This past weekend at Eastbrook, we continued our preaching series entitled “Living the Creed: Connecting Life and Faith in the Apostles’ Creed.” This series walks through the Apostles Creed as a basic summary of our faith but also as a way to live our faith out with God in the world. Each weekend of this series will explore the biblical and theological roots of the Apostles Creed, while also providing specific spiritual practices and approaches to living out what we know as we ‘proclaim and embody’ the Creed in our daily lives.
This weekend I continued preaching on the third article of the creed: “I believe in the holy Christian church, the communion of saints.” This automatically raises the important question for today: can I really still believe in the church?
You can find the message video and outline below. You can also view the entire series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
Do We Really Believe in the Church?
The challenge of the church
The challenge within us
Considering what it means to believe in the church
A Church Worth Believing In
The church is holy
Made holy in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Peter 2:9)
Becoming holy through the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:25; 1 Thessalonians 4:3)
The church is universal/catholic/Christian
What “catholic” means and doesn’t mean
The universal mission of the church (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8)
The multi-everything nature of the church (Revelation 7:9-10; Galatians 3:26-29)
The church is a communion of saints
“Communion” as community unified by Christ for Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
What are “saints”? (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Living Out Our Belief in the Church
Seeing the church through the eyes of Jesus
Expanding our vision through the global church
Being the church through the power of the Holy Spirit
This week dig deeper in one or more of the following ways:
Memorize 1 Peter 2:9 or Ephesians 4:4-6
Are there ways you have become embittered or cynical about the church? Take some time to pray or journal about. Ask God if there is anything He is calling you to do in relation to these things? Is there any way you need to ask God to soften your heart?
In Scripture there are three commonly used images for the Holy Spirit. These symbols of the Holy Spirit’s presence help us understand who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does.
The Holy Spirit is Like Wind The first of these images is wind. We read about this on the day of Pentecost in the book of Acts:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. (Acts 2:1-2)
As the believers gathered together in obedience to Jesus’ command to wait for the Holy Spirit to come, they first of all encounter the wind or breath of God. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew word ruach is translated as breath, wind, or spirit. This is the word used in Genesis 1:2, where we read of God’s creative work in creation: “and the Spirit [ruach] of God was hovering over the waters.” Again, ruach is describes God’s intimate creation of humanity in Genesis 2:7 where we read: “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath [ruach] of life and the man became a living being.” The Holy Spirit is the basic breath of life – the spirit – that animates all creation and human beings.
Beyond bringing natural life, the Holy Spirit also brings spiritual life amidst humanity’s spiritual death caused by sin and ruptured relationship with God. In Ezekiel 37:6, Ezekiel the prophet preaches to a valley of dry bones, representing the spiritually dead people of God. It is God’s breath and wind that invigorates this mass of death into a living army of God. This image likely lingers behind Jesus’ memorable words to Nicodemus: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). The Holy Spirit is like wind breathing divine life into us, spiritually restoring us with God through Jesus Christ. In Acts 2, when the violent wind rushes into the house where the disciples were gathered on Pentecost day, we see that the Holy Spirit is coming in fulfillment of prophecy to breathe God’s divine life back into humanity.
The Holy Spirit is Like Fire Secondly, the Holy Spirit is often symbolized as fire. Return with me to Acts 2:
They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:3-4)
Throughout Scripture, fire is a symbol of the presence of God. When Moses knelt at the burning bush (Exodus 3) or Elijah battled the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18), God’s powerful and holy presence is accompanied by fire. Fire is a symbol of God’s leading presence, such as when God led His people out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Fire also conveys God’s purifying presence, best known through the prophet Isaiah’s striking vision of God where a fiery coal taken from the heavenly altar serves to purify Isaiah’s lips (Isaiah 6). Fire also symbolizes God’s passionate presence, seeking after people. After receiving a message from God, the prophet Jeremiah heard these words, “I will make my words in your mouth a fire” (Jeremiah 5:14). Later on, Jeremiah exclaimed, “His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones” (20:9)
When the Holy Spirit comes upon the early disciples of Jesus in Acts 2 in the form of tongues of fire, He is kindling His presence within His people. That indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit brings divine guidance, holiness, and passion into the lives of Jesus’ disciples.
