Joy, even in dark times – John 16

Over the first 35 years of my life I had an uncle who was a very simple man. I saw him frequently, as his business shared the same driveway and property as the home in which I grew up. There were times I worked for him, especially in summers.

I later finished school and came home to that community as a pastor, and my uncle attended the church. In one of my Christmas musical productions that I had planned, I had one of the choir members act like he was angry after a happy sort of song. He threw his book down and said, “I’m sick of all this joy and cheerfulness and happy this and happy that. The world is a mess, and we’re singing about joy, joy, joy.”  And he went on to elaborate, illustrating about some global problems, etc., after which I pretended to settle him down in front of everyone … asking him to just consider the big idea of the next song — some version of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

I certainly thought it was pretty clear that the whole thing was a skit. But seeing my uncle the next day, he said, “Wow, that guy at church last night was really upset and made a scene; what’s his problem?”

The skit was lost on him!

But you know the song, and you likely know the feeling. A verse of the 1863 poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow says …

And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said; “For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men!”

There are several other verses of the poem that have never made it into hymnals — verses that speak specifically of the Civil War in particular, being written in the midst of that national upheaval.

Life is tough. The invasive nature of evil and injustice pretty much annually bring God’s people to have to ponder the celebrating of the joy of Christmas in a context of known miseries and despair.

Jesus knew it would be this way for his followers in a sinful world yet awaiting the final restoration of all things into a new heaven and new earth. As he neared his final act and pending return to the Father, he said to the disciples (Luke 16) …

16:1 — “All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. 3 They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. 4 I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, 5 but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. 7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.

Wow, doesn’t verse 2 sound like some of what is going on in the world today? The past two millennia have been replete with such times as these — times where evil abounds and wars increase and suffering multiplies.

But even so, there is a bigger picture. The joy of Christ’s incarnation and earthly ministry would later bring the sorrow, turned to joy, of the death and resurrection of Christ. His ascension to the Father made possible the great resource of the Advocate — the Holy Spirit — to come and indwell and sufficiently help us through our years and sojourn in a sinful world.

And the greater truth is that which also finished Longfellow’s poem — “The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”

Until that final restoration which is our hope, we have these final words of John chapter 16, verse 33 … “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

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“In a little while” (John 16:16-33)

Today, you’ll be sitting down at a table with your closest family and friends.  And yes; this really is as good as it gets.  For some, dealing with relatives is only a matter of putting up with a few quirks and eccentricities, like Uncle Edgar’s bizarre fascination with UFO conspiracies, or the way Grandma Myrtle feeds the Pomeranian from the table.  For others, family always feels like crisis.  You don’t get along.  You’re nursing past wounds.  And if faith is not something you share, even this becomes a divide that makes the table seem all the wider.

Jesus’ time with His disciples is coming to a rapid close.  He is trying to prepare them for a tough journey ahead.   But the gospel tells us that suffering is never the end of the story.

John 16:16-33  “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.”  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’?  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.  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.  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.

In “a little while,” He says.  Sorrow is temporary.  Did you notice the illustration He uses?  Childbirth. Childbirth is one of the most physically demanding things a person can go through.  The weight gain, the late-night cravings—and that’s just the husband. In all seriousness, couples go to great lengths to have a child, despite the physical (and emotional…and financial) demands that come with it.  But it’s hard to find a couple who look back and said it was anything but worth it.  In fact, if you’ve ever been around an expecting couple, they’ve probably pulled out their wallets (or smartphones) to show you a black-and-white blurry photo.  Try and be polite.  “Oh, you’re having a…potato.”  But it’s not a potato.  It’s a sonogram—a picture of the child developing in the womb.  The sonogram tells us that the baby isn’t here yet, but the baby is coming soon.  That’s what the gospel teaches us, and that’s what Jesus is telling His disciples.  The resurrection of Jesus is like the sonogram.  God’s victory isn’t here yet—but it’s coming very soon.

25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.  26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf;  27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.  28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”

29 His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech!  30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.”  31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe?  32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.  33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

The gospel never offers a single promise of happiness.  But the Bible offers radical promises of lasting joy.  Isn’t it ironic that as we stand at the cusp of Black Friday sales and mobs of mall shoppers, that all of this is takes place in the season we traditionally celebrate Jesus’ birth?  The happiness these sales promise will fade long before the next year.  Only Jesus offers lasting joy in  a world full of sorrow.  What if you really believed this was true?  What if, through the cross and resurrection, Jesus really did overcome the world?  But that’s what the gospel promises.  He overcame your family strife.  He overcame Black Friday greed.  He overcame sin, overcame death, overcame the mockery of the crowds, overcame the shameful burden you and I placed on His shoulders.

In a little while, He promises.   In a little while we’ll be free of the cares of today and live in the joy of tomorrow.  So as you gather at your table today, remember that sorrow lasts through the night.  Joy comes with the morning.

The Role of the Spirit (John 16:1-15)

In yesterday’s post, we looked at the nature and mission of the church.  Now, we take a look at the actual experience of the church.  Jesus is preparing His disciples for life after He departs—a life that will be marked by the same kind of suffering that He experienced.

SEPARATION FROM “ORGANIZED RELIGION”

John 16:1-15  “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.  2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.  3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.

Christianity represented a major break from the traditions of the past.  The early Jews couldn’t tolerate this, so Christians found themselves increasingly unwelcome in Jewish places of worship.  In fact, there’s even some evidence to say that within John’s lifetime, some local synagogues actually banned all Christians from attending.

These days that almost seems preferable—or at least fashionable.  We don’t like to be associated with “organized religion.”  But the early Christians struggled because of this.  The seeds of faith had been planted, but they remained a long way from blossoming.  Peter and Paul had tended the soil, but both men died in John’s lifetime.  Christians were becoming untethered from the past without a secure future to hold onto.  Only through the promised Spirit could the church hope to continue forward.

THE ROLE OF THE SPIRIT

4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.  5 But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’  6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.  7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.  8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:  9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;  10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer;  11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

The Spirit would serve as a “Helper.”  The “advantage” of Jesus’ death is that we receive the promised Spirit.  But notice that the Spirit has a role to play in relation to the world: one of strong conviction.  One of the surest distinctions between the church and the outside world is the recognition of sin and righteousness.  In today’s world, these terms have blurred.  No one can say with absolute certainty what is “good” or “true.”  In fact, the only true “sin” in today’s world is to infringe on the “rights” of another.

In the Christian community, we rightly recognize the standards set for us by God’s character—revealed in Jesus and magnified through the witness of His Spirit.  Do we take sin seriously?  Do we take God seriously? We have to take sin seriously to take God seriously.  And it is through the cross that our sin is dealt with and God is further revealed to us.

A LIFE LIVED FOR GOD

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

The Spirit has another role: to point us to God.  He “glorifies” Jesus.  Do you remember what “glory” meant?  The word “glory” has its origins in a Hebrew word meaning “weight” or “mass.”  It’s not that different from when we talk about a “heavy subject.”  So for God to be “glorified” means that God is revealed to be “significant.”

Is God the most significant thing in your life?  If my life is guided by self, then I become the center of my own universe.  Left to my own devices, my life implodes.  My soul shrivels.  Nothing is more damaging than self-interest.  But if my life is guided by God—by His Spirit—then God takes His rightful place at the center of my universe.  And nothing is more healing than self-denial—so long as we replace “self” with God.

As we continue on, we’ll see that these values run counter to those of our surroundings.  But we also see that the gospel offers the greatest and lasting solution to the hostility thrown at us by an unbelieving world.