As a pastor, I sometimes found myself in spiritual conversations with people who felt the need to confess their sins to God. It was a special privilege for me to point them to scriptures such as 1 John 2:1-2. “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
This is very good news. It means that there is One who appears before the throne of God in heaven to represent us, to defend us, to pray for us. That One is Jesus. When a defendant is accused of a crime in a court of law, he needs a defense attorney to represent him. Jesus, our heavenly advocate, defends believers against the accusations of Satan, and the guilt incurred by our sins.
This weekend, churches around the world observe Ascension Sunday, a service to commemorate the ascension of the Lord Jesus to heaven 40 days after his resurrection (Acts 1:9-11). His ascension means his ministry continues. What is he doing in heaven now? He is seated at God’s right hand interceding for his people. “Jesus Christ 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).
As he was dying, the early martyr Stephen saw Jesus in heaven “standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). This is the position of an advocate! Simon Peter was about to experience a bitter failure and Jesus predicted it. But in compassion, he said, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31-32). Jesus showed how he prayed for his disciples then (John 17:9-19) and how he prays for them now (John 17: 20-24).
The book of Hebrews describes this present ministry of our ascended Lord as his high priesthood. In the Old Testament, one of the functions of the high priests was to represent the people before God and to intercede for them. He wore special vestments with a breast piece that had twelve precious stones with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel inscribed on them. They were positioned near his heart (Exodus 28:15-29).
This represents the love of our Great High Priest for his people who trust in him. Through his intercessions, he carries our names and our needs into the presence of God. He became “fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17).
After his death on the cross, and after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples in a variety of settings. He taught them about the coming kingdom and about their mission for him. At the end of forty days, he was taken up into heaven from the Mount of Olives. Two men dressed in white appeared to the disciples who were there and told them that Jesus would return just as they had seen him go (Acts 1:1-11).
He ascended to heaven to continue his ministry at the Father’s right hand. While we wait here for his return, we may be thankful for his high priesthood as our advocate, intercessor, and mediator. This means that people like us “who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ,” the basis of our acceptance before a holy God (Ephesians 2:13).
Charles Wesley captured the thought in this majestic hymn.
Arise my soul, arise. Shake off thy guilty fears./ The bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears./ Before the throne my Surety stands. My name is written on his hands.
He ever lives above, for me to intercede./ His all-redeeming love, his precious blood to plead./ His blood atoned for all our race. And sprinkles now the throne of grace.
Five bleeding wounds he bears, received on Calvary./ They pour effectual prayers. They strongly plead for me./ “Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry. “Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”
The Father hears him pray, His dear Anointed One./ He cannot turn away the presence of his Son./ The Spirit answers to the blood and tells me I am born of God.
My God is reconciled. His pardoning voice I hear./ He owns me for his child. I can no longer fear./ With confidence I now draw nigh and “Father, Abba, Father cry!”
Pastor Randy Faulkner