None of Your Business – Acts 1:6-7
By: Alistair Brown
(Part 5 in a series on Acts 1.)
I have always had an enquiring mind, and that mind was most vocal when I was very young. As a child I would ask: “Why is the sky blue?” “Why are people different sizes?” “Why do I need to go to sleep?” “Why do I have only ten fingers and ten toes?” “Why can’t water go uphill?” “Why do cows eat green grass but have white milk?” And, of course, no matter what my mom or dad answered there was always another “Why?” question as a follow-up. My parents were remarkably patient. I had a lot of questions.
But sometimes I asked questions my parents either couldn’t answer or didn’t want to answer. “Why is granny going bald?” or “When will I have a baby brother?” or “Why do some old people smell?” There are answers to those questions but they were well beyond my maturity level, so Mom or Dad said what generations of parents have said: “That is none of your business.” For a four-year-old, they were right.
There are moments when God gives the ‘none of your business’ answer to questions we ask. With our limited ability to understand why God does what he does, the answer “That’s not for you to know” is often the right one for us.
It is the answer Jesus gave his apostles in response to one of their questions.
6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”
The disciples’ question was provoked by two things Jesus had been speaking about. One was the kingdom of God and the other was the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.
These apostles were good Jews, people with great hopes for their nation. From childhood they had been taught that the coming of the kingdom meant Israel’s final salvation. The Messiah would appear in great power, free them from oppression and occupation and set Israel above all others as God’s people. The powerful sign that the great messianic day had come would be the blessing of the Spirit. Israel would once again be great as in the days of King David and King Solomon.
They had learned Old Testament prophecies that pointed that way, prophecies like these:
Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the Lord restores his people,
let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!
I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security. I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before.
Then you will know that I am in Israel,
that I am the Lord your God,
and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
These promises were taken in by Jews with their mother’s milk. The burning question for almost every Jew was simply this: when will the kingdom come and Israel be restored? No wonder then – as Jesus taught them about the kingdom of God – they asked: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
The question was reasonable, but it was the wrong question. It was wrong for at least two reasons.
First, they had not really understood the difference Jesus made.
Their assumptions – their presuppositions – were out of date and that made their question inappropriate.
I grew up in the UK and often I heard it said that the sun never set on the British Empire. At its height, the British Empire covered one quarter of the whole earth. If it had all been joined together, it would have been about the size of all of Asia. Spread out east and west, no wonder it was always day somewhere. But even as a child I knew the Empire was gone. So if someone had asked, “How much bigger will the Empire grow?” they would have sounded foolish. The Empire was over. Nation after nation had got its independence, and a question about the Empire growing would simply have been a wrong question. It could have come only from someone with old thinking, thinking not appropriate to a new age.
That’s the mistake these disciples made. It wasn’t that God no longer cared for Israel, but the gospel of Jesus was for more than one nation. God’s people would not just be in Israel but everywhere. They would come from all lands and all people groups, all those who would yield their lives to his Son.
These apostles had heard that but they could not shake off old ideas, old ways of thinking. Their question was inappropriate because the kingdom Jesus was bringing was significantly different from the kingdom they expected.
Second, (the question was wrong because) there will always be things God alone knows and we cannot.
The disciples were neither laughed at nor scolded for asking a wrong question. But they were told they couldn’t have an answer. Jesus told them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”
Jesus had said similar things before concerning the end of the world: “…about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32).
Exactly how God will work everything out is God’s business. Times, dates and how everything will happen, Jesus said, that is not for you. We have no right to know what God has not told us. Jesus gave the enquiring minds of the disciples a kind but blunt answer.
All of this is as relevant today as then for three reasons.
1) Every one of us has presuppositions about God and how God wants things done. Here is a small example. One day I stood with other church leaders who were responsible for redesigning a church platform. We had a problem. The basic issue was that we did not want chairs behind the communion table throughout worship services. They needed to be there for communion time – one for the pastor, and two on each side for those who would pray and serve the bread and the wine. But they would take up too much space if they were always there because we wanted an open platform feel. So, lifting the chairs on to the platform and putting them behind the table just before communion was the obvious answer. Except it wasn’t because moving chairs on the platform during the service would be awkward and break the flow of the service. Hence our dilemma: we didn’t want chairs on the platform all the time and we didn’t want to move them. Since we did not want either of the only two options, we were stuck.
Suddenly I heard myself saying “Why must we ever have any chairs behind the communion table?” Those around me looked almost shocked. “But that’s how it is done…” one said. “But why?” I asked, that enquiring mind coming to the fore again. There was silence, and then another person said: “Probably because we always have.” Moments later we decided we didn’t need anyone to sit behind the table. The pastor could stand and those who served could sit off to the side, and communion would be just as significant.
Our thinking had been fixed in old ways. It’s a trivial example, and there are far more serious ways in which we get entrenched in our thinking. I am not talking about foundational doctrines or moral standards, just our inherited ideas of how things are supposed to be done. God may have plans very different to what we have ever imagined. The challenge is to spot our presuppositions and then be brave enough to question them.
2) Still too many preachers or writers give us exact dates when God will end the world, or sequences of events that prove the end times are here. I can’t know for sure that they’re wrong but I do know that the many hundreds who came before them were wrong. No human, finite mind can grasp everything God will do. God is greater and his ways more marvelous than anything anyone could analyze or predict. We should be cautious with those who claim to know what God has not chosen to tell. It is okay to accept that there are things we don’t know. Some, I fear, find that hard to admit. I suspect they have a serious case of humility deficiency. Be careful with what they say.
3) We will never escape having to trust that God knows best. God cannot be made to answer to us. We will always have questions without answers. Can we be content going forward not knowing what God will do or how he will do it but trusting him for good outcomes? Those who gathered around Jesus that day were told to believe the Father knows best. Our Father does know best. He has his plans and we can trust him for all of them.
Earlier Jesus had told the disciples: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3).
“Like little children…” That’s the model for discipleship. Trusting, accepting, believing, knowing our Father in heaven is very able to work out his purposes, and we will never miss a single thing of the good and wonderful plans he has for us in his kingdom.