Monday is the day I create my checklists. Yes, lists. Plural. But Jesus’ ascension gives me hope that I will cross the finish line.
Pouring coffee I remember three more things and add them to my to do list. The puppy barks, reminding me that we’re almost out of puppy food. One more item for the grocery list. Not to mention my other checklists: Repairs. Workouts. Prayer. Appointments. Commitments. Chores. When to color my hair…
Maybe I need to make a list of my lists.
Then I open my Bible. Now. What does God want me to do?
Pen poised to start another list, I remember yesterday’s sermon. Particularly the opening illustration about a woman who is overwhelmed by her life. She suffers from chronic pain, physical weakness, and a harsh husband who adds to her burden. Frankly, she doesn’t need one more thing to do.
One day she pleaded with her pastor, “I totally understand life’s difficulties and my weakness. I need to know God is big enough for my life and Jesus is big enough for my sin. And I sin a lot.”
What does Jesus have to give a woman like this? Like you and me? Ordinary folks who have believed in Jesus, but find themselves overwhelmed by checklists, weaknesses, guilt, enemies and trouble of all sorts? The pastor’s opening words stirred our hope.
“My purpose today is not to give us something to do, but to give us someone to trust.”
His main point? Because Jesus ascended, he will enable me to finish the race.
In my words–Jesus’ ascension is the triumph that checks off every item on our list.
Checklist #1: A King Who Defeats My Enemies
In the midst of normal busyness one thing we don’t expect is enemies. It might be a coworker who is trying to undermine our effectiveness out of envy. Or a neighbor who tries to get us kicked out of the Neighborhood Association because we keep forgetting to put our empty garbage cans away.
But I’m even more surprised to find out I have mortal enemies. Those who have a single mission against me: Hate and Destroy. Immediately we think of Satan and his minions. Yes, those invisible enemies are real. But there is another, more subtle one. The world that hates Jesus. Not the obvious Jesus haters, the immoral or irreligious folks we see around us. No, these enemies are both religious and moral.
Just like the hyper religious Pharisees who killed Jesus.
From them comes the deadly weapon known as “friendly fire.” Like Judas they betray. Slander. Undermine.
But Jesus, the King of kings, is greater than any enemy I encounter. Because he has ascended, my enemies
- can do nothing to me except by his permission.
- can’t finally hurt me, because Jesus will turn it to my good.
- may win the battle, but Jesus has already won the war.
Therefore, Jesus is big enough for any and every enemy I will face.
Checklist #2: An Advocate Who Pleads My Case
The most relentless enemy I face is within me. My own cravings and foolish impulses are an inner traitor that undermines my desire to do right. Paul calls it the flesh, and describes it in terms that sound like he’s been reading my journal.
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me…in my flesh.”
Our flesh betrays us in a number of ways. You and I have sins that occur in predictable cycles. Patterns of sin that make us want to give up the fight because we know we will lose. “Besetting sins” as a previous generation called them. Habits of gossip. Or anger. Pornography. Or various private jealousies.
We also have great sins. The ones that can blow up our lives, leaving behind the broken bits of who we once were and what we once had. The flirtation that turns into adultery, lies, coverup and ends in tearing apart our home. The envy that turns into murder, either by words or weapons.
Big or small, we face two attackers that accompany each sin.
- an accusing conscience
- an Accuser, Satan, who labels us as “second class citizens”
Against such attacks, Jesus helps me lawyer up. He represents me, arguing his finished work on my behalf. Pleading his sacrifice to a willing Father, my Judge.
Together, Father and Son announce the verdict on my life.
Checklist #3: An Intercessor Who Knows My Weakness
Usually it’s not the big things that pull us down, it’s the multitude of little things. Dirty clothes on the floor, unmade beds, the sink full of yesterday’s dishes. Where do I start?
Not sure, so I’ll just check FaceBook while I figure it out…. An hour (or two) later I get up to tackle the mess only to find the dog threw up on top of the dirty clothes. My mother’s voice echoes in my head you shouldn’t have put it off. The first thing I would do is throw in a load of laundry. Blah Blah Blah.
My critics point out my weaknesses. The enemy within heaps guilt on every failure.
But I have an intercessor who prays for me.
Jesus, knowing every one of my weaknesses better than I know myself, doesn’t give me a pep talk. He doesn’t wave my past failures in front of me either, as if that would motivate me to try harder, do better.
No. Jesus is my most faithful prayer warrior. He steps between me and my burdened conscience, my unfinished business, my crushing failures, and prays for me.
As one author puts it:
Christ is praying for us, even when we are negligent in our prayer life. He is presenting to the Father spiritual needs we are not even aware of. He is praying for our protection against dangers of which we are not even conscious, against the enemies which threaten us, though we do not notice it.
His prayers for us are constant and perfectly matched to our need. Our weaknesses don’t hinder him one bit.
“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25).”
Checklist #4: A Trailblazer Who Finished His Race
Enemies, sin, suffering, weakness. These all tempt me to quit. There are days when even getting out of bed feels hard. Yesterday’s problems pile on top of last weeks, leaving a mess of unfinished business.
Finish my race when it’s uphill against a stiff wind? I can’t even seem to finish my checklists….
You and I know the downward pull of hopelessness. When one more thing tips the scale. When inertia overcomes energy. That’s when we need to remember our Trailblazer.
Jesus isn’t just ahead of us on the trail of human life. He has overcome every obstacle that threatens to trip us. And he has made it to the end. Specifically, he has
- faced every temptation
- stood against every enemy
- cleared the way for us to follow him to the end
There is nothing we encounter that he has not already faced. That’s what it means when the author of Hebrews calls him “a forerunner on our behalf (Hebrews 6:20)”.
Jesus himself will bring us home. He will not delegate that task to anyone else.
And where is this home? Where he is, seated at the right hand of his Father.
What Of It?
Therefore, let’s learn how to live in light of that future certainty, as John Calvin did, though he faced many trials and weaknesses.
Thus, since He has gone up there, and is in heaven for us, we need not fear to be in this world. …we look to our Head Who is already in heaven, and say,
“Although I am weak, there is Jesus Christ Who is powerful enough to make me stand upright.”
“Although I am feeble, there is Jesus Christ who is my strength.”
Yes, the devil is called the prince of this world. But what of it? Jesus Christ holds him in check for He is King of heaven and earth.
There are devils above us in the air who make war against us. But what of it? Jesus Christ rules above, having entire control of the battle.
Thus, we need not doubt that he gives us the victory.
This is how we must look at his ascension, applying the benefit to ourselves.”