The night was drawing to a close. Within a few hours Jesus’ captors would come to arrest Him. It was all too real for the disciples. They knew, because of what Jesus had said to them, that He was going to be leaving them, but they had no idea why or how or when. It wasn’t that Jesus had failed to communicate, Jesus had told them again and again that He would be arrested, suffer, and die, but they had failed to understand. They just could not get their head around the idea they were going to be without their Lord, the One they had followed all over the countryside of Israel for the past three years. In the opening verses of our Scripture for this morning we will learn that what Jesus had to say only added to their anxiety and confusion. Let’s read John 16:16-24 together.
16 “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” 17 Some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” 18 They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.” 19 Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? 20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:16-24 NIVO)
The confusion of the disciples is focused on the phrase, “in a little while.” In verse 18, the disciples were whispering to one another, “What does he mean by ‘a little while?’ We don’t understand what he is saying.” The disciples were not the last people who struggled to figure out what Jesus meant. Some have said that Jesus was referring to His death in the first “in a little while,” and the second “in a little while” was meant to point the disciples to the day of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit. Others have said that Jesus had His second coming in mind when He said, 16 “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” (John 16:18 NIVO) Folks who hold to this view use Jesus’ illustration of the woman giving birth to a baby as a point of connection with the return of Jesus. Let me explain to you how they make that connection. In Matthew 24, Jesus gave a description of some of the things that will take place before His return. Then, in Matthew 24:8, we read, “All these are the beginning of birth pains.” (Matthew 24:8 NIVO) So, those who believe Jesus had in mind His second coming use the common illustration of childbirth to bolster their belief.
Most folks believe Jesus was referring to His death on the cross and His resurrection. The first “in a little while” refers to Jesus’ death. The second “in a little while” refers to the time following His resurrection when the disciples saw Him once again. In John 20, following Jesus’ resurrection, all of the disciples were huddled up scared to death and behind locked doors when Jesus appeared to them. Read along with me beginning in verse 19.
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. (John 20:19-20 NIVO)
What a difference Jesus makes! Did you notice? The disciples were together, they were behind locked doors, terrified, scared for their lives. What comes next? You might expect someone to scream out, “We’re all going to die!” There was no chance of that once Jesus showed up! Jesus walked into the room, held out His nailed scarred hands, showed them His side, and the disciples were “overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” Jesus changed their sorrow, their fear and trepidation, into joy.
If you will look at our Scripture for this morning once again. I want you to notice that in verses 16-19 the conversation revolved around trying to understand the phrase, “in a little while.” Then, in verse 20, Jesus spoke up and said,
20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. (John 16:20 NIVO)
The event that would produce the weeping and mourning of the disciples and the rejoicing of the world is the death of Jesus. The world, the religious leaders and those who had opposed Jesus, were bugged by Jesus, they could not wait to be rid of Jesus. When Jesus breathed His last breath and His body hung lifeless from the cross, the world rejoiced. While the world rejoiced the disciples wept and mourned. They wept because of their own personal loss. They wept because their Lord, the One they loved, was gone. They had lived with Jesus, listened to Jesus, been loved by Jesus, and totally bought into the idea that Jesus was the One, the One they had all been waiting for, and then He was gone. Their hopes and dreams were crushed under the brutal truth that their Messiah was dead.
This fact, the crushing of their hopes and dreams, is so powerfully illustrated in the story of the two followers of Jesus who were on their way to Emmaus three days after Jesus had been crucified. In Luke 24, Luke tells us that they were making the seven mile journey on foot from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They had a lot of time to talk about the events that had taken place. While they were walking and talking Jesus joined them on the road, but they didn’t recognize Jesus. Jesus was listening in and finally said, “What are you guys talking about?” One of the men, Cleopas, said, “Have you been to Jerusalem and you don’t know what took place?” “What things?” Jesus asked. And then Cleopas began to tell the stranger about Jesus.
19 …“He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all of the people.” 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. (Luke 24:19b-21 NIVO)
Did you catch that? “But we had hoped that he was the one…” The disciples, all of the disciples, wept and mourned because they had hoped that Jesus was the one. Their hope was standing right before them, but they didn’t recognize Him. I know many people like those two followers of Jesus. I have friends who have hoped, hoped and prayed, but their hopes were shattered and like the two men on the road to Emmaus, they’ve been walking about with their heads hanging down.
