A Friend in High Places

Romans 8:34

34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. 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.

Dear Friends in Christ,

Have you ever met or known anyone in high places?  You know the kind of person I’m talking about, don’t you?  Somebody with some punch, some power, some pizzazz.  I don’t want to brag this morning, but you might be interested in knowing that your pastor has rubbed shoulders with some pretty important and impressive people over the course of his lifetime.  For example, I’ll have you know that this right hand of mine once shook hands with none other than the President of the United States, Gerald Ford.  I volunteered to serve as an usher at an appearance he made in Ft. Wayne, IN while I was attending the seminary there years ago.  And as he got closer to me, I kind of muscled my way through the crowd just so I could say that I shook hands with the most powerful man in the world.  Now I seriously doubt that he ever remembered that, but I sure did.

Then I don’t think I’ll ever forget what happened on July 11, 1998.  That was a very sad day for that was the day that I conducted the funeral for an 8-year-old boy from St. Peter named Alex Wodtka.  He’d had a heart transplant when he was just a baby and he became kind of like the poster child for then Secretary of State and future Governor George Ryan’s campaign to get people to become organ donors.  Well, right before the funeral began, I was in the church basement by myself while the family had been taken upstairs to view Alex’s body one more time.  All of a sudden this very distinguished looking silver-haired man walked into the room where I was waiting.  It was George Ryan.  The only problem was, I didn’t recognize him.  So I went up to him and introduced myself as the pastor who was going to perform the funeral.  Then I said, “So, are you part of the family?”  He looked at me and said, “No, I’m George Ryan, the Secretary of State.”  I don’t think I’ve ever wanted the earth to open up and swallow me more than I did at that moment.  But he was very kind and gracious to me – even came up to me at the cemetery and said some nice things about my funeral sermon.  Again, I doubt that he remembers that, but I sure do.

Well, regardless of whether you’ve ever shaken hands with a President or dialogued with a future governor or schmoozed with any of the other high and mighty people of our world, I want you to know that on this Ascension Sunday you do have one very special friend in high places.  His name is Jesus.  And today we’re going to spend our time taking a look at 3 very important characteristics that we find in this wonderful friend using this verse from Rom. 8 as our guide.

And the first thing we want to note about him is that he is a friend who has power.  Paul says in our text that he is “at the right hand of God.”  That’s a truth we confess every Sunday in either the Apostles or the Nicene Creed, but I wonder how many of you understand what it means that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father.  It really means 2 things.  First of all, it means that he occupies the highest place of honor in heaven because back in biblical times, to sit at the right hand of the king was the highest honor that could be bestowed upon anyone in the kingdom.

But it also means something else.  How many of you here today are left-handed?  Please raise your hand.  Not very many.  The vast majority of people are right-handed.  And because of that, the Bible uses the right hand, especially the right hand of God, as a symbol for power.  For example, in Ps. 20:6 we read: “Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand.”  And in Ps. 45:4 David says to God: “In your majesty ride forth victoriously in behalf of truth, humility and righteousness; let your right hand display awesome deeds.”  So the fact that Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God means that he now exercises and has at his disposal all the power and authority of God.

Put simply, this means that Christ is running the show.  A wave just slapped the beach in Hawaii.  Christ saw it.  Christ commanded it.  A ladybug just fell from the ceiling of our sanctuary.  Christ saw it.  Christ commanded it.  A baby in India just took her first breath.  Christ not only saw it and ordered it, he can tell you how many breaths that baby will take before she takes her final one.  Nothing happens outside of his watch, outside of his permission.  He is sovereign, which means he is Lord and ruler over all.

Now I know what some of you are thinking.  If that is true, if Christ is in control of the world, then why does the world so often seem to be so out of control?  How do we explain the mess that we see all around us today?  I wonder if a car mechanic might be asked similar questions.  Imagine for a moment a mechanic who is working on a car when all of a sudden the owner of the vehicle, who knows nothing about cars, walks in and sees all these pieces scattered over the floor.  The carburetor is over there, the manifold is here, the distributor cap is next to it.  And the owner says, “What’s going on here?  What have you done to my car?  How are you ever going to put this mess back together again?”  To which the mechanic might very well reply: “You don’t understand.  I’m not finished yet.  But if you want me to explain it to you, that manifold is going to go there and that distributor cap is going to go here…”  And pretty soon the owner is lost in the explanation because he can’t begin to comprehend what the mechanic is saying or doing.  Just like we can’t begin to comprehend the mind and ways of God.  Like Paul says in Rom. 11:33-34: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”

So when the world seems to be careening out of control, don’t believe for a moment that God is sitting up there in the heavens biting his fingernails and wringing his hands because he’s lost control of everything.  He’s the master mechanic and he’s not finished yet.  So the best thing we can do at times like that is to trust him, to believe that he is working behind the scenes to bring good out of the bad, order out of the chaos, and to bring his plans and purposes to fulfillment, just as he has done countless other times throughout the history of this world.

