Tuesday, March 21, 2017
"A Little While" Sermon: John 16:16-24
“A Little While”
March 19, 2017 Second Reformed Church
Jesus seeks to comfort the Eleven as He explains to them the benefits of Jesus leaving and the Holy Spirit coming: the Holy Spirit will convict the world, He will guide them in all truth, and He will glorify Jesus. Jesus is leaving them as their Advocate on earth to become their Advocate in Heaven, and the Holy Spirit is coming to become their Advocate on earth.
Next, Jesus explains to them what will happen in a little while.
First, Jesus’ leaving will cause them great sorrow.
“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 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’?” So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” 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’? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. “
We can imagine this conversation – and the confusion – can’t we?
“In a little while, I am going to go back to the Father and you won’t see Me, and then in a little while, you will see Me.”
And the Eleven huddle together: “Does anybody have a clue what He’s talking about? He told us He’s going to be killed and return to the Father. So, how are we going to not see Him and then see Him?”
And. Jesus, being God, knows what they are talking about, and Jesus asks them, “Are you confused because I said – in a little while – you would not see Me because I go to the Father and then you will see Me?”
This sounds like a Three Stooges routine, doesn’t it?
And Jesus tells them, the first thing I want you to understand is that you will experience great sorrow when I leave, but the world – the unbelievers – are going to rejoice.
Well, what happened a little while later?
Jesus was arrested and brought before the high priests and the Sanhedrin – and they tried Him and condemned Him as a blasphemer for claiming to be God, and they punched Him in the face and spit on Him.
And Jesus was delivered over to Governor Pilate under the charge of claiming to be king – against Caesar – and though Pilate could find no reason to punish Jesus – much less kill Him – he folded under the calls of the crowd and the threats of naming him a traitor against Rome, and he had Jesus flogged and then crucified.
The soldiers stripped Jesus and put a purple robe on Him and nailed a crown of thorns to His head and feigned worship of Him, and hit Him, and spit on Him, and mocked Him. And then they led Him off to be crucified.
And while He hung on the cross, it is recorded:
“And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.”’ And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way” (Matthew 27:39-44, ESV).
The world would rejoice! “We’ve got Him! We’ve taken down another heretic and put things back in order. We’ll never, ever have to deal with Jesus of Nazareth and His crazy claims again. What a relief to get back to normalcy.”
The Eleven would be saddened beyond sadness. The men would go into hiding. Only John would be at the cross – along with many of the women. The Man they believe to be the Messiah had been rejected and killed – and now they would be hunted down if they did not deny Him.
As so it was, as the author of Hebrews briefly records it: “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:35b-38, ESV).
The rejoicing of the world over Jesus would become the rejoicing of the world over believers – over the Church. And the sorrow of the Eleven over Jesus would become the sorrow of the Church – believers – over believers – as the world persecutes us and attempts to stamp out all knowledge and belief that Jesus is God the Son and Savior from the world – as the devil and his followers seek to do as much damage as they can in this war he knows they have already lost.
People have called for the end of religion and the death of faith groups and especially the end of Christianity and the death of Christians for over two thousand years – and believers in the Savior for over six thousand years. Most sites document about 100,000 Christians martyred each year since 2000, and the estimate is that seven out of every ten Christians in the world today will be martyred. These numbers are significantly higher than any other religious group.
The torture, crucifixion, death, and return to the Father caused the Eleven and other disciples great sorrow. And we live with the sorrow of our brothers and sisters in Christ continually being killed around the world. This is reality.
But that is not the whole answer to the Eleven’s question; they understood that sorrow would follow Jesus returning to the Father, though they didn’t understand it all then. They understood that He wouldn’t be with them anymore. They wouldn’t see Him anymore. They bigger question in that moment is, how, in a little while, would they see Him?
Second, Jesus’ leaving will cause them great joy.
“You will be sorrowful, 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, and no one will take your joy from you.’
The Eleven understood – intellectually – that part of the curse visited upon Eve – and all women after her – due to our first parents’ sin in the Garden is that women bear children in great pain – with much sorrow.
And Jesus does not discount the reality of the pain and the sorrow of childbirth, yet, He explains that after the baby is born, the pain of childbirth is replaced with the joy of the baby in her mother’s arms. The joy of the new life is greater than the pain of delivering the baby.
So, Jesus explains that in a little while, He will be put to death and return to the Father, but that pain and sorrow will be overshadowed by the joy of their seeing Him – in a little while.
So, the question is, when is the second “in a little while”?
