************ Sermon on Nicene Creed ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 29, 2012
Nicene Creed 10
"He Ascended to Heaven and is Seated ..."
We have a saying, "What goes up must come down." If you throw an apple or ball in the air, it will come down. If you shoot a bullet in the air on New Year's Eve, it will come down – probably through the roof of your neighbor's house. Lately, we have learned that this saying also applies to the stock market, the price of homes, interest rates, the price of oil – in fact, to almost everything but the price of corn and hay. "What goes up must come down."
The Nicene Creed turns this phrase on its head: "What comes down must go up." We are talking about the Lord Jesus Christ. "He came down from heaven" says the Nicene Creed and "He ascended to heaven" says the Creed. "What comes down must go up."
This morning I read John 3:14-15 as the assurance of pardon or forgiveness.
(Jn 3:14-15) Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, (15) that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.In the Gospel of John, this lifting up is a three stage process. First, the Son of Man must be lifted up on the cross. Second, He must be lifted up from the grave. Third, He must be lifted up into heaven. "What comes down must go up."
I The Ascension
A "He ascended to heaven." Luke records the ascension for us in two places: in his gospel and in the book of Acts.
(Lk 24:51) While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.So we believe that Christ, while His disciples watched, was lifted up from the earth to heaven.
(Acts 1:9) After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
B "He ascended to heaven." Here we make clear that we, as Christians believe in heaven. It is not a mythical place. Nor is hell a mythical place. In popular thought and language, heaven is considered to be up and hell is considered to be down. We believe that after we die we will either end up in heaven or in hell depending upon our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
C "He ascended to heaven." The word "heaven" is in the Bible more than 400 times. As often as it is mentioned, it is still beyond description. Many writers over the years have attempted to describe, depict, and wonder at what heaven is like. But every description falls short. It is fair to say the Bible says more about what it isn't like, than what it is like. Revelation 21 & 22, for instance, gives us mostly a negative description of heaven: It tells us what is not in heaven. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. There will be no more tears. There is no sea. There is no temple. There is no need for the sun or moon. There is no curse. There are no unbelievers, no murderers, no sexually immoral, no idolaters, no liars.
"He ascended to heaven." Positively, we can say He ascended to God. To the throne of God. To the presence of God. And He did so as a man. In our flesh. With our blood.
D Many Christians view the ascension as irrelevant. Many other events of Christ's life have found their way into popular Christian traditions. For instance, most Christians celebrate Christmas and Good Friday and Easter. The Last Supper and the foot-washing are part of popular Christian culture. The Roman Catholic Church and other traditions make a big deal about the 7 stations of the cross. Book after book is published on the return of Christ. There are traditions that celebrate the miracles of Christ. But what about the ascension? It is often overlooked.
I find it sad that many churches spend a great deal of time and energy on bone-chilling end times stories but overlook the ascension. Or, they have an obsessive interest in seeker services and programs that attract people to their church; needless to say, they do not include the ascension in any of this.
E As we look at the ascension, don't forget the larger context of the Creed. The Son of Man must be lifted up "for us and for our salvation." We probably think of the cross and the grave when we think of salvation; but we should also think of the ascension. "For us and for our salvation," what comes down must go up. I want you to realize that the ascension, too, is part of what Christ underwent "for us and for our salvation."
I suspect many of us are guilty of misunderstanding the words of Jesus upon the cross when He cried out, "It is finished" (Jn 19:30). The Savior was talking about His atoning sacrifice. That part of His work is finished – once for all time and all people. But He did not say, "I am finished" because we know there was still more to come – Easter's resurrection, for instance, and the ascension, and the return to judge the living and the dead. With this in mind, consider the opening words of the book of Acts:
(Acts 1:1) In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach ...The former book referred to here is the Gospel of Luke. If Luke's gospel is about all that "Jesus began to do and to teach," then the book of Acts is about all that Jesus continues to do and to teach through His body, the church. Don't ever make the mistake, congregation, of thinking Jesus' work was finished upon the cross.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus connects the ascension to the Great Commission and the missionary activity of the church. A Jesus about to ascend into heaven says, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations ..." (Mt 28:18-19). You need to realize that the ascension of our Lord plays a vital role in His work of seeking the lost.
"What goes up must come down." That is true for man and the things of man on this earth. "What comes down must go up." That is true for the Son of Man Who ascended into heaven.
II The Session
A "He ascended to heaven," says the Creed, "and is seated at the right hand of the Father." This is the place of honor, glory, power, and authority. We know this as the session or the seating of Christ.
I want you to realize the why of the session. Scripture makes clear that the session or seating of Christ is His reward for the cross and the grave.
(Heb 1:3) After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.The cross came first; then the throne.
The session or seating of Christ is also described by Paul in his letter to Ephesus:
(Eph 1:20-22) ... 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 churchThe grave came first; then the throne.
