By Colin Howland, Director of Music and Organist
The choral year at Tenth has been traditionally bookended by two special evening services, the Reformation Hymn Festival on the last Sunday of October and the Spring Choral Service on the third Sunday of May. These services are not intended to be concerts in disguise, but rather they are opportunities for us as a church to highlight central themes of the Scriptures in sung praises and prayers and hear an exposition of God’s Word by a special guest preacher. This year we are pleased to welcome to our pulpit Dr. Carlton Wynne. Dr. Wynne is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary and a teaching elder in the PCA.
This year’s Spring Choral Service will focus on a major theme in the history of redemption, Christ’s ascension to heaven. Historically, the ascension has been a prominent feast in the annual church calendar, but in many non-liturgical churches today it has become somewhat of a forgotten event. It is interesting to note that the Apostles’ Creed gives more words to the theme of Christ’s ascension and session, or enthronement, in heaven than the incarnation, death, or resurrection! It says, “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From there he will come again to judge the living and the dead.”
After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels …
Why is the ascension so important? Put simply, if Jesus’ resurrection is Christ’s triumph, the ascension is his enthronement. Jesus is our eternal King. One of the great covenant promises of the Old Testament was made to David through the prophet Samuel, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16). Similarly, the angel Gabriel echoes this prophecy to Mary referring to Jesus, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33). The first chapter of Hebrews declares the significance of Christ’s ascension: “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs…But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom’”(Hebrews 1: 3b–4, 8).
Not only is Jesus the eternal King, but he is also the eternal High Priest: “He holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:24-26).
The Bible tells of many benefits of Christ’s ascension. Because Jesus ascended, he sent the Holy Spirit as Peter testified on the day of Pentecost: “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing”(Acts 2:33). From his throne in heaven Jesus sends gifts to the Church: “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men… And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’” (Ephesians 4:6b-8, 11-13).
Hymn writers over the centuries have tried to capture in miniature the great theology of the ascension. To whet your appetite for praise, here is one example that we will sing on May 15:
You have raised our human nature in the clouds to God’s right hand,
There we sit in heavenly places, there with You in glory stand:
Jesus reigns, adored by angels, man with God is on the throne;
Mighty Lord, in Your ascension we by faith behold our own.
— Christopher Wordsworth, 1862
© 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Colin Howland. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org