Listen: Christian Growth with Simon Manchester. (Airs 8am Sundays on Hope 103.2 & Inspire Digital.)
Simon Manchester presents a 10-part series of messages called ‘Confident Theology’. Week by week he takes listeners on a journey through the famous statement of Christian faith known as the ‘Apostles’ Creed’. This week, Part 6: “Seated and Coming to Judge”.
Part 6: “Seated and Coming to Judge” – Eph 1:15-23
Our gracious God, we thank you again for these moments of quiet, when we consider things that are great and deep and high and long. And we pray that what we know not, you would teach us, what we have not, you would give to us and what we are not, you would make us. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.
This is our sixth morning (in case you are a visitor today) in the Apostles Creed. We are running a little series which we have called “Confident Theology” and today we come to the section of the Creed where we would, if we were standing to say the Creed, say that we believe Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father and that he will come to judge the living and the dead.
Now, we know that the Creed can be said half asleep; we have all said it mindlessly occasionally, and we know that some people don’t really know what they believe – which is a sadness because if you stand for nothing (as they say) you will fall for anything. But it is a wonderful thing when God is at work in people to give them faith, conviction, assurance and zeal for the great truths of Christ.
The Emptiness of a Selfish Life
Many years ago in the fifties, 1950’s there was a couple, an American couple who went to Oxford to study. They were a very intelligent couple. They were very attractive and they made their goal, they made the centre of their life, happiness. They basically said to each other ‘we are going to make happiness the key to our life’. And they were surrounded by Christian people in Oxford, not least those who were being influenced by CS Lewis, the Professor of English.
And a little bit down the track the girl in the couple decided that this happiness-centred life was an empty life and she surrendered her life to Christ. Her husband did not. He refused. A little bit further down the track she got very sick and she contracted cancer and she died at the age of 40. The husband wrote to CS Lewis and basically said to him ‘this is what your God is like, this is what he does, this is how he behaves, this is the vindictive style of your God’.
And CS Lewis wrote back to him a very very important letter which has become a famous letter where he said to him “God has delivered you from a false god called happiness and he has dealt you” (and this was the phrase in the letter), “he has dealt you a severe mercy”. And this phrase “severe mercy” made a very big impact on this man and there came a time when he himself surrendered to Christ and wrote a book called A Severe Mercy which has sold over a million copies. And in the book he says this: “I look back on my life as an atheist and I had no Creed, I had nothing to believe, I had nothing to stand for.”
The Christian has a Creed. The Apostles Creed as you know is a human document. It was put together by people. It’s not inspired. It’s not part of Scripture but it’s a useful document. And what we have done so far in our series is we have looked at:
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- Believing in the Father, the first person of the Trinity.
- Believing in the Son, the second person of the Trinity.
And everything we have seen so far in the Creed has had to do with Jesus in the past. So he was born in the past, he suffered in the past, he died in the past, was crucified, buried and rose in the past, it’s all in the past.
And today we come to the one word in the Creed which has got to do with the present: “Seated”. And then we will come to those two words that have got to do with the future – “Coming to Judge”. The three words, “Seated, Coming, Judge” are the key to our talk this morning. And the three words are so big we could do a whole series on “Seated”. We could do a whole series on “Coming”, and we could do a whole series on “Judge”. We are going to do the three quite quickly and it will be a quite condensed, tight sermon. But I hope you will see the three words open the door to an absolute bank vault of riches.
- Behind the word “seated” is a massive amount of encouragement.
- Behind the word “coming” is a wonderful treasure.
- Behind the word “judge” is a billion gold bars of goodness.
In case you think Jesus is finished – he is “seated”, he is “coming”, and he will “judge”. Let’s think about the three very quickly together.
Seated at the Right Hand
First of all, he is seated at the right hand of the Father. Now the Jesus who rose from the dead and ascended from the world is now – the Bible tells us – is seated. But we can’t see him seated so the Bible tells us that he is in Hebrews chapter 1 “After he had washed our sins, he sat down”. Ephesians chapter 1 “God raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand”. We need to understand a few things.
