Monday, March 9, 2020
Cross Shaped Joy, John 16:16-24
John 16:16-24; Remsen Bible Fellowship; 03/08/2020
Have you ever walked into a dark night and felt utter despair? Perhaps you’ve sensed that things in your life have gone beyond your control. Your job is a nightmare-or you’ve lost it. Your marriage is crumbling-or gone. Your loved one is sick-or died. These, and many other circumstances, can put us in the position of the sorrowful. Perhaps you have wondered aloud with the Psalmist, how long oh Lord? Or asked the question, can this really be your plan? I don’t understand. That’s where we find the disciples in our text this morning. They’re confused-and their confusion will be compounded by sorrow.
Let’s first look at the confusion itself.
16 “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” 18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.”
In v16 we hear Jesus repeating a frequent theme of chapters 13-17 of this gospel: his departure is imminent. His time with the disciples is very limited; this is the very night of his betrayal. And yet, while he has told the disciples that one of them would do this betraying (13:21), and then sent Judas out to complete his evil mission (13:27), the disciples are still perplexed by what Jesus is saying. See it there in v17? What is this that he says to us? They simply do not grasp either the immediate statement of verse 16, or his statement back in v10, because I am going to the Father. And so they do what most of us do: they ask Google. Well, the closest analog they had; whispering and mumbling to one another. What is the world is he talking about? I don’t know. Can’t make heads or tails of it myself.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. It’s easy for us to judge the disciples and their denseness in retrospect. But their errors would be easy to make. Sure, Jesus has been speaking of his departure for a while now. But this is just the Thursday after Palm Sunday. The crowds flocked to him, they welcomed him, they worshipped him. The time to usher in the kingdom is now, Jesus! What in the world do you mean you’re going to disappear to where we can’t see you, go back to the Father whom we’ve never seen? This makes no sense at all!
Jesus sees their confusion. 19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? Well yes, yes that is exactly what we were talking about.
A Sorrow Transformed, v20-22
Sometimes we have questions that we’re afraid to ask God. You realize he already knows what you’re thinking, right? It is certainly possible to approach God in a questioning way that is inappropriate or disrespectful, as if God somehow were on the witness stand and you were the attorney. But if you have a real question that you want answered, where else should you go? Jesus doesn’t wait around for the disciples to reason this all through, though. He just says, guys, I know what you’re thinking. Here’s the answer.
20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.
Jesus’ answer doesn’t exactly seem to be an answer. At least not a first glance. How long is a little while? You will weep and lament. But how long, exactly, is that? But the world will rejoice. Right, that clears it up. What is Jesus pointing to here? I think it’s interesting to note that the disciples are bringing up two statements: 1) what does a little while you will see me no longer, and again a little while and you will see me mean, and 2) what does because I go to the Father mean? Now, I have argued repeatedly as we move through this discourse that when Jesus talks about returning to the Father he means his ascension, his leaving of this world 40 days post-resurrection. But notice Jesus doesn’t address this line of questioning from the disciples at this moment. He only picks up the former statement, the meaning of a little while.
Why is this significant? I think it’s because Jesus is actually drawing them in to an even nearer departure than the ascension: his imminent arrest and crucifixion. At the beginning of v20 Jesus uses the familiar formula, truly, truly, I say to you. Or as one translation puts it, truly, I tell you all emphatically. Jesus wants them to grasp this truth. The time is fast approaching when their current bewildered sorrow (v6) will be supplanted by an immense grief. You will weep and lament. To weep and lament in this context is not a simple shedding of a few tears and wondering why things weren’t different. The word lament in v20 refers to an emotional response, that would have included the weeping mentioned as well as possibly loud wailing and even funeral dirges.
The disciples would be dismayed when their brother in ministry, their trusted associate, Judas betrayed the Lord with a kiss. They would be destroyed by the sight of their Hope hanging on a cross. What were they supposed to make of any of this?
These feelings of sorrow would be compounded by the response of the world. Notice the second half of that sentence, but (drawing a contrast) the world will rejoice. The Pharisees have eliminated this dangerous breaker of the Sabbath law. The Sadducees have done away with this potential cause of civil unrest. The world, the systems of power and the sinful men running them, are ecstatic. Ding, dong, Jesus is dead!
