When Christ Sat Down

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Throughout the month of August, we’re taking a close look at 23 verses of the New Testament.  They comprise Ephesians chapter one, which paints one of the Bible’s most comprehensive pictures of what it means for ordinary people to be “in Christ.”  

There’s a well-worn story about a man who, on his way to work every morning, walked past a clock shop. 

It was part of his daily ritual to pause long enough to gaze at the big grandfather clock standing in the shop window.  One day the clockmaker, who had noticed this behavior, stepped outside and struck up a conversation.  “This one’s a real beauty, isn’t she?” he said, pointing to the clock in the window.

“I’ll say,” said the man on the street.  “To tell you the truth, I actually have another motive for stopping here every day.  I’m the timekeeper at the local factory.  It’s my job to blow the whistle at precisely five o’clock.  This wristwatch of mine is notoriously unreliable, so every day I stop and recalibrate it according to this magnificent timepiece of yours.”

“Is that so?” said the clockmaker, who was beginning to feel a bit uneasy. “I hate to tell you this, but the reason this grandfather clock doesn’t sell is that I’ve never been able to make it work precisely right.  In fact, I readjust it every day – right at five o’clock, when I hear the whistle go off at your factory!”

Life’s most important questions are pretty simple:  What time is it right now, and who has the authority to say so?

Our culture has answered resoundingly:  There is no Greenwich Mean Time when it comes to the purpose and meaning of lifeThat’s because our culture refuses to recognize any authority qualified to speak on such matters.  Everyone winds his own watch and marches to his own schedule.

A few years ago, I came up behind a car driven by a teenage girl.  It was turning into the parking lot of the local high school.  I noticed its bumper sticker:  Galileo was wrong; the world revolves around ME. 

In today’s world that makes laughably perfect sense.  If there is nothing outside myself that is eternally valid or true, then the question of where I will get my rules for living is a no-brainer.  The world revolves around me.  “Truth” is what turns out to suit my appetites.  My feelings, my perspectives, and my take on reality become Reality itself.

The cereal aisle in the grocery store, fully stocked with scores of colorful options, is a compelling metaphor for current spiritual decision-making.  Individuals demand the right to make choices.  As author Mike Starkey puts it, “If theology is the study of God (from the Greek word theos), then most contemporary spirituality is ‘me-ology,’ the art of taking my own tastes, preferences and moods and creating a customized religion just for me.”

As we approach the end of our journey through Ephesians 1, it should be clear that this chapter is the ultimate counter-cultural manifesto.  Paul is all about Christ – and Christ alone

He writes in verses 20 and 21: “[God] raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” 

Jesus is not merely one of the Olympian gods – that motley crew from which you could take your pick on any given day, depending on which deity’s powers you might need.  Nor is he mixed in with the more than 300 million “local” gods and goddesses that are part of the religious scene in India.  Paul insists that Christ stands alone.  All other so-called powers and authorities are pretenders. 

What does it mean that he is “seated [at God’s] right hand in the heavenly realms”? 

Ancient people had a strong bias toward right-sidedness – evident in the Latin words for right (dexter, as in “dexterity”) and left (sinister, as in, “never trust a left-handed person”).  The right hand was the symbol of hospitality (“extend the right hand of fellowship”) and strength (God upholds his people with “his righteous right hand,” as in Isaiah 41:10). 

With regard to authority, the right side was the side of honor – an idea that has survived in expressions like, “He’s my right-hand man.”  After his life, death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven (that is, God’s realm) where he accepted the symbolic place of highest honor.

And he sat down.

This is not a random detail.  The theological term for this event is the “session” of Christ.  Today the word “session” sounds a bit antiquated and is generally used to describe the assembly of those in a courthouse (“this court is now in session”), the legislature (“the next session of Congress”), and the pastors and elders of a Presbyterian church (where “session meetings” refer to two or three-hour increments of your life that you will never be able to get back).   

The fact that Jesus sat down is wonderful news for us. 

The New Testament book of Hebrews identifies Jesus as our heavenly high priest.  In the Jewish tabernacle (and then temple), there were no chairs.  That’s because, symbolically, a priest’s work was never done.  There was always another prayer to be prayed and another sacrifice to be offered.  You had to remain on your feet.  But according to Hebrews 10:11-12, after Jesus offered himself as the ultimate sacrifice for sin, nothing else had to be done to bridge the gap between God and humanity.  “It is finished,” he said on the cross. 

Therefore, after ascending into heaven, he sat down.

In just a handful of words, Paul is declaring that there is no one else like Jesus – because no one else can possibly do for us what Jesus has already accomplished. 

In 2016 Richard Hays, one of the world’s leading New Testament scholars, completed his book Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels.  A panel of fellow scholars gave his work favorable reviews at the meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature that year in San Antonio.  The author himself was present for the Q&A that followed, even though he was in the midst of treatments for pancreatic cancer.

One of the reviewers thought Hays might have gone a bit too far in his conclusions – especially when he asserted that the early church had unequivocally taught that Jesus was the world’s only Savior, and that Christians today should do the same.  Why had he expressed himself so strongly? 

Hays began to weep.  He admitted to the audience, “I thought that these were going to be the last words I was ever going to write.”

A man who had spent most of his life studying Scripture could think of nothing more important, at the end of his life, than to affirm that our only hope is in Christ – and Christ alone. 

So, what time is it?

It’s always the right time to recalibrate our hearts and minds to that transforming truth.