When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:54) Here’s death, and death is the great devourer of the human race. One-by- one, death swallows every one of...
The skies are gray today. Snow flurries blur the landscape outside the window. Temperatures hover in the mid-teens. The cold creeps through the soles of my shoes and my wool socks — the price I pay for working at my desk, which sits on the floor above our house’s crawl space.
A winter chill blows through my soul, too. Financial concerns, family issues, work problems — their icy flakes drift through my mind, blurring my perspective, my focus.
Almost immediately a verse comes to mind, one I learned as a child:
In the world you will have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33, NKJV)
Jesus spoke those words to his disciples the night before his crucifixion. I repeat them — once, twice, three times.
A Pressing Together
How right you were, Lord. In this world we have tribulation. People I love receive cancer diagnoses. Others get laid off at work. People I don’t know die in terror attacks, drive-by shootings, home invasions, and car accidents.
Thousands of refugees flee their war-ravaged homelands. Floodwaters swamp homes and lives. Tornadoes sweep away buildings and livelihoods. Oh yes, in this world we have tribulation.
The Greek word translated tribulation in some Bible versions, and trouble in others, literally means “a pressing together” according to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon. In the Bible, the word is used to describe those suffering from the calamities of war or natural disasters (Matthew 24:21-29) and the hardships of deprivation (2 Corinthians 8:2; Philippians 4:12-14). Paul used it to describe interpersonal conflict in Philippians 1:16-17 and despair in 2 Corinthians 1:8.
Tribulation is a multifaceted word for multi-pronged pain.
Our compassionate Savior, however, didn’t leave his disciples in that frame of mind. He added, “But be of good cheer.”
A half-smile pulls at the corner of my mouth. There’s always a “but” with you, Lord, isn’t there?
Hours away from an excruciating death yourself — a horrifying event that would bring devastating grief and bewilderment to your disciples — you look them straight in the eye and say, “But be of good cheer.”
I think there was a twinkle in Jesus’ eye when he said it. He knew the grief that would overwhelm his beloved followers, but he also knew the joy that would follow three days later. So he said, “But be of good cheer.”
Of Good Cheer
“Be of good cheer” is an old-fashioned expression. Most modern Bible translations use “take courage” or “take heart.” It’s not a matter of putting on your happy-face mask to hide your grief-ravaged face. The word cheer is related to the Greek words for boldness, confidence, and hope. We might use encourage or edify.
In essence, Jesus was saying, “Don’t allow trouble of any kind to dismay or defeat you. There’s no need for that. No, you can be full of confidence, hope, and peace instead.”
How is that possible? Jesus provided the answer: “I have overcome the world.” The Greek word translated overcome means “prevailed”—to gain victory because you are stronger and smarter than your opponent, superior in every way. Jesus knew the outcome, not just of his death and the tribulation that would follow it; he also knew the outcome of all tribulation — all death will be swallowed up in victory and there will be no more tears, no sorrow, no pain of any kind (1 Corinthians 15:54; Revelation 21:4).
That is the reason we can “be of good cheer” in this world of tribulation. Jesus has overcome all that threatens to squelch our confidence, courage, and hope.
When gray days come, we can meditate on these overcoming truths:
- Our destination is heaven: To the one who overcomes, “I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7).
- We will live forever with God: The one who overcomes “shall not be hurt by the second death” (Revelation 2:11).
- Jesus will provide delectable, satisfying spiritual food to sustain us: To the one who overcomes “I will give some of the hidden manna to eat” (Revelation 2:17).
- Jesus will give us a new name, reflective of who we are in Christ: “And I will give [the one who overcomes] a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which not one knows except him who receives it” (Revelation 2:17).
- Jesus will give us whatever authority and power we need: To the one who overcomes “and keeps my works until the end … I will give power over nations” (Revelation 2:26).
- Jesus will clothe us in his purity: The one who overcomes “shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out [that] name from the Book of Life” (Revelation 3:5).
- Jesus will proudly list our accomplishments one day: “I will confess [the] name [of the one who overcomes] before my Father and before His angels” (Revelation 3:5).
- Jesus will give us his family name: To the one who overcomes, “I will write on him the name of my God … and I will write on him my new name” (Revelation 3:12).
- We will reign with Jesus: The one who overcomes will “sit with me on my throne” (Revelation 3:21).
- We will lack nothing in heaven: The one who overcomes “shall inherit all things” (Revelation 3:21).
As I meditated on these overcoming truths, the grayness in my soul dissipated. The brilliance of God’s truth diffused its invigorating light throughout my spirit once again. Suddenly, I was praising God for his goodness, faithfulness, and love. Truly, as Paul wrote, God is able and willing to comfort us in all our tribulation (2 Corinthians 1:4).
Gray days will come. But we don’t have to allow them to overcome. No, we belong to the Overcomer. Listen to our Savior’s words: “I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace” (John 16:33 MSG).
My beloved brothers and sisters, “Be of good cheer.”