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“Mourning Into Joy”

John 16:16-33
Bob DeGray
February 29, 2004

Key Sentence

The ultimate source of joy is seeing Jesus again.


I. Mourning into Joy (John 16:16-22)
II. Complete Joy (John 16:23-27)
III. Peace in a troubled world (John 16:28-33)


        I can think of a number of places where I’ve watched grief or sorrow or loneliness or fear turn to joy. Most of us have been in an airport when a plane came in, and a family is standing there, maybe even with a sign saying welcome home, or it could be just one person gazing anxiously at the arrival gate. The bored businessmen and women from first class get off, and they may meet a limo driver with their name on a sign, but there’s no joy. Then the mass of economy fare travelers surges out, and those families, those fiances, crane their necks, looking around and through the crowds hoping to recognize that one familiar face. When they do, their anxiety turns to joy. They jump, they shout, they run forward, they embrace, they kiss, they hug, she goes under his arm, and off they go to pick up their luggage.

        The same thing happens, only multiplied, when a military unit returns from deployment. When an aircraft carrier returns to it’s home port there are always thousands waiting, and the sailors have a lottery to see who gets to go down the ramp first and get the first kiss. For many years, because of it’s closeness to Johnson Space Center, the same thing has happened right here at Ellington Field. When we first moved to Texas we lived in Camino South, and our next door neighbor was an astronaut named Pinky Nelson. He flew three times, including the last flight before the Challenger accident and Discovery’s return to space. I don’t know which flight it was, the second or the last, but on one of them we went to Ellington with his family when the astronauts returned to Houston. Pinky’s wife Suzie was significantly stressed by those flights, but I remember seeing the weariness and fear lift from her face when she went to greet Pinky on that return. Her fear and her potential grief were turned to joy.

        I’ve seen it also in hospital waiting rooms. I’ve sat with some of you as your loved one went through surgery, and seen the relief when the surgeon came out to give a positive report “we got it all. It looked benign. It went well. He or she is going to be OK.” That’s when grief turns into joy, when mourning turns into dancing. But sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes the worst happens and we know we are just going to have to get through our grief. Because the one thing we have never seen, with our physical eyes is the rejoicing that would come with a loved one rising from the dead. That’s not part of our experience, or anyone’s, though we may long for it. But in not many weeks we’re going to watch as Mary Magdalene and the disciples experience that joy. And this week, in John chapter 16, Jesus is going to tell his disciples about that joy they will experience. He’s going to tell them ‘your grief will turn to joy when you see me again.’ And what we need to recognize is that because he has risen, the same joy and peace are available to us as we fix our eyes on Jesus again. The ultimate source of joy is seeing Jesus again.

I. Mourning into Joy (John 16:16-22)

        Let’s begin with John 16, verses 16 to 22. "In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me." 17Some of his disciples said to one another, "What does he mean by saying, 'In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,' and 'Because I am going to the Father'?" 18They kept asking, "What does he mean by 'a little while'? We don't understand what he is saying." 19Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, "Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, 'In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me'? 20I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

        This isn’t the most explicit prophecy of the resurrection Jesus ever gave: ‘In a little while you will see me no more and then after a little while you will see me.’ In John 2 he had said “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” but the disciples didn’t get that one until after the resurrection. But in John 10 he said “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life__only to take it up again.” In the other Gospels he said “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” That’s clear - yet the disciples didn’t get even that. No wonder they didn’t understand ‘a little while . . . a little while.’ But Jesus knows what’s about to happen, both his crucifixion and his resurrection, and he’s preparing his disciples for what lies ahead.

        In reporting the incident John emphasizes ‘a little while . . . a little while’, repeating it in verses 16, 17, and 18. That’s probably because he sees this timing as central to the whole discourse of these chapters. All that Jesus is telling them depends on the world shaking events that will happen in the next little while; the word is ‘micron,’ a really short time, a moment, which for Jesus and for John and for you and for me is the central moment of human history. Without this ‘little while’ the Holy Spirit cannot come to live with believers. Without this ‘little while’ the promises Jesus has made of peace and joy and abundant life and eternal life are so much smoke. Without this little while all men must die in their sins. This little while is a timeless moment in which redemption stands on a knife edge, and love wins the decision and changes the world. ‘A little while’ until he is taken away, and ‘a little while’ until he is given back. During that time, the disciples will grieve. Verse 20: “I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” When Jesus died the disciples grieved. What else could they do? He was their friend. They loved him.

