This is the time of year for graduations. In the church, this is the time of year that Ascension Day is observed (40 days after Easter). Ascension Day commemorates the bodily ascension of Jesus into heaven. The story of the ascension is told only by Luke– at the end of his Gospel, and, at the beginning of the book of Acts, also written by Luke. It is interesting that Ascension Day always comes at graduation time, because what is described in Acts chapter one was a sort of graduation day for the disciples. Verse nine says, “After Jesus said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” Jesus was no longer physically present with the disciples, so that meant the disciples were left alone with the work Jesus had given them to do.
For the previous three years, Jesus had been with them day and night, preparing them, or we might say, educating them, for the task he was giving them to do. Now, in verses four and eight, Jesus gave them these instructions: “Wait here in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit; and after his power comes upon you, then, go out into the world and be my witnesses, telling everyone about me to the very ends of the earth.”
Are the disciples ready for duty? Have they been adequately prepared? Do they deserve to graduate? Well, if verse six is any indication, they failed their final exam and were not ready for anything. Their question in verse six indicates that they missed the whole point of Jesus even being here. They ask, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Restore the kingdom? Where did they get that idea? Jesus never said anything about restoring the earthly kingdom to Israel. That was what many people had hoped the Messiah would do, but Jesus made it clear from the start that he was not here for anything so trivial as that. Jesus was Creator and king of the whole universe. He did not come to earth to be a mere king over a tiny nation for a few years. Weren’t the disciples listening when he said, “My kingdom IS NOT of this world”? These men were with Jesus for three years, and then, just before Jesus goes away, leaving them in charge, they ask a question that shows they missed the whole point. They were not at all ready for graduation. It is a good thing Jesus had added that part about sending the Holy Spirit to guide them in all things and give them power, or nothing would have happened.
Jesus replies by saying, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority.” That was the full answer of Jesus to that particular question on that day, but it is the first seven words of that answer that applies to many of our own questions. Jesus said simply, “It is not for you to know.”
Is there anything in the Bible you do not completely understand? Have you ever come up against a brick wall with any of your questions about God or Jesus or the Bible or life in general? This is a good verse for those times: “It is not for you to know.”
Sometimes, when discussions of religious matters get too deep, someone will say, “We are not supposed to ask such questions.” I would not put it that way. Faith will always ask questions, and the Bible itself asks many questions and even encourages such searching and asking. And, of course, the Bible gives many answers. But sometimes the answer is, “It is not for you to know.” And as we see in this story, we are not the only ones with unanswered questions. It is interesting that in this very last conversation between Jesus and his disciples, the focus is on what the disciples don’t know and can’t know.
However, even with incomplete knowledge, and even with many yet unanswered questions, the disciples and those that followed them did go to the ends of the earth with the knowledge that they did have. They went out and proclaimed to all the world that in Jesus Christ, God had visited this earth in person, and had shown us all the way to forgiveness and eternal life. That message was enough for them, and they did take it from there, living and dying to proclaim it, fulfilling the work Jesus had given them to do. They had heard Jesus teach and preach, they saw him heal the sick and give sight to the blind, they saw Jesus feed the 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes, they saw him calm the power of a storm at sea, and most of all, they saw him dead, and then alive again.
The disciples had seen and heard more than enough. Now they could believe and proclaim that message, even without all the answers. We are, after all, talking about God here, and God is a whole lot bigger than we are. We don’t even understand each other. How can we expect to be able to have a full and complete understanding of God and his ways?
In the Christian faith, questions are encouraged, but answers are not guaranteed. What the Bible does tell us, however, gives us plenty to work on in this life, and all we need to know to follow Jesus and inherit the life to come that he has promised. Even the most brilliant theologians are only scratching the surface of God’s truth, but the faith that will save us is simple enough for a child to comprehend.
So, if there is something you do not yet understand, maybe “it is not for you to know.”
Acts 1:6-9 — Then they gathered around Jesus and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
John 18:36 — Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
O Lord, you know what is best for me. Let this or that be done, as you wish. Give what you will, how much you will, and when you will.
–Thomas a Kempis