Let There Be Joy!
This section—John 16:16-33—concludes the Upper Room Discourse and deals primarily with the emotions of the disciples. They were sorrowing, they were confused about some of Jesus’ teaching, and they were afraid.
It is an encouragement to me to know that the disciples were real men with real problems, yet the Lord was able to use them. We sometimes get the false impression that these men were different from us, especially endowed with spiritual knowledge and courage; but such was not the case. They were human!
One of the recurring themes in this section is joy (John 16:20-22, 24, 33). The Eleven were certainly not experiencing much joy that night! But what Jesus said to them eventually made a difference in their lives, just as it can make a difference in our lives today. Tenderly and patiently, our Lord explained how His people could have joy in their lives.
There Is a Principle to Grasp
For a little while you will not see Me; but after that, a time will come when you will see Me again.
Some of His Disciples: What does He mean? “I’ll be here, and then I won’t be here, because I’ll be with the Father”?
Other Disciples: What is He saying? “A little while”? We don’t understand.
The promise of eternity is a reminder that God’s children are made for a renewed world. There is great comfort amid fear, knowing believers will be reunited with Jesus and joined with the Father. As believers labor together in this world—enduring pain, loss, and unfulfilled desires—they should be encouraged that in eternity all needs will be fulfilled in the presence of God.
Jesus knew they had questions to ask of Him, so He approached them.
Jesus: Are you trying to figure out what I mean when I say you will see Me in a little while? I tell you the truth, a time is approaching when you will weep and mourn while the world is celebrating. You will grieve, but that grief will give birth to great joy. In the same way that a woman labors in great pain during childbirth only to forget the intensity of the pain when she holds her child, when I return, your labored grief will also change into a joy that cannot be stolen.
John 16:16-22 (VOICE)
The principle is simply this: God brings joy to our lives, not by substitution, but by transformation. His illustration of the woman giving birth makes this clear. The same baby that caused the pain also caused the joy. In birth, God does not substitute something else to relieve the mother’s pain. Instead, He uses what is there already but transforms it.
Every parent knows what it is like to have an unhappy child because a toy is broken or a playmate has gone home. The parent can do one of two things:
- Substitute something else for the broken toy or absent friend, or
- Transform the situation into a new experience for the unhappy child.
If Mother always gets a new toy for the child each time a toy is broken, that child will grow up expecting every problem to be solved by substitution. If Mother always phones another playmate and invites him or her over, the child will grow up expecting people to come to his rescue whenever there is a crisis. The result either way is a spoiled child who will not be able to cope with reality.
The way of substitution for solving problems is the way of immaturity. The way of transformation is the way of faith and maturity. We cannot mature emotionally or spiritually if somebody is always replacing our broken toys.
Jesus did not say that the mother’s sorrow (pain) was replaced by joy, but that the sorrow was transformed into joy. The same baby that caused the pain also caused the joy! And so it is in the Christian life: God takes seemingly impossible situations, adds the miracle of His grace, and transforms trial into triumph and sorrow into joy. “The Lord thy God turned the curse into a blessing” (Deut. 23:5; see Neh. 13:2).
Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave, and Potiphar put him into prison as a criminal; but God transformed that hopeless situation of defeat into victory. Egypt’s persecution of Israel only caused them to multiply and prosper the more. King Saul’s murderous pursuit of David only made him more a man of God and helped produce the psalms that encourage our hearts today. Even Jesus took the cross, a symbol of defeat and shame, and transformed it into a symbol of victory and glory.
Now that we understand this principle, we can better understand the problems and questions of the disciples.
In John 16:16, Jesus announced that in a little while, they would not see Him; then, in a little while, they would see Him. It was a deliberately puzzling statement (John 16:25, He spoke in proverbs [“dark sayings”]) and the disciples did not understand. This also encourages me as I study my Bible and find statements that I cannot understand. Even the disciples had their hours of spiritual ignorance!
What did Jesus mean?
Possibly He was talking about the soon-to-occur events in connection with His death and resurrection. After His burial, they would not see Him for a little while; but then He would rise from the dead and they would see Him again. He had told them on previous occasions that He would rise from the dead after three days, but His words did not sink into their minds and hearts.
However, I think that Jesus was speaking primarily about His return to the Father (“Because I go to the Father”—John 16:16). This ties in with John 16:10—“Because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more.” The disciples did not live to see the return of Christ, but they did die and see Him when they arrived in glory. In comparison to eternity, the time that the church has been awaiting the Lord’s return has really been but “a little while” (see 2 Cor. 4:16-18). In fact, the phrase “a little while” is used in this very sense in Hebrews 10:37—“For in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay.”
Instead of asking Jesus to explain His words, the men began to discuss it among themselves, almost as though they were embarrassed to admit their ignorance. However, you do not get very far by exchanging your ignorance! It is when we come to the Lord and ask for His help that we learn the important lessons of life.
Egypt was glad when Israel departed (Ps. 105:38), and the world was glad when Jesus Christ moved off the scene. Both the religious and political leaders of that day expected to see the early believers die out and the “Christian movement” disappear; but such was not the case. Jesus sent His Holy Spirit to His church, and the church is carrying the Word of His grace to the ends of the earth. The early believers even rejoiced when they were persecuted (Acts 5:41).
To the mother experiencing birth pains, every minute may seem an hour. Our concept of time changes with our feelings. Thirty minutes in the dentist chair may seem like hours, while hours fishing or dining with friends may seem like a very short time. The mother feels as though the birth is taking a long time, when really it may be only “a little while.” When the baby has been born, pain is forgotten as joy fills her heart.
The world today does not want Jesus Christ or His church. The world is rejoicing while we are suffering, longing for our Lord to return. In fact, all of creation is suffering “birth pangs” because of sin, awaiting His return (Rom. 8:22). When the Bridegroom is away, the bride mourns (Matt. 9:15). But, in “a little while” He shall return and we shall go with Him to heaven to enjoy the Father’s house.
While the immediate application may have been to the sorrowing hearts of the disciples, the ultimate application is to all of God’s people as they await the coming of Jesus Christ. To us, it seems like a long wait; but God does not measure time as we do (see 2 Peter 3). But while we are waiting, we must deal with our trials and hurts on the basis of transformation and not substitution, if we expect to mature in the Christian life.
DECLARATION OF FAITH
My heart rejoices in Jesus, and no one can take my joy from me.
I pray this declaration of faith in Jesus’ name!
To Be Continued…