Happy New Year!
I hope you all had a blessed Christmas and are gearing up to make 2021 the best year yet. Or, at the very least, better than 2020. Right?
For me, the new year always brings a lot of excitement. It feels like a fresh start, a clean slate, a chance to make some much-needed changes. But, if I’m being honest, a hint of anxiety always tags along with it.
What’s going to happen this year? What if this the year I get sick? What if this is the year I lose a loved one? What if my kids get hurt, my husband loses his job, my house’s roof collapses? My book releases this year–what if it fails? What if it succeeds?
I’ve always been an anxious person, but 2020 taught me that anything–anything–can happen. Our entire world was thrown upside down in a matter of just a few short weeks last year; what if something similar happens this year?
What if it’s something even worse?
In short, I want to know what God’s up to. What are His plans for the year? For the world? For me?
The disciples faced something similar. Acts 1 may not have been the start of a new year, but it was the dawning of a new era for the church. For the past forty days, the disciples had been living in fellowship with the resurrected Jesus. They had been worshipping Him, learning from Him, basking in the glory of His presence at their table and in their homes.
And now it was time for Him to leave.
The Ascension was near. Jesus was due to return to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father until the appointed time of His second coming. The disciples, while not necessarily being left on their own, were still going to have to carry forth without the bodily presence of the Savior.
Naturally, they had some anxiety. They had fear. And they had questions.
Acts 1:6 says, “So when they met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?'”
It was a logical question. Jesus may have been going back to heaven, but the disciples were to remain here on earth. And they wanted to know, from a very practical standpoint, what their lives were going to look like.
Would they still be under Roman rule? Would they still be subject to the authority of the Sanhedrin? The laws of government and power controlled so much of their daily lives, and they wanted to know what to expect now that God had come in the flesh.
What happened next?
“He [Jesus] said to them, ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.'” (Acts 1:7)
Jesus is kind and merciful, gracious and loving. I imagine He sympathized with the disciples’ uncertainty and fear. He knew not only what they were asking but why. He understood. And yet He would not give them an answer. Instead, He reminds them that God is God…and they are not. His plans are His own because of who He is, the creator and sustainer of the universe; and they are not ours to know because of who we are, His created beings, subject to His authority.
It’s a harsh truth, but it is Truth. Just as parents have authority over their children and at times, keep things from them for their own good and their own protection, so it is with God, but on a grander and more perfect scale.
We may not be able to know God’s plans, but we can know God. And, in knowing God, we discover that He is good. Therefore we can trust that His plans are good, even if from our human perspective sometimes they don’t look like it (imagine seeing only one side of the cross–how horrible God’s plan must have looked to those who never had their eyes opened to the greater purpose!)
But Jesus in His mercy doesn’t just lay this hard-to-hear truth on the disciples and then walk away. Instead, He continues:
“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 1:8)
Jesus redirects the disciples focus onto that which matters most: they want to know what God is going to do, but God wants them to know what they are going to do.
He first promises them power and companionship, then he lays out their mission: they are to go and be His witnesses “to the ends of the earth.” They may not know what God’s plans are for tomorrow or next week or next year, but now they know what theirs are.
And so it continues to be for us over 2,000 years later. I don’t know what 2021 is going to hold in store for me personally. I don’t know what blessings or discipline or tests God may have in store. But I can walk confidently knowing that no matter what life looks like around me, my purpose remains the same: to be a witness for Jesus Christ. And that mission is unchanging–no matter the year, no matter the location, no matter the circumstance.
We can’t know the future, but we can know our next steps. All because we know the One who leads the way.