Does the Bible Teach Us How to Pray?
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Does the Bible Teach Us How to Pray?
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The King Is Crowned: 10 Ways Jesus's Ascension Matters

Photo of Rondi Lauterbach
Rondi Lauterbach

Rondi Lauterbach is a pastor’s wife who has been a friend and encourager to women in their life’s callings. She is a mother, grandmother, Bible study leader, Pilates teacher, and fierce competitor at all board games. Her first book, Hungry: Learning to Feed Your Soul with Christ, was published in 2016 by P&R Publishing.

Why Did Jesus Say "Don't Cling To Me?"

I remember the day my husband and I loaded the car and drove our children to summer camp. We stayed long enough to carry suitcases into their rooms and meet their counselors. I lingered, offering to help them unpack and put sheets on their bed, but my husband caught my eye and mouthed the words, “It’s time.”

The desire to cling to someone we love is so natural. But the time finally comes when we have to let them go so they can fulfill their purpose.

Mary Magdalene was among the group of women who followed Jesus during his earthly ministry. Luke tells us that each of these women, whether privileged like Joanna who lived in Herod’s palace or tormented by evil spirits like Mary Magdalene, had been healed by Jesus from both physical and spiritual ailments (Luke 8:1–3). Her sense of need must have run deep. Fears would have chased her as evil spirits oppressed her. We can only imagine how long this had been going on before she finally met Jesus of Nazareth.

Mary was also among the women who went to Jesus’s tomb on Easter morning. Luke tells us that she went with two other women at dawn (Luke 24:10), intending to bring more spices for his decaying body. But finding the tomb empty, all three ran home to tell the others.

Peter and John responded quickly to their report, racing to the tomb to see for themselves. Having verified the women’s story, they returned home. But Mary stayed.

She couldn’t believe that the one who had healed her was gone. She had watched him suffer, heard him struggle to speak, seen him breathe his last. Now the tomb was empty. He wasn’t there. Nothing was left for her to do.

Would she ever hear his voice again?

Mary stood, weeping. Blinded by tears, she heard someone speak. A man’s voice asked, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking (John 20:15)?” It was the same question the angels had asked her when she peered into the tomb. Mary didn’t waste time explaining herself, instead, she demanded the stranger show her where he’d put the body. She was determined to find it so she could care for him, even if that meant carrying him home herself.

Then she heard one word spoken in that most familiar voice, “Mary.” Instantly Mary turned and cried in recognition, “Rabboni!” She flung her arms around him and held him tight.

Instead of receiving and returning her embrace, though, Jesus said, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (John 20:17).

Jesus’s words were a puzzle to me for a long time.Why would he push Mary away in her moment of joyful recognition? According to his own words, it seems he has some unfinished business: “I have not yet ascended to the Father” is how Jesus tells Mary—and us—that his ascension is absolutely necessary for his redeeming purposes to be brought to completion.

If Jesus had not ascended, I would not be saved. His ascension is the exclamation mark at the end of his earthly ministry, the last heavenly act that completes his saving work. Why? Because Jesus had to ascend and present his perfect sacrifice on the true altar, the heavenly one of which all earthly ones are mere copies.

The book of Hebrews supplies the explanation for his ascension:

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” (Heb. 9:11–12)

God established in the Old Testament a foreshadowing of Jesus’s work. The high priest offered the prescribed sacrifices on the day of atonement. Then, when the sacrifices were complete, he presented the blood of the sacrifice to God in the Most Holy Place. There were two stages—sacrifice and presentation. There was the moment of sacrifice, then there was one more step—presenting the blood of the sacrifice before God in the holy of holies. Jesus fulfilled the first step in his death, and he fulfilled the second step by ascending to present himself, the Lamb of God, in the presence of God for us. In his ascension, our redemption was secured. We can rest! The Old Testament pattern has been completed by the true Lamb and the true Priest.

Why Did Jesus Sit Down?

“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” –Hebrews 10:12

When we were raising our three children, I rarely sat down. Sometimes I would plan to take a break thinking, as soon as I start another load of clothes, let the dog out, and pull some meat out of the freezer, I’ll sit down and enjoy my coffee. But sure enough, the washing machine quit working mid load, the dog had already relieved himself on the carpet, and there was no meat left because, apparently, I had neglected to get to the store the day before. I couldn’t rest, not yet. Not until my work was finished. And I didn’t dare sit down, because I would probably fall fast asleep in an awkward position and wake up with a sore neck.

The author of Hebrews draws a similar contrast between standing to work and sitting to rest. He takes us back to the Mosaic covenant when God established a covenant relationship with his people through a system of sacrifices. In his mercy God chose to accept the sacrifice of an animal to atone for the sins of his people. It was the priests who kept track of the various types of sacrifice, when they had to be made, and how they should be done. If we were to observe the priests at work, we would soon realize the unceasing nature of their labors. And if we were to look around for a chair where they could sit and rest for a moment, we wouldn’t find one.

The author of Hebrews paints the scene for us, “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Heb. 10:11). No wonder it took so many people—the entire tribe of Levi—to perform the unending tasks surrounding the sacrificial system. Sins were stacking up by the minute. The smoke from yesterday’s sacrifices still hung in the air while today’s altar was being prepared. Their work was never finished. Why?

