Ascension Day Sermon on Romans 8:34
Text: Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
The early Christian church celebrated three major festivals during the year. These were three events in Christ’s life that the church wanted to emphasize. I am sure that you would be able to quickly guess what two of the three would be. They were Christmas and Easter. In the modern church, these two festivals still are celebrated. Many people will try to make sure that they are there on those two dates. The significance of these dates is not lost on the secular world. Though they might not have the slightest clue about what these two festivals are about, you will find most people observing them in one way or another. However, the third of the great festivals is not as widely observed. That festival is the Festival of the Ascension. If you were to go to the Hallmark store, you wouldn’t find any cards to send to wish someone a blessed Ascension Day observance. There are no Ascension Day sales. However, the Festival of the Ascension is one that is worthy of our attention, because it marks a great event in the
world’s history. It is the day that Jesus returned to heaven and, as we confess in the words of the Apostles Creed, he is SEATED AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD THE FATHER.
In this portion of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, Paul had been addressing the situation that all Christians find themselves in at one time or another. They face difficulties because they live in a world that has been corrupted by sin. These troubles may seem overwhelming. However, Paul assures his readers by saying, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:21) No matter what we might face, they are not worth even comparing in the same breath with what we will receive when we get to heaven. Paul reminds us that, ultimately, everything is for our benefit. He writes these familiar words, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) We have this assurance that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)
In our text for this evening, we have an example of something, or rather, someone who would like to separate us from the love of God. He asks, “Who then is the one who condemns?” The individual that is spoken of here is a prosecutor who doesn’t want to wait for the judge to render his decision. He wants to get on to the penalty phase of the trial. Who is spoken of here? We turn to the book of Revelation and read about, “the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night.” (Revelation 12:10) In the context of the chapter it is very clear that the one who would prosecute us, the one who would like to be both judge and jury is the devil.
The charges that he would try to bring before our God are all of the sins that you and I have ever committed. How long do you think it would take to have all the charges that could be brought against you read? If we started on the day that you were born and continued to have them all listed up to the present day, how many would there be? We go back to the days of our youth and think about all the times that we disobeyed and disrespected our parents and our teachers. Carry it through to all of the times that we took things that did not belong to us, even though they were just little things. As husbands or wives, we think about the times that we have not treated them with love and respect. As parents, we have been lazy and selfish. Again, the list of charges would be seemingly endless. It would appear to be an open and shut case against us.
Yet, how is the question, “Who then is the one who condemns” answered? “No one.” How can that be? How can it be that we are not condemned by these things? Why is the devil unable to accuse us of sin any longer? The reason, Paul says, is found in Jesus Christ. In the rest of our verse, Paul gives four actions of Christ that completely disarm any attacks against us. Satan cannot deny that they took place or even now are taking place.
First of all, Paul points out, “Christ Jesus who died.” To catch the significance of that statement, we need to add the thought, ‘Christ Jesus who lived.’ You might think, ‘Well, of course, he lived. You have to live before you die.’ What the focal point of that statement is more that just that Jesus existed. It highlights the fact that Jesus lived a perfect life. Remember that laundry list of sins that we talked about earlier? Where you and I have failed to do what God wants, Jesus did. Jesus lived a perfect life for you and for me. This was necessary for the part that says “Christ Jesus who died.” God demands that blood be shed to pay for sin. It says so clearly in Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.” Rather than exacting the payment from us, the Father punished his Son in our place. Our debt of sin has been completely paid for. John writes this so clearly in his First Epistle, “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) This is the first fact that the accuser must acknowledge.
Going on, Paul writes, “more than that, who was raised to life.” Paul doesn’t leave us at the cross, but he takes us to the tomb and reminds us that it is empty. This is what we celebrated 40 days ago. If Jesus died and remained in the grave, it would show that God did not accept his payment for our sins. You and I would have been lost forever. Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” However, a few verses later, he writes, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20) The fact that Jesus has risen from the dead assures us, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our sins have been paid for. This is another fact that the one who would accuse us cannot deny.
This brings us to the third fact that is entered as evidence, “Christ Jesus . . . is at the right hand of God.” This is the position that Jesus took up when he ascended into heaven. This is part of the reason we celebrate this day. Jesus is, again, at his rightful place in heaven. The fact that he has returned to heaven assures us that he did everything necessary for our salvation. If there was still more for him to do, he would still be here. However, because he has done everything for our salvation, he has returned to heaven and has taken his rightful place at the right hand of God. Before we go any further, we should take a moment and clarify what we mean when we say that Jesus is seated at his Father’s right hand. First of all, it does not mean that Jesus is literally sitting on a throne directly to his Father’s right. Rather, it is a position of great honor and power. This term goes back to the ancient times. Then, if you were sitting at the right hand of someone, usually a king, it meant that you were someone who spoke on behalf of and with the authority of a king. This would be the position that Joseph occupied in the land of Egypt. When Joseph spoke, it was to be obeyed as if Pharaoh himself had commanded it. Jesus’ being seated at the right hand of his Father shows the power that is his as he has returned to heaven.
This fact gives us great confidence as we face the struggles of each day. We know that our loving Savior is in control of all things and will always make everything work out for our benefit. Paul writes in Ephesians 1:22, “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.” The accuser wants to point to the troubles and difficulties that you face every day as evidence that God doesn’t love you. He wants to make us wonder if God has really forgiven all of our sins. The undeniable fact that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father assures us that he loves us and is always there for us.
The final fact that the accuser cannot deny is found in the words, “Christ Jesus . . . is also interceding for us.” This phrase gives us great comfort. The fact remains that, though we are redeemed children of God, we continue to sin every day. It only takes a little self-examination to see this fact. When we get to the end of the day and think of all that we have done that day that was not in line with what God would have us do, it is so easy to hear the one who would condemn us speaking so loudly. Yet, we find this great comfort in the fact that Jesus is interceding for us. He comes to the Father on our behalf. Every single time that the devil would try to bring up our sins in the hope of having us condemned, Jesus speaks on our behalf and points to his life, death, and resurrection. It is because of this saving work of Jesus that we know that our sins are forgiven. John reminds us in his First Epistle, “If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1&2) This is why his intercession is so effective. Jesus didn’t just redeem a few, so that we would always have to wonder if we were part of that select group. Jesus paid for the sins of all of the people of all time. He continues to speak to the Father on our behalf.
So, let Satan accuse and condemn us all he wants. What he says means nothing. The reason for this is the undeniable facts, which are summarized in this sentence, “Christ Jesus who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” This is the reason that we celebrate Ascension Day. It is not some sort of a retirement party for Jesus. We celebrate today because we know that, since he has returned to heaven, he has completed everything necessary for our salvation. We praise our God that Jesus is in heaven, controlling everything for our benefit and for the spread of the gospel message. We rest in the assurance that Jesus continues to intercede for us every day. There is one further reason that we celebrate this day. We know that Jesus is in heaven getting our room in his Father’s house ready. He has promised that he will come back at the end of time and take us to be with him. Christ’s ascension, and subsequent being seated at his Father’s right hand, gives us hope and comfort and joy. Amen.
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