Heaven and Earth Reunited (The Family of God)
By Elder Lawrence Nelson
Pentecost. Whenever you have studied or talked about Pentecost I doubt very much if you have ever thought about it in the light that I am presenting this sermon. We usually think of Pentecost as the time when the power of God was poured out and they spoke in tongues, but listen carefully. I have chosen a most heart-warming, emotional and stimulating text and I trust that it will be riveted in your minds forever. It is found in John 20:17. It reveals what happened when Mary discovered that Jesus was alive after His crucifixion, death and burial. “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.”
I hope that somehow this text will have a new and tremendous meaning before we are finished, and may we experience and exclaim with the Apostle Paul, “I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthen with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ might dwell in your heart by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” Ephesians 3:14 – 19.
Let us pray. Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. As Thy children, we trust the Holy Spirit will help us to comprehend as never before how Jesus made it possible for us to become sons and daughters of the family of God and be loved individually as much as God loves His Son. This we ask in the precious name of Jesus, Amen.
In the typical sanctuary service of ancient Israel it was customary for the high priest to lay aside pontifical robes and to officiate in the white linen dress of an ordinary priest. So likewise, the Son of God came down to this earth from heaven and He laid aside His royal robes, clothing Himself with humanity to offer Himself a ransom for you and for me. Paul, speaking of this in 1 Corinthians 5:7 spoke of it in these words, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” Why did He do this? – To fulfill the requirements of the Passover.
As the Word of God reveals, Christ Himself became the Priest and Christ Himself became the Victim. Thus He made an atonement for our sins, but in God’s blueprint for complete salvation He foresaw the need for yet some additional steps in order to restore man to his rightful place. The atonement provided only for the forgiveness for sins, but sin had separated humanity from God. So something more needed to be done to reunited man with his Creator. Therefore God devised additional plans so that this could be accomplished. If these details were followed precisely this would make it possible for finite man to comprehend how heaven and earth, which was now separated, could be reunited in oneness making it possible for you and me to actually become part of the family of God.
Please follow me closely. Immediately after the Passover Sabbath, on the first day of the week, we read in Leviticus 23:5, “In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the Lord’s passover.” Then in verses nine through eleven it tells us, “The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest: And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it.”
Did you notice that it was on the first day of the week that the sheaf was to be waved before God by the priest? Let me show you how Jesus fulfilled this in person since He was the wave sheaf. You remember that the Passover Lamb was slain on Friday at the ninth hour (which was 3:00 in the afternoon as we talk of time today). You also remember that great curtain in the sanctuary separating the Holy from the Most Holy which was some 60 feet to 70 feet in height was ripped from top to bottom by none other than God Himself. This happened at that precise moment the priest was about to kill the sacrificial lamb, but because of this terrifying experience the lamb slipped away and in its place Jesus was crucified at the exact moment that the lamb was to be slain.
During the Sabbath hours after His crucifixion Jesus lay in a sleep of death in the tomb. But on the first day He is to awake and present the wave-sheaf offering. Divine predication must be fulfilled for Christ was the wave sheaf. He became the first fruits by His own resurrection, thus He was able to comply with the stipulation which was laid down by God a thousand years before.
Let’s see how He did this. This first sheaf of grain was to be presented on the first day following the Passover sabbath. Consider with me what actually took place. It is still dark. The gravestone covering the tomb’s entrance is still in place. The Roman seal is still unbroken and around the tomb stand the Roman guards. If you look by divine perception you will see a host of evil angels, but looking more closely you will see a heavenly host immediately surrounding the sepulchre.
Matthew tells us what took place. I’m reading from Matthew 28:2, “Behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.” This was the same angel that took the place of Lucifer. Instantly, when this angel arrived, all of the evil angels fled and the soldiers fell as dead men. This mighty angel rolled away that great stone which was at least six feet in diameter. He rolled it as if it were a pebble and then he cried out, “Son of God come forth, thy Father calls thee.” Immediately Christ comes forth from the tomb as the angelic host sings with great joy, “Thou hast vanquished Satan and the powers of darkness; thou hast swallowed up death in victory!” Desire of Ages p. 780.
But something else has taken place as Jesus arose. It’s a startling event for an earthquake has opened a multitude of other graves. Individuals arose from their graves who had given their lives as a testimony to God’s truth. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of those was John the Baptist. God had other plans for him and that is why He did not interfere with his death. These resurrected saints are the Savior’s trophies of victory over the power of death. No longer are they captives of Satan; they are now redeemed, brought forth from the grave, the first fruits of the end-time resurrection. Christ had raised many others of the dead when he was here on this earth. For example there was the son of the widow of Nain, there was the ruler’s little daughter and there was Lazarus who had died and been buried for three days. But each of these had to die again. However these resurrected saints that arose when Christ arose would never die; they were raised to everlasting life.