The Sacrifice We Need

By God’s design, there were two shortcomings to the Old Testament system he had instituted. The first involved the type of sacrifice offered. Though God provided animal sacrifice as the means he would accept for human sin under the old covenant, it was obvious to those watching that an animal can’t really take the place of a human being. The clear distinction between the animals God created and the crown of his creation, Adam and Eve, is laid out in Genesis. Though both animals and humans were created on the sixth day, it was the first human couple alone who were not only declared to be “made in God’s image,” but appropriately celebrated in the first biblical poem,

So God created man in his own image, In the image of God he created him; Male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

The Levitical system of animal sacrifice was God’s provision of a temporary substitute for the once for all sacrifice he himself would provide.

The second shortcoming is the unfinished nature of the Old Testament sacrificial system. The ongoing need for sacrifice under the old covenant is emphasized in Hebrews 10:11, depicting every priest standing “daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices.” Notice the exhausting repetition. How many priests? Every priest. What is their task? To stand daily to serve. What is the nature of their service? To offer repeatedly the same sacrifices. Why are these repetitive sacrifices needed? Because animals who haven’t sinned, cannot take away the guilt of humans who have. The priests could not sit down because their work was never finished.

“But,” the writer of Hebrews continues, getting us ready for the big reveal, “when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb.10:12). Notice the contrast between the animal sacrifices and the sacrifice of Christ. First, his sacrifice was one, not the first of many. Jesus only offered himself once. His sacrifice did not need to be repeated regularly, like a booster shot after a vaccine. And it had no expiration date.

Second, Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, though offered long ago on Calvary when he hung from the cross, resulted in a cosmic fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation, which began in Genesis 3:15 and which reverberates throughout history. Its effect reached back to saints under the old covenant who put their faith in God’s promise and forward to embrace generations yet unborn. Each person, who places his or her trust in God’s provision of this “once for all” sacrifice that Jesus made, can be sure that it is finished for them, too.

Sitting in Victory

Only when his work was finished did Jesus sit down. He didn’t collapse like a tired mother who ran out of steam taking care of her family’s needs. No, he sat down because he had finished the work God sent him to do. In the words of Puritan author Thomas Goodwin, Jesus had “pleased God for ever; and thereupon took up his highest place in court. This setting him at God’s right hand, is a token of special and highest favor.”

This picture of Jesus sitting in triumph at the right hand of his Father is meant to strengthen his people today. We need his triumph to fill us with confidence, so we can stand against the accusations of the devil. We need the voice of his Spirit to quiet the demands of our inner perfectionist. And we need a snapshot of his royal reign to carry with us into our neighborhoods and workplace, so we can represent the ascended King on the streets of our world.

Not only that, but we also need his triumph so we can rest. Why? Because in joyful finality, Jesus has sat down, “and we who have believed enter that rest” (Heb. 4:3). And because of his victory, not just Christ but we also are able to rest, to be, to breathe, to quiet ourselves and lay our head on his chest. May you draw near to the heart beat of your ascended Savior. Rest today in his settled love for you.


Footnotes

  • Christ Set Forth, Thomas Goodwin, Christian Focus Publications, 2011, p. 100.

The Best Gift of All: Sending the Spirit

When our kids were little, we kept trying to come up with a plan to slow down the mad dash of gift opening on Christmas morning. “Wait, wait!!” I shouted, “Who gave you that? What is it? Pause a second while I write it down!” They groaned and rolled their eyes.

They knew where we were going with this. Tomorrow morning they would have to start writing ‘thank you’ notes to each person who had given them a present. It was the small price they had to pay for all the loot that lay under the tree.

Jesus’s ascension makes Christmas morning look like baubles from the discount store. There was booty that came from his conquest, the spoils of his great war against the evil one. Paul explains by quoting Psalm 68:18, but changing the phrase “receiving gifts from men” to “he gave gifts to men” to make his point:“But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men’” (Eph. 4:7–8).

Most conquerors keep the spoils of war for themselves. Jesus gave them away.

The Grace that Came From Jesus’s Ascension

What is “the measure of Christ’s gift” that Paul refers to? First, he tells us about gifted leaders. Our pastors. Those who teach us. Those who administer the big picture as well as the details. Those who lead and protect the local congregation. Each one is a gift from our ascended Lord, servants given to care for his people while he is away. We tend to think of spiritual gifts as personal. This is my gift to be used by me to serve Christ. But these gifts are given to the church. And I am placed in the church. They are given for us, not just for me.

But like children, when we read these verses, each of us gets excited to tear into the wrapping paper and see what gift Jesus has given to you and me personally! We start browsing the lists of spiritual gifts in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4. We take spiritual gift inventories to discover which ones are ours. Figuring out our gift sounds like it could help us solve our deepest questions, like,who am I? And what should I be doing with my life?

But Peter, in his brief list (1 Pet. 4:11), doesn’t go there. Our identity is already established, Peter tells us. We are God’s elect (1 Pet.1:1–2), chosen and saved by the work of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We have been born again to a living hope through Christ’s resurrection (1 Pet. 1:3). And we “through him are believers in God (1 Pet.1:21). No, Peter’s purpose in telling us about our spiritual gifts is twofold. First, he wants us to see them as useful tools to serve our church: “As each of us has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace (1 Pet. 4:10). Second, since the variety of gifts is God’s idea, we don’t need to compare our gifts. He tells us to simply begin using them. There’s no better way to take our eyes off ourselves than to start serving others. Peter’s counsel is very practical. Don’t wonder if you have a gift; the fact is, you do. Now simply start to serve in ways that make sense and you will discover your gifts along the way.

