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Rejoice Always!

Philippians 4: 4

When Mark Twain was once asked what his New Year's resolution would be, he answered:
"I'm going to live within my income this year even if I have to borrow money to do it."

Many New Year's resolutions have an air of levity about them.
The prospect of a brand new year seems to bring out many different reactions in us.

The old year was successful in many ways.

Maybe, we are happy to have the opportunity of turning over the page and getting a fresh, new start.
For many it is a sigh of relief to say goodbye to the old year.

Maybe, we are happy to see the New Year, simply because it is new. All of these characteristics cause us to tingle with anticipation.

So, here we are at the entrance of another New Year.
The new year stretches out before us, bright with the promise of happiness.
But, where will we look for the happiness? For example, who could list, without making a single mistake, the losing major-party vice presidential candidates
in our last five national elections?
Fame is a fleeting thing!

And so it goes.
The "happiness" derived from power can be snuffed out in an instant by an assassin's bullet.
Happiness based on friendship can be wiped out by betrayal. You bet we do!

The teachings of Jesus Christ contain the Biblical prescription for happiness.
The beatitudes are intensely practical for modern living.
Happiness, in its most satisfying form, is the inevitable result of gaining the proper relationship with God
and with one another.

There are three instances from the life of our Lord that illustrate this truth.

First, all but one of the gospel writers relate an incident that took place during Jesus' Galilean ministry.

No sooner had Jesus entered the home where He was staying in Capernaum than a group of four men
brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing.
The curious crowds, surrounding Jesus on all sides, were no match for the resourceful four men.
After ripping off a few of the roof tiles, they gently lowered the stretcher into the center of the room.

To reward the unusual faith of these men, Jesus did something for their companion,
which had been quite unusual up to this time.

With words that have deep significance, also for you and me, Jesus commanded the paralytic,
"My son, be of good cheer!"

"Why, sir? Why should I take heart? Why should I be happy, in my hopelessly, sad condition?"

Jesus gave the answer, "Be of good cheer because your sins are forgiven!"

What better reason to be happy!
This is the reason for lasting and abundant rejoicing! We're happy because Jesus has forgiven our sins!

The quality of joy is a distinctively Christian concept.
Nowhere in the Greco-Roman world of New Testament days, nor in any of the civilizations that preceded it,
will you find the attribute of Christian joy.

Believers in Christ are the only people who have ever experienced that deep and abiding sense
of satisfaction and contentment that finds its source in the realization of sins forgiven and a right relationship to God.
Today, people are rushing from one source of pleasure to another.
Typical of our current scene is today's drug using generation whose happiness is temporary.

One of Job's friends knew well how shallow and short-lived pleasure can be:
"The exulting of the wicked is short, and the joy of the godless but for a moment." (Job 20:5)

Like a well about to run dry, such joy is not connected to a full reservoir.
It bubbles up for a while, then spurts, then sputters, then stops flowing altogether.
On the other hand, Christian joy is lasting!

Jesus said in John 15:11:
"These things have I spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full."

The joy of the Christian is like a deep, quiet river whose waters are continually replenished from mountain streams.
To the woman at the well in Samaria, Jesus said, "Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again,
but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him
will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life
." (John 4:13f)

When the Holy Spirit plants salvation in the soul, the joy that grows alongside it is just as lasting and eternal,
as is the assurance of sins forgiven.

Such joy was announced by an angel choir on that first Christmas night.
It is the indispensable theme of that "good news of great joy" (Luke 2: 10) that imparts salvation
to the waiting soul.

The old year is gone, and the new year is here!
Why should we Christians send up a cheer?

Let the words of the gospel chorus tell us why:
"I'm so happy, and here's the reason why:
Jesus took my burdens all away!

Now I'm singing as the days ago by:
Jesus took my burdens all away!

Once my heart was heavy with a load of sin;
Jesus took the load and gave me peace within!
Now I'm singing as the days ago by:
Jesus took my burdens all away
!"

"Be of good cheer because your sins are forgiven!"

Second, John's gospel tells us of another incident that took place during Jesus' ministry.
It happened during that fearsome last night, of Jesus' life on earth.

His thoughts were not centered on His own problems.
He was involved in the task of encouraging His disciples to be brave in the difficult and dangerous days that lay just ahead.
He warned them that they would be severely persecuted for professing faith in Him, that their lives would be
anything but easy after He was gone.

Nevertheless, with words that have great significance for you and me, Jesus commanded them,
"In the world you have tribulation, but be a good cheer!"
"Why, Lord? Why should we be lighthearted and courageous in our precarious position?"
"Be of good cheer because I have overcome the world!"

What better reason could we have to be happy?
Here is reason for lasting and abundant rejoicing: Jesus has overcome world! We're happy, because Jesus has overcome the world!

The devil's fiery darts take many shapes and forms.
Temptation can come to us as the lust of the flesh, or the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life.
Satan can heap upon us unawares, or he can confront us brazenly and openly.

But God hasn't left us without resources to withstand even the most frontal attacks:
"No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.
God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength,
but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape,that you may be able to endure it
."
(1 Corinthians 10: 13)

Temptation, however subtle or beguiling, no longer has the upper hand, because Jesus has overcome the world.

So, as the old year is gone and we enter the new year, why should we Christians send a day cheer?
The words of the gospel hymn tell us:

"I am happy in the service of the King!
I am happy, O so happy!
I have peace and joy that nothing else can bring,
In the service of the King!

In the service of the King,
Every talent I will bring;
I have peace and joy and blessing
In the service of the King
!"

"Be of good cheer because I have overcome the world!"

Thirdly, three of the Gospels inform us of a final incident in Jesus' ministry that places the finishing touches
on our reasons for rejoicing in Him.

The twelve disciples were struggling to keep their boat afloat during a storm on the Sea of Galilee.
Suddenly, the figure of a man walking on the waves toward them caught their attention.
Of course they became terrified thinking it was a ghost.

Then came the command of Jesus to them in words that have deep significance for us:
"Be of good cheer!"

"Why should we be frightened and filled with dread?"

"Be of good cheer because it is I. Have no fear!"

What better reason do we have to be happy? The foregleams of His presence that we enjoy now is dim, when compared with the supreme delight that we will experience
when we stand before Him in our heavenly home. As a new year stretches before us, let us send up a cheer!

";My heart was sad till I met Jesus;
My friends were gone, and life seemed vain;
I sought for riches and for glory --
Each joy had turned to grief and pain.

Then one day, I met the Saviour,
Met Him in the twilight dim;
Joy overwhelmed my soul, and sorrow vanished,
And I'm happy, since His love came in
."

Sermon by Dr. Harold L. White
Email Dr. White at hleewhite@aol.com