Psalm 93 – The Lord Reigns

861ca-thelord

The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty;
the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength;
indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.
Your throne was established long ago;
you are from all eternity.

The seas have lifted up, Lord,
the seas have lifted up their voice;
the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.
Mightier than the thunder of the great waters,
mightier than the breakers of the sea—
the Lord on high is mighty.

Your statutes, Lord, stand firm;
holiness adorns your house
for endless days. (NIV)

The Lord is King. From a Christian perspective, this psalm finds its ultimate fulfillment in the ascension of Jesus Christ. When we talk about kings, there are a few things a king needs: a realm, or a kingdom; and, the ruled, or the subjects of the kingdom. In reflecting on Christ’s ascension, the three elements which make up a rule are: King Jesus as Ruler; God’s people as the ruled; and, the entire world as the realm of Christ’s kingship.

Now, as soon as I state that all the world is Christ’s realm, it is quite understandable to at least be curious about this, as well as perhaps be outright doubtful of it. After all, this old fallen world is filled with all kinds of catastrophes like pandemics and natural disasters; myriad human vices; and, potent spiritual foes. Sometimes it appears that, if Jesus were King, he is either sleeping on the job or just indifferent to our plight.

Allow me to re-frame this by putting it in military terms. The battle and the war has been won – there are, however, some clean up operations still taking place. Pockets of resistance to God’s rule and reign still very much exist. And they unfortunately lead to casualties.

On this Memorial Day weekend in the USA, Americans remember and pay homage to our fallen men and women in uniform. Many of those soldiers were lost from mopping up resistance after a battle achieved and a war won. For example, the Battle for Okinawa in the Pacific theatre toward the end of World War II resulted in an American victory. However, in securing the island after the Japanese defeat, small groups of Japanese soldiers still mounted resistance resulting in hundreds of American deaths. In a 1944 article from the Stars and Stripes, one patrol leader from the battle had this to say: “It is a tough, methodical grind, this mop-up operation. Here, the Japanese have gotten together, organized, and are carrying out a planned guerilla warfare, even though the battle is won…. I wish a mop-up was as easy as people think it is.”

We live between the two advents of Christ, his ascension to heaven and his coming again. That means we live in the already/not yet kingdom. Deliverance from sin, death, and hell has been achieved – yet will not be here in its complete fulfillment until Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead. Meanwhile, we as Christians continue to pray that God’s kingdom spreads and is realized in the hearts of humanity – the true place where war begins and ends.

There is no power in heaven or on earth which can circumvent or overcome the plans and purposes of an almighty God. As much strength as ocean waves have, they are no match for the might of God. Though some human governments, systems, and institutions carry a lot weight and exude a great deal of influence, they cannot hold a candle to the overwhelming fire of God. The Most High God is firmly in control, even when it seems otherwise. The Christian tradition is consistent in proclaiming that the throne of Jesus Christ has been established forever. It shall not be moved. Love has won and will have the eternal day.

God, you reign over all! Robed in majesty and armed with strength, you hold our world and our lives securely. Your throne has been established. From everlasting to everlasting, you are God. Even when waves of grief, disease, and hardship rise-up—when surging seas threaten to overwhelm me, and a pounding storm crashes around me—I know that You are mightier and more powerful than any threat. Wash over me with your own cleansing flood. Grace me with your mighty presence. Refresh me with the water of life, for I know, Holy God, that your decrees are firm and secure; they shall last forever. Amen.

Acts 1:1-11 – Ascension of the Lord

Ethiopian Ascension
Ethiopian Orthodox depiction of Christ’s ascension.

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginninguntil the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 

So, when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was liftedup, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (NRSV) 

Jesus was taken up to heaven in what Christians celebrate as the “Ascension of the Lord.”  It is hugely important for followers of Jesus because it means that Christ is now presently sitting at God’s right hand offering continual prayers on our behalf to the Father. We have an advocate, a champion who has gone before us and secured deliverance from sin, death, and hell. This is no small thing. On top of it all, Christ’s ascension means that Jesus is the universal ruler; he commands a kingdom which will never end. Yes, it is a big deal. 

So, why does a day set aside on the Christian Calendar celebrating the Lord’s mighty and redemptive ascension over all creation garner such little attention from many churches?  Perhaps the clue is the disciples’ response when Jesus ascended. The picture that Luke paints for us in the account of our Lord’s ascension is a group of guys looking up into the sky slack-jawed and shoulders hunched.  It took a couple of angels to come along and ask them what in the world they were doing just standing there. Now is not the time to stand and gawk at the clouds, the angels insisted. Jesus will come back when he comes back. You aren’t going to know when.  So, now is the time to get busy with what Jesus just told you two minutes ago to do:  Tell everyone about me. 