Gifts Are Great But … Who is the Giver?

What children tend to forget is this: behind every gift, there is a giver. That’s why we write ‘thank you’ notes. When we were children, the gifts under the tree seemed to appear by magic. We were completely unaware of the work involved—shopping, comparing prices, reading labels, and making decisions. Every gift represented thought, effort, and love. That’s because every gift has a giver. No matter the cost of the gift, the person who gives it is greater.

Who is the giver behind our spiritual gifts? It is none other than God himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father promised, the Son sent, and the Spirit came. God the Spirit is the gift behind all the other gifts. He was given to God’s people ten days after Jesus ascended. Like children, they had to wait. And the gift was greater than they could have imagined.

Why do I say that? Because God sent himself. Twice. First he sent the Son. Then the Father and the Son sent the Spirit. It is one thing to give a gift. It’s another thing altogether to give yourself. The Son laid down his life for us. The Spirit came to stay with us. Why? Because that was God’s intention all the time. First, to be God with us, Emmanuel. Then to be God in us.

The Giver is the Gift

My husband remembers the greatest gift he ever received at Christmas. It was not the guitar. It was not the new set of golf clubs. It was his brother. His brother had spent a year in Vietnam. Three hundred sixty-five days counted down on the family calendar. Fifty-two weeks full of family anxiety. After he returned, he moved to another part of the country. But he made sure he came home for his first Christmas back from war. He was the gift.

God has given us himself. He is the gift—the greatest gift he could give and we could receive. His lavish generosity changes us forever. When Paul wants to encourage his readers to be generous givers, he only needs to turn to the generosity of the Father who gave the Son, the Son who gave his life, and the Father and Son who gave the Spirit. He loves the cheerful giver because he himself is the willing one who gave and gave and gave.

His giving changes us. He makes us generous without it being forced. He fills us with his Spirit so we can pass it on. And so we respond: “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15).

Nearer Than Our Own Skin. The Indwelling Spirit.

When I was a child, I looked at a tapestry hanging above the church altar six days a week. Monday through Friday, I filed into the chapel with my class for morning prayer. On Sunday, I sat with my parents, squirming, daydreaming, and studying the enigmatic face looking down at me.

I couldn’t tell if Jesus was happy with me or shrugging his shoulders as if to say, what am I going to do with you, young lady? I hoped I wouldn’t be a disappointment to him, since, after all, he had gone to so much trouble for me on the cross.

Years later, as I began studying Jesus’s ascension, I realized the tapestry under which I had spent my childhood actually captured Jesus in the act of blessing his people. His church. His child. Me.

His first and greatest ascension blessing would be to send his people the Holy Spirit, guaranteeing that our God will be not just with us, but in us. Forever. That’s the reason Jesus reassured Mary Magdalene that she didn’t need to cling to him. And that’s the message he gave to his disciples in the upper room just a few days before his crucifixion:“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18).

On that occasion, Jesus prepared his disciples for his departure by telling them about the Holy Spirit, who would take up residence in each one of his people. By his Spirit, he would stay near to his people. And by his Spirit, he would bless his church throughout the world in all generations.

Blessed by the Holy Spirit

What blessings do we receive through the gift of the Holy Spirit? Here are three that have multiplied applications for our lives.

First, New Testament believers now experience a closer presence with our God through the living presence of his Holy Spirit within us. This means God is so near to me that he is closer than my own skin, not like some sort of invisible, make-believe playmate from my childhood, but as the one who knows me best and loves me most. Believing this truth helps me realize:

  • I am never alone. Even though I may feel lonely, I have instant access through the Spirit to my Father’s ear and my Savior’s heart, “for he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5).
  • I am not an orphan who has to fend for herself without help from anyone else, because Jesus has promised never to leave me, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18).
  • I have not been abandoned like a woman whose husband has left her without money or resources to take care of herself. In fact, Jesus himself is preparing a place for his church right now because he wants us to be with him forever—“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3).

Second, New Testament believers have been given a clearer understanding of Scripture through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit helps us understand God’s word, both personally and when it is faithfully preached. Learning to study the Scriptures has been the journey of a lifetime for me, but the dividends have multiplied over time. I started by taking notes on the pastor’s sermon, then writing one verse down to take with me during the week, asking for the Holy Spirit’s help in understanding and applying it. Why? Because he is “the Spirit of truth” who lives in his people and wants to make the truth about Jesus’s work both clear to us as believers and visible in our lives:When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13). Believing in this work of the Holy Spirit helps me realize:

  • I can trust God’s word because the Holy Spirit made sure it was an accurate record of God’s revelation (2 Pet. 1:21).
  • I can grow in understanding God’s word through gifted pastors, teachers, and leaders whom the Holy Spirit has called (Eph. 4:11–14).
  • I can grow in following and obeying Christ as the Holy Spirit produces the fruit of Christlike character in me (Gal. 5:22–23).

Third, New Testament believers have been given a living bond with Christ and each other. It is the Holy Spirit who unites us to our ascended Savior and binds us to each other in a living expression of Christ’s body. We aren’t orphans without a proper Father. Neither are we solitary, without Christ our brother or our local brothers and sisters. We’re family, with all the benefits of belonging, not to mention the challenges of getting along. But that, too, is the Holy Spirit’s work, sanctifying us as we learn to live in community.

