Be of good cheer
It sounds like the sort of saying we should use at Christmas. It has that ye olde yuletide ring to it: “Be of good cheer!” But when Jesus used this phrase there was nothing cheery about the circumstances. There was no earthly reason to ‘cheer up.’ Yet that didn’t stop Jesus from saying it.
One time He said it to a sinking boat, buffeted by a terrible storm as everyone feared drowning (Matthew 14:27; Mark 6:50). He said it to His disciples, hours before His death, having predicted terrible “tribulation” for them (John 16:33). And He said it to a paralyzed man who needed four men to carry him:
“Son, be of good cheer.” (Matthew 9:2)
In each case, “cheer” would have been the last thing on people’s minds. Yet Jesus brings an other-worldly cheer to bear when the world offers only fear and trouble and powerlessness.
Let’s think about the story of the paralyzed man for a minute. (Matthew 9:2-8)
Four friends are desperate to get their mate to Jesus so they carry him on a mat to the place He’s teaching. Mark’s Gospel tells us they couldn’t get into the house and so went up onto the roof, punched a hole in it and lowered their friend down!
“Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” (Matthew 9:2)
Now we get shocked by that verse, but not for the same reason as the crowd got shocked. We’re shocked because we think Jesus has His priorities wrong. We think, the first thing this man needs is to walk. Jesus thinks the first thing he needs is forgiveness.
Jesus considers that being forgiven is more important than your health, more important than money or getting a job or a family – all of which would have been virtually impossible for this paralytic. Jesus thinks forgiveness is the priority. Because if our sin remains unforgiven, it doesn’t matter if we have the finest health, if we can outrun Usain Bolt, if we get the greatest job, a pile of money and an adoring family. If we only have our health, we might have a terrific life but a horrendous eternity. Jesus knows what is most important. Forgiveness is the priority.
That’s what shocks us. But here is what shocks the crowd:
“And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth.” (v3)
This is the really shocking thing. How can Jesus offer forgiveness?
Surely only the offended party can forgive. Is Jesus claiming to be the offended party in all the sins of this stranger? Apparently He is. Therefore the Scribes are reasoning correctly – Jesus is claiming to be the God who is sinned against in every sin. And if He’s not God then He certainly is blaspheming.
How will Jesus respond? Well, He backs up the divine claim with a divine act. He heals the paralyzed man “that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins” (v6). He performs the verifiable miracle to give credence to the unverifiable miracle. He heals to show He can forgive.
And the paralyzed man arises and strides out the door a healed man and a forgiven man. He now walks under an open heaven. He now has the smile of His heavenly Father. He now enjoys the eternal friendship of God.
If we could interview this man right now he would tell us about the day that changed his life… and his eternity. No doubt he would assure us of how pleased he was to have the use of his legs. No doubt the healing gave him “cheer” for many years afterwards. But ask him now about what gives him “good cheer” and he will tell you, “the forgiveness of Jesus was the crucial thing.” Nothing was more important than that forgiveness. That is what gives good cheer, now and into eternity.
And Jesus is ready, willing and able to grant it. This story shows us the power of Jesus for powerless sinners who come to Him. His forgiveness gun is on a hair trigger, and there’s just one thing that sets it off: Faith. He sees faith and the words fly out of His mouth – “Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee.”
What does faith look like? Is it a strange mystical sensation? A funny feeling in the stomach? A state of consciousness only attained by the super-spiritual? No faith looks like tearing a hole in a roof because you want to get to Jesus. That is faith. It’s coming to Jesus with all your need. When Jesus sees that, He always forgives. No-one has ever come to Jesus in weakness and sin and been turned away. No matter how great the sins, how awful the uncleanness, how chronic the impotence, Jesus has forgiveness for all who come to Him.
- You might face shipwreck and ruin – be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you.
- You might face much “tribulation” in the months and years ahead – be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you.
- You might face debilitating ill health and not know when it will end – be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you.
The one thing that needs to happen has happened. The one question that must be resolved has been resolved. When you have the forgiveness of Jesus you have everything. It might just take a while to inherit it. But hold on. And look to Him now in your weakness. Know His smile and good grace which will never be revoked. And be of good cheer.