Christian Character Part 7

Be of Good Cheer

Be of Good Cheer!! Even though the Swine Flu H1N1 has backed way off its epidemic threats, the times and seasons around us are no less tough this week than last week: earthquakes, tsunamis, wars and rumors of wars, financial and economic weakness, marriages and families under stress, illness and aging, deception and dishonesty and distrust.

There is a whole lot going on to shrink our courage in fear, immobilize us in uncertainty, fill us with doubt and dismantle our faith. Satan has a plan and so does God. Our mettle is being tested, the depth of our faith is being measured, the reality of our love of God is being seasoned.

We are salt and light. We understand the light of Christ, and the fact that darkness is defined by light, but do we understand salt? What happens when something is seasoned, especially with salt? Two things: taste changes and that something is preserved. Scripture challenges us to ask ourselves whether we have lost our saltiness (Mark 9:50), and so we must ask whether we the light of Christ is growing dim in us, whether the light of Christ is stagnant and not growing brighter in us. These are self-examination questions. Scripture admonishes us to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5) as to whether we are in the faith, whether Jesus Christ is us.

Despite the ominous command of EXAMINE YOURSELVES and TEST YOURSELVES, from 2 Corinthians 13:5, we have reasons not to fear our circumstances, not to fear the natural disasters ever present in our world, not to fear the temptations of the flesh nor the deceptions and attacks of Satan. We have reason to be of good cheer.

Listen to what Jesus told the paralyzed man brought to Jesus in His own city of Nazareth (Matthew 9:1-2): “So He got into a boat, crossed over and came to His own city. Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith ” (not necessarily just the paralyzed man’s faith), “He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven.'”

There you have the foundation of our attitude towards the troubles of life: we can be and are called to be of good cheer. Our sins are forgiven, and though we have not escaped the temptations and attacks of Satan, and we have not yet escaped the confines of earth with its persistent natural disasters, we have gained forgiveness of sin, through Christ, and we have the assurance of eternal life in Heaven with Christ, God, the Holy Spirit and all the saints and heavenly hosts! Hallelujah!!

But then, Jesus explains that we have another reason to be of good cheer. Matthew 14, after the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand from only five loaves and two fish, Jesus made His disciples get into a boat to cross a large body of water. Let’s read, beginning at verse 21, through verse 32. In verse 27, in response to the fear that gripped the disciples, Jesus said, in the midst of the disciples’ fear, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” And Jesus accepted Peter’s test in verse 28, and commanded Peter to come to Jesus, to walk on the water. How did that work for Peter? Well, you know Peter had just seen and been a part of the miracle of feeding all those five thousand people, so you would think Peter would believe anything Jesus said. And so, this walking on the water at Jesus’ command, worked well for Peter as long as he focused on Jesus. But when Peter focused on the circumstances of boisterous seas, under and all around him, he saw that there was a whole lot going on around him that threatened his life. What was happening to Peter’s faith? He feared and the fear shrank his courage, as he realized the physical limits of his ability to survive in that circumstance. But here is what differentiates Peter, in that situation, from some many, and so many Christians, in difficult situations: Peter knew that Jesus was with him and Peter called out for Jesus to save him. So, in his fear, yes, Peter was immobilized in uncertainty, he was filled with doubt, and the circumstances challenged his faith. But these circumstances did not dismantle his faith: he knew Jesus was with him, and he knew that Jesus could hear him, and Peter had enough left faith left to call out to Jesus to save him, and Jesus did save him. And this became a teachable moment for Peter, because, even as Jesus grasped Peter’s hand (verse 31), Jesus brought a teaching correction into Peter’s life, yet again: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt”. [Seque: as you mature in the Lord, you will learn that God/Jesus/Holy Spirit do not usually speak to us with accusations about our sin, but with questions that engage us in an introspection and a responsive dialogue with them. Satan usually confines himself to accusations of our unworthiness about our sin, which he lead us into!] Peter asked for this test. Not many of us really ask to be tested, but Peter did. And so, Peter’s mettle was tested, the depth of his faith was measured. But here is what really happened: Peter chose to get beyond his comfort zone, to get out of the boat, and to try to rely on Jesus, and when he reached the end of himself he called out again to Jesus and found Jesus there, ready to save, and ready to teach. Peter’s faith was stretched all out of proportion. In Mary’s word shared with us in the Ministry of the Holy Spirit+ today, she described athletic conditioning, and we can analogize that to “spiritual conditioning” That stretching of faith is like physical exercise: Peter went to the point of “muscle fatigue” in his faith, to the point where he doubted and therefore feared and at the end of his muscles, of his faith, he found out, again, that Jesus answered the call for help. So his faith muscles were strengthened against weakness, and he was preserved for another day when he could and would extend further in his faith. Thus, the reality of Peter’s love of God, through Christ, was seasoned, and (because we love God by obedience to his commands (2 John 6), Peter would in the future be able to be more obedient than merely, or even, walking on water!! Peter had reason to be of good cheer, just like Jesus said to comfort the disciples that it was no ghost walking upon the sea, but just their friend, Jesus, doing one of His normal supernatural things!