        When you lose a loved one, you grieve. Years ago a doctor named Elizabeth Kubler-Ross documented the kinds of grief that such a loss brings. She noted that most people seem to go through several stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Other people’s models divide up the stages differently, but all agree that the loss of a loved one or even the loss of a loved dream has a powerful impact. Jesus knows this. He says ‘you will grieve’, when I’m crucified; real deep grief, characterized by weeping and mourning, two Greek words associated with death.

        But he says, your grief will turn to joy. The disciples knew crucifixion well, but had no category for resurrection. Despite Lazarus, they had not grasped the possibility that Jesus could conquer death. Like all people in all times and places, they felt death was final. Maybe it leads to some other kind of existence or some future existence, but not to the loved one getting up and resuming life and relationships where they left off. But Jesus is telling them that this little while is just a little while, and that soon their grief will reverse itself, be wiped out, be overwhelmed by a joy that Elizabeth Kubler Ross could not document, the joy of seeing the dead one alive.

        Jesus compares their experience to the process of child birth. Verse 21: “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” This kind of picture, of the pain of child birth, is pretty common in the Old Testament, where it symbolizes the trials God’s people must go through before the messiah comes and rescues them. In fact the troubled time before the messiah’s rescue came to be called ‘the birth pangs of the messiah.’ Jesus says of the woman ‘her hour has come’ just as he often said of himself ‘my hour has come’. And just as the woman rejoices when the child is born, and in a sense forgets the pain in the joy of holding her newborn, so also the disciples will rejoice. Jesus almost makes his resurrection almost matter-of-fact when he says ‘I will see you again’ like we might say ‘I’ll see you soon.’ But it’s not matter-of-fact. It’s world shaking remarkable, and because of it ‘no one will take away your joy.’

        There’s a radio guy here in Houston, Mike Richards, who always closes his broadcasts by saying “don’t let anyone steal your joy.” That’s hard with worldly things, because the circumstances that bring joy can change, and difficulties and troubles and trials will come. But if we focus our attention on Jesus, and find our joy in him, no one can steal that, because he has conquered death, and is alive eternally, and he is with us through his Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus, to these disciples, was a loved one returned from death, whose return and whose victory was a fountain of unexpected joy welling up from within them, so he should be for us. As we turn our attention from the world, and put our eyes on Jesus again, we can find joy welling up within us even in the midst of the most difficult circumstances.

        There are many things that can cause us to take our eyes off Jesus: grief itself can, disappointment, conflict in your family or with others, financial stress, health issues, and other dealings with the consequences of sin. And it can happen in an instant. As I was writing this paragraph I was distracted from Jesus by some of the issues I was naming. But then a verse or a song or an image reminds us of Jesus, and when we turn our eyes to him and see again what he has done and provided, we again find joy. You can find that joy as you fix the eyes of your heart on Jesus.

II. Complete Joy (John 16:23-27)

        The middle verses of this text show us that not only is seeing Jesus again a source of joy, but that our daily relationship with him should bring us joy. Verses 23 to 27 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. 25"Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. 26In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying I will ask the Father on your behalf. 27No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.

        ‘In that day’ is a phrase used in Scripture to point to the events of the end of the age. Here, however, Jesus is obviously pointing to the events immediately following his resurrection, or at least following his ascension. This probably implies something that we see often in the New Testament, that after the resurrection, all history is part of the last day. 1 John 2:18 says “Children, it is now the last hour.”

        So Jesus says that in our day, follow his resurrection and ascension, we no longer need to ask Jesus anything. Rather, as the rest of the verse shows, we ask the Father in Jesus’ name. What does this mean? There are two Greek words for asking in this verse, and though their meanings overlap, the first one is usually used of asking someone a question, and the second for asking someone for something. Jesus is implying that after his death and resurrection these questions they’ve been asking will have been answered, and they will know, especially through the Holy Spirit, what’s going on. That’s what he promised in chapter 15 to those who are his friends - ‘I will make all things known to you.’ So their questions have been answered, and now they can ask the Father for anything in Jesus’ name, and he will give it.

