What Makes the Difference in How We Process the Past?

It’s truly amazing how much power the past can have in influencing our present lives. The past can be full of lessons learned, or hindrances that hold us back, even today! In last week’s message, we saw how Judas’ final choices led to a great deal of pain that the disciples had to process so that they could progress forward. You see, sometimes we are the main character in the drama of our lives, but other times, we are simply supporting characters in the drama someone else has created. But it touches us just the same, and before we can launch forward into the future, we have to take the time to process the pain of the past.

The disciples had to address Judas’ betrayal and did so in an open fashion. Peter called out the fact that Judas was “one of our number and shared in our ministry.” (Acts 1:17). But even as he voiced those words, Peter himself was not far removed from his own painful actions of denying Jesus. Indeed, both Judas and Peter were close to Jesus and traveled with Him throughout His three-year ministry. Yet they both betrayed Him during His most dire time. Judas betrayed Jesus by selling Him out to some of the religious leaders who wanted Him killed (Matthew 26:14-16, 47-49). Peter betrayed Jesus by disowning Him while Jesus was on trial in front of the religious leaders (Luke 22:54-62).

Both of these incidents are sad and it can be hard to think about how Judas took his own life. While the comparison game is usually discouraged, comparing the responses of Judas and Peter can bring us hope. After all, they both were culpable of failing the Lord Jesus at a crucial time. But there is something that separates these two people—which forever changed their trajectories.

The main difference between Judas and Peter was how they each responded to their personal failure. 

Let’s consider Judas first.

Matthew 27:3-5 recounts the tragic choices of Judas: When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

Judas was right to feel the guilt for what he did, but wrong to think that he was beyond redemption. Even suicide is not unforgiveable. God never will withhold mercy from someone who trusts in Him. It is in God’s nature to forgive. It is His preference to restore us, even though we (like Judas to some degree) have rebelled against Him. What if Judas would have remembered the teachings of his rabbi (like the parable of the prodigal son)? What if he remembered that Jesus was not only his teacher, but his Lord? Even Judas could have been forgiven. If only Judas had stuck around long enough to see his redeeming moment. But Judas was deceived by the Devil himself and chose to write the end of his story himself.

Being convinced that we are beyond redemption is the greatest lie any person has ever believed.

We are never forced to remain stuck in our guilt. “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” And if you are reading this today, you are not at a dead end.

Now, consider Peter.

John 21:15-17 records a moving encounter between Jesus and Peter after the resurrection (check it out for yourself!). Here we see Jesus restore and reinstate Peter to his role as the spokesperson of the disciples. The book of Acts gives us a window into the change in Peter’s life. He was always a brash man, but everything changed for him after Jesus forgave him of something that Peter might have thought of as unforgiveable. His failure was not the hallmark of his story; what he does in the book of Acts is! Likewise, no matter what you or I have done, we can relate to Peter in that there is always a fresh dose of forgiveness awaiting us. We can come face-to-face with Jesus and allow the sacrifice He made on the cross to cover our darkest decisions.

Hebrews 8:12 is a passage we cannot meditate on enough, as God says of those who trust in Him: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

Here is how we can summarize the meaning of that text:

When our sins are forgiven by God; our guilt is forgotten by God.

How liberating is it to know that God does not hold our past against us when He continues to partner with us? We all need to rest in that truth. If you believe in Jesus, the guilt of your past is deleted from God’s memory. It is not as if we stop sinning, but we are no longer under the life-defining guilt of sin. As we walk with God, we continue to confess our sins to Him knowing that He will forgive us every-single-time (1 John 1:9).

In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. Ephesians 1:7

Like Peter, you, too, can have your calling restored and walk boldly into the future He has for you! And that, dear friends, is the power of God’s forgiveness.

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