April 24, 2016
“From Sorrow to Joy”
Because of sin, life is short and full of misery. The relative innocence of your childhood is quickly shattered, and the world keeps on hitting you with disappointments and troubles. It never really lets up. Every stage of life has its unique sorrows to offer. Stress and depression, loneliness and conflict, anxiety, physical aches and pains, emotional gunk of all kinds. And death is always bearing down on us, it's just that sometimes we feel its hot breath on our neck a little more closely. In many ways the movie quote has it right, “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something."
In the first few verses Jesus is preparing his disciples for the sorrow of his departure. But he doesn't mean to just leave them high and dry.
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
Jesus would like to spend more time with his disciples, it seems, and share even more of his words with them. He had much more to say, things they needed to hear. But he also realized his time was short and they couldn't bear it all right now anyway. They weren't ready. So he promises them The Spirit of Truth.
And this Spirit, the Holy Spirit, will declare the things to come. He will also glorify Christ by taking what is Christ's and declaring it to us. He is the one who brings us to Christ, teaches us about Christ, shows us Christ. Like the operator of a giant high wattage spotlight, the Holy Spirit directs our attention not to himself, but to Christ, our Savior, and his words.
These words of Christ were fulfilled, in part, as the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostles to write the New Testament. Through the epistles, especially, the meaning of Christ's work on earth is expounded, and we are also given all we need to know about what the future holds for us. For instance, Paul expounds on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. John's Revelation gives us a beautiful picture of the church in glory – the New Jerusalem, adorned as the Bride of Christ. And in so many other words the Spirit of Truth unfolds the truth of Christ for us, his people.
And he does so to comfort us. Because life is full of sorrow.
If Jesus hadn't warned us, repeatedly, about the sorrows of this life, we might conclude that our sufferings mean he is displeased with us, or has forsaken us, or that he is powerless to overcome evil. But he helps us make sense of sorrow but warning us that it will come. There will be persecutions, natural disasters, wars and rumors of wars. There will be false prophets who lead many astray. All of this is to be expected. None of it means things are out of his control.
Instead, he comforts us in our sorrows. He works good from all things, even out of evil, for those who belong to him. His rod and staff comfort us as he walks along side us in the valley of the shadow of death. He even tells us “blessed are the poor in spirit, and those who mourn, and those who suffer for righteousness sake.”
Jesus can comfort us in our sorrow because he knows sorrow so well. He is the Man of Sorrows as Isaiah prophesied, and “well acquainted with grief”. It's why he had to go away from them for “a little while”. It began with his arrest in Gethsemane. It was the hour of the power of darkness. The shepherd was struck, and the sheep scattered. Then the kangaroo court trial, the bloodthirsty crowd, and the cowardly Pilate who handed him over to death. Nails, thorns, mocking, humiliation. All manner of sorrow and then some. Finally, forsaken by God, he gave even his very life. And the wicked world rejoiced at all of it.
But the God who turns grief into joy would not abandon his own Son to the grave. After a little while, they would see them again. And they would see him alive! The tears of the women at the tomb, the bewildered fears of the disciples locked in their room – all would be turned to joy. Even Peter who wept bitterly when he denied the Lord, would be restored.
This is the joy that Easter brings even to us, who live “a little while” after all of that. The God who turns sorrow to joy will neither abandon you to the grave, dear Christian. He will never leave you or forsake you. Even if you don't see him. But in “a little while”, you too will see him again.
Jesus did appear to his disciples and even as many as 500 followers on one occasion, and gave “many convincing proofs” of his resurrection. The scriptural and apostolic witness of this historical fact far exceeds any other ancient event in the quantity and quality of its evidence. And the Spirit of Truth confirms, even in us who have not seen but yet believe, that Christ is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.
But there is another “little while”. Not just the 40 days after his resurrection, for then he was taken from them into heaven. But now, the age of the church, is another “little while” in which we do not see him. Sure, we have his presence in the word, and in the sacraments. And what a comfort that is! But still, there are promises yet to be fulfilled, a greater hope and glory yet to come.
“Behold, I am coming soon!” Jesus says in the last few words of the last book of our Bible. A little while, and you will see him, when he comes again in glory. When he comes with his holy angels and with the trumpet call of God. When all sorrows are washed away. When all corruption is burned in fire. And when he ushers in the New Heaven and New Earth. There we will live in resurrected, glorified bodies, in perfect communion with Father, Son and Spirit, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.
Grief to gladness. Sorrow turned to joy. It is the way of God. It was the path of Christ. And it is the road we too, are on. Taking up our crosses and following him who bore the cross for all. Considering the sufferings of this world not worth comparing to the glory yet to be revealed. Pressing on, never despairing, always in hope, resting secure in Christ.
And this universal picture of a woman in labor. Perhaps there is no greater earthly pain (you moms would have to fill us in). But when the new life arrives, when that precious babe is born, the labor pains are forgotten and the celebration begins. And how many would say that the birth of a child is the greatest day of their life? How much more will it be for us, who labor in this world of sorrows, who shuffle through this vale of tears, who fumble through a life wracked with one trouble and the next.... but who have a hope on the horizon.
So cling to this promise, Christian. Live in that security, that though this life is pain, and troubles are sure to come. Jesus Christ is alive. His sorrow and pain, his suffering and death bring you the promise of joy eternal. Death only had him for a little while. But no more. And in a little while, you too will see him. And no one will be able to take away your joy in him, forever and ever. Amen.