Ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better. 18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of His mighty strength, 20 which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit-- just as you were called to one hope when you were called-- 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captives in His train and gave gifts to men.’
9 (What does ‘He ascended’ mean except that He also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
The focus during the past 4 weeks in our study of the Apostles’ Creed has been on Jesus. We have looked in detail at His virgin conception and birth, His suffering under Pontius Pilate, His atoning death on the cross, and His triumph over death through the resurrection.
Essentially what we have done so far is journeyed with Him, and today we will complete that journey as we consider this statement of Jesus Christ in the Apostles’ Creed:
“I believe in Jesus Christ, ascended into Heaven, and seated at the right hand of the Father.”
But before we complete the journey, we need to go back to our starting point.
The journey and ministry of Jesus did not begin in Bethlehem on the first Christmas morning. It started in Heaven, and this is also the destination of this great cyclical journey.
The Apostle Paul describes this journey in Philippians 2, by writing about Jesus as “who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross.
Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
There are two main aspects to this journey: Firstly the descent of Jesus, followed by His ascent.
It began though with glory (although the word began is actually the wrong word to use here, as it implies that there was a starting point, or a beginning to His glory). Jesus is the eternal God, and eternal glory has always been, and will always be His.
His earthly journey though, has a specific place in time, so this is why we say that His earthly journey began with glory, but when the call came to put the plan of our salvation into action, Jesus was prepared to set aside His eternal glory.
He “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:6-7)
He went from glorification to incarnation.
It was during this time of incarnation – humanity – that Jesus voluntarily surrendered the qualities of His deity, although at no stage did He stop being God. It’s a mystery I know, but during the 30 or so years of His full and complete humanity, He remained fully and completely God at the same time.
The next stage of this journey is what we have looked at in detail during the past few weeks: His humiliation, crucifixion and death, which completed the descent, and last Sunday we began the ascent – His resurrection. But the resurrection of Jesus is not the end of the story. The journey at this point is incomplete.
The incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus are rightly highlighted each year in the life of the Church, but many Churches gloss over the ascension of Jesus.
This is a huge mistake, and we can see why if we jump forward for just a moment. Paul tells us that a time is coming when Jesus will receive the glory which is due to Him.
A time when “God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)
That time is yet to come, but these verses describe the culmination and glorious end of this great cyclical journey of Jesus. From glorification to incarnation, to humiliation, to crucifixion, to resurrection, to ascension, to ultimate glorification.
This is why the ascension of Jesus is absolutely crucial to our faith.
It would be unthinkable to have a Christ who is merely incarnated.
It would be dreadful to think of a Christ who is simply crucified.
And had Jesus remained on this earth after His resurrection and died a natural death in His old age, that wouldn’t have been of much help to us either.
His ascension was vital, and His ultimate glorification restores Him to the place of authority He had before He accepted the responsibility for our redemption.
The fact that Ascension Day has not been recognised as a public holiday in this country since 1993 is not the issue. Of far greater importance is why it sometimes receives not much more than a passing interest and maybe a mention in weekly bulletins in the Christian Church. When we diminish the importance of the ascension of Jesus, we are doing a grave disservice to the redemptive plan of God. Without the ascension, the authority of Jesus is missing, and this is where we turn our focus to now.
“I believe in Jesus Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father.”
The picture of Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father, the place of highest authority is very dramatic. Hebrews 1:13 quotes from Psalm 110 when it says “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”
In ancient times kings and commanders of victorious armies would force their defeated enemies to lie down on the ground before them, while the victor would place their feet on the necks of their victims. It was the ultimate humiliation for the vanquished, and this verse from Psalm 110 and Hebrews 1 paints a vivid and dramatic picture of the time when the enemies of Jesus will be made His footstool.
What this means for us today is that though it may seem as we look around us that Jesus is not reigning with absolute authority, we do believe that that day will come. A day when Jesus will rule with total and absolute authority – a day when “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
The resurrection of Jesus gives us a glimpse of the triumph over sin and death, but there will come a day when the victory will be final, complete and irrevocable.
Paul says something interesting in Ephesians 4 when he quotes from Psalm 68: “When He ascended on high, He led captives in His train and gave gifts to men.”
This again speaks of the authority of Jesus over His enemies. In the modern world we have the technology which enables us to stay up to date with what is going on in places of armed conflict, but in ancient times the only way to prove how well a war was going was to parade the spoils of victory (the gifts), and the prisoners of war (the captives) in the streets. This quotation from Psalm 68 is further expanded on in Colossians 2:15.
“Having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:15)
All of the sin, and all of the heartache and misery caused by sin, the fear and the power of death, and of course satan and his demons will all be disarmed for once and for all, and Jesus, by the cross and His subsequent resurrection will one day disarm these enemies for all of eternity.
That’s the promise we remind ourselves of and affirm in the Apostles’ Creed.
When we say that we believe in the ascension of Jesus and that He is seated at the right hand of the Father, we are talking about His ultimate glorification and His ultimate assumption of absolute authority, which will never again be challenged.
Somebody once put in very plain but profound words the mission of Jesus on this earth. He said, “This is God’s world, and He wants it back.”
Now the question for us to consider is this: Do we believe that this is God’s world? For those who don’t, there is no reason to believe in the authority of Jesus, but if you answered yes, then you must at least admit that even though this is God’s world, it really is in a complete shambles.
And this challenges our faith.
We say and pray that God is in control, and we might believe that deep down in our hearts, but in all honesty, do you really believe that He is in control?
It’s not an easy question to answer, is it?
The truth is that Jesus is over all, and this includes the mechanism He has put in place in this world to win the world back to Himself – the Church.
