A Little While as Sojourners
Jubilate Sunday| John 16:16-23| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| April 30, 2023
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, by the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” This is what Jesus means when He says, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again, a little while, and you will see me.” Jesus will be taken away from His disciples, causing them great pain. But just as the pain in childbirth is worth it on account of the child, so also will the sorrow of the disciples be worth it, because what they receive is much greater.
Jesus said, “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. 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.” It is interesting that Jesus speaks of his disciples as if they are like a woman going into labor. It is Jesus who will go into labor. Jesus will sweat drops of blood as He prays to His Father to take this cup of woe away from Him. Jesus will be scourged and nailed to a cross, bearing the sins of the whole world. It is Jesus who labors for our sin, yet He does it willingly, knowing that it wins for us eternal life. Jesus’ joy is made complete through His labor, because He wins our salvation, even as a woman is joyful when her labor is over when she holds her child in her arms.
That connection is obvious. But Jesus doesn’t say, “So I will have sorrow on the cross, but I will rise again and my heart will rejoice,” but rather, “So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice.” The disciples will have sorrow as their Lord is taken away from them. They will watch from a distance as he is beaten, crucified, and killed. They will hide behind locked doors with great grief and sorrow. But Jesus will return to them, and their hearts will rejoice.
There is nothing worse than having Jesus taken away from you. If Jesus is taken away from you, your salvation is taken away from you. If Jesus is taken away from you, then you are still in your sin. If Jesus is taken away from you, you are damned to hell. And this is very much how the disciples felt in their sorrow. They could not see past the sorrow and grief. Jesus was gone. That’s all they knew.
And this teaches us about true repentance. Repentance has two parts. First, is sorrow over sin. The second is faith. The sorrow over sin is the little while that every Christian must experience in this life. Now, no one can truly grasp the evil of our sins. We’ve all had a guilty conscience, but even the most sorrowful conscience cannot accurately measure the weight of our sin. We look at the crucifix and know what it looked like for Jesus to be nailed to the cross. Yet, not even seeing Jesus crucified with our own eyes can communicate to our human senses the horror of Christ’s crucifixion. Jesus is God’s own Son! He is innocent, yet He bears the sins of the whole world. God’s righteous wrath against our sins is upon Him. God is nailed to a tree! How great must our sins be to require such a tremendous act of sacrifice!
And for this reason, since we cannot grasp the severity of our sins with our senses, true repentance does not depend on how intensely you feel your guilt. If your salvation depended on how sorrowful you were for your sins, you would never have peace, because you would never be certain you were sorrowful enough. Your salvation depends on faith, that is, that you trust in Christ for forgiveness. Christ alone has paid for your sins. You do not pay for your sins by feeling sorry for them. And you will never be sorry enough for your sins.
However, this does not mean that we should not be sorry for our sins! Quite the contrary, we should mourn our sins more than we do. One of the little whiles Jesus speaks of is the little while of sorrow we feel over our sins, before we are refreshed with the Gospel. And this little while happens daily. It is the daily crucifying of our old sinful flesh, the daily repenting of our sins and rising to new life with joy in the Gospel. But there is no rising to joy in the Gospel if there is no killing of the old Adam. There is no joy in Christ if there is not first sorrow over our sin.
So, when we think on the little while of Jesus being taken away from His disciples, we learn a bit of that sorrow over sin we should have as part of our repentance. Jesus was taken away. Their salvation was taken away. Their hope was taken away. Without Jesus, all they can see are the gaping jaws of hell. And that is how we should consider our sin! When we fall into sin, we should not laugh and think it is no big deal. We should not ignore it, as if it has no effect on our souls. We shouldn’t downplay our sin, saying, everyone is a sinner and probably a worse sinner than me. No, we should rightly consider our sin our greatest problem. Our sin separates us from Christ! It separates us from God and His salvation. Our sin would cause our damnation. And however sorrowful you are over your sin, you should know that your sin is even worse than you think. The world laughs at such sorrow over sin. It thinks sin is a game, no big deal. Since everyone does it, it is harmless. And for this reason, the world also does not rejoice in the Gospel.
