We’re continuing in our series through Jesus’ farewell speech in John 14-17.
We’re getting towards the end of Jesus’ farewell speech. A speech given on the brink of an historic weekend. Thursday evening, the night before the Passover. The start of a long weekend which would see Jesus tried, tortured, and put to death on a cross. One that would leave the disciples frightened, scattered, and hopeless. But would end with great joy as Jesus came back from the dead.
In today’s passage (John 16:16-33), Jesus attempts to comfort his disciples, preparing them for the long, dark weekend ahead:
John 16:16 Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”
John 16:20 “Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.”
In other words, Jesus was telling his disciples that the coming days would be bad: but don’t despair, I’ll return and then you’ll rejoice again!
I must admit, when I first preached on this passage many years ago, I struggled for a bit to see what this part of John’s gospel could be saying to us. Maybe I was being exceptionally thick, but I kept focusing on the differences between the disciples’ situation – on the brink of Jesus’ death and resurrection – and our situation, living almost two thousand years afterwards. Where’s the connection? Our situations are so different!
And then what should have been blindingly obvious dawned on me: the relevance for us lies precisely in that difference.
That is, the disciples were told by Jesus to look forward in hope to the event that would change history; to his resurrection that would bring them great joy. But that resurrection for us is now in the past. Which means that the time of great joy Jesus was speaking of is now! The resurrection is the source of our present joy.
The resurrection is the source of our present joy
John 16:22 “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”
Why was the resurrection to be such a time of joy – joy that could not be taken away? It can’t just be because they’d see Jesus again. We now know that Jesus wasn’t planning on sticking around for very long – only a matter of weeks – yet he says that their joy will not be taken away. His physical presence can’t be the only factor.
Ultimately, their source of joy is the dramatic changes that Jesus’ resurrection would bring about; changes that we’ve been studying over the past few chapters. The resurrection was to be a pivotal moment. Let’s recap some of these changes, as Jesus does in our passage today:
The resurrection was to be a pivotal moment
Firstly, the resurrection was to mark a change in the disciples’ relationship with Jesus, and with God the Father. A relationship that we can now have.
As Jesus has already said, back in chapter 15, this relationship would take on the character of friendship, as opposed to being merely slaves or household servants. This friendship firstly means that we have direct access to God:
John 16:23 “In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”
This direct access was fundamentally different from before. Instead of asking Jesus for a favour from God, the disciples would be able to ask directly:
John 16:26-27 “In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. 27 No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”
This direct access to God is tied up with the intimacy that Jesus’ death and resurrection would now make possible. In the ancient world, intimacy in friendship meant that there were no secrets between true friends. We saw this back in chapter 15:
John 15:15 “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
Jesus again makes clear this new level of intimacy which would characterise their relationship:
John 16:25 “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.”
This intimate friendship with Jesus – being taken into his inner circle – was what the disciples had to look forward to on the other side of the coming long weekend. And this same friendship is available to us, now. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus dealt with the barrier between us and God that our sin had created. We are now able to be friends with God himself. That is the first source of the joy that Jesus promised.
Secondly, the resurrection would mark a change in Jesus’ own role, as we see in the next chapter:
John 17:1, 4-5 After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you… I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”
By his death and resurrection, Jesus would complete his work in God’s plan of salvation. Having humbled himself as a human being, he would then be glorified again, taking his rightful place in heaven.
This in itself should have been a source of joy for the disciples – that Jesus would complete his mission and be given due glory and honour for it. But, sadly, they were more worried about their own predicament than God’s great plan of salvation:
John 16:5b-6a “None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things.”
However, Jesus’ resurrection and glorification contained another benefit for both the disciples and for us. As we saw yesterday, Jesus’ departure would open the way for the advocate, the Holy Spirit, to come & dwell in us.
John 16:7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.
The coming resurrection, then, would be a pivotal moment in human history. It would be a time of great joy: for it meant that those who trusted in Jesus could become friends with God, and have God himself dwelling within.
And this was not just wishful thinking. In great contrast to the disciples, we know that the predicted resurrection did in fact occur. Unlike the disciples during that dark, long weekend, we aren’t still waiting for our hope to be fulfilled. It already has been!
And it forms the foundation of our faith. It’s what shows that Jesus was who he claimed to be and not some deluded cult leader with a death wish. It’s what gives us the confidence that we have received forgiveness from God; that we do have new life with him now; and that we will be in the presence of God when we die.
1 Corinthians 15:20,22 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep… 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.