Believing this truth helps me remember:

  • I am not just “me.” I am “we,” a member of Christ’s body locally, where I can serve and grow.
  • I am gifted by the Holy Spirit to serve those around me, which gives me joy as well as purpose, as I discover and develop those gifts.
  • As a member of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, I watch and pray for his kingdom to come while continuing to walk in the good works he puts before me (Eph. 2:10).

The Holy Spirit is the first and best gift Jesus could have given to his people. All the other gifts and graces come through the Spirit’s generous work. This is truth to rejoice in! It is doctrine to stand on. He is the power we need. The Spirit is at work in us today, literally producing this great mystery,“which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).

The King We Need.

Where did Jesus go that day after his disciples lost sight of him, when he ascended into the clouds? His Father took him up to heaven, to the highest throne, and immediately seated him in the place of honor: “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’” (Ps. 110:1).

Descent and ascent are the bookends of Jesus’ saving work on earth. Descent marked the beginning, when he stepped down into the tiny darkness of Mary’s womb to enter humanity. He descended, not just from the glory and power of heaven, but to the utter helplessness of an infant who couldn’t even bring his hand to his mouth. He continued to descend by becoming a servant to all who came to him for help, until he finally descended into death and was laid in a tomb.

Having finished the work he came to do; Jesus began his return trip to heaven. His ascent began with his resurrection and continued forty days later as he rose from the earth into the clouds. This moment marked not only the end of his earthly ministry, but the beginning of his heavenly service on our behalf.

Jesus’s disciples didn’t see his whole journey because God had shielded their eyes from a glory they weren’t ready to behold. But they knew about the throne. The Scriptures had told them about the highest throne of all. John Calvin, in an Ascension Day sermon, preached about it this way, “But although our Lord had complete power from eternity, we do not say that he took his seat at God’s right hand until we first say that he ascended into heaven. He thus had universal supremacy after his ascension”.

Ultimate power is a scary tool in the wrong hands. While the nations rage, it’s hard for us to imagine that kind of ultimate power used for good. But Jesus ascended to a throne that is not only high, but holy. The LORD himself declared it so, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill” (Ps. 2:6).

A Throne of Judgment

I’ve watched a lot of crime dramas. The judge’s bench is a high, protected position. Lawyers must ask permission to approach the bench. The accused person may not even do that. The judge has a formidable presence over the courtroom, robed and gaveled, conducting the affairs of the court with formality and precision. He or she is not there to chat, but to make rulings.

But what about our seated judge in heaven? “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3b). The one who sits is marked by scars on his hands, feet, and side. This man has suffered. These aren’t merely the marks made by his crucifixion, these are the very wounds by which he paid for our sins. Jesus has taken the evidence of his saving work up to the Heavenly Supreme Court. When our conscience troubles us, bringing our many sins before the throne of God, Jesus is our legal defense, presenting the full payment for our crimes through his glorified wounds.

The punishment we deserve has already been borne by another. Those who have believed in his work are given mercy beyond belief. Not just a stay of execution, but life in its fullness forever. The throne of judgment has been transformed into a throne of grace.

The Throne of Grace

Because we know we’re guilty, we don’t dare come before God to plead our own case. But once we are pronounced “not guilty” because of the redeeming blood of Christ, we can come freely to our Father with every need. That’s why the author of Hebrews invites us to this throne: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

We need these words to encourage us because our mind is filled with reasons why we can’t come to God when we need him. Take temptation, for example. We each tend to be tempted in a specific area that corresponds to our personal weakness or sinful patterns. But because we’ve been a Christian for two or 20 or 60 years, we think we shouldn’t be so tempt able. The very feeling of being tempted tempts us to quit!

You and I have all experienced it. We yell at our kids, again. We resist cravings, then eventually give in to them again. We hate our weakness enough to throw away the items that tempt us, making renewed vows to change, but, often, we know it won’t last. The sin-repentance-sin again cycle can start to feel like an endless feedback loop. How can we face our Lord now?

When we remember he sits on the throne of grace, we are to come before Jesus with confidence, not shame. Our Savior already knows where we are in that sin cycle. He’s already paid its price. And he’s already rising from his throne to pray for us.

A Throne of Joy

Jesus’ glorious throne is also a throne of joy. In Psalm 45:6–7, David paints this picture of the Lord as a joyful monarch:

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

Our ascended Savior is not just glorious in power, he is filled with joy as he saves people from every tribe and tongue and nation. There is a joyful King occupying the highest throne today. The writer of Hebrews tells us his name is Jesus, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2). Can you imagine this throne of glory to be the holy place of highest joy? Jubilant celebration?

In joyful finality, Jesus has sat down. His work of redemption is finished now that he has presented his atoning work in heaven. No longer fighting the world, the flesh, and the devil, he rests. But what about us? Will we ever get the chance to rest?

Yes. This throne and this joy are the overflow of our Ascended King. It is here that we find our rest in him.


Footnotes

  • John Calvin, Crucified and Risen, “A Sermon on the Ascension,”Banner of Truth Trust, 2020, p. 163.

The Conqueror Who Sends Gifts from Heaven.

“Therefore, it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.’”Ephesians 4:8

Human history is a saga of conflict between nations, peoples, and individuals. I remember my uncle’s story of being wounded at the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. His feet froze in the deep winter snow. But he returned, limping up the sidewalk to the school where his mother taught. She was called to the office door. That’s when she saw him. Her son had not just survived but conquered. He was the gift to his mother that day.

