I believe in Jesus Christ who ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father

This article of the Creed has power to intrigue the mind, warm the heart and to expand our vision of God and of humanity.

It can be a confusing truth. I will not forget my first visit to the Chapel of the Ascension in Walsingham where Our Lord’s feet are stuck in the ceiling with his toe nails visible on the soles of his feet!

To see humanity raised into God - no art can capture this wonder! Nor can our words. Here is one attempt by St Gregory of Nyssa: How can you admire the heavens, my son, when you see that you are more permanent than they? For the heavens pass away, but you will abide for all eternity with him who is forever.  In these words the Saint speaks of the implications for believers of Christ’s ascension. Through the centuries people have dwelled upon this doctrine as a means of polishing up their vision of God and humanity into fuller magnificence.

Jesus is Lord – three words sum up the Apostles Creed.

Jesus is Lord.  The carpenter born in Nazareth who shows the world the love, truth and power of God – he is Lord. It is his name that brings heaven to earth and earth to heaven.

Secondly Jesus is Lord.  A human life of 33 years lived at the start of our era continues the same yesterday, today and for ever through the power of an indestructible life (Hebrews 7v16b).

Thirdly Jesus is Lord which means he is right above all that is or has been or will be.  Jesus is God’s final word to humankind. He is also to be the very last word over all each one of us.
This is what it means to believe in Jesus ascended and seated at the right hand of the Father.

In Jesus a human being lives over all things in God.  Nothing gives us more hope for the human race than the ascension of Jesus. Here is the place heaven and earth come together.  As Pascal said Jesus Christ is the centre of all, and the goal to which all tends. The angels are said to tremble before the glorified humanity of Jesus Christ truly God and truly human.

In St. Luke’s account of the ascension Jesus is taken out of sight at the conclusion of forty days of appearances to his disciples after his resurrection. The event recorded has echoes of the Old Testament ascension of Elijah and the descent of his mantle upon Elisha. Here though it is the mantle of the Holy Spirit that eventually falls down upon Jesus’ disciples.

There is a joyful, great and ultimate achievement feel about the ascension but it is clothed in an ancient symbolism that needs unpacking.  When the creed speaks of Jesus taking his seat at God’s right hand it speaks of mission accomplished by the Son of God with a picture in words of a reality beyond human imagining.  That this particular aspect of Christian reality stretches our thinking to breaking point comes out in an amusing observation by the late Pentecostal leader David du Plessis. He was asked how it was that, though Christ is said to be seated with God in the creed, St Stephen saw him actually standing up as he died (Acts  7v56). Simple, the Evangelist, replied. Jesus stood up from his throne to honour his first martyr!

Why the ascension and seating with God?  How else, God replies through scripture, could I be with everyone in every age to bring them my comfort and challenge?  Before he ascended Christ the Lord promised that the helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name … who will teach you all things (John 14v25-26a).  God brings his love to one point and time in Jesus so that he can reach out to every point and time, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2v11).            

The Christian creed centres around the universal significance of particular events in particular places associated with Jesus Christ. This is the so-called scandal of the particular which has vexed Christian philosophers through the ages. The New Testament itself describes the Christ event as foolishness in the eyes of the world (1 Corinthians 1v23b) i.e. as part of a divine wisdom that confounds our intelligence. In contemporary understanding there is greater humility about the universal implications of particular events. Historians relate how the Battle of Waterloo impacted European history as a whole. Meteorologists speak of the apocryphal butterfly over Peking triggering a rainstorm in New York. So it is that we can see the completion of Christ’s unique work on Ascension Day as brimming with universal implications, which are evident as people receive the Holy Spirit to this day in every age and place.

God has visited this world in Jesus. He has come to live among us.  More than that, the Son of God gave himself in sacrifice. Jesus was raised to reveal all of this. He ascended to raise our humanity to the very heights.

Speaking of this dignifying of human nature St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain writes: Man is the macrocosm and the whole universe is but the microcosm. In the glorious ascension of Jesus Christ human nature is raised up to God. We humans are made the macrocosm. The towering greatness of the universe is shrunk before our greatness as but a microcosm, a small thing indeed.

What a truth! What a motivator for seeking justice upon the earth - that this due dignity be rendered to every human being! If the ascension is truth, it is truth to set people alight if ever there were truth at all!

For a 2min audio clip summary of this article: https://soundcloud.com/john-twisleton/ascension


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