The Ascension of Jesus into Heaven
Excerpt from Bob and Penny Lord's book, "The Rosary, The Life of Jesus and Mary.
Scripture tells us that Jesus appeared to His disciples many times between His Resurrection and His Ascension into Heaven. (John 20:30 - "Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples which are not recorded in this book.")The second time He appeared to His Apostles after His Resurrection, which is recorded in Scripture, was on the Sea of Galilee. (John 21:1-25)
Jesus had told Mary Magdalene to tell the brothers that He would see them in Galilee. To that end, they went up to Galilee, to the Sea of Galilee. They became restless, waiting for Jesus. Or was it they just decided to take part in something very familiar to them, fishing? There is safety in doing. You don't have to think! But the life they had had with the Master would not remain buried. How many memories there must have been, as they prepared their nets, and cast out to sea. How many important events had taken place on the Sea of Galilee! The Ministry of Jesus began on the Sea of Galilee. He preached on the sea, on Peter's boat. Peter and Andrew, James and John, had been chosen here. The Lord had given them the great catch of fish on this Sea. Here, He had told them they were to be fishers of men. Jesus walked on water and calmed the storm, on this sea. So many memories! What was their future to be, they wondered. Perhaps they even shared on it. Was it over? Did Jesus have more for them to do? What was the plan?
This day, as they cast out to sea, there was almost a replay of the first time Peter had encountered Jesus.
The first time, there were crowds listening to Jesus teaching the Word of God by the Lake of Gennesaret. Jesus caught sight of two boats close to the bank. He got into one of the boats (Simon Peter's) and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Then Jesus sat down in the boat and began to teach. When Jesus finished teaching, He told Peter to "put out into deep water and cast out your nets for a catch." [Simon Peter remembered it like it was yesterday.] Simon Peter told Jesus that they had been fishing all night and had caught nothing; but if He said so they would cast out their nets. The amount of fish caught was so great, they thought they would break their nets. (Luke 5:4-6)
Now, here was Simon Peter and the disciples, three years later, once again by the shore. They had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. It was early morning when they spotted a Man on the shore. He called out to them; He suggested they cast off in a different place. Peter looked towards the shore. It didn't look like Jesus, and it didn't sound like Jesus. But something about the situation was reminding Him of the first time they had met Jesus. They did as the Man told them. The results were the same, this time, as they had been the first time. Their nets were heavy with fish. Then John whispered to Simon Peter, "It is the Lord!" Simon Peter excitedly jumped out of the boat and swam for shore. Meanwhile, the others brought the boats in with their great catch. As they approached the shore, they saw flames rising from smoking charcoals, inviting them to come closer.
Jesus told them to bring to Him some of the fish they had caught. He then proceeded to cook them breakfast. They did not recognize Him as Jesus, but they knew it was He. They just knew. They all sat around Him, as He fed them. It was so good to be in the presence of the Lord again. One moment, they were filled with peace, and the next moment they were so excited they could hardly contain themselves. They felt as if their hearts would burst from happiness. It was not over; it was as He had said. They would go on; the ministry would continue. They were so very much on fire. They had new strength; He was with them. All was well with the world. They were happy they were eating, we're sure, but the physical feeding was not as important to them as the spiritual feeding, and their joy that the Master was with them, and would never leave them.
After breakfast, Jesus spoke to Peter. "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?" Peter answered without hesitation, "Yes, Lord, You know that I love You." Jesus commanded him, "Feed My lambs."
Jesus asked Peter a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" Peter answered again, "Yes, Lord, You know that I love You." Jesus said, "Feed My sheep."
