Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | May 18, 2012

Sermon on Acts 1:1-11 (Festival of Ascension)

Stick with what you know

  • Order of Service: Divine Service II, CWS, p28
  • Lessons: Acts 1:1-11, Ephesians 1:16-23, Luke 24:44-53
  • Hymns: 171, 175 (1-2, 4), 750, 169

Downloadable Version

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

We love to speculate.  Did Junior Seau, the former professional football player who killed himself recently, kill himself because he suffered the after-effects of concussions, or because of post-career depression?  Writers, athletes, and pundits consumed hours of sports talk radio and television, along with pages of print trying to answer that question.  Better, speculating, since no one knows yet what really happened.

Take President Obama’s recent – and horrifying – announcement that he supports gay marriage as another example.  President Obama says he did it because his position on gay marriage has evolved to where he finds no compelling reason to stand in the way of it, even though over the last few years he often spoke of marriage as something for one man and one woman, as the Bible teaches.  However, not everyone takes the President’s words at face value.  A recent poll revealed that about 67% of respondents think he did it for political reasons, that is, to gain votes and win an election.  Since in 1996 Pres. Obama indicated support of gay marriage, before he was against it, and now for it, he has made it possible to speculate about his motives. We may never know for sure, or at least until the memoirs start coming out.

One last example, and perhaps for us who live in the Metroplex, the most pressing.  If you watch baseball at all, you can’t help but notice that Josh Hamilton, an outfielder for the Rangers, is having an OK season.  He’s hitting around .400, with almost 20 home runs in May.  He’s on pace to hit over .400, with about 80 homeruns and 200 runs-batted-in. That would shatter baseball’s records.  What makes things even more interesting is that at the end of this year Josh will be a free agent, that is, he can sign with any team he wants.  Take a few minutes to listen to local sports radio, and you will probably hear speculation about Josh’s situation.  Will he stay or will he go?  Does he want as much money as possible, or will he give a “home-town” discount to the Rangers?  Will the Rangers offer him the big money or not?  Does he want to stay?  Do the Rangers want him to stay?  Neither Josh nor the Rangers have said much of anything lately, yet hours each day are spent dissecting, discussing, opining, bloviating, and speculating.  Because we love it.

We speculate in the church too.  We speculate about God’s will.  What is God’s will for the present and the future?  What was God’s will for some past event?  We speculate about God’s actions.  How did He help?  When will He help?  Some speculate about Judgment Day, like the crackpot false teacher who last year predicted the world would end sometime in October, or the lying Jehovah’s Witnesses who for years set dates for Jesus’ visible, and then, when He didn’t appear visibly, His conveniently invisible return.  Luther dealt with guys doing this too.

We’re addicted to speculation, in both earthly and spiritual things, just like the disciples.  On the mount of Ascension, they speculated.  They speculated about the growth and success of God’s kingdom and of the Church here on earth:  Are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel, they asked (Acts 1:6, NIV84).  Notice that “they” asked Jesus.  The whole group speculated upon this.  Don’t be surprised.  Throughout their time with Jesus they asked such questions and made such requests.  Really, what they asked for was power.  In this case, here in Acts, they asked for the return of Israel’s power, the removal of the Roman governing authorities, and the restoration of Israel’s “most-favored nation” status with God, with the Temple at the center of their life, of course, newly rededicated to the worship of Christ.  Still, this was a request for power.  Much as they argued in the past about which of them was the greatest, who should sit on Jesus’ right and left hands, how to get fire to come down and consume those who didn’t listen, or how to stop the unapproved preachers and miracle workers.

And it all began with speculating.  The disciples talked among themselves.  They pondered Jesus’ words and actions, they searched the Scriptures even, and when they read prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah and others writing about rulers over Israel, Kings coming, people coming home to Jerusalem, eternal kingdoms, a new David, they began to speculate.  And they came up with answers.  Their own answers.  Much as we do when we talk about Junior Seau, Pres. Obama, and Josh Hamilton.  Much as we do when we speculate about what God’s will is and how God will (or should) act.  And they, like us, didn’t always draw the right conclusions.  Which, of course, is the danger inherent in speculation.  When you talk about things that you don’t really know as if you know them for sure and for certain, the odds stack up against you coming out smelling like a rose.  In fact, when we engage in speculation, we often end up with egg on our face.  As the disciples often did.  And so Jesus heads them off at the pass:  It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority (Acts 1:7, NIV84).  Jesus says, “Let God be God.  By His authority He raises up and casts down kingdoms, both earthly and spiritual.  In His time He grants this or withholds that.  And He doesn’t always give you the tick-tock in advance, or afterwards.  Some things may not be for you to know, so just let it go.”  Moses explained this in a passage we do well to remember, The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law (Deuteronomy 29:29, NIV84).  To put it another way, both Jesus and Moses say, “Stick to what you know.”

