Summary: In the story of Jesus' ascension, God reminds us to leave God's work to God (including our worry), to trust God's power to guide our witness, and to be prepared for Jesus' return.
Three days ago marked “Ascension Day” on the church calendar. This is the day we celebrate Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Today’s scripture records the story. And as Jesus interacts with his disciples, we see him shift their focus from temporal to eternal; he broadens their perspective from national to international; he changes their view from pride to service. So, let’s look at the story and see if Jesus wants to change us as well. The first thing I learn is to ...
1. Leave God’s work to God. Jesus talks about an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in power. The disciples no doubt remember prophets like Joel who linked the Holy Spirit’s outpouring with the revival of Israel. So, one of them asks, “Is this the time, Lord, that you will overthrow Rome and take charge?” And perhaps there’s a little pride in there as well, such as, “Is this our time to lead with you?”
Jesus doesn’t reprimand. He simply redirects. At first, he gently replies, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” In other words, “It’s none of your business. This is God’s work, not yours.” A previous time he told them, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36). If Jesus doesn’t know when he will return, why would they know?
Folks, if you ever hear that a person or group has predicted when Jesus will return and when God will restore Israel to its full glory, you can know for sure they are wrong. Why? Because this is God’s work, not our work. It is not for us to know.
Sometimes we get to meddling in God’s work. In fact, whenever we worry, we are meddling. Those things beyond our control are God’s work. We need to turn our worry into prayer and leave it with God. “Let go and let God,” as the saying goes. Life becomes so much easier if we learn to do that. Reinhold Niebuhr wrote the Serenity Prayer that says it well: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
But there’s more. Have you heard the rest of his prayer? Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.
We can leave God’s work with God. We don’t need to worry about when Jesus will return. And we don’t need to worry about other things. We don’t need to worry about changing people. We are only responsible for ourselves before God. We don’t need to worry about our family members or friends. We don’t need to worry about the portions of our health beyond our control. We don’t need to worry about our finances. We can pray for those things and entrust them to God.
I woke up one day and discovered that I was not the God of the universe. How about you? It’s a healthy discovery. As we leave God’s work to God, it gives us more time to do the second thing I noticed in today’s scripture, which is to ...
2. Do our work with God’s power. Jesus doesn’t scold the disciples for their misdirected question. He simply redirects them to a broader scope. He says, “You’re missing something bigger than just Israel here. Your mission needs to go larger. We’re talking the whole world here!” And he gives them their marching orders, which are our marching orders as well. He says in verse 8, “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.”
Notice God’s mission begins with God’s power. We don’t do anything to earn it; we just receive it. The disciples will discover this ten days later, as the Holy Spirit comes upon them. (We’ll look at that story next week.) We discover it the moment we entrust our life to Christ. When we first ask God to forgive our sins, to come in and take charge of our lives, right then God puts his Holy Spirit within us.
And the Holy Spirit gives us power. The Greek word for power here is “dunamis,” from which we get our English word “dynamite” or “dynamic.” God’s power is explosive power!