Up for grabs
The word of God offers timeless guidelines and instructions for reassurance for seasons of life’s uncertainties. Looking beyond the news headlines of fear, this blog post will encourage you to focus on the certainty of the Good News we have in Jesus Christ, from whom a ‘pandemic of joy‘ overflows, bringing blessings even in the most challenging of times.
8 So there was great joy in that city. Acts 8:8
We now live in a world where we have to deal with uncertainty, arguably more than ever before. In spite of trying to be intentional about avoiding the bad news that seemed to pervade the media, one can hardly escape the gloomy realities of these uncertain times. While we live in an information age and have gotten used to quick answers and quick analyses, being faced with a world-wide-out-of-control pathogen which seems resistant to any quick fix—for example—has understandably saturated many hearts with fear and anxiety.
In a world of fictional fearless superheroes, our eyes have opened to reality. Life happens. In times like this, it is not enough to share platitudes or braggadocious sentiments in the name of instilling courage in others; our audacity needs to have a basis which must be able to survive the scrutiny of the realities of these times.
One place we can turn to in scripture to make sense of times of uncertainties is Acts 8:1-8. The passage begins with Stephen’s martyr in Jerusalem and ends with ‘uncontainable joy’ in Samaria. Stephen’s death ushered in an epidemic of persecution for the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem. As a result of the persecution, the believers fled for their lives. But in fleeing, they carried the joyful news of Christ’s saving grace with them. One such migrant minister was Philip who found himself in Samaria and ministered to the people there. And how does the story end? “So there was great joy in that city. Acts 8:8
The passage tells us that in the midst of uncertainties (such as the one persecution brought to those early believers), there is also an uncontainable joy—a pandemic joy—that is up for grabs. James echoes the same thought: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, James 1:2
You can be so joyful in this season—and any season for that matter—that your joy spreads widely into your community.
Let’s unpack from this passage what this uncontainable joy looks like.
Faith and Common Sense
And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
The verse above paints a vivid picture.
Great persecutions. Broke out. All. Scattered.
Those words were intended to capture the severity of the situation. Severe as it was, however, the followers of Jesus responded faithfully—leaving us an example to follow should we be faced with life-threatening realities and uncertainties. How did they respond? By combining their faith in God and common sense, with the thoughtful minds that God has given them. Yes, they trusted God, but they also fled for their lives. They did what was commonsensical: They protected themselves.
As believers, our response to life-threatening realities must involve a combination of unwavering faith in God, godly wisdom and common sense. To respond faithfully to a pandemic, for instance, is to avoid being careless while taking responsibility to stay safe, protect our children and those who are most vulnerable.
In August of 1527, the bubonic plague came to Wittenberg, Germany, where the famous reformer, Martin Luther, was based. He wrote a letter at the time in response to a question he had been asked. The letter was titled “Whether one may flee from a deadly plague.” He shared some helpful thoughts in this letter which are very relevant now:
“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate . . . I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence . . . If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
Paul reminds Timothy, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7
We will observe, however, that while Acts 8:1 mentions that everyone scattered, it was also said that the apostles remained. While the specific reason for their remaining was not said in the text, it reminds us that there are key workers who, by virtue of their profession or calling, may need to take risks for the greater good of humanity. We owe them our prayers and thanks.
This is Acts 8:1 in a poetic nutshell:
All the believers fled.
All the apostles stayed.
But all in all,
Both responded faithfully.
And so must we.
Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.
You will recall that in verse 1, we read of the followers of Jesus fleeing for their lives because of the persecution they faced. In this verse, however, our attention is drawn to some “God-fearing men” who, in the same context when people were fleeing for their lives, chose to do what ‘proper human beings’ will do when a loved one dies—they “gave Stephen a proper burial and mourned greatly over his death.” They stayed in touch with their ‘proper humanness’ in spite of the perilous times they were going through.
Burying and mourning the dead is a very humane thing to do. These folks did not allow the ravaging epidemic of persecution to make them deny their humanness. Neither should we.
