“He Ascended into Heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty”
#7 Sermon in the Series on the Apostle’s Creed
The Apostles’ Creed:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence, he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting. Amen.
Please be seated.
When I was in college and I was an English major, one of things the professors always taught us again and again and again, basically, they said don’t talk too much. When you are writing a paper, say what you have to say, make an illustration out of it, and move on. As I grew into seminary and began to learn how to preach, the old ditty about speakers was brought up from time to time: basically, stand up, speak up, shut up, sit down. Well I think the writer of the Apostles’ Creed must have learned these things because it is one of the most economic statements you can ever read; in fact, so economic that in some cases it begs a few questions. It leaves some things out, like the whole life of Jesus. We go from his birth to his death and leaves out the life, not that it isn’t important. But, to some degree, they were trying to get to the basics. And we have been doing that. We have been talking about who God is, and what Jesus did, and who he was and is. To some degree, it is a little bit like a timeline through his life. We have gone through his birth, his death, his resurrection; and now we come to the time when “Jesus ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty” and then he will come back, it says, “to judge the quick.” And, if you are wondering what quick is… it doesn’t refer to Presbyterians, but… I’m teasing. A little church …besides, I work for two of the slowest things in the world: the government and the church….but anyway. Quick just simply means alive. So those who are living, if we are alive when Jesus comes back, he is going to come back and judge those who are still alive and those who have passed.
So what does all this mean? Well, let’s get into it. We are going to talk about, first, the Ascension, the Ascension. What does that mean? Well, the story is that Jesus, after he was raised from the dead, spent forty days with his disciples, sometimes just a few, sometimes as many as five hundred. There were witnesses to his resurrection. It was an historical event. But as those forty days, we don’t really have time to get into it, but forty days is significant, as well. Remember that appears in Scripture several times, but Jesus is with them forty days and he is getting ready to go and here is what happens. In the first chapter of Acts, he gives them instructions. He says, “Go out and witness.” Then, “after he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1:8-11)
Well, first of all, I think this begs the question, what is this “heaven” thing they are talking about? I think often we have tended to think spatially about heaven. In other words, did Jesus get on the cosmic elevator and go up? Or did he, to use Star Trekian terms, “beam up?” Or get on the heavenly space shuttle and go somewhere else? Some people have thought that. The Mormons, for example, think that God dwells on a planet nearby. So Jesus must have transported back to the planet. We are not sure where that is, but that is what they believe. People have thought of in terms of heaven being a place. Now I want to be very clear, heaven is real. It’s real. But we need to think a little bit beyond the box in this one and that heaven really is the place or the way we live in God’s life; it is where God is. That is what we know about it. How do you think of this? What do we say about it? Well, to some degree we do say that Jesus “moved up.” Now what do we mean by that? Well we talk about moving up in a lot of different ways, don’t we? Now if you are a man and you are married, there is some sense in which when you married your wife you married “up.” Now there might be some exceptions to that, but, in general, you did. They have a sort of civilizing effect on us and we know what that means, and we won’t get into that…it is not really churchy. Isn’t it true? You know, my mother-in-law certainly thought that, but… That was supposed to be funny, but I guess it wasn’t. When we got married we didn’t change places as much as we changed states of being. We moved “up” into a different relationship. So when Jesus, it does seem to talk about going up, but it really says he was taken into heaven. Now we don’t know where heaven is, but we know it is real. All we do know is that it is great! It’s spectacular! I just went and saw the Grand Canyon for the first time. And, yeah, I’ve seen the pictures. I have seen the movies. I have seen all of that. But there is nothing like being there. We had a couple of hours. We hiked down a little ways and it was just amazing, stunning! That is what analogically what heaven is going to be like. It is going to be more than we can imagine. We kind of have an idea, but we don’t. So we think in terms of well, O.K. it is going to be great, but how do I get there? Well you get there through Jesus and Jesus is going to be your travel agent, you see. You see, we have already talked about how “he descended into hell” which means he passed through death and remember what he says in John 14, how “I am going there to prepare a place for you …and I will come back and take you to be with me.” (John 14:2-3) That’s what we know. We have some ideas about what it is going to be like but if we think of it in terms of being on the back side of the moon or Mars that is just not right. Now the Bible does talk about heaven as being “the heavens,” but it is more in terms of “the heavens” being a symbol of the eternity and the infinity of God. When it talks about heaven, mostly, it is where the Father is. It is where the Father is. So Jesus goes back into his, if you want to call it, his incarnate state; in other words, he is going back home.
Mostly, the Ascension is about Jesus being in charge. You know one of the popular sayings of our young people, you know, sometimes phrases come and go, but this one has been around a long time. The idea when kids say something is great, like an athlete or a game or you are really good at something: “You rule man!” It means that you are the greatest thing since sliced bread at that moment in time. You are just wonderful. But when we talk about Jesus this way, we talk about it permanently, that Jesus is ruling. It says “he sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” That doesn’t, again, don’t think spatially that there is a couple thrones up there and he is on the right hand. It is that Jesus has ascended back into the equality status with God and that he has been designated certain authority. That means, in terms of the earth and the universe, he is the guy. He is the guy. He is the one who rules. This is important, because the Bible says in lots of different places that he is the one in history and beyond who has the highest place – “the name above every name” (“the Alpha and the Omega; the beginning and the end”) “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)
You know, I think we often forget this partly because we look around in the world and we see lots of terrible things going on, don’t we. I mean in our own lives. The list is long of starvation and evil and rape and war and disease; and we wonder, are you winning Lord? There are some Christian theologies out there which say that Satan still rules the world.
