Click here for the reading: John 16:16-23.
“You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” (John 16:20)
There are a great many causes of sorrows in the world. Many are self-inflicted. Perhaps just as many are brought on by others. If all could be weighed in the scales it is anyone’s guess as to which side is heavier. The preacher who reflects on the various causes of grief and sorrow will have a helpful diagnostic in identifying what it is that people fear, love and trust the most. Pose the question this way: “What are the things that would grieve me if they were taken from me?” That being said, the sorrow that Jesus speaks of in this Gospel reading is a specific sort of sorrow and grief. The preacher who narrows the focus from general sadness to the sort Jesus speaks of will amplify the specific joy in the hearts of his hearers.
The cause of the looming sorrow that Jesus spoke of is specified as, “because you will not see me.” For the original disciples there is no greater sorrow than the impending separation from Jesus. This is amplified by the fact that the separation he speaks of would’ve seemed to them to be permanent. There had been periods in His ministry when Christ was not seen by his disciples. But in just a little while there would be a qualitatively different sort of not seeing Him. They would not see him because He would be crucified.
This was no secret from the disciples. Jesus had often spoken plainly about what was going to happen in Jerusalem. But the disciples then are similar to disciples now. Minds are fuzzy. And hearing about a future event does not always lead to grasping what exactly will be entailed. It is often mentioned that the situation of the Church, living between ascension and 2nd coming, mirrors that of the disciples between the cross and resurrection. While there is a similarity there is also a key difference. Like them we do not now see Jesus. But unlike that 3 day period we live now in the light of Easter. In what way does the experience of the Church share in the grief of those disciples? How is it different?
But the length of sorrow is limited. Another promise is quickly given. Just as they would soon not see him, so also soon they would see him again. While the words of Jesus may have seemed cloudy to the original audience they are clear as day to those who know the rest of the story. He is promising resurrection. The loss of sight in death will be swallowed up by new sight in the resurrection. And with that great reversal there is a specific cause of joy to overcome the cause of weeping. The challenge here for the preacher is to both focus the hearer on both the cause of grief and the cause of joy and then to broaden back out. How does the grief brought about by Christ’s death connect with the other griefs that plague men’s souls? How does the joy of the risen Lord Jesus expand to us who live 2,000 years later and who do not see Him?
All of this Jesus compares to a woman who has come through the travails of childbirth. Why is this the proper image for them and for us to understand the resurrection? It is worth noting the overlap of this comparison between a new birth and Christ’s resurrection with other passages in Scripture. Elsewhere Jesus is called the firstborn from the dead (Rev. 1:5; Col. 1:18). He is said to have loosed the birth pains of death (Acts 2:24) by His resurrection. As the preacher reflects on this image of the Church like a joyful mother and Jesus as the new man born into the world he will find a great bridge of speak of the ongoing joy that this man brings to His mother and to the whole world.