Over the last two weeks, as we have walked through John’s Gospel together, Scripture has spoken some deep conviction into our lives. First, it has challenged us to genuinely make the instructions of Scripture a light for our path and to be absolutely hungry for the words that God has given to guide us in His way and to Him. It has challenged us to make the text of Scripture more than just a Sunday morning exercise, but to grasp God’s instruction and genuinely strive to apply it to our lives. As we have walked through, Scripture has also challenged us to stand on God’s promises by being wide-open to the conviction and the burden that God has for us as we live in a world that has turned against Him.
Over the last two weeks, if we have listened genuinely and strived to grasp the text and apply it to our lives, we have been prepared to received the great encouragement that Scripture has for us today! As we are burdened by God’s conviction in our lives when we desire to go our own way and as we are afflicted by those who devour the righteous, Christ is always in the business of restoration. Knowing that Christ is in the business of restoration, we might ask ourselves what need we have of restoration; How do we need to be restored today?
John 16:16-33 HCSB
“A little while and you will no longer see Me; again a little while and you will see Me.”
Therefore some of His disciples said to one another, “What is this He tells us: ‘A little while and you will not see Me; again a little while and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” They said, “What is this He is saying, ‘A little while’? We don’t know what He’s talking about!”
Jesus knew they wanted to question Him, so He said to them, “Are you asking one another about what I said, ‘A little while and you will not see Me; again a little while and you will see Me’?
“ I assure you: You will weep and wail, but the world will rejoice. You will become sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy. When a woman is in labor she has pain because her time has come. But when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the suffering because of the joy that a person has been born into the world. So you also have sorrow now. But I will see you again. Your hearts will rejoice, and no one will rob you of your joy. In that day you will not ask Me anything.
“I assure you: Anything you ask the Father in My name, He will give you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.
“I have spoken these things to you in figures of speech. A time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but I will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in My name. I am not telling you that I will make requests to the Father on your behalf. For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”
“Ah!” His disciples said. “Now You’re speaking plainly and not using any figurative language. Now we know that You know everything and don’t need anyone to question You. By this we believe that You came from God.”
Jesus responded to them, “Do you now believe? Look: An hour is coming, and has come, when each of you will be scattered to his own home, and you will leave Me alone. Yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”
Grief now, joy to come
Over the last few chapters, Jesus has been teaching His disciples and the teachings have been difficult. They have been full of conviction and we have felt that conviction as we have walked through some of Jesus’ teaching over the last two weeks. The conviction of Christ through the Scriptures is meant to weigh heavily upon us; it is meant to cause us to think deeply about our standing with God. Scripture is the chisel by which God chips away the parts of us that keep us from being His image. After laying out this conviction, after teaching His disciples that they will be burdened in this life, and after challenging us to put the concerns of this world aside so that we can be concerned with the things He is concerned with, Jesus takes a turn in the conversation He has with His disciples and begins talking about the coming joy.
For the last three years, I have been filled with grief. Those who pay income tax can relate. During these tax seasons, my wife and I have taken huge hits on our finances (mostly due to the health care system). Every year for the past 3 years, there has been financial grief in my life because of the demands that were present. Beyond this, I don’t want to share any more details, but most people can relate at this point. This year, Kati and I were blessed because the hit was less than we expected it to be. I was so happy that I could not stop smiling and we celebrated being able to keep the money that we thought we would lose. It was a burden lifted, a grief consoled, and an affliction healed. I found that I had more energy, that I was just a little more pleasant and relaxed, and that I was not as distraught about managing tight finances as I have been the past few seasons. Students might feel the same type of burden lifted when they come to the end of the school year and finally get end-of-year projects or papers turned in. There is celebration in the air and summer is just around the corner!
In our text for today, Jesus looks at His disciples and, knowing the weightiness of all He had taught up to this point, said, “I assure you: You will weep and wail, but the world will rejoice. You will become sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy” (v. 20).
Now, the disciples would weep and wail for a couple reasons. The first reason is in the immediate context of this passage. Jesus was predicting His own death. He would no longer be physically present with His disciples. While the world would rejoice at His execution, the disciples would lose their leader and their best friend. The second reason is found in the broader context of the section of Scripture surrounding this passage. The disciples would weep and wail because they were recipients of Christ’s conviction in a world that did not accept Christ’s conviction. They were to live in a way that directly opposed the direction of the world. There would never be a time when the disciples could take it easy or be comfortable because living for Christ was the most difficult and most uncomfortable lifestyle any person could choose. While the world apart from Christ looked so happy and so joyful, the disciples would live in grief because they followed Christ.
Here I find an answer to one of the big questions of our day: How come godly people suffer while sinful people seem to be so happy? The answer is simple. It is the godly person who lives according to Christ and against the grain of the world’s sinfulness. Suffering, affliction, burden or conviction, then, can be evidence of a godly life. Whereas if someone is always happy, always looks joyful, is always celebrating and nothing ever seems to go wrong, it can be evidence of a worldly lifestyle rather than a lifestyle that is driven by Christ. I will not claim here that Christ-followers will never experience Joy on this earth. We will! We must recognize, though, that it will most often be the case that we are burdened or afflicted for a variety of reasons, and we might refer back to the previous sections of John’s Gospel to grasp that truth.
