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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Our Ascended Interceder
Text:Romans 8:34 (View)
Occasion:Ascension Day
Topic:God The Son
 
Preached:2016
Added:2016-05-05
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 24:4,5                                                                                            

Ps 68:12  [after Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – Romans 8:18-39

Ps 110:1,2,4,5

Sermon – Romans 8:34

Hy 42:1,2,3,4,5,6

Hy 35:2,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in the Lord Jesus, in a book recently I came across a pointed question. The author asked, “Is there any part of Christ’s life that we think about less than his ascension?” For even unbelievers know something about his birth—enough at least to draw a vague connection to it at Christmas time. Christ’s death, burial and his resurrection are pretty well covered around Good Friday and Easter Sunday. In fact, these are high points in the Christian calendar. “But who notices Ascension Day?” the author wrote further: “Ascension is simply the way that Jesus checked out of planet Earth—that’s all there is to it. Right?”

At first you might think so. Yet there is a very good reason to celebrate the ascension of the Lord Jesus. It’s something to thank God for, and something that gives us rich encouragement and hope. The ascension means that we have a Saviour and King in heaven. He’s running all things in this universe for our good, and He’s busy praying for us, and every day He’s sending us the good gifts of his Spirit.

Jesus’ place in heaven means that we have a place in heaven—not just when we die, but already today we have a welcome position in the presence of God our Father. He listens to us, and He forgives us, and He cares for us, all because our Saviour is there. This is the good news of Christ’s ascension, which I preach to you from Romans 8:34 on this theme,

Who can condemn us? No one, because:

  1. we have a Saviour in heaven
  2. and He’s interceding for us

 

1. we have a Saviour in heaven: In the little section of our chapter from verse 31 to 39, the apostle Paul asks seven powerful questions. Almost all of them expect a negative answer. Like verse 31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Nobody! He poses seven questions, and then he also names seven things that cannot separate us from the love of Christ: not tribulation, not distress, nor persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or sword (v 35). Finally, he brings forward five sets of profound realities that also cannot come between us the Lord’s love: “neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, neither height nor depth…” (vv 38-39). In this section the Holy Spirit is being as emphatic as human language will allow. You can’t say it any stronger than this!

But let’s back up and see how the Spirit can make these claims. Specifically, what He says in 8:34, “Who is he who condemns?” On what basis can we say that sinners are right with God, that He is on our side, that we need not fear his condemnation?

We started our reading in Romans 8 at verse 18. But we could’ve started at verse 1—and if we had a lot more time, we could’ve started our reading from Romans at chapter 1, verse 1! And why should we have started there? Because what we have in this letter is a systematic presentation of the Christian gospel—a kind of catechism, all about sin, salvation, and service. For the apostle had been to a lot of places, visited a lot of churches, but to Rome he’d never gone. We find out that Paul was preparing to go there soon. So before he did, he wanted to give the Roman church a “quick” lesson in the truth that he’d been preaching.

We can’t review everything that Paul writes in these chapters. But in brief, Paul has shown that all people, whether Jew or Gentile, “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). Ever since Adam, we’ve all done things that are deeply displeasing to God, and there’s not one person who stands innocent before him. And it gets worse: the punishment that we deserve for this is condemnation in body and soul: death, now and forever. “Don’t judge me,” people like to say. But God does judge—and the outcome isn’t good.

Still, Paul has good news for the Romans. He announces in 6:23, “But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Just like sin entered the world through one man, so righteousness has come through the one man. Through his holy life, and by his atoning death, Jesus gives hope to sinners.

Only to share in what Christ is giving, we need to be connected to Christ, united to him by true faith. And when we do believe, we enjoy all the benefits of salvation. Paul has explained some of these benefits earlier in chapter 8. When you believe in Jesus Christ, you enjoy the glorious liberty of the children of God, because you’re adopted as a son, as a daughter. When you believe, you’re delivered from the curse of sin, and you live in the freedom of forgiveness. You receive the firstfruits of the Holy Spirit, and you get conformed to the image of the Son. In Christ, you are redeemed. By faith in him, you have an eternal hope. In Christ you’ve been foreknown. Predestined. Called. Justified. Glorified.