The Holy Spirit is Like Water Thirdly, the Holy Spirit is symbolized as water. Earlier in the book of Acts, just before His ascension, Jesus says to His disciples:
For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:5)
βαπτίζω (baptizo) means literally to immerse, and so Jesus is telling His followers that they will be washed or submerged in the Holy Spirit just as they would be with water in baptism. The Apostle Peter echoes this later, after the Pentecost arrival of the Holy Spirit, when he preaches with reference to the words of the prophet Joel, saying, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (Acts 2:17).
The Holy Spirit is like water poured into our lives from God. This reminds us of the Genesis account of Creation where the Spirit of God hovered over the primordial waters of the cosmos that were still formless and void. The primordial deep was met with God’s Spirit to bring life in beauty, form, and ongoing creativity.
This image of the Holy Spirit as water may also call to mind two episodes from Jesus’ life and ministry. The first is Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan Woman by the well in John 4. Moving from the earthly waters of Jacob’s well, Jesus says:
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)
The second episode occurs when Jesus is at a great Jewish festival, the feast of tabernacles, in John 7. Speaking in the midst of a crowd, Jesus says, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” John the Evangelist follows Jesus’ words immediately with this explanatory statement: “By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believe in him were later to receive” (John 7:37b-39). The Holy Spirit is like water that brings life to our souls and cleanses our dry and thirsty world.
These three images – wind, fire, water – help us understand who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does. If the church wants to live and thrive, we must seek to live by the Holy Spirit, who breathes life into us, who sets us ablaze with God’s power, and revives us with waters of life.
This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, Will Branch continued our series on the Apostles’ Creed by exploring one of the later segments of the second article of the creed: “He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.” It was a wonderful message, and I strongly encourage you to listen to or watch it. I wanted to carry that theme over into this week on my blog a bit more by talking further about why Jesus’ ascension matters.
I believe the ascension is one of the most-neglected aspects of the life and ministry of Jesus. Forty days after His resurrection, after appearing many times to the disciples, Jesus ascended into heaven with the Father (Luke 24:49-51; Mark 16:19; Acts 1:3-10). The ascension of Jesus is significant for many reasons, but let me draw attention to three reasons why the ascension matters:
after His ascension Jesus is enthroned with the Father
after His ascension Jesus intercedes for us
after His ascension Jesus will return
The Ascension Confirms the Enthronement of Jesus
When the Apostles’ Creed states that Jesus “ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,” we are being told that Jesus is enthroned as King in His ascension. When Jesus ascends from earth, the disciples witness of Jesus taken into the heavenly realm where God dwells: “he left them and was taken up into heaven” (Luke 24:51). Stephen’s vision of the heavenly realm before his martyrdom expands this even further: “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).
With these two visions of Jesus’ ascension and the reality on the other side of it, we find in Jesus’ ascension the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy:
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
Jesus often referenced this passage in relation to Himself. With the ascension we see that Jesus not only enters heaven, the place where God lives and operates, but receives His appropriate enthronement at the right hand of God in an unshakable kingdom. This is echoed in further New Testament pictures of the heavenly scenes of worship:
“To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:21).
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13).
The ascension of Jesus reminds us not only that God’s kingdom been inaugurated with the incarnation of Jesus, but also confirms that Jesus’ throne is established at the Father’s right hand until He returns at the consummation of His kingdom in the new heaven and new earth. We know even now that Jesus reigns as King, no matter what happens around us.
The Ascension Affirms Jesus’ Eternal Intercession on Our Behalf Before the Father
Forty days after completion of His work in the Cross and the Resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven to rule as King at the Father’s right hand. His sacrifice was a once-for-all event (Hebrews 9:24-28) that secured His place as the unique mediator between God and humanity (1 Timothy 2:5).
The writer to the Hebrews builds upon these truths to help us understand Jesus’ role in the presence of God not only as King but as eternal intercessor: “he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Some may envision this as Jesus forever bowed in prayer for us, but the picture is richer than that. Jesus stands in the presence of the Living God simultaneously as our Advocate and High Priest and Sacrificial Lamb before the Father. His eternal sacrifice is eternally effective and eternally offered before God on our behalf (Hebrews 1:3; 7:25; 8:1). Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension, there is no one and nothing that can condemn us before God (Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1).