These things combine to leave the disciples not only sorrowful but fearful as well. Come Sunday, the disciples are in a room together, perhaps this same room, and the doors are locked. Why was the door locked? 20:19, for fear of the Jews. Their sorrow is mixed with fear, which we might call a less than pleasant combination. But Jesus isn’t predicting a long term condition when he talks about sorrow. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy. Pay attention to the wording here. First, the sorrow is certain. Again, we saw it last week, they are already experiencing some measure of sorrow. And it will get worse. But also notice that it is temporary. But Jesus isn’t saying that it goes away. He does not say your sorrow will be replaced by joy or overwhelmed by joy or seen to be no big deal because of joy. Instead, what we see is that the sorrow will itself be transformed, transfigured. It undergoes metamorphosis. The sorrow itself becomes the source of delight and joy. How in the world is this possible?
21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.
Ponder that illustration for a moment. Are there many people in this world more in distress than a woman who is in labor? Being a man, I’ve obviously never experienced this first-hand. But as both a husband and someone who has known plenty of pregnant people, I feel it’s safe to observe that there is often a dread of the experience of labor and childbirth. And understandably so! Yet once completed, that time of labor transforms. It goes from being the cause of sorrow and pain to being the cause of great rejoicing-for through that very pain a child has been brought into the world. The same woman who was in such distress moments ago is now transfigured, as it were. The glow of a mother with her newborn child is truly a sight to behold.
22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. The disciples' sorrow will be transfigured. Jesus says you are sorrowful, you will weep, you will lament-there will be genuine mourning for that little while that you do not see me. But just like that moment of labor results in the joy over new life, so the death of Christ, after his resurrection, becomes the source of the the 11’s deepest joy.
Again, this in no way minimizes the genuine pain, the sorrow, the rightness of mourning the murder of the Lord. The disciples were not to see Jesus raised from the dead and to then think, oh, well he came back so it must not have been a big deal. Silly us for being sad. Far from it! Peter uses the murder of Jesus in his Acts 2 sermon as a point to convict his hearers of their sin. And yet as wrong, sinful, and horrible as the death of Jesus was, it was through that very act which God had planned to save sinners like you and me. The disciples, post-resurrection, can look back on Jesus' words in John 10:18 with far greater understanding. No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.
Jesus died. But he did not die as some helpless victim. He died as a willing sacrifice, standing in the place of sinners who deserve the wrath of God for their sins. For Peter and John. For Matthew and Thomas. For you and me. The resurrection transforms this from being an event that makes the disciples hide in a room to being the event which they seek to proclaim to the whole world. 1 Corinthians 2:2, For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. The source of sorrow has become the source of joy.
What manner of joy? Resolute joy, unstealable joy. The apostle Peter describes it this way in 1 Peter 1:8-9, Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Peter in that passage is writing not to fellow apostles, the original eleven. He is writing to ordinary believers like you and me. What he is saying is that those of us who have trusted in Christ and are now seperated from him in a different way-we’ve never seen him-can nonetheless experience the same joy because of his death. Because all of those who trust in Jesus’ death in their place as their only hope are given a salvation which provides the same inexpressible joy, a joy that is unshakeable, a joy that he describes as full of glory. That word glory carries with it the connotation of weightiness. It’s not a light joy, a flimsy joy, a temporary joy. Joy that is derived from knowing Jesus as your Savior is a solid joy.
That sort of solid joy will fundamentally shift how we relate to the world, how we relate to God, even how we relate to Christ himself.
The Life of Joy through Prayer, v23-24
23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
As I mentioned earlier and have a few times the last couple of months, even after the resurrection Jesus only stays on earth 40 more days. After this he was leaving earth, he was taking his resurrection body and ascending to the right hand of the Father. So there is the obvious sense in v23 that Jesus is saying you won’t be asking anything of me in that day, simply because he won’t be right across the table to ask. He won’t be walking besides them on the road to prod with their questions.