One of the very popular books back in the ‘70’s was a book by Hal Lindsey called The Late, Great Planet Earth, about the end times and all that; but he wrote another book Satan Is Alive and Well on Planet Earth. Well I agree with about half of what he said. I do believe in a literal Satan and all that sort of thing. I think the evidence is so clear; but he seems to say that Satan is still the one who rules. Now I am not trying to put words into his mouth, it has been a long time since I read the book; but it is that kind of idea. Jesus is the one who is ruling. Jesus is the one who is still ruling. It is kind of like back in World War II, there were two decisive battles: one in the Pacific theater; one in the European theater. In the Pacific theater the battle of Midway was decisive. It is when basically the whole Japanese navy was destroyed. They didn’t know it at the time but the war was won in that place at that time. Now there still was horrible fighting but it really was the beginning of the end for them. Same thing in the European theater; when D-Day happened and the allies stormed the beaches and got into France, the war was all but over. Now there still were lots of things to happen but it was inevitable. Satan is on the run. And the decisive victory won by our God was on the cross. Two of the biggest weapons were taken out of Satan’s hands, the idea of being able to condemn us of our sins. Now we need forgiveness and we have forgiveness through the cross and when Jesus rose from the dead, death was defeated and it is all downhill from there. Now there are still battles to fight, there is still evil out there, there is still horrible things. It is going to be true until God comes and remakes the whole shebang; but Jesus wins. What does that mean to you and me? It means that you should never lose hope. You are the child of the King. You are a child of the King, and you should never lose hope. Jesus is Lord and he will always be Lord.
You know in our world right now there are many attempts to rewrite history in certain perspectives. I don’t think we should rewrite history but you and I as Christians we need to look at history from a God perspective. We need to read history knowing that God is in charge; that Jesus is in charge. What does that mean? Well, God uses nations and things to accomplish his will. He does that in our own lives and often we don’t see God’s hand in our own life until we look back and we can say, “Yeah, God was in charge there. I see why this happened to me because it brought me to this place, or did that thing.” I think one of the great Scripture verses we all should memorize and take to heart is: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and not lean on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your path” (Proverbs 3:5-6) because he is in charge. He is in charge of everything and the nations are as a drop in the bucket to our God. He will win in the end because Jesus is ruling.
Now Jesus will also come back. “He ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty from thence he shall come…” Boy, this is a controversial subject, or at least one that is talked about a lot in our day. But you know what? It has been talked about a lot since Jesus left. It has been talked about all the time. There was a little boy, I read a story about this little boy who after hearing of some trouble going on in the world was heard to pray one night, “God, I don’t know if you are listening, but if you are you better do something quick.” This was in a nutshell the attitude of Jesus’ time. They wanted the Messiah to come to right all the wrongs, destroy all the evil, set up the kingdom. Well ever since Jesus has come and gone, that is the very same thing every generation wants—God to come back, right all the wrongs, get rid of all the evil, set up the kingdom. Every generation, Jesus is coming back now. I admit our age is different, to some degree. We should just take note of that. The last hundred and twenty years has been totally different has it in history. Knowledge is doubling every couple of years. It is just amazing what is going on. Does that mean Jesus is coming back tomorrow? I don’t know. I don’t know. Jesus is coming back and we know that, but what we do know is that no one knows except him. Jesus is coming back when he wants to, when God the Father has ordained it.
You know it is a legitimate thing to talk about with Christians. One of the things we forget to talk about is that when Jesus comes back, it is very serious business. It is very serious business. I remember a conversation a friend of mine had with another person who was emphasizing that Jesus must have been a pacifist because he is the Prince of Peace. My friend said “Well what do you do with the Old Testament when God is making war on everybody?” “Well, those were just primitive people. They didn’t know any better.” “But then what do you do with Revelation 19?” You know Revelation 19 is like that bumper sticker that you see occasionally, “Jesus is coming back and boy is he mad!” Listen to Revelation 19: (Revelation 19:11-15)
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. (That’s Jesus.) With justice, he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down his enemies. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God.
Jesus is coming back and he will be the Lord. Right now, it is somewhat hidden. But then it will be clear to everyone. He is coming back and he said so. That is an article of faith. It is not symbolism. It is not something we think might happen. It is something that is going to happen. At the same time when we think about when he comes back can be a matter of speculation and often is. I don’t know how many books have been written. I don’t know how many conversations have been made, how many radio shows are on right now, on various radio stations, about when Jesus is coming back. It is a legitimate conversation, but unfortunately, we get so wrapped around this idea that we don’t do what we are supposed to do. We should take into account the times, but we should never neglect the job that we have just before Jesus goes up, so to speak, he says to his disciples, “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Samaria and to the entire world.” (Acts 1:8) In other words, go out into the world and be my witnesses, work for the Kingdom of God and do your job. Again and again he tells parables and says, “You must wait”, not in the sense of doing nothing, “but be about the business of the kingdom.” He will judge us for that. We must take it seriously.
