On a Need-to-Know Basis – Pastor Robert’s sermon for Sunday, May 13

We knew that somebody would finally have enough courage to ask the big question, the question that they were just dying to ask Jesus.  Actually, Luke tells us that the disciples came to Jesus as a group.  Maybe this was their version of an intervention, who knows.

“Someone has to name the elephant in the room.  C’mon, let’s get it out in the open.  You know we’re all wondering when it’s going to happen.  Lord, is this the time when, well, you know, when…when, it’s all going to happen?  When Israel will finally be free from foreign rule?  We’ve been with you three years and now it’s been 40 days since the empty tomb, and we’re still wondering, ‘Is this the time?’”

Now, you can’t blame them for asking him this question.  It’s just that you can’t say it too loudly, or the powers that be might get wind of it, and believe me, they won’t be afraid to answer it for you.  And they’ll answer it in a way so that you’ll never ask it again.

“So Lord, just tell us.  I mean, we weren’t going to bring it up, but now you’re telling us that you don’t want us leaving Jerusalem and we’re supposed to wait even longer.  We’ve been waiting!  When is it going to happen?”

I don’t think it’s difficult for us to identify with the disciples in this passage.  We might not be asking the exact same question of the disciples, but we still want to know when things are going to get better.

Is this new tax plan really going to do anything for the people who need it the most? Are we ever going to get beyond the threat of a nuclear war? Is peace in the Middle East ever going to be a possibility? Are the Reds ever going to make it to the playoffs?

“Is this the time, Lord?”

One of the things that I like about our faith is that it encourages us to ask questions like this.  At the heart of our faith is an anticipation of how God is at work in making this world a better place.  It’s when we stop asking questions like the one the disciples asked Jesus, that we should get really concerned.

When people are asking questions like this, at least I know there’s a sense of hope and that we still believe in what the Apostle Paul says in our Ephesians scripture for today, “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.”

Having said that, I’m also not so sure that the disciples were on the same page with Jesus when they asked him this question.  Knowing the disciples and knowing the political climate of the 1st century, I think that their idea of God’s kingdom and Jesus’ ideas of God’s kingdom were going in different directions.

For the disciples, I think they were still thinking in terms of Israel regaining their dominance and superiority over other kings and rulers.  But for Jesus, I think something much greater was at stake.  For Jesus, the Kingdom of God would be that time when all of creation, and not just Israel would live in peace and where all people would be drawn into God’s family.

Now, on some level, I think that Jesus and the disciples weren’t that far apart in what they meant when they were talking about the kingdom of God.  Even the disciples would have known about the messianic promises of a future day when the world would be totally filled with peace, justice, and righteousness.  And certainly, when the disciples asked Jesus their question, “Is this the time?” it was pretty obvious to them as it is for us today, that as glorious, wonderful, and surprising as Easter and the empty were, the world around them hadn’t really changed all that much.

The Romans were still in charge, and besides, if you even have to ask the question, then it’s pretty certain that God’s kingdom hasn’t quite arrived yet.

This was the puzzling question for those first disciples of Jesus.  Jesus’ resurrection and his appearances to them over the past 40 days were proof enough to them that he was truly the Messiah, the promised one who was to come and bring peace and justice to the world. But why didn’t the world look any different since the empty tomb and Jesus’ resurrection?

This is one of the big reasons why people of the Jewish faith do not believe that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah.  In fact, this is probably one of the big reasons why people in general find it difficult to believe that Jesus truly is the Messiah.  Messiah and changed world are supposed to go hand in hand.

So how does Jesus respond to the disciples’ question, “Is this the time?”  Jesus tells them what they didn’t want to hear.  “It’s not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”

That’s sounds like something my mother told me many times. “It’s not for you to know.” Whenever our children had a question like why is the sky, blue or how does electricity work, I would always say, “Just ask your mom. She knows.” Penny was google before google was invented.

“It’s not for you to know.” Or to translate it a bit differently, Jesus was basically telling the disciples, that they were on a need to know basis, and for now, they didn’t need to know.   Notice that Jesus didn’t say that there question wasn’t important.  Nor did he tell them that this is about as good as the world is going to get.

He simply says that it’s not for us to know the times or periods when the world will be set aright. Every year, it seems like some quote, unquote religious expert sets a date for when the world will end. After the date comes and goes without anything happening, they give a new date and then that date comes and goes.

In our scripture reading from Acts, Jesus is reminding us to not worry about dates.  If we spend too much time trying to figure out when that time will come, we’ll miss out on doing our part in the present moment.