The Ascension of the Lord is a deeply theological event; it is freighted with major implications for our prayer lives; and, it means that Christ is the King to whom we must obey. And he is coming again. In the meantime, there is to be no cloud-gawking. Instead, there is to be a well-developed and well-cultivated connection with Jesus which proclaims good news that Christ died, rose from death, and ascended to heaven for mine and your forgiveness of sins and a new clean slate on life. 

Believers in Jesus are not to be found standing and gawking at the clouds waiting for the Lord’s return, as if we are in some earthly holding tank until heaven.  Rather, we are to bear witness about the person and work of Jesus. The Ascension of the Lord means we are God’s people blessed with deliverance from the realm of sin, and the hope of Christ’s coming again. The Church everywhere recognizes together the rule and reign of the Lord Jesus. 

The world as we know it shall eventually come to an end. Until that time, Christians since the time of the ascension have been proclaiming Christ crucified, died, risen, ascended, and coming again. This is a day of joy and celebration for us. Jesus is our ascended and glorified king! The fate of the earth is with the benevolent and mighty Ruler of all. Jesus is Lord, and no other human leader is. Thank you, Jesus. 

The Reformed Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer 49, states: 

Q: How does Christ’s ascension to heaven benefit us? 

A: First, he is our advocate in heaven in the presence of his Father. 

Second, we have our own flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that Christ our head will also take us, his members, up to himself. 

Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth as a corresponding pledge. By the Spirit’s power we seek not earthly things but the things above, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand. Amen.  

Click Ancient of Days sung by Ron Kenoly for an oldie but goody on this Ascension Day.

John 5:19-29

            There are many things in this world of great importance:  how we govern ourselves as a free people in America; tackling issues of poverty, education, taxes, healthcare, terrorism, and international relations; local community relationships and business; the ability to go to work every day and make a decent contributive living; being a responsible citizen; and, loving and nurturing our families.  Yet, it is my unshakable conviction that the issue above all issues, the height of importance for every human being on planet earth, is our relation to God in Jesus Christ.  In short, people need the Lord.
 
            Jesus said, “I tell you for certain that everyone who hears my message and has faith in the one who sent me has eternal life and will never be condemned.  They have already gone from death to life.”  Seasons, eras, centuries, and even millennia come and go; people are born, live, and die; generations exist and then are no more; but Jesus is alive, and he continually lives bringing life from dust, beauty from ashes, and everlasting meaning from seeming meaninglessness.
 
            Today Jesus is still on the throne of all creation.  Right now Jesus remains attentive to people, even interceding for us at the right hand of his Father in heaven.  At this moment, God’s Holy Spirit roams the earth and continues to mysteriously and graciously apply all the redemptive consequences of Christ’s cross and resurrection to the lives of millions.  Sometimes we just need to remember what is really of ultimate significance in this old broken world.  If people need the Lord, then it only makes real sense to live in ways that foster connection with Jesus.  So, this morning I did what I do every morning:  began the day with Scripture reading, prayer, reflection, and gratitude – all done with the realization that Christ’s authority is real and pervasive, and his reign is supreme.
 

 

            Sovereign God, in Christ you rule all of creation, even when it feels like you are distant.  Your authority is both benevolent and all-powerful.  Thank you for deliverance from sin, life in the Spirit, and your eventual return.  To you be all glory, honor, and praise.  Amen.

Revelation 11:15


             I have done my share of weddings over the years.  Working with engaged couples anticipating marriage is both exciting and awkward.  It is in some ways a difficult time for the betrothed because they are committed to one another in a manner different from just dating, but are not yet in a marriage relationship.  The same is true for the church.  She is betrothed to the Lord Jesus.  They are both quite committed to each other.  But the marriage hasn’t yet happened.  
             The kingdom of God has been inaugurated, but not yet consummated.  That is a fancy way of saying that God’s rule and reign has come to this earth, but its fulfillment has not yet occurred.  This time between the two advents of Christ, his incarnation and his coming again, is a weird and awkward time of engagement where we are trying to figure out how to live in the world but not of it.  But there is a time coming, at the consummation of the ages, when Christ will return to take his bride.  It is then the church will celebrate in a great wedding feast.  “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.”
             Just as marriage is designed for permanence, so our union with Jesus shall last forever.  His reign will never end.  Christ’s rule will be complete and extend over all the earth.  But until then we are to persevere with patience and fidelity to our Lord Jesus, who loved us and gave himself up for us.  Let this truth shape your life today and always.
             Loving Lord Jesus, I praise you for your initiating a beachhead of grace on this earth through your coming to us.  I look expectantly for your return.  May I found faithful when you come again.  Amen.