Shortly after these saints had arisen out of their graves Mary Magdalene came to the tomb. Imagine her amazement as she discovers that the tomb is empty. She fears that someone has stolen the body of Jesus. Let me read this to you from John 20:13 as the angel said to her, “Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou? She supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.” You see her eyes were so filled with tears that she could not see clearly.
I continue to read, “Jesus saith unto her, Mary, She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” Do you understand what that means? There is something about this that we have in common. We are now the family of God and God is our Father. Listen as we go on. Something is about to occur that makes this possible, something that will reunite heaven with earth. What is this wonder? – Christ is about to ascend to heaven where He will present Himself to the Father as the wave sheaf – the symbol of the first resurrected life of the great harvest to come. Immediately Jesus leaves this earth, He leaves Mary, and goes to heaven where He is to approach His Father for the express purpose to present Himself as the wave sheaf.
Apparently travel in space is no problem with deity. One moment He is talking with Mary and the next moment He is billions of miles away standing before His Father. There he presents Himself as the first fruits of the resurrection. It is a private meeting and it is not open to the universe. Here the assurance is given that Christ’s sacrifice has been accepted. Let me read it to you in Desire of Ages p. 790, Christ “ascended to the heavenly courts, and from God Himself heard the assurance that His atonement for the sins of men had been ample, that through His blood all might gain eternal life. The Father ratified the covenant made with Christ, that He would receive repentant and obedient men” Mark these words. The Father said what? – “That He would receive repentant and obedient men, and would love them even as He loves His Son.” Amazing! Can you comprehend that? Naturally the Father loves His Son, but we who have been sinners, we who have damned Him, we who have done all kinds of evil things, that God still loves us! Oh yes, we have always believed that, but loved us as much as He loved His Son?! That’s what a family is all about, isn’t it? I must tell you that to be in the family of God and to be loved individually as much as God loves His Son, it boggles my mind.
No sooner had this short visit been accomplished with the Father than He immediately returns to this earth. Space doesn’t mean anything. During His absence it has been just a few minutes. Other women have arrived at the tomb. Listen as I quote from Desire of Ages p. 793, “After He had ascended to the Father, Jesus appeared to the other women, saying, ‘All hail. And they came and held Him by the feet, and worshiped Him.’” Remember he wouldn’t let Mary touch Him as He first had to go to heaven and present the wave sheaf. “‘Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell My brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.’”
The time has now arrived when He can reassure His disciples that He had fulfilled His pledge. What was it? – Remember back to Isaiah 13:12, “I will make a man more precious than fine gold.” No question about it we can become sons and daughters of the family of God – each loved as much as God loves His Son who died for us. Praise His holy name! I can’t help but shouting Hallelujah! Oh, what God has planned for us.
Now He says to these women, “Tell the disciples, Go unto Galilee, where I am going to instruct them for the next forty days.” In Acts 1:3 we read, “To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs.” There they handled Him, they slept with Him, they ate with Him, they talked with Him, they were with Him forty days. No question about it; Jesus was alive.
But remember, there must be fifty days, not forty, that must take place before the next great event which is called Pentecost. It would be at this coming celebration, when the covenant will be ratified with His church. It was ratified with God when Christ presented Himself as the wave sheaf, but at Pentecost it is to be ratified to the church. Why is this? Had not Christ already died for the atonement? – Yes. Had Christ not already arisen in victory over death? – Yes. Had He not already presented the wave sheaf to His Father in heaven? – Yes. Then why must there be a Pentecost? Because something else is needed to unite heaven with earth.
The church of God must be given divine power to give the gospel to the entire world and this cannot take place until an additional first fruits are presented to God the Father in heaven before the universe. You see, every divine stipulation that you find in the scripture must be fulfilled; nothing fails. Let me read this to you. Leviticus 23: 15 – 17, “And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete (that is 49 days, isn’t it?): Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the Lord. Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals: they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; they are the firstfruits unto the Lord.”
These verses draw our attention once again to this special group who were resurrected when Jesus arose. They arose with Him on the resurrection day. They represent the family of God on this earth. They are the pledge of assurance that the resurrection of all the righteous will take place when Christ comes the second time. 1 Thessalonians 4:14 says, “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” So it was in the divine plan that when Christ, after His resurrection had presented the wave sheaf to His Father, that He would go back to earth and return again to heaven, this time bringing a great multitude of His trophies to present them as the family of earth to be united with the family of God.
