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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:The Ascended Christ is Interceding for you
Text:LD 18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Prayer
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-08-02
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 135:1,9,10                                                                            

Ps 68:2,12  [after Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – Romans 8:18-39

Hy 42:1,2,3

Sermon – Lord’s Day 18

Hy 42:4,5,6

Hy 35:1,2,3,4

* 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 Christ, isn’t it better when we can see things? That’s what we prefer, the physical and present, what is here and now and visible. We struggle with abstract ideas, or with truths that can’t be shown physically. For example, you can talk on and on about an abstract idea like “courage” but courage is made so much more real if it’s portrayed with a symbol—perhaps a lion—or if we hear about a great example of courage, like David facing Goliath.

In the past number of Catechism Lord’s Days, we’ve heard much about another idea that is often abstract: love. What is love? But we’ve seen this love powerfully displayed in the life of Christ. His care for sinners was shown very tangibly, for our Saviour became a man, a person of flesh and bone. This is what John says in his first epistle, “That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life” (1:1).

Jesus could not be more real. He was conceived and born, like any person here today. He went through a time of growth, like any child here is growing. And then with his mouth our Saviour spoke words of grace, with hands He healed the sick, with eyes He searched for the lost, and with his body He offered himself up.

His entire life and then his brutal death were impressive displays of love. For He chose to lay down his life for his sheep. Then He arose from the dead—again, many hundreds of people saw him alive again: this was someone who could be touched and spoken to. But shortly thereafter, He ascended into heaven.

You remember that the disciples were troubled about this. You can’t blame them, either. Will the love of Christ be less real, less tangible, more abstract, now that He’s gone away? If He’s in heaven, how could He still care for them—how can He still care for us? This afternoon we see that while Christ is physically gone from this earth, He is in heaven still as man and as God. His person has not changed, and neither has his love. The Catechism says, “He is [in heaven] for our benefit” (Q&A 46). We consider one great benefit because He has ascended into heaven,

 

The ascended Christ is interceding for you:

            1) He is in heaven as man

            2) He is in heaven as God

 

1) He is in heaven as man: It wasn’t a ghost or spirit that rose from the grave on the first day of the week. The resurrection body of Jesus was glorified, yet it was still the body of a man. Of this Jesus assured his disciples: “Look at my hands and feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24:39). He came back to life no less a man than He was before He was killed.

He rose from the dead as a man, and He ascended into heaven as a man. For even as He was leaving his followers from the Mount of Olives, He held out real hands and gave them a real blessing. “Before the eyes of his disciples” the Catechism says, “[He] was taken up from the earth into heaven” (Q&A 46).

So where did this man of flesh and blood go to? There will always be people who  speculate about the location of heaven. Will the latest NASA spacecraft travel near heaven? Will a powerful telescope ever catch a glimpse of it? No, Christ went to heaven, what Scripture calls the dwelling-place of God Almighty.

He went there as a man, which means that He also went there as a priest. Recall from Leviticus how the high priest would annually make atonement for the sins of the people. One day per year, the priest walked through the Holy Place of the temple, came to the curtain, and then, accompanied by a cloud of incense, went through the curtain and into the Most Holy Place, the earthly throne room of God. And here he sprinkled atoning blood before the LORD.

When Christ ascended, the same physical acts were being played out in heaven—but this time with the most potent effect. “For Christ,” we read in Hebrews, “[did not] enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence” (9:24). This was Christ’s destination when He left this earth: the presence of the Lord God himself.

Other high priests had to do this every year, going through the same terrifying ritual as they came into God’s presence—always fearing they’d be struck down. But Jesus did it once, and He did it perfectly. And though He accomplished this one work of atonement, He didn’t retire from the priesthood, but He remains a priest forever. Now in God’s presence, the priestly labours of Christ continue.

For Christ in heaven represents us before God—speaks up for us. This is what the Old Testament priests used to do too, when they prayed for the people. At the temple, they would confess the nation’s sins, they would intercede for the king, they would offer thanksgiving for good crops, they would ask for a blessing in war. Together with all the sacrifices, the priests sent up many prayers, asking God to hear and answer. Today Christ does the same, for “[He] is even at the right hand of God… who also makes intercession for us” (Rom 8:34).

What is intercession? Or what does it mean to intercede? It means to pray on behalf of someone else. Think of when someone we know is in trouble; they are sick or suffering or distressed in some way, and we pray for them. They might well be praying too, but we join our prayers with theirs, and we bring their needs to God in heaven. We make intercession: “Father, please be with Grandma as she gets better. Lord God, please show mercy to that struggling family.” This is our privilege, that we can pray for one another.

Christ is our great intercessor, praying for us. At this moment, Jesus is in the Father’s presence as a continual reminder that He has paid the penalty for sin. Christ is seated beside the Father, and 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 in my name. Remember how I gave my life for them.”