        Several times in these chapters Jesus describes a prayer life which abundantly receives God’s blessing. We’ve seen in those previous sections that asking for something in Jesus’ name isn’t a magic formula, but it is asking for something in accord with his character and will. Prayers in his name agree with what his name stands for and desire what we know he desires. When we pray this way, out of our love for him, according to his purposes, we ask things he is pleased to grant. In the same way, we ask for these blessings out of a heart in which his word abides, because that’s how our desires come to be in accord with his, so that we receive what we ask.

        And when our relationship with him is that strong, it brings us joy. Verse 24: “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” The joy of seeing him again is only the beginning. It is the joy of ongoing relationship with him, especially the part of the relationship in which we ask and he provides, that completes or fulfills our joy. Again, this asking and receiving does not stand by itself, but is part of the whole fabric of our relationship. It’s tied to obedience in chapter 14, and fruitfulness. It’s tied to loving one another in chapter 15, and to remaining in Jesus’ love and to having his word abide in us. If you put it all together it’s simply a relationship, one of dependence in which we get to know Jesus so well, and through him the Father, that we can boldly bring our needs before him and rejoice in the provision he makes - even at times when things don’t happen exactly the way we asked. The asking and receiving grow out a relationship in which we rejoice that Jesus is with us.

        Jesus has often spoken metaphorically during the course of his ministry. Even here he has been speaking somewhat guardedly about his resurrection. But in verse 25 he tells them “a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father.” This promise is kept in several ways. First, in the other Gospels we read that Jesus, after his resurrection, taught the disciples the Scriptures and made plain the things that had been written about him. Second, Jesus has already promised in this Gospel that the Holy Spirit will make clear everything Jesus has said, and reveal more things. Third, Jesus is already beginning to speak clearly, and to the extent the disciples have followed his reasoning in these chapters they are beginning to see the Father through his eyes. In verses 26 and 27, for example, he reveals that when we pray to the Father in Jesus’ name, Jesus doesn’t have to mechanically act as an intermediary, because the Father himself loves us and is pleased by our requests, especially those that come out of love for His son.

III. Peace in a troubled world (John 16:28-33)

        So there is joy in seeing Jesus again. His death meant mourning, but in seeing him again, his disciples grief was turned to joy. In the same way in our lives as we turn from sin and from the griefs of the world to see Jesus again, alive and loving us, we find joy. And our relationship with him brings joy, joy in obedience, joy in loving each other, and joy in depending on a loving Father for all we need. The last verses remind us that in Jesus we not only have joy, but peace in a troubled world. John 16:28-33 I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father." 29Then Jesus' disciples said, "Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. 30Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God." 31"You believe at last!" Jesus answered. 32"But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. 33"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

        Jesus is returning to the Father who sent him, having fulfilled his mission in the world. Is this a clear statement? To us, on our side of the cross, benefitting from the presence of the Spirit, it is no more clear than many other statements. But for the disciples it cements some insight. As Jesus has continued talking to them, the perplexity with which they received his earlier words has begun to dissolve: now they don’t feel he is talking in riddles. Their belief in him has been confirmed because he not only answers their questions with authority, he even anticipates their questions: they don’t even have to ask, because Jesus can read them and answer them before their questions are put into words. All of this cumulative revelation leads the disciples, as a group or through an unnamed spokesman, to say “now we really believe.”

        But is this full fledged faith? The New International Version says “you believe at last!” but many other versions say something like “Do you now believe?” The Greek can be taken either way, and in light of Jesus’ comments, it may be better to understand him as again reading their hearts. Their belief was, probably, sincere and genuine, bound up as it was in a real love for Jesus, but it was about to be exposed to a test they had not imagined. For all their faith and love, they would abandon him in the hour of his greatest need. If their support was all that their Lord had had to rely on, he would have been totally forsaken. But the Father was also supporting him, and Jesus was confident of that support.

