The Ten Days Between: Betrayal and Belonging

The remaining eleven must have felt betrayed. Judas had walked alongside the disciples, slept on the ground near them, shared big bowls of soup with them, and so much more. Then he turned his back on them—not just on Jesus and the other eleven, but on the 120 who had followed Jesus for most of the last three years. He betrayed them all.

How long had Judas deceived them? How long had he plotted, snuck off, smiled through his hate? (That scene where Mary anoints Jesus’ feet comes to mind.) Not only was Jesus gone, but this band of brothers had a missing link…a powder keg in their midst that had exploded, almost destroying them all.

He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.  –Acts 1:17

Acts 1:12-22.

Long-time readers know I like those moments between the big moments, those times when it feels like nothing is happening, when waiting is the work. This is one of those moments. Jesus has gone to Heaven (Acts 1:9), Pentecost is still a few days away (Acts 2:1-4), and the apostles are waiting in Jerusalem, as Jesus instructed (Acts 1:4-5).

Peter is not good at waiting. Remember those days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension? Peter decided to go fishing (John 21). I think he went because he was restless, needing to do something besides wait.

Ten days is a long time for someone
like Peter to sit around and wait.

There were ten days between the Ascension and Pentecost. That’s a long time for someone like Peter to wait. Maybe he spends his days searching the scriptures. Maybe he drums his fingers on the windowsill and sighs a lot. Maybe he feels an obligation, being (probably) the oldest, to lead the group forward.

At some point in the ten days, all 120 are together in the upper room where they are staying. He has a couple of verses from Psalms on his mind—verses that point him toward an action, a decision. They need to choose a replacement for Judas, putting his betrayal to bed (so to speak). But let’s step back for a second.

Regarding Judas, there was a distinct sense of betrayal among the disciples, and in some ways, I’m sure they mourned Judas’ desertion and death. But there was also a new sense of belonging to a particular place in history. For over 400 years prior to Jesus’ birth, God had been silent toward his people. No prophets and no prophecy. No miracles. No amazing victories in battle. The Pentateuch, Prophets, and Writings (what we call the Old Testament) must have felt ancient…like we might feel in a long-deserted antebellum mansion.

The Apostles have a distinct place
where they belong in God’s history.

Then Peter begins to see connections. Believing Jesus is the Messiah, he reads these ancient texts differently. He discovers verses—instructions, really—that pertain to him, to this moment, to the lives they will live moving forward. Peter, John, and the rest of the apostles have a distinct place in history! Their lives connect to prophecies made hundreds of years earlier. They belong.

A couple of observations here. (We won’t even talk about choosing Matthias today.)

It’s natural to focus on the present and what’s happening around us, but God has a bigger plan. We are not part of prophecy in the specific ways the disciples were, but we’re still part of the plan. When things get heavy around us, when we are betrayed, when we don’t know where to step next, God is already implementing His plan. Out waiting is part of what’s necessary for the plan to fall into place.

We cannot expect to endure the difficulties and betrayals of life without a strong foundation in God’s Word.

Peter knew a lot of Scripture already. From these first few chapters in Acts, it’s clear Peter’s knowledge of the scriptures combined with the Holy Spirit’s presence to produce understanding in Peter’s mind…and out of his mouth. His go-to phrases seem to be, “It is written” (e.g. Acts 1:20) and “[So-and-so prophet] said” (e.g. Acts 2:16, 3:22). We cannot expect to endure the difficulties and betrayals of life without a strong foundation in God’s Word. We must pack our brains full of individual verses and longer passages so the Holy Spirit can use them at the right times. The more specifically He can select a verse to bring to our minds, the more succinctly we will be directed and the more clearly we will speak truth.

I am so convicted about this. I lean heavily on the verses I learned as a child, which is well and good, but I should be continuing to learn new passages and review the older ones even though it’s harder to commit things to memory here in middle age.

Oh yeah, Peter was middle-aged too. Just one more way we’re alike even while he challenges me from two thousand years away.

What were the disciples feeling while they waited on the Holy Spirit (Acts 1)? Clearly, betrayal from Judas but also a sense of belonging to God’s history. More evidence that my #waiting is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Has God spoken to you through his Word in a time of waiting? Do you see something else in this passage? How do you continue to memorize Scripture? My readers and I would love to hear your responses to any of these questions. Drop a note in the comments below!

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Not Your Dad’s Fishing Trip

Jesus had told them to go to Galilee. Just after He rose from the tomb, Jesus instructed the faithful women, “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me” (Matthew 28:10). It took them awhile to get there. Even a week later, they were still meeting in the house where He had first appeared (John 20:26).

Eventually, the disciples trekked to Galilee, just as Jesus had told them to do. But Jesus didn’t tell them what to do when they got there.

John 21:1-14. Continue reading

The Weight of Waiting

Imagine Hannah’s heart (1 Samuel 1) as she trudged up the hill to the temple yet again without a child. Imagine her inner struggle as to whether she should continue to believe God.

We’ve all been there: times when we were ready to go but God was ready for us to wait. It’s a unique kind of burden.

