Study Guide: God With/In

Sunday May 22, 2011 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

When Jesus ascended to Heaven, he sent another advocate to us, namely the Holy Spirit. In this sermon, Greg describes why Jesus went “up” to heaven, and also why another advocate had to be indwelt within the body of believers.

Extended Summary:

Well, we’re still here after the Rapture of 2011. Which is really too bad, as it would have been an awesome conclusion to our study of Luke! And although Jesus didn’t arrive on Saturday, it is important to remember that he will one day come again. It can be easy to see Jesus’ second coming as silly when it gets predicted every so often, however, we should live a life that reflects the expectancy of Jesus’ arrival.
When Jesus left this world and was taken up to heaven, it seems a little odd in our scientific world that he kind of floated off into the sky. When we read this story, it can seem like a fairy tale because we know through space exploration that there isn’t a literal heaven just beyond the clouds. It is important to remember, however, that when God revealed the mysterious, he often did so in a way that made sense to the people he was speaking to.

When Jesus had to leave his disciples and send the Holy Spirit, it was important that he went “up” to heaven. In the ancient world, they believed that the world was flat, supported by pillars, and the heavens/sky was a dome with windows that were opened to let the rain come through. This may sound a little different than your science class. So when Jesus left to go to heaven, he had to appear as if he were going up, since the people of that time understood that as the place of God and heaven.
The other interesting point of Jesus ascending to heaven is the question of “Why?”. It is interesting to note that people love a good circus. Whenever humans get a good storyline, we like to make it into some spectacular event. Before Jesus ascended, his ministry was circus-like at times (although not to his liking). People would follow him around and make a big spectacle out of his works. Many people came to him looking for healings, get freed, and to watch and see what happens. However, Jesus had very few committed followers. When he started talking about sacrifice and giving up worldly possessions, he often thinned out these crowds.

Even his followers sometimes created a circus around him. On the Mount of Transfiguration, where Jesus showed a little of his glory and Moses and Elijah showed up, Peter wanted to set up camp. He wanted to bring in some tents and create a place for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses to dwell. He wanted to create a holy place where everyone could see Jesus’ glory. However, Jesus had other plans of how to show glory.

If Jesus had stuck around after being resurrected, he would have attracted a circus-like atmosphere. Imagine the scene if people knew of a resurrected person who could move through walls, disappear and re-appear, and also eat and drink like a human. The disciples also would have created the atmosphere, considering their final question to Jesus was “are you finally going to restore Israel?”. They wanted Jesus to fit their idea of a messiah. In fact, Jesus would have become a wanted spokesperson for most of the world.

It would be a carnival atmosphere as people fought over who got to sit next to Jesus, talk with Jesus, and imply that Jesus was on their side. Countries would be clamoring for his endorsement, as well as politicians, celebrities, and other figures in the public eye. We would see fights over who gets the copyrights to Jesus’ merchandise. It was part of his plan that Jesus in a bodily form wouldn’t remain on Earth. Instead, he would send another advocate (teacher/comforter) in his place to let the church do greater things than Jesus did.

When Jesus sends the Holy Spirit, the other advocate, he did so to guide the believers on faith and not sight. If we had a super-human resurrected being running around, it wouldn’t take much faith to live in accordance with his teachings. It is also interesting that Jesus said that people would do greater things than he did. This seems odd, since we really can’t top Jesus. However, the word greater in this passage can mean greater in quantity, but not quality. It seems that Jesus is preparing for the continuation and expansion of his ministry. The advocate that he sends is the one that empowers his believers to think, believe, and do the things that Jesus commanded them to do. They needed a constant teacher and comforter for the ministry that they were taking on.

Jesus departing for Heaven was a good thing. Humans would have made a circus out of his resurrected form, and it would not have advanced the type of Kingdom that Jesus wanted. He decided to send his Spirit instead, to guide, equip, and nurture our walks in faith. God goes from with us (Jesus) to in us (Holy Spirit), and the Spirit guides us to follow after Jesus. We continue the work, empowered by the Holy Spirit, as a humble and servant oriented Kingdom–not a circus atmosphere of glitz and glamour. In this way, we can continue the work of Jesus and do greater things than he did.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What additional questions and comments did you have about the sermon and supporting texts?
  2. Do you find that humans can create circus type atmospheres when we find something great?
  3. Do you agree with Greg’s sermon on why Jesus had to go up to heaven? Why or why not?
  4. When it comes to the Holy Spirit, how have you included the Spirit in your daily life?
  5. In what ways can you incorporate more of the Holy Spirit, and how can you and a group of friends help each other to live with this advocate from Jesus?