Every time we sin and every time we repent, we can remember that Christ is in heaven, and He is pleading for us. His once-sacrificed body serves as a continuous prayer in the throne-room of God: “Father, forgive them. Father, have mercy.”

And Christ is busy making other requests and petitions on our behalf. Already during his time on earth, Jesus prayed. Just a few examples: before his baptism in the Jordan, 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 during tumultuous times, but constantly Jesus talked with his God. Luke says in 5:16 that “Jesus often withdrew to solitary places and prayed.”

Beloved, for us this is a compelling example. Jesus didn’t just wait for the right occasion to pray. He didn’t wait until He had some free time and a bit of quiet. He was intentional in praying, and regular in praying. Scripture says that He withdrew for prayer, which means that He was making time and space for prayers to his Father. And He did it often. May we all imitate this powerful example of our Saviour!

He prayed on earth, and He prays in heaven. Says Hebrews 7:25, “He lives to intercede for us.” He lives to do this—it’s his purpose and mission! Our ascended Saviour always speaks for us to the Almighty God. Sitting at the right hand of the Father, He’s in the perfect place to speak on our behalf. And remember, at all times the Father sees in Christ the one basis of our salvation. Because of his ultimate sacrifice, there’s no need for further persuasion. When the Son prays, the Father listens. What the Son asks, the Father will do.

As the Catechism summarises, “He is Advocate in heaven before his Father” (Q&A 49). The image of a praying priest is clear, but the Catechism and Scripture also use the image of an advocate or lawyer. Such a person defends someone who is unable to defend himself. This is what Christ does, according to 1 John 2:1, “If anyone sins, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.”

Jesus in heaven makes our cause here on earth his very own. He brings to the Father our troubles and our gratitude, our worries and joys. And He pleads for us with full understanding, yes, because He is in heaven as a man. Christ is a person just like us, and He prays with a deep and knowing sympathy for us.

Maybe you’ve had that blessing before, when someone offers to pray with you. You’ve shared some of your struggles with them, spoken of a few ongoing challenges in your life, and then when the other person prays, you can tell that they’ve really listened to you and understood you. It’s not a superficial prayer, but it gets to the heart of your situation. Because the person has sympathized with you, you know that your needs are being truly brought before the Lord.

This is the way Jesus prays, because when He lived on earth, Christ was a person like we are in every respect “yet without sin.” In other words, Jesus knows the human experience. He knows the trials of walking this earth, and the many delights. He knows about the devil’s temptations, and also the Spirit’s strength. He knows what we face, our deepest regrets, our hardest struggles, our ugliest sins.

During his earthly ministry, He was surrounded by people who were just like us: proud people, weak people, and forgetful people. He met doubters 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 how thankful we should be, but how often we’re not. He knows we struggle to deny ourselves, and He knows we don’t always pray for strength for the daily battle. He understands the human condition, and then He prays for us in our condition! For even now that He’s ascended in heaven, He remains like us.

So He brings all these cares to the Father with a compassionate love. Hebrews 4 says, “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). Isn’t that a rich encouragement, to know that Christ can sympathize?

In love, He asks the Father to have mercy on us, to give courage, to renew our strength. In love, He asks the Father to help us. He prays that the Father would provide us with our daily bread and make our hearts glad in him. He pleads for the Father to have mercy when we are so stubborn in our sin. When we’re anxious and troubled, He asks that we might have the peace that passes all understanding.

Beloved, how we need the prayers of Christ! We need them because our own prayers are so often flawed. Shall we be honest? Our prayers can be badly unfocused, or focused only on ourselves. Our prayers can be incomplete and formalistic. Our prayers can be missing important things that should be there, like gratitude or humility or love for other people.

But Christ prays perfectly on our behalf! He prays alongside us, and He prays above us. In heaven He prays with words we could never say, prays with a confidence we could never hope to have. When we’re anxious about our health, or we’re worried about family, or when we’re facing a complex problem, then know 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!

This makes our position in heaven so secure—so secure that Paul challenges anyone to step forward and accuse us. “Who shall bring a change against God’s elect?” (Rom 8:33). Even though God’s elect are a weak people, and we struggle to remain faithful in prayer or in any other aspect of the Christian life, our position is secure. If we are joined to Christ by faith, then our salvation is not in doubt.

In the next verse, Paul underlines our comfort with another question, “Who is he who condemns?” (Rom 8:34). With Christ advocating with the Father, with Christ interceding daily, and the Lord standing on our side, who can condemn us? Not Satan, not our guilty heart, not anything in the world. If Christ is speaking up for his believers, who can ever say that the Father won’t forgive us? He will forgive us, and He will show mercy, for the sake of Christ his Son—who is in heaven as man, and who is in heaven as God.