But he’s not just a friend who has power; he is also a friend who understands.  One of the toughest lessons I’ve had to learn as a husband is that when my wife brings her problems to me, she doesn’t necessarily want me to fix them.  I used to believe that.  So when she’d share some problem with me, deep down in my heart I’d get a little puffed up with pride thinking that she’s wanting me to be her hero, her knight in shining armor.  And I’d analyze and scrutinize the situation until I came up with what I thought was a great solution.

But then I read the book “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” and there was a whole section in there that dealt with precisely what I’m talking about.  And it said that generally when a woman brings her problems to her husband, she really doesn’t want him to solve them for her.  She only wants him to listen and to understand.  Well, I couldn’t believe that.  So I went to Marilyn and asked her if that was true.  And you know what she said?  She said, “Yes, that is true.”  It’s just that she never had the heart to tell me.

Well, the great thing about Jesus is that in him we have a friend who truly understands us.  Heb. 4:15 puts it this way: “This high priest of ours (that’s Jesus!) understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin.”  You know what that means?  That means that when you’re discouraged and frustrated, you have a friend in Jesus.  When you’re heartbroken over the loss of a loved one, you have a friend in Jesus.  When you’re struggling with pain or loneliness or disappointment or fear, you have a friend in Jesus.  He understands.  He knows what it’s like to face all of those things and to feel all of those things.  And if you want his help, we’ve already noted that he has the power to help.

So he’s a friend who has power, a friend who understands, and lastly, he is a friend who intercedes for us.  Our text says that he “is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”  In his 1st epistle the apostle John uses the term “advocate” to describe this side of Jesus.  But what exactly is an advocate?

Well, recently I came across a true story that will give us the answer to that question.  It’s about a Bible translator by the name of Sir John Clarke who was serving in the Belgian Congo years ago.  As he was working on his translation of the New Testament into the language of the people he’d come to serve, he was having trouble finding a word for our English word advocate.  Finally he settled on one, but he wasn’t completely satisfied with it.  He knew there had to be a better word out there.

Well, two years after he finished his translation, he was invited to meet with the king of the region.  He accepted the invitation and enjoyed a fine meal with the king.  Toward the end of the meal a man came in and whispered a few things in the king’s ear.  As he turned to leave, the king said to Sir John Clarke, “That was Nsenga Mukwashi.”   Clarke thought that was the man’s name, but the king said, “No, that’s his title.”  He then explained that when people have requests or issues that they want to bring before the king, they often don’t know how to express their needs.  So the Nsenga Mukwashi serves as the king’s representative to the people.  This advocate listens to their requests and then brings them to the king.

Sir John Clarke then dismissed himself from the king’s presence and followed the Nsenga Mukwashi out into the village where he found the man visiting with 3 ladies, one elderly, two younger.  The elderly woman was explaining to the Nsenga Mukwashi that her husband had recently died and the men in the village had taken her hut away from her and she didn’t think that was fair.  Neither did the Nsenga Mukwashi.  So he told the woman, “We will go and talk to the king.”  But right away she objected.  She said, “If I were to stand in front of the king I would be too nervous and timid to even speak.”  To which the Nsenga Mukwashi said, “Don’t worry.  That’s my job.  I will speak for you.  I will present your need to the king.”

Sir John Clarke then followed them into the king’s presence and that’s exactly what the Nsenga Mukwashi did.  And he did it so well that the king ruled in favor of the woman and Sir John Clarke finally had his word for “advocate” in his translation of the New Testament.

And you know what you have, my friends?  You have a Nsenga Mukwashi in heaven.  Some of you may feel that after all the sins and mistakes you’ve committed in your life there’s no way God would ever want to listen to you.  But he does because in Jesus, the sinless Son of God, you have an advocate.  When you are weak, he is strong.  When you are timid, he is bold.  When you don’t feel worthy to speak, he speaks for you.  He truly is your Nsenga Mukwashi.  He truly is your friend in high places.  For he is a friend who has power, a friend who understands, a friend who intercedes for you.  And because of all that and so much more, he’s a friend who is definitely worth getting to know better.  Amen.