Jesus told the disciples that while the world rejoiced, His disciples would weep. Look at verse 20 one more time. I want you to see something that will boggle your mind and hopefully enable you to understand something that will give you great hope and stir His joy in your heart. Jesus said,
20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. (John 16:20 NIVO)
Jesus told them that they would indeed grieve, but their grief would turn to joy. Jesus didn’t say that they would get over the grief they experienced at Jesus’ death, but that their grief would be replaced with joy. We saw that in John 20 when the disciples were overjoyed at seeing Jesus. We see it also in the story of the the two men walking to Emmaus. When Jesus finally opened their eyes their hearts burned within them as they listened to Him speak.
Jesus tried to help His disciples understand what they were going to experience by reminding them of what women experience during childbirth. Turn with me to John 16:21-22 and let’s read together.
21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. (John 16:21-22 NIVO)
I can well remember observing this painful process three times. I was there and watched as Connie gave birth to our kids with no medicine. No epidural, no Tylenol, nothing but a an old shoe to chew on. When our babies were born, the doctor would eye them over, and then lay them in Connie’s arms. The flow of tears that had provided evidence of great pain and anguish suddenly was transformed into a flow of tears that highlighted the great joy and unbridled happiness that Connie was experiencing.
Now, I want you to stop and think for just a moment. The Cross was crushing. The disciples had hoped that Jesus was the One, but they seemed to have lost any evidence to support their hope when Jesus’ body was taken down and He was laid in the tomb. Jesus’ death on the cross was meaningless on that side of the resurrection, prior to the resurrection. The Cross was crushing. On the third day, when God raised Jesus from the dead, the Cross event was transformed into the most precious and prized of God’s acts on our behalf. The Apostle Paul, who could look back to the cross through the resurrection, wrote to the people in Galatia and said,
14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14 NIVO)
The weeping and grieving of the disciples was replaced by the experience of joy because now they were able to see the cross for what it was–God’s work of atonement, His reconciling work, redemptive work for lost sinners through His Son. What had been absolutely meaningless prior to the resurrection suddenly became packed with meaning and significance for the followers of Jesus. Peter wrote,
18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18-19 NIVO)
In verse 22, Jesus made a startling claim, He stated a promise that if it is true it can and should revolutionize our lives. Jesus said, “…I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” The promise made to the disciples certainly proved to be true for their lives. After Jesus’ resurrection something transformative happened to those who loved Jesus, who knew Jesus. They were willing to suffer and die for the One who had died for them. As they lived in a world that was hostile towards them, they refused to walk around with their heads hanging down, they were characterized by the joy they had received. Jesus said, “…no one will take away your joy.” No circumstance can steal it. No adversary can squash it. No hardship can drive it out of the heart of those who know, love, and walk with Jesus on a daily basis.
Somebody might say, “Well, they saw Jesus after His resurrection so they had an advantage over those of us who have never seen Jesus.” They did see Jesus, but He only stayed with them for 40 days before He ascended to Heaven. There is an important truth for the followers of Jesus in the first century and it still remains true for all followers of Jesus today. When we read about the events that unfolded at Pentecost, when God poured out His Holy Spirit upon all of His people, the Spirit of God came to take up residence in the heart of every follower of Jesus. The same Spirit that was poured out at Pentecost is the same Holy Spirit that comes to reside in your heart today when you receive Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life. He doesn’t come and go as He pleases or according to your need, but He comes to permanently indwell all of the followers of Jesus. This is important to know because in Galatians 5 we learn that the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Joy is a Holy Spirit produced reality in the life of the follower of Jesus.
If you ask people what they desire most many will say, “I just want to be happy.” What they mean by that is they want to be free from the struggles of life, free from suffering, free from the trials we all go through in life. Happiness means having plenty of money, great relationships, and a life free from stress. Happiness as defined by the vast majority of people is an unrealistic expectation. Joy, the kind of joy Jesus gives us, which no one can ever take away from us, is so much greater than happiness. Joy transcends our circumstances, joy isn’t dependent on happiness because our joy is rooted in our relationship with our Savior and not our present state. Pastor Greg Allen says,
It’s a joy that always rebounds and returns, even when we ourselves feel overwhelmed, and experience periods of frustration and sadness; because it’s based on Someone wise and sovereign and good—Someone who abides in us and is always with us—Someone who stands above the circumstances of this world, and yet who loves us personally. (Greg Allen, Sorrow Turned into Joy.)
