Living In Eternity’s Sunrise
Matthew 9:1-2, 14:22-27; John 16:31-33
Well, I believe I’ve heard everything now…
I came across a letter written by the Chamber of Commerce of a certain midwestern city to the office of Civil Defense in Washington. The letter stated: “We noted in your recent publication of the prime target areas in our nation that our city was not listed. We feel that our city is a strong and vital metropolitan area. Therefore, we request that you consider revising your list to include our city as a prime target for nuclear attack.”
I’ll say it again. I think I’ve heard it all now. For it would be my surmise that most people believe that there’s enough trouble in life without going out to look for it! Most people would affirm that life is not a glossy, tinseled, syrupy-sweet screenplay acted out on some Hollywood soundstage, but rather that it is lived out from under the lights with a very tough script and with an audience that is at times most unappreciative. Yes, most of us would agree that in this business of life, there are as many lumps as there are lollipops.
But do we know this too? Do we know that there is One who stands ready, even in the midst of all the terror and the discord of our times, to give us the blessings of His pardon and of His presence and of His power? Do we know Jesus? Do we know what He means when He says: “Be of good cheer…”? When you do know what, well…to borrow William Blake’s line, you begin to feel like you’ve “kissed the joy as it flies”, like you’re “living in eternity’s sunrise.” So come along with me and I’ll show you what I think Jesus means when He says “Be of good cheer…”
Think, for example, of the cheer of His pardon.
In Matthew 9, there is the story of a young man who was paralyzed and who was brought to Jesus for healing. The young man’s paralysis was apparently caused by his sense of guilt for the sins he had committed, for what he had been and what he had done. We know how that can be. We understand the principles of psychosomatic illness. We understand that sometimes what we think in our minds can very much affect our bodies. That must have been true of this young man. For Jesus, on meeting him, bent low, took his hand, and looked deeply into his eyes—so deeply that He could see what was at the center of that young man. And the young man looked so deeply at Jesus that he could see what was at the center of the Christ. In that moment of deep, personal encounter, Jesus said: “Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you.” And with that, the young man got up and walked away, paralyzed no more.
Now we may think that is nothing more than a story from the distant pages of the past. Yet I would suggest that the story could just as well have come from the pages of the morning newspaper. For there are people today who are paralyzed by their sense of shame and guilt. They try to cover it up in a variety of ways, but it is paralysis still.
For example, there are those individuals who feel so caught up in evil that they just surrender to it—they give in to it—they yield to it. I remember visiting a young man who had been arrested and put in jail. As we sat in the dark dinginess of his cell, he said: “I know you wonder why I did what I did; but what else can you expect from someone like me?” You see, he had such a low view of himself that he could not aspire to anything higher than that. That’s a kind of paralysis of the will.
Or there are those who try to drown their guilt and shame by taking alcohol or popping one pill after another. The Irishman tries to get away from his difficulties by hiding in the bottle. Then he meets the priest who asks: “Does it work?” To which the Irishman responds: “No, Father, I’ve only discovered that the Devil can swim.” But the tragedy is that most people don’t discover that until after they’ve become bound and chained to their addiction, until after they’ve been paralyzed by it.
And then some people try to cover up reality by throwing themselves into a frenzy of work. They try to cram every minute with 60 seconds’ worth of distance run. They jam their days with a myriad of activities, hoping that the frenzied pace will somehow assuage the hurt that’s down inside of them. They say: “I’ll score so many points that no one will ever know that I’m lost inside.” That’s just another form of paralysis.
I wish—oh, how I wish I could take those who bear that awful burden of guilt and shame for what they’ve been and what they’ve done—how I wish I could take them into a deep personal encounter with Jesus Christ. I wish they could gain the liberating cheer of His pardon. I wish they could hear Him say: “Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you.” For when you hear that, well you feel like you’re living in eternity’s sunrise!
Or think of the way Jesus gives us the cheer of His presence.
There’s that great story in Matthew 14 which illustrates the point. The Sea of Galilee can be a very treacherous body of water. At one end of Galilee there are high hills. They are very much in the news these days—they are called the Golan Heights. On the other side of Galilee are low hills and plateaus. Ofttimes, the cold air from the heights meets the warm air from the plateaus, and when this occurs out over the water, a fierce storm can erupt immediately. The waves can become suddenly high and treacherous, the wind strong and gusty. Now the disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee when they encountered just such a circumstance. They were suddenly caught in a fierce storm and they were having a rough time of it.
Then it was that Jesus, who was standing on a nearby hillside where he could see what was happening, came hurrying down to help them, walking on the water as He did. Here’s the picture. The rain is pelting down upon Him, so that His hair is plastered down against His scalp and so that the cloth in His robe is clinging to those great broad carpenter’s shoulders of His. The wind occasionally catches the edge of His robe, billowing it up behind Him. And He’s running across the waves. There’s a certain awkwardness about it—He’s a land man, not a sea-goer—and He’s running across the waves like we would run along the street in the rain trying to skip the puddles. And He’s waving His arms and calling out, trying to get their attention. Think of it. Here are those disciples having a tough enough time as it was, trying to survive in the storm, and suddenly they look up to see this wild, waving, white thing running at them across the waves. Why little wonder it nearly scared the life out of them! But then they heard His word: “Cheer up, fellows. Hold on, I’m coming Oh, it must have been a great moment for them after they got over the initial shock.
And it’s a great moment for anyone who gets caught up in the storms of life and then suddenly looks up and hears Jesus say: “Take heart. You need a helping hand and I’m coming to give it.” You see, life can be tough. It can be stormy. We know that, don’t we? And having faith just will not solve every problem. We know that, too, don’t we?