Feeling sorrow over your sin is not complete repentance. You must also be joyful over the Gospel. And only Christ Jesus can give you that joy. You look at your sins and see that they separate you from God and bring you to hell. But you look at Jesus and see that He took all your sins away from you and bore hell on the cross for you. He has returned victorious. All your sins are nailed to the tree. They can no longer harm Him, so they can no longer harm you. That is the joy that comes after a little while of sorrow, which no one can take away from you.
Yet, Jesus means another thing by this little while besides the daily sorrow over sin and joy in the Gospel. He speaks of the little while when Christ departs from us, and we must sojourn in this world without Him. This little while started when Christ ascended into heaven, leaving His Church on earth with the means of grace by which He continues to minister to His sheep on earth. This little while will end when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead.
This means that every Christian is a sojourner the entire time that he lives on this earth. You are a pilgrim, a foreigner, a stranger. This means that this world is not your home. “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.” (Philippians 3:20-21) And since our citizenship is in heaven, and we are foreigners in this land, we behave differently from the citizens of this land. Throughout history, including the history of our own nation, foreigners have moved into other countries. And in their new land, they continued the customs and traditions of their old land. And throughout history, this has caused tension between the foreigner and the native born.
And so, it is with us. We are sojourners, pilgrims, aliens in a strange land. This is not our home. Our citizenship is in heaven. And for this reason, we conduct our lives differently than the citizens of this world. And the citizens of this world do not take kindly to that. They put pressure on us to assimilate and live like native born worldlings. So, they pressure us and our children to miss church to serve other gods like money and sports. They pressure us to speak crassly, to accept sexual immorality as good and even to participate in it ourselves. And this is difficult enough, because our sinful flesh wants to succumb to these pressures.
Yet, St. Peter warns, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” The passions of the flesh wage war against your soul! This is a somber warning from St. Peter. Following the passions of the flesh and assimilating to live like the heathen do is not harmless. It is waging war against your own soul.
Yet, the pressure of the world and the passions of the flesh only last a little while. The sorrow that follows wicked living is much worse and long-lasting than the “pleasure” wicked living brings. Yet, the joy that follows the sorrow of crucifying the flesh is great and never ends.
Living as a sojourner on this earth is full of grief and sorrow. It means that you will be aware of the battle within your own self between your spirit and your flesh. It means that you will not be accepted by the world, which feels no obligation to follow Jesus’ teaching. It means that you will be aware of Jesus’ absence in this world and the presence of Satan’s reign. This sorrow is real and necessary. Jesus says, “If anyone will come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) This cross is being a stranger in this land and being hated for it.
Yet, Jesus calls it only a little while, in Greek micron, like microscope or microbe. It is a tiny little insignificant thing. St. Paul says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18) Not worth comparing. Micron. Little while. Yes, Jesus has been gone for two thousand years. Yes, you endure a lifetime of sojourning. It is still a little while. It is insignificant compared to the joy that will be revealed to us.
And besides all this, this sojourning is not all sorrow and grief. We still have the joy of the Gospel. Jesus has not left us orphans. He has given us the means of grace: Baptism, the Absolution, the preaching of the Gospel, and the Lord’s Supper, through which He is with us always even to the end of the age. We walk with Jesus all the way. And Jesus strengthens us for our journey. We do not eat the food of this pagan land, but we eat the manna our heavenly Father feeds us from heaven, His Holy Word and Sacraments.
And we know how our journey ends, because Christ Jesus has already gone before us. He has endured His little while on the cross for us, bearing our sins and winning for us everlasting life. Therefore, we have joy in the midst of sorrow. We rejoice even as the devil, world, and our sinful flesh give us grief. And the joy we have in Christ, no one can take away from us. The world may take our money, our property, our good reputations, our family, even our lives, but they cannot take our joy in Christ away. Because we hold this joy through faith. And when our course is run, we shall possess this joy in eternity. Amen.