Jesus is the ultimate Conqueror. He came down from heaven to stand against our enemies, not just the enemies of sin and death, but the very power of the devil himself. Satan was not able to disqualify Jesus by tempting him, nor did he have the power to turn him from the cross. Instead, Jesus set his face like a flint (Is. 50:7). He had come to engage the enemies of Adam’s fallen race, and he fought to the death.

Jesus’ goal, the reason he laid down his life, was not to dominate us but to free us. He is the conqueror who sets us free, the champion who overcomes our oppressors. And having triumphed, he is the victor who lavishes his people with the spoils of his victory.

Let’s look at Jesus’s defeat of our enemies and what that means for you and me.

Our Conqueror’s Power

The Jesus who ascended to the right hand of God is clothed in power today. He is seated on the throne of heaven in triumph. Yet incredibly, his conquest began not with power, but in his moment of greatest weakness when, seemingly helpless, he was nailed to a cross. Though he could have asked his Father to deliver him at any moment, instead, Jesus conquered the penalty of sin by enduring the cross, staying there until the end.

His final cry, it is finished, signaled victory. Jesus had triumphed over every power that stood against him, and us—sin, death, and even Satan himself. His victory was so complete it is pictured as “a triumphal Roman military procession. The defeated king with all his surviving warriors and the spoils of war were paraded through the streets of Rome.” We find this dramatic description of our Savior in Paul’s letter to the Colossians: “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col. 2:15).

How often do you and I think of Jesus as a conqueror? Do you think of him as the boxer in the ring whose hand is lifted in victory by the referee while his opponent lies on the ground, or the foot soldier, covered in mud and sweat but still pushing to take the next hill? Let’s not air brush our picture of Jesus to make it suitable only for the walls of nurseries and retirement homes. Instead,let the picture Paul paints for us in Colossians stoke our imagination with confidence in his victory.

The Spoils of His Victory

Good leaders don’t just win, they allow their people to enjoy the spoils of victory. Winning politicians distribute jobs and promote justice and the welfare of their communities. Even parents give good gifts to their children.

Two texts, one from the Old Testament and one New provide insight into this reward system. Let’s start with a quote from one of David’s psalms:

You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the LORD God may dwell there. Psalm 68:18

This verse pictures a victorious king being showered with gifts upon his return from battle by those he has liberated. He is receiving this bounty from a wide range of grateful citizens, both faithful subjects and former rebels. King David writes these words to the Lord God himself, the King under whom he served.

Paul quotes David’s words, changing them slightly to showcase how Jesus is the one who fulfills David’s prophecy. Paul writes, “Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high, he led a host of captives, And he gave gifts to men’” (Eph.4:8).

We can picture Jesus doing both. Having conquered his enemies at the cross and ascended to the throne, he receives gifts from the conquered and pours them out on his church. His people thus not only benefit from his victory but are equipped to serve through his generosity.

His Lavish Generosity

And his generosity is beyond belief. Paul immediately lays out one group of gifts in Ephesians 4:11–12, leaders for the church who have been called and equipped to serve God’s people in every place and time throughout church history. This gift is prioritized by Paul in his letter to the Ephesian churches. Godly leaders are a gift from Christ himself to you and me, as he nourishes and cherishes the church—his bride—through the leaders he has equipped (Eph. 5:29).

“But what is my gift?” That’s the question we default to as we take “spiritual gift inventories,” diligently studying the description of the various lists in the New Testament: Romans 12:6–8, 1 Corinthians 12:7–11; 1 Peter 4:10–11. What we find aren’t just lists, but a picture of abundance. The lists aren’t meant to confuse us with their variations. Nor are they intended to tempt us to compare. No, they are meant to display the lavish generosity of our conquering King. He has provided gifted leaders and gifted followers to his church so that together we might serve his beloved bride.

Friends, let’s rejoice in Jesus’ triumph and receive his gifts with gratitude. But most of all, let us keep our eyes fixed on him, the Conqueror and Giver, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God(Heb.12:2).

He is our ascended Lord. And we are his joy.



Footnotes

  • ESV Study Bible notes for Colossians 2:15, Clinton E. Arnold, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University.

The Priest Who Prays for Us.

“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them”Hebrews 7:25

When a friend asks us to pray for them, what do we usually say? Of course! Sure thing! You got it! But as we move on to the day’s obligation, their request has a way of slipping through the cracks of our memory and disappearing. We didn’t try to forget. We didn’t plan to forget. But we didn’t try to remember either. The next time we see our friend, we may feel tempted to say we prayed for them, or we may see them coming and silently pray a quick one on the spot.

But when a friend asks us to pray for something we also struggle with—a wayward child, a chronic ailment, a dwindling income—we don’t have trouble remembering. Our own difficulties become the catalyst to pray for our friend the way we pray for ourselves. The next time we see her, instead of trying to avoid her, we immediately engage in sharing our common need.

We have become connected by the strong bond of shared weakness.

A Better Prayer Partner

Who is your most faithful prayer partner? A grandmother? A friend you walk with or call regularly? Your spouse or a best friend? Praying with someone else doubles our likelihood of regularly interceding for those in need. But what happens when that “someone else” isn’t available?

Hebrews 7:25 reminds us to lean on our most faithful prayer warrior, Jesus. Now that he has finished his work of dying for our sins and rising for our justification, Jesus has embarked on the new work of interceding for us. And his ascension perfectly positions him for this priestly service.

