behold all things have become new.
As our Great High Priest, Jesus did not intend to enter into the Holy Place and offer a sacrifice upon the altar of burnt offering. His altar was without the gate at the top of the hill of the skull. There the High Priest of God offered Himself a ransom for many. The time had come for the fulfillment of prophecy and types. Upon that hill He bore the wrath of God for which the blood of lambs and goats cried unto God. Life must be given as a payment for death. The blood of the Lamb must be shed as a perfect payment in love for the debt of so great hatred.
And this He did.
Where did He go when the work of the great High Priest was completed? Into the typical heaven? No, God rent the veil, for its purpose was completed. Since Jesus had gone into the real holy place and offered Himself upon the real altar of burnt offerings, the cross, there was no more need for a typical most holy place either, hence God ripped the covering.
He entered into heaven itself.
Did not the disciples witness this event? No, they didn't see Him enter into heaven for eye cannot see its wonders. They rather saw Him go into that direction. As they walked toward the Mount of Olives, gradually and deliberately He arose from the earth. With outstretched arms He blessed them, instructing them to go and preach and baptize. God's cloud received Him out of their sight. He went into the presence of God, into heaven itself.
It does us little good to speculate what heaven is like. It is a great mystery, it doesn't fall within the boundaries of our human minds. It is a place, Scripture is abundantly clear on this. It is a place that is part of creation, though it is so different from the earthly part. Just as surely as angels and devils are round about us all the time, so close heaven may also be. We must not view it as if it is beyond the farthest star; that in itself would bring a conflict in our minds, for who knows the limit of space? Scripture places heaven very close to us, for in heaven God manifests His greatness and glory in the highest sense. Heaven has its own history, its great divide, its wars, its impatient cries, its sounds of victory and praise. When Christ entered into heaven itself He brought about a change, for with His majestic entrance He also cast out all devils and evil spirits so that the voice of the four beasts and 24 elders could blend perfectly with the 144,000 singing the praises of God and looking forward to the creation of the new heaven and earth when all creation would once again be restored to perfect harmony.
Into that heaven Christ ascended for us.
Our perfectly righteous High Priest entered into the presence of the Holy God. Having attained the divine verdict that the benefits of His death were imputed to those for whom He died, Christ longed to be taken to heaven to once again dwell in the presence of His Father. God drew Him home. The righteous God place d Him upon His right hand and crowned Him with all glory and honor. The saints, angels, the representatives of creation sang their welcome song when He entered into heaven itself.
And Jesus did not forget His own that were yet upon the earth. As our great High Priest He prayed the Father for the Comforter whom He might send unto His brethren in the world that they might also be where He is.
Our Father answered that prayer. He crowned the faithful Christ with all the power to direct all things to serve the purpose of the salvation of the entire church for whom Christ died. He gave Him the Holy Spirit to draw them unto Himself.
For us He entered into heaven itself.
What a precious truth this is for us now.
Notice, because this is true we have every reason to be joyful now. All diseases, all suffering, loneliness, wars, burdens of sin, pressures of the battle of faith are directed our way because our Lord Jesus Christ is entered into heaven itself. No one else sends these things to us but He. That too, not to make life miserable for us, rather to draw us above the things of this world that we become and remain heavenly minded.
Our joy is in God through Jesus Christ already now.
And we long for heaven when this joy shall become even greater. Then all these burdens shall be taken away not simply for our sakes, but that we may then rejoice perfectly in the God of our salvation.
You long for heaven in a good sense of the word?
Christ is already there. He is working now in such a way that we shall certainly arrive there in safety.
Hope in the Lord! Wait patiently for Him!
Rev Jason Kortering (Wife: Jeannette)
Ordained: September 1960
Pastorates: Hull, IA - 1960; Hope, Walker, MI - 1966; Hull, IA - 1970; Hope, Redlands, CA - 1976; Loveland, CO - 1979; Grandville, MI - 1984; Minister-on-Loan (Hope PRC, Walker, MI), Singapore - 1992
Emeritus: 2002Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Rev._Jason_Kortering
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