John 16:16 – 24
What kind of planner are you?
If you have to go away, what kind of planning do you do? How early do you start packing you suitcase? One of our kids was going on camp this week, and with all the excitement, the planning and packing started, well it seems like weeks ago! My preparation though tends to be much more last-minute! I’d rather pack my bag in the morning before I leave!
But perhaps if you’re going away, maybe your preparation, actually means making arrangements, not so much for yourself, but mostly for the people who are staying behind. Which, I guess is to say, “Maybe you’re a mother!” Maybe going away means planning mostly, not for where you’re going, but for those who you’re leaving behind!
Either stocking the freezer with meals, or stocking the kitchen bench with pizza vouchers, perhaps depending on your family! Well Jesus is, in this situation, like a mother!
Jesus is going away, in just a little while, he says, and his preparation for going, in this part of John’s gospel, is primarily for the benefit of others. He’s not doing much packing, but he is stocking the freezer.
His focus is on making sure that his disciples will be able to manage while he’s gone!
Because it’s clear that the disciples haven’t really grasped what Jesus has been saying about his going away.
Jesus’ disciples don’t understand! (16 – 19)
Look at verse 16 with me if you will, 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.”
17 At this, some 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’?”
The disciples are still trying to make sense of what Jesus said back in verse 5 and earlier, about going to the Father, let alone get their heads around this new piece of information, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.
I’m sure you noticed the repetition.
It’s almost funny to our ears, to hear the phrases repeated, quoted, repeated again,
And it’s not just that John could have done with a good editor, to relieve him of some unnecessary repetition. I think it was William Safire, the Pulitizer Prize winner, who once wrote, “If you re-read your work, you can find on re-reading, a great deal of repetition can be avoided, by re-reading”!
But actually, it’s someone from a very different field, who tells us what John’s doing here, the rapper Lil Wayne, once said, "Repetition is the father of learning, I repeat, repetition, is the father of learning."
John apparently thinks it’s very, very important, that we as his readers, hear these words; Jesus is going to leave, in a little while, and then return after a little while.
7 times in verses 16 to 19, John quotes those words. So not only must these be key ideas in explaining everything Jesus’ has been talking about in this farewell speech, but the words are doubly significant, because the same language is used in the Old Testament, to speak of God’s impending judgment, Haggai 2:6 for example, as well as God’s coming salvation, in places like Isaiah 29:17
The disciples can’t see it now, but the great act of God for salvation and judgement that he had promised his people for centuries, is about to come to pass.
The cross looms large
The cross is looming very large in Jesus’ field of vision.
Some of you will know that generally, for each teaching series, we have artwork that, seeks to communicate something of what that teaching series is about.
Don’t worry if you’ve never noticed that, it’s for the left-brained people or right-brained or whichever one of those kinds of people notice these things!
But our artwork for this series, is, I think, supposed to capture something of this fact, that the cross looms large, right across John’s gospel.
No matter which bit you look at, the shadow of the cross is falling across it.
In fact, John’s gospel is sometimes referred to as crucifixion story, with a very long introduction!
The cross looms large!
And now, it’s right in front of Jesus.
Soon, he will be taken from his disciples.
The little while, after which they won’t see him, is the probably just a few hours, until he is taken from them in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The second little while, is then the 3 days until his resurrection.
I know a few people have wondered if the “little while”s, maybe point to other periods of time, is one of them the time that we wait for Jesus to return from heaven?, that kind of thing.
But let’s look at a few reasons why we can be sure that Jesus is talking about the time until he’s taken from the disciples, and then the time until the resurrection.
Firstly, it’s the most immediate. It is just a little while until they won’t see Jesus. They may be very well already standing in the garden where Jesus is arrested, or walking through Jerusalem on their way to the garden, as Jesus speaks these words.
Also with regards to the little parable about childbirth the short time, and I use that word cautiously, the short time, of labour pains, seems to better parallel the 3 days of Jesus in the tomb, rather than the multiple thousands of years throughout which Jesus’ followers wait for his return.
And in that parable, Jesus, describes the onset of labour, saying literally, her hour has come. “The hour” you may know, is Jesus’ way of referring to his crucifixion.
And fourthly, the disciples’ grief, you will weep and mourn, verse 20, while the world rejoices, very much the case during Jesus’ 3 days in the tomb, not quite so easy to see how that could be said of us waiting for Jesus to return from heaven.
