I want to give you a word of encouragement. Yes, literally just one word – straight from the New Testament. In the original Greek, that word is tharseo, a verb that appears in only six different contexts, and always as a command. It is translated variously as ‘Take courage!’, ‘Take heart!’ or simply ‘Cheer up!’. Let’s take a look at this word as it appears in the New Testament and let it encourage us.
You have been called (Mark 10:46-52)
There is poor, blind Bartimaeus, sitting and begging by the roadside as Jesus leaves the city of Jericho. He begins to shout out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many try to silence him, but he shouts out all the more. Then, to the astonishment of the crowd, Jesus stops and says, ‘Call him.’ So, they say to Bartimaeus, ‘Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.’
Perhaps you remember calling out for Jesus to show you mercy. And then to your amazement, you discovered that he was calling you! So, like Bartimaeus, you threw everything aside, leapt to your feet and came to him. By faith, you received your spiritual sight and followed Jesus along the road.
If we want reasons to be cheerful, surely remembering how we received the grace to hear and respond to the call of Christ would be a good place to start.
You have been forgiven (Matthew 9:1-8)
Here we have Matthew’s abbreviated account of the paralysed man let down through the roof by his friends, right in front of Jesus. One thing Matthew adds, however, is our word of encouragement. Seeing the faith of the man’s friends, Jesus says, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.’ We know how the Lord went on to heal the man’s paralysis as a demonstration of his divine power and authority to the unbelieving teachers of the law. But let’s pause here.
The sense of being forgiven, even at the human level, is one of the sweetest and most comforting of blessings. Yet others can forgive us only for the sins we have committed against them. So, the teachers of the law were at least right in asserting that this man’s sins could be forgiven by God alone because ultimately all our sin is against him. How then, can Christians possibly be despondent for long, if they have truly experienced the forgiveness of the Father and the Son?
You have been saved (Matthew 9:18-26)
Here again, Matthew gives us the shortest account of this famous incident, and once more he adds the word of encouragement we are focusing on. Jesus is on his way to raise from the dead the young child of a synagogue leader. While he does so, a poor woman, whose affliction would have excluded her from any synagogue, somehow forces her way through the pressing crowd in order to touch the edge of Jesus’ cloak. As Mark informs us, Jesus senses that healing power has gone from him, and everything must come to a juddering halt as he seeks the cause.
Knowing she has been cured but unable to conceal herself any longer, the woman falls trembling with fear at Jesus’ feet, confessing all. The Lord replies, ‘Take heart, daughter, your faith has healed you.’ Or, as we could legitimately translate it, ‘Take heart, daughter, your faith has saved you.’
Does not the Saviour have a special love for the poor, the weak, the despised, the excluded and the fearful? And does not our word of encouragement on this occasion bring a particular peace and joy to all those believers who might see themselves in such a situation? Jesus still stops the world to reassure them!
You have Jesus with you (Mark 6:45-52)
Following the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus sends his disciples ahead of him in the boat and goes up on a mountainside to pray. Shortly before dawn, while the disciples are still straining at the oars against a headwind, Jesus makes as though to pass them by, walking on the water. Unsurprisingly, the disciples are terrified, thinking it’s a ghost. But, ‘immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down.’
Here was another training exercise for the disciples. Previously, when they had been terrified on the water, at least Jesus had been with them — and stilled the storm. This was something different. They must have been puzzled when he had not gone with them from the outset. Though the situation was not so desperate, they still thought they had to deal with it on their own.
Sometimes we may feel abandoned by the Lord, and even that he does not care about our trials. And yet, all night long, Jesus has been watching and praying for us from on high. What is more, as he will never test us beyond our strength, he will eventually come to us, very often in ways that surprise us. And when he speaks that word of encouragement, we know once more that it is him, and he is with us.
You shall continue to serve the Lord (Acts 22:30-23:11)
It had been a tumultuous couple of days in Jerusalem for the apostle Paul. Three times, the commander of the Roman garrison had been forced to send in troops to rescue Paul from the fury of the Jews — twice from the crowds in the temple, and once from the violence of the Sanhedrin itself. As Paul slept that night in the comparative safety of the Roman barracks, he must have wondered whether his work was at an end. There was so much more he needed to do — but it seemed that the Lord was in the process of closing the door.
That night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’ That had always been Paul’s vision and intention (Acts 19:21), but here was the wonderful divine confirmation that would transform his ministry in the midst of its darkest moment.
Have you ever been depressed by the thought that your years of productive service for the Lord might be over? It cannot be so. God is in the business of glorifying himself. So, you may be assured that he will only take you to heaven once you can glorify him more there than here! No matter how unpromising our situation or prospects may appear, we must listen to this word of encouragement.
You have entered into Christ’s victory (John 16:16-33)
These are Jesus’ final words in the Upper Room before his great high priestly prayer. The despondency of the disciples when they realise that their Master is about to be taken from them has begun to lift a little, but tough times lie ahead. Jesus concludes, ‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’
This world is full of trouble for the faithful Christian. However, our word of encouragement is here preceded by a very strong ‘BUT’. Jesus has conquered the world, and we have entered into his victory. Though we are still in the world, what is infinitely and eternally more important is that we are in Christ. And ‘in me’, says Jesus, ‘you may have peace’ — a peace that the world can neither give to us nor take from us. And what could be more encouraging than that?