He Sits on the Right Hand of the Father
The 3 creeds accepted by all Christians confess that after Jesus ascended He sits on the right hand of the Father. This fact is a threat to Jesus' enemies. When on trail before the Sanhedrin He says, "From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power." And it's a comfort to His followers. It enables Stephen to die faithful: forgiven and forgiving. Jesus sitting on the right hand of God means a lot to us if we think about it.
First, it means His work is completed. What do you do after a long day's work? You sit down. God the Son sits down because He has finished His work. He descended into the dust of flesh and blood to rescue us. It was the reverse of the Devil's temptation for man to be God. We know how that worked out. Sin, death and the Devil overwhelmed man. In the incarnation: God became Man.
There was no other way for us to be rescued. Flesh and blood had been given God's Law to keep in order to live forever. Flesh and blood would have to keep those Laws. Flesh and blood had been promised if you break God's Law you will die in time and eternity, so flesh and blood would have to die, or God would be a liar. God's Word gave sin, death and the Devil standing in His courtroom. The Devil used God's own Word to prove we were sinners who deserved death, and so belonged to him not God.
Then Jesus, the Word made flesh, entered the courtroom, and submitted His flesh and blood, which is ours, into evidence. Where's sin in Him? What Law didn't He keep? See these nail holes? See this hole in His side? See the blood, sweat, and tears His flesh and blood suffered while being roasted in hellfire for the sins of all flesh and blood? See the forsaken death He died as a sinner should? Where's your case now Devil? What sin can you bring against these blood brothers and sisters of Jesus? How can you say any of them deserve to die since Jesus died in their place already?
By raising Jesus from the dead, the Father proved Jesus had completely finished His work of redeeming you, and that He, the Father, had accepted it. In the Incarnation, God the Son descended into the dust of our flesh and blood; and in the Ascension the dust of our flesh and blood is taken into heaven, and sits down. He sits down because there is nothing more to be done to save you.
So why do you think there is? Why do thoughts like: better, gotta, should, and must clutter your head? How can you think suffering, sickness, or even death come to you in order to pay for your sins since Jesus paid the bill already? Jesus sits on the right hand of the Father because His work of saving you is done. You can sit on earth confident that the list titled "Things Needed to be Done to go to Heaven" is done, done, and done.
Jesus sitting on the right hand of the Father means more than His saving work is done; it means a Man rules the cosmos. The Epistle reading makes this clear. Paul says God "seated Jesus at His right handfar above all rule and authority and power and dominion." "He placed all things under His feet." As sitting down shows Jesus' work is done, placing all things under His feet shows Jesus is the rightful king. In ancient times a king showed he ruled over other kings by placing his foot on their necks.
As true God, Jesus always ruled over all things. When He descended into our dust, He didn't loose His divine power like Superman before kryptonite. He just didn't use them always and fully as a man. So it isn't God the Son we celebrate being enthroned today, but the Man Jesus. Someone not unlike us rules over all things. Who determines when stars nova? Jesus. Who decides when and where tornadoes hit? Jesus. Who decides when sparrows fall to the ground? Jesus. Who knows the number of hairs on your head and the number of beats left in your heart? Jesus.
Feel the awe. You know how you can look at a baby's tiny feet and hands in awe? How perfect, how miniature, how much like yours they are but better. This is Jesus. Marvel that One with hands and feet and legs and arms just like yours sits on heaven's throne. Marvel that One who knows what it means to be sick, to suffer, to die as a human being rules over your life. Marvel that One who is like you in all ways and can sympathize with your weaknesses has all authority in heaven and earth.
Don't just marvel at this; be comforted by it. Hebrews 4 says because we do have a God and Savior, a Ruler and Lord who can sympathize with our weaknesses, we are to draw near with confidence to His throne to find grace to help in time of need. Remember how it was with Esther's king? If you went into his throne room uninvited, you would be killed on the spot unless he extended his golden scepter. That's not how it is with Jesus sitting on the right hand of the Father. His door is always open as we sing in "I know that my Redeemer Lives," "He lives to hear my soul's complaint."
