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Author:Rev. George van Popta
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Congregation:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
Text:Acts 7:56 (View)
Occasion:Ascension Day
Topic:Christ's gathering work

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps. 47

Ps. 38:1,8

Hy. 84

Hy. 38

Ps. 68:1,8

Hy. 46

Dan. 7:1-4; Acts 7:51- 8:4

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

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ:

Thursday will be Ascension Day. This morning we will focus on that great display of the total victory of Christ. Christ arose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. All power and authority has been given to him. From that place he governs the church and rules the world. Christ is king.

But, what do we see and experience of the Kingship of Christ? What did Stephen see and experience of it as he was stoned to death? We know that, in many places in the world, God's people are persecuted. We suffer with them. What does the church see of the kingship of Christ when it suffers so terribly?

Is Christ king? Yes, he is. The eye of faith sees that he is king. The mind and heart of the believer know that he is king. Scripture proclaims Christ as king.

This morning I proclaim to you that Christ is our great king.


He can defend us because of:

1. Where He is;

2. Who He is;

3. What He does.

1. Stephen, one of the seven deacons appointed by the apostles, was also a mighty preacher of the Word. Charges were brought against him because of his uncompromising preaching of Jesus Christ. He proclaimed that the time for seeking the LORD God at the temple was finished–that the people were now to seek the LORD God through faith in Jesus Christ. Stephen was charged with speaking against the temple and changing the customs of Moses. He was arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin.

There he had delivered a long speech recounting the history of Israel from Abraham to Jesus Christ. He accused the Jewish leaders of killing the prophets–of killing even Jesus Christ the Righteous One–and of not obeying the law they treasured so dearly.

At this they lost all sense of decorum and moved to kill him. As they ground their teeth at him, Stephen looked up to heaven and saw a vision of Jesus Christ. Heaven was opened for him. He called all to look up and see the vision.

He saw the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven. Beloved, that is where our Lord is now. In heaven, with God the Father. The apostles had seen him go up. Forty days after he arose from the dead, he led them out of the city and, before their very eyes, he ascended into heaven.

He saw heaven open. He was standing in the council chambers of the Sanhedrin. Anyone else looking up would see the ceiling. But Stephen saw beyond the ceiling, beyond the skies. Heaven opened up for him and he saw the Lord Jesus.

We read about heaven opening up another time. When the Lord Jesus was baptized. When the Lord came out of the waters of the Jordan having been baptized by John, heaven opened. From heaven God he Father said: "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." And the Holy Spirit came down from heaven like a dove and alighted on the Lord Jesus.

Now the Lord Jesus is in heaven. Stephen saw him there. Our Lord is with the Father and the Spirit in heaven.

On the one hand it was a matter of the Lord Jesus returning from where he had come. He is the Son of God from eternity. From eternity he was with the Father and the Spirit. He was with the Father and the Holy Spirit until the time had come for him to take upon himself human flesh, to be born a man-child from the virgin Mary. As the Lord said in John 16:28: "I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father."

So, on the one hand it was a matter of the Lord Jesus returning from where he had come. But on the other hand, what Stephen saw was something completely new. For now he was in heaven not only as the eternal Son of God, but also as a true man. As one of us. The Lord Jesus Christ is both true God and true man.

He is in heaven as the Mediator: the one who is both close to God and close to us. The one who has brought God and us back together again. When we sinned in Adam, we brought about a great separation between ourselves and God. Because of our sin there is a great divide between heaven and earth, between the realms of God and of man. The Lord Jesus has bridged that great divide by taking our humanity, our flesh and blood, into heaven.

He is in heaven as the great Victor over sin, over the devil, over death and the grave. As a man he paid the price for the sin of man. On the cross his body was broken and his blood was shed. He endured the wages of our sins. He died.

But because he was a righteous man, death could not hold him. He arose from the dead, and ascended into heaven–as our forerunner. He opened the way for us. Heaven stands open for you. Look! Heaven stands open for you. Look! Jesus Christ has gone to heaven as one of you, leading the way. Look! He is beckoning to you, calling you to himself.

He is our advocate at the right hand of the Father. Stephen saw Jesus at the right hand of God. As we confess every Sunday afternoon, our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty….

The right hand of God is the position of honour, glory, power and authority. This is part of Christ's exaltation. Twice in earlier chapters of Acts we can read about Christ being exalted to the right hand of God. (Acts 5:31) God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour…. (Acts 2:33) Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.

Look, beloved! Your Saviour and Lord is at the right hand of God the Father. The position of all power, of honour and glory. He can defend his people, he can defend you, because of where he is. He can defend his people wherever they are in this world because of where he is. Because he is in heaven.

2. He can defend his people because of Who He is. Stephen said: "Look, I see the Son of man!" He called the Lord Jesus the Son of man.

To understand this name for our Lord, we need to go to Daniel 7. There Daniel saw a vision of fearsome beasts. But he also saw the throne room of haven and the Ancient of Days. Then he saw one like a Son of man. He saw a human being. Besides the terrible beasts, he saw one who look like a man.

The expression "one like a son of man" simply meant, at first, that he looked like a man. Like a human being. There are texts in the OT where the expression "son of man" is obviously parallel to "man." (Num 23:19) God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Another example: At one point Job (Job 25:6) writes about man, who is but a maggot–a son of man, who is only a worm!