It usually requires years of experience in petitionary prayer to get the perspective necessary to see some of the reasons for God’s timing. In some cases we realize that we needed to change before we were able to receive the request rightly or without harming ourselves. In other cases it becomes clear that the waiting brought us the thing we wanted and also developed in us a far more patient, calm, and strong temperament. There are other nuances and beauties to God’s wise schedule that we can just barely glimpse.  -Tim Keller Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (2014, pg. 236)

This month on Pastor’s Wives, I reflect on waiting and how God expects us to act in the meantime. Continue reading

Watching and Waiting

The guard stands in the tower, eyes cast downward, searching through the thick night for any change, ears tuned for any out-of-the-ordinary noise. He raises his eyes to the distant mountains, their peaks muted by the sameness of the sky. He leans against the edge of the window for a moment, but he cannot relax. He will not descend until the sun ascends.

sandstone tower
watchmen’s tower in the Middle East (c) Carole Sparks

Even in the deepest, loneliest part of the night, the guard never doubts the rising of the sun. With absolute confidence, he glances to the east for a moment, eager to catch the first graying of the dark sky, the first dimming of the stars. Continue reading

The Cast of Christmas: Zechariah and Elizabeth

For us adults, it’s easy to breeze through the spiritual side of Christmas. After all, you memorized half of Luke 2 that one year for the Christmas pageant at church. At other times, especially if the holiday marks a milestone (first Christmas after your wedding, first with a baby, first without an important person), you latch onto the emotional apron strings of holiday tradition such that you start crying when they flip the switch for the star hanging above the manger during the pageant at church.

The fact that the story and the traditions are so familiar shouldn’t stop us from examining them again. During different Christmas seasons of my adult life, the Lord has brought different personalities to the forefront of the Christmas story. As I ponder that person’s experience, He shows me more of Himself: His love, His sovereignty, His grace.  Over the next few weeks, let’s take a look at some of those people and see what fresh thing God has for us.

Zechariah and Elizabeth

Luke 1:5-17

Righteous, but…

Both Elizabeth and her husband were righteous in the sight of God (1:6). Luke went so far as to call them blameless. And yet they had no children.

Imagine how many times they asked God for a baby, how often they cried.

Imagine how hard they tried in those first years.

Imagine the regular visits to family gatherings where their siblings had children…then grandchildren.

With early marriages and no reliable birth control, most women had many children. Having no children was disgraceful. It meant something was wrong with you, God was punishing you, or you were rarely intimate with your husband for some reason.

I lived in a place with a similar mindset (yes, in the 21st century). I watched young women pray desperately, take medicine, visit witchdoctors, and try everything possible to get pregnant. The pressure from their in-laws was suffocating; they faced divorce if they didn’t produce a child—preferably a boy. The loving husband wouldn’t divorce his wife; he would simply take a second one. (To be fair, there were a few exceptional husbands.) I learned how to read the disappointment on these women’s faces every month. Some even got physically sick. After a couple of years, the shame became almost tangible. That’s very similar to what Elizabeth experienced.

They asked “Why?” from
a place of faith.

Don’t discount this part of Elizabeth’s story just because you haven’t struggled with fertility issues. My point is that we all suffer, often secretly, and that God expects many of us to wade through that suffering for a long time before He answers. Did Elizabeth and Zechariah try to put on a happy face? Did they pretend everything was okay? I don’t know. I do know they didn’t turn away from God. Maybe they asked, “Why?” but they asked from a place of faith, not judgment or selfishness. I can imagine that they leaned on Scripture like Psalm 119:75-76 ESV, I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant.

God hears

Zechariah and Elizabeth were very old (1:7). I think they had given up on having children, releasing that prayer. Have you ever given up on praying for something only to have your prayer answered years later? God always hears. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us (1 John 5:14). How and when God responds is up to Him—and the possibilities are innumerable!—but He does hear. Look at what the angel says to Zechariah: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard” (1:13), and remember James 5:16, The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

When it comes to God, don’t take His silence to mean he is ignoring you or refusing you. Perhaps the time isn’t right. Perhaps He has a better alternative. Perhaps He’s waiting for you to learn something or be obedient in a certain matter or come to a certain place in your spiritual walk. Perhaps…well, you get the picture. God has given us many lines of encouragement for those times—verses like Psalm 27:14, Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. Know that when God asks us to wait, it’s worth it.

His Will is worth the wait.

Not Alone

Elizabeth joined an all-star line-up of barren women: Sarah, Rachel, Rebekah, Hannah… In every situation, the long-awaited child grew up to be important in the story of God’s people. Same thing here. The angel says as much right there in the temple with Zechariah: “He will be great in the sight of the Lord” (1:15). Think about the same kind of sufferings (1 Peter 5:9) or the cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). Perseverance, endurance, patience…these things are easier in groups. Like a roof doesn’t stand on one pillar, sharing our burden with others will help all of us to wait patiently. There are stories in the Bible to encourage you and stories in the lives of your Christian family to do the same.

As usual, we’re only getting started on all the Lord has for us just in the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth! The remainder of Luke 1 reveals much more about their character, their story, and God’s sovereignty. If there’s something that’s significant to you about these two, please share it in the comments below.