All of that stands in the shadow of the first of those seven questions, in verse 31, “What then shall we say to these things?” Paul wants to start working out the consequences of this gospel. “So what?” he’s asking, “What’s the takeaway, in whatever situation you are right now?”

And the first response is that awestruck question, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (v 31). Let’s understand this question well. It’s a rhetorical question, where the answer is so obvious, it almost doesn’t need to be stated. Can anyone really get in the way of our salvation, if God has decided to save us? No, of course not.

Yet Paul wants to leave no stone unturned, and no door unlocked. Because we’re prone to doubt. We’re ready to imagine the possibilities of falling away from God. “Maybe I’m not saved,” we say, “Too sinful. Not good enough. Faith is too weak.” Paul knows that Satan, the enemy of our souls, is always ready to trip us and discourage us. He’s always looking to rob us of our confidence. So to help his readers, Paul starts throwing out every objection, and dismissing every reason for fear.

Like in verse 33: “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect?” If Christ has already presented himself in our place, and we are joined to him by faith, then there’s nobody who can accuse us of sin. “It is God who justifies” (v 33), is Paul’s simple answer. God himself—the Judge and Creator himself—He declares us innocent, right with him. Who can overturn that?

Arriving at our text, there’s another of these questions: “Who is he who condemns?” (v 34). Now, to feel the full weight of this question, keep in mind how Paul has pointed out that we’re sinners. Keep in mind that he’s said how we all deserve the curse. Who could argue it? The evidence is indisputable. We sin. We drift. We forget. Every day, we get lost in our selfishness. Even today, we fell down in our calling to be holy.

Yet here’s the startling gospel: If we have taken our sins to Christ, no one can condemn us. No one can accuse, because of this truth—the next part of the verse: “It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (v 34). That’s the believer’s refuge, the shelter from condemnation!

When you take that apart, there’s four pieces to it, a perfect summary of the Lord’s work as mediator. First of all, “It is Christ who died…” Christ gave his life to save us from death. He poured out his blood to bring us blessing. He was willing to be crucified, to die under the curse, to bear the full power of God’s wrath against sin. How dearly did his love cost! And it means we cannot be condemned.

“It is Christ who died…” and then the second part of it, “and furthermore is also risen.” Christ died, but that wasn’t the end of him. He’s alive! His resurrection means that the price paid was accepted in full. By raising Jesus from the dead, the Father confirmed that sinners need not fear condemnation. Once and for all, Jesus did what was needed

Then the third statement as proof that we’re not condemned: “It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen… who is even at the right hand of God.” Forty days after his resurrection, He went back to his Father. It’s as much a fact as is the crucifixion and resurrection. And it’s as important a fact as the cross and the empty tomb, that Jesus has now gone up to God’s right hand.

Why is it important? Because Jesus ascended as our high priest. Remember how in the Old Testament, the high priest entered the Most Holy Place in order to make atonement for the people’s sin. Bringing blood, accompanied with the smoke of incense, the priest would go through the curtain into the Most Holy Place.

When Christ ascended, these same acts were being reflected in heaven. But now they’re happening on a grand scale, a cosmic scale. “Christ,” it says in Hebrews, “has not entered the holy places made with hands… but He has entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (9:24). Christ went there and appeared before God as the sacrifice for sin, as the reason that God can take us back.

And then Christ sat down. Being seated means that He’s done. Genesis says that after God made the world, He “rested” on the seventh day. He “sat down,” as it were. So Christ has completed the work of salvation. Having offered his blood, Christ sat down. It’s an act of finality: nothing further can be done to pay for sin, and nothing needs to be done.

