Tuesday, September 2, 2014

When Jesus Stood

In all of scripture, I am aware of only one passage where we read that the exalted Jesus stood. We normally read that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God and has been there since he ascended into Heaven (Mark 16:19, Luke 22:69, Acts 2:34-36, Ephesians 1:20). Kings sit on thrones, and that's what Jesus is -- the King of kings. Being enthroned denotes a king's power, authority, and honor. In Christ's case it also shows his deity. He is the Son of God, having completed the work the Father had sent him to do. Taking his place beside the Father is a sign that his sacrifice was sufficient to pay for the sins of the whole world. "It is finished!" he cried from the cross. Indeed, it was finished so that he was able to take his rightful place beside his Father in Heaven.

He's not resting there, as if to say, "Phew! I made it!" No, he is working on our behalf -- pouring his Spirit on the church (Acts 2), revealing himself to people (Acts 7), encouraging the church (Rev 1), interceding for believers (Romans 8:34), advocating for us (1 John 2:1), and offering us mercy and grace in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

All of this Jesus does from his throne. But one day Jesus stood.

It was the day that Stephen -- a man full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, faith, God's grace and power, a man who did wonders and miraculous signs -- was dragged before the Sanhedrin to face charges of blasphemy (Acts 6-7). He stood before those gathered that day and recounted the story of God's appearing to Abraham, the history of the people of Israel and their rejection of God's Son. Stephen, whose face was like the face of an angel, lifted up Jesus to the people. His words were truth and should have convicted them, but when he blamed them for killing the Righteous One, they were furious.

But Stephen full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God" (7:55-56).

As the action builds at a basketball game and a player wrests the ball away from the other side and breaks for the basket before the final buzzer sounds, the crowd jumps to its feet! In solidarity with their team, the fans cannot keep their seats. I wonder if that's not part of what was happening when Stephen looked up and saw Jesus standing in Heaven. He was affirming Stephen's words. As Stephen had been Jesus' representative before his killers, now Jesus stood for Stephen to show that they were on the same team.

Besides that, judges in the Roman court system would stood to pronounce their final verdict. Was not Jesus standing to pass judgment on the scene being played out on earth? "Stephen, I am with you. I do not believe the lies that are being told about you. You are my beloved follower, and you have not failed me. Neither will I fail you!"

The death of Stephen is the first record we have of a Christian being martyred. It is also the first record we have of the ascended Christ showing himself to anyone. Since then, millions of Christ followers have been martyred for their faith. Even now the heat is being turned up on those who stand firm for Jesus in the face of persecution. Perhaps the Lord is once again on his feet, showing himself faithful to those who are faithful to him.

Keep looking up. The Lord we love is faithful and stands for us. And one day He will return and set things to rights. In the words of Samuel Rutherford (1600 - 1661), "O, sweet Jesus, take wide steps! O my Lord, come over the mountains in one stride!"

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Photo from Project Guttenberg
A sermon by J. Ligon Duncan was particularly helpful in thinking through this issue

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