Because He's made of the same flesh and blood as you, because He knows what it's like to be tempted, to be depressed, to be made of dust just like you, He always gives a sympathetic ear to your pleas. He doesn't say like we do, "I forgive you but don't let it happen again." Or, "Quit bothering Me." Or, "I'm sure you're as much to blame as the other person." All of these could be said, but that's not how the One who invites us to come to Him with our burdens, cares, sorrows, and needs deals with us. Haven't you ever had a teacher, a friend, a relative, someone who always gave you the benefit of the doubt, always sympathized with you, always thought you could do know wrong? That's how you should picture Jesus sitting on the right hand of God when you go to Him in your time of need.
There's one problem with Jesus sitting on the right hand of the Father. We don't want to think of Him as a divine couch potato. Yes, His work of redeeming us is finished, but He is still active in our life. The Scriptures show us this in at least two places. One is where Stephen is stoned. The dying Stephen, says Acts, "gazed into heaven and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God." Then in Revelation 1 the persecuted, exiled John sees Jesus in heaven standing among the 7 golden lampstands which Jesus tells him are symbols for the 7 churches He is going to write to.
Get the picture? Jesus is up and off the throne when His people need Him. He doesn't sit idly by when they are being stoned to death or persecuted in life. It may look that way on earth but not when you look into heaven. And where are windows into heaven? Jesus opened one for Stephen and John. Where does He open one for us? In His Words and Sacraments.
John tells us that if we sin we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous one. When we sin, Jesus jumps off His throne, stands before the Father, raises His hands, and says, "Remember Father it was for their sins this happened to Me." That's what an Advocate does for you. He takes your side. And in holy absolution, Jesus, your Advocate, lets you know He won your case. Absolution is the voice of the one who sits on the right hand of God the Father speaking in time. He declares you not guilty. How dare anyone say you're guilty. Others don't have that right; the Devil doesn't have that right; above all you don't have that right. When Jesus speaks your forgiveness through my mouth, the Devil, the world, and your sinful nature must shut-up, and you must say, "Amen!"
Where can you like Stephen and John see into heaven? Only where the Lord tells you to. In Romans Paul opens a window by saying, "Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for us." Hebrews opens the window even further, saying, "He always lives to make intercession" for us.
As we sing our Kyrie Eelison on earth, so Jesus ever sings one in heaven: "Lord have mercy, Father Have Mercy, Lord have mercy." And in your Baptism, He constantly tells you He has had mercy upon you. Baptism covers you with Jesus. All that He is: holy, righteous, pure, is now yours. In your Baptism, God can kick you out of His grace as little as He could kick His Son out of heaven. In Baptism, you are passive. You receive. You don't do or give. But Jesus is very active in your Baptism. Baptism, says Peter, is the answer of a good conscience to God. In Baptism our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience, says Hebrews. In Baptism, Jesus isn't lounging on the right hand of the Father, He's constantly scrubbing you clean of the sins and sinfulness you abhor, repent of, long to be rid of.
Jesus, though He sits on the right hand of the Father, is active especially in times of sin, sickness, death, and despair. Scripture opens windows showing Jesus advocating, interceding and befriending us. In John 15 He tells us, "Greater love has no one than this, that He lay down his life for his friends." Since Paul tells us in Romans 5, "While we were still sinners and enemies of His, Jesus died for the ungodly," that means Jesus has even greater love than that of friend for friend. He laid down His life for enemies to make them friends.
What won't a friend do for a friend, particularly the Friend who gave up His life to save you? The One who sits on the right hand of the Father shows you how much He is willing to do for you in heaven by what He does for you on earth. In Communion, He gives to you His very Body and Blood. If He gives you His lifeblood for Wine and His Body for Bread, what won't He do for you? What good thing could He ever withhold from you? If He is active at this altar giving His friends His Body and Blood for forgiveness, life, and salvation, what must His Body and Blood be doing for His friends in heaven right now? More than just sitting there; much more than we ask or can even think. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Ascension of our Lord (20080501); Ascension Readings