Easter 4 (Jubilate) Sermon, 2017
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
“Your sorrow will be turned to joy” (John 16:20). Jesus says.
He says this before His crucifixion. And He’s speaking about the sorrow that is to come upon them. Sorrow in His arrest. Sorrow in His shady trial. Sorrow in His death.
And then joy in His resurrection.
St. Luke records, after the ascension that the disciples “worshiped [Jesus] and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24:52-53). That’s the joy of the ascension after the sorrow of Jesus’ death.
But what about our sorrow?
Even to us, Jesus says, “Your sorrow will be turned to joy” (John 16:20). What He has to say applies to His disciples, and to us. He explains it all by comparing our sorrow to a woman giving birth.
He says, “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” (John 16:21).
He says something we understand to help us understand something we may not understand.
We understand the tumultuousness of child birth.
When Gloria and I arrived at the hospital, the day Sullivan was to be born, they put my wife in a hallway behind the nurses’ station, because the birthing suites were full.
We were next to a very nice woman who didn’t want an epidural. She changed her mind, but she changed her mind too late. So, Gloria and I tried to have normal conversations while that was going on. Somewhere around then, someone told my wife that her blood pressure was slightly elevated.
Well, the symphony she was listening to wasn’t that relaxing, so you can understand.
Being in a hallway, there were people walking by, doors left open, phones ringing. All of this was different from the tour they give you when you choose where you’re going to give birth.
And then that little boy was born, and I loved him completely.
Then, I forgot what sorrow was for the joy before me.
We see this in Scripture, too.
Eve understood sorrow.
Caught in her sin and shame, God asks, “What is this that you have done?” and she replies, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13).
Then, to the woman, God said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children” (Genesis 3:16).
So, when she conceived and bore a son, her sorrow, when her hour came, was multiplied.
But then…she bore a son.
And thinking him to be the promised Christ who would crush the serpent’s head, she says, “I have gotten a man, the Lord” (Genesis 4:1, author’s translation).
What faith and what joy!
Eve’s many sorrows are eventually turned to joy—not in the birth of Cain, but certainly in the birth of the Son of God, the Lord, Jesus Christ.
Thousands of years after Eve, her sorrows were turned to joy.
And consider the disciples.
Their Lord dies.
Such was the despair of the disciples, that Luke records the two on the road to Emmaus as saying, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).
They had hoped that. But not anymore. Because Jesus was dead to them.
Mary and the Disciples understood sorrow.
They saw their Lord and Christ crucified. They saw Him dead. They saw Him buried.
Surely this is the sorrow that precedes the joy of the birth of the Christian Church, because, soon after, they saw their risen Lord with their own eyes!
Their sorrow was turned to joy in the resurrection of Jesus.
Can you imagine the relief, the joy, at seeing your beloved dead again. Your son again. Your friend.
Our problem is that we can’t see and believe.
We must hear and believe.
You haven’t seen Jesus resurrected. Your joy can’t come from sight.
You didn’t rush into the tomb to find it empty.
You didn’t speak to who you thought was the gardener.
Your hearts didn’t burn, He doesn’t walk with you in the garden or on the way to Emmaus, opening unto you the Scriptures.
We haven’t seen the joy of Mary and the disciples.
We’ve seen the joy of Eve who watched the son she thought was Lord murder the son she must’ve thought wasn’t needed.
In our day-to-day, sadness follows what little joy we have.
Baptism is often and eventually followed by sickness, and always, one day, death.
Confirmation is often followed by poor church attendance.
Marriage, even amongst Christians, is often followed by divorce.
What day of your life is not followed by night?
I don’t say these things to rob you of joy.
I don’t say these things to encourage doubt.
I say them, ultimately, to destroy doubt. To give you joy.
What we know of death and sorrow is that it’s ugly and inevitable, frightening and final.
So when dark your road:
Jesus says, “Your sorrow will turn into joy.”
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament…You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy…You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:20, 22).
Be it two-thousand years ago or this morning, the world rejoices when Jesus is silent. In His death, the world rejoiced, thinking it had destroyed a blasphemer.
Today, wherever Christians fail to speak the truth in love, or act, or teach, or hold their ground, satan rejoices.
But Jesus says, “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).
He will see you again.
You will see Him. And you will know Him.
That was true of the Disciples and the resurrected Christ. But it’s true, also, of every Christian. You will see and know and rejoice, and no one will take that joy from you.
You just have to wait. Patiently. Faithfully. “A little while.”
Did you notice that phrase in the Gospel reading?
Did you notice how often it occurred? Seven times.
Seven is a number used symbolically in the Scriptures to speak of God’s perfect and gracious authority in this world. The number for God is three, as in the three persons of the Trinity. The number for the world is four, as in the four points of the compass. The number seven is the number of God’s rule of this world in Christ.
The number seven is where God sets limits on things. The seven-day week, for example:
“Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work…For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:9-11).
There is a blessed end to every week. God made sure of it.
Peter asks how often we are to forgive our brother— “As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21).
Jesus says, “No, there is no limit to the forgiveness of sins. As you have been forgiven, so you shall forgive. Seven times seven times” (cf. Mt. 18:22; Lk. 17:4).
So, this little while of our suffering and doubt, what of it?
“Seven times ‘a little while’ occurs in this portion of St. John’s Gospel so as to drive home the fact that the ‘little whiles’ of suffering we endure are under the control of our gracious heavenly Father” (from a sermon by Rolf Preus).
Consider: God knows all things.
That means He knows the end of this little while and our sorrow. He knows when our sorrows will, forever, be turned to joy.
So “when the time now comes for [you] to fight with the devil, death, and sin, it will seem that Christ has hidden Himself, that He wishes to leave us stuck and flailing in the anguish of death and in hell. Then, this verse [applies]: ‘A little while, and you will see me no longer.’ Then, Christ will be dead and buried, and nothing but fear, terror, anguish, and distress will be in sight…” (The Christian Year of Grace, 188).
This is often what the school of experience teaches!
But it is not a reason for despair!
“Hold still and wait for the second part of the verse… ‘Again a little while, and you will see me.’ …Maybe Christ is dead and buried to [you], but He will rise again from the dead. Maybe He has hidden Himself for a while, but He will come forth again” (The Christian Year of Grace, 188).
Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).
So “hold your peace, suffer and endure, and let the storm pass; a fair day is sure to follow. It cannot be any other way. We must be conformed to the image of Christ (cf. Rm. 8:29)” (The Christian Year of Grace, 188-189).
“However evil and disagreeable the devil and the world may become, it has an end. God has seen to it. He knows it! Christ is King of kings, Lord of lords, to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given.
“So let the devil and the world storm and rage, let the winds rush and roar, let [it all] rage against you. You are not alone.
“And they can do so no longer than God permits them.
“But if the time for our sorrow has come, God’s will be done, and we must simply pass through it, whether brief or long. ‘It is appointed for man to die once’ (Hebrews 9:27).
But we have this comfort:
“’Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s’ (Romans 14:8)” (The Christian Year of Grace, 189).
For a little while, we know so much of sorrow and so little of joy.
We haven’t seen the joy of Mary and the Disciples, but “in a little while,” we will.
In a little while, we’ll know only the joy of Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus says, “Your sorrow will be turned to joy” (John 16:20).
In Jesus’ name, Amen!