Some will like to say it is at the Resurrection of Jesus, but that can’t be, because He hadn’t returned to the Father at that point.
Others will point to the Second Coming, but that can’t be, because Jesus promises these Eleven human beings that they will experience this joy in their lifetimes – not after the universal resurrection on the last day.
The answer is found in considering that the first “in a little while,” refers to a few days, so, it is likely that the second, “in a little while,” refers to days. Second, Jesus is God, One Person of the Holy Trinity – and all Three Persons are the same One God. And third, Jesus was just talking to them about the advantages of the coming of God the Holy Spirit.
So, when Jesus says they will see Him in a little while – He is telling them that they will see Him – that is, God – in the Person of God the Holy Spirit – in mere days after He – Jesus – returns to the Father – that is, in fifty days – on the day of Pentecost, when the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is given to believers.
This is what God told the prophet Jeremiah:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34, ESV).
The day would come – and it came in a little while – on Pentecost – when God the Holy Spirit indwelled believers – and He now guides believers in all truth. The Holy Spirit fills us with the joy of God, so that no matter what we may endure through this tribulation – as going through the pains of childbirth – the end result is joy – great joy.
As Paul writes, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV).
If we know that and believe it – if God the Holy Spirit is applying that promise to us as we go through this life, then, good or bad, suffering or slaughter – we understand that somehow, God is working all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
For the Eleven and for all of us who believe – Jesus has returned to the Father, God the Holy Spirit indwells us – so God is with us, as He was with the Eleven in the beginning – just in the Person of the Spirit instead of the Person of the Son – yet, still the same One God – and as much as we despise the suffering and sorrow – it will most certainly and without fail lead to joy beyond comprehension, because God has promised it will be so.
The whole Creation believes this is true, as well, as Paul tells us:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:18-25, ESV).
The whole Creation is going through the pains of childbirth and will be received into the joy of restoration when all the corruption that we and our sin have put upon the Creation will be removed. And we also, will be resurrected and restored, delivered from this body of death and given a physical body of life, like Jesus’ – and joy – such joy.
Finally, Jesus tells the Eleven to ask the of Father in His Name and receive joy.
“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.”
Once Jesus has returned to the Father, and – in a little while – the day of Pentecost comes and with it the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit, Jesus tells the Eleven at that time they ought to pray to the Father, in Jesus’ Name – according to the merit of Jesus, in the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit – that what they ask would be the Will of God – and the Father will give it to them – in fact, they will receive joy in whatever they ask.
We have seen this theme before in the Upper Room discourse: if we ask for what God wants us to have, God will give it to us because it is what He wants us to want.
Here, Jesus clarifies this promise a little by telling us that once God the Son advocates on our behalf before the Father, if we ask anything that Jesus would want us to have or be – and because He has merited salvation for us – and because we are indwelled by God the Holy Spirit Who gives us the understanding and the power to obey God’s commands and to desire what He desires – we will all the more come to ask for the right things and receive them – and be filled with joy in receiving them.
As Paul explains: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27, ESV).
Here is our joy: with Jesus meriting salvation for those the Father gave Him – all believers – with the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit – Who is given since the day of Pentecost by the Father and the Son, Jesus intercedes for us before the Father, the Father searches the mind of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit asks God for what God wants so we will receive it – even when we don’t know what the right thing is for us to ask. So, as we seek the things of God – as we are led by God in all truth, God in Holy Trinity works together to give us joy in the Will of God fulfilled in our lives, as well as hope in the promises to come.
And so, there is sorrow and suffering for the Church and individual Christians until Jesus returns, but, since God the Holy Spirit now indwells us, we are being led in truth and hope, and we know that this is not our best life now – the best is yet to come when Jesus returns to judge the world and restore the Creation. Our joy is in the day when Jesus brings us into full conformity with Himself in our glorified physical bodies.
Until then, we have the joy and the hope of being led by God in all the things God would have for us so we will be filled with His joy.
These are horrible days of suffering, and these are wondrous days of joy. The joy of the world will be turned to sorrow, and our suffering will be nothing compared with our joy. And we only have to wait a little while – Jesus is returning.
So let us follow Him in faith and obedience, calling on the Father and relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
And let us pray:
Almighty God, we would be fools rejoicing without hope were it not for Your love of the world and the sending of Your Son to save a people for Himself. We thank You for the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit and the joy You are bringing us into. Help us to trust and believe even as the sword separates our head from our body that we shall live and rejoice forever in the Kingdom without end. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.