When Joy and Grief Are Next Door Neighbors
Today’s Bible reading is Zechariah 5 and Acts 8.
“Great persecution” in one city, “much joy” in another. I had never noticed how closely those very different experiences appear in Acts 8.
In Jerusalem, “a great persecution against the church” began on the day of Stephen’s execution. “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (8:1-3).
At the same time, Philip proclaims the Christ to a nearby city of Samaria.
And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city. (8:6-8)
“Great persecution” and “much joy,” separated by just six verses. Sometimes the extremes sit even closer. Less than six feet apart, one heart is broken, another is bursting at the seams with happiness. In the same pew, one is crying and another can’t stop smiling. Social media feeds put the wide spectrum on full display, day after day–pain and gain, funerals and birth announcements, adversity and prosperity, setback and progress, devastating shocks and joyful surprises. Who is sufficient to celebrate and support (and personally cope) in this swirl of emotional whiplash?
Slow down long enough to realize what Luke is documenting for us in Acts 8, and notice where he’s pointing. Christians in Jerusalem were being ravaged. What did they need? There was much joy a few miles down the road in Samaria. From where did it come and how would it be sustained? What could possibly be sufficient to help one group of people endure terrible suffering, while at the same time leading others to the heights of gladness?
The gospel of Jesus Christ.
Philip wasn’t being insensitive to the heartache in Jerusalem when he went down and proclaimed good news to the city of Samaria. They needed Jesus. The apostles weren’t being shortsighted when they stayed in Jerusalem to help others hold on through the hurricane of persecution. They needed Jesus.
The gospel of Christ is solid enough to support people on both extremes of the emotional spectrum. It’s powerful enough to lead us to joy inexpressible and filled with glory, introducing us to the outcome of faith, the salvation of our souls. But it’s also powerful enough to equip us with patience in tribulation, peace in uncertainty, and hope in grief.
Likewise, the body of Christ is big enough to support the highest highs and the lowest lows. What a sacred privilege to serve as the hands and feet of Jesus! We celebrate and comfort. Our tears spring from happiness and sadness. We lift the tired arms of someone today, only to have our own weak knees strengthened by someone else tomorrow. In humility we rejoice with those who are rejoicing; with compassion we weep with those who are weeping. By grace we’ve been blessed with the opportunity to serve as small parts of something so much larger than ourselves.
Who is sufficient when joy and grief are next door neighbors? Not me, and not you. But Jesus was in Acts 8, and he still is today.
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