about a month ago, I posted this sermon last month on John 16:22-33. Below is the sermon I preached the Sunday before on John 16:12-22 (adapted from this sermon by Rev. Weedon.)
I was authorized to preach such sermons in the Church on this date 9 years ago at my ordination at St. John Lutheran Church in Ruma, IL. Rev. Herbert Mueller preached that I must "just say the Word" (springboarding from the Centurion's request in Luke 7:7). And Rev. Ralph Laufer gave to me the treasure of Psalm 27 that has been a blessing through little whiles of sorrows before joy returns. May the Lord grant me the ability to tell His saving Word to many more.
I get curious when Jesus says, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now." I want to know what it was that Jesus did not tell them on that Maundy Thursday night of John 16, just before He was betrayed. Apparently I am not the only one, since the fifth century Bishop, St. Augustine, says: "You are perhaps wishing to know what those things were that the apostles were then unable to bear. But which of us would venture to assert his own present capacity for what they lacked in ability to receive? ...If the Apostles were still unable, much more so are you" (ACC, John v2, p204-5). What hope do we have of understanding what Jesus did not tell the Apostles? They had the benefit of three years with Jesus, and yet they could not handle it. They have a hard enough time understanding the stuff Jesus does say.
He has been telling them that He is going away where they will not see Him, going to the Father. But then Jesus says, "Again a little while, and you will see Me."
If you were there that night, you would be able to tell from the look on the disciples' faces that they did not get it, they were not following what Jesus was saying to them. But the problem is not with Jesus being unclear. It is with us. The sin that deadens our ears and muddles our brain until what is good for us makes no sense and evil becomes reasonable. That is why we are so slow of heart to trust that God knows what He is doing. That is why we are quick to assume the worst.
Yet the Lord Jesus is slow to anger and frustration, and quick to help, patiently explaining what He means. "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. People will be too distracted by their own happiness to care about your pain. But I promise you that your sorrow will turn into joy. Think of it this way: When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come. She hurts - a lot. But the pain does not last forever. When she has delivered the baby, when she holds him on her chest, looks at his face, touches his tiny fingers, the joy God gives her helps her forget the anguish she went through. If she accurately remembered the pain, do you think she would want to ever be pregnant again? There would be a lot more only children, a lot less brothers and sisters in this world. But the mother no longer remembers the anguish when Her heart is filled with joy that a human being has been born into the world."
Look around at the Apostles now, and you would see that they are starting to catch on. But they still do not have a clue as to how Christ's words apply to them. So Jesus goes on:
"What I mean is that now you will be sorrowful. Your heart will feel like it is being ripped out when you see what is about to happen to Me. You will cry out in pain. You are going to lose your life, you are going to lose Me, for a little while. You are going to be alone for a little while. A little while. Do you hear that? Hold tightly to that. The dark days to come will seem to last forever. But just keep hearing My voice say, 'a little while, a little while.' Because I will see you again.
"Even though Death tries to get in My way, though the grave will try to lock Me up, I will see you again. Me - the One speaking to you now, the flesh and blood Me that you have known for all these years. You will see me again when the time of sorrow is over. So much joy will flood your heart that you will be changed forever, and no one will take your joy from you. Because I will see you again. And then you will understand."
Bad pain was coming in their near future. Not just pain caused by others, but also self-inflicted wounds. They would hurt themselves with their own weakness, denials, desertions and betrayals of Jesus. They would be tormented as they watched people torment their beloved Jesus at the Cross. Knowing that He was there due to their sin and the world's. Knowing that they could do nothing for the One they loved. They could only stand by and watch Him die, completely helpless and alone.
But this pain would not last forever. Not for Him. And not for them. And not for you. It was only for a little while. And as Jesus promised, when it was over, there was joy that never ended, joy that changed the Apostles forever, the joy of Jesus alive, seeing them again.
And just as Jesus said, no one ever did take away this joy from His Apostles. No circumstances ever robbed them of their delight in Christ. Though plenty tried. The Apostles faced attacks against Christianity and arguments between Christians, poverty and sickness, rejection and refusal to believe their message. They were arrested and beaten, exiled and crucified. Yet they never gave up their Christ and His joy. Even at His ascension, when they no longer saw Jesus, Luke 24 makes a point of saying they were not sad when Jesus disappeared up into the heavens, but they had "great joy."
From Jerusalem they marched out into the world where the sadness of sin held people captive. The Apostles released prisoners from their chains of guilt, and their key was the life of Christ. Everywhere they went, they told the message of Jesus, by which we must be saved. Through them God granted the repentance that leads to life (cf Acts 11:14, 18). They announced, "Jesus has completely answered for your sin. He has taken your guilt. He has destroyed your death. You are loved by God in His Son. And at the end of time, He will wipe away every tear from your eyes, and then you will have no more crying or pain (Revelation 21:4).
"But we will not lie to you about the Christian life. We must tell you what Jesus told us in the Upper Room. In this world you will have trouble - all kinds of troubles. Nothing in this world will ever be just right. For we are still weak. And evil still attacks God and His Kingdom. Sin is still hell-bent on breaking your heart in this world. You will have disappointment and heartache. You will be grieved by various trials (1 Peter 1:6). You will begin to fall apart.
"But do not give up. Learn to hear Jesus say to you, 'A little while,' a little while and it will be over. Trust that you will see Jesus again, in His kingdom, on that day when death is no more, when the earth gives birth to her dead (Isaiah 26), and the dwelling place of God is with man, on that day when He comforts and heals all hurts. In His mercy, God will make you to be like Jesus - tormented for a while by sin, but then raised up with sorrow turned to complete joy."
We are not able to understand all the things the Apostles want to tell us about Jesus in the Holy Scriptures now. But we will understand all this, and then some. On the day of the Lord when He makes us new, perfect in mind and body and soul, perfect in glory and love and holiness and wisdom and strength and intellect. Now we know only partly, then we will know and love completely, just as God fully knows and loves us.
In the meantime, you have what Jesus promised. You have the Holy Spirit, who brings you to understand Christ. The Spirit of Truth acts like a tour guide leading people through a foreign country, as He guides you into the all the truth, so that you come to understand the true nature of godly love and mercy and forgiveness and sacrifice and hope - things that our sin makes foreign to us. He will bring to mind the things to come, the happiness and feasting of Heaven's eternal celebration. He leads us in our journey towards that goal.
Sometimes we walk with a bounce in our step on the path our Lord has set. And sometimes we trudge along and need to be told to pick up our feet. Our exhaustion makes us doubt we can go any further. The thought of our failures and betrayals of the new life in Christ discourages us.
But here is Jesus, slow to anger and frustration, and quick to help. He patiently reaches out to us the food of pilgrims, the Supper of His body and blood, given and shed to save us from our evil, to get us through death to life. Jesus says to us, "When your hearts are overwhelmed and My joy seems far away, when you feel like your sorrow is lasting forever, hear Me tell you it is only for a little while."
That is the theme for today - and for all our days. O, pilgrims loved by God, keep this theme in your hearts. Carry with you the word Jesus gave His Disciples on the night He was betrayed, the word that got them through the sorrow of His death and the pain of their own. A little while. A little while of sorrows, then eternal joy. Amen.