FOURTH MIDWEEK LENTEN SERVICE
18 March 2020
The Apostles’ Creed
Christ’s State of Exaltation
Pastor Philip G. Meyer, Emeritus
Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church
645 Poplar St.
Terre Haute, IN 47807
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
The Exaltation of Christ balances the Humiliation of Christ. In his State of Humiliation Christ concealed and did not fully use his divine powers, but in the State of Exaltation Christ takes up again all the divine powers he had before he became incarnate.
It starts in an unexpected way with the descent into hell. Many misunderstand this to be suffering, but that isn’t so. Christ’s suffering took place in the State of Humiliation. He completed the work of redemption fully and completely on the cross when he cried out, “It is finished!” [John 19.30]. In his descent into hell our Lord proclaimed himself alive to Satan and his angels as the Victor over sin, death, and hell itself. The explanation to the Small Catechism [Löhe, p. 50] lists four items about his descent:
- to solemnly take from the devil himself the power of death [Heb. 2.14]
- to fill Hell with the glory of his divine-human Person [Eph. 4.8ff]
- to triumph over the powers of Hell openly [Col. 2.15]
- and to show to the lost the righteousness of faith and its victory in triumph, which they had despised and mocked [1 Pet. 3.18ff]
The Apostle Paul says it succinctly in Colossians: “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” [Col. 2.15]
God the Father accepted Christ’s sacrifice of his life on the cross by raising him from the dead, thus proclaiming the world’s Absolution from sin. Christ’s atonement has been accepted and nothing more could or must be done. Christ’s resurrection begins the new eternal day. We sometimes speak of Sunday as the Eighth Day, the day of the new Creation brought about by Christ’s resurrection. “Because I live,” says Jesus, “you also will live.” [John 14.19] Our Lord’s resurrection is the promise and guarantee of our own resurrection of the body on the Last Day. Every Divine Service on Sunday proclaims Christ’s mighty resurrection from the dead.
The Ascension of Christ brings even more comfort because it focuses on what Christ continues to do for us. When Christ ascended into heaven he was seated at the right hand of the Father. Our Lord went to heaven not so that he would be absent from us on earth, but so that he could be present to all believers at the same time no matter where they live on this earth. He ascended so that he could fill all things with his divine majesty and power, but also so that he could fill his Church with his gifts. I have always loved the way Wilhelm Löhe explained it in his catechism:
241. Is he then far away from us who are on the earth?
No, he is very near to us in the Word and Sacraments. Because of his entrance upon the Father’s power and glory, he can fulfill his promise [Matthew 28.20]:
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
To this end our Lord’s Ascension comforts us because he is near to us and with us in Word and Sacrament, especially in the Sacrament of the Altar. Moreover, he sends men to proclaim his Gospel and distribute forgiveness through his Sacraments. The Office of the Holy Ministry is a gift from our ascended Lord.
As he sits at the right hand of the Father, the position of honor and power, he rules over all things temporal as well. The Apostle Paul writes:
And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. [Eph. 1.22-23]
Psalm 110.1 foresaw this:
The Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”
In the ancient world conquering kings often had a footstool on which the images of the enemies they conquered were carved. To put someone under one’s feet describes the king’s victory over his foes. That’s what the session to the right hand of God means for us with all its implications of our Lord’s victory. He is the King over all kings and rules. None can usurp his throne.
What a comforting fact this is in this age of anarchy and upheaval with many trying to place themselves on Christ’s throne. They cannot succeed because he has already won the victory over sin, death, and hell, and there is none who can dethrone him, try as they might.
Christopher Wordsworth captures Christ’s Ascension and Session so beautifully:
He has raised our human nature
On the clouds to God’s right hand;
There we sit in heav’nly places,
There with Him in glory stand.
Jesus reigns, adored by angels;
Man with God is on the throne.
By our mighty Lord’s ascension
We by faith behold our own. LSB 494.5
Christ rules all things for the good of his Bride, the Church. Christ rules all things as the Lord of creation. Whatever earthly calamities and disasters we may experience, our gracious Lord rules all things for our good. Even the Wuhan corona virus lies under his control. We should not live in fear. He controls everything and loves us beyond our comprehension. We cannot always see the details nor understand them but we trust that Christ’s promise is true that rules all things for his children’s eternal good.
At the Last Day of this earth’s existence Christ will return in glory to judge the living and the dead, to separate the sheep of his hand from the goats. He will raise our mortal bodies from their graves and imbue them with never-ending life. Then all will be complete as those who have believed in him for their redemption will enter the new heavens and the new earth where all pain, suffering, distress, tears, and mourning will be gone forever.
Thus, Christ’s Exaltation brings us comfort as we pass through this earthly valley of tears knowing that his glory will one day be ours.
In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.