16th Sunday After Pentecost October 2, 2011
Matthew 9:2; Matthew 14:22-27; John 16:33; Acts 23:11
657, 535, 412, 361
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
In the Name of Him who was acquainted with grief and carried our sorrows, dear fellow-redeemed:
Isn’t it true that when you find what you have lost, it is no longer lost? Isn’t it also true that whenever we can’t find what we are looking for, it is often because we are looking in the wrong place. The same holds true that when we are depressed, we often don’t find joy because we are looking in the wrong place.
We search for joy by looking to other people first and to things rather than to our Lord when He was right there with joy the whole time. The apostle Paul wrote of this very thing to the Philippian Christians while he was under house arrest in Rome for the sake of the Gospel of Christ. He wrote: “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).
Our Lord Jesus knows our burdens and cares in this life. Was He not “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah. 53:3)? Jesus encourages us to look to Him for joy. On four different occasions in the New Testament Jesus lifted the hearts of believers with the words, “Be of good cheer!” Let’s take a careful look at the circumstances in which our Lord spoke these words so that we too may be encouraged to BE JOYFUL IN THE LORD.
Then behold, they brought to [Jesus] a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” —Matthew 9:2
When Jesus saw the faith of the paralyzed man and the faith of those who carried him, did He immediately heal the man? No, He did not. Instead, He said: “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” As we continue our pilgrimage through this world we will surely experience disease, illness, and all kinds of physical stress. We can be cheered mightily in the midst of it all if we remember that our greatest need has already been satisfied, our most deadly affliction has already been healed! For we have been granted a full and free pardon for our sins in the blood of our Savior!
A severely crippled little girl was confined to a dark room in a big house. A visitor suggested that she needed the sunshine to cheer her. But she replied, “The sun of righteousness, Jesus Christ, shines in here and makes everything bright to me.” Four hundred years before Jesus was born, the prophet Malachi wrote of the day when “the Sun of Righteousness would arise with healing in His wings” (Malachi 4:2). Our Lord, the Light of the world, has arisen from the dead with healing in His wings! Through Him we have forgiveness of our sins; and where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation!
Do you remember what David wrote in Psalm 32 about the depression he felt because of his sin with Bathsheba? He said that his “bones grew old from his groaning all day long” (Psalm 32:3). But after he repented of his sin and had been assured of forgiveness by the prophet Nathan, David wrote: “Blessed (or happy) is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1). It was this pardon and the hope of eternal life with God that moved suffering Job to rise from the ashes of his life and joyfully proclaim, “I know that my Redeemer lives…” (Job 19:25). How full of joy we too may be in the Lord’s pardon!
Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” —Matthew 14:22-27
Because of the pardon from sins which we have through Jesus, we may also be joyful in the Lord’s presence at all times. When things seem to be going well for us, we may begin to think that the fair weather is coming to an end—that soon a storm will appear on the horizon. We are probably right!
We well remember how the people in the gulf region of the United States were making a good beginning in restoring their homes and cities when another major hurricane threatened them! This is one of the hard lessons of life also for the Christian. But from our second text we see how our Lord not only allows the storms to come upon us, but even causes us to meet them so that He might strengthen us.
The disciples were threatened by the stormy sea in the darkness of the night. They became jittery and frightened just as we so often do in similar situations. Their fear led them to think that they saw a ghost. But it was Jesus who came to cheer them with His presence. “Be of good cheer, it is I, do not be afraid,” He told them.
But we don’t have to see the Lord to be assured of His presence. The first time Jesus’ disciples were in a storm on the Sea of Galilee the Lord was with them in the boat; but this time, He comforted them from afar off. The Lord was gradually preparing their poor faith for the day when He would ascend into Heaven out of their sight. The storms of life would continue for those first disciples, but like us, they had to learn to trust the promises of Jesus’ Word in order to be assured of His invisible presence with them.
And what does He still say to us from Heaven? “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). “This is My body…This is My blood” (Matthew 26:26ff). You see, Jesus purposely brought His early disciples to the point where you and I are today!
Why did He do that? Because there is greater blessing in believing that Christ is present with us than there is in being able to see Him on earth! Ephesians 1:23 tells us that since Christ’s ascension into Heaven, the heavenly Father has caused His Son, to “fill all things,” also according to His human nature. Therefore, wherever we find ourselves and in whatever condition, we may joyfully say, “Here is also my Lord and Savior, right here, right now!” “Where can we go from His Spirit?” The Psalmist asks. “Where can we flee from His presence?” (Psalm 139:7).
This brings us to a third occasion in which our Savior spoke the words “be of good cheer.” It was in relation to His power.
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. —John 16:33
Our joy in the Lord’s presence with us is directly related to our joy in His power on our behalf.
The Lord had just warned His disciples of the suffering and hardship they would face as they confessed their faith before the world. They must expect tribulation in this world. Yet they were to be of good cheer. Why? Because their Lord Jesus Christ had overcome the world! After enduring all the temptations, the humiliation, the hatred, and suffering the world could hand out, Jesus ascended into Heaven to the right hand of power where the Father has placed the world and all creation under His feet.
What is all this world’s power compared to the power of death and Hell which our risen Lord has already destroyed for us? We have nothing to do but follow Him and share in His victory by faith! For after His resurrection and before His ascension into Heaven, Jesus said, “All power is given unto Me in heaven and earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:18-20).
But where do we go with the Gospel, or what shall we do with our lives that we may best live to the glory of our great Savior? How often we are faced with decisions in life that affect the health and well-being of our families. Unrest and uncertainty about our future often saddens our hearts and depresses our spirits. But we can be joyful in the Lord’s plan for us.
Consider Paul. Shortly after His conversion to Christ, Paul had been warned by Jesus to get out of Jerusalem quickly because all the disciples of Christ were in danger. When the Lord finally returned Paul to Jerusalem a few years later, his preaching of the resurrection caused a great uproar! The Jews nearly beat him to death! He was saved by the Roman soldiers who took him into protective custody.
When Paul tried to defend his preaching before the Jewish Council the following day, life-threatening trouble broke out again. That night Paul wondered whether he would get out of Jerusalem alive and be able to continue his work.
But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.” —Acts 23:11
In the Word of our Savior we have the same assurances Paul received. In Psalm 31:5, for example, we are told that our Shepherd so completely controls the lives of his chosen sheep that our “times are in His hands.” “All things work together for good,” according to Romans 8:28. The Lord’s sheep will “never be forsaken” (Psalm 37:25); and no one is able “to pluck them out of His hand,” according to John 10:28.
Remember then, that you have been redeemed, regenerated, and adopted by Your Savior God. You can forsake Him, but He cannot forsake you! You can say with the Psalmist in every situation: “The Lord will perfect that which concerns me: Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever: do not forsake the work of Your own hands” (Psalm 138:8). Rejoice in the Lord always—in His pardon, in His presence, in His power, and in His plan! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.