Out of sight, but not out of mind

After his ascension, we do not physically see Jesus. But he always sees us and never forgets us.

John A. Vieths

“Out of sight, out of mind.” When college choices are going to separate them next year, this is what dating high school seniors fear. Their mothers may fear it too, as the high school graduates trade their childhood bedrooms for dorm rooms. Many newly independent young adults forget to call home once in a while.

Will people we care about deeply forget about us when we no longer see each other on a regular basis? We don’t want to drift apart and lose touch. On our Savior’s part, we can put to rest any fears that he has stopped thinking about us now that we can’t see him anymore. We occupy his thoughts constantly. In heaven, he talks about us with his Father every day.

OUR ADVOCATE IN HEAVEN

We desperately need him to have those conversations. “My dear children,” the apostle John wrote in his first letter, “I write this to you so that you will not sin” (1 John 2:1). Life for us after the Lord’s ascension is a struggle against sin. No sermon, no Bible class, not even a letter written by one of Jesus’ own apostles, ever succeeded in putting a permanent end to our sinning.

The apostle John knew this too. He wasn’t laboring under any delusions about how successful his letter was going to be, even a letter inspired by God. He inked the observation: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1:8). By faith God’s children fight not to sin, but we still lose plenty of contests. Honesty requires us to admit it.

This gives Jesus and his Father something to talk about. In fact, it demands they talk. Some of the terms and names with which we refer to Jesus are terms of endearment, full of love and warmth: Good Shepherd, Redeemer, Lamb of God, my Savior. On that list “defense attorney” may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But this too is part of Jesus’ important work for us now that he has ascended. “If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (2:1). He speaks to the Father in our defense. He is our defense attorney, our advocate, the heavenly lawyer who argues our case in heaven’s highest court.

Jesus never loses a case. His Father finds us innocent every time. Considering the facts of the case, that is a shocking truth. We know we sinned. Jesus knows we sinned. His Father knows it too. But we are found not guilty every time. Why? It is because of who defends us, how he defends us, and where he defends us.

Paul explained to the Romans, “Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (8:34). Our attorney is Christ Jesus, the Judge’s Son, the Son the Judge loves. We can be sure his arguments are going to receive a sympathetic ear. Our defender pleads his own life and death for us. He served our sentence and paid our debt. His resurrection put an exclamation on the fact that all accounts are settled. And Jesus makes his case for us not from beneath the Judge’s bench, but from his right hand. Here in heaven’s courtroom Jesus speaks with all the power and authority of heaven’s rightful ruler. How could we lose?

A GIFT OF THE SPIRIT

While Jesus pleads our case in heaven, he hasn’t forgotten that we are still on earth. The danger of “out of sight, out of mind” was never really a danger for him. It is a danger for us. And so that we don’t let him slip from our hearts, our minds, and our mission, he has given us his Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit is an important benefit of his death, resurrection, and ascension. “It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). We Lutherans don’t think about the Holy Spirit as much as some Christians, but that’s okay. The Holy Spirit isn’t as interested in having the attention on himself as he is in directing our attention to Jesus. Christ reminded the disciples in the upper room: “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me” (John 15:26). Jesus promised, “He will glorify me” (John 16:14) and “will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I said to you” (John 14:26).

Don’t we know Jesus and what he teaches well enough already? Is there really so much for the Spirit to teach us? What we lack may not be a list of lessons from our Savior’s life. Certainly the Spirit helps us learn and remember his life and teaching too.

Our greater challenge, however, may be trusting and applying the things we do know about Jesus. If it weren’t for the Holy Spirit, we could do neither. “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness,” Paul wrote the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 2:14). People who have never heard of Jesus or the Holy Spirit can still come to some good conclusions. But “the message of the cross is foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:18) until the Spirit’s power convinces us that it is “the wisdom of God.”

Then we see Jesus and his cross not as one teaching among many in the Bible but as the lens through which all of reality becomes clear. The apostle Paul was not holding out on the Christians in Corinth when he told them, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). He was giving them the key that unlocks the meaning to everything! Only with this key can we understand the meaning of our baptisms (Ephesians 5:25-27; Romans 6:1-11), Christ’s supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26), our suffering (Romans 5:1-8; Romans 8:18-39; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10), our love and service (2 Corinthians 5:14,15; 1 John 4:7-11), our witness (Romans 10:5-17), our universe (Colossians 1:13-20), and our God (John 14:8-11).

So Jesus ascended, and he gave us the Spirit with his Word—the Spirit who makes our hearts his home, assures us of our place in God’s family, blesses us with gifts for serving, leads us in godly living, makes us bold to tell others about our Savior, and gives power to the gospel we share. But the Spirit doesn’t do this by making himself the star of the show. He does it by keeping our attention focused on Jesus, who may be out of sight but is never out of mind.

John Vieths is pastor at Grace, Norman, Oklahoma.

This is the second article in a four-part series on Jesus’ ascension and the work he continues to do for us.

 

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Author: John A. Vieths
Volume 103, Number 6
Issue: June 2016

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