And what we know is what God revealed.  We know about a resurrected Jesus, because we have the testimony of witnesses.  Christ spent 40 days establishing beyond a shadow of a doubt that the dead One is now the living One.  Luke says He gave infallible proofs.  He walked and talked and ate and drank.  He appeared to now one, now another, to this group and that group.  And thus He revealed God’s will and God’s actions more clearly than any of our speculation ever could.  Do you wonder what God’s will is?  Wonder no more when you see the risen Lord.  God’s will is that all men should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth, that is, that all men should live as Jesus lives.  Because God did this thing:  He died and rose again from the dead, because of our sins, because of our need for justification, because of our need for life from death.

What else do we know?  We know about the ministry that Jesus established.  [Y]ou will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8, NIV84).  In effect, Jesus blew by their question about restoring Israel’s kingdom and said, “Let that go, focus on this.”  They asked for power.  Jesus promised power.  But not the kind of power they asked for.  Never the kind of power they asked for.  They asked to be the greatest, to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand, to call down fire from heaven, to stop non-apostles from preaching and miracle working.  Jesus gives them power to proclaim words that will get them killed.  But not before that Word did the work God sent it to do.  Just 10 days after hearing these words, Peter preaches a sermon and 3,000 people come to faith.  What a shot in the arm that gave to these once fearful men, to see the power of the Holy Spirit, to witness the grace of God, to join in fellowship with so many new believers!

Then you know God’s will:  to send out witnesses, for those witnesses to preach, and for many to come to Jesus.  And you know God’s actions:  He appoints pastors and teachers and He gives them the tools to do the job:  the Word that changes hearts, the Sacraments that wash and feed.  But curb your speculation.  I’ve never converted 3,000 with a sermon.  In fact, we’ve seemingly driven many away, especially nowadays when witnessing means standing against President Obama’s declaration that something sinful – homosexuality – should be sanctified by marriage.  And so we speculate about what we should do or not do, what we should keep or change, what God’s doing or not doing, what God wants or doesn’t want.  Just stick with what you know, as our confessions remind us:  Without any doubt God also knows and has determined for everyone the time and hour of his call and conversion. But this time has not been revealed to us. Therefore, we have the command always to keep proclaiming the Word, entrusting the time and hour of conversion to God (FC SD XI:56).  We have God’s Word and God says it’s His power.  The seeds we scatter grow all by themselves though we don’t know how.  So we let God be God and every man a liar.  We witness to the resurrected Jesus, we proclaim His Word.  In the words of the hymn-writer, we scatter with reckless love and though some be snatched and some be scorched and some be choked and matted flat, the sower sows; his heart cries out, ‘Oh, what of that, and what of that’ (CW 544:3-4)?  We proclaim God’s law and gospel, confident in what He revealed:  the depths of our sinfulness and the depths of His love for us in Christ.

We do this, because we know one last thing:  This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven (Acts 1:11, NIV84).  We don’t have to engage in endless speculations and numbers games trying to calculate the times and dates of Jesus’ return.  That’s not for us to know.  That belongs to God the Father.  Rather, we live in confident hope that our Lord Jesus, who died and rose again, ascended to rule over all things at God’s right hand.  More than that, as He told the disciples on Maundy Thursday, He prepares a place in heaven for us who believe, so that when He comes back He has some place to take us.

Speculating about things can be fun.  But it can also be dangerous.  When it comes to God’s Word and to Jesus, stick with what we know.  And what we know is that we have a Savior risen from the dead, a Savior who grants forgiveness of sins to those who repent and believe in Him.  We can live in peace with God now, not doubting, but believing. We know that we have a Savior who established the office of the holy ministry to witness about Him to the world.  So we train young men to be those witnesses, not sitting on our hands, but actively pursuing every available possibility to get those pastors and use those pastors so that they can tell about Jesus.  And we know that that Savior will return, just as He left, to gather His elect, the believers, into His heavenly kingdom, moving us all the more not to engage in idle speculation, but to simply scatter the seeds of our knowledge about Jesus to the world.  That’s what we know.  Stick to that.  Amen.

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Responses

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with the act of leaving speculation out of our journey in faith. One may pray to know God’s will and leave it at that. One should only scatter the seeds of the knowledge about Jesus to the world.


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