Even though Peter’s faith was measured and seasoned by his experience on the sea, that experience of walking on the water was not unlike that of Daniel and his friends walking in the fire pit that killed the soldiers who put them in it (Daniel 3: 25, “‘Look!’ he (King Nebuchadnezzar) answered (his counselors), ‘I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is that of the Son of God.'”

Mark 9:49, just before verse 50 (about salt), says this, “For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.” And verse 50 goes on and says, “Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor (its saltiness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves and have peace with one another.”

These experiences in life, the ones like Peter that we asked for, and the ones like Daniel that we don’t exactly ask for, these experiences that extend and test our faith, are experiences of fire (like Will Barnes led us to today, in the Ministry of the Holy Spirit+, in Psalm 29: 7, for God divided the fire around Daniel and his friends, and God/Jesus overcame the laws of physics to allow Peter to walk on the water. These experiences of fire are what season us and increase the flavor of the salt in us, and that is good!

Now, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, in Matthew 5:1-11, gives the Beatitudes, and their explanation (Read them), and then gives us an encourage, and it is an encouragement to be of good cheer, verses 12-16: “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Paul received from Jesus Himself this encouragement to be of good cheer. There is the passage in Acts 23, when Paul was in custody of the Roman soldiers and was in debate with the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the debate produced what verse 9 calls a “loud outcry”, so much so says that (verse 12) the Jews wanted to kill Paul immediately, and here we find that the commander of the soldiers, fearing what he called a “great dissension”, took action. Verses 10-11, “Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them (the Jews), commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks (not the jail, as such). But the following night the Lord stood by (Paul) and said, ‘Be of good cheer, Paul, for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.'”

At the Last Supper (John 13-17), after Judas, the traitor, had left, Jesus poured out His heart, and His final encouragements and admonitions to His disciples. In response His disciples said this, John 16: 29-30, “His disciples said to Him, ‘See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech! Now we are sure that You know all things and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came from God.'” And in verses 31-33, Jesus answered them with these words of encouragement, words we need if we have the faith of the apostles, in the generation and season for which we were created and in which we live: “Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe? Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. 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.”

In a world of tribulations of all sorts – sin, flesh, natural disaster – Jesus offers us reason to be of good cheer: faith without fear, forgiveness of sin, eternal life, resurrection bodies, constant teaching, peace, and per Mark 9:50, salt to season and preserve us, and to share in our good works with others, and peace to have with everyone.

Examine yourselves, and if you are lacking in any of these, then, like Peter, ask God to command you out of your comfort zone, let God take you to the point of the spiritual – and maybe the physical – limit of muscle fatigue, faith fatigue. Thus, like Jesus, Luke 2:52, you will grow in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

So, no matter what, be of good cheer!!