The cross looms, and the resurrection looms just a little while after.
Jesus knows that he is about to go, he will be taken from his disciples, but it’s not the end.
Notice how Jesus sees the cross
It’s worth noticing that Jesus sees his death on the cross and his resurrection, not so much as two distinct events, but as a unified whole.
They are inextricably linked.
Though he sees the horror of one part of it looming large on the horizon, he also knows that the other, also necessary part, is coming too.
When I was a kid growing up in Darwin, for significant parts of the year, you couldn’t swim in the sea.
There were salt water crocodiles, box jellyfish, any number of other things that were apparently just waiting to kill you!
And so I can remember coming on holidays to Adelaide, where the only think waiting to kill you was sharks, and so being really excited to be going to the beach!
We would sit in the back of the car, straining, for the first signs of the beach. And as soon as it came into view, my sister and I started chanting, “I can see the sea, I can see the sea!”
All through John’s gospel, Jesus can see the cross.
He sees it as it gets nearer and near.
He knows it’s approaching.
But he also knows the resurrection is approaching, and the disciples need to understand that also.
It’s not just that Jesus was raised was raised, in spite of his crucifixion, but he was raised precisely because of his crucifixion.
See if we want to really get our heads around what happened at that first Easter, we need to remember that that cross outside Jerusalem, is not just the cross of Christ, but the cross of the Christ who would rise from the dead.
And it was as “the crucified one”, that Jesus was raised from the dead.
He was raised, precisely because he had suffered and died for the sin and rebellion of many people.
The resurrection declares that what Jesus accomplished on the cross, was utterly completed;, forgiveness, reconciliation with God, a right standing before our creator despite our living as his enemies.
That’s how Jesus sees the cross, as part of one great historical event, by which God would purchase the justification of rebellious humanity.
Notice how the disciples see the cross
But notice how the disciples see the cross!
And actually, they can’t even see the cross, can they?
Even though the cross is looming large, literally just a few hours away.
Those gruesome wooden beams have already been sawn, and are lying there, waiting to be tied onto Jesus’ back,
The ruling authorities are, as Jesus speaks, rehearsing their parts for the farce of a trial they’ve concocted,
The cross is looming large, and yet the disciples are not ready for a suffering and dying Messiah.
The repetition in these opening verses just highlights their confusion, doesn’t it? That, in their own words, verse 18 We don’t understand what he is saying.
And the fact that just a few hours later, they scatter, they abandon Jesus as he is crucified, it shows us just how little room there is in their conception, for a saviour who has to die.
What does he mean?, they ask each other.
And of course, lest we think that they’re very silly and that we would never fall into the same trap, let me ask us, is this not a danger we might face?
Is there a chance that we may have so constructed an image of Jesus in our own mind, that there is no room for Jesus as he reveals himself?
Could it be possible, that we have become so fixed on a Jesus of our imagination, that the Jesus presented by his own words, is foreign to us?
Maybe you, whether you’re a Christian or not, maybe you think, “I like to think of Jesus like this”,
Well John, the eye-witness tells us, that unless we understand Jesus’ life and ministry in the terms of Jesus’ own perspective, we will not be able to make sense of his life, and death, and resurrection.
The cross looms, but Jesus will return (20 – 21)
So what does Jesus have to say about what lies ahead.
Well, the cross looms large, certainly, but Jesus will return.
And to help the disciples understand his death and resurrection, Jesus tells a little parable.
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. 22 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.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t technically provide an answer to their question.
The disciples want to know, verse 18 What does he mean by ‘in a little while’?
Jesus tells them what it will be like, in a little while.
Presumably Jesus knows that having the exact timeline laid out for them isn’t what they need most right now.
They mostly need to get a glimpse at the big picture of what God is doing, a perspective that will help them see their way through the experience they’re about to find themselves in.
Occasionally I find myself teaching preachers, lecturing in preaching, and one of the things I say about illustrations, is that stories about childbirth, are the preacher’s kryptonite! Don’t go near them!
They will destroy you!
There is no quicker way, for a bloke particularly, to get half his listeners off-side, than to talk about giving birth, in a way that suggests you have some idea of what it’s like.