Again, Jesus asked Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" Peter was hurt that Jesus had asked him again, `Do you love Me?' He answered "Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You." Jesus commanded him again, "Feed my sheep." (John 21:15-17)
There is much we can gather through this conversation of Our Lord Jesus with Peter. What comes to mind immediately is Peter's denial of Jesus. Three times on Holy Thursday evening, Peter denied he even knew Jesus. At the Last Supper, Jesus had predicted he would do that. Was Jesus reminding Peter of what he had done? Was He letting Peter know He hadn't forgotten, even though He had never mentioned it again? Was He telling Peter that, as head of the Church, he could never ever do that again, or even entertain the thought? Or was Jesus saying, He was wiping clean the slate, each time Peter said he loved Him, and said yes to showing that love, by feeding the Lord's sheep (that's us)? Could that be why Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him, to cancel out Peter's three denials? Why not? Peter was being forgiven by his profession of love and his yes! Peter had denied Jesus three times. Now Jesus was asking him to put that away for all time by proclaiming his love for Him, by accepting His mission for him: "Do you love me? Feed My sheep!" Was Jesus not saying: "Whenever you feed My sheep, you show your love for me. I am entrusting you with them, Peter."?
Was Jesus saying that Peter was forgiven because he was truly sorry? Did Jesus want him to know that He forgave him all, and that as He had forgiven Peter, He knew Peter would forgive others? Was Jesus telling Peter to remember how he had known fear and He had shown mercy on him? Now, he would show compassion on other members of Christ's body who fell and needed a helping hand getting up; because he was being made strong out of his weakness.
As He spoke to Peter, Our Lord Jesus Christ was also fulfilling His promise: "Upon this rock I will build My Church. To you I will give the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven" and now "Feed My sheep, feed My lambs." This is not only the fulfillment of Christ's promise, but it is His actual commission to Peter to take charge of the Church as the vicar of Christ. As the sheep are Christ's sheep, (He says plainly My sheep), Peter is a vicar, standing in for the Owner Who is Jesus Christ. And all the Peters to follow, right up to our Pope John Paul II are standing in for our Christ as they feed Christ's sheep, we the Church.
How many times have we denied Jesus, perhaps not in such dramatic ways as our first Pope, St. Peter, but in our own ways? When we were younger, and wanted acceptance by our friends, who may not necessarily have been Catholic, or even Christian for that matter, were we willing to deny Jesus for our friends? Did we deny Him by our silence, never letting on that we were Catholic, knowing this would make us unpopular? Oh, we never spoke out against Him, necessarily, but when someone used His name in vain, did we ask them to stop? When someone criticized the respect and importance we give to Mother Mary, did we defend her, reminding them that it was Jesus Himself Who gave Mary to us as our Mother and we were to revere her as His Mother and our Mother? Or did we do the popular thing and say nothing?
And as we got a little older, and we were being pressured to be part of situations that we were not comfortable with, but were socially acceptable, did we distance ourselves from anything that had to do with our soul and opt for acceptance? That's a form of denying Jesus.
In our business life, and married life, do we live a double standard? Do what I say, but not what I do? Do we treat our children that way? Is behavior acceptable for us because we're adults, while it's not for our children? Is drug abuse okay for us, in the form of smoking and drinking alcohol, while it's not okay for our children in other forms? Do we deny Jesus in that way? Do we even give it a second thought?
Our Church tells us that this passage was also an affirmation of Peter's role as head of the Church, or re-affirmation, or final confirmation. There would never be a question again about who was to lead the early Church. God had chosen Peter; it had been confirmed to Jesus, when Peter said to Jesus, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God." Jesus knew this had not come from Peter. He couldn't possibly have thought of this on his own. Jesus replied, "Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build My Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. I will give you the Keys to the Kingdom. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven; whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven." (Matt 16:16-19)
Nothing had changed from the time, Jesus proclaimed Peter as head of the Church, until this meeting. Peter had been chosen. That he had denied Jesus could have changed everything. But the fact that he had asked forgiveness sealed his role as head of the early Church. Jesus gives us a very clear picture of our Church, and the chain of command. By this announcement, Jesus told the world, loud and clear, that Peter and his successors are to hold the Keys to the Kingdom.
This was clarified when Jesus called His Apostles together for the last time. He brought them to Bethany, where He gave them final instructions. He said to them,
"All power in Heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the world." (Matt 28:18-20)
There's no question in our mind as to what Jesus was saying to us through our Fathers in Faith, the Apostles. We were given a clear mandate to Evangelize. We've heard the erroneous statement made, "Catholics don't evangelize. We're the established Church of Jesus." Take another look, my brothers and sisters. It's scriptural, folks. It's not optional. No one asked us if we had nothing better to do, if we weren't busy this weekend or next, perhaps we could spread the word of God. "Power will be given you when the Holy Spirit comes." The Holy Spirit has come; He is here. We do have Power. We have to use it.
