Today the Church celebrates the Ascension of our Lord Jesus “into Heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God from whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.” (The Apostle’s Creed). Most of us find little practical importance in this, especially since the week isn’t even over and we have so much left to do before we get to the weekend. I suppose it is our human-centered tendency to demand that a great theological truth has to be meaningful to us before we consider it. I also realize that I tend to be most overwhelmed by life when I am most “underwhelmed” by God.
So, don’t beat yourself up. Let me give you a simple meditation on the Ascension of our Lord. I have arranged an acrostic (A S C E N D) to guide us in this meditation so here it goes:
A rrange a place for us. John 14:2, 3 – “In my Father’s House are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you with me that you also may be where I am.” We are not sure what this preparation consists of or what kind of place it will be, but the very fact that Jesus said this assures us that our final home in heaven will be with Him. When you or a Christian loved one faces death, isn’t this truth far more important than the latest news from the White House?
S ession. This old term used to mean “the act of sitting down,” and it contains the thought of Hebrews 10:11, 12: “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifice, which can never take away sin. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” By design, there were no chairs upon which a priest could sit in the Jewish Temple. This was because the priest’s job was never finished since sin could not be ultimately dealt with through animal sacrifices. But when Jesus Christ, who is both the final Sacrifice for sin and the Priest that makes that sacrifice, completed his work on the cross, He sat down in heaven. This means that all the work needed to obtain our salvation was finished. There is no longer any sacrifice for sin (Heb.10:18). For what I am powerless to do (save myself) God did for me “by sending his own son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering” (Romans 8:3).
C oming Again. In Acts 1, the angel told the disciples that Jesus would return in the same way he had been taken. Hebrews 9:27, 28 – “Just as man is destined to die once and after that face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” At Christ’s return our mortal bodies, whether dead or alive, will be changed into glorified spiritual bodies and our salvation will be complete. Thus without the Ascension, there is no second coming; and without the second coming there is no resurrection from the dead; and without the resurrection, there is no hope.
E xalted over all Creation. Jesus is at the right hand of God, which indicates that he has received authority over all creation. “Jesus Christ…has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand- with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” (1 Peter 3:22). “God raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in this present age but also in the age to come” (Ephesians 1:20-23). The Ascension is seen in Scripture as the coronation or enthronement of Jesus as King over the universe. The right hand of God is a position of honor and power (Ps. 110:1). Satan once tried to tempt Jesus to attain the kingship of this world without suffering and death. However, Christ refused and was faithful, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Jesus is now is the supreme ruler of the cosmos and all heavenly creatures are continuously worshipping him (Rev.5:8-14). All authority has been given unto him in heaven and earth, and that is why we go and make disciples of all nations, spreading the gospel of the kingdom of God revealed in Christ. That is why in most Byzantine Churches there was an icon of Christ Pantokrator– Ruler over all.
N egotiate on our behalf. Romans 8:34 – “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died- more than that, who was raised to life- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” Negotiate is probably not the best word but I had to find a synonym for intercede that started with an “N.” Jesus’ ascension into heaven means that he is using all of his authority to represent you and me before the Father (Heb.9:24). In 1 John 2:1, we read “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” Jesus is called our Advocate- paracletos– one who speaks to the Father in our defense. Although Christ has completed the priestly work of sacrifice, his work as our Mediator before God continues. Would you rather have more money or know you are forgiven by God?
D ispense the Holy Spirit. John 16:7 – “It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” What Jesus said here has always intrigued me. It almost seems like he was saying that it would be better for us that he leave us and goes back to heaven, so that the Holy Spirit could come. Why was it important that Jesus leave and the HS come? What would it be like to have Jesus still physically present on earth, but no Holy Spirit dwelling in you or the Church? I’ll let you think about that.
PRAYER: God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you for the mystery and beauty of the story of Jesus’ return to you. We praise you for reminding the disciples and us, that when the Lord Jesus returns for us is none of our business, so that we can concentrate on being your witnesses where we live and to the ends of the earth. We thank you for the men and women through whom the gospel is being proclaimed around the world and who are serving the poor and suffering in your Name. Help us to find great joy that our Lord Jesus is sitting on his throne next to yours, especially as we face the battles of our daily lives. Thank you that he is preparing a place for us as well as praying for us and protecting us. Thank you also that he will return for us and will someday bring perfect justice into this unjust world. Thank you for giving us your Holy Spirit to help us live in our homes, schools, jobs, and church in such a way that pleases you. In the name of our ascended Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we pray. AMEN.