The ten day period represented in Acts 1:12-26 is a remarkable time for the disciples. They had been given a promise of power by Jesus to accomplish an impossible mission (1:8) and were now in a waiting period for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. What do we find the disciples doing while they wait? One author recently suggested that while waiting, the disciples did “absolutely nothing.” During my study a few weeks ago in preparing to preach this text, I found quite the opposite to be true. I found the disciples were most certainly waiting, but were rather active while they waited.
One of the ways the disciples were active during their wait on the Holy Spirit is especially convicting. At this point, there were only eleven disciples. Judas, a capable man who had been with Jesus and these other men from the beginning, had betrayed Jesus and subsequently committed suicide. The disciples, to a certain degree, must have blamed themselves. I can imagine some of the things they might have been saying. Things like, “how did we not see this coming?” Or, “where did we go wrong with Judas?” Or, “did we not provide for Judas something he needed that led to his act of betrayal?” Sound familiar? These are the questions we tend to spend a great deal of time trying to figure out in our own lives. How did we allow things to go this far? Why did we not see the end result? What did we do wrong with our children or with our spouse? How could we have been so blind?
No doubt the disciples learned hard lessons through Judas’ horrific actions, but we find them doing something remarkable during their wait on the Holy Spirit. They move past their own guilt and rest in the sovereignty of God. It is Peter, a man who is accustomed to his own version of betrayal, who stands up and instructs the disciples concerning Jesus. If they were going to find success in this monstrous commission Jesus had given them, they simply would not be able to live in the past. They had to begin to learn to rely on God’s Spirit. So Peter encourages the disciples to place the actions of Judas under God’s providence and move on (1:16). They gain nothing through guilt, but find peace through providence. That leads them to make a bold move in replacing Judas, something most of us would have thought wiser to do after the Holy Spirit arrived. But Peter and the disciples were active during their wait, moving past guilt and getting on with the things God had called them do, and more importantly, called them to be.
Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address on March 4, 1865 is probably the greatest Presidential speech of all time. He does something truly fantastic. The horrors of the Civil War were coming to an end and Lincoln was in the perfect position to boast in the Union victory, placing the guilt and blame for slavery on the South. He instead acknowledged that both North and South had a role to play in the evil institution of slavery, and called on both sides to learn something from that evil. But Lincoln refused to let the nation wander in the oceans of guilt. Instead, he ultimately places even slavery into the capable hands of God’s providence by saying, “American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove…” Did North and South have a role to play in this evil? Yes. Were they reaping the consequences of their actions through brother killing brother? Yes. But it all – somehow we can’t fully explain or understand – was in the providential control of God Himself, who uses all things for His glory and our good. With that in mind, and moving the country away from guilt, Lincoln then speaks those famous words, “with malice toward none, with charity for all…”
The power of the gospel does not simply drown out the noise of our guilt, but deafens it altogether. The longer we stay in the past, asking endless questions about the past, the longer we delay the ongoing work of being who God has called us to be – thus increasing our guilt.
That’s what I have to do today. I have to trust the gospel of Jesus Christ to not only erase my sin, but to remind me that God has used all things to bring me to this place, to this moment. What will I do with it? What will you do with it?
No guilt. Only life.
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