John 16:16-24 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 74)
16″In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” 17Some 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’?” 18They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.” 19Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? 20I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21A 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. 22So 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. 23In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
Let me put this right into your lap from the start:
Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. 8Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. 9For three and a half days men from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. 10The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth. 11But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. 12Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on.” (Revelation 11:7-12, NIV)
This is one example. The world rejoiced when Jesus was crucified. They jeered and sneered. They scoffed and beat their breasts. They shook their heads and mocked. Indeed, the disciples were filled with grief. They witnessed what you and I will not: The death of the Lord of Glory. They saw firsthand, up-close—they were eyewitnesses!—the death of Jesus Christ. I can only imagine. I have the accounts of his death. They were filled with grief, but Jesus says that grief wouldn’t last forever. In fact, he says that grief would be turned to joy! Furthermore, he says that their joy would not be taken away from them. Their joy was incorruptible, indestructible. Sadly, many don’t understand this joy, and never will.
But here’s what I wonder: Do we have a reason to be filled with grief? Or, has the joy experienced by the disciples been carried on even to this day? Let me say it: I don’t believe that we are to get together or go about through our lives weeping and mourning over the death of Jesus. Was it a sad day? Yes. But I don’t think it should cause us to weep. We don’t mourn like those folks who have no hope; the rest of men. Instead, we are filled with inexpressible joy! Peter would later write:
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
We are not mourners and who can take away our joy? Who? None. The Psalmist wrote:
10 Hear, LORD, and be merciful to me;
LORD, be my help.”
11 You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
12 that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
LORD my God, I will praise you forever. (Psalm 30)
Who can take away our joy? What rejoicing world can thunderclap us into despair? What mocking world can heave us into the pit of gloom? He has turned our mourning into dancing because he has triumphed over the evil, powers, principalities, and wickedness of this world. The prince of this world has been crushed. We don’t come together, for example, to mourn and grieve the death of Christ, but to celebrate and dance and rejoice. I don’t think Christians dance nearly enough. Oh, I’m not talking about some maddening choreographed ballet type stuff. I’m talking about the sort of Dancing that Annie Dillard describes in her book An American Childhood. I don’t have the book in front of me, but in one place she describes just running down Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh wildly flailing her arms about and simply running for no other purpose than joy. I don’t think we conservative types, us stiff upper-lip types, us tight-a** types get this. We’re not children, after all. And to our shame we have forgotten precisely what it means to just run around, flailing our arms about, for no other reason than our happiness and joy.
I love how CS Lewis ends the Chronicles of Narnia with the characters just running and running and running and running. We think perhaps that because the world is down we have reason to cry. We think because the sun doesn’t shine we have reason to let the gloom in our minds crowd out the joy. But have we truly considered this joy that cannot be taken away from us? I’ll tell you this, Jesus may be right that no one can take away our joy, but we are rather quick on the trigger when it comes to giving it away.
What I would like Christians to do is recover. We need to recover from our sense of seriousness. We need to recover from our sense of dignity. We need to recover from our sense of pride and self-importance and sing and dance and run around with our arms flailing about like a the tentacles on a slimy octopus. You understand don’t you? David said, “I’ll become even more undignified than this,” after someone despised him for dancing naked before the Ark of the Covenant. You understand don’t you? We think we are better Christians if we have a sense of dignity and seriousness and if we act like adults. But we have a joy that is indestructible and Peter says is inexpressible.
Don’t you think it would be a good idea to spend a lifetime trying to express that which is inexpressible? Don’t you think it would be a valuable use of time trying to discover words that express what we currently have no vocabulary for? Don’t you think it would be a valuable way to expend our daily energy engaged in a non-stop pursuit of ways to express this joy that we have because Jesus has triumphed over evil, over suffering, and over the prince of this world? Don’t you think it is rather a waste of time sitting around clinging tightly to our grief? Don’t you think it would be better to dwell in joy than in Meshek? (Psalm 120)
Why do you think the world continues to gloat over us in their apparent victory? The world has no victory over us. The victory belongs to Jesus and therein we rejoice. The Lamb has triumphed!
Soli Deo Gloria!