Grab your Bibles and turn with me to the Gospel of John chapter 16.
Looking at John 16:16-19, Jesus says once again to the disciples that He is leaving, and they will not see Him but that He will come back. This continues to be a struggle for the disciples to digest.
Do you remember raising toddlers in the phase where if they heard Mom and Dad say, “We’re leaving. We are going bye bye,” and the young child would just lose their mind if they were not going along also? “What do you mean you are leaving?” It’s not that the disciples were young but more that their lives were so centered around shadowing and serving Christ that they couldn’t imagine what it would be like or how they would function without Him.
So, Jesus has been emboldening them with clarity that He is going to prepare a place for them, and the Holy Spirit will do a mighty and new work in them; although they will be hated, He has put His love on them, and they will be His forever.
Quickly, do we feel this kind of dependence for Jesus? Our dying to self to live to Christ means we are all the more dependent on Him every day. Our very identity, like the disciples who walked with Christ in person, is to walk with Him in the power of the Spirit, as we live for and serve Him all of our days.
Second, see the disciples struggling with the timing of what was happening and the not knowing how it was going to go down. See their flesh want to know more and understand more--to be more in control. I think we relate to this, but we must see that this is counter to our depending on and trusting Jesus--trusting that He knows what is best and when it is best to happen.
How are you doing lately at trusting in God’s plan and timing as things unfold, even when they make no sense or work against our plans?
We must never forget God’s timing is always better. His ways are always better.
Endless are the examples in Scripture of the sin of man who did the opposite of what God told them to do. We must be faithful, trust Him, wait on Him, and embrace His discipline and shaping of us.
These are the emphasis points of Proverbs 3:1-12. Take a moment to read it. Consider how we struggle with these things!
The disciples are struggling with the idea of Jesus leaving and worrying about His return. I get it; our flesh doesn’t like waiting or not knowing. But we need to trust in Him and wait on Him.
Jesus said in Acts 1:7, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.”
This is one of the most central ways in which we acknowledge Him as God and that we are not God. He is the One in charge of all things--not you and me. He is the One working “all things together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
It’s not up to you and me. It’s not ours to know how and when. We must simply trust that He will! He will see it through. His promises are rock solid. His ways are higher than our ways.
Now, let’s look at Jesus’ reply to them in verse 20:
John 16:20 “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful”
First, see Jesus doesn’t coddle them but prepares them for what is coming. He is not going to lie and say, “Everything will be ok.” No, it’s going to get really bad. Before it gets better, it will get worse.
Now, this is first and foremost speaking of the disciples’ grief they will surely experience to watch their master be tortured and killed. They will watch the secular world celebrate Christ’s death, which will make their sorrow all the more.
“The world will persecute you and hate you and even attempt to kill you.” These are the words Jesus has just finished saying to them. Now He says, “You will weep and lament.” See the opposition of the world for our Savior and His people.
We, too, will suffer like our Savior did. And when we do, the world will look to be winning. They will look to be celebrating. They will look to be, at times, even the more desirable way. Our flesh will desire to just join them instead of continuing to be persecuted. Our flesh loves the path of least resistance.
So, Jesus is undergirding them with truth, and He is telling them, “Following me will mean sorrow and suffering.”
Don’t be unaware. Don’t be naive or guilty of ignoring the reality of the Christian life in this world. The world will not work right for us. Oh, how we want it to. We want our kids to be safe, and we want a fair chance to succeed. But our kids are not safe. We will not be given a fair chance.
The authorities of that day are going to get away with lying about Jesus. They are going to successfully have the most innocent person to ever live be condemned to death.
Tell me how that is a sign of the world working for us or with us.
No, instead we see that God rules over all of it, even the injustice of Jesus’ death for the sake of justice for His elect--for those He would graciously redeem. WOW.
See the disciples early on lose their lives, take regular beatings, and be falsely imprisoned for standing for and preaching the name of Jesus. We will suffer and experience sorrow.
STOP IT. Stop it right now if you think your Christianity and your church attendance mean you will have a better life, an easier life. It will not. But we don’t do it for that. We do it for God’s name--for His glory--and we do it for the joy that is before us.
This is what Jesus did:
Hebrews 12:1b-2 let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
He knew joy was coming--endless, unrelenting joy! We need to know that our sorrow will turn into joy as well. Look at the rest of verse 20:
John 16:20b “but your sorrow will turn into joy.”
Jesus is saying, “You must remain steadfast and walk in the living hope you have in me because your sorrow will turn into joy.”
This is the promise of God for us. This is what we must hang our hat on, church. This is the truth that picks us up when we are in the pit of despair and our life is crumbling, when our health is failing, when our loved ones are abandoning, when our boss is firing, when our kids are running.
Later, Peter will say it so well in 1 Peter 1:6: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.”
In this you rejoice. Who is the “you”? We are! The church is! The elect exiles. IN THIS, WE REJOICE!
Peter is saying, “God’s elect exiles are to have joy!” We are to rejoice upon the great truths He just got done proclaiming, which are:
According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3b-5).
It is important that our joy is based on these great truths and not on our circumstances! Because the “rejoicing” Peter is telling us to have is in the middle of various trials and suffering.
1 Peter 4:12-13 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
So, what does this tell us today. How does this help us today?
Will there be pain and sorrow and hardship that affects us? YES! So, do not be surprised at the fiery trial as though something strange were happening to you.
But it also tells us that as we experience these things, it is always on the FOUNDATION of joy in Christ. It is on the foundation of thanksgiving and praise! This is how Paul is able to say that he is “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” in 2 Corinthians 6:10.
