If you've grown up in church, you probably know that it's hard to be surprised by the story of Jesus' life and ministry. We have 2,000 years' worth of teaching and reflection on the Gospel in addition to our own personal familiarity with it. But here's what never fails to surprise me: after Jesus ascends into heaven to sit at God's right hand, His disciples are...happy? St. Luke writes, "And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God" (24:52-53).
Many times we're surprised that our Lord's Ascension should elicit such joy, either in us or in the Apostles. Most likely our puzzlement stems from the popular picture of what Jesus is doing now that He has been hidden from our sight. Scripture tells us that "Now...we have...a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man" (Heb. 8:1-2). St. Paul says, "Christ Jesus is the one who died-more than that, who was raised-who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us" (Rom. 8:34).
When we confess that Jesus is making intercession for us, we often envision Him muttering at the arm of a golden throne in unapproachable ethereal light, very far away from us. The Church needs the prayers of our High Priest and Advocate and we rejoice in the gift of the Holy Spirit, given on Pentecost, but wouldn't things be better if Jesus were still visibly with us? Picturing our Savior as far above and beyond the rest of us seems to say that Jesus can't be bothered to be with us always, as He promised (Matt. 28:20).
But the problem is really with how we misunderstand Jesus' intercession. Jesus acts as our Mediator only because He was-and is-among us. In the days of His earthly ministry, He "offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence" (Heb. 5:7). From His birth and circumcision to His agony in Gethsemane and His excruciating death on Golgotha, Jesus' life was one blood-drenched, God-pleasing prayer.
The blood of Jesus speaks a better word than the blood of righteous Abel, whose sacrifice offered in faith to God was pleasing, but in no way as pleasing as the once and for all sacrifice made by our High Priest on a hill outside Jerusalem (Heb. 11:4). Jesus' blood speaks the word, "It is finished" to us sinners who at present can only see our Advocate with the eyes of faith. Jesus is still with us, interceding with His own blood. He makes good His word by giving it to us to drink on bended knee around the altar. That blood, shed by the One who is both Victim and Priest, still speaks: "Given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins."
Timothy Sheridan is a member of Our Savior Lutheran in Raleigh, NC.
Created: June 16th, 2015