I Believe in a Right Handed God
This is the last of 13 sermons on a creed driven life; that is a life driven by the faith God has worked in our hearts rather than by a purpose from Him we think we have found. We confess to believe in a right handed God. And this is one of the most significant differences between us and the Protestants. But either you don't see this or don't care about it, and so your faith is more Protestant than Lutheran. And since life follows the faith confessed, your life is more Protestant than Lutheran. Let's see if I can show you the hope and joy of a life that comes from the faith that God is right handed.
The Bible teaches that God's power, might and blessing are at His right hand. At least 20 Bible passages say this. For example, Exodus 15 says the Lord's right hand is "majestic in power" and "shattered the enemy." Psalm 16 says "eternal pleasures" are at God's right hand. Psalm 17 says God saves by His right hand. Psalms 18 & 63 say the right hand of God sustains and upholds a person. According to Psalm 21, it's with His right hand that God seizes His foes. Psalm 44 says it was not Israel's sword that won the land but God's right hand. In Psalm 48 we're told the right hand of God is "filled with righteousness." Psalm 98 says that a new song is to be sung to the Lord because "His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him." Psalm 118 says, "The Lord's right hand has done mighty things." In Isaiah 41 the Lord promises, "I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." And Isaiah 48 says that it was by His right hand that the Lord spread out the heavens.
Do you believe in a right handed God? I do. I don't know of a Bible passage which speaks of the left hand of God. But remember God is spirit. He has neither right nor left hand. When the Bible speaks of God's right hand, it's condescending to us humans who consider any being without hands, without a body like us, a monster. Therefore, if we're going to think of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in their essence, we have to leave them where the Bible does without hands, feet, or body dwelling in light unapproachable, a devouring fire, a Being whom no man can or has seen at anytime.
But God doesn't deal with us in His Triune essence but by revelation, by means of what He tells us, by means of His Word. And the Bible says that Jesus is at the right hand of God. Jesus tells the leaders of the Jews, "From now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God." Mark 16 tells us, "After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was taken up into heaven and He sat at the right hand of God." Acts 2 says, "Exalted to the right hand of God, He has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured" Him out. Acts 5, "God has exalted Him to His own right hand as Prince and Savior" to give repentance and forgiveness of sins. And in Acts 7 dying Stephen says, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."
The Bible says Jesus is at the right hand of God; Stephen saw Jesus there, and the Church has always confessed it. The Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds all confess that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father. All of our Lutheran Confessions confess the same. And make no mistakes about it, this is where Jesus wants to be. On Easter morning, He forbids Mary Magdalene to hold on to Him saying, "For I am not yet ascended unto the Father: but go to My brothers, and say to them, "I ascend to My Father and your Father." In John's Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples it is better for them if He ascends to the right hand of the Father rather than staying with them on earth. Yet, before He ascends and is no longer visible, He promises to always be with them here on earth even to the end of the world.
So, at the right hand of God Jesus is not visible to us like He was to the apostles, but He is nevertheless physically present with us as He was with them. That's because when we confess that Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father we're not thinking primarily of a place but of a position. If you think of it as nothing more than a place, then you're a Protestant who can only understand heavenly things from the point of view of geometry. The right hand of God for them is only a particular place in heaven where Christ sits as if shut up in prison.
This is how the Protestant lives. The man Jesus is in heaven. There His human nature is locked away until the Last Day when He will return to earth. For now, His physical body cannot be on their communion altar because it can only be in heaven. The Spirit of Jesus can be everywhere, but the Body and Blood of Jesus can only be at a place, at the right hand of God. Jesus' divine nature can be everywhere filling all things but His human nature can only be on that throne at the right hand of the Father.
To a large part of Christianity it's not a big deal if the divine nature of Jesus is separated from the human nature. That union was only important for Jesus' work of saving us. Once He suffered in our flesh, once He raised that flesh from the dead, what's the big deal if He parked it in heaven while He went around the universe in the Spirit? This leads to the view that the physical body is somehow not compatible with the things of the Spirit. Salvation becomes getting rid of this physical body as it is for Hinduism and Buddhism rather than the redemption of this body as it for Christianity.
