This is the sermon for The Ascension of Our Lord. The theme for the evening was: “Why do Christians use creeds?” The sermon text is: Psalm 110. The sermon theme is: I Believe In Jesus’ Ascension. Here is the Written Sermon.
I Believe in Jesus’ Ascension
Wwe say it. But do we understand it? So often in our lives we are put in places where we speak some words or even sign on the dotted line. But how often do we actually understand what we have spoken or signed? Every monday for ten years I would stand up with my classmates in school and say: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under god with liberty and justice for all.” Year after year I would say those words. But only when I had grown up did I realize what those words mean. It meant first, that I agreed that it was true. Then it meant that I would support this nation with my taxes and with my service.
It is so easy to say the words or sign on the dotted line and not understand what we are doing. It is true now and it has always been true. In the gospel for tonight Jesus quotes psalm 110. Psalm 110 was a very popular psalm. Everyone in Jesus’ time knew it. But Jesus asked the people a very important question. He asked how.1 How is it that the ones who were teaching God’s word could say this psalm but then not understand this psalm?
And so, we too, like every Christian of every age who has ever read these words or spoken the creed—we too need to ask ourselves the question: do we believe it; do we understand it? These words here in psalm 110 are the backbone of the whole second part of the second article. For in the Apostle’s Creed we say: He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead. Are those empty words? Or are they words which you know, agree to and understand? And so, tonight we boldly and clearly say along with Christians of all places and time: I believe in Jesus’ Ascension.
In the first verse of psalm 110, we read: “The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”” (Psalms 110:1 NIV11-GK) So the Lord says to my Lord… Here is where we ask a simple, but important question, who is speaking? Who is “the Lord” and who is “my Lord?” The special name for our God is the Lord. He is the God of faithful, forever and free grace. And since the name of our God is “the Lord” then we can also call the persons of the Trinity “Lord” as well. I remember when I was young and we used to say the Nicene Creed in church. We would get to the third article and we would say: We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. And I had a problem with these words. I was ok with us calling the Father, Lord. I was ok with us calling Jesus, Lord. But can we call the Holy Spirit, Lord? And the Nicene Creed put me on a search for bible passages which called the Holy Spirit, Lord.2
Now, why is it useful for us to know that each member of the Trinity is the Lord? Here in this verse in psalm 110 we have the name mentioned twice. So the Lord, God, the Father says to my Lord, Jesus, “sit!” So here in this verse, King David lets us in on a conversation that the Father is having with the Son. And what is the Father saying to the Son? He says “sit at my right hand.”3
And this brings us to another important question. David says that Jesus sits at the Father’s right hand. And we say that we believe it week after week. But what does it mean? First, the right hand of the Father is not a place. We know this for a number of reasons. God, the Father does not have a body. He is spirit. So he has no right hand. So also, when the bible speaks about the Father’s right hand, very often he doesn’t say ‘hand.’ Instead he says ‘hands.’4 God the Father doesn’t have a physical hand. And he definitely doesn’t have many right hands.
So we know what the right hand is not. It is not a place. What is it then? It’s a position. It’s a status. It is a way of reflecting what we say in the Athanasian Creed all the time, that Jesus is God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God. All the power that the Father has he shares with his Son in this position of power at his Father’s right side.
And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, we say He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Jesus sits at his Father’s right hand and shares his Father’s power. But that leads us to a very important question. How does Jesus use this power? We read: “The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of your enemies!”” (Psalms 110:1–2 NIV11-GK)
Notice what the Father is saying to the Son. He says ‘sit here at my right side…until.’ There is so very much to talk about in that one word, ‘until.’ Jesus ascended into heaven. But what is he doing right now? In verse two David tells us that he is ruling in the midst of his enemies. When you say that you believe in Jesus’ ascension you are saying that you believe that Jesus is here in this sinful world ruling over all things through his powerful word. And that is a lot to ponder. When our nation becomes less and less accommodating to Christians, Jesus is still here ruling in the midst of his enemies. When God allows us to get sick and be in pain Jesus is there ruling. He is there using the pain that Satan uses to tempt us against him. When Jesus promises to us that along with bread and wine he is giving to us his body and blood he wages war against our sinful nature by giving to us forgiveness.
All of this we proclaim when we read psalm 110 and say our creed. We say I believe in Jesus’ ascension. With that statement we say that we believe that Jesus sits at his Father’s right hand. But we also say so much more. In our Creed we say: From there he will come to judge the living and the dead. Where did they guys who wrote the creed get this idea from? Let me read to you these words from psalm 110 to you: “The Lord is at your right hand ; he will crush kings on the day of his wrath. He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.” (Psalms 110:5–6 NIV11-GK)
Jesus sits at his Father’s right hand ruling over all things for us, his church. But what will he also do? He will save. He will rescue us from the evil in us and the evil out there. He will come to judge the living and the dead. Notice how this is pictured. He will crush kings.5 He will pile up corpses.6 He will crush skulls.7
And so what the creed speaks, psalm 110 explains. There will be a day of devastation and destruction. There will be a day when Jesus is done ruling among his enemies and then rules by judging his enemies. Here again, we say these words, but do you get what they mean? These words shout out to us two sermons:
- Justice happens in heaven. Jesus rules over everything and every enemy for us, his church. It should not surprise us when we find out that there are many in governments who are corrupt. It should not surprise us that there are people out there who commit crimes and then get away with it. It should not surprise us that people would do violent acts against Christ and his Christians and even for a time get away with it. Why? Here and now Jesus rules over his enemies in the midst of his enemies. But justice happens in heaven. Jesus curbs enemies now. But Jesus crushes them then, on Judgement Day.
- Judgement Day is soon. At the very end of the bible we read this verse: “He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20 NIV) Final justice happens on Judgement Day. But Judgement Day will be soon. And every single time we say these words From there he will come to judge the living and the dead we say our own ‘amen’ to the fact that he will come.
Notice where all of this leaves us tonight. When we say “I believe in Jesus’ Ascension” we are speaking beautiful, wonderful gospel truth. For, as Luther reminds us, the creed is nothing but gospel. From the beginning to the end of it is a preaching of what Christ has done for you. And so, on this night we say “I believe in Jesus’ ascension.” And with that we say two things. First, we say that Jesus sits at the Father’s right side. He rules over all his enemies for you, his church. Then, we say that Jesus saves. There will be a day when the evil tempting us from within and crushing us from without will be no more. Amen.
1 Mark 12:35-37
2 cf. 2Cor. 3:17-18 et al.
3 שֵׁב לִימִינִי
4 Matt. 22:44, et al
5 מָחַץ בְּיוֹם־אַפּוֹ מְלָכִים
6 מָלֵא גְוִיּוֹת
7 מָחַץ רֹאשׁ