This weekly topic is an effort to recap the Wednesday night Bible study I teach at Sola5, my youth group. I hope it serves to help us all in contemplating the ceaseless riches of God’s grace as revealed through the Scriptures.
Last night, we continued our study of John’s gospel by looking at 16:16-24. Here we find Jesus continuing to talk to the disciples about his impending crucifixion. In the passage, Jesus pauses, realizing that the disciples are not understanding what he is saying to them. Rather than give them a play-by-play of upcoming events, he talks to them about the emotions that they will experience in the coming days, thus preparing their hearts to face what is to come.
First off, we see the disciples expressing their confusion over what Jesus has been talking about. They are especially puzzled by his statement in verse 16, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” They begin to wonder amongst themselves what the heck Jesus is talking about. Here’s where we can take a lesson from them. Their plight is our privilege. This is hardly the only time in the gospels that we see the disciples struggling to understand exactly what Jesus is trying to say. We often look back on these situations and think, “Stupid disciples! It’s right there in front of you, it’s so easy to figure out!” It is this perspective that illustrates just how privileged we are as modern believers. Hindsight is 20/20. Whereas the disciples were having their entire spiritual and intellectual paradigm turned upside down by every word that came from Jesus’ mouth, we sit here with God’s completed written revelation in the Bible, able to trace his purposes and plans from start to finish. In a way, we have the great privilege of playing “Monday Morning Quarterback” – looking back at the story of our redemption and seeing God’s perfect wisdom at work. We are afforded a privileged perspective that the disciples would have envied. Whereas often we think, “If I could have just walked with Jesus like them then it would be so much easier to have faith,” the reality is that the perspective that we are granted through Scripture is one that opens God’s mind to us and grants us greater understanding than the disciples had. Next time you read about the disciples floundering over Jesus’ words, praise God for the fact that you have his word readily available, and may that reality cause you to treasure his word more.
In verse 19, Jesus picks up on their confusion, and addresses it, offering an explanation of what he had said in verse 20. He tells them that they are going to experience a great sorrow, but one that will not be shared by the rest of the world. They will weep and lament, he promises, but he also promises that their sorrow will be eclipsed by a joy so great that the sorrow pales in comparison. Consider the example Jesus gives of a pregnant woman preparing to give birth. The birth process is not exactly a fun one. When my wife and I head to the hospital next month for our daughter’s birth, I highly doubt she’s going to tell me, “This is going to be awesome!” During the birth, that probably won’t be the case. In fact, I’m considering wearing full body armor that night just in case. Yet, the pain and stress of that experience will be far outweighed by the joy that will come from our daughter entering our lives. The wonder and joy of a new human life causes the pain of the process to pale in comparison. This is the example Jesus uses to illustrate that though sorrow will come, hope will ultimately prevail – to the point where he can say in verse 22 that “no one will take your joy from you.” This joy will be an everlasting joy, an eternal joy.
The direct application for the disciples was Jesus’ death on the cross. Consider the heartbreaking sorrow that they must have felt when they watched their Lord, mentor, and friend brutally executed as a common criminal. We celebrate the fact that he came out of the grave on Resurrection Sunday, and we celebrate the forgiveness for sin that his death purchased on Good Friday, but have you ever paused to think about what the Saturday in between must have been like? Put yourself in the shoes of the disciples. They had left everything and cast all their chips in with Jesus. Now, he’s dead, in the ground, and you ran away. It’s over. What now? This sorrow was surely as great as any that we’ll experience in this life. Yet it was dwarfed by the joy of seeing the risen Christ the next day, of seeing his triumph over sin.
But what of us? The same principle is certainly applicable to believers today. We currently don’t see Christ. We are among those of whom the Scripture says, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.” We go through times of suffering and stress in this life, whether great or small. All of us know what it is like to be weighed down with sorrow while the world marches on oblivious. Yet the trials and difficulties of this life are nothing in comparison to the joy we will have when we see Christ face-to-face. That is the hope of the second coming - that, as the hymn says, “faith shall be sight.” That coming may happen today, and it may happen 5,000 years from now. I have no idea. Anyone who tells you they do have an idea is lying or self-deluded. Yet I know this: I’m not going to live for 5,000 years. When this life is ended, whether by Christ’s return or my inevitable death, I will be with him, and I will experience and understand the very purpose for which I was created – to bask and revel in the glory of God for all eternity. Every joyous experience in this life is just a minute foretaste of the glory to come when I stand forever in the presence of the one who created all that is good. As we go through this week, I pray that Christ gives us an ever clearer hope in the joy that is set before us, that we may endure whatever birth pains this life brings our way because of the promise of the new life to come.