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TEXT: Philippians 2:5-11
SUBJECT: The Apostles' Creed #6: Risen, Ascended, Returning
Today, God willing, we'll move on in our examination of the Apostles Creed. The old confession is not the Bible and it should not be read or believed as though it is. But this does not mean that it is no better than your opinion or mine. It is. For the Lord's sheep hear His voice, and for more 1500 years, they have heard it in the Creed. Not infallibly, but really. The Apostles' Creed is the finest summary of Christian truth ever produced. It may be improved on in the future, but it hasn't been yet. These are the doctrines that matter most.
They are clustered around the Person and work of Jesus Christ. The Creed tells us first, who Jesus is: God's Only Son, our Lord. It then tells us how He got here: Conceived by the Holy Ghost [and] born of the virgin Mary. It reports what He did for us: Suffered under Pontius Pilate, [He was] crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell.
And now, at the end of the middle section, it tells us how He completed His work. His birth, suffering, and death were necessary for our salvation, but if He had quit there, we would be still in our sins.
But He did not quit there-with a shameful death and an honored burial. After His death, burial, and descent, the Creed says,
On the third day He rose again.
He ascended into heaven
And is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
The words can be read in two different ways. They speak of four great steps up-Resurrection, Ascension, Present Session, and Second Coming. The first three are in the past; the last is still to come. This is one way of looking at it. But I prefer reading it the other way-not as four different things, but as one Great Thing. The word we're looking for is Exaltation.
To save us from our sin and misery, Jesus Christ humbled Himself. The Eternal and Ever Blessed God entered the human race-at the bottom. As a Man, He suffered all the hardships of human life, plus the torture leading up and including the cross on which He died a death full of pain and disgrace.
The humiliation was self-imposed. Had He wanted to, He could have skipped it altogether or opted out of it at any time. Just before His death, He saw More than twelve legions of angels ready to free Him if He wanted them to. But He did not want them to. He laid down His own life and no man took it from [Him].
This is what our Lord chose for Himself. But after His choice was made, His Father chose something else for Him. He chose to exalt Him. He did it in four stages.
The first is Resurrection-On the third day He rose again.
The word, resurrection, needs to be carefully defined. It does not mean life after death. Nearly all the Gentiles in the First Century believed in this, but when Paul preached the Resurrection, they called him a babbler. When we say the Lord rose from the dead, we don't mean He went to heaven when He died.
Resurrection also does not mean resuscitation. The Lord's friend Lazarus was dead. For four days his body had lain in the tomb. When the Lord arrived, the body smelled like death. But at the command of Jesus Christ, the dead body came back to life. But what life did he come back to? The same life he had before-a life subject to sickness and heartache, aging and death. The Lord's Resurrection was not like this at all!
The Resurrection is two things: life given to a dead body, but it's a new and improved life the body receives. The dead come back to life, but it's not the same old life they come back to, but eternal life. It is still a physical life-and not a ghostly life-but it's a physical life full of majesty. Paul puts it this way,
The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.As we have born the image of the man of dust, so we shall also bear the image of the heavenly man.
This is what the Resurrection is. And, this is what our Lord obtained three days and three nights after His death.
I don't need to survey the Gospels. Read the last chapters of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and you'll see that a formerly dead man was now alive, but the life He had was not what it once was. It was not subject to the same limitations and pressed by the same needs. In a few days, the Lord is all over the map, but we don't find Him tired or hungry or sad or harassed as He used to be. In short, He has left the tomb and entered Life.
What does His Resurrection mean? It means He is the Messiah, the King, the Righteous Jew who would save His people and become the Light of the World.
Where did that come from? From the Bible, of course-especially Daniel 12. There-and in other places-the Lord's people are urged to stand up to the pagans and be true to their Lord. If they did, God would vindicate them at the end of time,
Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life.those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.
This is precisely what He did for true seed of Abraham, our Lord Jesus Christ. The man stood up to the apostate Jews and the powers of Rome. They judged Him guilty and executed Him for His crimes. But God overturned the verdict and raised Him from the dead with honor and glory and power.
Our Lord's second step up is the Ascenion-He ascended into heaven. The word, ascend is the opposite of descend. If descend means to go down, ascend means to go up. And that's what our Lord did.