Jesus states that we will experience grief, but there is coming a day when the grief we experience will be turned into joy. There will come a day when Christ will make all things right. For the disciples, joy would be experienced when Christ was raised from the dead on the third day. Then, they would enter, again, into a time of separation from the physical person of Christ. For us, our grief in this world will be turned to joy when we are finally with Christ forevermore, and that joy will be unending. We experience temporary grief on this earth as we strive to live for Christ in a world that denies Him, but that grief will be turned into an eternal joy as we endure the trials of this world! For those who do not know Christ, temporary joy in the pleasures of this world will turn to eternal grief as they are separated from Christ, who is the source of eternal joy. In Luke 13:28 we even see Jesus refer to the place of separation as a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Many people who have believed themselves to be God’s people will be separated from God forever because they had never actually given themselves to God. Here there is a danger, brothers and sisters. It is possible for us to fool ourselves into thinking that we have God when we do not. We must be sure that we have actually given ourselves to God through Christ, and the fruit of our lives is evidence. Those who genuinely know Christ and live with Christ will receive an inheritance of eternal joy! This is an encouragement to us as we accept the convictions of Scripture and as we live lives that are completely uncomfortable in the world the way that it currently is!
We will not always experience happiness and joy on this earth, but one day all of our grief will be turned to joy as Christ makes everything right.
Jesus took this opportunity to predict that His disciples would be scattered because of their grief. Jesus’ prediction was fulfilled when He was crucified and His disciples all went to their homes and forsook Christ’s instruction and the lifestyle that they had while they followed Christ (we see this evidenced in John 21). The grief was so overwhelming in the current circumstance that, even when they had the promise of joy, the disciples turned from Christ.
We are much the same. We experience the burden of living for Christ in a world that denies Him. We see the joy that the world seems to experience. Often, we leave the ways of Christ, if even only for a moment, in order to experience happiness in this world when Christ gives us something that we don’t think we can handle. Christ tells us to invest deeply in His word and to be hungry for His word; we embrace feel good fiction either through the television or through a good book. Christ tells us to share His message at all costs; we content ourselves with only talking about what is right and wrong, which is called therapeutic moralism. Scripture urges us to be able to share why we believe what we believe; we content ourselves with simply calling others naive. God calls us to a church body to work; we choose to be a part of a church body because of what that particular church can offer us. We tend to scatter just as the disciples scattered when things get too difficult and when things do not go our way.
Even though we see the disciples scatter and leave Christ alone, Christ did not condemn them, and neither will He condemn anyone else who belongs to Him.
Peace of Christ
Over and over again, we learn that our investment in Scripture (being doers of the Word and not hearers only) and our denial of self is evidence of our growing relationship with Christ. This is so true. When we scatter or when we choose self over Christ or when we choose not to dive into the depths of the text of Scripture and hunger for it, we prove that we are not close to Christ. The good news is this: Christ does not and has not ever depended on us!
After telling the disciples that they would scatter and leave Him alone, Christ states that He shares these things so that they might have peace in Him! The disciples failed miserably. They did not have a close relationship with Christ even though they followed Him. They experienced Christ’s conviction and chose not to follow those convictions. Jesus still fought for them!
Maybe over the past couple of weeks you have been overwhelmed, as I have, by the very direct conviction that we have received together from the text of Scripture. Perhaps we find it overwhelming to apply the text of Scripture to our lives in the world today because it is just too uncomfortable or causes us too much burden. Perhaps for that reason, we have chosen to live lives that look more like the world than like Christ. Maybe in school we choose not to share the Gospel because it is just weird to do that. Maybe the same is true at work. Perhaps we have chosen not go give financially to the church because it just seems like we can’t right now even though we know it is what God wants us to do. Perhaps we choose not to deny ourselves and devote time and energy to explore and hunger for the text of Scripture. Perhaps, like the disciples, we are unable to overcome the ways of the world no matter how hard we try. Christ’s word for us is this: I know that you will not be able to follow me perfectly while you are in the world; I have spoken these things so that in Me you may have peace.
Throughout this struggle and throughout this affliction I find this so encouraging. We can experience peace in Christ even while this world causes so much burden as we strive to follow Christ well. In times when we cannot find the joy, Christ offers peace in the knowledge that no matter how we fail, He will fight for His people! When we give in to sin, Christ will fight for the good of His people! When we scatter and ignore the mission of Christ altogether, Christ still fights for our good! This means that even when we receive godly punishment or correction, Christ is fighting for us! Let this be a great encouragement in the depths of our hearts and minds, and let us learn from Christ’s example.
As a pastor, I must have this same attitude. Even when the people who are part of my local church family fall, I will still fight for them no matter what! When other people fail us, we must forgive and fight for them no matter what!
In our particular local body, there was a leader in the past who committed a grievous sin against the members of the church. While I will not share those details publicly, there is only one way for us to experience peace in the hurt. We must choose to forgive, work for this person’s good, and continue to follow Christ. For, when we fail, Christ still fights for our good!
When co-workers fail us, when our friends betray us, when family members are hurtful, when the world is hateful, when our enemies persecute us, we resolve to fight for their good because it is the example that Christ has set for us. We are completely, utterly and unconditionally committed to one another because it is the example that Christ is setting for us. Because of this, there is nothing that can pull me from serving my local body of believers. There should be nothing that can pull us apart as a local church family, because Christ does not depend on us to hold things together. He is the only one who can do that! This is grace! This is the great encouragement we receive today!
Christ leaves us with this word, “You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (v. 33). If Christ has conquered or overcome the world, those who have genuinely believed in Him will also overcome the world only by the power of Christ, our Lord!