Summary: This sermon explores the ascension, session, and judgment of Jesus Christ.
As we continue our series in The Apostles’ Creed I would like to examine today what it means to believe that Jesus ascended into heaven. Please listen as I recite the Apostles’ Creed:
I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended into hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
It is always difficult to measure one’s own spiritual maturity. But there is a sense in which one can assess it generally by the dominant image one has of Jesus Christ.
For example, some people think of Jesus in terms of his Incarnation with the result that their mental picture is basically that of a baby lying in a manger. That’s not wrong, of course. Our Lord did become a baby in his Incarnation, and the Incarnation itself is an important concept. But it only introduces us to Jesus.
A more mature image is that of Christ on the cross, which is what other people think of Christ. That is better, because the cross explains the Incarnation. Jesus came to earth to die. “The Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
Still, good as that image is, it is not enough. Jesus is no longer dead. An image of the resurrected Christ is necessary to round out the picture. It is the resurrected Christ, not Christ on the cross, who speaks peace to his disciples and commissions them to the task of world evangelization.
The Bible, having spoken of the resurrection, goes on to Christ’s ascension to heaven—where he is now seated at the right hand of God the Father, ruling his church and awaiting the day when he shall come forth in power to judge the living and the dead.
The New Testament refers to Christ’s ascension in many places. In the Gospel of John it is twice referred to in an anticipatory manner. Jesus asked those disciples who were offended by him, “What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?” (John 6:62).
To Mary Magdalene he said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned [ascended] to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning [ascending] to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (John 20:17).
In Acts his ascension is recounted with circumstantial details: “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight” (Acts 1:9). The same account is found in the longer ending of Mark (16:19) and in Luke 24:51.
Later, in the Epistles, the ascension is referred to in speaking of the fullness of Christ’s work. Paul says in Romans 8:34: “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.”
In Colossians 3:1 he says: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”
The letter to the Hebrews makes repeated references to Christ’s ascension and present position (referred to as his session) in heaven (Hebrews 1:3; 6:20; 8:1; 9:12, 24; 10:12; 12:2; 13:20).
In 1 Timothy 3:16 the ascension is placed within the full perspective of Christ’s work: “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”
That the ascension of Christ is mentioned so often in the New Testament is a clear indication of its importance.
But that does not tell us why it is important or how it relates to us. However, the verses also give us an explanation of the meaning of the ascension, in three main areas.
These are framed succinctly in the well-known words of the Apostles’ Creed: “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.”
So, today I would like to examine the following: