Tuesday, December 29, 2015


December 29, 2015

"[Jesus] ascended into heaven where he sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty." So continues the Apostles' Creed after stating the core of our faith in the resurrection. After the ringing declaration of the resurrection, and given the nearly complete omission of Jesus' ministry other than his birth and death, why would the ascension merit mention?

I remember being taught that when Jesus ascended, he presented the blood of his sacrifice to the Father, thus completing the atoning work of the cross. Hebrews 9:12-26 was the proof text for this teaching, and not being much of a working theologian, I cannot find much fault with this understanding. I do think however, that it goes a bit further than this. That Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father is clearly affirmed in Scripture (Ephesians 1:20). This is not just a quaint expression. There are two things happening simultaneously here. First is the matter of being seated. Things were different in Jesus' time. Today, teachers stand in front of the classroom. The fact that they are standing and the pupils are seated indicates who is in charge. I can still hear the voices of teachers past barking at students who had the temerity to get up from their desks without asking permission. "Sit DOWN!" was not a command to be taken lightly back in the day when a visit to the principal's office could culminate in corporal punishment in the form of a four-foot long, two-handed paddle with holes drilled into the flat surface. A good solid whack from that beast could set the most stoic rebel on the verge of tears.

Back in Jesus' day, teachers sat while the students stood. In Matthew 5, the Sermon on the Mount begins with Jesus sitting down to teach. He was taking a position of authority. Vestiges of this custom persist today when in court. As the judge enters, the bailiff calls out, "the honorable _______, please rise!" The "please" is somewhat misleading. It's not a request; it's a command. Only when the judge is seated at the bar in the position of authority are those present allowed to be seated again.

That Jesus is seated means he is in a place of authority. It also means that the work of salvation is complete. He came, Isaiah prophesied, as a "Suffering Servant," and Jesus himself said he came to serve. Servants only sat once the work was done. Jesus is seated; salvation is therefore complete. But that isn't all. He is seated at the right hand of the Father, which is the place of highest honor and authority. There is no higher place than this; when Jesus said that "all authority is given to me in heaven and earth," he meant exactly what he said. But it gets even better. Ephesians 2:6 makes an astounding declaration when it tells us that our salvation includes being "seated together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." The authority and honor that is rightly his alone, he shares with us. I cannot think of anything more humbling nor more amazing than this. That when we were dead in sins, he made us alive together with Christ would be astounding enough. That we should share in his glory, honor, and authority is almost beyond comprehension. The magnitude of our salvation is at the heart of this simple statement of the Creed, and I cannot think of words adequate to express my gratitude for it.

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