This evening, after a visit to the veteran’s hospital, I stopped at Starbucks, ordered a venti iced tea, and sat on the patio to read through some commentaries in preparation for this weekend’s message.
Today was one of those perfect spring days that you wish would go on and on without end. The sky was blue. The sun was shining–but not too hot. The breeze was blowing–but not too cool. And deep in my soul I felt a joy rising up.
As a person who has struggled all my life with depression, moments of deep joy are very much cherished.
So what is it that makes a moment joyous? Is it the absence of misery and suffering? Is it the absence of strife or hardship? Does it mean our souls do not know worry or concern?
Joy is something that comes to us even in terrible moments and gives us the peace we need to know that no matter what, we are in the presence of Jesus Christ and his love and grace.
Saint Stephen was a man with many troubles when he was brought before the council. They possessed the ability to have him put to death, and he was preaching a message that they thought was heresy. But even as Stephen could see them grinding their teeth at him and boiling with rage (and surely he must have known they were about to murder him) he was able to live in total joy. Stephen looked to heaven and proclaimed with ecstatic joy that he could see Jesus standing at God’s right side! What a wonderful vision! This was the very message that was enraging the council, but Stephen was given a vision that assured him he was right!
That joy sustained him even as the stones began to beat against his body. Even as his bones broke and his internal organs swelled with blood, the joy of knowing Jesus Christ was in heaven was enough to give him the courage to cry offer his own life to Jesus… and in the example of Jesus, to pray for the forgiveness of the sins of those murdering him.
Joy carried Stephen boldly into a place where he it was unlikely he would return. Joy gave him the courage to speak a difficult message. And joy brought him comfort even in a terrible moment.
We do not need to pursue a life devoid of suffering and struggle in order to know the joy of living in Christ Jesus. Instead, we should seek the joy of living in Christ Jesus even when everything else is going wrong.
The story of Stephen’s martyrdom can be found in Acts 7.