Jesus ascended to a throne, after the disciples lost sight of him.
Descent had marked the beginning of his saving work for us on earth. Jesus’ descended to the womb of Mary. His ascent through the clouds marked not only the end of his earthly ministry. But also the beginning of his heavenly service on our behalf.
Descent and Ascent are the bookends of Jesus’ saving work on earth.
We have become accustomed to the Jesus of the gospels. His words are familiar. We’ve heard him teach. His deeds are marvelous. We’ve watched him heal. Our imagination sometimes defaults to Sunday School pictures of him, air-brushed to sooth small children.
We forget that our Lord laid aside his royal attire to descend, not just to earth, but to a stable, a teenager’s womb. He stepped down, not just from ruling all things, but to the utter helplessness of an infant who couldn’t even bring his hand to his mouth.
If Jesus’ incarnation was the beginning of his descent, his resurrection was the beginning of his ascent. Forty days later he continued his ascent, leaving earth to return to heaven. The disciples didn’t see the whole journey, because God had shielded their eyes from a glory they weren’t ready to see. But they knew about the throne.
The Scriptures had told them about the throne:
“The LORD says to my Lord:
‘Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.'”
John Calvin, in an Ascension Day sermon, preached it this way. “But although our Lord had complete power from eternity, we do not say that he took his seat at God’s right hand until we first say that he ascended into heaven. He thus had universal supremacy after his ascension.”
“He thus had universal supremacy after his ascension.” –John Calvin
It’s hard for us to imagine such a throne in our political climate of bluster and lies, of promises and spin. By contrast Jesus ascended to a throne that is not only high, but holy.
Jesus’ ascension is the focus of our current blog series. Specifically the question we’re answering is this: Why is it better for him to go away? The entire New Testament answers that question.
A Throne of Judgment
When the Supreme Court is seated, they are exercising their power to issue final judgment. Some cases have waited decades for justice, like the one presented in Just Mercy by Bryan Stephenson. He recounts the story of Walter McMillian, sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit, after a quick trial by an all white court. Other clients of Stephenson were in fact guilty of their crime, but their sentence far exceeded the law they broke. Hopeless in the face of death or life with out parole, they had nowhere to turn.
However, once Stephenson takes their case and begins to defend his young clients, their despair gives way to anticipation. They have found an advocate who will argue their case all the way to the Supreme Court.
The apostle John names our advocate, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” 1 John 2:1b. And the author of Hebrews pictures the Supreme Court of heaven. Notice what preceded Jesus’ act of sitting in order to judge:
After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Hebrews 1:3b
The One who sat on a throne of judgment was marked by scars on his hands, feet, side. These weren’t simply evidence of his crucifixion, they were the very wounds by which he paid for our sins. Jesus took the evidence of his saving work up to the True Supreme Court. When our accuser brings our many sins before the throne of God, Jesus is our legal defense, presenting the full payment for our crimes through those scars.
The punishment we deserve has already been born by another. Those who have believed in his work are given mercy beyond belief. Not just a stay of execution, but life in its fullness forever.
Jesus turned the Throne of Judgment into a Throne of Grace.
A Throne of Grace
We need a good lawyer to approach the bench for us. Because we know we’re guilty, we don’t dare argue our own case. But once we are pronounced “not guilty” because of the redeeming blood of Christ, we can come freely to our Father with every need.
That’s why the author of Hebrews tells us about the throne of grace,
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16
We need these words to encourage us because our mind is filled with reasons why we can’t come to God when we need him. Take temptation, for example. We each tend to be tempted in a specific area that corresponds to our personal weakness or sin patterns. But because we’ve been a Christian for X number of years, we think we shouldn’t be so tempt-able. The very need to fight temptation tempts us to quit!
We’ve all experienced it. You yell at the kids. Again. You know this is counter productive because, though they may stop immediately, you know that your anger doesn’t call them to change. Or you give into your cravings. Again. You hate your weakness enough to throw away the items that tempt you, making vows to quit or change. But you know it won’t last.
The sin–repentance–sin again cycle can start to feel like an endless feedback loop.
Until we remember the throne of grace. Confidence, not shame, is how we are to come. Our Savior already knows where we are in that sin cycle. He’s already paid for this one. And he stands ready.
He will cover our failure with his mercy. And shore up our weakness with his grace.
The Throne of Glory
Jesus ascended to the highest throne. Though Americans don’t live under a monarch, we are fascinated by symbols of royalty. My mother remembers when Queen Elizabeth the Second was crowned at the age of 25. Only a few years younger, mom had listened to her coronation on the radio, and felt a kinship to the young bride. “I like to think that the Queen and I are close. Shirley Temple, too. I mean, we’re almost the same age…!”
Thrones are meant to take our breath away. They are covered with gold, embellished with precious stones, softened by velvet, and approached by an impressive staircase. The monarch literally ascends in order to sit and rule. The Psalmist celebrates the glory of God’s throne and then applies it to the throne of David:
Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.
The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness;
you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness.
Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;
Psalm 45:6, 7
The psalm paints a picture not just of glory, but of joy. There is a joyful king occupying the highest throne today. The writer of Hebrews tells us his name is Jesus.
Do you imagine the throne of glory to be the place of highest joy? Jubilant celebration? A party so festive angels are dressed up and joy flows like a river towards all God’s people through the expanse of space and time?
Yes. This throne and this joy are the overflow of our Ascended King.