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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

October 4, 2015

Successful Living:

Living in the Light of Jesus’ Promise

Psalm 46; John 16:24-33

            Maybe the more familiar way Jesus’ words appear to us is how they come to us in the Revised Standard Version and the King James Version. Jesus could not have been more forthright: “In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.” It may be one of the most important promises that Jesus ever offered to His followers in the Gospels! And so as we are in the midst of a series on successful living, I will remind you once again the definition I am operating with when I talk about success: Success is to know the will of God for your life, and to pursue it with all your heart. Which means you cannot talk about success meaningfully without talking about God and without talking about heart, that essence that the ancients believed that defined who we are.

            I want to lift up these words from Jesus and look at them as He offers them to us, “In this world, you will have tribulation.” Or another translation that we read today says, “In this world, you will have persecution.” The New International Version says, “In this world, you will have trouble.” The Greek word that is translated in all three of these ways is the word “thlipsis.” And it is a word that means to be “hemmed in” so that you feel that you have no way out. It is to feel stymied. Jesus says, “In this world you will have tribulation.” This world, this life, is full of trouble. I don’t need to remind you of that great fact. Our nation is reeling once again from still another senseless assault upon innocent students at the hands of a confused and lost soul, gunning down people once again.

            I met with a group of my friends in Montreat this past week, as I have done now for over twenty-seven years. We are a group of preachers who serve in North Carolina and Virginia and South Carolina and Georgia – with one Tennessean. (They kid that I serve in a “border state”!) My friend, Ed McLeod is the Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, right across from the State Capitol, and Ed said, “Do you ever think about somebody entering your sanctuary to do destruction?” I said, “Ed, I think about it all the time.” I pray that God will protect us. But, “in this world,” Jesus said, “you will have tribulation.” You will have trouble. Jesus was honest, above everything else, Jesus was a man of His word, and Jesus would never, ever lie to you.

            Remember that best-selling book written by M. Scott Peck, in the 1980’s, called, The Road Less Traveled? Do you remember the first sentence of the book? “Life is difficult.” And for each of us it is. We all have our own private burdens that we bear through this life. A close friend who has worked as a physician in our community for decades says, “We all have to live with our own private hells.” I think she is right. And I give thanks that Jesus does not overlook this fact! Jesus knows what this world is like. “In this world you will have tribulation.” You will have trouble. You will feel at times hemmed in like there is no way out of where you find yourself. But that is not the last word that Jesus offers in this passage.

            The next word says, “Be of good cheer,” in the Revised Standard Version. In the New International Version, it says, “Take heart.” In the New Revised Standard Version it says, “Have courage.” That is why I was saying that any meaningful discussion about successful living has to include “heart,” it has to include spirit and attitude and resilience and courage in the face of life. But there needs to be a reason for that courage.   It needs to find its basis in something larger than ourselves. There needs to be reason for that hopefulness, for that posture towards living that is eager to embrace the future. And that source of hope, that source of courage, that source of good cheer, Jesus says, is none other than Himself. “Be of good cheer,” my friends, “take courage, for I have overcome the world.”

            Experts on John’s Gospel, say that Jesus here talks about the present as if the future already forever altered it. Jesus is talking about overcoming the world through His death on the cross and through His resurrection, that provide for us the promise that the final word in life is the best word of all. And it always belongs to Jesus. I think the poets and the saints understood this better than most. I think of T.S. Eliot, who I was reminded of this week in the funeral that Connie and I attended for one of God’s beloved saints, Becky Campbell’s mother, Susie Irvin. She was a poet and a painter, and she loved T.S. Eliot. In his Four Quartets, in East Coker, T.S. Eliot says, “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” I think Eliot was saying that there is a glory in trying and leaving the rest up to God, who reigns and is victorious and who owns the final and the best word of all. If you ever read Murder in the Cathedral, Eliot’s powerful play, you know that he believed in the triumph of God and the Gospel.

            Then there is Henry Van Dyke, who wrote among many other things, the hymn, Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee. He was for many years the Pastor at the Brick Church in New York City, and then a professor of English literature at Princeton University, and finally served as ambassador to the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Van Dyke wrote many good things, but could he have written anything better than the way he ends his hymn, Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee? “Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife. Joyful music leads us sunward in the triumph song of life.” Henry Van Dyke believed that the future was held in the hands of the Risen Christ!

            Do you know the word “conquer” appears seventeen times in the book of Revelation, where we are promised that Jesus is the ultimate conqueror over sin and darkness and even death itself?

            And finally, one last word of hopefulness. This from Julian of Norwich, that fourteenth century English mystic, who in one of her poems says, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

            “In this world, you will have tribulation,” but Jesus says, “Be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.” That is a promise, dear friends; you can bet your life upon it!

                                                                                  Amen.

 

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