This is not literal language. We don’t need to imagine that Jesus literally sits all the time on some kind of heavenly throne. The language of ‘throne’ and ‘being at the right hand of God’ is language to help us to understand his authority. For example if I was to say to you “the Queen is on the throne of England”, it doesn’t really matter whether she is sitting on a throne or not. She has the position of authority.
- Who is on the throne of England? Well at the moment it’s the Queen.
- Who is on the throne of the universe? For now and forever it’s Jesus Christ.
So it’s not a literal thing. It’s a political thing, it’s a sovereign thing.
Secondly, this Jesus sitting on the throne is where the whole Bible has been moving. Now I wonder if you can follow this little sequence. I am going to give it to you in seven quick steps and I think you will be able to follow if you are listening carefully.
1 – God is on the Throne
The Bible tells us that God is on the throne. Psalm chapter 29, “The Lord sits enthroned”. Isaiah chapter 40, “He sits enthroned”.
2 – Jesus Predicted He Would be Enthroned
Jesus promised he would be enthroned. It’s quite a shock! Matthew chapter 26, “You will see the Son of Man sitting on his throne”. Luke chapter 22, “I will be seated at the right hand of God”. Jesus promised this.
3 – The Prediction Came True
Jesus’ prediction came true. Hebrews chapter 1: “He sat down”. Ephesians chapter 1, “God seated him”.
4 – He is to be Recognised as the One on the Throne
He is to be recognised as the one on the throne. Revelation chapter 4, “To Him who is on the throne, be glory, honour, dominion and power”. Colossians chapter 1, “Seek the things that are above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God”.
5 – We are Seated With Christ
Christians are, in an amazing sense, ‘seated with Christ’. I find this very hard to get my head around this and you do as well I imagine. But the Bible tells us that when you become a Christian, you put your faith in Christ there is a sense in which you are now seated with Christ spiritually, you are with Him spiritually. Ephesians chapter 2, “God seated us with Him”. Colossians chapter 2, “You were raised spiritually with Christ”.
6 – We Will Stand Before Jesus
We are going to one day physically stand before Jesus. We will one day be in front of the throne where he is. Romans chapter 14, “We will all stand before the Judgement Seat of Christ”. 2 Corinthians chapter 5, “We will stand before the Judgement Seat of Christ”.
7 – Jesus Will Judge Everyone
Jesus will judge everyone and when he has done the work of judgement, He will, as it were, take his place again under the headship or the position of his Father.
So the position of Jesus is that he is now seated, he is now the King, he is now the High Priest and he is now the Prophet on the throne.
The next thing to know is that when it says that “Jesus sat down”, it’s because he finished the work of paying for sin. The writer of Hebrews says, ‘you know, look at the priests down in the temple, they are standing beside the altar, they have to keep going, they have to keep offering sacrifices. They stand there all day offering sacrifices. They can’t sit down because the work never finishes in the temple. But when Jesus died on the cross he finished the work and he “sat down”. That’s why he called down, on the cross in John chapter 19, “It is finished”. And that’s why Hebrews chapter 10 says “he offered himself and he sat down”.
In other words, when he did the work of sacrifice on the cross he paid enough for all the life of your sins. Not just the past, but the sins of the present and the sins of the future. A full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice as the old Prayer Book says.
That’s why we know that good works never come in to contribute to salvation in the Christian life. It’s all his work and none of our work. Nothing we do can cause salvation except what he has done. That’s why purgatory is unnecessary and insulting. This idea that we would go to a sort of a middle place and we would work off a little more of our sinfulness and try and prepare ourselves to be ready for the next stage. It’s insulting, it’s unnecessary.
The old hymn says,
When he had purged our stains at the cross
He took his seat above.
Purgatory is behind us. But if the work of paying for sins is finished, the work of Jesus continues as King, Prophet and Priest. He keeps being the King, and he keeps being the Prophet and he keeps being the Priest. So he continues to rule today as King of Kings. He is perfect in power, perfect in goodness, he is sovereign ruling everything.