I have witnessed 3 children being born, and yet, I’m still not willing to call myself an expert on the matter! In fact, any time that I hurt myself at home, if I want Kathy to roll her eyes, all I need to do is say to her that I’m in so much pain, that now I know what childbirth is like!
So please, bear in mind that these are Jesus´ words, not mine!
But actually, there’s not really much in what he says that is up for dispute, is there?
His point is that the period of sorrow, of grief, that his disciples are about to go through, is real,
But it is limited in time, and will be naturally followed, by such joy, happiness, rejoicing, that the anguish and hurt will be forgotten.
The disciples will endure real sorrow and heartache, but the joy to come is immeasurably greater.
A few things are worth noticing, I think.
Jesus’ use of an Old Testament illustration shows the cross as the fulfilment of God’s historic plans and purposes.
Once again, Jesus is drawing on Old Testament imagery.
What’s about to unfold isn’t something happening in isolation, but the fulfilment of God’s centuries-old promises of salvation.
This comparison of suffering and joy, illustrated by the pain and happiness of childbirth is common in the Old Testament.
God’s people Israel, are compared to a woman in labour, as they wait for the great salvation that God promised; Suffering in pain, yet looking forward to relief and joy.
If we wanted, we could use a technical term to describe Jesus’ death and resurrection. We could say it’s an eschatological event, which means it’s an event in the end times, the climax of God’s work in the world throughout history.
The disciples’ grief isn’t replaced with joy
Notice also, that Jesus doesn’t say that the disciples’ grief will be replaced with joy, but your grief, verse 20, will turn to joy.
The word that’s used there is sometimes used to describe something that stops being one thing, and becomes another, and here it emphasises that the disciples’ sorrow isn’t displaced by joy, but that their sorrow will turn to joy.
Let me illustrate it both positively and negatively.
Do you remember getting injections as a child?, And you cried. Well, I cried! ‘Cause it hurts!
But then afterwards, they give you a lolly, and you’re happy!
That’s grief being replaced by joy.
What Jesus promises here though, it’s a bit cheesy perhaps, but it’s a bit more like what happens when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly.
The caterpillar isn’t replaced with a butterfly.
Nobody sneaks around all the cocoons at night, quietly opening them up, taking out all the caterpillars and replacing them with butterflies ready to burst out the next day.
No, the caterpillar turns into a butterfly
The disciples’ grief will turn into joy.
Once again, this echoes God’s promises in the Old Testament, to turn the mourning of his people at their suffering, into rejoicing at the great deliverance he will win for them. Jeremiah 31, is one example if you want to look it up later.
And the childbirth parable emphasises the same idea.
The very thing that causes the sorrow, will also be the cause of great joy.
The child coming into the world, is both the source of sorrow, pain, same word, and the reason for rejoicing.
What will cause the disciples such terrible grief, verse 22?
The suffering and death of Jesus,
The fact that Jesus is taken away,
The fact that Jesus has to go, In a little while, and then after a little while, come back.
That’s the reason for their grief!
And yet, what’s the reason for their joy? That when I see you again, you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy?
What’s the cause?
The same thing!
The suffering and death of Jesus,
The fact that Jesus was taken away,
The fact that Jesus had to go, In a little while, and then after a little while, come back.
That’s the reason for their grief, it will soon also be the reason for their joy!
In John chapter 20, when he tells us that The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord, after his resurrection, it’s not just that he’s come back from the dead that makes them super excited!
That’s good! Jesus was their friend!
But it’s the fact that Jesus was crucified, that he was crucified for them, and has come back from the dead, that is the reason for their rejoicing.
And in fact in that account, John is very clear, the disciples’ joy, is at seeing Jesus’ wounds, his hands and his side.
The experience that is the most extraordinarily painful for the disciples,
When they realise its true nature,
When they realise what it has accomplished,
When they realise how they benefit from it,
It becomes the source of great joy that can never be taken away.
The cross and resurrection are the source of unparalleled joy
And it must be some joy, right? I don’t know that there is anything else on earth parallel to that emotional transformation from the anguish of childbirth to the utter heart-warming joy of holding a new baby
If that’s the image that Jesus thinks can best explain to his disciples what they’re about to face,
Well we know the heartache is severe, they were distressed, in fear of their lives,
But how great must be the joy that follows, this joy that no one can take away.
