Today we continue listening with the disciples to Jesus’ farewell discourse. Unlike when the disciples first heard it, though, we have the benefit of hindsight. Jesus was telling his disciples about how he would soon be returning to the Father, though he promised to send the Spirit, the Helper, who would somehow be better for them, when he did. The disciples were, quite understandably, struggling to comprehend what all of this would mean and were concerned that Jesus wouldn’t be with them much longer. Jesus says in 16:6, ‘but because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.’
In verses 16-33, however, Jesus promises that this sorrow will not last forever. Referring to his death and resurrection, he says he will go away for a little while, but then they will see him again. In verse 20, he says ‘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 to joy.’
While the world rejoices, while it seems to have triumphed and celebrates in its victory, the disciples will be left downcast in sorrowful defeat. But not for long. At the start of this passage, Jesus’ words to them rattle and hum in our ears. A little while, a little while, a little while. Like a musical leitmotif in an intricately crafted score, it calls to mind the significance of what has gone before and stirs our anticipation of what’s about to come.
‘A little while’ is a phrase which recalls the promises of the prophets – multiple times God’s judgement on those who looked like they had triumphed in rebellion against him (Ps 37:10, Hos 1:4, Jer 51:33) and God’s salvation for his faithful people (Hag 2:6; Isa 10:25, 29:17-19, Ezek 11:16-17) is promised to be in ‘a little while’.
Most poignantly for this moment perhaps, we should hear Judah’s song of victory from Isaiah 26 echoing in our ears:
‘Like a woman with child,Isaiah 26.17-18
who writhes and cries out in her pangs
when she is near her time,
so were we because of you, O Lord;
we were with child, we writhed,
but we gave birth only to wind.
We have won no victories on earth,
and no one is born to inhabit the world.
Judah admits her failure, she has failed as God’s agent of deliverance for the world. Yet, the hope of salvation, resurrection and glory is coming – in a little while.
Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise.Isaiah 26.19-20
O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a radiant dew,
and the earth will give birth to those long dead.
Come, my people, enter your chambers,
and shut your doors behind you;
hide yourselves for a little while
until the wrath is past.
For a little while the disciples will not see Jesus, he will take God’s wrath upon himself at the cross and be shut up in a chamber, a stone rolled to shut the door behind him. But this time the birth pangs are not futile; this time the greatest victory is won. New creation is born. In a little while the wrath was past, the dead would live, for his corpse would rise and the dwellers in the dust would sing for joy! As the morning dew glistened on the first Easter Sunday it would surely be with a flood of vivid colour as Mary Magdalene’s world turned from grey grief to radiant joy as the risen Lord Jesus called her name.
Jesus overcame the world at his resurrection. He is triumphant; risen, ascended and enthroned.
That means, in verse 22, that our hearts may rejoice and no one will take this joy from us.
Have you ever had that feeling, as a moment of joy has swept over you, when suddenly a swell of fear rears up – ‘everything is going so well at the moment, something bad must be about to happen. Surely this is too good to be true.’ Apparently that feeling is more common than you might imagine. Brené Brown calls it ‘foreboding joy’.
When our lives are limited to the immanent, when this world is all there is, joy is a dangerous place to be in, because the only way to go from there is down. But when our ultimate joy is lifted from the immanence of this world and set instead on what is imperishable, well, then we may have freedom to feel joy without fear now and even have peace in tribulation, for the only way for us to go is onward to final glory. The thread of our lives will at times pass through grief, but it is tied securely to the one enthroned in new creation – where our champion has gone, we will follow. By the Spirit he has given to us, there we are even now, united to him. (Eph 2:6)
In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul wrote ‘So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.’
Jesus promised that in the world the disciples would have tribulation. But take heart, for he has overcome the world. We have been given a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. (1 Peter 1:3-4). In him we have peace, with joy, through tribulation.
Father, in this passage, Jesus says you love us because we have loved and believed in Jesus. And so we may approach you now, in him, directly. Thank you that in Jesus’ death and resurrection he overcame the world. Thank you that you have given us your Spirit and that we have a sure, certain, and secure hope in you – that nothing and no one can take this joy from us. Help us to rejoice in you today, knowing your peace even in the midst of our tribulations.
In Jesus name, amen.