Even more, since Jesus’ stands in the presence of God, His effective advocacy on our behalf transcends geography and time. Jesus is not limited by time and space as He was in the incarnation. Now, as He stands in the presence of God, He hears and answers our prayers no matter when or where we lift them. In fact, we can always “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15–16).
As fully God, Jesus the Son intercedes before the Father with authority as King, yet as fully man, Jesus the Son intercedes before the Father with empathy and understanding of our circumstances as the New Adam. We can be encouraged that the death and resurrection of Jesus’ are always effective on our behalf because Jesus has ascended as Eternal King and Mediator. And let us always know that the grace of God flows abundantly through Christ to us when we reach out to Him in prayer.
The Ascension Points to Jesus’ Eventual Return in Glory
After Jesus’ ascension, two heavenly beings, or angels, speak to the disciples: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Throughout the New Testament, many writers tell us that there will come a day when Jesus will return to establish His kingdom fully “here on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Five things we know about Jesus’ return from Scripture are:
Jesus, the Ascended King, will return in glory, bringing the fullness of God’s kingdom and righteousness that will lead into the establishment of the new heaven and the new earth. Just as He ascended to the Father’s right hand after His resurrection from death, so Jesus will descend as King to usher in a new heaven and new earth. As His people, we will enjoy that new heaven and new earth, secure in God’s final judgment because Jesus intercedes for us as the once-for-all Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The ascension of Jesus becomes a source of hope and encouragement for us because it draws our attention to His eventual return and the consummation of all God’s purposes and plans. Let us persevere in light of the resurrection and ascension until the day of His coming or when we see Him face-to-face, whichever arrives first.
What must the early disciples have been holding in their hearts and minds in those days after Jesus’ ascended? His final words to them were drenched with weighty anticipation: “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). They knew it would be some gift of His Spirit coming on them with power for witness (Acts 1:8), but when or how it would happen or what exactly would happen were undefined. And so, they waited in worship and prayer until the festival of Pentecost arrived. The celebration of Pentecost in the Jewish calendar focused on thanking God for the firstfruits of the harvest, and later for the giving of the Law through Moses on Mount Sinai. But now there was something new happening, as the fires of Sinai touched earth, and the ingathering of God’s kingdom came. “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:1-4). The early gathering of ordinary people was transformed by God’s indwelling presence. Contemporary artist Makoto Fujimura developed a series of liturgical paintings for a local congregation in Princeton, NJ, through paired diptychs: Advent/Pentecost, Epiphany/Easter, Lent/Good Friday and two Ordinary Time paintings. Fujimura’s unique Nihonga-influenced style brings together rich colors and radiant gold within this painting. Amidst ordinary worship, this congregation, and all who view it, are reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19).
What would it have been like to gather with Jesus after His resurrection and watch Him ascend to glory? We’re told by Luke that forty days after His resurrection, during which He appeared many times to the disciples, Jesus ascended into the Father’s presence. “When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51). As the awestruck disciples watched this, suddenly two angelic figures appear with a message: “Men of Galilee…why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:10-11). What wondrous mystery and awesome power is revealed as Jesus ascends. It is no wonder, then, that the next thing the disciples did was gather with other believers in Jerusalem for an extended period of time to pray and worship.
John Singleton Copley, a painter in the American colonies, was inspired to paint this biblical event after spending six months in Rome, where he was astonished by the skill and artistry of the Renaissance painter Raphael. Specifically, Copley studied Raphael’s rendering of Christ’s transfiguration, which served as an inspiration for Copley’s painting of Christ’s ascension. Copley saw the important connection between the transfiguration, where Christ’s heavenly glory is briefly revealed, and the ascension, where Christ returns to the full glory of the Father’s presence. The disciples are overwhelmed with awe at Jesus’ glorious, post-resurrection presence now withdrawing corporeally in this ascension into eternal glory at the Father’s right hand. Here, the glory of Jesus’ earthly and heavenly identity is revealed and it leaves both the disciples and us amazed. We, too, can stand in awe, alone or with others, lifting our prayer and worship to Jesus “who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34).