Today the whole Church rejoices. This is no normal Thursday. If it were you wouldn’t be here. This is a special day. It’s not every day somebody’s feet come off the ground and don’t touch back down. We can jump all day and only get worn out quickly and need to lie down and never take off for heaven. Yet on this day Jesus went up from His disciples and didn’t come back.
The disciples had been filled with a train wreck of emotions. On Easter they didn’t know what to think when they were first told Jesus is alive again. They should have believed it. They should have been expecting it. He told them 3 times He would be betrayed, condemned, abused, and killed. He told them 3 times He would rise again. They should have believed Him. But they didn’t. They weren’t expecting it.
Once He was alive again, they still didn’t get it. They didn’t understand until The Holy Ghost came on Pentecost. St. Luke tells us they asked if He was about to restore the kingdom to Israel. That’s what they had wanted all along. That’s why James and John asked to sit on each side of Him in the kingdom. That’s why they fought on Maundy Thursday over who was going to be most important in the kingdom. They wanted Him to establish an earthly kingdom, and they wanted to be His Cabinet. They simply would not understand the words which caused Pilate to wonder: “My kingdom is not of this world.” If it were of this world, you would hear Him say things like: “Buy as many swords as you can. Get Me all the best horses, all the best soldiers. Prepare for battle. Rome must be destroyed!” You would not hear Him say things like: “Preach The Gospel. Baptize. Catechize. The Holy Ghost will come upon you.” That’s not anything about an earthly kingdom. So they heard these things and were just as confused as ever.
Now imagine their confusion as they stood up on the Mount of Olives. Why in the world did He just disappear like that? Sure Elijah had been taken up into heaven in a whirlwind accompanied by fiery chariots and horses, but who would ever expect that to happen? But it did. He started going up. He wasn’t jumping. He was blessing them and then He started going up and up. And then a cloud appeared and He went into it and then it was gone and they didn’t see Him. In their shock they just kept gawking. You would too.
God put a stop to that. All of a sudden they were back. Two angels were there. They were at the grave, though the men didn’t see them. All the angels had sung in the heavens at Jesus’ Birth in the hearing of the shepherds. Now the angels told the shepherds of Israel to stop gawking and go back home. He will return someday. In the meantime, they had to wait for Pentecost. They had work to do.
Jesus has ascended into heaven. That does not mean He’s absent. He’s not stuck up there. St. Paul says He ascended to fill all things. That’s why they couldn’t see Him anymore. This Man Jesus is fully Divine. That means He is everywhere; yes, both His Divine nature and His human nature are everywhere! He is still Immanuel, God with us, God with you.
It was good for Him to ascend. He’s at God’s right hand now. He’s interceding for you. He’s asking His Father to richly bless you. He’s covering over your sins with His pierced hands and feet. He’s ruling all things. He’s making sure all things happen in order to lead to the salvation of God’s chosen people. He’s making sure the devil will not have his way for all eternity. He’s judged, his eternal demise is coming soon. Since He’s ascended into heaven, how can you hear about His Death? How can you hear about what He did for you? How can you hear what He taught? You cannot hear without a preacher. Someone needs to preach The Gospel to you. That’s why He ascended. He ascended and only then did He send His Holy Spirit to His Apostles and only then did they preach throughout the world and write The New Testament.
They went out and preached The Gospel. That word comes from old English for good news. The Greek word “evangel” means “good tidings.” This is truly good tidings, good news, from God. What is this good news? Jesus has ascended on high and led captivity captive and given gifts to men, even to the rebellious, that He might dwell with them.
Captivity? What captivity? I’ve never seen a hostage situation, but I’d like to think I know one when I see one. I’ve never been in handcuffs, other than toys as a kid. Yet God is telling us we are captives and rebels. To what? I don’t feel like I’m captive to anything. I don’t see any chains near me. I’ve never considered myself a rebellious kind of person. What’s He talking about?
He’s talking about sin. He’s talking about death. He’s talking about Satan. Satan bound our parents to sin in Eden. They willingly rebelled against God. Along with this came death. That makes us by nature Satan’s captives. We are born with no choice but to serve him. He is a wicked master. He causes us to do harm to ourselves and to those around us. He convinces us that the bad thing is the right thing, makes us think about what my sinful passions want instead of what heaven wants, works to bring us closer and closer to hell. He wants us to follow our baser passions of rebellion against God to drag us down to hell. That is his goal. He wants us to join him there.
Christ came to free us. He came to unbind us. He came to crush our captor’s power. He came to lead us up to heaven. He did it in a very odd way. We dream of Superman flying like a speeding bullet to come save us, of a policeman in bullet vest making his way in to save us without getting harmed, of the sharpshooter taking out the bad guy. But that’s not how Jesus did it. He suffered. He was mocked. He was slapped. He was tortured horrifically. He was crucified. He died. And the captor lost his power. Death is the punishment for sin. He committed no sin. Death had to let him out, and He broke it to pieces. The devil, the captor, was bound. And Satan cannot harm us.
That’s the message He sent His Apostles out to preach. They didn’t get to rule the world the way they wanted to – no earthly kingdom for them. But they did preach The Gospel throughout the world, and they still peach to you through the words they wrote. They preach to you: “You are a sinner. You deserve to die. But Jesus died for you. He is risen! He has freed you from sin! He is ascended into heaven. He wants you to be with Him.”
He is coming again. He disappeared in a cloud and He will return on the clouds. He is coming to raise you from the dead. He is coming to dissolve the bonds of sin and death. He is coming to cast the serpent eternally into the lake of fire from which he will never escape. He is coming to live forever with you. You will see Him. Your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one shall take from you. For God will be with you. He will always be your Immanuel, God with us.