Colossians 1:15-23

            Jesus is King; and, we are not.  A simple statement; yet, not easily engrafted into life.  The original sin of Adam and Even was rebellion – to break the bonds of loving authority that God provided for them.  We (especially us Americans) have this nasty anti-authoritarian strain that runs rather deep in us.  As a child, when my middle daughter was grappling with the implications of faith in Christ, she once blurted out an honest cry that we all can resonate with: “I just don’t want another person in my life telling me what to do!”  Indeed, Jesus is King; we are not.
 
            The New Testament lesson for today is rich with the pre-eminence and lordship of Jesus Christ.  By Jesus all things were created through him and for him.  Everything in all creation is held together by Jesus.  He is the head of the church.  In Jesus complete divinity exists and reigns.  Jesus made peace through the cross because he had the authority and the qualifications to do so.  Broken relationships and proper lines of authority are now restored and redeemed in Christ.
 
            We all can relate to indulging an illusion that we are in control and dictate the course of our lives.  But Jesus is Sovereign, and this is a good thing.  It is good because only in Christ can we find reconciliation and purity of life.  A healthy practice for Christians is to kneel.  I realize some Christian traditions do it as a part of their worship, and some do not.  Yet, bowing, even prostrating oneself (if you are physically able!) can be a powerful symbol of the heart’s desire and disposition to submit to the lordship and authority of Jesus Christ.  Crawling out of bed in the morning onto one’s knees and beginning the day looking to live into the will of God, and ending the day in the same manner, are a practical means of remembering who Jesus is and who we are.
            Sovereign God, in your mercy you have sent your Son, the Lord Jesus, who has brought reconciliation to a once broken relationship.  I bow before you in obedience, submission, and worship.  Let me live a cross-shaped life through enjoying the peace you have given me in Christ.  Amen.

John 20:19-23

            In the wake of Pentecost, it is necessary and important to live into our calling and mission as believers in Jesus who have been given the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  And when Jesus said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  What is more, we are anticipating the celebration of Trinity Sunday upcoming.
 
            Everything comes down to the triune God.  As people created in God’s image and likeness, we are to reflect God in all we say and do.  This includes our service and sense of mission.  What the church is to be all about is what God is all about.  Just as the heavenly Father sent King Jesus to earth in order to bring all creation under the divine reign, so we are being sent by God into the world so that we will bring the message of God’s kingdom rule to every creature.  What is more, we have been given the power source to accomplish the work:  the Holy Spirit, who is the battery of the Christian life.
 
            Every believer in Jesus must wrap his/her head around the spiritual reality that God has called us into his service to reach every race, class, and ethnicity on earth regardless of who they might be because everyone needs the saving work of Jesus Christ.  We are to be preoccupied with the bald fact that Jesus sends us into the world equipped with the Holy Spirit to bring a message of forgiveness of sins in Christ.
 
            If we must rearrange our lives to accommodate God’s call, then so be it.  Eating meals with non-Christians, prayer-walking our neighborhoods, doing our hobbies with new people, taking breaks together with co-workers, volunteering in the community, and tangibly serving our neighbors are all practical ways of developing and deepening relationships with people in order to love them with the love of Jesus Christ who loved us and forgave us of a great debt of sin.
            God of peace, just as you as Father, Son, and Spirit exist in perfect unity, harmony, and love, so help me to be so keenly aware of being united with Jesus Christ that his agenda is my agenda.  Thank you, Holy Spirit, for filling and empowering me for loving service in the church and the world.  Amen.

Acts 1:1-11

            Today is the recognition and celebration of the Ascension of our Lord.  Each year the Church Calendar marks the fortieth day after Easter when Jesus ascended to heaven in full view of the disciples’ wide eyes.  Unlike Christmas and Easter, the Ascension is quite often overlooked by the church.  Yet, it has profound theological significance and is a redemptive event as much as any in the life of Christ.
 
            The Ascension of our Lord means that Jesus is indeed King over all creation, exalted above the earth and its inhabitants.  Since Jesus is ascended, glorified, and exalted, Christians have the confident hope that he will return and that they will experience bodily resurrection along with him.  During the interim, our Lord is busy interceding for us at the right hand of the Father, attentive to our prayers and our earthly situation.  We are neither alone, nor without help.
 
            Christ’s Ascension also means that Pentecost is right around the corner, when the power of our risen Lord will come upon every believer for service and living the Christian life.    The appropriate response to this special day is to rejoice and to submit; we can celebrate the reality that King Jesus is Lord of all, and we can humbly give our hearts to Christ’s gracious and benevolent rule in our lives.  So, we continue to pray that God’s kingdom will come and his will be done here and now because Jesus Christ has ascended to heaven.
            King Jesus, I recognize and celebrate your powerful and merciful rule over your creation.  Help me to so know your gracious leadership that in everything I say and do Jesus is exalted and glorified.  Thank you for this great grace to me in making it possible to participate with you in your kingdom.  Amen.