 

2) He is in heaven as God: It’s a rich comfort that Christ is in heaven as man. But if Christ was in heaven only as a man, He couldn’t be such a great high priest. For even if He could sympathize with our human condition, even if his heart always went out with love to his people, his work for us would be limited.

What do I mean? If Christ in heaven was only a man and not God, He could never pray for all his people. He wouldn’t be able to assist the prayers sent up throughout his catholic church, by his people as they are spread across the entire globe. If He was only a man, how could He intercede for Christians in Australia and Christians in Argentina and Christians in Algeria, all at the same time? We’d say He wouldn’t have the “bandwidth” to do it all.

And if the ascended Christ was only a man and not God, He also wouldn’t be able to hear the many prayers which are formed only in a person’s mind—when we pray (almost without words) for help or courage or mercy. How could Jesus know what was going on with you or with me in our quiet and hidden moments of thought?

Nor would Christ be able to hear every one of those countless requests in his name, offered up every hour of the day. Even in this country, at any one moment, there might be hundreds of thousands of people praying through Christ. He said that whatever we ask the Father in his name, He would do it—but how could Jesus petition his Father for all us, each with our own pressing concern or confession? And how could He pray for us all the time, especially in those many moments when we don’t pray but should?

This is why it is so reassuring to know that the “[ascended] Christ is true man and God” (Q&A 47). He is God, therefore He isn’t limited in time or energy or ability. He is God, therefore He sees and knows us. For our Saviour is in heaven, but He is also here on earth: “With respect to his divinity, majesty, grace and Spirit He is never absent from us” (Q&A 47). We have said that as man, Christ knows every part of the human condition. Now we can say that as God, Christ knows every human’s condition. With this knowledge, He prays perfectly for all those who belong to him.

And these prayers aren’t just general requests, vague petitions: “Father, be with my church down there on earth.” His thorough knowledge of us and his loving concern drive his requests to be specific: “Father, give to that follower of mine your strength when he faces that sexual temptation. Bless this sister with a knowledge of your will about what she should study. Give courage in these parents to take right action with their difficult son. Grant forgiveness to that church for their sin of division. Give peace to that child’s troubled heart.” Brothers and sisters, Christ in heaven is praying for you.

Christ prays for those Christians enduring persecution in Sudan. And at the very same time, He prays for those Christians tempted by worldliness in this country. Even with a hundred thousand, a million and more Christians praying at once, Christ brings their individual pleas and thanksgivings, their confessions and praise, before the Father.

He even prays to the Father about those things which weren’t included in our prayers, but should’ve been. He prays for our protection against the enemies who are lying in ambush. He prays that already now we’d grow in strength because of a serious trial that He knows is coming up. Knowing us, knowing all things, Christ prays for us.

Scripture teaches us to pray according to the will of God, and that when we do, He will answer us. Well, who knows the will of God better than the Son? As God, Christ perfectly knows the Father’s ways. And so the requests that Jesus makes are always according to God’s wisdom and will. Christ’s prayers for us will certainly be granted.

Beloved, be encouraged by the prayers of our Lord! He knows and understands our deepest needs. He sees through the maze that we’re wandering in. He feels the pain of prayers that go unanswered for a time. And He keeps praying.

And may these prayers of Christ move us to be steadfast in prayer. Pray on that open channel to God—pray boldly, and pray often, in Jesus’ name. For we’re allowed to pray in the full assurance of faith. We know that the Father won’t condemn us, and won’t ever forsake us, but He will certainly hear us. Because of Christ, we have every reason to lay our lives completely before the LORD our God. “Cast your burdens on him, for He cares for you.”

Pray for one another too. Let’s be faithful in making intercession for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Know the people around you, listen to them, understand them, so that your prayers on their behalf can be real and specific and personal. In the same spirit of Christ, may we sympathize with one another: caring for those who struggle, helping the weak, being patient toward all, and praying.

Above all, let’s pray in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is both man and God. Praying in his name isn’t just ending your prayer with the same words, “For Jesus’ sake, Amen.” But pray through Christ by being joined to him by faith! Look to Christ. Rely on him. Trust him.

Beloved, Christ has ascended into the presence of the Father. Unlike the first disciples, we haven’t seen him in the past, nor do we get to see him today, but we must wait for that future day when we will see him as He is, when we will meet him, “face to face.” Until then, we know that Christ is in heaven, and He is in heaven for us.

The love of Christ didn’t reduce one bit when He went to heaven. In fact, by his ascension we get to see more clearly just how much Christ cares for his church. For He is there, filled with love for his church. Christ is there, praying faithfully for each of his sheep—praying for us by name, one by one, day by day—praying, until we get to see him at last.  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 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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