Because our joy is established and sustained by our great and glorious Savior our circumstances can’t rob us of His joy. For those of you who are going through difficult trials this morning and you are thinking that there is no way for you to experience joy in the midst of your trial, let me encourage you. Joy is not giddiness. Joy is not evidenced by belly laughs. Joy is a deep, persistent confidence that God is at work in our trials just as He was at work in Jesus’ cross moment. Joy is a peace that trouble can not destroy. Joy is a trust that the tribulations of this life, all of them, are under the Sovereign sight and care of our God. That is why the writer of Hebrews encouraged those in his day with these words.
2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-3 NIVO)
What was the joy set before Jesus? Why, it was nothing less than the redemption of your life my friend. Knowing what was going to be accomplished through His brutal suffering moved Jesus to endure the cross. This should be our “go to” thought when we are going through the fiery trials of life as well. We are to “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Malcolm Muggeridge was born in London in 1903 and raised by a father who was steeped in Socialist ideology. Malcolm was brilliant and would, by the end of his life, be known as one of the 20th centurys greatest literary minds in Britain. He was raised to be an atheist, but later in life, as he was shooting a documentary film for the BBC about Mother Theresa, Malcolm’s heart was changed. He became a follower of Jesus and for the rest of his life he wrote about Jesus. Among his writings are the book he penned in 1966: Jesus Rediscovered. In 1971, he wrote, Something Beautiful for God, which detailed Malcolm’s time spent with Mother Theresa, a woman he described as, “a light that could never be extinguished.” His final book, Conversion, detailed his own journey to faith in Jesus. Towards the end of his life Malcolm Muggeridge wrote,
Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at that time seemed especially desolating and painful. I now look back upon them with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my seventy-five years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence has been through affliction and not through happiness whether pursued or attained. In other words, I say this, if it were possible to eliminate affliction from our earthly existence by means of some drug or other medical mumbo-jumbo, the results would not be to make life delectable, but to make it too banal and trivial to be endurable. This, of course, is what the cross signifies and it is the cross, more than anything else, that has called me inexorably to Christ. (Malcolm Muggeridge in Homemade, July 1990).
Muggeridge understood what those who had gone before him also knew all too well. Following the One with nail scarred hands changes the way we view all of life, not just the obvious joy-filled times, but all times, circumstances, and situations. God is at work and He is faithful to walk His people through the trials with joy in their hearts knowing that victory is certain. Paul wrote to the people in Corinth with the same mindset in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIVO)
Let me close by sharing one more testimony of joy from one who suffered and yet saw His Sovereign hand at work. Corrie Ten Boom, in her book The Hiding Place, tells of a time when she found God at work in the absolute worst of conditions. Corrie and her sister, Betsie, were imprisoned in Barracks 8 by the Nazis in Ravensbruck. Corrie said, “When I was in a prison camp in Holland during the war, I often prayed, ‘Lord, never let the enemy put me in a German concentration camp.’ God answered no to that prayer. Yet in the German camp, with all its horror, I found many prisoners who had never heard of Jesus Christ.” Corrie and her sister had been given a Bible and they used that Bible to comfort and encourage scores of women throughout their time in the concentration camp. Before Corrie’s sister Betsie died she told Corrie, “Corrie, your whole life has been a training for the work you are doing here in prison—and for the work you will do afterward.” Corrie wrote,
If God had not used my sister Betsie and me to bring them to Him, they would never have heard of Him. Many died, or were killed, but many died with the name of Jesus on their lips. They were well worth all our suffering. Faith is like radar which sees through the fog—the reality of things at a distance that the human eye cannot see. (Corrie Ten Boom)
Oh my dear friend, faith is like a radar which enables us to see what the human eye can’t even conceive. The joy that invades the hearts of those who surrender their lives to Jesus is unexplainable, unimaginable, and indescribable, but it is more real than any reality you will ever know…if you will just trust Him, cry out to Him, and allow the One who overcame the greatest suffering through His resurrection to reveal Himself to you. Won’t you invite Him in this very morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
October 16, 2016