Jesus rebukes and blesses the disciples. He rebukes them because they did not believe. We’ve talked before about how impossible it must have been to believe that Jesus would rise from the dead. Does God demand impossible things from us? Well, of course he does. He demands that we keep his law perfectly. That we fear love and trust in him above all things. That we look only to him for every good thing. That’s hard when the evidence is against God and his Word. The world wants us to doubt. But that’s just the point. Jesus is risen from the dead. There is no more reason to doubt. And more than that, today we celebrate his ascension to the right hand of the Father. He has paid the price for our disobedience. He has fulfilled the law you could not fulfill, to give you a salvation you did not deserve. And he did it by taking the sins you committed, and dying on the cross for them. Now, he is not only risen, he is ascended to the right hand of the Father, from thence he will come again, to judge the living and the dead.
Now there is never a crisis. Never a reason to doubt or worry, because Jesus is reigning on his throne. He has been given all power and all authority. The kings of the earth set themselves against him, but he breaks them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.
The Word of Lord endures and the counsels of men come to naught. That is as it should be. The Word of the Lord should endure. The counsels of men should be thrown down. The challenge is that in this world, it seems too often as if the counsels of the world have triumphed and the word of God has been thrown down.
That’s why on ascension day we celebrate that our Lord Jesus has been seated at the right hand of the Father. Not just an honorary spot with no real authority to do anything. He is now enthroned as the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. And at his name, every knee shall bow, on heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
It sure seems like the powers and authorities, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, have their way with things. I mean, Jesus even calls Satan “The Prince of this world.” He really does seem to have all the power, doesn’t he? The world just follows along away from God and his holy word. The church has ever declining influence. Those who would be faithful to the word of God are increasingly mocked. But of course, the Lord almighty reigns forever and ever. There is nothing that can be done to us, because Jesus has already won the victory. He has already conquered in the fight.
In World War 2, when the British were trapped at Dunkirk, backed to the sea by the advancing Nazi’s, and all seemed lost. 350,000 soldiers would be captured or killed. They sent a coded message to England. It was only three words. “But if not.” It shows how much our world has changed that, a century later even those in the church don’t know what it means.
It’s from the book of Daniel. When Shadrach Meshach and Abednego were told to worship the idol figure of King Nebuchadnezzar or they would be cast into the fiery furnace. Their response “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” They would not yield. God could save them if he wished by a miracle. That was his business. In any event, they would not worship. And the king could not make them worship.
“But if not.” The British troops message meant that if they could be saved by some miracle, so be it. If not, they would not stop fighting as long and as much as they could. What followed was the most extraordinary evacuation in the history of warfare. Military vessels, pleasure vessels, even small fishing boats, anything that had a motor was placed into service evacuating the retreating British. The haphazard, poorly organized and certainly doomed effort rescued 338,000 troops from the advancing German army.
Our nation is, in many ways, at the moment of disbelief. The church seems to be buckling under the strain. Those who only were members for the convenience of the cultural advantages are leaving the church. Marriage and the family lie in shambles. The culture is moving quickly toward full acceptance of the agenda of the culture of death. In many places in the western world, the churches are vacant, and Islamic extremism is replacing it. In other places, that extremism is torturing and killing Christians. We are pressed from all sides. It seems as if perhaps the world may finally win the victory over the church.
And yet, even now, Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us. But if not…
Our Lord Jesus Christ has already won the victory. Satan rages because he knows his time is short. There is no more dangerous animal than a wounded one. But our Lord Jesus Christ has already won the victory. Not only that, he is now enthroned. There is no crisis. No emergency in this world. There is living for Christ while we are able. And dying in him when God grants it. That’s it. That’s the only sort of “But if not” that can apply to us in this world. We are Christ’s whether we live or die.
And our Lord Jesus Christ has already won the victory.