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…
1. Selfishness is never less attractive than when it would leave its imprint on theology. Yet we are not unfrequently confronted by systems in which the satisfaction of the believer is made the centre of a theological panorama, while the revealed nature or economies of God are banished to its circumference. In this way the self-sustaining, infinite, Supreme Being comes to be regarded as chiefly interesting on account of the satisfaction which He yields to the subjective yearnings of a finite and created soul But the manifested glory, the vindicated honour of Jesus Christ must take rank before all other considerations in regard to the Ascension: at length that life of humiliation is over, and the Bridegroom of the Church "girds His sword upon His thigh, as becomes the Most Mighty, and according to His worship and renown."
2. This, then, is our first tribute of love and duty to the mystery of to-day, and we may now turn to that other and very different point of view which is sanctioned by our Lord in the text. No words that ever fell from the lips of Christ can have at first seemed to those faithful souls who heard them to verge more closely than these on the confines of paradox. Could it be expedient for men who are still pilgrims upon earth that their Guide should be taken from them? For pupils who are still ignorant that their great Teacher should desert them? For spiritual children, still so deficient in the Christian character, that they should be deprived of Him who taught by example even more persuasively than He taught by precept? He might have said "expedient for the spirits of the just made perfect, to whom, after overcoming the sharpness of death, He was about to open the kingdom of heaven; for the angels who had for thirty-three years been" ascending and descending upon the Son of Man," and who had now higher ministries in store for them: for Myself, who, after finishing the work that was given Me to do, am to be glorified by the Father with that glory which I had with Him before the world was. But He does say, "for you." My broken-hearted, despairing disciples, it is "expedient for yon," that I, your Teacher, Friend, Guide, Strength, should leave you. Wherein then, it may be asked, did this expediency lie?
I. THERE WAS A KIND OF NATURAL EXPEDIENCY IN THE ASCENSION, grounded on that law of the human mind which makes the appreciation of present blessings so very difficult. Most men look back with affection on the years of their childhood; and nations have always surrounded their early annals with an atmosphere of poetry. So limited are our powers, that generally speaking, observation must have ceased before reflection can begin to do its work. Had Christ continued to live visibly upon earth, the spiritual force of the Church might have been expended in an indefinitely prolonged observation. The strength even of saintly souls might have been fatally overtaxed. If Jesus is to be seen by His creatures in His relative and awful greatness, He must be withdrawn. Even on the night before the Passion, St. Philip asks a question, which proves that he does not yet know who Jesus really is. "What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter," was an announcement of the self-same principle. He was to be comprehended when He was gone. The life of Christ on earth had first to be brought to a close, ere it could be dropped as a seed that would spring up and bear fruit into the heart of redeemed humanity. And each teacher that has unfolded and enforced the meaning of that life, has, in adding to the illuminated thought of Christendom, attested the truth of our Master's words — "It is expedient," &c.
II. THE LIFE OF THE SOULS OF THE APOSTLES JUST HAVE BEEN QUICKENED BY THE DEPARTURE OF THEIR LORD. Faith, hope, and charity are the threefold cord that links the living spirit with its God. These graces were dwarfed in the apostles. Their belief did not materially differ from the creed of the devout Jew. Their hopes were centred on an earthly throne. Their charity was discoloured by the presence of a subtle element of sense, which dimmed its spiritual lustre. Christ left them, and behold, they find springing up within themselves a new and vigorous life. By leaving them our Lord has made room for the full play and power of faith. (1 Peter 1:8). Hope, too, rivals in its growth the growth of faith. It reaches forth into an eternal future. And when Christ was seated at the right hand of God, love, as a matter of course, would seek simply and constantly those things that are above, and not the things upon the earth.
III. But if the apostles had been altogether left to their own resources, could they have formed so true an estimate of His life, as by their writings to rule the thought and kindle the enthusiasm of all ages? Were faith, hope, love, thrown out, as plants of native growth, from the rich soil of their natural hearts? Are the Epistles of St. Paul, or is the character of St. John to be explained by their natural gifts, educational antecedents, contact with the Redeemer, the circumstances and directions of their lives? Surely not. Even though the Pentecostal miracle had not been recorded, some supernatural interference must have been assumed, in order to account for the apostolic character, and the apostolic writings. Of itself the departure of our risen Lord would neither have permanently illuminated the reflections of the Church, nor yet have quickened the graces of its separate members. WE MUST WAIT UNTIL PENTECOST IF WE WOULD ENTER INTO THE FULL EXPEDIENCY OF THE ASCENSION. Pass the eye over that last great discourse, and mark how it bears with repeated effort and significance upon the statement of the text (chap. John 14:3, 12, 16, 26; 15:26, 27; 16:7, 10, 13). While Christ tarried here, His apostles who saw and conversed with Him were further, immeasurably further, from Him than we may be, if we will. To them He was still an external example — voice, force. Christ in us is the hope of glory. Our ascended Lord has sent down upon us that promised and gracious Friend, whose office it is to unite us to Himself. Therefore, united to Christ, man is no longer an isolated unit; he is a member of that spiritual organization which is Christ's Body. If we feel the expediency of the Ascension, we are men of prayer. "In heart and mind" we "ascend thither" where prayer is not an effort but an atmosphere. It is the instinctive breathing of an informing spirit, the voice of children, who, without doubt or questioning, throw themselves into their Father's arms. Can we realize, each one for himself, what is involved in this expediency of our Lord's ascension? Not if we forget the sharp distinction which exists, and which will exist for ever, between the very highest, noblest, purest, truest efforts of nature, and the heavenly action of the Spirit of grace. We shall never understand the expediency of the Ascension, if we forget that we are the subjects of a spiritual dispensation, in which forces more extraordinary are at work, and results more wonderful are produced than any which fall under the cognizance of sense (1 Corinthians 2:7-9). The Ascension reminds us of a life which is higher than this world. So much higher, so much more blessed and glorious is the life of grace, that One who loved us men with the truest and purest affection, yet withdrew Himself, as on this day, from our sight in order to enable us, if we will, to live it.
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.