In his vision, Daniel saw what looked like a man approach the LORD God, the Ancient of days.

But this man was given great authority. (Dan 7:14) He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

As the Rabbis studied this passage, they understood that this son of man, this human being, who would be seen in the throne room of God and who would be given the authority of the kingdom of God was much more than just a man. They came to understand that person like a son of man was the Christ, the Messiah. The expression "son of man" came to be a synonym for the Messiah.

When Jesus came into the world, he understood that he was this son of man of Daniel's vision. He understood that he was the Messiah. He claimed the name for himself. He added the word "the" to the name. He said that he was "the" Son of man. In his vision Daniel had seen someone approach the throne of God who looked like a son of man. Jesus said: "I am that Son of man (that man) of Daniel's vision."

By calling himself "the Son of man," he was claiming to be the Messiah. He died for this–for confessing that he was the Son of man of Daniel's vision.

In Mark 14, at his trial before the Sanhedrin–the same body before which Stephen appeared–the high priest asked our Lord, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" Jesus answer: "I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."

The high priest asked our Lord if he was the Christ. Jesus said: Yes, I am the Son of Man. He said to the priest that he would fulfill Daniel's vision. For that confession, the high priest convicted Jesus of blasphemy and condemned him to death.

But he rose again and ascended to heaven. The Son of Man is in heaven, with the Ancient of Days, at the right hand of the Father.

Beloved, he can defend us. His church. His people.

He can defend us because of who he is. The Son of Man, the Messiah, the Christ of God. He defends us against our enemy.

He will destroy the beastly powers that rise up against God's people. Daniel saw the enemies of God's people. They were beastly. First a lion, then a bear, then a leopard, then a terrifying and frightening beast. But they were stripped of their authority, slain and destroyed. God will destroy every savage beast that attacks his people. Jesus Christ has all power and authority. He defends and preserves his church.

Our Lord Jesus Christ can defend us because of where he is (in heaven); because of who he is (the Son of Man).

3. Because of What he does.

Stephen saw our Lord standing. Look! said he, I see him standing at the right hand of God.

That is noteworthy since the other references to Christ being at the right hand of God speak of him being seated. Often we read things like:

  • (Heb 12:2) Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
  • (Heb 10:12) But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.
  • (Heb 1:3) After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

Stephen saw him standing. Christ arose. He rose like a lion. Like the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Arose to defend his faithful servant Stephen.

The esteemed scholars of the Sanhedrin had turned into wild beasts. They gnashed their teeth at Stephen. When he told them to look and see the Lord Jesus Christ, they plugged their ears and yelled to drown him out.

They were so angry with him because he was saying the same as Jesus of Nazareth had said. He was proclaiming Jesus to be the Son of Man, the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One. They raged against him like they raged against the Lord Jesus. But Christ stood up for Stephen, to defend him.

Perhaps you are thinking that it does not really seem like the Lord Jesus defended Stephen. After all, the councillors dragged him outside the city gates and stoned him to death.

We must see this with the eye of faith. While the councillors were stoning him, Stephen prayed to the one standing for him in heaven, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Stephen won the victory. He was the first Christian martyr. In life and death he was victorious. In his testimony; in his confession–he was victorious. Christ Jesus was his only comfort in life and in death. He died but he was gathered up into the arms of the one who had arisen for him.

His blood was like seed–seed for the church. A great persecution broke out that day against the church in Jerusalem. The Christians were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria with the result that the gospel of Jesus Christ was spread throughout Judea and Samaria.

One of the witnesses of the Stephen's stoning was a man named Saul. He was a student of one of the Sanhedrin members, a scholar name Gamaliel. This witness, who at first was a vicious persecutor, later became the church's greatest missionary and preacher. We know him better as the Apostle Paul.

Beloved, Christ is in heaven. Look! He is in heaven at ht right hand of God. There is much persecution in the world. Even many martyrs who die because of their Christian confession. Does Christ not see that? Does he not rise up for his suffering church?

Yes, he does. He arises and accepts their spirits into heaven, into his arms. He defends and preserves his people. And through suffering, he increases his church.

Today many are killed for making the good confession. We too need to be ready for the day we may be jailed and killed for making the good confession. For saying, "Look! The Lord Jesus Christ!" The tide of the world is slowly turning against us in our genteel Canadian society. Laws past by Parliaments, decisions rendered by the courts, seem slowly and steadily to push the faithful church of Christ into a tighter and smaller spot. We need to make ready for that.

But rest assured: Christ stands for his people. The day is coming when Christ will arise once more. On that day he will return again. His time in heaven is finite. Once more will he arise like a lion. The Lion of the tribe of Judah will come again. He will appear on the clouds of heaven.

He will come in judgment. With vengeance against all who persecuted the church. Vengeance against the Sanhedrin that killed Stephen. Vengeance against those who, today, jail and kill faithful, confessing children of God.

On that day he will come for our salvation. He can because of where he has gone; because of who He is; because of what he does.

Look! The Son of Man standing for you at the right hand of God! Look! Watch! And be ready for his coming again. AMEN

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2014, Rev. George van Popta

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