I plead with you do NOT dismiss this truth today. Some of you are missing who Christ is through and through. You claim Christianity. You claim Jesus, but you live your lives like you truly do not know the fullness of who He is to you.
I know many of you are in the middle of hard things, painful stuff. This life in the here and now is really hard.
-Death of loved ones
-Wrestling with addictive habits
-Flesh-driven motivations of a loved one is ripping your marriage or family apart
-Broken relationships, whereby the other party is content to do nothing to reconcile
-Your health is really failing you
The fact remains you will suffer and struggle and experience various trials!
Notice Peter says, “though now for a little while.” In other words, it’s temporary.
Believers can rejoice in suffering in their exile, because they have a living hope that it will not last forever. Now, this doesn’t mean the suffering will be brief; it will be brief in comparison to eternity.
Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Also, 1 Peter 1:6 says, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.”
The “if necessary” here means “if God decides it is necessary.” Peter later makes this clear in 1 Peter 4:19 (NIV): “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”
This is also good news because our suffering or various trials are not outside of God’s sovereign hand. This is good news for our hearts, because it means we are not forgotten to our struggles and exile.
It means what we face is only what God deems is necessary. And since we are His, and He is God, and He has us eternally in His victorious grip in Christ, we can be assured that what He deems necessary is necessary.
Now, Jesus says, “… you will weep and lament … You will be sorrowful …” (John 16:20).
So the trials the disciples and the church would face will grieve us.
Do you ever feel like being a Christian means you can’t say “ouch”? Like you have to be strong all time and show no wear and tear? This is just not the case! Christians hurt; they say “ouch.” Exiles mourn and slow down. Jesus Himself said, “It will affect you.”
But the difference between Christian exiles and the world’s citizens is we have joy in Christ despite our trials and sorrow. Our struggle is not our end. It doesn’t undo us. There is a hope, a living hope. There is a joy in the midst of the trials that is based on that living hope. That rises to the top. That carries us through our tears.
Psalm 34:19 says, "Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivers him out of them all."
Hear this today: Neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament promises that believers will escape affliction in this life, for God in His sovereignty uses suffering to do eternal things in the lives of His people, and He ultimately carries out His purposes for His glory! This is good news!
Now, look at the example Jesus gives for how our sorrow turns to joy.
John 16:20b -22a “but your sorrow will turn into joy. 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”
What was the very first element of a woman’s suffering because of sin that God said you would have to endure? The pains of childbirth. You who know this pain are not slow to remind us who don’t know just how painful it is. And trust me, I believe it. So, Jesus is saying, “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.”
What an amazing truth Jesus gives here. It is so true. I have been there. I know. To watch my wife rightly screaming in pain as she pushes a little person out of her body. Screaming, tears, sweating, blood, pain … and then all of the sudden, there is the most amazing turn of events.
Despite that the pain is still there, the body is still bleeding, and the sweat is still running down the face, the room is transformed to joy! A new life has emerged. The work of God is on display in one of the most amazing ways. Right?
But consider how much greater it was for the disciples who saw their Savior--their Master--torn apart, brutally tortured and mocked, and people celebrating in His death, once they saw Him alive and well. Can you imagine the turn in their mourning and sorrow to utter JOY? He is God. He is victorious. He is bigger than death, and so are we who are in Him! UTTER JOY!
So, when Jesus says, “but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice,” this is what He is pointing to.
But this is not just for them; it is for us, too. This is the joy we cling to in our suffering: the victory and power and promise of our Savior and bloodied Champion.
Hear Jesus get very personal here with the disciples: “I will see YOU again … YOUR hearts will rejoice.”
We get to look forward with great anticipation and joy to His second coming.
But it gets better. Look at the second part of verse 22:
John 16:22b “and no one will take your joy from you.”
Not only will our sorrow turn into joy, but no one will be able to take it from us, because it is true joy established and held by God. It is not happiness that is fleeting and momentary and dependent on our current circumstances. It is joy--joy in God! It is held by His power.
Let me ask you this: Who is going to break you out of God’s grip? Who is going to steal what He has secured? No one. Not even Satan. The highest power is God! And He is the one who secures our eternity! He is able, because He is God!
Jeremiah 32:17 (NIV) Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.
Matthew 19:26 … Jesus looked at them and said. “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
We need to NOT see our security for eternity as divine walls of protection that surround the heavenly city. It is so much bigger than that. It is the active, always-present power of God by whom no one and nothing can break in. Remember Jesus said this in chapter 10?
John 10:27-29 “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.”
Finally, look at what Jesus says in verses 23 and 24:
John 16:23-24 “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. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
Don’t forget who you are and who you live for. Remember, to ask for something in Jesus’ name is to say, “I want to do your work and fulfill your will.” It is to align ourselves with God and His perfect plan to accomplish His perfect will. We get to do this. We get to participate in the work of His name for His glory and for our JOY!
I send all my emails and letters with, “For His glory, others’ good, and our joy.”
We do what we do no matter what it is FOR His glory, others’ good, and our joy--our joy in God. Jesus says, “that your joy may be full.”
Oh, that your joy be full and overflowing in Christ--not joy built on fleeting circumstances, but in God who is eternal and perfect and satisfying. That as the Psalmist says, you would “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4), and “… in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
Do we get this? Do you truly have your joy not in the things of this world but in Jesus?
Like what David said in the famous Psalm 23:
Psalm 23:5-6 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Jesus says, “that your joy may be full!” If it is full, it is flowing over. It is brimmed out. This is the joy we have only in Christ. This joy endures and carries us through the valley of the shadow of death. This is the joy that we will have forevermore in God, in His kingdom.