For forty days after His resurrection, He was still on earth, appearing to more than five hundred witnesses, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, the other Mary, the Apostles, Cleopas, James and Jude His own brothers, and others whom we don't know.
After the rose from the dead, our Lord showed Himself alive by many infallible proofs. But after the proofs were given, He left the world for heaven. And He did it, you note, without shucking off His humanity, including His body! It wasn't the Lord's spirit the disciples watch soar into heaven, but His body. This was not an illusion: the whole Man went to heaven.
The story is told in, briefly at the end of Luke and, in more detail at the beginning of Acts. If you read the sermons that are preached on the Day of Pentecost (and later), you'll find His Ascension is highlighted over and over again. To Peter, Paul, and the others, this was not a minor point of theology, but at the center of the Gospel.
We don't emphasize this very often. We speak as if the Resurrection were the whole enchilada! But it isn't. The Ascension is every bit as important. Why? Because it is His coronation. Ascending to God's right hand doesn't mean He went to heaven when He died. It means Jesus is Lord! He soared into heaven to be crowned King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
When I was a boy, I heard many sermons on Psalm 24. They all moved me, some deeply, but every last one of them got it wrong!
Lift up your head, O ye gates
And be lifted up, you everlasting doors;
And the King of Glory shall come in.
Who is the King of Glory?
The Lord of Hosts, He is the King
The wonderful prophecy was always referred to the Millennium, when the Lord would (supposedly) return to Jerusalem to be the King of the Jews once more. But this is not what it refers to! Whatever your view of the Second Coming-this doesn't fit!
The verses were future to David, but not to us. For when the Lord ascended into heaven, the gates swung open, and the King of Glory took the Seat of Power.
This is the Ascension. Next we have.
THE PRESENT SESSION
The Present Session-[He] is seated at the Right Hand of the Father. The Right Hand of God is another way of saying, The Throne. Up in heaven the Lord Jesus Christ is seated in a place of absolute power and in God's favor that can never be lost.
Seated at the Right Hand of the Father means God's Man has become the King, and through Him the Rule of God has come to earth. From His perch, the Lord is exercising His power in various ways: He is ruling the Church in His grace and He is ruling the world and the creatures of hell by His power. Right now, all things are being put under His feet. His Lordship is not on paper; it's real.
The Bible adds another thing to His Session at God's Right Hand. According to Hebrews, it makes Him The Great High Priest. Who is now-and always-praying for us. And praying in the place of God's favor. This means His prayers will be answered and we will have all things which pertain to life and godliness.
The Lord ascended to God's Right Hand in the late spring, about 30 AD. He has been there ever since, without growing old or tired or bored. He is as honored today as He was back then and He is no less engaged in the affairs of heaven and earth.
He will stay in that place until.
THE SECOND COMING
He will come again to judge the living and the dead. The Second Coming of Christ is still in our future. Whether it's today or in a million years, we don't know and we cannot know. Those who say they know, don't, and those who try to guess make fools of themselves!
If the Lord had wanted us to know when He would return, He would have told us-and not by multiplying the twelve disciples by the Ten Commandments, plus the 144,000 saints in heaven, divided by the 5 loaves and 2 fish! No, that's gobbledegook! Men who teach such things should be prayed for and ignored.
The important thing is that He will come again. And when He does, He will judge the living and the dead. Judging the dead means He will also raise the dead.
Our lives will be reviewed by Christ and we will be justified or condemned based on our faith in Him or lack thereof. Those who believed in Him will be found innocent-not because they never did anything wrong-but because they are in union with Christ. Those who did not believe will be found guilty because they are guilty and, to make matters worse, would not accept the cure God offered them in the Gospel.
For the unsaved the Second Coming of Christ is a catastrophe. But for the saved it is the hope of glory. Our goal is not to die and go to heaven, but to be raised up by Christ and enter into the joy of our Lord. In body and in soul, forever with the Lord. That's the Christian hope. And it's not a flimsy hope built on dreams and flattery, but a hope than cannot fail. Because it is built on.Christ,
Risen from the dead,
Ascended to heaven,
Seated at the Right Hand
Of the Father, and
Coming to judge the Living
And the Dead.
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