If we are on a need to know basis, what does Jesus want us to know in this present moment, on this Ascension Sunday?

Here’s really all that we need to know:

The first thing the scriptures want us to know is that Jesus is the King of kings. Presidents come and go. World leaders come and go. But this king isn’t going any where. This king is seated at the right hand of God and is the one who extends grace and love upon the whole world.

That’s the first thing we can know. Jesus is the King of kings and will always be the King of kings.

The second thing we need to know is that God hasn’t given up on establishing his kingdom on earth.  Notice that Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples to give up on their silly dream that one day the world will be transformed and made new by a special act of God’s grace.

Ever since God created the world and called it good and then sin entered the world bringing sin, pain, and death, God has been on a rescue mission to reclaim and renew it.  Through forming a covenant with Abraham and the people of Israel, through the sending of judges, kings, and prophets, and ultimately through the sending of his own son, Jesus Christ, God has sought to bring healing, love, and justice to the world and not allow sin, evil, and death to have the last word.

That future hope of a world reclaimed by God is at the heart of the biblical story.  It’s the controlling theme that runs throughout the scriptures.  That God created this world and will one day rescue it.

This is the second thing we need to know.  That God hasn’t given up on establishing his kingdom on earth.

The third thing we need to know is that God wants us to be part of the transformation of the world.  Back to our Acts passage of scripture; after Jesus tells the disciples that it’s not for them to know the times or the seasons when God will bring his kingdom to bear on this earth fully and completely, he tells them that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them.

And through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in their lives, they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.

The message here is clear.  The reason Jesus is putting us on a need to know basis, is because he wants our focus to be on transforming the world now and to not spend our time wondering about some time in the future.

Until that day comes when God will reclaim all of creation and make it new, we are to be diligent and faithful in allowing the Holy Spirit to use us to bring transformation to the world in the here and now.

And the final thing that we need to know; we can have an assurance that we belong to God.  For forty days following that first Easter morning Jesus appeared to the disciples many times and so the disciples knew that Jesus truly was the Messiah, the one who had long been promised to come into the world to bring salvation.

And now, as Jesus was preparing to leave them, he reminds them that the Holy Spirit will come upon them to not only help them to change the world, but to also give them an assurance that their lives have been transformed as well.

A couple of weeks from now, we will celebrate the anniversary of when John Wesley, the 18th century founder of Methodism, went to a prayer meeting on Aldersgate Street in London, England, and felt his heart strangely warmed.

It was on that day, that Wesley knew without a doubt that his sins had been forgiven and that he belonged to God.

This is the wonderful thing about our Methodist faith.  We believe that we can have an assurance in any given moment, that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have been made whole and are transformed people.

When Jesus ascended, he didn’t leave the disciples alone.  He promised them that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

So on this Ascension Sunday, consider yourself on a need to know basis.  And here’s what you need to know.

Jesus is the King of kings. Always has and always will be. God hasn’t given up on establishing his kingdom on earth.  God wants us to be part of the transformation of the world in the here and now.  And in any given moment, we can have full assurance that we belong to God.

Like the disciples, maybe we know more than we thought. Of course, there’s still a lot that we would like to know. And I get it.

What’s heaven going to be like? What will our world look like a year from now? What about my health? What problems will come my way? Will the gifts I offer through the church really make a difference and how will I know?

Those are all great questions that will be answered in God’s good time. And all you really need to know right now…All you really need to know is…

Jesus is Lord.

On a Need to Know Basis

Small Group Questions

Acts 1:1-11

May 13, 2018

We celebrated Ascension Sunday which is when Jesus ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of God. Jesus ascended to his throne and will return one day to make all things new.  The disciples didn’t understand all of this at the time which leads them to ask this question in our New Testament reading, “So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’” – Acts 1:6

Share a question that you would like to ask Jesus.

This dialogue between Jesus and the disciples shows that our questions are important. It’s through our questioning that we dig deeper in our faith. We might not always get the easy answers we’re looking for but the questioning and wrestling in our faith can lead us closer into the heart of God. Jesus does help us to focus on the things that we already know thanks to the scriptures. These include 1) Jesus is the King of kings. 2) God wants to establish his kingdom on earth. 3) We belong to God!

Share at least one way that you can remind yourself of these three very important parts of our faith on a regular basis. Why do you think we sometimes forget about these important aspects of our faith?

One of the ways that we can remind ourselves of these important aspects of our faith is to be open to those times in our everyday lives where we see God at work. As we await for Jesus to return and set up his rule over all creation, there are many signs of his presence all around us.

Share a recent time where you experienced the King of king’s presence in your day to day living.