So who will condemn us? We have a Saviour in heaven. And when we see the price that was paid, we know that He’ll always preserve us. After doing all that, why should He give us up? After doing all that, why should He ever let us fall away? Like the Spirit says, tribulation can’t separate us. Distress or persecution won’t be able to either. Our worst trials in life, our deepest fears, the most intense pain and the hardest temptations—even these cannot threaten God’s love for us in Christ. He considers us worth every effort to save and nurture and protect. For Christ is in heaven,

 

2. and He’s interceding for us: Our text is made up of that first question, and then those four statements, we said, building up to a climax. Altogether they describe the work of the Lord Jesus as mediator: “It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (v 31).

Let’s now look at that fourth and last part. What is intercession? What does it mean to intercede? It means to pray on behalf of someone else. When there’s someone we know who is in trouble, who is sick or suffering or distressed, we should pray for them. We bring their needs to God in heaven—we make intercession: “Father, please be with Oma when she is lonely. God, please give strength to that family.”

Paul’s already told us that the Holy Spirit is praying for us: “The Spirit… helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us” (v 26). This is needed, because there are times we find it very hard to pray. We can be so tired. We can be beside ourselves with worry. Times that we’re not even sure what to ask for, and we struggle for the words. Then the Spirit prays for us, ministering for us in God’s presence.

God the Spirit is praying, and God the Son is praying! The work that He was busy with on earth now continues—because after He ascended, of course He didn’t forget us. So what does this mean, that Christ intercedes?

Some commentators say that Jesus remains in the Father’s presence, as a continual reminder that He’s paid the penalty for sin. So that God doesn’t “forget,” Christ is seated there beside him. He can point to the wounds in his hands and feet and side, and He can say: “Father, remember what I have done for them, for sinners, for those who believe. Remember that I gave my life for them.” And in itself, that is a beautiful picture. Every time we sin and every time we repent, we know that Christ is in heaven for us. His once-broken body serves as a continuous prayer in God’s throne-room: “Father, forgive them.”

But there’s more to it. In more specific ways than simply asking for our forgiveness, He’s making requests and petitions on our behalf. Already during his time on earth, Jesus was always praying. The gospels tell us that. Before his baptism, Jesus prays. Before He calls the twelve disciples, Jesus spends the night in prayer. Before his arrest in the Garden, Jesus agonizes in prayer for hours. And not just before special occasions or tumultuous times, but constantly Jesus talked with his God. Luke says in 5:16 that “Jesus often withdrew to solitary places and prayed.”

What an example that is for us, beloved! Jesus didn’t just wait for the right occasion to pray, wait until his schedule was open and people finally left him alone. No, He was intentional in praying. He withdrew for prayer, made time for prayer. And He did it often. May we all imitate this powerful example of our Saviour!

When Jesus prayed, He prayed for himself, but also for others. Consider one example, in John 17. There He prays at length for his disciples, and He prays for all believers—He even prays for the ones who hadn’t come to faith yet!

And this what the ascended Christ continues to do: He prays! For remember that Christ is there as a devoted priest. Besides sacrificing, one of the jobs of the priests was the work of prayer. They’d confess the sins of the people. They’d pray for the king in his task. On behalf of Israel, they offered up thanksgivings and asked for blessings. Constantly, the priests petitioned God for his people, calling on him to hear and answer.

In that same way, Christ offers up petitions to God. Sitting at the right hand of God, He’s in the perfect place to speak to the Father on our behalf. For the Father sees at all times the one basis of our salvation in that ultimate sacrifice of blood. Because of this, there’s no need for further persuasion. When the Son prays, the Father listens. What the Son asks, the Father will do.

“So yes, who can condemn?” Paul asks. Certainly Satan will try to. In the book of Revelation, Satan is called the “accuser of the brothers” (12:10). He’ll always throw accusations at us, to see if any of them stick. And Satan does this work in many ways. He tempts us, then plays on our consciences. He gets us to think that we’re too guilty to be forgiven, too rotten to be saved, too deep into sin to ever get out.

