When the King Came: Stories from the Four Gospels - George Hodges

The King Returns to Heaven

So forty days passed by. Some of them were days of wonder, when the Lord came and talked with the disciples. Others were days of expectation, when the disciples waited and he did not come. Indeed, they knew not at what moment or in what place he might appear. Now he was suddenly present with them in Judea, then in Galilee. Sometimes one of them walking by the lake or going to pray in the silence of the hills, would find the Lord standing beside him. On one occasion he made himself known to more than five hundred disciples at once, most of whom were still living when St. Paul was writing his epistles.

One purpose of these appearances was to make them certain that he who had died upon the cross had come to life again. They saw him face to face, and heard him speak. Thus they knew beyond all doubt that he was indeed the Son of God. He who had lived so many quiet years at Nazareth, and had been a carpenter there, earning his bread like other men; he who had gone out preaching the kingdom of God, and had taken them with him, treating them as dear, familiar friends; he whom the Pharisees and Sadducees had hated and had brought at last to the death of the cross,—he was the Son of God. He was the Word of God; that is, by him God spoke. And the Word was God. In him, their friend, God dwelt here on earth. They had not understood it. When his enemies had seized him, his disciples had forsaken him and fled. But now, seeing that death had no dominion over him, they cried with Thomas, "My Lord and my God."

Another purpose of the appearances was to assure them that death is not the end. It seems the end. The body dies, and so far as we can see, the soul dies with it. There is no voice nor answer after that. What we need is a clear word from beyond the grave. We want somebody to come back and tell us. Christ came back, declaring that death is not a wall but a door. After we die we shall live again he said, "Because I live, ye shall live also."

Then he gave his disciples their last instructions. They were to go now and teach what he had taught them. What they had heard in secret, they were to proclaim openly. Those who received the teaching and believed, and desired to live in the new way, they were to baptize. Thus they were to initiate them into a new society. He had already told them how they were to break bread and eat it, and to pour wine and drink it, in remembrance of him. This they were to do at the meetings of the new society.

One day he took them out as far as Bethany. They went again over the familiar way, out of the Jerusalem gate, into the valley which had been to them the valley of the shadow of death, past the Garden of Gethsemane at whose gate they had deserted him, and up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, where palm branches still lay withered by the side of the road. Men who met them saw eleven disciples. The Master, in the midst of them, they saw not. Only the disciples, who had the clear vision of faith, saw him. They knew now the answer to the question which one of them had asked, "Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself to us, and not unto the world?"

But there was one matter which still perplexed them. The kingdom of God which they had so long expected, and of which the Lord had said so much, when and how was it to come? Even now they could not get rid of the old notion of a kingdom with a palace and a throne, and a place of power among the nations. So they asked him as they went, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" And he answered, "The time is in the hand of the Father, and it is not for you to know it. But the Kingdom is in your own hearts and in the hearts of those who shall receive your words. You shall be the founders of it. You who to-day are poor, and unknown in the great world, and hated by many men, shall be given power from on high, the power of goodness, and of love, and of the grace of God. You shall be witnesses unto me, telling how I came, the Son of God, from heaven, to give men life here and hereafter, teaching them to live as I have commanded you, showing my spirit in your lives. And lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."

When he had spoken these things, raising his hands over his disciples in farewell and blessing, while they beheld, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven, as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, saying, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." And the disciples remembered the saying, "A little while, and ye shall not see me; and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father." They began to understand it. They began to see that the Lord had appeared and disappeared during the forty days to teach them to expect him always and everywhere. Into the cloud he went, and out of the cloud he comes, the cloud of human need. They fell upon their faces and worshiped the King of Glory. Their hearts were full of faith and love and joy. He had gone away out of sight only to return invisible and to abide with them and with us all forever.