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New City Catechism 51.3

Question 51: Of what advantage to us is Christ's ascension?

Answer: Christ physically ascended on our behalf, just as he came down to earth physically on our account, and he is now advocating for us in the presence of his Father, preparing a place for us, and also sends us his Spirit.

In one of the most remarkable statements in the Gospels, Jesus said in John 16:7, "Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you." Did you catch that? Jesus told his disciples that it is better to have the Holy Spirit in you than Jesus Christ in the flesh with you.

Imagine being given a choice. You can choose option A and transport yourself back to the first century, where you are granted the opportunity to walk with Jesus in his earthly ministry, which was prior to the giving of the Holy Spirit to the church on the Day of Pentecost after Jesus' resurrection (Acts 2). Or you can choose option B and continue living the same life you have now in the same time and place. Which option would you think would be better for you? You might assume that encountering the incarnate Lord in the flesh prior to Pentecost would be better than not seeing him after Pentecost, but you would be wrong. Jesus says we who live post-Pentecost are actually in a better situation than his disciples were at the time he was speaking to them.

How could this be? It is because the days of Jesus' earthly ministry pre-dated his accomplishment of our redemption, his ratification of the new covenant, and the outpouring of the blessings of the new covenant on his people (see Jer. 31:31-34; Joel 2:28-32). God did not take up residence in Jesus' followers until after Jesus ascended to Heaven, where he then poured out the gift of the Spirit on his people. And because he did, we now know God more intimately than Peter and the other disciples ever did during the days when they saw Jesus face-to-face.

Of course, the best of all will be when Jesus returns so that we see him in the flesh while we are also indwelled and fully glorified by the Holy Spirit. But in this present time, while we await that coming day, may we never underestimate the privilege of being indwelled right now by the Spirit of the risen and ascended Christ. The very Spirit of God has taken up residence in us because Christ is at the right hand of the Father.

Suggested passage for personal or family reading: John 14-16. What does Jesus teach about the Holy Spirit in these chapters? How does he encourage us to live during the time between his two comings?

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