In his commentary on this passage, though, DA Carson points out another possible way to understand this phrase that ties back into themes already covered in their discussion. That is that the disciples have been peppering Jesus with questions about the statements he’s been making, they want more information. But on the other side of the resurrection they won’t need to ask so many questions, because the Spirit will come and help them to understand what he has said in light of the events of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Remember v13 from last week? And when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. And going back to 15:15, No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. Jesus had made much known to them, but they haven’t yet understood it. But when the Spirit comes, in that day the clarifying questions will be less necessary because the Spirit will make clear to them what they were missing. He’ll help them put the pieces together. And we’re back again where we were last week at why this book can be taken as authoritative, accurate, trustworthy: because the Lord Jesus poured out his Spirit in such a way as to give these men the necessary understanding of his life and work that they might record both that life, and its implications for our orthodoxy (what we are to believe) and our orthopraxy (how we are to live).
If that’s true, then it means that our basic posture moves from being one of confusion and questioning to one of confidence and faith. Not that we don’t have questions. Of course there are still things we don’t understand. But is there anything more fundamental, more basic, than taking hold of Jesus as our Savior? If we have that confidence, that joy, that solid rock on which to stand, questions need not drive us to despair or sorrow. We can simply go to the Father with them. Perhaps he will answer. Perhaps we’ll have to keep waiting. But asking from the position of someone who knows they are a loved child, is different than asking from the standpoint of the skeptic. Brothers and sisters, to those who believed in [Jesus’] name he gave the right to become children of God. That’s a much better place to pray from, to look to God for answers.
It will also change, over time, what we’re asking for. Note in these chapters how often answered prayer is mentioned. 14:13, Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14:14, If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. 15:7, If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 15:16, You did not chose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. And now here in our passage, 16:23b-24, Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
What does it mean to ask in Jesus’ name? His name means his character, so we’re asking in alignment with the values of Jesus himself, which are the very values of God. How do we know what those values are? The answer of course, is that we look in the book to find out! That’s why it is such a helpful practice to have our prayer lives not simply shaped by a current list of desires or concerns (though we should take those to the Lord!), but additionally, and perhaps more importantly, we want our prayers to be shaped by the Scriptures. When our values and our prayers start become more aligned with the mind of God revealed in the book, it will not be surprising if we begin to see them answered more regularly.
Specifically in these chapters in John, we see two categories of request, two values, which ought to shape our prayers. In 14:13, 15:8, and most profoundly in chapter 17, we find the value of the glory of God. God sent his Son into the world to purchase a people for himself, to the praise of his glorious grace, as Paul puts it in Ephesians 1. This is the very thing we are praying in the Lord’s prayer, hallowed be thy name. Let your name, your person, be seen as holy. Might you be seen as different than all others, more glorious than everyone else. Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory (Psalm 115:1).
The second value we see in 14:12, 15:8, and 15:16, is that you should go and bear fruit. As we discussed in those verses, that fruit bearing is multi-dimensional, but it includes a life being transformed by Jesus. A life characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. A life abiding in Jesus and thus displaying him to others, pointing others to him. Do you pray in this way? Lord, help me to be holy. Lord, help me to be kind to that person who is hurting me. Lord, give me courage to share with my friend the hope of the gospel, the joy found only in Jesus. These are prayers God delights to answer.
But don’t for a moment think this separate from our joy in Christ. Do you see the end of verse 24? Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. The joy that comes from meeting the Risen Jesus is profound. It’s deep, and it’s lasting. But do you realize that it can grow? Our joy isn’t filled up in a moment of conversion. True joy begins with conversion but is filled up, completed as the NIV says, in a lifetime of praying that God would be seen as glorious in our lives, that he would bear fruit in and through us, and in seeing those prayers answered. In seeing that the same Spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the dead is now at work in our lives as his followers. In looking over and over to the hill of Calvary and realizing he did that for me. He did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
Do you resonate with that this morning? Do you see evidence of the Spirit’s work in your life as you increasingly delight in Jesus? Has the cross of Christ become the fountainhead of your joy? It can be. Trust in him, put all your hope in him. He died for you.
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