And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. Acts 13:52
If I were to have read the above verse after, say, verse 42 of this chapter, when the Jews and Gentile converts were walking and talking with Paul and Barnabas and encouraging them to continue in the grace of God, it would have made sense.
But this verse about being filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit comes, instead, after rejection, persecution, and expulsion. If I were the one living Paul and Barnabas’ story in these moments, I’m pretty sure I would be considering this a fail—and myself a failure. I’d probably start questioning my call, wondering if my words had actually come from God. The last thing I’d be feeling was joy.
But joy is what fills Paul and Barnabas and the disciples. Paul is invited to share a word of encouragement on the spur of the moment, and his words come because he knows his story is a part of God’s story. Paul and Barnabas and the disciples know their story, the story of their ancestors, and they are immersed in that story. The story that they live and breathe and have their being in is the story of a God who worked again and again through these kinds of “failures”. It is a story of victory by death, not in spite of it.
This instance of rejection after Paul’s first recorded sermon, in fact, stands as a reflection of the bigger story of God in Jesus of Nazareth. Compare this with what happens to Jesus in Luke four. Jesus visits a synagogue, is invited to read, preaches his first sermon. The results are fury, rejection, and being driven from town—epic fail.
But Jesus knows his story. Jesus knows that he is the beloved Son (Luke 3:22). So Jesus knows this isn’t a fail. He is immersed in the true story of creation, the choosing of a people, the gift of redemption, and ultimately of restoration.
What stories are you immersed in? What narratives shape your life? The time-honoured story of productivity determining your value? The ever-present myth of busy-ness as the only way of being in this world? The tale of a child always seeking out the next innovation in “self-help”? Or do you live and move and have your being in the true story of your beloved-ness as a child of God who is bringing shalom to all creation? Read again the story Paul tells in Acts 13:16-41. This is your story. Can you immerse yourself in it?
Prince Albert, SK