Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Saint Luke wrote both today's Gospel reading and our passage from the Acts of the Apostles. The book of Acts is clearly a continuation of the Gospel according to Saint Luke, it refers to the first book, Lukeś Gospel. Both books are addressed to and dedicated to Theophilus, who may well have been a citizen of Rome. This continuity is highlighted in the account of the 40 days after the resurrection that culminated in the ascension of Jesus Christ.
The story of the resurrection and ascension in Luke 24 is the indispensable transition to the story of the apostolic church in the book of Acts. The story of the risen Christ is the story of the creation of witnesses for Jesus. Men do not become witnesses by their personal initiative, but by a divine operation. From sadness and unbelief, God leads men to faith and joy.
The number 40 recalls the time Moses spent on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:18; Deuteronomy 9:9), Elijah's sojourn in the desert (1 Kings 19:8), and the temptation of Jesus (Luke 4:2). . During these 40 days, Jesus not only appeared and told the disciples about him, but also ate with them. The fact that he ate with them was part of the evidence that his appearances gave them of his resurrection. And he continued to teach them, especially the men he had chosen to be apostles with special authority to preach the Word and administer the sacraments.
"Then he opened their understanding, so that they could understand the Scriptures," says Luke in his Gospel. When Christ had gathered his disciples for the last time, he commanded the assembled congregation of believers not to depart from Jerusalem. They were to stay there and wait for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit so that “repentance and forgiveness of sins might be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I will send my Father's promise upon you."
When Jesus referred to the approaching great outpouring of the Spirit, the disciples thought he was referring to some form of earthly kingdom. They still understood the prophecies of old, as well as the promises of the Lord of the restoration of the kingdom of Israel, which would be fulfilled through the total annihilation of God's enemies and the complete victory of the Jews.
There are people today who think like this. Millennialism is that peculiar doctrine that looks forward to an age of temporal bliss on earth, with an earthly kingdom for all believers, Christ being the King, while Satan and all evil forces are eliminated from earth for the time being. All of this is supposed to take place before Judgment Day and to last a thousand years by human reckoning. Hence the name millenarianism, the thousand years spoken of in Revelation, chapter 20.
But, Jesus answers the question, “Now will you restore the kingdom?” with a rebuke to the millennialists of then and now. He refers them to the true messianic kingdom, to the future kingdom of glory, which will see the full revelation of the majesty of Christ before the eyes of all men. It is not the business of the disciples to know the times and seasons, which are controlled by the exclusive authority and power of the Father. Everything that concerns the revelation of the majesty of God should not be a cause for anxiety for Christians: both the government of the world and of the Church and the revelation of future glory are in their hands, to be revealed in their time.
Jesus rather reminds the apostles that they will receive, they will be empowered to be effective witnesses for Christ. Filled with this power of the Holy Spirit, the disciples must bear witness to what they have seen and heard from Christ. In ever widening circles, their influence must extend, by virtue of the power given to them through the Holy Spirit, throughout all Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the world.
In his earthly ministry, Jesus proclaimed the good news of forgiveness of sins and eternal life primarily to the lost sheep of Israel. The apostles may have thought that their mission was to the Jews throughout the Mediterranean world, but Jesus commands them to begin in Jerusalem, but go alongside the Samaritans, the mestizos, then to all the nations of the earth.
Well, not all believers today are called to leave their homeland, family, and business and preach the Word to the farthest reaches of this earth. However, we all have this same promise from the Father, that is, the Holy Spirit to help us witness the grace and mercy of the Lord in our daily lives.
The ascension of Jesus Christ is similar and different from our reading of the Old Testament (2 Kings 2:5-15). Elisha was taken to heaven and gave the Holy Spirit to Elisha, but after the Ascension of Christ, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the whole church. Elisha did not feel Elijah's presence afterwards, but our Lord is now closer to his believers than he was to his disciples in the days of his flesh.
By his exaltation and ascension, the Son of Man, also according to his human body, has entered into the full and unlimited use of his divine omnipresence. His gracious presence is therefore assured to his congregation on earth. He reigns with omnipotence over all things, but especially also over his Church, which is his body. By his Word and his Sacrament He gathers to himself a congregation and Church on earth. He works in and with his servants; He rules in the midst of his enemies. He preserves and protects the Church from him against all the enmity of the hostile world and against the very gates of hell. And his intercession before his heavenly Father makes our salvation a certainty.
May the peace that surpasses all understanding be with each one of you. Amen.
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