April 25, 2021 (2015)
Easter 4, Jubilate
O heavenly Father, Whose blessed Son, Jesus Christ, did weep at the grave of Lazarus, His friend: Look, we beseech Thee, with compassion upon those who are now in sorrow and affliction: comfort them, O Lord, with Thy gracious consolations; make them to know that all things work together for good to them that love Thee; and grant them evermore sure trust and confidence in Thy fatherly care; through the Same, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. (C & P #254)
God’s grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Our text is part of a long section in St. John where Jesus was speaking to His disciples on the night when He was betrayed. It begins in chapter 13, and continues through five chapters. He answers questions. He teaches about their future and prepares them for it. He prays for them. It’s as though the church fathers who assembled our lectionary realized that this conversation with Jesus on the night He was betrayed is best understood when we celebrate His resurrection.
Only in the light of Easter’s dawn, which shone through the unsealed doorway of that earthy tomb outside Jerusalem; only in that blessed light can we begin to comprehend our Lord’s teaching in the upper room. Jesus’ own disciples were perplexed by it at first. They hardly remembered it until they began to hear about their Lord’s resurrection, and to see Him for themselves. Then they knew that this would always be vital to the heart of every Christian.
“A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.”
Then some of His disciples said among themselves, “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 go to the Father’?” They said therefore, “What is this that He says, `A little while’? We do not know what He is saying.”
Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, “Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, `A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’? Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.”
This is God’s Word. Sanctify us through truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth. Amen.
Our gospel begins with a teaching that was especially hard for the disciples to grasp. “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.” John is even a little wordy in telling us about their perplexity. “Where is He going?” “Where is the Father?” “Will Jesus be hidden to us?” But underneath such questions was dread.
These five chapters where Jesus is teaching His disciples show His concern for them, because events are just around the corner that will challenge their faith as never before. He’s warning them, giving comfort and guidance they will need.
We saw not long ago how Jesus fulfilled the passage, “I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” That was the worst imaginable for the disciples. The eleven had agreed with Peter that they were ready to die for their Lord. But they weren’t quite ready for Him to die for them.
That’s our difficulty too. From time to time, it seems that the world has overcome our Jesus. You may be ready to suffer for Him, but are you ready to go without seeing Him for a long time in your life? Are you ready for others to suffer around you, while God seems to be defeated? Seeing your Lord crucified can be harder than suffering yourself.
Jesus told them, “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” He speaks of the fallen world, the humanity that cheered for Jesus on Palm Sunday, but turned on Him Friday and called for His crucifixion. The world rejoices when it sees Jesus and His body suffer. This happens through violence, when martyrs are harmed by the heathen. It happens through intimidation, when fear prevents Christians from confessing the truth in word and deed. It happens by a tyranny over conscience, when heathen elements use the threat of law to force their Christian neighbors against God’s will. But you don’t need such prompting. Today is Sunday. But by this Friday, you will have acted as though something else is more important to you than Him. You have reason enough in your own behavior to weep and lament, for all the times when Jesus is not visible in your life.
This is life on earth. God does not bring you into His Church with a promise of daily victory and good times. Jesus says (Luke 14:27), “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” But He also promises, “Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.”
To understand this joy, we must first know where it arises. Our natural condition is rebellion against our Creator: putting our ultimate trust in anything but God and denying our status as His creatures. The world is perishing under His judgment, which cannot fail to happen at the time that He has set. For now, He sustains it with His blessings so that people might hear His word and repent. But His judgment is coming, for you too. This is what weighed on the minds of Jesus’ disciples after they scattered in His hour of need. They trusted in something other than God. They, like you, were not always faithful.
But Jesus’ resurrection puts everything in a new light. As the morning sunshine confirmed His empty tomb, so that has become confirmation of His forgiveness.
Jesus had been loaded with the guilt of all humanity. Our sins were placed on Jesus, so that He suffered and died under God’s Law as the only sinner. Having received that punishment, the Father raised Him up to life again to demonstrate that your guilt is gone forever. Jesus lives. You are not left without Him. But because He lives, there is nothing left to separate you from God. This fact puts Jesus at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian. He is your joy.
Jesus described our joy with an example common in life. Every time a child is born, the example may remind Christians of our joy that He is risen. He said, “A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”
To what is the joy attached? The new human life given by God. Many lives don’t make it so far, cut short by medical problems, or the twisted will of man. Many human lives don’t make it past birth, so when one does, it’s cause to celebrate. Every life is precious.
But the life attached to your natural birth is only a shadow of the life that God planned for you. Your natural life is wondrous. Reason and observation have figured out much about the way it works, and the more we know, the more amazing it becomes. But there’s a dimension of human existence beyond what you see. It can only be revealed. Reason can only perceive the edges.
You are not only material flesh. You are spirit, as the angels are spirits, and as God Himself is spirit. I can’t prove or disprove it, because it’s beyond our senses. But Jesus did.
This wonderful natural life is also touched by death. Death is human rebellion against God’s will and order. It’s like a family horrified at their electrical bill, so they unplug everything in their house and unscrew all their light bulbs. Then for good measure, they sever the power line feeding their house.
Of course, the family finds they must now feel around in the dark when it’s night. The fridge is warm and dank, the food rotten. The stove burners and oven are cold. The house is freezing in winter. The television sits lifeless. Everything in the house is dead. It’s all there. They can touch it, and even try to use it, but it has no power.
That’s natural human life, separated from the spiritual power of God by our sin. It’s a form of death, even while our bodies are living. We can see and figure out some amazing things, but we can’t perceive spiritual truth, because the family of mankind is unplugged. And those who die this way will face God’s judgment for their sinful rebellion.
But Jesus comes with His powerful Word, this message of God’s forgiveness. It sounds too good to be true. It doesn’t fit with reason or our senses. Jesus came to bring us life. Jesus said, (John 11:25–26), “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.”
You receive this life now, by receiving the message of God’s forgiveness. The Holy Spirit attaches your main power line to Jesus. Believing what He has revealed, you can now see. He cleanses your guilt by sending it off to Jesus’ cross, where it is no more. He sets a table before you of life-giving food with the miraculous power of His sacrifice.
Jesus’ disciples were happy about this. They trusted Him. And then Jesus was arrested and killed. If your life line is plugged into Him, and He’s dead, what does that say about your life line? So Jesus warned them in our text, and we do well to heed His warning: “Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” They did see Him again.
How about you? When you suffer, or see your loved ones suffer, and God does not answer for a while, that’s the same kind of sorrow. It looks like Jesus has left you. But He hasn’t. He is with you, though your earthly eyes can’t perceive Him.
Recall the words from Lamentations: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end. … It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
His salvation appeared to the disciples in the form of His resurrection, and their witness proves that you can trust Him, too. Your sins are forgiven, and this means that you have been raised from death to life. Even your dead body will not remain so, but will live again in glory, just like Jesus.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!