My mom is now with Jesus. In her last years, she loved to spend time these days relishing the memories of things from long ago. One of her favorite memories involves verbally imitating one of my younger brothers from his toddler years. He had a question he repeatedly asked in those days: "What time is it? What time is it?" He always asked the question and repeated it quickly as if the two questions were welded into one urgent question.
I've heard her tell this story so many times that I am unsure if I remember him saying the phrase or if I have recalled his voice through her telling the story. I can, however, hear his sweet young voice say the question over and over again, "What time is it? What time is it" After repeating the story once again, mom would always laugh, and then she would add, "Of course, he had no idea what time was or why he asked it, but it was certainly important to him!"
For followers of Jesus, the question, "What time is it?" means something more than a childhood question and is far different than just trying to keep up with our busy schedules. For us as passionate followers of the Christ, discerning the time is crucial as we anticipate the return of the Lord and the full dawning of the Kingdom of God. So, I don't find it surprising that it was one of the last questions the Lord's followers asked him before he returned to the Father (See the bold text for emphasis in the quote that follows.):
On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."
Then they gathered around him 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" (Acts 1:4-8).
The apostles' question certainly indicated that they needed fresh insight from the Holy Spirit because they still didn't understand what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God. At another level, however, they were asking a question that believers have asked ever since: "Jesus, what time is it in our world? When will your Kingdom dawn in all its fullness? When are you returning the glory of the Father and his holy angels? What time is it?"
I still remember riding in 110-degree heat from El Paso, Texas, to Canyon, Texas, through southern New Mexico in July. I was in a school bus full of teenagers that I was "chaperoning" — I was the ripe age of 20. The guy who previously had been working with these kids was under investigation. I was alone, too young to be in this position, but there I was. As the bus grew unbearably hotter, I became grumpier and gloomier. I had been a few minutes late getting to the bus because I had been at the hospital emergency room praying over a teenager fighting for his life from a heroin overdose — something I could not share with the kids or their parents wondering why I was late to the bus.
Out of desperation, I looked down at my watch while hoping to hasten sundown and cooler temperatures. As I saw the date on my watch, I began to laugh... hysterically... uncontrollably. The kids looked at me like I was cracking up. I probably was. What seemed so darkly and inappropriately funny to me? Let's see if we can count them:
- How insufficient I was for the ministry challenges I faced that day?
- How I was going to explain what was going on with the young man in the hospital to his friends?
- Why was I the lone chaperone for so many teenagers when I was barely older than some of them?
- Why hadn't we waited another two hours to leave on our trip so it would be mostly in the dark and cool of the night?
As I was wrestling with all those issues, I remembered something a well-known Christian author had claimed. He had predicted that Jesus would return on the day of our bus trip. This hard day was supposed to be the date for the "rapture" — a term never found in Scripture but a term used to describe Jesus' parousia or "coming." Sweating profusely in a bus full of noisy and rowdy teenagers, sick at my stomach from the heat, overwhelmed with my insufficiency, and with the smell of that old school bus full of sweaty bodies, I was ready for the Lord to come and rapture me off that bus immediately! I couldn't help but laugh at myself. Then once I started laughing, I couldn't stop. The more I laughed, the more sadly funny it all seemed. Only Jesus' return could ransom that moment for me with a precious young man fighting for his life, the inescapable heat, being left alone to escort all those noisy teenagers on the bus!
Jesus didn't come and rapture me off that bus. Obviously, the author was wrong — just like everyone who ignores the biblical instruction that none of us can know the day or the hour when the Lord will return like a thief in the night[NOTE] (Luke 12:38-40; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3). However, if we love the Lord, most of us can't help but wonder when he will return. We can't help but yearn for the glorious dawning of the full expression of the Kingdom of God. We all have challenges we don't want to face and feel insufficient to meet. However, Jesus' answer still stands: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority" (Acts 1:7; Matthew 24:36).
Jesus' words in Acts 1:1-11 remind us of several important truths that help keep us pressing on to finish the work the Lord calls us to embrace as bearers of his Kingdom lifestyle:
- Jesus is still working in us, through us, and among us today, just as he did in his time on earth and in the book of Acts (Acts 1:1).
- We have the example and teaching of Jesus to help us proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God and live its values as his disciples (Acts 8:12; 28:31; Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 4:20; Colossians 1:12-13; 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12).
- We can face our challenges in this world with fresh hope because of Jesus' resurrection from the dead and what it means for our lives — that what we do for the Lord and his Kingdom is not done in vain (Acts 1:3; 1 Corinthians 15:50-58).
- The Holy Spirit has been given to us as baptized believers in Jesus to empower us to do what he has called us to do and to be the people he has called us to be (Acts 1:8; Acts 2:38-41; Titus 3:3-7).
So, as I wondered on that hot bus over forty years ago, as my little brother asked six decades ago, and as the first disciples of Jesus asked over two thousand years ago, let's ask: "What time is it?"
And, let's hear heaven say, "It's time for you to live Jesus' way, the way of the Kingdom of God, in your daily lives. Your world is fractured and lost. It needs to see what the way of the Kingdom looks like in real life today. Live that way, and you will be ready for its full dawning when Jesus returns. Please do it, and we will be with you every step of the way as the Holy Spirit empowers you."
- Jesus Isn't Finished with Us Yet!
- Its All About Jesus
- All Seekers Are Welcome Here
- What Time Is It?
- The Revolutionary Power of Witnesses
- A Family Without Borders
- Jesus' Power to Get It Done
- Don't Just Stand There!
[NOTE] That we cannot know the day or hour doesn't mean Jesus' followers will be surprised by his return. We shouldn't be surprised at whatever time he does return because we have always been living to be ready for his return. Jesus was reminding his followers and telling us that figuring out that exact moment is not our job because only the Father knows (Acts 1:7; Matthew 24:36). God's Kingdom will dawn in all of its fullness at his choice, not ours! However, we are called to be his Kingdom people now.
Special thanks for the use of the Jesus related images in this series to Free Bible Images and The Lumo Project. Those pictures associated with the ministry of the apostle Paul are courtesy of Boettcher+Trinklein Television Inc. © All rights reserved, from ToTheEndsofTheEarthMovie.com.