Very often, in our talks, we tell people they are required to evangelize, by our very Baptism into the Church. We tell the people about the unbalanced world situation we're looking forward to in the year 2,000. Statistically, there will be 6 billion people in the world, and 2/3 of that number, or 4 billion, will never have heard the name of Jesus. You know what our job is. We're commissioned, as the Apostles before us, to turn the tide, to give Jesus a birthday present in the year 2,000, of converts to the Faith, and a renewal of Faith from those who have not left.
Jesus also gave us security, strength, protection. He told the Apostles at that crucial time,
"And these signs will follow those that believe: in My Name, they shall cast out devils; they shall speak with foreign tongues. They shall pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover." (Mark 16:17-18)
He further instructed them to stay in the city, "And I send the promise of My Father (The Holy Spirit) upon you."
John's Gospel instructed the Apostles in this way, "But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I have said to you." (John 14:26)
In Acts of the Apostles, we are taught "....He enjoined them not to leave the city, `but wait for the promise of My Father, about which you have heard Me speak, for John baptized with water, but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'" (Acts 1:4-5)
"....you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)
The Apostles must have thought Jesus was going to come back. They just stood there, waiting. They had heard what He said to them, but they didn't really understand. It would take the Descent of the Holy Spirit to open their minds to what Jesus was saying to them. It took the Angels to shake them out of their trance. They addressed the Apostles:
"They still had their eyes fixed on the sky as He (Jesus) went away, when two men dressed in white suddenly stood beside them and said, `Galileans, why are you standing there looking up at the sky? This Jesus, who was taken from you into Heaven, will come back in the same way that you saw Him go to Heaven.'" (Acts 1:10-11)
The Apostles left the hill in Bethany, and made their way back to the Upper Room in Jerusalem. They were confused; their Master had left. He had given them instructions, most of which they understood; but His words, about the Holy Spirit coming, didn't sink in yet. This, they didn't understand. They had a great deal of faith in Jesus, however. Peter, who should be called Peter the Optimist, clung to the words of the Angels, "This Jesus, who was taken from you into Heaven, will come back in the same way that you saw Him go to Heaven." He was filled with joy. He never thought to ask when or how Jesus was coming back. All that mattered was, He was coming back. Peter could wait. The Apostles left the hill, and went on their way, to begin the Church as we know it today.
Thus ended the life of Jesus on earth. It didn't end with the Crucifixion, but with His Ascension into Heaven. And as the Angels were present for the Announcement of the Savior into the world, in the Annunciation to Mary, and in the proclamation to the shepherds in Bethlehem on that midnight clear, it was fitting that the Angels be there when His life on earth was ended.
Their job was not over by any means. While they would no longer be involved in His life on earth, they would definitely be involved in the Ministry of the Church, as messengers and intermediaries, and also in a very physical way (The Angels were very active in the lives of St. Peter (Acts 5:19-20)and Paul, (Acts 27:23-24) as well as other Apostles.)as protectors, in the lives of all the members of Christ's Church.
The Angels stood there, speaking to the Apostles, affirming what Jesus had said to them. The Angels watched the followers of Jesus leave. The Angels understood the words of Jesus. They knew what was going to happen on Pentecost Sunday. These dear men would be so filled with the Holy Spirit, there would be an explosion, catapulting the Apostles into leadership positions all over the world, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom. And the Angels knew that as the Kingdom of God spread to all the corners of the world, they would have their hands full, first protecting the Apostles, then their disciples, then the millions and billions of converts, us, for the next two thousand years, or more.
We praise You, Jesus for the gift of the Incarnation. We thank You, Lord, for the gift of the Resurrection, and Your Ascension into Heaven. We thank you for those Angels you left behind, to help us bring about Your Kingdom on earth.