The Revelation of John describes it this way. But instead of being seated, He is standing in the center of the throne:
(Rev 5:6) Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.Who is at the center of the throne? The Lamb Who was slain. Same message: first comes the cross; then the throne.
In the Hymn of Christ in Philippians 2 we sing about the humiliation of the Savior: His servant nature; His human likeness; His obedience to death, even death on a cross! Paul continues with this:
(Phil 2:9-11) Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, (10) that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, (11) and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.Again, the same message: first comes the cross; then the throne!
It is the crucified Lord Who is seated on the throne.
After emptying Himself of glory and taking on the form of a man, after suffering all the temptations of man, after experiencing pain and death at the hands of men, after being forsaken by the Father, after being buried in death, our Lord Jesus Christ was exalted for it all.
B Christ "is seated at the right hand of the Father." So what? What is the big deal? What difference does it make?
Hebrews can talk about a throne for Jesus (Heb 1:8). The session marks the enthronement of Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords. From His humiliating birth among the animals of the manger, our Lord now ascends to His rightful place in heaven's throne room. He returns to heaven in triumph. He returns in the flesh as the triumphant Redeemer. He returns to receive His rightful place as King. He returns to receive power, glory, honor, kingdom, and authority. Our Scripture reading from Hebrews celebrates His session with these words:
(Heb 1:8-9) But about the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. (9) You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy."Jesus reigns. As King. As Lord.
(Heb 1:13) To which of the angels did God ever say, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet"?
C You may wonder, didn't Jesus always have power, glory, honor, kingdom, and authority? Well, yes and no. As the "radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being" (Heb 1:3), He always had authority, kingdom, honor, glory, and power. And, while on earth as a man He displayed some of this when He multiplied the fish and loaves, healed the sick, raised the dead, and commanded the wind and waves to be still. But don't forget what Paul says in Philippians 2: when the eternal Son of God took on flesh, He emptied Himself. He emptied Himself of His divine glory. He hid it or restrained it. If He didn't, no one could have lived in His presence for no sinful man can see God in all His glory and live (cf Ex 33:20; Isa 6:5).
So, what is different? What has changed with the ascension and session? For one thing, His glory and power and authority are no longer hidden and veiled but now public and publicized and acknowledged by the angels of heaven and the redeemed on earth. For another, His human nature now fully shares in this glory, power, and authority.
In the session, Jesus returns as fully God and fully man to His rightful place of power and glory and authority as the conquering King.
D The New Testament story of the ascension needs to be approached like every other one: we need to look for its roots in the Old Testament. When we do this, we see that the session of Christ is the fulfilment of multiple prophecies.
(Dan 7:13-14) In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. (14) He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men 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.New Testament prophecies are also fulfilled by the session. The angel said to Mary,
(Ps 110:1-2) The LORD says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." (2) The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; you will rule in the midst of your enemies.
(Ps 2:8-9) Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. (9) You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.
(Lk 1:32-33) He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, (33) and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.
III The Response
A "What comes down must go up." And He did. To heaven. And, to heaven's throne. How are we to respond to this?
Remember the Hymn of Christ? Every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:10-11). Every knee, whether in heaven or on earth or under the earth. Whether in fear and trembling or in love and adoration. And every tongue, whether in heaven or on earth or under the earth. Again, whether in fear and trembling or in love and adoration. We are being told to acknowledge Christ's Lordship.
Colossians 3 tells us another response. Listen carefully to what Paul says:
(Col 3:1-2) Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. (2) Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.Do you hear what Paul is saying? Paul is telling us to be heavenly-minded. Paul is telling us to be heavenly-minded as we live on earth. We are to keep Jesus – and His throne – always in view.
B "What comes down must go up." And He did. To heaven. And, to heaven's throne.
Think of what this says to all earthly powers and rulers. There is someone over them. There is someone to whom they must someday give account. Because of the ascension and session no ruler here on earth may claim absolute authority. All earthly authority is limited by the authority of King Jesus.
The fat little ruler of North Korea goes by the title of "Supreme Leader." Really? Jesus has something to say about that! The top court of our land is known as the "Supreme Court." Really? Jesus has something to say about that too!
There are no supreme rulers or leaders or courts on earth. They exist only in heaven, at God's right hand.
C "What comes down must go up." And He did. To heaven. And, to heaven's throne.
Think of what this says to us in our selfish self-centeredness. The world does not revolve around me and my problems and my ego and my wants and my desires. I am not the center of everything and neither are you. Instead, the world revolves around Christ as King.
You know, or should know, that children are extremely selfish. They come by this honestly – they get it from their selfish parents. We need to teach our children, over and over again, to share, to think of others, to let others have center stage. And, above all, to let the focus be King Jesus.
"What comes down must go up." And He did. To heaven. And, to heaven's throne.
This should inspire heavenly hope in your heart. This should call you upward and forward.
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