Enter the New Year with Courage

A new year has begun. It is only a few days old. At this time, many might ask: “What will this new year bring?” Of course, we cannot answer this question. It wouldn’t even be good for us to know the answer to that question. No human can answer the questions of the future without giving only a few generalizations. What is even the purpose of this question: “What does the new year hold for me?”

Now this is a human question. It contains a certain desire for a good answer. We long for someone to say: “Do not fear! It will all be okay. You will remain healthy. You will receive your income. You can be content.” Every person would like to hear a positive forecast for the new year. Unfortunately, no one can give us this guarantee. Not even God’s Word can do so. Jesus soberly makes the statement: “In the world you will have tribulation.”   

Perhaps we do not agree with this statement. Cowards are afraid, and we do not want to be cowards. Some might say, “We just need to be brave. In this life we need to be courageous. Then it will work out.”

But this is not what it says here: “In the world you will have tribulation.” This is what the Lord Jesus said to His disciples before His farewell. “You” refers to His disciples, children of God. Are they a particularly fearful people, a group of weak people who are unable to cope with life? Absolutely not! Perhaps they are only afraid to be honest with themselves and do not wish to deceive themselves.

On the other hand, a deep fear could be hiding behind the façade of strength. We sometimes wonder why many people are so hurried and busy, how quickly they can become upset and irritable, how forcibly cheerful they are.  Often, the whole reason behind it is repressed fear, a numbing fear of death.

The Lord isn’t talking about the various fears of a sinner in this instance. These disciples had forgiveness of their sins and did not need to fear the wrath of God. They had peace with God, but in the world they had fear. It comes with the task that the Lord gave: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16). Does it not often seem as if the believer is helpless against attacks and is handed over to the mockery and the whims of the world? The apostle Paul writes about this as well: “…we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter” (Romans 8:36). If the believer counts on his own strength, then he will be afraid in a situation such as this.

There is a second reason for fear: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). The believer will not be brought to a place of false security; rather, the Word of God will clearly and soberly show him the dangers.

Thirdly, there is the fear of not arriving at the eternal goal. The apostle warns: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We also do not want to commit ourselves to a false sense of security. These perils will await us this coming year as well. They will threaten to frighten us, and we will need help.

In spite of all of the dangers in our lives, Jesus says: “Be of good cheer!” These are not meaningless words of comfort for the new year, as if we might be spared from suffering, difficulties, despair, and temptations. We may and we should pray that these things do not gain power over us. Jesus does not thoughtlessly try to mislead us about the reality. Some people’s words of comfort often do. They are empty and simply don’t help. When Jesus says: “Be courageous, fear not!” He gives us a new sense of reality contrary to the fear in our lives. He does not want to dull our sight to dangers but wants to guide our sight to something far bigger and stronger: to Himself and His victory over evil.

Jesus validates His assurance: “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world!” Because Christ has overcome the world, we can take heart. The world and all that we fear no longer have the last word, but God does. “I have overcome the world!” Jesus said, the One who knows our situation. He travelled this earth. He was not always the protected Son of God. He did not escape the world and its fears. He felt joy and pain, honor and shame, disappointment and loneliness.  Even as a child, there was no room for Him in this world. As a man, he was ridiculed, tortured, and executed. Think of the time when Jesus began to sorrow and be distressed as He said to the disciples:  “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38).    

This same Jesus says here: “I have overcome the world.”  Therefore, He can say with great conviction: “I am not alone, because my Father is with Me.” He knew that the Father would sustain Him even in the darkest hour. Because the Father was with Him, victory was certain. He does not say: “I will overcome the world”; rather, “I have overcome the world.” The world of evil encountered ultimate defeat.

“In Me you may have peace.” That is the reason Jesus can say to us: “Take heart!” We can courageously begin the new year. What He overcame also belongs to His disciples. The Father is also with us. Anything that may threaten us must submit to the Word: “I have overcome the world.” Christ says: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.” Because of this, we can take heart; we can live by it in this year.

F.H. Friedrich

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