But we have a sure defense. The answer to Satan’s accusations is always Christ. Who can condemn us? Not Satan, not our guilty heart, not anything or anyone in the world. If we’ve been joined to Christ by faith, and if He’s speaking up for us, who can ever say that the Father won’t forgive? Christ is busy praying for us, and we know that the prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective!

Another thing that makes these prayers of Jesus so powerful is that He prays with understanding. When He was on earth, Christ was a man like us—even now ascended in heaven, He is a man like us. So Jesus knows first-hand the human experience. He knows the trials, but also the joys. He knows the awesome power of God, but also the vicious might of Satan.

Our ascended Saviour knows human nature too. Think about how during his earthly ministry He was surrounded by people who were a lot like us: proud people, weak people, and forgetful people. He encountered doubters, and wanderers, and complainers. So Jesus knows how our faith can be so fragile. He knows how hard it is for us to stand firm under temptation, and how hard to do the will of God. He knows the human condition, and then prays for us in our condition! He asks the Father to have mercy on us, to give courage, to bless with strength.

Beloved, think what a great comfort it is when fellow believers are praying for us. When they say, “I’ll pray for you,” that’s an encouragement. There’s a reason we say that one another in the church. And it’s even more encouraging when a praying person knows us personally. Maybe we’ve told them what we’re struggling with, what we’re challenged by. Maybe they understand a little of what we’re facing. Then when they say that they’re praying for us, we’re blessed to know that our specific concerns and personal trials are being brought to God. We’re not in this on our own, we’re not the only ones praying, but our brothers are, our sisters are.

So it is with Christ’s prayers. He knows us! He’s aware of our deepest needs, our hardest struggles, our ugliest sins. And He brings all of these to the Father with a compassionate love. Like we read in Hebrews 4, “We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (v 15). That’s such a rich encouragement, to know that our Saviour can sympathize. He can empathize. He can identify and understand. He’s our prayer partner in heaven.

How we need his prayers! We need them, especially because our own prayers are so often imperfect. Let’s be honest: Our prayers can be so unfocused, or focused only on ourselves and our needs. Our prayer can be incomplete. Insincere. They can even be sinful.

But Christ prays perfectly on our behalf! He prays alongside us, and He prays above us. In heaven He prays with words that we could never say, prays with confidence we could never hope to have. He presents to the Father those good things that are missing from our prayers. He prays for our safekeeping against Satan’s temptation, even when we’re foolishly naïve. He prays for our protection against danger, even when we’re headed towards it unaware. Even in those times when we’re unfaithful in prayer, Christ in heaven prays for us.

Christ is bringing all our cares—great and small—constantly before the LORD our God. When we’re anxious about our health, or when we’re worried about money, or when we’re facing a complex problem, or when we despair of our guilt or our purpose, then be comforted in knowing this: the Father’s eyes are already on us. The Father knows what we need even before we ask him—because our Saviour in heaven is busy praying! Beloved, someone in heaven is praying for you.

And may these prayers of Christ move us to be steadfast in prayer. Pray on that open channel, that “free wireless connection”— pray boldly, and pray often, through Jesus Christ. For we can pray in the full assurance of faith: “The Father won’t condemn me, but He’ll hear me.” Because of Christ, we have every reason to lay our lives completely before the LORD our God.

Pray for one another too. Make intercession for your brothers, for your sisters in Christ. Know them, listen to them, understand them, so that your prayers on their behalf can be personal. In the same Spirit of Christ, may we sympathize with one another: caring for those who struggle, helping the weak, being patient and showing love to all, and praying.

And then we carry on with great courage. Because if God is for us, who can be against us? Who can bring a charge against God’s elect? Who can condemn us? Or who shall separate us from the love of Christ? No one can, for He is the crucified, the risen, and the ascended Saviour!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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