Congregation of our Lord, Jesus Christ,
One part of Christ’s life that we often have forgotten in the practice of our Christian faith is the moment of his ascension. We tend to be pretty good when it comes to Christ’s birth. We celebrate Christmas with lots of festivity and joy and decorations. It’s a big moment and, even though the day has been mixed with the secular messages of Santa Claus and elves and reindeer, we still know the importance of Christ coming to earth. We still have Immanuel, God with us, as part of our vocabulary.
The same is true of Good Friday. In fact, we are very good at focusing on Good Friday. People of the Reformed heritage are usually pretty good at reminding each other that Jesus died for our sin. The sin that we commit every day. And so Good Friday holds a powerful place for us. And we certainly know how to celebrate Easter in Church and the centrality of the resurrection of Christ in our victory over death and hell.
But when it comes to ascension, we don’t often know what to do with it. It is the moment 40 days after Christ’s resurrection when he was brought up in the clouds, no longer bodily, physically present here on earth.
It isn’t Ascension Day today. Ascension day always falls on a Thursday in the springtime. But what difference does that make, really? What difference does it make that we talk about ascension on Ascension Day when we celebrate the event together? You see, when Christ ascended into heaven, it wasn’t just a onetime significant moment. It’s not like winning the Super Bowl where it happens once and we remember the good old days when it happened. It’s not like plunking down a hole-in-one, where you cheer and celebrate, maybe get some recognition and then it’s all over with. The ascension was a one-time event that has ongoing lasting implications for the entire world. The day Christ ascended the state of the world changed. Jesus, having the nature of both God and man is sitting on the eternal throne. The throne of power and of pastoral, unconditional love.
In the Apostles’ Creed we confess that Christ ascends to sit at the right hand of the Father. This is the present, undeniable reality. It is echoed again in the book of Revelation. Jesus Christ is the lamb who was slain that sits upon the throne. He is the one that the beings in heaven bow down to and celebrate and worship.
Far too often the result of ignoring the ongoing rule of Christ in the world, the rule from his powerful and pastoral throne, is our own defaulting into a life of what we might call practical atheism. We might have a faith when we come into the church and are with church people and attend church functions, but as we live our life we do so as if God doesn’t matter, or doesn’t exist. Really we live as if Christ isn’t the one who is reigning on high over all things in this world through his ascension into heaven.
So maybe it’s a good thing for us to have a reminder from the Contemporary Testimony: Our World Belongs to God reminds us of the truths we hear throughout Scripture. The Word of God assures us that Christ listens, intercedes and rules on the throne in heaven.
THE THRONE IS FOR LISTENING
This is how the first part of paragraph 29 goes: “Jesus ascended in triumph to his heavenly throne. There he hears our prayers.” The first scriptural truth the contemporary testimony points us to is that as Christ sits on the throne, he hears our prayers. The throne is for listening.
That in itself is a tremendous comfort. Hopefully it is one that resonates deep in our souls. Times will come when our prayers feel like they are boxed in by the room where we sit. They just hit the ceiling and echo off the walls, but there is no one there to actually hear our prayers. Perhaps it’s the time when our prayer becomes so routine that it feels like a hoop of the Christian life which we must jump through instead of being part of an active relationship with someone who listens.
Well Christ has ascended to his throne. And as he sits on the throne he is able to listen to the needs of each one of his children. All throughout the universe, wherever a prayer is shouted in pain, or whispered in honor, spoken with routine faithfulness, or thought as we journey in the car to work—because Christ sits on the throne, all of these prayers become important. There is an ever listening ear, paying attention to every request that we make. And we know, as well, that the Holy Spirit prompts us inwardly to make the prayers we lay before the Lord.
In any relationship, one of the keys is good communication. And good communication always involves being a good listener. We have a good listener in Jesus Christ sitting on the throne.
A valuable part to listening is the ability to sincerely sympathize with the emotions of another person. Some of us are good at this. Some of us are bad at this. When people are talking and sharing a hurt or a joy, we quickly settle into the details. Your wife comes home saying she had an accident. Our first reaction might be to get on to discovering the data. “Well, what happened?” we might start off with. Or, “Where was the accident?” “Did you call the police?” “Are you hurt?” “How much damage was done?” But a good listener will sympathize with the emotional trauma and listen on an emotional level. “Are you shaken up?” “Are you worried still?” “You sound like you feel guilty and overwhelmed; do you want to talk about that?” Listening is hearing the words of a person’s heart, not the data. Sympathizing. Seeking to understand the pain, or the need, or the joy.
Listen to Hebrews 4. It says in verse 14, “ Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Jesus knows our weaknesses, our temptations and our sin. He knows them because he has been through them. Because the Christ sits on the Throne of listening and the Throne of comforting, we can go to Christ on the throne in our prayers and rest easy.
THE THRONE IS FOR RELAYING (PLEADING)
And more than just a good listener, Jesus is the relay of prayers to the almighty God. It’s through Jesus Christ that we have a true and honest relationship with God. It’s through him that we communicate with the Father himself. The throne in heaven for Christ is for pleading, for relaying our prayers.
Picture this. In baseball, a runner is on first base. The batter crushes the ball all the way out to the fence. The base runner is given the green light to round second and then round third to head home. The outfielder gets to the ball and he wants to throw the guy out at home plate. But he could never throw it there without sailing the ball a mile into the air. It would never make it if he had to throw like that. But, there is the relay man. The second baseman will run part of the way out into the outfield. And now, the second baseman gets a hard throw from the outfielder, then he turns and relays the ball in to the catcher to get the guy at the plate. Without the relay man in the middle, they didn’t have a prayer.