Notice that Jesus flips the language around. Although he spoke earlier about the disciples not seeing him, on the other side of the cross, what’s most significant, is not that the disciples will see Jesus, but that he will see them;, did you notice that, I will see you again, and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy
It is because of what Jesus accomplishes in his death and resurrection,
That he knows those who are his own,
Those who are the beneficiaries, of the forgiveness and reconciliation that he paid for on the cross,
Because of that, the disciples’ joy will be unparalleled, and no one can take it away.
Of course this doesn’t mean that, the disciples spent the rest of their lives in some sort of deliriously happy state!
This kind of joy is much more an inner conviction that shapes my emotions, rather than the surface emotions themselves.
We could say that joy is not so much the manner in which I respond to things, but the conviction that determines how I respond to things.
From a worldly perspective, Jesus’ disciples had a pretty rotten life from this moment on.
History and tradition inform us, that all of these 11, with exception of John, died as martyrs.
That is, they were murdered because of their convictions about Christ.
Clearly the joy that cannot be taken away, isn’t just a happy feeling, or the absence of sad feelings.
This was a joy, that couldn’t even be taken away by death.
I don’t know if you think of yourself as a particularly joyful person, but this joy, joy to face uncertain or difficult circumstances, this joy can be ours because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
I wonder if that’s how we think of that unified event, the cross and resurrection;, . as a source of joy, that cannot be taken away.
In that event, God’s work for lost humanity comes to its climax, and God’s great is achieved.
That is the work that makes it possible for people to be brought from darkness into light,
Transformed from being God’s enemies, to his dearly loved children.
No wonder it’s the source of the joy that can never be taken away.
And what a pity it would be to become blasé about that!
I read some of the post-Olympic commentary this week, and the writer was suggesting that some countries are becoming blasé about the gold medals that they win at the Olympics!
They’ve won so many of them, that they no longer value them. Presumably they weren’t thinking of Australia, perhaps more a country like The Netherlands, who in the speedskating category, took home something like 19 out of a possible 27 medals!
When you consider effort, the hours, months, years of training that the athletes put in, not to mention the 40 million dollars of tax payers’ money that it’s estimated each Olympic gold medal costs us, how could you become blasé about that,
How could we become blasé about the death and resurrection of Jesus?
How could we lose the sense of inward conviction, the utter joy, that equips us to face all circumstances, that God achieved for us in the cross?
Jesus’ death and resurrection ushers in a new way of relating to God
One of the reasons for this ever-lasting never-to-be-taken-away kind of joy, is because Jesus’ death and resurrection opens up a new way of relating to God.
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. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
In that day, doesn’t just mean on one particular day. It’s not like me saying, “on Tuesday, I’m going to Victor Harbor.” In that day is short hand for “the end of the age”, the new era of God’s kingdom.
Jesus is saying that the moment of his crucifixion and resurrection is the beginning of the end of history.
So it’s not just that on the day when the disciples see Jesus after his resurrection, Easter Sunday, on that day they will no longer need to ask him anything, but that the pattern of God’s kingdom, the way of relating that is opened up by his death and resurrection, will be completely different.
The cross removes our need to ask
In the kingdom of God that is ushered in by the cross, the pattern for Jesus’ disciples isn’t what we’ve seen here, questioning, and confusion, not really seeing nor understanding what God’s plans are.
But in fact, this same author John, wrote later on in the New Testament, that Christian people are those, by definition, all know the truth, 1 John 2:20.
In this new era of relating to God after the cross, the things of God are not unknown.
What God is doing in the world, is not a secret, hidden from us.
What God wants from each of us, is not some mystery that we need to uncover.
God is not hiding, waiting for us to discover him.
Everything that we need to know, in order to become one of God’s people,
Everything we need to know, in order to live as one of God’s people, is available to us.
We hear of people wanting to find themselves,
Or encounter God,
Or find their place in the world,
Or to make sense of the universe, and maybe you’ve found yourself grasping after those things,
True knowledge, of God and his plans and purposes, and where we fit within those, is found in Christ, in whom God makes himself known.
The cross changes who we ask
3 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. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
But the way to pray, also changes.
Jesus’ followers will have a new access to God; We can pray, in Jesus’ name.