        Some have asked whether this confidence contradicts Mark 15:34 where Jesus quotes Psalm 22 “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” But John is comparing the Father’s faithfulness to the disciples’ fickleness. There’s no doubt the Father loved Jesus and was faithful to him even as he asked him to walk through suffering. It’s true the Father and the Son were separated when Jesus was made sin for us: he was abandoned, as the punishment that brought us peace fell on him. But even then the Father was faithful, and Hebrews says it was for the joy before him that Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the Father’s right hand.

        This week I saw ‘The Passion’, as I’m sure many of you did. It was a good film, but a few things really bothered me, including the fact that despite the numbing violence and bloodiness, you can’t really picture what was really going on on the cross when the Son bore our sins and became a curse for us. The other thing was that whereas the Gospels minimize the crucifixion and emphasize the resurrection, the film did the opposite, missing the opportunity to show the joy of Peter and John and Mary at seeing Jesus again. You see God his faithfulness to Jesus by the fact that even becoming cursed for us could not forever separate the Father and the Son. Jesus cried it is finished, and the Father saw his work, and Jesus then said “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” They were not eternally separated. And the Father’s faithfulness to the Son was proved to us when he raised Jesus from the dead.

        Jesus concludes by saying “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” What does this beloved verse promise? First, ‘these things’ is probably referring to all of what Jesus has said here in the upper room, not just to the last few verses. It’s all been said for the sake of their peace, and ours. Back in chapter 14 he said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” We find that peace in him, he says, which means we abide in him as the branch abides in the vine. In the language of the Old Testament this means finding in him our refuge and our strength, a very present help in time of trouble.

        I thought of a rather horrible illustration of the peace Jesus gives. You probably all know that the bends is caused when gases enter the bloodstream under pressure. When the pressure drops they come out of solution and form expanding bubbles which destroy tissues from the inside. Being in Jesus is like being put in a compression chamber, where the balance of pressure from the outside and inside brings peace. Without him the troubles of the world destroy us from the inside out. He says “In this world you will have trouble.” The word he uses is one of the most general Greek words for trials. It can mean ‘tribulation’ as in the end times, it can mean persecution, as was promised to the disciples, and it can mean more general kinds of trials. It was used earlier in this chapter for the anguish a woman feels in child birth.

        We’re not quite in the end times, we don’t face much persecution, but we do face anguish in many different situations. We are anguished when people walk into sin and when we see the devastating effects of sin. We are troubled when conflict develops in relationships, and people are hurt. We are anguished when sickness or death or loss brings grief. We are tried by financial stresses and work stresses. All these things come from living in a fallen world that at heart opposes the good news about Jesus. And we have to live in this world. He says ‘in this world you will have’ these troubles. But he also says ‘take heart: I have overcome the world.’ The command means take courage - do not fear or flee. It’s the same kind of thing God had said to Joshua fifteen hundred years before - be strong and courageous.

        Jesus grounds this peace in his victory, just as our joy is based on his resurrection. “Take courage,” he says “because I have overcome the world.” To overcome means not just to endure, but to have the victory. Jesus is the victor; he knows he is going to be the victor and does not doubt he will triumph through his suffering. And he did. He conquered the world and defeated Satan, the prince of the world, who is now condemned. By his death Jesus has made the world’s opposition both pointless and petty - though Satan continues to thrive on evil. But the decisive battle has been waged and won. The world will continue its wretched attacks, but those who are in Christ have his victory. We cannot be harmed by the world’s evil and we know who triumphs in the end. From this we take heart, and thus find his peace.

        So what have we seen? That looking again to Jesus brings joy. For us this is not because he’s been gone, but because we’ve been distracted, and it is only when our eyes are on him that our joy is renewed. And that joy is multiplied as we continue in a relationship of love for him and others and of obedience to him and his father. In this relationship our desires and his become one so that what we ask, we joyfully receive. Finally, as the victor over evil, he gives us his peace in this world of trouble. Because of what he did in his death, resurrection and ascension we can be followers who taste joy, who know peace and who face trouble with courage.