Jesus is King, Priest, and Prophet
You may have had a terrible week this week, things may have gone terribly wrong and you are beginning to think to yourself, is this just a complete, random shemozzle of a world that we are in? No. It’s been perfectly, brilliantly controlled and governed by the King of Kings using a whole series of things which will teach us long lessons. So he continues to be the King on the throne and although we have our questions and we may want to shake our little fist every now and again, and say “why don’t you do it better?”, just remember that Job did that and Job was brought down about 5,000 pegs because he had no idea the genius of God and the things that God was and is doing. So he continues to be the King on the throne.
He continues to be the High Priest. He prays for his people and he hears the prayers of his people. Hebrews chapter 7 “He lives to pray for us”. Hebrews chapter 4 “He hears our prayers and gives mercy and grace in time of need”.
I don’t know if you remember that time Jesus was sitting with the disciples and he suddenly turned, this must have been a shocking moment, and he said “Peter, Satan has asked to have you but I have prayed for you that your faith will not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen the brethren”. What a shock! Here is Jesus having prayed that somebody would not be overcome by evil. That’s what he does, he prays for his people. And then remember how often he taught in the New Testament that we should pray to him and not lose heart because he listens to us.
Now I fall asleep in my own prayers! Do you fall asleep in your own prayers? Occasionally I fall asleep in my prayers. I sometimes am close to falling asleep when I pray, but the Lord Jesus never falls asleep when I pray, or when you pray. He takes a great interest in our prayers even when we don’t.
“He is also the Prophet, the great Prophet who continues to build his church with his Word.”
And not only is he the King ruling over all details and not only is he the High Priest praying and hearing our prayers but he is also the Prophet, the great Prophet who continues to build his church with his Word. The Gospel goes out as we have heard this morning to the children of the world, to the grownups of the world, and the Word builds people up and it brings them to Christ and it builds them up in their faith in Christ and it builds his church. It’s absolutely wonderful what God is doing.
I was reading a book recently written by a lady who has been studying in Cambridge and she now has a ‘professorship’ in America and she said one of her good friends is the Professor of English Literature at Delhi University and she is a keen Christian and she is part of some tribes in India called the “Naga” tribe. And she was talking to this Professor in India and she was asking how the church among the Naga people grew.
She said the Western Missionaries came to us in the 19th Century but there were very few converts and it was those few converts who just went everywhere sharing the Gospel and now 80% of the Naga people are now believers and Christian people within India. So this Professor of English Literature said to this other friend who is now in America – “Please don’t give too much credit to the Western Missionaries because a huge amount of the work was done by the Naga people themselves.” And she went on to say “Please don’t imagine for a minute that Christianity is a western white religion. We need to remember that Jesus is building his church. Seated on the throne he is ruling, he is praying, he is hearing our prayers and the Word is going out building his church.”
That’s first of all – “Seated”.
Jesus is Coming Again
Secondly, he will come. The Jesus who did come, will come. And he did come. Now today is the 50th Anniversary of a man landing on the moon as you now and I love the quote of James Irwin who was the eighth man to walk on the moon and became a Christian after his trip to the moon and he famously said this “God walking on the earth is more important than man walking on the moon”. And that’s true. I mean it’s quite impressive that man would walk on the moon. It’s unbelievable that God would walk on the earth, but true.
And we can be confident that Jesus who did come, will come. Why should we be confident about this? Well because it was a massive part of his teaching. John chapter 14 “I will come again and take you to be with me”. Multiply that hundreds of times in the New Testament. Think of the Parables that Jesus taught about how the Master will go and come.
Now we may have doubts about the coming of Christ but there were doubts from the very beginning. In a few weeks we are going to have a little series in 2 Peter which is a tremendous encouragement not to lose heart. It may seem foolish to us to believe that Jesus will come but I want to remind you that he kept every promise he made. This is the one outstanding promise.
