Passing Sadness but Abiding Joy
John 16:16–23 (CSB)
16 “A little while and you will no longer see me; again a little while and you will see me.”
17 Then some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this he’s telling 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’?” 18 They said, “What is this he is saying, ‘A little while’? We don’t know what he’s talking about.”
19 Jesus knew they wanted to ask him, and 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’? 20 Truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice. You will become sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy. 21 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. 22 So you also have sorrow now. But I will see you again. Your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy from you.
23 “In that day you will not ask me anything.
Dear fellow redeemed: We are going to go back to a moment of impending doom. Jesus was with His disciples in the upper room on the night in which He was betrayed. Jesus said that something was coming that would be at once terrible and wonderful. Like a woman giving birth, in pain; but it would also be like a woman giving birth – great joy.
It would come in just a little while. This coin with two sides, this moment of both sorrow and joy would come in just a little while. But there would also be a before and after, and therefore …
PASSING SORROW BUT ABIDING JOY
- We Share in the Sadness
- We Share in the Gladness
1 We Share in the Sadness
It is easy to share in the disciples’ confusion, because just a little while before he had talked about going away to the Father. There He was talking about His ascension and about giving the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. But in this circumstance He is talking about Christ’s passion, a horror that would come upon them in a little while, but which would in a little while be resolved in the resurrection.
Now, we need to understand that this was one occasion only. Jesus talks to His disciples and not to us specifically. There is no little while in which we are without Christ and then a while when He is with us. He isn’t talking about the trials of life until the second coming here. Instead, on this Jubilate Sunday, the Sunday of Rejoicing out of suffering, we remember the sadness of the crucifixion, but live in the gladness of the resurrection.
One other thing about this event that was so sad and ended up being so wonderful – it made sense. The disciples couldn’t figure it out beforehand, but afterwards, Jesus said, 23 “In that day you will not ask me anything. If they had possessed the understanding of faith, they would have looked at the cross, and seen there the Lamb of God taking away the world’s sin.
It is something like the symbol of the crucifix: There we see the judgment of God upon the sinfulness of man, but there we also see the Love of God, Who gave up His only-begotten Son.
While this text talks only about the revelation through which the disciples would go, there is still an application for us. What happened there on Calvary and gave the disciples such sorrow was Jesus dying OUR death, and what happened at the open tomb that gave the disciples such joy was Jesus’ preparing OUR resurrection. We share in that by virtue of our baptism. “Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection.” (Romans 6:3–5, CSB)
We share in the sadness, acknowledging that Christ suffered the rejection that we sinners deserve. We also share in the sadness because we know that as Jesus shared in the suffering of sinners, we share in His. Paul embraces this in Philippians 3, “My goal is to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death,” (Philippians 3:10, CSB)
The world around us has hope only in this world and only for a short time, and an unreasonable expectation that all should be good. But as the world despairs we know that the sorrow is passing, but the joy abides forever.
As Christians, we know the way of the world and have an expectation also of suffering, as Jesus said, ““You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11–12, CSB)
2. We Share in the Gladness
In terms of shear emotion, we believers would never share in the sadness of the disciples, or the despair, but we do share in their gladness, in the hope that was theirs in seeing the risen Christ. As with them, we have passing sorrow but abiding joy.
Because Jesus took our sins the cross, and there paid the full price of them, He was accepted into heaven when He died. “He was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (Romans 4:25, CSB)
Because He went to the Father in victory over our sin, His disciples would see Him again, for He had succeeded in accomplishing the justification of the world.
20 Truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice. You will become sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy. 21 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. 22 So you also have sorrow now. But I will see you again. Your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy from you.
For them it was just a very little while, parts of three days. For us it may be a little while longer, but finally there is for all of us the joy of the resurrection.
We live in that joy even now, even in the midst of adversity, as Peter put it, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. You are being guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials so that the proven character of your faith—more valuable than gold which, though perishable, is refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him; though not seeing him now, you believe in him, and you rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3–9, CSB)
Everything changed that day when Jesus rose. One had borne the sins of the world, and atoned for them, so that we were acquitted, declared innocent. Now we have something to say to our accusing consciences: “Forgiveness is ours.” Now we have something to say to the threat of death: “We shall live, even though we die.” We have something to say to the voices of regret: “Our sins will be forgotten.”
We live today in a world, a nation, a society gripped by fear: Will we get sick and die? Will we lose our job, our savings, our wealth, our freedom? Will we die alone?
There may be some fleeting sorrow, but we do not despair, because for us there is abiding joy. Not because OF us, but because of Christ, and offered to all. But because we live in faith, the joy we live in now will bear fruit in the life that is to come, the great celebration that is heaven: In Jesus’ words, “I tell you that many will come from east and west to share the banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 8:11, CSB) Picture an eternal fellowship and joyful feast. Or, as the Psalmist says, “You reveal the path of life to me; in your presence is abundant joy; at your right hand are eternal pleasures.” (Psalm 16:11, CSB) Joy upon joy! And exaltation too< as Daniel says, “Those who have insight will shine like the bright expanse of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3, CSB)
We say, “O Lord, there is trouble and sorrow in my life, but with David we continue, “Yet I am always with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me up in glory. Who do I have in heaven but you? And I desire nothing on earth but you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:23–26, CSB)
Let us then rejoice with the disciples in the wake of the resurrection, for there is PASSING SORROW BUT ABIDING JOY.