There are few things that are unique to humanity which we must fight to preserve even in times of uncertainty; for example, the use of words, proactive kindness, and the capacity to adapt and to be articulate in expressing our emotions. Keep a journal. Share your thoughts. Make the phone call. Stay in touch with your humanness.
C.S. Lewis reminds us that threats to human existence are not new and should not be exaggerated—whether they be plagues, cancer, fellow human beings, atomic bombs, and you can add to that, COVID-19—however, when such threatening realities emerge, Lewis suggests, “let them find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”
Believers Also Suffer
“But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Acts 8:3 in The Living Bible paraphrase says “Paul was like a wild man, going everywhere to devastate the believers . . .” Those are weighty words. For many Christians today, their understanding of God has zero-tolerance for suffering. In their understanding, a good God should keep His children from suffering. A good Savior should not allow a mere man like Saul to devastate the believers by mercilessly persecuting them. As long as we call on Him, all believers should be exempted from whatever unpleasantness goes on in the world—including sickness and death. If your understanding of God and of the Christian faith is such that it can’t process the realities of suffering—if you find yourself questioning the love of God in light of the ongoing realities of our times, you need a few reminders. I don’t have all the answers, but I can share with you four reminders:
1. God is love
Nothing will ever take away this divine attribute of the Father. He has communicated it to all of humanity in the grandest way possible by choosing to become one of us and pay the ultimate price that frees us to enjoy what He had always intended for all humans for all eternity—a blissful fellowship with His eternally loving self.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
2. We live in a fallen world
When sin entered the world through our first parents, Adam and Eve, all of creation (our physical bodies inclusive) became subject to the experience of corruption and death. In other words, there is an ongoing time-bound suffering which followers of Christ—alongside all of humanity and all of creation—are going through. Good news: It is time-bound.
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
3. Death is powerless over the believer
For the follower of Christ, death has died. Period. What Paul says to the Colossians, God is saying to all believers: “You should have as little desire for this world as a dead person does. Your real life is in heaven with Christ and God.”
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
4. We serve a sovereign God
Divine sovereignty is the canvas upon which God’s love and God’s power find the most beautiful expression. The sovereignty of God teaches us that He is in charge of everything, and He always does what is good, just, right, and wise! (
But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.
You’ve Got Some Wonderful News!
The devil is an incurable failure whose seeming successes always ultimately serve the purposes of God in the life of the believer. The worst the devil can do to a believer is physical death, but he does that knowing that the death of a believer is not a gain to him; it’s a gain to the believer. That’s the basic unit of pandemic joy—that every follower of Christ has an indestructible never-ending life. That’s some wonderful news!
As long as you are alive, you’ve got some wonderful news to share. While the believers in Acts 8 were being sensible in protecting themselves from persecution (by fleeing for their lives), they never fled away from this wonderful news. It had shaped them and redefined their identity. They were Jewish people (mainly) living in a Jewish city but had become known as something other than Jewish—members of a new ‘tribe’ called ‘The Way’ (Acts 9:1-2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22).
Indeed, the believer in Christ has found THE WAY TO KNOW & RELATE WITH GOD (John 14:6; Matthew 11:28). In Christ, we find a lovable and friendable God. His life, His death, and His resurrection—all historically grounded even outside of the scriptures—cast a certitude on His supremacy above all gods.
The believer in Christ has also found THE WAY TO LIVE (Acts 17:6; 1 Peter 2:9) because right believing always translate into right living. The love of God ignites the hearts of believers with love for God and for humanity—and what other force is there which outperforms love in influencing people’s way of life?
Besides, the believer in Christ has also found THE WAY TO DIE (1 Thessalonians 4:13) because it is only in Christ that death loses its sting. And lastly, the believer in Christ has found THE TRUE WAY HOME (Hebrews 13:4; Philippians 3:20-21). Every other way that men can follow is amputated by death. The wonderful news we believe is that this world, as it is, isn’t home. As such, we don’t settle for the flavors that this world can offer; we salivate for the taste of the cuisines awaiting us in our true home.
In the meantime, we’ve got a wonderful news to share . . . and share it we will.
