Living Under the Cross
Jubilate Sunday Sermon| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| May 15, 2011| 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
The name of this Sunday is Jubilate, which is Latin for, “Rejoice!” The Introit for Jubilate Sunday begins with the words, “Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands.” These words introduce Psalm 66. Today’s hymn is “Ye Lands, to the Lord, Make a Jubilant Noise.” It is based on Psalm 66, as you might expect.
Joy is one of the most wonderful feelings there is. But joy cannot be forced. It wells up from within. It can’t be shoved in. You can’t order joy.
When I was a boy, my family spent a year in Norway. Norway is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Our family went on many day trips to see the scenic country. On one trip we were behaving badly, bickering and quarreling about who said what and who got to sit where and generally ruining the day for ourselves and our parents. My father became angry and stopped the car, turned around, and gave us a lecture about the beautiful scenery. Then he got serious, lowered his voice, glared at us, and concluded his lecture with these words: “We’re taking this trip for you kids, so enjoy yourselves.” Silence quickly gave way to laughter because it was so absurd. You can’t make anyone enjoy himself.
Joy always has a cause. The cause of the Christian’s joy is a paradox. It brings sadness. The very thing that brings about the greatest joy in the long term is what brings us sadness in the short term.
As the labor pains become worse and worse the expectant mother thinks and feels the present pain. It has her attention. Then the pain gives way to a tremendous joy. What brought such pain? A baby! What brings such joy? A baby! Whether we feel the pain or the joy depends on which side of the little while we are on.
Jesus uses the expression, “a little while” seven times in our text. Seven signifies God’s gracious control over this world for the benefit of his people. The number three symbolizes God. The number four symbolizes the world. Three and four make seven. The pattern of words is put into the text by the Author of the Holy Scriptures. God wants us to understand in more ways than one that he is in charge of the pain and he is the one who will bring us the joy through the pain.
But it’s not automatic. “A little while and you will not see me.” Will he be hiding? Going on a trip? Taking a vacation? No, he will be going to the Father. How and where and when? What is he talking about?
Well, it won’t be like Enoch who walked with God and was simply taken, body and soul, to heaven without dying. It won’t be like Elijah who was ushered into heaven riding in a fiery chariot. No, Jesus will go to the Father by way of the cross. He will go to the Father by suffering. He will offer himself up to the Father as the sacrifice for sin.
What an awful sight that was! The world of unbelievers mocked the King of the Jews as a pathetic spectacle. “He saved others,” they jeered, “Let him save himself.” Jesus saw this coming. He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” Yes, they wept. They saw and they felt the very opposite of joy. There was no joy at the foot of the cross.
But the joy was set before him. We read in Hebrews 12:2,
Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Jesus saw beyond his suffering. He was sustained by the very prophecies he was fulfilling. Just as Isaiah had written of him, “So His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men,” the prophet went on to write,
When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities.
The cross had to give way to joy. That’s what Scripture said. And as Jesus said, “Scripture cannot be broken.”
The suffering of Jesus for the sin of the world is Jesus going to the Father. That brings pain. He’s gone. He’s hidden. His suffering is, of itself, a bad thing as suffering of itself always is. But his suffering is never of itself. It is joined to the loving purpose of God. It is inextricably bound to God’s grace. Indeed, it makes God’s grace gracious for there could be no true forgiveness without it. Had Jesus not gone to the Father in such a violent fashion, our sins would have remained reckoned to us, calling for violence against us. But Jesus went to the Father. This is what brings us joy.
That’s guaranteed. The joy is guaranteed. But first God places us under the cross where that joy was obtained. Christ’s cross becomes ours. That’s where our loving heavenly Father invites us to stand. He promises joy. Just as surely as the pain of labor gives way to the joy of a baby born into this world, so surely the cross will give way to joy. But first comes the cross.
There is no shortcut. There is no anesthetic. Christ’s cross and the Christian’s cross go together. His cross is the taking away of all sin. Our cross is the life of faith. Christian faith is faith in the forgiveness of sins that Christ obtained for us by his suffering on the cross. The life of faith is the life that relies, day by day and throughout our lives, on the suffering and death of Jesus for us.
It’s a cross. We want to get out from under it. It entails suffering. Repentance hurts. And repentance is the way of faith. How can you trust in the forgiveness of sins for something you continue to do without regret? Obviously, you cannot. That’s not trust in the forgiveness of sins. If you want to continue in it you don’t want it forgiven. You want it endorsed. But if you want it forgiven you are saying that you don’t want to keep on doing it and if that is the case your desire to do it indicts you as a sinner. So you need to go back to the cross – back to your baptism – every single day of your life. Every day you find in Jesus’ suffering – his going to the Father – the source of your life. And you may not seek another source.
This is what it means to live under the cross. We live under the cross of Jesus and we rely on his suffering for us. Where’s the joy in that? There is great joy in that. Maybe not always a surface happiness that comes from winning the scholarship or the job. It is deeper than that. It is deep down where we live. We know that God has seen us at our very worst and has loved us there. For Christ’s suffering – his going to the Father – was for us. He was all alone, forsaken by God and man alike, but he wasn’t disconnected from us. It was our sin that he was bearing and enduring. So in his suffering our lives are made pure and holy. Everything bad in us has been forgiven and washed clean because he suffered for it. There when he suffered he laid the foundation for our joy.
And he is born in us. The one who lived and died for us is born inside of us. He comes into us by his Holy Spirit and he chooses to live within us. We might be embarrassed or even ashamed of what he sees in us; but he is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters. He chooses to identify with us, to make us his family, so that through him we can ask our Father in heaven for whatever we need.
Prayer doesn’t come easy when we’re in pain or suffering the consequences of our own foolishness. Will God listen? Does he want to hear me moan and complain? Jesus promises that whatever we ask the Father in his name he will give us.
The joy we have while living under the cross is a joy that no one can ever take away from us. That’s because no one can take Jesus away from us. He is our joy. Jesus said to his disciples:
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.
He saw them again when he rose from the dead. He saw them and they saw him. He sees us and we see him. No, we don’t see him with our physical eyes. We see him through the eyes of faith. But it is he that we see. Every time we eat and drink the sacramental bread and wine we see him, for these earthly elements become by his almighty word and power the very body and blood by which we are forgiven and set free. Living under the cross we see the fruit of Christ’s suffering and we rejoice.
It isn’t the fake forced joy that comes from getting drunk or posturing at a party. It’s the joy of being forgiven of all our sins and living at peace with God. We see Jesus in his suffering and find purpose and resolution for our own. Every lack we have in ourselves, every inadequacy, every worry, everything that mars the joy of being children of God is met and resolved where Jesus left us to go to the Father. There true joy is rooted and grounded. That’s a joy that no one can take away from us. Amen