Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sermon: Acts 1:1-11 Risen, Ascended, Glorified

I wonder if you’ve ever asked yourself the question: Where is Jesus now? You’ve read the Gospels, and heard how Jesus healed all kinds of sickness, and then thought - where is he now? If only he was here to touch me and take away my disease, or your family member who is ill. You could catch him as he passed through, or maybe on tour in Belfast, then he would sort you out.

Or maybe it’s when you see the state of the world (church?!) with misery, depression, violence, war, and you think - if only Jesus was here now, he could sort it all out. Where is Jesus now?

Or think of the new atheists we always see in the papers and on the TV. We read of how Jesus silenced the Pharisees in debates and think, if only Jesus was here, he could defeat Richard Dawkins in a debate, and things would be much simpler. Where is Jesus now?

In all these situations, and perhaps more that you can think of, we think - wouldn’t it be great if we had Jesus with us now? Peter, James, John and the other disciples had it so easy, spending time with Jesus in person. Where is Jesus now?

Through these Sundays, we’ve been working through the Apostles’ Creed, reminding ourselves of what it is Christians believe. As we come to the last section about Jesus, we’ll see that Jesus is better placed now to help us than when he was on earth - and how we can take heart from his help.

‘I believe in Jesus... on the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.’ It’s like a past, present, future description of where Jesus is and what he’s doing. In the past, Jesus rose again - came out of the tomb, in new life, defeating death, never to die again. Jesus’ sin-bearing death on the cross has been vindicated; God has set his seal on him; new life is possible for us as well. In a couple of weeks time we’ll be looking at the resurrection in more detail, so let’s continue, and focus on where Jesus is now.

He ascended into heaven. We heard that in our reading from Acts - Jesus tells his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they’re empowered by the Holy Spirit, then they will go out into all the world to spread the good news as they witness to Jesus - they tell what they have seen. At that moment, Jesus was lifted up.
Why do you look into the heavens?
Jesus is not the first man in space; not the original rocketman; he is taken from their sight as he ascends into heaven. There’s a common assumption that everyone goes to heaven, but that’s simply not true. But Jesus is unique and special, not just because he is in heaven, but because of where he is in heaven.

He sits at the right hand of the Father - the place of honour, the place of power, the special place (the highest place that heaven affords is his, is his by right). It’s in fulfilment of our Psalm today, written by King David. ‘The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’’ (Ps 110:1). Jesus the King is reigning over all. He had no earthly throne, but he is now rightly seated and in control. Because of that, we can take confidence. Jesus is in charge - he is ordering our steps, watching over us. Nothing that happens to us is a surprise or a shock for him. Jesus, the King, is reigning.

But there’s more. Jesus is seated. Heaven is the very presence of God, the most holy place, the real holy place which the temple pointed towards. King Jesus is also our great high priest: ‘After making purification for sin, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high’ (Heb 1:3). He can sit down because he has finished the work of salvation. The sacrifice has been offered, once for all, job done. It’s a nice feeling when you can sit down at the end of a long day, isn’t it? You know you can relax - Jesus has finished his sacrificial work.

And yet his ministry continues. As Jesus sits beside the Father, he continues to pray for us, interceding for us. Just like the high priest in the Old Testament who had a breastplate with twelve precious stones to represent the twelve tribes of Israel, so the Lord Jesus has us on his heart as he prays for us, as he speaks for us, as he represents us in the highest place of heaven.

What a great encouragement that is when you’re facing a time of suffering, or some trial, or when you fail into sin again - Jesus is on the throne, Jesus is praying for you. The letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us (8:25) Jesus has paid for our sins & prays for our sanctification. What more do we need?
We’ve seen Jesus in the past - risen and ascended. Death is defeated, our future is sure. We’ve seen Jesus in the present - at the right hand of the Father, ruling and praying for us. But what of the future? Where will Jesus be? Remember the angel’s words from Acts? ‘This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’ (Acts 1:11) We have this promise that Jesus will return - it is the consistent hope of the New Testament, written to people in the same situation as us - in between Jesus’ ascension and his return.

We haven’t been abandoned; Jesus hasn’t forgotten about us; he will return. But we must remember that Jesus is not coming to take everyone to heaven - Jesus will return as judge: ‘From there he will come again to judge the living and the dead.’ I remember when I was wee, and we were using the traditional language service and the creed said he would come to judge the quick and the dead. I thought I would be ok if Jesus came, because I wasn’t particularly fast at running in school sports days, and I wasn’t dead. But the point is that everyone, living and dead, will be judged.

I’m sure you’ve noticed this week that Colonel Gadaffi was killed. It’s been hard to avoid it, and those gruesome images. They had hoped to bring him to justice, put him in court to answer charges for his crimes, but instead he died. Has he escaped justice? Jesus, the just judge, will judge the living and the dead.

Those wrongs you have suffered, those sufferings you have endured, those sacrifices you made will be vindicated when Jesus the judge comes. At the same time, I know there will be some, with tender conscience, who shrink back in fear at talk of judgement - do not fear, if you are trusting in Jesus. Your sins have been dealt with, the punishment has been paid; your judge bears the wounds of love on his own body. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus - the judge has dealt with our sin!

There is still time now to be reconciled to this King and Judge - but one day it will be too late. The charges can be dropped, as you put your faith in Jesus, depend on his death in place of your own.

So where is Jesus now? Jesus has been raised, ascended, and glorified. He reigns from his throne in heaven, interceding for us. And one day he will return to judge the living and the dead. We believe it because it is the truth about Jesus, and it gives us confidence to meet even our struggles and trials with confidence because Jesus gives us strength for every step of the way.

His prayer is effective, and our joy will be perfected on that day: ‘Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.’ (1 Peter 1:8-9)

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 23rd October 2011

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