Sunday Morning Greek Blog

January 23, 2012

Take Heart! (θαρσέω tharseō, Matthew 9:2, 22)

(Note: All Greek words are linked to

As I begin my fiftieth trip around the sun this year, I’ve determined to make several difficult choices that quite frankly have me scared and stressed. I took our congregation’s “401” class last week on spiritual maturity, which emphasizes acting out of love and faith, only to be confronted with the fact that the first major decision I made in 2012 was one out of sheer desperation, fear, and resignation. I started taking Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University this week at our church, which means I’m committed on Sunday afternoons for the next 12 weeks, but the opening session gave me a little hope. Personal relationships are looking up as well, and things at work are on a more or less even keel. In addition, I hope to be able to go see my kids a little more often this year. Still, that first difficult decision overshadows the positives I am anticipating.


So when I saw Jesus’s encouragement Θάρσει (“Take heart!”) twice in Matthew 9 the other day, I had to sit up and take notice. Matthew 9 comes in the heart of Jesus dealing with many who come to him or are brought to him for healing. Jesus, of course, meets their physical needs, but he is ever mindful of their spiritual needs as well. In Matthew 9:2, Jesus declares that the paralyzed man’s sins are forgiven, which incites the teachers of the law to accuse him of blasphemy. Unfazed, Jesus proceeds to demonstrate he has the power to forgive sins by healing the paralyzed man. After the woman who suffered from a bleeding disease for 12 years touched Jesus’s garment, she was healed and greeted with the same word of encouragement.

The word is found five other times in the New Testament. Six occurrences are in the Gospels, and one is in Acts. Two of the occurrences are found in story of Jesus walking on the sea (Matthew 14:27, Mark 6:50) when the disciples are so terrified in the storm that they think Jesus is a ghost. John begins a major section of his Gospel with the phrase: “Do no let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (14:1 NIV). John teaches in chapters 14–16 on the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the troubles that his followers would face in the world. He ends that section with the word of encouragement: “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” (16:33 NIV). The two other occurrences of the word are found in Mark 10:49 and Acts 23:11.


But that word by itself was only the tip of the iceberg that day as I was reading Matthew 9. When I got to the end of the chapter, verse 36 really hit home, because I felt like part of the crowd: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion [σπλαγχνίζομαι] on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (NIV). The words for “have compassion” and “compassion” are two of my favorite Greek words, not only because you have to expel about a pint of spit to say them, but because they are so descriptive of the literal meaning: “bowels.” Yes, that is where the phrase “bowels of compassion” originates. Compassion comes from the gut in the Hebrew worldview, much deeper than the heart.

But leaving that word aside, the thing that really struck me was the condition of the people who came to Jesus: “harassed,” “helpless,” “shepherdless.” I’ve not forgotten I have a shepherd, even when I may wander off at times, but I’ve certainly felt the first two in the last few years. The shepherd has guided me through those times, but I often have to wonder what I’m supposed to be learning in the school of hard knocks.

The fact that I have a shepherd was reinforced even more when I came across an OT passage last week as a friend and I were reading through Six Battles Every Man Must Win by Bill Perkins, where he reminds us of the story of another shepherd, David. Before David secured his place on Israel’s throne, he was a fugitive running from Saul. During that time, however, he was not alone. Those who would become David’s “mighty men” gathered around him early in his fugitive life: “All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him” (1 Samuel 22:2). That sounds very much like the people who were gathering around Jesus in Matthew 9. And it sounds very much like my life currently. My life-résumé is a pretty good match for the “qualifications” of a mighty man.


I know I don’t have the strength to dig myself out of my own problems. Some days, I wear my weakness on my sleeve, but only because I know that it is only through my weakness that Christ can perfect his power (2 Corinthians 12:9). I need my shepherd, Jesus, to guide me through. The path is mountainous and treacherous at times, but I know he’s got my back.

I remember going on a horseback ride as a teen through Chadron State Park in NW Nebraska. We had about 15 people riding single file along the trail, and we were going along a high ridge with a 45 degree slope that dropped about a thousand feet to my right (at least, it seemed that steep and deep). My horse decided to take his own route, and instead of staying on the main path, he moved to the right a bit and went between a tree and the slope. The path between the tree and the slope was no wider than the horse, but when I started to panic a bit, my dad reassured me that the horse knew what he was doing. It was only a short little detour, only ten feet or so, but I had to duck a bit to avoid the lower branches of the tree. The horse was sure footed though and got me safely back on the path.

That detour is a microcosm of what I’ve experienced in the past few years, poised precariously on the brink of disaster. But God has seen me through it, and for that, I am grateful. The road ahead still has its challenges, but I can be content knowing that my Savior holds me in the palm of his hand and will put me on the straight path in his own timing.


So my word to you is the same as Christ’s to the paralytic and the bleeding woman: Take heart! Know that his promise that he would never leave us nor forsake us holds true, even when we have trouble seeing the end result.


Scott Stocking


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  2. […] Take Heart! (θαρσέω tharseō, Matthew 9:2, 22) […]

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