The bigger danger for us is that we will forget. We will settle into the world and become worldly people. You remember Jesus said that in the days of Noah the people were eating, drinking, getting married and giving in marriage. What’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing. But they took no notice whatsoever of the message that there was a judgement to come. And so when the judgement did come so few responded. We need to be very careful we don’t forget. The character of Jesus is too great to ditch the promise that he will come.
Now how will he come? Well, he will come physically. The one who went is the one who will come. The same Jesus who walked on the earth, and talked and put children on his knee and touched people and healed people, this Jesus will come. As it is said in Acts chapter 1 “the same Jesus who you see leave will return”.
Be Ready For His Coming
But his coming will be somehow cosmic. It will be a global not a local event. Not coming through Sydney Harbour as if we are the centre of the universe. Revelation chapter 1 says “every eye will see him”. Matthew chapter 25 tells us “the nations will gather in front of him”. We are not told when this will happen and that’s good because it means that every morning we could get up if possible and say ‘it could be today’ and that would have a good affect on us. If we knew exactly when he was coming we’d probably slack off for a while and then get enthusiastic toward the end.
But Jesus said “nobody knows except the Father” and Paul said “therefore he will come like a thief”. A thief, not because he is going to do something immoral but because we don’t know when thieves come.
No friends, I forget this, I forget that Jesus will come. I easily just bogged down to the timetable of the day and the week and the month and I will be grateful for any of you anytime just to remind me that Jesus is coming. Anytime you want to do that for me, just do it, it will do me good.
The idea of course that we are going to turn the world into a utopia ourselves, surely that idea must be wearing thin. We are just not that good at turning this world into utopia. And if you think the next political party will do it or the next political party or the next, it’s just not going to happen. We are going to have to wait until Jesus comes into a fallen world run by sinners and just removes the evil. That will happen and when it happens, things will really change.
He is Coming to Save and Judge
Now why will Jesus come? Well he will come for two reasons. He’ll come to save and he’ll come to judge. He says in Luke chapter 21 “when you see the Lord Jesus coming, when you see me coming, lift up your heads your salvation is coming”. Hebrews chapter 9 “He will appear again to bring salvation”.
Now we might say we’ve already got salvation, what are we talking about? He’s going to bring salvation? No, not salvation from guilt. And everyday we receive some kind of salvation from dangers, but there will come a day where salvation will come in all its fullness and we will be saved from all evil – remarkable moment. He will come to save.
And he will also come to judge Acts chapter 17 “There is a day where he will judge”. 2 Timothy chapter 4 “For he will judge the living and the dead”. The old Creed used to say “the quick and the dead”. The quick of course is an old word for ‘living’. And when Jesus comes and brings justice it will be a very very wonderful thing. The world really deep down longs for more justice. The big killings of the last hundreds of years, the killings that have been done in the thousands and millions need some kind of answer. The abuses of power, the things that have been done to helpless people, the cases which are unsolved, the travesties of justice, these things he is able and willing to put right.
And so the New Testament teaches us that although judgement is delayed it will not in the end be denied. He is seated, he is coming and the third word this morning is “he will judge the living and the dead”.
He will judge the living and the dead. It’s Jesus who will do the judging, John chapter 5. “The Father judges no one. He has entrusted judgement to the Son”. That’s a wonderful thing. The one who knows this world and knows us will judge us.
Judgement in Stages
There is a sense in which the judgement is going to take place in stages. What I mean by that is this: At the present, people make their decision about Christ. They either respond to him with resistance or repentance. They take up a position with Christ. I am against or I am for. And then of course at death that decision is locked in. Hebrews chapter 9 “After death comes judgement”. Jesus said in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus “in your lifetime you had your opportunity”.