First, Scripture tells us that Jesus is invited to sit at the right hand of the Father, “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make all your enemies your footstool’” (Ps. 110:1). This is a position, not just of power, but of intimacy. He has his Father’s ear. When we are tempted and fail again, when we stumble and fall, Jesus prays. When we face danger or trouble from outside ourselves, Jesus intercedes. The smallest sigh, the slightest whisper of help goes straight to our Savior’s heart and to his Father’s ear.

Second, Jesus knows what it feels like to be weak and in need of prayer himself. He remembers the temptations of the devil. He recalls his agonizing struggle to submit his will to his Father’s. During that dark night before his arrest, Jesus did not refuse to obey, nor did he demand the Father remove the cup from him. Yes, he asked for it to be removed, but, above all, he pleaded for his Father’s will to be honored.

No one prayed for Jesus that night—not the eleven disciples who were sleeping, not Judas, who was even then in the act of betraying him. It was Jesus alone who agonized. Three times he asked, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me,” and three times he submitted to his Father’s will, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39). Though his Father would have sent angel armies to deliver him, the Son knew he must fulfill the Scriptures (Matt. 26:53–54). Jesus was faithful in prayer throughout his ministry, even to his death, and he prays for us, his people, still—not from a cross, but from a throne.

What Stephen Saw

How do we know for certain that Jesus is praying for us in heaven? An incident from the book of Acts dramatizes this truth. Stephen served as a deacon in the early church. He was called “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5) and was tasked with making sure the widows got their fair share of food each day—a vital ministry but certainly not glamorous. In addition, Stephen had been empowered by the Spirit to perform signs and wonders, as well as to skillfully proclaim the message of a risen, ascended Messiah.

His public preaching soon made Stephen a target, bringing forward a crowd of false witnesses. Brought before the high priest to explain his assertion that God would destroy the temple and change the customs of Moses, Stephen indicted Israel for their unbelief. Their historic rejection of God’s messengers was now being consummated in their rejection of Jesus. Enraged by his message, they began to execute him immediately by stoning.

Who would save him? Where was Jesus in his moment of need? That’s when the story turns:“But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55–56).

Why had Jesus risen from his throne? Why was he standing? Not so he could get a better view of the situation, but to pray. Jesus stood to intercede with priestly authority for his servant Stephen. In his moment of greatest need, Stephen saw it. And in our moments of need, we can too.

A Savior Who Doesn’t Quit

Through his intercession Jesus is saving us “to the uttermost.” Our verse at the top of this post boasts about his ability to finish what he started. Our son trained for ten months to compete in an Iron Man Triathlon. The race involved a two- and half-mile swim, a 100-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run. It was agony, taking him almost twelve hours to complete the course. But he didn’t quit. And when he crossed the finish line, he raised his arms in victory.

Jesus’s race involved temptation, opposition, betrayal, suffering, and the most painful and shameful death. But he kept his eye on the goal. It was “for the joy set before him” that he endured it all, crossing the finish line at last for the prize. And what was that prize? Us. His church. His bride. We are “the joy set before him” that the author of Hebrews talks about. Isaiah explains it this way,

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, Make many to be accounted righteous, And he shall bear their iniquities.Isaiah 53:11

Friends, we are the joy set before him. We are among the many who are now accounted righteous. If Jesus has borne our sins far away, we can surely count on his prayers.

The Lawyer Who Advocates for Us.

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”1 John 2:1

Many people need a good lawyer at some point in their lives. Early in our church ministry, we experienced situations of conflict that surprised us. In our naiveté, we assumed that church work would be peaceful and pastoral like James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small—complete with rolling Scottish countryside, humorous encounters with quirky neighbors, and every tension resolved by the end of the one-hour show. We soon found out differently.

Twice in those early years, we were pursued to the point of needing an advocate. Not only did the incidents take us by surprise, but the identity of the attackers did as well. These former friends were bent on destroying their pastor and ruining his reputation. It quickly became apparent that we didn’t need a coach or even a counselor for our predicament. We needed someone with the integrity to represent our case accurately and the expertise to handle it skillfully.

Every believer eventually discovers their deep need for an advocate—not just a lawyer for this world’s woes, but someone who can attest to the good character of the one on trial before the almighty God. Jesus acts as that advocate, vouching for us, based on his own righteousness. He represents us before our Judge when the Adversary takes aim. Our enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil, are bent on destroying us. However, as the apostle John assures us, we already have an advocate, one who can plead our case with skill and authority before the bench of heaven—Jesus Christ himself, the righteous one.

Our Need

Let’s examine John’s words in 1 John 2:1 by first noticing his tone. He is full of gentleness towards God’s people as he writes to them. “My little children” he calls us. Yes, you and me. This phrase not only speaks of John’s personal affection for his first century flock, but reflects our Father’s heart towards us in Christ, specifically as we face the sin and temptations of this world.

John gets right to the point. On his heart are believers not just of his day, but of future generations. What does he want for them? A life of willing and glad obedience to Christ. We can imagine both warmth and firmness in his voice. John has spent the first chapter of his letter laying out the joys of fellowship with God himself as his people walk with Christ. Then he sets forth the very real challenges to that fellowship: a God who is light and people who sin.

Next, John spells out the conditions for that fellowship: four if/then statements to clearly distinguish the path of sin and the path of life for “his little children.” His tone is fatherly, and his instructions are clear. They are to seek to walk in the light, a path that includes confession and forgiveness.

Our Advocate

“But” John writes one more instruction to his little children, with one more “if” statement, “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father…” His words take us up to heaven, facing the throne on which sits the Judge of both the living and the dead, before whom we all will stand. We know we have not only sinned against God but failed to fulfill all righteousness.What hope do we have of acquittal?