But before this takes place a multitude of captives from the grave must first perform a special work. They are to go into the city of Jerusalem and to declare to the honest in heart that Christ had indeed risen from the dead. They were to be living proof that He had risen. Why was this necessary? – For several reasons. The priests had paid the soldiers to lie by commanding them to say that His disciples came by night and stole Jesus away while they slept. That in itself was quite a deception because any soldier knew that if he went to sleep at his post he would be killed. But furthermore, the Sadducees, who were supposed to be God’s ministers in His temple during the day of Christ, had for centuries taught the people to disbelieve in the resurrection. For a hundred years they had preached the devil’s doctrine that there was no resurrection, so God is going to make sure there is no misunderstanding. Imagine when these risen saints came to a person’s home and knocked at the door and said, “Look at me. I just arose from the grave with Jesus of Nazareth.” There could be no question about it. Here was living proof for they declared that when Jesus arose, they arose with Him. Can you imagine the impact that this made?
Here is a lesson for us. In those days the ministers were teaching Satan’s lies to the people so that they would not accept Jesus when He came. We are told that the same evil power today will have his men preaching from the hellish torch of Satan. They will be teaching false doctrines today and if you believe them you will not be ready to go home with Jesus when He comes. This is why we need to be studying continually. God’s Word never leaves an honest soul in doubt.
For forty days these risen saints went from house to house and from person to person telling the good news. The Spirit of God led them to the honest souls proving beyond a doubt that Jesus had indeed risen. I am quoting from Desire of Ages p. 786 of what these risen saints said, “Christ has risen from the dead, and we be risen with Him.” In Isaiah 26:19 prophecy had predicted this, “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. … And the earth shall cast out the dead.” Every prophecy in the Bible is always fulfilled to the exact letter.
But more than this, these risen saints were to give assurance to us who are alive today that God always keeps His promise for we soon shall witness a coming resurrection ourselves. 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says, “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” What a day that’s going to be. I’m looking forward to that morning to seeing my mother again. I’m looking forward to seeing my father again. Many of you who have lost a loved one recently will see them again. The fact that these saints arose with Him is absolute, living proof that your loved ones who were faithful will live again.
We read in Desire of Ages p. 787, “Thus will it be when the voice of Christ shall be heard from heaven. That voice will penetrate the graves and unbar the tombs, and the dead in Christ shall arise. At the Saviour’s resurrection a few graves were opened, but at His second coming all the precious dead shall hear His voice, and shall come forth to glorious, immortal life.” My dear brethren and sisters, won’t that be a marvelous experience to behold? Now let me complete the quotation, “The same power that raised Christ from the dead will raise His church and glorify it for Him above all principalities, above all powers, above every name that is named not only in this world, but in the world to come.”
Now back to the forty days Christ spent with His disciples before He returned to heaven with His trophies. He knows that there is needed time in heaven to prepare for a glorious homecoming. Besides this His disciples will need time to prepare for heaven’s overflow of that great celebration at which time heaven will bestow the Holy Spirit in its fullness ratifying the covenant with His church.
Now let us follow this step by step. Jesus the risen Savior is about to return victoriously to heaven bringing with Him his trophies. For forty days Jesus has authenticated to His disciples that He is the living Savior. No longer must He be associated with the tomb; now they must think of Him as being alive – a glorified Being, indeed, our great High Priest who is in heaven’s sanctuary for us.
Next Jesus chooses the spot for His ascension. It will be the Mount of Olives on which His feet will again rest at the close of the Millennium when Jesus brings the New Jerusalem to this earth. As Jesus bids His disciples good-bye they watch as He slowly ascends from among His disciples and they hear clearly the very last words that He ever spoke on this earth, “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Matthew 28:20. As the disciples watch a cloud of glory hides Jesus from their sight.
As the chariots of angels receive the Savior, the air is filled with the sweetest music as the angelic host sings. It is now that two angels reveal themselves and speak. I am reading from Acts 1:11, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” These are the same two angels who were His personal bodyguards while He was here on earth throughout His mission. They longed to go with Jesus to heaven, but in love for the disciples they linger behind to remind His faithful disciples that Jesus would come again.
