JOY AND PEACE IN SORROW AND SUFFERING
Topic: Sunday Morning Messages Passage: John 16:16–16:33
6 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 mean 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.
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 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.”
Christianity is not only counter-cultural; it is counter-intuitive.
For example, although Christians are “born again” to a brand new life, they are called to die to themselves. In order to lead, they are called to serve others. When hated by their enemies, they are commanded to return love to them. And when suffering, they are told to rejoice.
To the world that just doesn’t make sense, and it may even seem “foolish.” The Apostle Paul made mention of this paradox in 1 Corinthians 1:18 when he wrote that “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Picking up on that theme, one writer has referred to the counterintuitive nature of the Christian faith as “the backward wisdom of God.” Consider that...
- • ...in the academic world, which is dominated by humanistic philosophical thought, a message that insists upon a Savior sent from God who died for men’s sins is considered either fanatical or out-of-date.
- • ...in the marketplace, which is dominated by materialism and the will to gain and exert power, the belief that “true success” was personified in the One who lived a life of sacrifice and was holy in all His ways is seen as fantasy or make-believe.
- • ...in secular theory, which is dominated by premises of self-actualization and victimization, any notion of sin and the need for forgiveness is viewed as extreme.
- • ...in the religious world, which is dominated by thoughts that people can make it to God by their own effort, the insistence that we need the grace and mercy of God provided through the death of His Son is considered intolerant.
- • ...and on an individual level, as long as people pursue the next degree, a higher salary, a better job, a bigger house, a new car, a different lover as the key to making life work, then they will have no use for a Savior dying on a cross.
But what happens when all those theories and paradigms turn to dust? What is the result when manmade answers don’t deliver what they promise? What does s self-sufficient person do when the sorrows and sufferings of life inevitably strike?
As He brings to a conclusion His lengthy “farewell discourse” with His disciples, Jesus touches on this subject. He is preparing them for His departure. In a matter of hours He will be taken from them and put to death. Like us, these eleven men were slow to comprehend the events that were transpiring around them. They would make sense of them only later, but it was imperative that they be instructed now so that they would know what to do when their Lord would no longer be physically and visibly present. What He tells them has application for us as well.
Knowing Him—truly knowing Him—is what would see these disciples through the difficult days that lay before them. Even in His absence, as they continued to look to Him and trust in Him, Jesus promised them...
Joy in the midst of sorrow (16:16-24).
We see this in verses 16 through 24. Throughout this passage we note a number of words and phrases that express the element of “time.” Repeatedly, Jesus speaks of “a little while.” We also see the expressions “in that day” and “the hour is coming.” In addition, the words “again” and “now” appear frequently. Clearly, the writer wants to keep us aware of the passage of time as it hastens toward to climax of God’s redemptive plan.
There was an eschatological element implicit with the death of Jesus Christ. His sudden and brutal death meant that He would be taken away from them, but His departure would be temporary. He assured His disciples that they would see Him again. Repeatedly, He describes that “gap” in time by the phrase, “a little while.” He had spoken with them in similar terms earlier (cf. John 7:33, 12:35, 16:33, and 14:19). It would be difficult to guess how they may have interpreted those words. But certainly, the more frequently they heard them the greater their sense that something of significance lay imminently before them.
The cryptic nature of Jesus’ expression aroused the curiosity of the disciples...which explains the back-and-forth dialogue in verses 16 through 19. He said, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” There have been three main interpretations of what Jesus may have meant by the “little while” phrase.
There are those who believe He is speaking of the period between His death and His return at some point in the future. Others think that His reference is to the period between His death and the sending of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. But the most likely understanding is that He is referring to the three days between His death and resurrection. Not only would that seem to fit the context of this passage better, but it is consistent with the meaning of the word that is translated “ a little while” (“μικροs”), which is a term from which we get our English word, “micro.” We should probably take it to mean that brief span of time between “Good Friday” and “Easter Sunday.”
John goes to some length to describe the patience with which Jesus explained to His men that soon He would no longer be with them. But they were not to grow anxious because they would “again” see Him. Verse 18 tells us that they were clearly unable to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ words. In fact, they were hesitant to ask for a clarification. They were like young children attending a funeral...filled with questions, but not knowing how to ask them. And even if they did ask them, they would not have been able to understand and to process His answers.
So in verses 20 through 24, Jesus responds. Twice within His explanation we find His classic “Truly, truly” introduction. As we have noted several times, whenever our Lord begins a statement with those words it signals something of critical importance. Each time we should tune our ears to pay careful attention to what He has to say.
You may recall that last week’s message concluded with verse 6 of this same chapter, where Jesus recognized that “sorrow” had filled the hearts of His disciples as He repeatedly spoke of His departure. Now here in these verses, He resumes that theme and assures them that their “sorrowful” feelings would be temporary. That is because their “sorrow will turn into joy.”