Maybe it’s a simplistic example of what happens in prayer, but that is what Scripture teaches us. Without a relay man, we don’t have a prayer. We can’t have a relationship with God. The reason is because of the holiness of God and our sinfulness.
Even before Jesus had ascended into heaven, the people looked to the priests to be the holy intercessors for the people. Through the priests the offerings and prayers were made before God.
Scripture reminds us time and time again that we can’t just pop into the presence of God and be like, “Hey God. I’d kind of like you to take care of some stuff for me that isn’t working out so great.” We can’t do that. Because of sin we need the relay man. We need Jesus Christ who takes our prayers and requests, he hears them and then with all the authority of the perfect human and perfect God who died and rose again from the dead, he speaks to the Father with our prayers.
That’s a great thing to know. Jesus actually takes up our case. He takes our prayers that might be headed in any which direction, maybe with selfish motivations behind them. Jesus listens, perfects and presents our requests before the Father who then also listens and lives in relationship with us.
THE THRONE IS FOR REIGNING
Another fact of the ascension is that Christ ascends to the throne to rule. He rules over all things. From his eternal heavenly throne, not one spot on this planet falls outside of his realm of control. It doesn’t matter what sphere of life we live in. Every part falls under the reign of Christ.
And when you think about it, many spheres of life we usually don’t even think of as areas ruled over by Christ. Starting with the most basic, you have the world of mathematics, our work with numbers. Acknowledging the beauty of formulas and the logic to complex equations are ways that we recognize the Lordship of Christ in these spheres.
And then you can move right up the list of different areas, from math to chemistry to physics to medicine to physiotherapy and to psychology. We can keep going, from film making and music, to sociology and law. From family life to education to the expressions of our faith. Jesus Christ sits on the throne to rule over every sphere of life.
We too can be part of this kingdom over which Christ rules when we seek to honor his will in each sphere where we operate as babysitters, construction workers, moms and dads, students, sales people, cashiers, neighbors. What is Christ’s desire for me as a part of this sphere that he rules over?
THE THRONE IS OUR REFUGE
And that leads us to truly understand how the Contemporary Testimony paragraph 29 ends. It says, “Blessed are those who take refuge in him.”
Blessed are those who take refuge in him. When we trust in all these parts of what it means for Christ to rule from the throne, then he will continue to bless us as we take peace in living under the reign of Jesus.
Refuge is an interesting word. Refugees today are fleeing places like Syria in order to find a place where they can find refuge, where they can be free from the danger of war and the evil that is being done in the their country right now.
Refuge for them can be found in another country.
In the Buddhist religion they also talk about refuge. Refuge is a state of being that is highly revered in Buddhism. Those who promise to be monks or dedicated followers in Buddhism decide to follow five main precepts in order to be in refuge. They refrain from harming living things, refrain from stealing, refrain from sexual misconduct, refrain from false speech, and refrain from intoxicants that lead to loss of mindfulness. In the Buddhist religion refuge is found only when someone performs certain tasks and discovers refuge inside themselves.
As believers in Jesus Christ, we can find peace within ourselves to a degree. But more than that, we can know a peace that passes all understanding that comes with the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Moreover, our true source of refuge and peace is that we belong to our Savior Jesus Christ who has paid for all our sins with his blood, who has set us free from the tyranny of the devil.
And in his ascended place in heaven, he watches over us. The Catechism says he watches over us in such a way that not even a hair can fall from our head the will of our Father in heaven.
It’s all because Jesus Christ sits on the throne. We can be sure that we have a listener, we have a relay, we have a ruler, and we have a refuge. All this is ours because Christ ascended to the heavenly throne.
This is God’s word to us today. AMEN
Prayer of Response
“Dear Father in Heaven, forgive us for the times we forget important parts of what you have done for us. Forgive us for the times we neglect to recognize your finely tuned plan for the salvation of your people. Forgive us when we overly simplify what you accomplished through your Son, Jesus Christ. We thank you for the forgiveness that rests on us due to his sacrificial death. We celebrate the life we have through Christ’s crushing victory over death as he rose from the grave. We praise your name at the thought of the ruling and comforting power that comes through Christ’s ascension into heaven. Truly help us, Father, find refuge in understanding that Jesus Christ sits at your right hand to love us and to rule in every sphere of our life. We pray this through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. AMEN.”
Order of Service
*Song: “O Jesus, We Adore You” PsH#472 or “What the Lord Has Done in Me”
*Opening Prayer for God’s Greeting, “Heavenly Father we thank you for your presence with us. We join together to celebrate your wonderful power. We ask that you fill us with your Spirit who opens our hearts in us as we worship. May we truly be welcomed with grace and peace from the Father, Christ Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
*Song: “Now with Joyful Exultation” PsH#95
Song: “Rejoice the Lord is King” PsH#408 or “Change My Heart, O God”
Contemporary Testimony Reading: Paragraph 29
Scripture Reading: Ephesians 1:3-10
Sermon: “Enthroned for Love and Power”
Prayer of Response
*Song: “Jesus Shall Reign” PsH#412: 1,2,5
*We Confess our Faith: Apostles’ Creed
*Prayer for God’s blessing, “Dear God of power and love, send us forth into this world, ruled by Jesus Christ. May the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the presence of the Holy Spirit be given to each one of us. Amen.”
*Closing Song: “By the Sea of Crystal” PsH#620: 1,3