In the meanwhile, the multitude of captives who arose with Christ had joined the Savior in the clouds. They are on their way to heaven with Jesus as He returns to the Father. These risen saints are of the first fruits and this is what Paul meant when he said, “As Christ ascended on high he led captivity captive.” Ephesians 4:8. As Jesus ascended with His trophies all of heaven is astir in preparation to welcome the Savior. Jesus leads the way and the multitude of His captives follow as the escorting angels began to cry, “Lift up your heads O ye gates; and be lift up ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.” Psalm 24:7.
And then those angels who are on the walls of Jerusalem cry back, “Who is this king of glory?” Not that they didn’t know, but they love to hear it.
Back came the words, “The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.” Again, “Lift up your heads O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.” Psalm 24:8, 9.
“Who is the King of Glory?” – Back comes the word, “The Lord of Hosts, he is the King of glory!” Psalm 24:10.
Now look closely with me as this mighty reception takes place at the walls of the New Jerusalem. Here is Moses, and he is the one who opens the gates as Jesus and the redeemed that arose with Him sweep through the gates into the city itself. There they go to the center of that great city where that throne is found that has a rainbow encircling it. Here the countless sons of God, the representatives of unfallen worlds and the billions of unfallen angels also assemble to celebrate Christ’s triumphant return. This is the same heavenly council before which Lucifer had accused God and His Son. Here are the representatives of sinless worlds over which Satan had fought to establish his dominion. They are all eager to celebrate the triumph of their King.
But wait. Christ lifts His hand and says, “Not yet. He cannot now receive the coronet of glory and the royal robe. He enters into the presence of His Father. He points to His wounded head, the pierced side, the marred feet; He lifts His hands, bearing the print of the nails. He points to the token of His triumph.” Here are all those that arose with Him and “He presents to God the wave sheaf, those raised with Him as representatives of that great multitude who shall come forth from the grave at His second coming.” Desire of Ages p. 834.
Now watch as Christ approaches closer to the Father. Sense with me the joy as God beholds the family of earth that are now before Him who are resurrected with Christ – the trophies of the Savior. Recall with me the pledge of God and Christ that they made before sin entered. Recall the covenant promise to redeem sinners. Listen once again to that cry on the cross when Christ cried, “It is finished.” Watch as Christ now presents the trophies to the Father with these words, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.” John 17:24.
Listen as the Pentecostal celebration takes place when you hear the words of God, “Justice is satisfied. Satan is forever vanquished.” Glory to God. At last Christ’s struggling children are accepted by God for where Christ is there His church shall be. “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Psalm 83:10. Behold the Father’s arms as they encircle His Son. Now God gives the command to the millions of billions that all the angels of God shall worship Christ.
In Desire of Ages p. 834 we read, “With joy unutterable rulers and principalities and powers acknowledge the supremacy of the Prince of Life. The angel hosts prostrate themselves before Him, while the glad shout fills all the courts of heaven, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.’ Revelation 5:12.”
Now the words of Christ have full assurance, “My God is your God. My Father is your Father.” Oh if we could only comprehend this when troubles come that we have a Father that we can go to. Never forget that He has told us that He loves us as much as He loves our Savior, Jesus Christ. What kind of lives would we live in this world if we really realize that we are now sons and daughters of the Almighty; the family of earth is reunited with the family of God. This is why Revelation 5:13 states, “Every creature which is in heaven, and on earth, … heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.”
Words cannot adequately express the joy that the family on earth is now united with the family of heaven. This Pentecost celebration should ring a bell every day in our lives. We belong to Jesus. We are His. We were bought, we were redeemed; we are sons and daughters of Divinity. God is our Father for Pentecost had finally arrived.
In Acts 2:1, 2 we read, “When the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” This earthly celebration is important for us because the Savior’s sacrifice is now accepted by the universe. The gospel story is now beyond question. Now the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead, fills the hearts of each disciple on this earth with a Spirit that leads God’s church to victory.
When we speak of Pentecost our memories should recall Calvary’s atonement that was accepted, that the enemy of death itself has been defeated, that Christ has ascended with His risen saints giving us full assurance of a final resurrection soon to take place. Pentecost assures us that we are now the family of God.
Brothers and sisters, this joy of Pentecost should be our daily experience. Every day let us remember the words of Jesus, “I ascend unto my Father and your Father; to my God and your God.”
Let us pray. Oh heavenly Father, we have discovered new courage in our hearts as we think of what Pentecost means to the church today. We have found courage as we stand by the grave of a loved one to know that it would be just a little while and we shall see them again. It gives us courage as we face a time of trouble such as never was to know that our Savior is with us always, even to the end of the world. And most of all it gives us courage today to know that God is our Father and He loves you and me as much as He loves His Son. In the name of Jesus, help us to be worthy of such love. Amen.”
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