Even if you don't go that far, if you believe Jesus parked His Body in heaven, you can't take comfort in the physical things Jesus left us. How can Baptism clothe you with Jesus, as Galatians 3 says, if the Body of Jesus does not leave heaven? How living and active can the Word of God really be in forgiving your sins, if the Word made flesh can't get out of heaven? Just how can Jesus give you His Body and Blood, as He says He does in Communion, if that Body and Blood can't leave heaven till the world ends?
If Jesus walks with you and talks with you in some invisible, spiritual way in your heart, you are a Protestant at the mercy of what you think, feel, or "know" Jesus, who is locked in heaven, is telling you. But if Jesus walks with you and talks with you in the visible, audible, tangible Word and Sacraments, if Jesus still comes to earth today with His Body and Blood by means of Baptism, Absolution, and Communion, you're a Lutheran.
When Jesus ascended into heaven, it was not to get away from us, but to give Himself to us more fully. Ephesians 4 says, "He ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe." During Jesus' 3 year ministry, He humbled Himself by not fully using the divine powers He always had as a Man. He did this in order to save us. He couldn't have suffered, sighed, bled and died for your sins unless He humbled Himself. Human's couldn't have whipped God, spit upon God, nailed God to a cross, if God didn't forego using His divine power as a Man. But counting you more precious than even His divine rights, Jesus let them go to embrace the suffering, shame and punishment you deserve.
But in this humbleness, Jesus could only be a prophet to those He could physically stand before. Not being physically descended from Levi, He couldn't be a Levitical priest. And when Jesus in humility came to Jerusalem asserting His kingship, they crucified Him. The right hand of God is where God exercises all power, might, and blessings. The Man Jesus ascended to this position. Ephesians 4 says Jesus "ascended higher than all the heavens" and from this position of power Jesus exercises His office as prophet. The voice of Jesus the prophet now sounds throughout all the world wherever His Word is preached. The living, powerful voice of Jesus still speaks on earth today. You hear it when you hear the pastor say, "I baptize you." "I forgive you." "Take eat; take drink." The Baptism, Absolution, and Communion the pastor administers is nothing less than that of Jesus.
Jesus couldn't be a priest in the line of Levi. Good thing; that ended when Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross and entered into heaven with His eternal blood. Jesus' priesthood is eternal. Romans 8 says, "He is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." Hebrews 7 says, "He ever lives to make intercession for us." Someone with hands, feet, hair, eyes, fingernails and fingerprints is in heaven right this very moment, praying for you. Since the ascended Jesus fills all things, His lips can be in heaven and His ear can be on earth, so He hears what we say on earth and uses that to make better prayers than ours in heaven. And Jesus' prayers will not be denied. He holds before the Father those nailed scared hands pleading for sinners saying, "Remember Father I died for them. All Your wrath did this to My hands, so You might take these sinners up in Your hands."
Jesus was rejected as a king when He came in humility because He came bearing our sins, sorrows and weaknesses. Now, the Man Jesus reigns and rules all things. He says in Matthew 28, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." All things are now under His feet: whether men, angels, demons, disease, disaster, or anything else good, bad, or ugly that you can think of. The Man Christ Jesus rules over it all for the benefit of lowly sinners like me and you.
I believe in a right handed God. From eternity He worked all things with His right hand, and then at a moment in time exalted the human nature of Jesus forever to that position. So whether I picture God in heaven or God on earth, I see nothing else than the Man Jesus. I don't think a blinding light is the God of heaven, the Man Jesus is. I don't think God is present with me on earth in this thought or feeling I have. No, God is present with me here and now in the Waters of Baptism where Jesus marks my skin with the sign of cross, in the Words of Absolution where Jesus vibrates these eardrums with His forgiveness, and in the Bread and Wine of Communion where the Body and Blood of Jesus touches these lips with His holy kiss of peace. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Ascension of our Lord (5-5-05); Acts 1: 1-11, Ephesians 1: 16-23