Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Jesus - before, then, now and then (part 3)

Being a Christian involves a different perception of reality than that held by much of society around us.  Not only do many people see the church as irrelevant, they also see Jesus as being of little consequence.  Christians believe that Jesus is not only the greatest person to ever live, but that he is alive and well today.  We believe that he is not only the best known person in history but that he can be known personally now.  We think that ‘Jesus’ is not a swear word but the name of the living King of kings.  We even think that Jesus is committed to building the community of his people in this world.
So far in this series we have seen that Jesus has existed for all eternity and that his earthly ministry was anticipated in the Old Testament. We have seen that during the ministry recorded in the Gospels Jesus became fully human while remaining fully God, and that he died to reconcile a people with God.  In this sermon we are thinking about where Jesus is and what he is doing, now. 
Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth
The risen Jesus declared to his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).  It is on the basis of this authority that we step out in mission.  Indeed we can be confident that this task will not be in vain.  Jesus had earlier promised, “... I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18).  The church is not an irrelevant society.  Christ’s church is the most relevant of all societies.  Despite the fact that our mission involves opposition, rejection and hardship we are comforted that Jesus promised his disciples that he would be with them always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20)—he is with us now!
Jesus has ascended to heaven
The risen Jesus appeared to more than five hundred people (1 Cor. 15:6), and was taken up to heaven before his disciples’ very eyes (Acts 1:9).  He ascended in a glorious, physical, resurrected, human body and will return in the same way (Acts 1:11)—today he continues to be both human and God. 
It is amazing to think that Jesus has a physical body and that one day we will have a resurrection body like his (1 Cor. 15).  Of course this leaves us with a big question “how can Jesus have a physical body and yet be with all of his people?”  The answer seems to be that in a way which goes beyond our current understanding he dwells with his people and in this world through the person of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father
Having ascended to heaven he was seated at the Father’s right-hand side.  This had been anticipated in Psalm 110, ‘The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’
The right-hand side is the place of honour and authority. The fact that Jesus sits down demonstrates that his redeeming work is complete.  Yet he is not inactive.  We also read of Jesus standing at God’s right-hand side (Acts 7:56) and walking among the seven golden lamp-stands in heaven (Rev. 2:1).  At the beginning of the book of Acts its author, Luke, writes, ‘In my former book [Luke’s Gospel] ... I wrote about what Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven ... (Acts 1:1-2a). The implication of this statement is that the book of Acts records what Jesus continued to do and teach.  Indeed Jesus has continued to be at work to this very day.
Jesus continues to reign over all
The risen and ascended Jesus is referred to as being Lord of all (Acts 10:36).  Nothing or no-one escapes his authority.  The fact that Jesus is alive and rules over all creation is to be great comfort for us.  The world is not out of control, it is under his control.  Jesus is not simply the Lord of our lives he is the Lord over all things.  The stock-market may crash but Jesus remains on his throne, countries may go to war but they can’t overthrow his rule, our life may be in a mess but Jesus knows what he is at.
Wonderfully, the community of those who are born again, the true church, is central to his working in this world.  This is emphasised by the Apostle Paul who writes God placed all things under [Jesus’] feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church (Ephesians 1:22).
Jesus is being worshipped
In the book of Revelation we see that Jesus is the object of heavenly worship.  John writes, ‘Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand.  They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.  In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!” (Rev.5:12).
Notice that their praise focused on who Jesus is and what he has done.  Some of our modern choruses can be weak on this.  They can be songs that are simply about our feelings rather than Christ’s achievements.  We must remember to sing many songs that focus richly on the cross and exalt our risen Lord. 
Jesus gives us access to the Father
In the Old Testament God’s presence was seen to be with his people in the tabernacle and then in the temple.  Only one priest, once a year, was allowed into the Holy of Holies where God’s glory was focused—the High Priest on the Day of Atonement.  Yet when Jesus died the curtain of the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom (Mark 15:38).  This symbolised the fact that because of what Jesus had done on the cross we can have access to God.  We no longer need to go to a temple to meet with God, nor do we need a special priesthood to represent us before God. We can go to the Father because of Jesus’ past work on the cross and his current ministry as our perfect High Priest.
As our great High Priest he continually leads us into the Father’s presence.  In the book of Hebrews we read that Jesus now appears for us in the Father’s presence (Heb. 9:24), and so we have a hope that follows him there (Heb. 6:19-20).  Indeed we may now have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, and so we are told draw near to God with a sincere heart and in full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:22).  In prayer we have the wonderful privilege of coming to the Father through the Son. 
Jesus continually prays for us
In the Old Testament one of the functions of the priests was to pray on behalf of the people. Jesus, our great High Priest, now fulfils that role. We see this in two wonderful passages. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (Heb. 7:25).  ‘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’ (Romans 8:34).  Moment by moment Christ intercedes for his people.   Because of his prayers we need not have a faith that is deficient and we need not fear that we will not make it to the end.  He knows what we can handle, he knows what we need and he is committed to our growth as Christians and our perseverance.  Who can condemn us when Christ died for our sin and continues to intercede on our behalf?  Who can defeat us when Christ knows our weaknesses and is praying for us to have the strength to endure?
Finally, the writer to the Hebrews encouraged his readers to keep going saying, Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Let us too fix our eyes on Jesus! The risen one who sits at the Father’s right-hand side is the one whose death made it possible for us to experience God’s forgiveness and acceptance; he is the one who should cause our hearts to rejoice and be moved to praise; he is the one who is committed to building his people, the church; he is the one who will be with us on this difficult road to heaven; and, as we will see in the next sermon in this series, he is the one who will one day return is the same way that he left this world.

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