You may have read some months back about the little boy who had diabetes. The boy’s father assumed that his faith would be sufficient to conquer the little boy’s disease. So he threw away the child’s medicine. The little boy died. The father then took to sitting by the little boy’s grave, believing that his faith would bring the boy back. The little boy didn’t come back. I don’t know what’s happened to that father since, but I’ll wager that either he’s punishing himself because his faith wasn’t strong enough or he’s angry at God for failing him or he’s devised some theological loophole to attempt to justify what he did. You see, faith will not automatically solve every problem in life. There will be times when we pray and pray and pray some more, but it just won’t happen the way we want it to happen. Look at Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed and He prayed and He prayed until the sweat oozed out of Him like great drops of blood. He prayed that somehow that cross might be taken away. But it didn’t happen that way.
Jesus didn’t go through life with a sickly sweet smile pasted on His face. Jesus was not icily cool in every situation. Jesus’ days were not problem-free. No. He plunged right into the midst of the storms of life. And now He plunges right into the midst of our lives. He works with His bare hands until His hands come up bleeding. He goes ahead of us on life’s highway, calling back to us, “Watch out for the falling rocks”—and He takes the blows of their falling upon Himself until He is bruised and broken. Even at the side of the Road, He calls out, “Be careful, there are thorns over here,” and so that we will see them more clearly, he plaits them into a crown and wears it on His head.
Our Lord never once promised us that everything will be easy. But He does promise us that He will be with us in the midst of everything, whether it’s hard or easy. He promised it to Abraham, with a covenant. He promised it to Moses with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He promised it to Elijah in a thin, small voice. He promised it to His disciples by showing them His hand and feet. He promises it to us when He says, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of time.” And when you suddenly lay hold of that, when you realize that Jesus is with you whatever you have to face in this life, well, then you feel like you’re living in eternity’s sunrise!
Perhaps more personal even than the other two, there is this third thought. Consider the cheer of His power.
I love the scene in the New Testament when we are told of the Last Supper. Not the part where Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, because I would have been just as uncomfortable in that as Peter was. Not the part where Judas was dismissed out into the blackness of the night, because I would have felt that I deserved to be dismissed along with him. No. It’s that warm and intimate time after the Supper when Jesus began to speak to His disciples about forgiveness—and I need that; when He speaks about sympathy—and I need that; and when He speaks about the gift of His power—and I need that. It’s where He said, “In the world you have tribulation. But be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.” Staggering words from the lips of the Saviour!
Oh, I know. Most of the world’s great leaders have said words like that at one time or another. Muhammed said things like that until 632 A.D. when he died and was buried and his body mingled with those eastern sands. Zoroasten said things like that until he was laid away in a tower of silence from which the vultures carried his remains skyward. Buddha said things like that until he was buried in the shade of the Bo tree where he had sat. Confucius said things like that until he went off to join the ancestors he spent so much time talking about.
But today, 2000 years after Jesus first uttered the words, I say to you in His name: He has overcome the world! More people own that to be true today than adhere to all the faith systems the world has ever known. And more people today own that to be true of Him than ever before in the history of the world. For that day when Jesus walked into the Upper Room and bore witness to the reality of his resurrection, He laid claim to a power which no one has ever been able to take away from Him—a power which defeats everything in life that stands over against Him. For in defeating death, Jesus Christ defeated it all. That is why we sing hail to the power of His holy name. That is why He fairly towers over the flow of human history, standing utterly supreme in His importance.
I close my eyes and I see the world’s conquerors riding by. I see their empires rise like the tide to flood the earth only then to ebb away again. I see a thousand national banners catch the flash of the sun and I see countless cities burning on smoke-filled plains. I see legions of soldiers laden down with gold and silk and treasured art—the plunder of places they’ve laid to waste. I hear the tramping feet of their parade’s march. I see a continent of moving spears and a storm of arrows in the sky. I see the conquerors riding by.
I see their cruel faces twisted into smirks of selfish pride. I see the Mongol Genghis Khan, his flashing scimitar red with blood. I see Alexander, who sought to conquer the world but who lost his own soul. I see Caesar with laurel wreath and silken robes, blithely speaking of a Roman peace that was no peace at all. I see the hellish visage of the Hun, riding like the devil’s madman across a scorched and barren land. I see, leading them all, deaf to the cries of the wounded and the dying, lonely Napoleon, dreaming of an empire that could never be for all his trying. I see the conquerors riding by.
But then they disappear from sight like morning haze before the sun, like fleeting reflections in a mirror run! I see them disappear just as they disappeared from the stage of human history. And now my eyes behold conquering down the centuries comes Jesus the King, swordless and riding on a donkey. And as He rides by I hear His grand triumphant cry: “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”
So I say in response:
All hail the power of Jesus’ name
Let angels prostrate fall
Bring forth the royal diadem
And crown Him Lord of all!
Oh my friends, here is the sheer joy of living in Jesus Christ. His victory won for you belongs to you now because you belong to Him. And because it’s yours now, it’s yours always. And because it’s yours always it’s yours for all eternity. And when you know that, well there’s just no other way to put it—when you know that, you feel like you’re living in eternity’s sunrise!
So dear friends in Christ, I pray for you the cheer of Christ’s pardon—your sins are forgiven you. I pray for you the cheer of Christ’s promise—lo, He is with you always. I pray for you the supreme cheer of His power—He has overcome the world…