In the end, we will meet the Lord. There is so much emphasis about Jesus coming back and everybody rising up in the rapture and meeting Jesus in the air and all that kind of stuff. If that happens, that’s great! I am going to be the happiest guy in the world. But in the meantime, I got about thirty years left. I don’t know, maybe only two. Maybe a couple of days, I don’t know. Either way, I get to see Jesus. So don’t worry about it. It is a matter of legitimate discussion, but, oh well. Let’s do what we are supposed to do.
Last but not least, the message is, what I think I have been hinting at, is that we shouldn’t build the wrong castles. What I mean be this is a story that Max Lucado tells about two castle builders:
“One castle builder,” he says “is on the beach. He is a young boy with his bucket and a shovel and other beach tools. He builds his castle of towers, walls and ramparts. On another side of town there is another castle builder. He is a man. He is building walls of assets, stocks, bonds, property; towers of memberships in the right places; towers of privilege and prestige; ramparts of comfort, of vacations and trips and second homes.
“The boy on the beach knows that his castle will not last. His wonderful creation will only last a day until the tide comes and with one great final wave washes it all away. Although this may make him a little sad it does not really. He is ready for it and when the time comes he will take his father’s hand and go home
“The man building the other castle is different. For most of the time of the construction he has put the end out of his mind. He did not and would not think of it. He suffered the illusion that his castle would protect him somehow. But now as he sees the end his fear grows daily and he has no answers.” He has no answers.
I am going to talk a little more about this as we get to the last part of the Creed. But Jesus is coming back to judge us. He is going to judge the whole world. You know, we think of the judgment as kind of like counting things. I have so many chips and a scale of good works versus chips of bad works and whatever the scale is, that is the verdict. When we get to there, the verdict is pretty much done. It does say very clearly that you and I, all of us, will be judged according to works. That’s justice. But the problem is that none of us come out on the good end of that. None of us do. It is kind of like if you and I were Michael Jordan and we could do the highest flying dunks in the entire world, (or any NBA player, who could just dunk the ball in such a wonderful way,) but the basket is only at ten feet. Suppose that basket is at forty feet. Now if I am trying to jump, it is kind of like two inches. That is the best I can do right now. I used to be able to get my hand over the rim. I never could dunk, but I could get my hand over the rim. Now I am about this far from the rim, and it is getting worse all the time. The standard is a lot higher. Many people are ones on a scale of one to ten, but we all fail.
The Scripture goes on to say that if you have your name in the book of life, you get to go to heaven. The way we get our name in the book of life is by giving our lives to Jesus. “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes…shall not perish.” (John 3:16) It is very, very clear. It is very serious business. Those who don’t are lost. Do we really believe that? I am not sure we do anymore. I think in many ways we have become Unitarians, Unitarian Universalists, with the name of Presbyterian. But if we believe that, it doesn’t mean we go and grab people by the collar…you know, I was talking to someone about that. “We know Jesus. You want people to know Jesus so much you almost want to do that. You want to go… You got to know the Lord. You just got to know the Lord.” But they are not going to listen to you if you do that. So we do the best we can. We do caring works. That is doing good things but it is also a witness. We are not afraid to tell our neighbors that we are Christians. We do the best we can. Part of our motivation is to save some that are going to be lost. Save some that are going to be lost.
So in the end we need to ask ourselves a question: What are we about? We too will be judged. The Bible says there are judgments for everybody but then Christians will be judged. A little verse in Corinthians, Paul says, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ that each one may receive what is due him.” (2 Corinthians 5:10) What does that mean? It means in Christ you are saved but God is going to ask each and every one of us what we did with our salvation. What did you do with what I gave you? Did you just live for yourself? Did you just kind of move on with it? Did you get your fire insurance and just live your life as you wanted? I am not sure, but I am not sure I want to stand before God and say that. What did you do with that? “Oh I just lived for myself, Lord.” That is going to be kind of uncomfortable. It doesn’t mean we will be lost, it just means it will be uncomfortable.
So we need to ask ourselves, what kind of castle are we building? It is not really a matter of one job being bad or having certain things that are bad, it is just more of an attitude. What kind of castle are we building? Do we live for the Lord and build his kingdom or do we build our own? Let’s think about that.
Lord God we know that we do fail and we tend to build our own things. We do ask your forgiveness. We thank you that in Jesus we have you and we have your heaven and we have a salvation that we only barely understand but we know it is yours and that is enough. We ask you for forgive us and help us to reorient our lives constantly toward what you want and what you intend. May we build the kind of castles that will be pleasing to you and for you in your kingdom. We pray these things in our powerful Savior’s name, the King, the Lord. Amen.