When Jesus would be taken away, they would “weep and lament, but the world (would) rejoice.” Again, this flashes back to last week’s message in which we considered the inherent “hatred” that the world has for Jesus and His followers. The polarity of extreme responses to the death of Jesus Christ is what separates those who align themselves with redemptive work of the Savior on the cross from those who do not. All of us stand on one side of His cross or the other.
The world has a “joy,” but it is rooted in this temporary life that is characterized by the philosophy of “relax, eat, drink, and be merry” (cf. Luke 12:19). The call of Christ and the demands of Christian discipleship are unwanted intrusions into such a self-absorbed, pleasure-seeking, narcissistic way of life. People are comfortable with “religion” as long as it does not pry them out of their “comfort zones.” When someone comes along and calls sin “sin,” the world quickly puts up its defenses and, at times, mounts a counter-attack.
The “joy” that Jesus offers, however, is one that is borne out of “sorrow.” I want to be careful how I say that, because the Lord is not promising to remove “sorrowful” circumstances and replace them with “joyful” ones. Instead He assures us that we can know His “joy” in the midst of our “sorrow” and sadness. Another way of putting it is that God brings joy to our lives, not by substitution, but by transformation. More often than not, His “cure” is not to remove our trial and replace it with something more pleasant. Generally speaking, He will work through the trial in order to reveal more of His grace toward us. Not less trial, but more of Himself.
By using the illustration of a woman giving birth in verse 21, Jesus demonstrates how a relationship with Him alters our perception and broadens our perspective enabling us to better see God’s larger plan. Bringing a child into the world is never a pleasant experience for the mother. We men know that only through observation. But we can see the relief and the “joy” radiating from the mother’s face once the child is delivered and she sees—and then holds—her baby for the very first time.
Perhaps we recall how Jesus spoke of “pruning” the fruit-bearing “branches” in chapter 15(:2) in order that they “bear more fruit” and “much fruit.” Christians are those “branches,” and it is never without pain when “dead wood” is trimmed from our lives. And yet we can receive such cutting “joyfully” because we know that God is working in us—even through the pain—for our good and His glory.
The rising level of “sorrow” on the part of the disciples corresponded with Jesus’ repeated references to His death. So, in verse 22, He tells them, “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” “One day soon, all will be made clear to you, but for now,” Jesus insists, “you must trust Me.”
He goes on to explain in verses 23 and 24: “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say unto 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.”
What is not obvious to us in our English Bibles is that Jesus uses two different words that are translated “ask.” In the first part of verse 23, the word that is used (“ερωταω”) means “to ask or request of an equal.” But in the second part of that same verse, the verb (“αιτεω”) means “to offer a petition from an inferior to a superior.” It is the word that is most commonly used for “prayer.”
The day was coming, Jesus informs them, when they would no longer be able to make direct requests of Him as they were now doing. Following His death on the cross, He would be raised and glorified by the Father. He would at that time—and from then on—bestow upon them His authority. That is, they would be given the ability to bring their requests directly to the Father “in (His) name.” Furthermore, they would have the assurance that their prayers would be heard and responded to.
The other evening Tyrell made a very important point in our Wednesday Bible study when he reminded us that, contextually speaking, these promises were made specifically to the eleven apostles. Later on in the book known as “The Acts of the Apostles,” we see this promise being played out through many of their ministries. But there is also a very real sense in which every believer has this access and authority to approach the Father “in the name of Jesus.”
By approaching the Father in this way, Jesus adds in verse 24, the “joy (of His disciples—both then and now would) be full.” What a marvelous promise! No wonder, then, that every “sorrow,” no matter how lengthy or how severe, can be transformed to “joy.”
But that would not have taken place apart from the cross. First Jesus must “suffer,” and in time so must they. And, as with the promise, so there would be a provision. For His followers there would be...
Peace in the midst of suffering (16:25-33).
Continuing in verse 25, Jesus assures the disciples that soon they would more “plainly” understand what He is telling them. For four chapters, He has laid upon them some of the heaviest theology found anywhere in the Gospels. There was no way for them to have been able to assimilate it all in such a “crash course” fashion. Adding to their confusion was that much of His instruction had been by way of figurative language (“παροιμια”).
Many times throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus has made reference to the impending “hour” of His death and resurrection. As He makes mention of it here in verse 25, we see that it is closely linked with the phrase, “In that day,” in verse 26. Specifically, both appear to speak of the period following His resurrection. Only after Christ would be raised from the grave would their understanding of His teaching be made clear. It should give you and me some measure of hope that our understanding of Jesus’ plan is made clearer to us today than it was to His disciples at that time.
Here Jesus again mentions petitioning the Father with the authority He was granting to them: “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; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and believe that I came from God.” These two verses tell us that the closer our identification with Christ, the greater our intimacy with the Father. So here the earlier promise of Jesus is repeated: as Christians, you and I can have direct access to God!
