Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come to you…
The Ascension was expedient because —
I. IT SECURED AN ADEQUATE SENSE OF THE TRUE PLACE AND DIGNITY OF MAN AMONG THE CREATURES OF GOD. There are great studies, which, as they are sometimes handled, tend to create a degraded idea of man.
1. Look, says the astronomer, at the North Star, the light which falls on your eye left that star some thirty years or more ago; and yet this light travels at a rate of 200,000 miles a second. Or, look at the Milky Way, a collection of worlds more numerous than the sands on the sea-shore, separated often from each other by distances which our figures cannot express, and among these are stars whose light must have taken even thousands of centuries in order to reach us on this earth. Or, look at that Dog Star, Sirius. When it was first known that our own sun was moving round some other centre, just as our earth moves round him, it was a shock to the thought; but this giant sun, Sirius, compared with which our own sun is but a pigmy, is himself in motion around some other central orb, the size and place and distance of which exhaust the capacities of imagination. And then our friend turns our thoughts upon this little home of ours. Astronomy has told man many things, and among others, his insignificance.
2. Comparative physiology takes us into its museums, and we see ranged before us the skeletons of apes. Look at the lower types (so it is said) of the human family; at the Aztecs and the Papuans; and then say how you can trace a sharp line of demarcation between this animal and that animal.
3. Or again, we picture to ourselves a scene which takes place inevitably after a great battle; and as our thought lingers over the ghastly ruin, chemistry passes by, and it suggests that after all all is well, and that these buried and disfigured forms will presently be resolved into their constituent elements; and that the value of man may be appreciated when we have discovered what remains after a human body has been submitted to the verdict of a chemical student. Certainly most of us do not readily acquiesce in these theories of human life. Our reason tells the astronomer that there is a moral as well as a material world, and that bulk and distance are not the main tests of greatness; and it tells the comparative anatomist that no similarity of his skeletons can possibly obliterate the vast interval which parts a being with self-reflecting consciousness, and free will from a being which is governed only by instinct; and as for the chemist, whether he is in the cemetery or in the laboratory, reason protests to him that his analysis begs the tremendous question, whether the most important and vital part of man has ever been before him to be analysed at all. But the Christian falls back upon a distinct fact, which enables him to listen with interest and with sympathy to all that the astronomer, &c., may have to tell him, and withal to preserve the robust faith in the dignity of man. He believes in the ascension of our Lord into heaven. Somewhere in space he knows there is at this moment, associated with the glories of the self-existing Diety, a human body and a human soul. Ay, it is on the throne of the universe. No other creature of God shares that incomparable dignity.
II. IT MAKES ROOM FOR FAITH IS CHRIST. It is, of course, conceivable that our Lord might have willed to prolong His life upon the earth through the centuries of Christian history. Had He done so, there would have been no questions as to the seal and centre of authority in the Christian Church, or as to the true area and contents of the Christian creed; there would have been ever before the eyes of men a living example of what the Christian character was meant to be; and perhaps the conversion of the world would have been completed long ere this. But one thing is certain, that if Christ had continued to be visibly present, there would have been no room for true faith in Him. Trust in Christ there might have been; we trust our friends, our elders; but faith "is the evidence of things not seen." Think what this would have meant for Christendom. Why is it that so great a place is assigned to faith in the New Testament? Because faith is the apprehension of an object with ever-increasing clearness on the part of the whole soul, of its thought, of its heart, of its determination. And such an apprehension of a perfect object means vast moral leverage. We become, more or less, like that on which we continually fix our attention. If we look persistently downwards then we become earthly; if we look upwards then the light of heaven is reflected in o'er souls. For this there would have been no room if our Lord had not ascended; the world would only have "known Christ after the flesh," would have concerned itself with His outward and human form, rather than with His true and essential divinity, and it therefore was expedient that He should go away, as promoting the moral effect and power of faith.
III. IN THE INTERESTS OF WORSHIP. What is the idea of God which we gain from nature Courage, energy, and intelligence — nature certainly suggests these; but benevolence is in the back-ground of its suggestion respecting its author and its master. It is cold, thin, superficial; like the clear sunlight on a frosty day in January, there is no warmth, no colour, no character about it; it may provoke intellectual interest, admiration, wonder, but not passion of any kind, not devotion, not worship. But we Christians approach God not only through external, non-human nature, but through man. Man, unlike nature, has moral character. When the Old Testament would teach us the awful attributes of the self-existent, it draws upon the ordinary language of human passion and human experience, it describes a being with human feelings of anger, of pity, of jealousy, of love. The revelation through man is a higher revelation; it is one of moral character. "The Lord is long-suffering," &c. But here, of course, human nature, as we know it, if taken on the average as a guide to the true character of God, may easily mislead us. It is expedient that perfect humanity should thus be associated on the throne of heaven with the infinite and the eternal. And thus, in the worship of the Church, inspired on the one hand, by an awful sense of the inaccessible majesty of God, and, on the other, by a trustful, tender passion, which has its roots in the consciousness of a human fellowship, with its awful object, we find that which we find nowhere else on earth, and we understand the words, "It is expedient for you that I go away." And a last reason for the expediency —
IV. IN CONNECTION WITH HIS WORK OF INTERCESSION. A question which Christians ought to ask themselves more often than they do is this — "What is our Lord doing now?" At His ascension "He sat down at the right hand of God." It is the posture not merely of the enthroned Monarch of Heaven; it is the posture of the omnipotent Priest. He does not stand to plead; still less does He prostrate Himself, side by side with those highest beings who are ranged around the throne. He sits in His wounded but glorified humanity as the one permanent sacrifice which will for ever avail before the eyes of the All Holy. "Therefore, if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father," &c. This uninterrupted action of our glorified Redeemer should surely be more in our minds. What was He doing when we were born? Interceding. What will He be doing at the moment when we shall be leaving it? Interceding. How was He engaged during the long hours of last night, or when we arose from sleep this morning? What will He be doing when we again lie down to rest? What is He doing now, while I am speaking for Him, and while you are listening? The answer is ever the same. Now, this intercession is the very strength of our Christian life. We claim its power in every prayer when we say, "Through Jesus Christ our Lord." We associate our poor feeble prayers with His majestic pleading. It is the knowledge that this great work proceeds uninterruptedly, that makes hope and perseverance possible when hearts are failing, when temptation is strong, when the sky is dark and lurid. Surely it is expedient for you and me that He should go away.
Parallel VersesKJV: Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.