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Have you ever felt so happy that you couldn’t contain it? When you not bothered about whoever was watching; you cannot contain the joy. The joy in Samaria in Acts 8:8, I believe, was far more than that. It was an Uncontainable Joy rooted in an eternal transaction. Nothing that happens ‘tomorrow’ will change that experience. These people got saved, and they knew it was a forever deal. It resulted in great joy. Uncontainable joy. Pandemic joy.
This is more than the joy of passing your driving test, getting a job, landing a huge business deal, acquiring a property, getting married, getting pregnant, and having a baby. It is a joy beyond the reach of disappointment. No news headline can make it waver. No expert report can thwart it. It is a joy that has no cure. A contagious joy. A pandemic joy, which no pandemic can contaminate.
Stephen’s murder led to the persecution that led to a dispersion that advanced God’s mission and led to uncontainable joy. If we look at some of these events in isolation—Jesus dying, Stephen dying, believers being persecuted and having to flee for their lives—they seem like bad news, but when we view them in the big picture of God’s extraordinary plan, we clearly see that the singular event which the devil intended for the ultimate realization of his agenda on earth has become the very source of eternal joy for believers across the world across the centuries.
The pandemic-joy-activating extraordinary plan of God for all of creation keeps unfolding.
“Through followers of Jesus . . . gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!” (Ephesians 3:10 MSG)
This is why we can be pandemically joyful and certain that the Body of Christ will always emerge on the other side of any earthly challenge stronger than ever.
Yes, some Christians may sleep in the Lord and many local assemblies of Christian worshipers may have to close, but the Church of Christ across the globe remains impregnable and unconquerable. As a member of this Body, therefore, where does this leave you? It leaves you with the reminder that there is a joy—an indestructible, pandemic joy—which is available in us, for us, and through us in times of uncertainty. Earthly pandemics will come and go, and so will many other harsh realities of life on this fallen planet, albeit only in the meantime. Our pandemic joy, however, will remain, and we must grab it with both hands.
The Parable of Two Certainties
I love movies riddled with uncertainties, but I absolutely hate uncertainties in my personal life. In life, as I’ve come to discover, some things are very certain. As we bring this journey to a close, I will highlight just two of them. The first should naturally lead to the second.
Certainty #1: All of Us Will Experience Uncertainties in Life
In other words, one thing you can be certain of in life is uncertainty. Every single one of us, even right now as you are reading this, have some uncertainties in our lives. This has probably increased in light of the pandemic of 2020. We have uncertainties about exam results, how to pay our bills, what’s going on with our relatives abroad, how our children will turn out in this increasingly secularized world, what life post-COVID-19 will look like . . . and so on and so forth. But we can be certain that all of us are experiencing uncertainties
So how do we handle the uncertainties in our world?
I can think of two possible ways: choose anxiety or choose certainty #2.
We choose anxiety when we assume the worst, doubt the promises of God, or compare ourselves to the many competing standards of our world.
Certainty #2: The Prince of Peace Is Always Near
You are never away from God’s reach. As a matter of fact, Paul’s admonition in Philippians 4 to “be anxious for nothing” was hinged upon the nearness of God. “The Lord is ever present with us [so] Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray.” (Philippians 4:5-6a VOICE).
Prophet Isaiah prophesies: “When you face stormy seas I WILL BE THERE WITH YOU with endurance and calm; you will not be engulfed in raging rivers. If it seems like you’re walking through fire with flames licking at your limbs, keep going; you won’t be burned. Because I, the Eternal One, am your God. I am the Holy One of Israel, AND I WILL SAVE YOU . . .” (Isaiah 43:2-3 VOICE).
In Acts 1 Luke records how Jesus’s disciples asked Him a time-related question—they wanted to know when He was going to free Israel from Rome. See how Jesus responds: “The Father sets those dates,” he replied, “and they are not for you to know.” (Acts 1:6-7 TLB) I love Jesus’s response. It’s okay to not know everything. It’s okay to have certain uncertainties, but we must not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the uncertainties; rather, we must let our uncertainties lead us into the safe and familiar arms of Who we certainly know is there with us: Jesus Christ.
If all you know in your uncertainties is that Jesus is certainly with you, that is enough—more than enough.
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