Previously there was a barrier between the disciples and God, the Father wasn’t there?
The barrier of sin meant they couldn’t stand before God with confidence, and call upon him as Jesus says they’ll be able to do.
Of course people had always been praying.
The Old Testament is filled with the prayers of God’s people, millions of others were uttered in the centuries before Christ.
But here Jesus promises, direct access to God the Father, on the basis of people’s relationship with him.
In his death and resurrection, he removes that barrier of sin,
He establishes a new relationship, in which those who are united with Christ, can, with boldness and confidence, stand before the perfect, pure, and holy God in heaven, and present our requests to him, because of Christ.
If you were with us at Easter last year, you may recall our teaching series was called “The Forgotten Cross.” And we looked at 3 implications of the cross of Christ, for us today.
To that short list, we could have added prayer, couldn’t we?
I don’t know if you tend to think of prayer like that,
But Jesus says here, when you pray, in the name of Jesus, you are doing something that is only possible, because of the cross of Christ.
If it were not for Jesus’ death and resurrection, for you to pray, to say words like we said earlier today, “heavenly Father”, that would be impertinence of the highest order!
If it were not for Jesus’ death and resurrection, for us to say the words we’ll say together in a few moments, “In the name of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. Amen”, that would be an affront to a holy God.
But friends we can pray,
We can pray like that,
We can pray as though standing in the very presence of the creator God himself, for that is what, in fact we are doing, but only because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Only because access to God has been opened up.
Only because when God looks at someone who is trusting in Jesus’ death and resurrection, he sees not their secret past and all their failings, but he sees his perfect Son.
Because of the cross, we can pray in Jesus’ name
Of course, this doesn’t assure me of my right to pray what I like to call, the “Ferrari prayer”
“Dear God, please give me a Ferrari, in Jesus’ name, Amen!”
my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.
Well, I’ve just done that, so now I’d better go home and, make room in the garage for my new Ferrari!
To pray in Jesus’ name is not just to stick his name on the end of our prayers, but to pray in accordance with his character.
To pray in Jesus’ name, means to pray, according to who Jesus is, his priorities, his desires, and naturally, that will shape what we pray for, won’t it?
To pray in Jesus’ name means to pray in line with his goal of bringing glory to the Father.
That’s the prayer that we’re promised will be answered.
So truth be told, even though I always add those words “in Jesus’ name” to the end of my prayers, most often I think, I pray, in my own name.
I pray according to my own character,
I pray according to my own priorities,
I pray according to who I am,
Am I surprised then, if my prayers are not answered, when instead of praying in Jesus’ name, I pray in my own name, as if I myself have somehow opened up the way to God?
I pray in my own name, as if my pleasure or status, or whatever, is the ultimate goal, instead of God’s glory.
No, the promise here, is not for the Ferrari, but for God’s plans and purposes to be fulfilled.
See contrary to what we might think, when our Ferrari prayers don’t get answered, the problem with the Ferrari prayers, and I’m sure you don’t pray Ferrari prayers, but maybe you pray something similar, just slightly less presumptuous and ungodly, so let me just keep calling them Ferrari prayers so we know what we’re talking about, the problem with praying Ferrari prayers is not that we’re praying too big,
It’s that we’re praying too small.
The problem is not that we’re asking too much.
The problem is that we’re asking too little.
God promises to answer the prayers that will see his eternal plans and purposes for all of creation, come to their fulfilment,
The prayers that are prayed in Jesus’ name, the prayer that God’s will might be done, and that all things will be brought together under one head, even Christ,
That’s what it is to pray in Jesus’ name!
That’s the prayer that God promises to answer!
And all I can be bothered thinking about to ask him, is for a hunk of metal that will sit in my driveway!
The problem with our prayers is not that we pray too big!
But that we pray too little.
Well, maybe I can’t speak for you, but I can speak for me.
Friends, maybe we need to raise the scope of our prayers.
I’m not saying we don’t pray for those who are sick,
I’m not saying we shouldn’t pray for our kids, when they get picked on in school,
I’m not saying don’t pray for the day to day needs of those we know and care about, the gospels overflow with the compassion that Jesus showed, when people brought their everyday needs and heartfelt longings to him.
But here is Jesus’ high goal, that we who follow him, might have complete joy, through the guaranteed answering, of very big prayers.