April 26, 2015
"Sorrow for a Little While – Joy Forever"
St. John 16:16-23
"A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father." Then some of His disciples said among themselves, "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 go to the Father'?" They said therefore, "What is this that He says, 'A little while'? We do not know what He is saying." Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, "Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, 'A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me'? "Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a man has been born into the world. Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you." St. John 16:16-23
You don’t have to know anything about Einstein’s theory of relativity to know that time is relative. This is obvious to every Christian. God lives in eternity. We live in time. The eternal God comes into our time to rescue us from the predicament we created for ourselves by our disobedience of his holy will for our behavior. By breaking his law we broke our fellowship with him and in so doing consigned ourselves to death. The Son of God comes into the world to deliver us from death. He assumes our flesh and blood, obeys the law that we disobeyed, and goes to the cross where he bears our sins. He returns to the Father who sent him, but he does not return until he faces the death of the cross. Jesus says, “I go to the Father.” The way to the Father takes him to the cross. This is why the Father sent his Son. The Son of God serves us by suffering for us. Time and eternity meet in Christ’s vicarious suffering and death. It is a specific event that takes place in space and time, yet he is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, as St. John writes. The love of God is from everlasting to everlasting. “God is love.” Jesus says, “I am who I am.” This eternal love of God is revealed where Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
Time seems so long but it isn’t really. Not in comparison with eternity. Seven times Jesus says “a little while.” The little while is a time of sorrow. For a little while you will weep and lament. Then the little while will end and your heart will rejoice and your joy no one will take from you.
Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.
What does he mean when he says “you will weep and lament?” Jesus was talking about his death. But he was referring to more than his death. He was talking about how his disciples dealt with it. When Jesus died they were exposed as the weaklings they were. They abandoned him, denied him, and ran away from him. In that specific time and place where all of the sin of all of the sinners of all times was reckoned to Jesus, his closest disciples were seeking refuge elsewhere than in the suffering of their Savior. Where and when the Lamb of God took away the sin of the world they ran away.
For that they wept and they lamented. It’s the sorrow we call contrition. Contrition is more than sorrow for our suffering. Feeling sorry for yourself isn’t contrition. Contrition is more than sorrow for our loss. It is a spiritual sorrow. It is sorrow over our sins. We are not just sorry that our sins have hurt us or brought us misfortune. We are sorry that we have done what offends our God. We are sorry we have failed to do what God told us to do. We are sorry for our sin.
You will weep and lament. To the world, repentance is out of style. Several years ago, when I was serving a congregation in East Grand Forks, Minnesota, I went to visit a young family that had visited our church. They politely informed me that they weren’t interested in attending. They objected to the confession and absolution at the beginning of the Divine Service. All that stuff about sin was so depressing. They wanted something more upbeat, more positive. That’s how the world thinks. The world rejoices in ignorance. Christians weep and lament before they rejoice.
Repentance can be painful. It means admitting that we have failed and there’s not a thing we can do to correct it. Just because you broke it doesn’t mean you can fix it. Sometimes you can’t. Admitting that you are to blame and you cannot undo the damage you’ve caused puts you into a wonderful position, though you may not know it or feel it at the time. It prepares you to receive instruction from your Lord Jesus. Until you see your sin for what it is you are captured by the wisdom of the world. But the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world stand in contradiction. They are incompatible and irreconcilable. God’s wisdom is revealed in the crucifixion of the Son of God. The world thinks it is scandalous or foolish that God would assume our flesh and blood and die for our sins. The world despises the crucifixion of the Son of God. Moralists, philosophers, even religious leaders who speak of the greatness of Jesus Christ more often than not ignore his going to the Father by way of the cross and focus rather on his moral teaching as if he was just a teacher of morality.
The world thinks it can fix whatever it breaks. Is there a problem? Human ingenuity can solve it. From broken homes to sluggish economies to pervasive poverty to failing health – there’s nothing that cannot be solved if we put our heads together, roll up our sleeves, and get to work. So say the wise of this world as they rejoice in their achievements, goals, and dreams.
But the Son of man came to seek and to save what was lost. He didn’t come to advise people on how to improve their lives. He came to give them new life, to bring joy to those whose hearts were broken by their own fault, their own grievous fault.
Peter looked at Jesus after his third denial, recognized his sin and saw Christ’s innocence and pain. He went out and wept bitterly.
You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. . . and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy . . . I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.
The joy he promises is the joy of being forgiven of our sins and set at peace with God. We could not fix what we broke. He did. The joy of knowing Christ is that we can witness our own personal failure and know that it does not define us or determine our future. Since Christ is ours his success is ours. All he did he did for us. Where did he fail? Did he not obey the law perfectly? Did he not suffer the entire penalty of our sin? Did he not do it all for us, as our substitute, so that we would receive the benefit of his obedience and suffering? Wasn’t it for us that he lived and for us that he died? We can confront our most shameful sins and know that his blood washes them all away.
In time it is through faith. We believe what we cannot see. But time will give way to eternity. The little while in which we live will give way to the eternal joy of heaven.
That we cannot now see does not mean that the joy has not yet begun. The joy doesn’t depend on what we see and feel but rather on what God says. In fact, the joy has already begun. God gives us a glimpse of eternity in the gospel. Its promises do not offer us a dream, but blessed reality that is as solid as is Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. It is as true as if it had already happened.
It doesn’t always feel this way. The mother who is filled with joyful anticipation of her baby’s birth becomes anxious with sorrow as the hour of labor begins. The labor is not a time of joy. But then the baby is born. What a joy! The contrast between what the mother feels during her labor and what she feels when she is holding her newborn baby in her arms is the difference between earth and heaven. We aren’t in heaven yet.
The unborn baby and the born baby is the same baby. The joy we now have here on earth is the same joy we will have in heaven. Here the joy we experience is tempered by our weaknesses, doubts, and sins. They grab our attention and capture our hearts as we focus on them. Then Jesus appears to us in his gospel where he speaks words that give us peace. He binds himself to us in our baptism, where we put him on as our robe of righteousness. He puts his own body and blood into our bodies that, by providing us with the forgiveness of all our sins, is the medicine of immortality. This is how Jesus appears to us and gives us the joy that will never end. This gives us the confidence to ask the Father in Jesus’ name and know that he will give us what we ask.
There is no reason for us to mope around and lament our troubles as if God is blind to our problems and deaf to our prayers. Look at how the Son returned to the Father. Look at the route he took. When you feel the weight of your sins and when you feel doubts rise up in your heart, don’t trust in what you feel. Instead see Jesus bearing the weight of your sins on the cross. There is the foundation of our joy because there all cause of sadness is removed forever. Listen to Jesus. He says, “Your joy no one will take from you.” That’s a promise sealed by his blood. You can rest on it. You can rejoice in it. Amen