Jesus Christ ‘ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.’
Acts 1:1-11; 2:32-36
We have lots of ways of preparing for and celebrating Christmas and Easter.
But what about Christ’s ascension? For many of us, May 21st 2020 (Ascension Day) probably passed virtually unnoticed.
And yet the ascension is of huge significance. It is just as important, in its own way, as the birth, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.
In this part of that ancient statement of Christian believe, the Apostle’s Creed, we make two related affirmations.
Jesus ‘ascended into heaven’.
Acts 1:9 – ‘He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight’.
This is a description of a real event, but with symbolic elements. (Don’t think of Jesus ‘going into orbit’, but rather of him returning to his Father).
Dan 7:13 “…one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
Daniel seems to be anticipating Jesus’ ascension and, in his dream, seeing it ‘from above’, as the Lord comes up on clouds of glory and comes into the presence of his Father.
Notice that great power and authority given to him. This leads us to:
Jesus is ‘seated at the right hand of the Father’
Acts 2:32-36 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.” ’
These are the words of Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (10 days after Jesus’ ascension).
Again, picture language is being used. God is spirit, and doesn’t have a literal right hand! But to be ‘seated at the right hand of God’ suggests two things in particular: completion (of work), and coronation (as King).
Peter is quoting from Psalm 110:1. This happens to be the most frequently referred to verse in the entire New Testament – another indication of the centrality of Christ’s ascension and exaltation in Christian thinking and experience.
Because Jesus is ascended and exalted:
1. We can trust in his completed Cross-work
Heb 1:3 ‘After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.’
Are you wondering if you have done enough for God? Do you doubt if your faith is strong enough to lay hold of Jesus as your Saviour? Take heart! He has done everything that is needed! ‘It is finished!’ The Bible does not teach that you can come to Christ ‘if you believe with all your heart’. No: although it’s good for faith to be strong, even a weak faith can receive a strong Saviour.
2. We believe that he has us, and our interests, at heart
‘Here am I, and the children God has given me.’ (Hebrews 2:13)
How wonderful it is to think that Jesus presents not only himself, but his people, to his heavenly Father! In a very real sense, we are already with him, where he is.
‘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…’ (Romans 8:33)
Day by day, Jesus is representing our interests to the Father. Allied to that is the assistance of the Holy Spirit, who also intercedes for us and with us (Romans 8:26-27). No wonder Paul calls us ‘more than conquerors through him who loved us’ (v37), from whose love nothing can separate us (v39-39)!
‘If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.’ (1 John 2:1)
The apostle teaches that sin, for the Christian, is alien and unnatural. And yet, sadly, we do sin, again and again. But the blood of Jesus is continually applicable to us, and is able to cleanse us afresh each time we stumble.
In times of doubt or guilt, lift your eyes, and see Jesus in God’s presence on our behalf.
3. We can know God’s incomparably great power for us who believe
Eph 1:19-23. ‘That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms…And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.’
In these days of pandemic, life may seem out of control. But the fact that Jesus is ascended and exalted reassures us that he has power and authority over all things. This power and this authority are exercised ‘for’ his people, his church. Nothing can happen to us which is outside his loving concern or his sovereign will.
What a comfort when everything seems out of control!
4. We have been lavished with gifts
“When he ascended on high, he took captives and gave gifts to his people.” (Psalm 68:18)
‘So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service.’ (Ephesians 4:8)
The idea here is of a king returning from battle and distributing the spoils among his subjects. Jesus has won the victory over sin and the devil. The gifts that he distributes are here described in terms of people – apostles, prophets, and so on.
Are we sufficiently thankful to God that he has, as a consequence of the ascension and exaltation of his Son, bestowed on us gifted people so that we can all be equipped for works of service?
5. We are empowered for the task before us
Acts 1:8 “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…”
Acts 4:31 ‘They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.’
The first Christians were given the task of evangelising the world. But they wouldn’t be ready to begin that task until they had received ‘power’ from the Holy Spirit.
The pattern in Acts is that when people are filled with the Holy Spirit they are enabled to articulate the gospel with boldness. We, in our own day, will do will to observe this close connection between God’s word and God’s Spirit.
6. We can face the future with hope
Acts 1:11 “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Epidemics (plagues) have always provided opportunities for Christians to demonstrate that hope in the most practical of ways.
Historian Rodney Stark writes that during the 2nd century AD a great epidemic wiped out a quarter of the population of the Roman Empire.
For pagans, such plagues were the work of angry and capricious deities. Their idea of an afterlife was of some shadowy semi-existence in the underworld. Fearful of becoming infected themselves, they would throw victims out into the streets at the first sign of symptoms.
Christians, on the other hand, understood plagues to be the product of a broken creation in revolt against a loving God. Their hope was in a bright future with their risen and ascended Saviour. They did not fear death, and so gave themselves sacrificially to caring for the sick, both Christian and pagan. This was a huge factor in the growth of the Christian faith at that time.
Let’s see the present ‘plague’ as an opportunity to show the world what Christians are made of!
7. We have a great incentive to hold firmly to the faith we profess
‘Since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess’ (Heb. 4:14).
We may not have made much of 21st May, 2020. But, in truth, every day is an Ascension Day! When you go to bed tonight, Jesus will be at God’s right hand, doing everything (and more!) that we have just mentioned. When you wake up in the morning, he will still be there, doing the same things.
You can, therefore, have faith in his finished Cross-work. You can have a bright hope for the future. And you can know the love of God in Christ, overflowing through you in sacrificial love for others.
Thanks be to God!