“But.” But what?

But “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Though we can’t pay for the type of legal help we need, an advocate steps forward. He isn’t some ambulance chaser looking for easy money, rather he is meticulously qualified not just by ability, but by virtue.

What will he do as our advocate? We have some knowledge of what lawyers do in our day, but what was the role of an advocate in Roman society during the early centuries of the church? “The Romans were the first to have a class of people who spent their days thinking about legal problems, and this is why their law became so ‘precise, detailed, and technical.’” These legal problems presented more than just a puzzle to be solved, they showcased the training needed to apply legal knowledge to the cases that were brought before them.

Furthermore, the general sense of the word advocate is “one who appears on another’s behalf.” He comes alongside the client, not just to guide him through the legal process, but to personally present the case.

Jesus Christ the Righteous

There’s an adage that when you stand in court, you only look as good as the one who represents you. And who is that for us? Who shows up on our behalf when our conscience batters us with accusations? Our advocate is the only lawyer whose primary qualification is his perfect righteousness. Indeed, this one’s righteousness is not only our greatest need, but also his gracious gift to each one who believes. Now we can see why the title John gave to the ascended Jesus was his most important qualification to be our advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous.

If Jesus had an office with a glass door and name plate, his title would read, Jesus Christ, The Righteous One. We’ve come to the right place for professional help. As our advocate, Jesus clears our name by giving us his name. And as “the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:2), he cleanses us inside and out.

Because Jesus has ascended to the right hand of his Father, we can stand before our Father in his perfect righteousness. Because he is the propitiation for our sins, all charges against us have been answered.

When your enemy accuses you, when your conscience charges you with sin, when the adversary pursues you, bent on your destruction, you have a perfect advocate before the supreme court of the cosmos. You and I need not retreat in guilt or hide in shame. Our advocate will prevail. And we shall stand in his righteousness.


Footnotes

  • Crook, John A. (19767). Law and Life of Rome, 90 B.C.–A.D. 212: Aspects of Greek and Roman Life. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984).

  • Ibid.

  • Propitiation describes a sacrifice that satisfies the demands of God’s justice.

The Mediator Who Brokers Our Peace.

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”1 Timothy 2:5

My husband, who serves as a trained conciliator through Peacemaker Ministries, says that peacemaking is harder than it looks. Our instinct, when conflict breaks the bond of relationship, is to bring both parties into the same room and help them hash out their differences. But this approach does not tend to end in peace. At best, it brings a fragile truce. People can come to a position of compromise and agreement, while remaining embittered. A thin blanket of calm drapes the smoldering cinders, awaiting the slightest tiff to reignite the full blaze.

A successful mediation requires two elements: listening and coaching. As the mediator listens, he comes to understand the facts and reactions of the parties that have offended each other. This is accompanied by coaching, which helps each person face their sin (getting the log out of their eye, as Jesus put it in Matthew 7:3-5). My husband says that only when people are coached can he guide them through a conversation of peacemaking.

If we need a mediator to settle conflicts with each other, how can we hope to resolve conflicts with God? Where do we get help with that? Who could possibly be qualified to mediate the vast gap between God and human beings? Only Jesus, the Son of God, who descended to become man and ascended to take our humanity into heaven, can faithfully represent both sides. This Jesus is the mediator we need.

Why Do We Need a Mediator?

Why bring up God in situations of conflict? We might say, thanks but no thanks. The tiff within our family has blown over. My neighbors aren’t mad at me anymore now that I finally mowed my lawn. And God? Well, he seems far away, so we are not sure he’s even thinking about us. But that is where we’re wrong.

If we agonize when a loved one turns their back on us, could it be that our Creator does the same? That is exactly how the Bible describes God’s response to our sins. When we treat his commands with indifference, he is the offended party. Our iniquities separate us from him. And to be separated from the source of all life and goodness is far worse than the most grueling conflict we face.

God never has and never will do anything wrong. Unlike human relationships, which are inevitably ruptured by the wrongdoing of all parties, he is entirely innocent. More than that, God’s response when we insult and despise him, though he is innocent, is unlike any of ours. He, the innocent one, pursues us.

1 Timothy 2:5 announces a startling truth. God is not sitting back with his arms folded; he’s leaning in. That’s why Paul urges us to pray for all kinds of people, because, “it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3, 4).

Our mental picture has now been transformed from the God-with-arms-folded to the eager God and his willing mediator, ready not just to build the bridge between sinful people and a holy God, but to cross it. In fact, crossing the bridge from God to man is exactly what Jesus did.

What Unique Characteristic Qualifies Jesus to Be Our Mediator?

The first step in Jesus’s peacemaking mission was to be born. Yes, by being born a natural, human birth, Jesus took on true human DNA. His infant cries for his mother weren’t some kind of act; they were the homely expression of incarnation, God the Son taking on our flesh.

In that moment of conception, the God-man didn’t lose anything. His deity wasn’t somehow diluted or polluted. He remained fully God—the Son of his heavenly Father—while becoming fully human. He looked truly human because he was—developing like we do through the stages of infancy, toddlerhood, youth, and adulthood.

Jesus became one of us so he can understand our temptations. He is able to represent God to us and us to God. From eternity, he has existed as God the Son in the unity and harmony of the Trinity. He descended into Mary’s womb to experience birth, childhood, years of obscurity and years of ministry, culminating in betrayal, abandonment, and crucifixion. His qualifications as our Mediator are unparalleled.