The Church is to be the medium through which Christ wins His world back.
This now means that what we believe and proclaim has serious practical implications for us. It is very easy to recite a creed or a belief statement, but we need to apply what we believe.
In the introductory session of the Truth Project Del Tackett says “You and I are engaged in a cosmic battle - a battle that is raging for the hearts and minds of people the world over, putting the truth claims of God against the lies of the world, the flesh and the devil. It is a battle over what you truly believe.” (Del Tackett)
Do you believe in the truth of Jesus Christ?
Do you believe that He rules and reigns with all authority?
Then you must engage in the battle to win the world back for Him.
That’s our task and our mission as the Church.
Unfortunately our understanding of just what the Church is or should be is very far off the mark. We talk about our church, and their church. My church and your church.
I love the way Stuart Briscoe puts it. “People often come to me and say ‘Tell us about your church. What’s happening in your church.’ I cringe when I hear people say ‘We went to Milwaukee and we visited Stuart Briscoe’s church.’ It absolutely, emphatically is not mine, and I don’t want it. It’s His!”
We have crippled the effectiveness and the work of the Church in so many ways, not least by thinking that it is up to us to govern and direct how the Church should operate.
If we are ever going to make progress in this cosmic battle of winning the world back to Christ, then it absolutely has to begin with the Church submitting to His authority. Everything we do, say and stand for must be Scriptural.
Anything in the Church which does not fall in line with the Bible has no place in the Church.
And that same principle applies to us as individual Christians. I remind you of a question I asked last week: Is Jesus just your Saviour, or is He your Saviour and your Lord?
You see, it’s about the authority and Lordship of Christ. If we are going to boldly say that He is seated in the place of authority at the right hand of the Father, then there needs to be evidence of that in our lives and in the Church.
Let’s move on by considering the ongoing ministry of Jesus right now. Until such time as He returns (which we’ll look at next week), what is Jesus doing right now? His parting words at the end of Matthew’s gospel were “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
His Spirit is active and alive in the world today.
Peter, in his first sermon on the Day of Pentecost says “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.” (Acts 2:33)
We will spend more time looking at the person and the activity of the Holy Spirit later on in this series, but for now it’s important for us to know that the Spirit is the one who is active through the lives of Christians and the life of the Church.
What this means is that God has placed a huge responsibility on us, both personally and corporately, and the reality is that we cannot cope with these demands.
We can’t live the way we’re supposed to live. The Church can’t be what it is meant to be, for the simple reason that we are a bunch of sinners, and the Church is made up exclusively by sinners.
So how can we possibly do what we are meant to do as the Church?
The answer is that the Holy Spirit is the dynamic and the power source which falls into line with the demands and expectations of God.
God doesn’t simply make demands of us, but He sends His Spirit in order to meet those demands for us. And that’s very good news.
What this means is that when you see a Christian who believes in the risen, ascended Lord, you can expect to see a powerful witness to the grace of God - someone empowered by the Spirit.
Stuart Briscoe tells a wonderful story of an interview he had with a non-believing reporter.
The reporter asked rather sarcastically, “Would say you are gifted?”
“Yes,” answered Briscoe.
“I think you’re arrogant,” said the reporter.
“And I think – no, in fact I know – that you’re ignorant,” said Briscoe. “I can understand why you might think I’m arrogant, but let me tell you why I know you’re ignorant.”
He then went on to explain the Biblical principle that every single Christian is gifted in one or more ways by the Spirit of God.
If you think about it, how else can the Church be effective, when you consider that everyone inside the Church (including each of us here this morning) is a sinner?
Take the power of the Spirit out of the Church, and what are you left with? Nothing more than a social Sunday club.
It is only because of the ongoing work of the risen, ascended and glorified Christ, operating through His Holy Spirit in the lives of sinners like us, that the Church can come anywhere close to what God expects and demands of it.
Briscoe concluded his interview by telling the reporter that the good news was that he was no longer ignorant, because now he knew that all Christians are gifted.
Now that might be an amusing story, but there are some serious questions behind this which we need to ask ourselves.
Do you believe that you are gifted?
Do you believe that the risen Lord has filled you with His power by the Spirit?
Are you playing your part in the life of the Church?
God has equipped you in one or another way, in order that you might be a gift to the world, through His Church.
What are you doing with that gift?
Finally, with regards to the ongoing ministry of Jesus, He represents the redeemed. Romans 8:34 says “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.”
That’s a very good question which Paul asks: Who is going to condemn Christians? And the answer is – lots of people!
There are many people out there who will take every opportunity they can find to criticise the Church and what it stands for, and Christians in general for our belief in God.
The good news though is this: seated at the right hand of the Father is a personal representative of all the redeemed. And He intercedes for you. He speaks well of you to the Father.
In much the same way that the Holy Spirit is God the Father’s advocate to us, the risen, ascended, glorified Lord Jesus is our advocate to the Father. He speaks to the Father on your behalf.
Jesus Christ has completed His glorified journey from glorification, to incarnation, to humiliation, to crucifixion and death, to resurrection, to ascension, and back to glorification.
He reigns and rules as the ultimate authority, He sends His Spirit, He grants gifts to His Church, and He represents us before the Father.
Just as His ascension completes His divine journey, so it also completes our fellowship with God. The Spirit has come to us on behalf of the Father, and Jesus speaks to the Father on our behalf.
The circle is complete, and one day we will see the glory of that fellowship with our own eyes. That’s the promise to us today.
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of Heaven and Earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day He rose again.
He ascended into heaven. He is seated at the right hand of the Father.