So you see what people are doing in the world today, “the Light has come into the world”, Jesus said “and some preferred darkness and some come to the Light”. “He came to his own” – John chapter 1. Some refused him and some received him. The decision that people are making will be locked in when they die. And then it will be announced publicly. Jesus will suddenly speak to people a word which is ‘Welcome’, or ‘Depart’. This will be the great verdict. And in a sense it will reflect the way a person has treated Him. The Welcomer will be ‘welcomed’. The person who says to him ‘depart’ will hear the words ‘depart’.
Now what’s the issue he is looking for? What does he want from us? He doesn’t want a nice life as if that’s enough for judgement. I mean he wants a nice life but that’s not going to save us. He is not looking for church attendance, helpful as that may be. He is not looking for our ability to sprout verses.
“And if we have received a brand new life, let me assure you that, that brand new life will be seen, will be evident.”
During the week I was on one of the train stations and I saw a man walking past, whose autobiography had just been published. And I dipped into it. And I said to him “Are you a man of faith?” “Oh,” he said, “I blend a bit of Christianity and Buddhism”. I said, “That’s a silly thing to say to a clergyman, wasn’t it?” I said to him, “Do they blend well?” And he said “Well it says in the Bible, ‘In my Father’s house are many rooms’.” And I said, “In about three verses later, ‘no one comes to the Father but by me’.” “Have a nice day,” he said, and walked off! You see, knowing verses, you are not really going to help on the last day! It’s a help in the present, but it’s not our rescue.
What God is looking for is very simple. He has given us his Son, he wants to know whether we have received his Son. He has given us eternal life as a gift, he has offered it and he wants to know that we have received it. And if we have received a brand new life, let me assure you that, that brand new life will be seen, will be evident. Please don’t tell me that you have received eternal life if eternal life is not impacting you.
You know, if you think you have received eternal life and nothing has changed, have you really received eternal life? I presume when a person is born into this world and they receive life and they begin to breathe, they begin to feed and cry and relate and change. If a person receives eternal life they begin to feed and cry and relate and change:
- The feeding on God’s Word,
- The speaking to him in prayer,
- The loving of his people and the lost,
- The growing in godliness,
Those are the evidences and Jesus will know whether eternal life is real. We wouldn’t want to trivialise our life. Remember the Parable of the Master coming back, having given a certain amount of opportunity and ability. So that’s the issue. Have we received Him? Has it changed us? Let me finish with a few quick comments.
We All Have Big Questions
First of all, don’t give up on the Gospel because you’ve got questions about how the whole plan of salvation works. I have big questions about people around the world and how they will be judged when they have had less opportunities than I have had. But there’s no point in me standing outside the Kingdom with my arms folded saying “I am not going to go in until God answers all my questions”. The sensible thing for me to do is to trust him because he is perfect and obey him by taking his Son and then seeking to pass on the Good News.
Don’t get distracted by secondary issues that have got to do with the return of Christ like the anti-Christ or the Millennium. Those are minor issues that you can do some homework on, the important thing is that Christ will come.
Don’t expect that you will have a perfect life here. This is a fallen world run by sinners like us and it’s not going to be a perfect world. A whole lot of things will go wrong, a whole lot of things will remind us that this world is not our home.
Don’t be afraid, in case you are afraid of meeting Christ, if he is your Saviour – because the one who you’ll stand before the judge is the one who came into the world with great love for you and laid down his life for you. So when you stand before him you will be standing before the person who loves you more than anyone. And he’s the one who will assess everything beautifully. And that’s why when we stand to say the Creed we are thankful and we are confident to be able to say that we believe in one who is seated and is coming and will judge.
Heavenly Father, we bow before you. We thank you so much for this extraordinary promise and fulfilment of Christ seated on the throne, running the universe, listening to our prayers, praying for us, sending out his Word and bringing in his people. We thank you for the promise of his coming. We pray that you would help us to be mindful and ready every day. And we also thank you for this justice, this day of justice that is around the corner when you will be greatly honoured, when evil will be subdued, your people vindicated and we will be filled with praise for your grace. We ask that you would help us to live faithfully for you in this world and to help others believe as well.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name, Amen.