How Does Jesus Accomplish His Work of Mediation?

Two elements stand out from Jesus’s earthly work of mediation. The first is his role as ransom. The second is his timing. In Paul’s words, our mediator is the one “who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Tim. 2:6).

The role of peacemaker comes with its challenges. Jesus endured hostility from the sinners he came to save and, in the final moments of his suffering, he even called out to God, “Why have you forsaken me?” By identifying himself with us, the rebels, he took our punishment and experienced the full wrath of God the Father.

But now, Jesus has been raised and has ascended to become a new kind of mediator, the mediator of a new covenant (Hebrews 9:15a). He mediates on behalf of all who are called into fellowship with God through Christ. Through Jesus’ heavenly mediation, we will not only be snatched from condemnation, but we will also be rewarded with our “promised eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:15).

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

How can we apply the truth of Jesus’s mediatory work to our lives? When we receive the blessing of peace with God, we embark on the road to becoming peacemakers ourselves. Among the nine blessings of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount we find the one that passes the peacemaking baton to us: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9).

What a perfect way to apply our understanding of Christ as our mediator. Our calling as believers is to be peacemakers to the world around us by showing them the mediator they need. May you be blessed as you contemplate and apply this truth:

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.2 Corinthians 5:18–19

The King Who Will Return for Us.

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also."John 14:3

Christians live in the time between the two advents of Jesus Christ. December will find many of us lighting the first advent candle and reading an appropriate Scripture for the day. Perhaps it will be Isaiah 9:6:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; And the government shall be upon his shoulder, And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

This familiar text, which we have read and heard and sung, points us to the incarnation and birth of the God-man. No one saw this coming. Generations of believers had longed for Messiah to come and deliver them, but no one expected the coming one to be God himself. Who could have imagined the LORD sending his majesty into a young girl’s womb to become the child of whom Isaiah spoke?

“This Jesus” is the one who was born that day in a stable. An angel not only told Mary about the coming child, but he also named the baby for her, “and you shall call his name Jesus (Luke 1:31).” That name was confirmed to Joseph by another angelic visitation (Matt. 1:22) with one additional phrase, “for he shall save his people from their sins.”

“This Jesus” was the name used by the angels years later when they appeared to the crowd of assembled disciples on the day Jesus ascended. They identified him explicitly, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). This Jesus, the one who was born and later christened by the angels, the one who ascended into heaven, is the one for whom Christians wait.

As those who live in the time between the two advents, we keenly feel Jesus’ absence. While we wait for his return, we need to understand his heart.

He Wants Us to Be with Him

John 14:3 shows us the heart of Christ, not just for the disciples in earshot, but for us today. He prepared the twelve who are with him for his departure, using homey words. Like a busy innkeeper, Jesus soon will be occupied with preparing a place in his Father’s house not only for them, but for each one of us, his brothers and sisters.

We must avoid thinking that Jesus departed so he could get away from us and not have to deal with our weaknesses. Maybe that’s how we would feel if we were constantly badgered by our children or shoved to the end of the line by crowds. But Jesus doesn’t see us as a bother.

We can see that most clearly by observing how he treated those around him. The Jesus of the Gospels was constantly accompanied by his disciples. Yet, he never pushed them away, not even when they failed him. In addition, the gospels display his heart not only for the twelve he called, but for the crowds he served. He noticed the poor widow with her two copper coins (Mark 12:42); he saw the grieving mother who had lost her only son (Luke 7:12). He saw because he looked. He looked because he loved.

Jesus was not burdened by us in his days of ministry, nor is he burdened by us now. No, he is thinking of us all the time. He tells us his desire forus is “to be with me where I am,” to see his glory and be in the fellowship of his love forever (John 17:24).

He Wants Us to Expect His Return

We may be tempted to think that the delay of Jesus’ coming means he is not coming. Or we may spend all our time worried about the signs of the times. Instead, Jesus wants to direct our full attention to his mission. The heart of Christ extends to all those the Father has given him. Consider his words to Peter around the campfire in John 21. Peter is moping. Hadn’t he denied Jesus three times? Hadn’t he turned coward and deserted him? Maybe he should return to fishing. Instead, Jesus calls Peter to become a shepherd, tending the souls of those who believe the gospel.

Lest we say, “I’m not Peter, so don’t expect me to do that,” let’s examine Acts 1. As Jesus prepares to ascend into heaven, the crowd of disciples are preoccupied about the timing of his return. In response to their question, Jesus redirects their attention to the mission. Their calling is to be his witnesses.

Despite this last-minute clarification, they continue to stare at the clouds even after Jesus has disappeared from sight. It takes the appearance of two angels to get them moving, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Because the return of Christ is so certain, we can get on with the mission.

He Wants to Bless Us

What are we to do while we wait? Consider the parable of the master returning home from his wedding feast (Luke 12:35-43). This is a call to alert and faithful service until Jesus comes, no matter how long it takes. We want our Master to find us going about his business, serving his kingdom through gospel witness and humble service. We want to continue serving so simply and gladly that we stop thinking about ourselves. Instead, we anticipate his coming.

What will happen then? Luke gives us the astonishing answer: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them” (Luke 12:37).

These words make me shake my head in disbelief. This is what the crucified, risen, ascended, coming King thinks of his servants.

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come Lord Jesus!Revelation 22:20