“God is gone up with a shout, The LORD with the sound of a trumpet.” When the Israelites sang Psalm 47, did they know they were singing about today’s event? Perhaps they had in mind when the Ark of the Covenant came to Jerusalem or when The Glory of The LORD entered His Temple when Solomon dedicated it.
The Holy Ghost had other ideas. He was looking forward to this day, when God would ascend into heaven to take His royal throne. God needed to take His royal throne? Our God is in heaven, He does whatever pleases Him! The Father did not take on our flesh. He never left His throne! Jesus even says in John’s Gospel that He Himself remained in heaven even as He came down from heaven! What’s going on here?
This same Son of God came down from heaven. He took on our flesh in the womb of His Virgin Mother. He was born in Bethlehem’s stable and laid to rest in a manger wrapped up like a mummy in swaddling clothes. He went into exile in Egypt and grew up like any normal boy in Nazareth, except He is without sin. He worked in His Guardian’s carpenter-shop and preached throughout Israel. He was crucified, died and was buried, but then rose from the dead in glory and is now ascended into heaven, where He lives and reigns over all things at The Father’s right hand. Our humanity is crowned in heaven as King over all things. This Man Jesus, our God, shall come again to judge the quick and the dead.
Today we celebrate His Ascension. The disciples didn’t want it to happen. They didn’t understand what had been going on those past 40 days, let alone those past 3 years. In Acts they asked Him if the kingdom was about to be restored to Israel. They were hoping to parade Him up into Jerusalem to overthrow Pilate and Rome and reign over the land like His father David had. Never mind that He showed He had no intention of doing that when He rode in on Palm Sunday or that He told Pilate on Good Friday, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
The Catechism teaches us that Christ has 3 kingdoms: power, grace, and glory. The kingdom of power? He rules all things as King of the universe; He operates in this world through earthly leaders and parents. The kingdom of grace? He rules over His Church Militant here on earth. The kingdom of glory? He reigns over the holy angels and His Church Triumphant in heaven.
The disciples wanted there to be but 1 kingdom: the kingdom of power. He had said they would sit on thrones judging the 12 Tribes of Israel; they didn’t understand that would be on the last day when He returns. They thought, “For sure, now that He’s back from the dead, He’ll be an earthly King. He’s invincible now! Let’s rule the world!”
He told them to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins. He told them to forgive the penitent and chain sins to those who don’t repent. They didn’t understand until the angels told them He would return, and not until The Holy Ghost came down from heaven on Pentecost. His kingdom is all about the forgiveness of sins. His Kingdom, the Kingdom He won with His Death, is His Church, and He reigns by forgiving sins.
That’s what David tells us when he foretells the Ascension of Our Lord in Psalm 68. “Thou hast ascended on high; Thou hast led captivity captive.” Captivity? Who’s in captivity? The Jews once told Him they’d never been anybody’s captives. They forgot they were currently serving Rome. Before that they served Greece. Before that they’d been off in Babylon and Persia! And who can forget their time as Egypt’s slaves! So if they were captives and didn’t realize it, then we all must be captives too according to the Psalm. Captives to what? Sin, death, and the devil.
The nature of this captivity is that we don’t realize it’s captivity. We think death is a normal part of life, something to praise and look forward to and cover over as something other than it really is. Sin is often praised by people. It’s something we do because of our influences or the way our brain is wired, they say. Some deny Satan exists, and everyone, that includes us, forgets he does and acts like he doesn’t. That just sets us up for him to sneak attack us and lead us into sin.
You are born and conceived captives. Adam made you captives when he chained himself to them by listening to the devil’s hissing and doing as he commanded. You were born unable to please God for you were born without faith in Him. You have been sinning every day ever since. The sinful heart and mind are unable to dwell with Christ in heaven and dwell with Him. It finds its home in hell through the pleasures of the flesh, and there sinners must go to Satan their lord when they die. A prisoner might find a way to escape jail, but sinners cannot escape sin, death, and hell on their own.
That is who we should be. That is not who we are. For Christ was born “to lead the devil captive” (TLH 387:6). Since He’s led the devil captive, you are freed from captivity. He led the devil captive by His Death and Resurrection. The devil thought he won when he killed Jesus, but Jesus’ Death burst death’s power. He was punished for our sins, and we go free. (TLH 192:4 follows):
Now hell, its prince, the devil, Of all their pow’r are shorn; Now I am safe from evil, And sin I laugh to scorn. Grim Death with all his might Cannot my soul affright; He is a pow’rless form, Howe’er he rave and storm.
He led captivity captive. The Alleluia verse ended there. But when St. Paul quotes these words in Ephesians 4, he continues to quote Psalm 68: “He gave gifts to men.” What does He give you? He led captivity captive. He died to free you. Since He is ascended into heaven, evil can’t fight back or ever attempt to overcome Him or make you a captive again. Now He frees you. He freed you when He washed you clean of sin in the waters of Holy Baptism. There He became your Lord. There He forgave your sins and saved you. There He rescued you from hell and gave you eternal life. You were freed from the devil and all his works and ways, freed to serve Christ by keeping His commands and to follow Him to His heavenly home. (TLH 223:3-5 follows)
The man who trusts in Him is blest And finds in Him eternal rest; This world’s allurements we despise And fix on Christ alone our eyes.
We therefore heartily rejoice And sing His praise with cheerful voice; He captive led captivity, From bitter death He set us free.
Through Him we heirs of heaven are made; O Brother, Christ, extend Thine aid That we may firmly trust in Thee And through Thee live eternally. Alleluia!