While it is true that Jesus “always lives to make intercession” for His own (cf. Hebrews 7:25), we should be mindful that asking “in His name” is not a way of “enlisting His support.” It is rather a pleading of His Person and His work for us. It is praying on the basis of all that He is and all that He has done to purchase our salvation. John Calvin has left us a helpful word in this regard:
When Christ is said to intercede with the Father for us, let us not imagine anything fleshly about Him, as if He were on His knees before the Father offering humble supplications. But the power of His sacrifice, by which He once pacified God towards us, is always powerful and efficacious. The blood by which He atoned for our sins, the obedience which He rendered, is a continual intercession for us...we have the heart of God as soon as we place before Him the name of His Son.
What a blessed thought! Let me read that again: “We have the heart of God as soon as place before Him the name of His Son.” I must admit to you that I meditated upon those words at length this past week. I found both “joy” and “peace” rising in my heart. Just to think that when we call the name of Jesus to the Father, we have His undivided attention. That is amazing!
Verse 28 provides something of a step-by-step summary of our Lord’s entire ministry. Here we find the great movements that brought us salvation. In submitting His resumé, Jesus says, “I came from the Father (that is His incarnation) and have come into the world (that is His humiliation), and now I am leaving the world (the reference is to His death, burial, and resurrection) and going to the Father (that is His ascension and exaltation).” In not a single way, did Jesus fail to fulfill the ministry give by the Father on our behalf. For that, we give great praise to our God!
The reaction of the disciples in verses 29 and 30 is quite interesting. Obviously, they do not yet understand all of this and yet they respond as if they do. “His disciples said, ‘Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 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.’”
Ensuing events would demonstrate that they did not yet grasp the significance of Jesus’ words. Someone has written, “Misunderstanding is even more pathetic when people think it no longer exists.” Most of us are just as guilty. We nod in affirmation as if we understand and agree with someone, when in reality we are masking our embarrassment that we do not understand what they are saying. We’ve all been there because we don’t want to admit our ignorance of a subject.
But Jesus cannot be fooled, and He will not allow the moment to pass without telling them that they are not yet where they need to be. “Do you believe?” He asks before correcting their opinion of themselves. Verse 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.”
These words would have increased their sorrow, but it was necessary that they hear Jesus say them. The analogy comes from the prophecy of Zechariah (13:7), who wrote, “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” In Matthew 26:31, Jesus directly applied the prophet’s words to Himself just before Peter swore that He would never deny His Lord. But of course he did. He and all of the disciples would flee in His hour of need. Jesus Christ would die “alone.”
“Yet I am not alone,” He adds, “for the Father is with me.” The faithfulness of the Father stands in stark contrast with the fickleness of the disciples. The promise that He “will never leave or forsake” any of His own is found throughout Scriptures (cf. Deuteronomy 31:6, Joshua 1:5, Hebrews 13:5). God, of course, would never forsake His own Son. But nor will He forsake any for whom the blood of His Son was shed.
Because that is so, Jesus can offer the words of comfort that we find in verse 33 to His disciples: “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 “sorrow” of the disciples was now at its peak. Though they would fail Him, He offered them hope and would welcome them back.
The word “overcome” implies that Jesus will emerge as the Conqueror from His conflict with sin. The “I” (“εγω”) is emphatic, meaning “I and I alone.” No one else but Christ could have brought about the victory that God’s justice demanded.
Interestingly, the word that is translated “tribulation” (“θλιψιs”) is the same word that we saw in verse 21, where the “anguish” of the woman giving birth is described. The “tribulation” brought about through the world’s animosity toward believers, therefore, might be thought of as the “birth pains” that lead to the Lord’s delivery of “peace” to His people. It was a “peace” that would come to the disciples as they later reflected upon Jesus’ words of instruction and counsel found throughout His “farewell discourse.” Therefore, they could “take heart” and be courageous in the face of suffering. In fact, how foolish it would be for them to fear a fallen foe.
The opposition from the world remains formidable and strong, but Jesus’ point is that by His death he has rendered it pointless. The decisive battle has been waged and our Lord has prevailed. The world continues its wretched attacks, but those who are in Christ share the victory He has won. As His disciples, you and I cannot be harmed by the world’s evil. We know who triumphs in the end. And from this we can “take heart” and share His “peace.”
Christians can truly know “joy” and “peace” in the midst of sorrow and suffering. We have the word of the Lord as our guarantee. Galatians 5:22 and 23 remind us that after “love,” “joy” and “peace” are the first fruit of the Holy Spirit. No one modeled dependence upon the Spirit of God better than our Lord Jesus. He has walked the road of suffering before us and experienced greater sorrow than any of us could ever possibly know.
“Joy” is what is needed to counteract sorrow, and “peace” is what we crave as we suffer. In fact, “joy” has been defined by some as “the God-given peace that is beyond understanding.” That is what Jesus offers in every trying circumstance. Christians are never instructed to avoid sorrow or suffering, but to face them head on with the promise that His provision is sufficient for our every need. But that all sounds so counter-intuitive in a world that consistently promotes the avoidance of everything painful or unpleasant.
From the beginning of His public ministry three-and-a-half years earlier, Jesus had taught the same truth that we find Him here reinforcing. In His Sermon on the Mount, He had spoken just as counter-intuitively when He said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).