Sorrow Turned Into Joy!

The Fourth Sunday of Easter  (Jubilate)

John 16:16–22

16   [Jesus said:] “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.”  17 So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?”  18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’?  We do not know what he is talking about.”  19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (ESV)

Introduction: You Have Sorrow Now!

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief—thus the prophet Isaiah describes the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ (53:3). We should not be surprised, then, to hear Jesus say to His disciples: you will be sorrowful. After all, He did speak of disciples being like their teacher and servants being like their master (see Matthew 10:24).  As our divine Master and Teacher Jesus was acquainted with grief, so shall all who follow Him. Even Peter, James, John, and the other disciples would have their days of sorrow. And this word of our Lord applies to us too, that we also should have our days of sorrow.

These Days will Come.

You will weep and lament—thus says the Lord to you today! At times, you will be miserable. Your Saviour gives you no promise of a life free of misery. Indeed, it is wrong to think we will be free from distress just because we are Christians. On the contrary, as we read in the Book of Acts: through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (14:22). 

We have our inner suffering and distress over our grievous failures at being the Lord’s disciples. A strong faith in God and a fervent love for others are to be the two chief characteristics of our lives. But we must confess that often we do not trust God to provide for us and to keep His promises, and we do not love and serve our neighbour selflessly, as our Lord would have us do. And so we experience the inner turmoil that comes from turning our desires, emotions, and actions inward upon ourselves in sinful self-centeredness.

And then, there are external events that distress us. Sometimes, I don’t even want to read the news, with all its talk of social unrest, political upheaval, economic uncertainty, and of course the pandemic. And there are also our personal troubles, from family and work problems to poor health to the death of loved ones.

Of course, we do not live our lives in a perpetual state of grief and sorrow. We do have an abundance of pleasant, cheerful days, for which we should be thankful to God. But when days of sorrow do come, we have no reason to complain. Rather, we are to pour out our hearts before God. We are to remember that these days have a hidden blessing with them. And we must trust that God has not forgotten us during these days. No, God has not left us—He remains with us always, even in days of misery.

These Days will be Sorrowful.

It is tempting to think that as Christians, we should be able to ignore days of sorrow and to be just as joyful as normal. And of course, St. Paul does instruct us to rejoice in the Lord always! (Philippians 4:4). But that does not mean we should ignore our sorrow, as thought we should not feel our suffering and hurt.

Believing this will only make things worse. Remember how in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus Himself was in such agony that His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground (see Luke 22:44). And then there is our Lord’s illustration from today’s Gospel: When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come

The application is simple: days of sorrow really do come, and with true distress. Why? Because there is a period of time, a little while, in which the disciples of Jesus do not see Him. Jesus describes His suffering and death as a little while. During this little while, He goes to the Father to offer His lifeblood into death for our sins. This little while was filled with great grief for the disciples. And now, this little while of Christ’s suffering and the lamentation of the disciples corresponds to the little while of the Church’s and every individual Christian’s suffering because of sin.

We, too, have our times of grief, when we not only suffer but when our Lord Himself seems to have gone away. Maybe God hides Himself from us in our great need. Perhaps dangerous and inconceivable things happen to us, beyond our strength to cope. Sometimes, we seem to pray in vain. And so we ask: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? (Psalm 22:1). Or we experience the soul’s powerlessness. All feelings of comfort are gone. Only the temptations are strong and powerful. Where is Jesus? We no longer see Him.

And the world rejoices, mocking and taunting us, saying to usall the day long, “Where is your God?” (see Psalm 42:10). Oh, the days of sorrow are indeed difficult.

And Yet, These Days are Short.

And yet, these days of sorrow are short. Remember: Jesus says: A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me. The disciples wondered, “What does He mean?” Jesus explains what He means: You will see me again. He is speaking of His resurrection and of His second coming.

As Jesus rose from the dead on Easter, so shall He come again. Until then, we see Him with eyes of faith, as He comes in His Word, in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, in His Church. To us, the day of our Lord’s return seems long-delayed, but it will only be a little while until we see the very face of Jesus; when we shall see Jesus as He is; when we shall see His glory (see Revelation 22:4; 1 John 3:2; John 17:24).

And the time till then is short. The Lord is near. This can sound strange when we have our days of sorrow—or maybe even nights. In his suffering, Job complained: the night is long, and I am full of tossing till the dawn (7:4). A single sleepless night can seem infinitely long. And what shall we say about a year, even a decade or more of sickness, sorrow, and regret?

And still it is a short time! Oh, when one stands in the midst of it, the time does not seem short. But in reality, the time is truly short when measured by God’s standard, the standard of truth. And because God has redeemed us in Christ, we can begin to use this standard already on earth. We learn to see how short time is when we reach old age and look back, saying with the psalmist: The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away (Psalm 90:10).  And when we learn to measure by God’s standard, then we can say with St. Paul: For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,  as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal  (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

The things that we see and experience in this world last but a moment—so says St. Paul. But is it really so? Our troubles and distresses continue year after year. And yet, Paul says that our afflictions are light and momentary, like the blink of an eye, seen from eternity, from above, in the light of truth. Our present troubles have nothing to compare with the glory which awaits us.

The Show Days of Sorrow will Turn into joy.

The times of sorrow are short and eventually they will turn into joy. Jesus says: Your sorrow will turn into joy as when a woman gives birth to a child: when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. The disciples are on the way to a joy that cannot be taken from them. Their joy started on Easter Day and then continued with their new life in Christ in His Church and with the expectation of the great day of our Lord’s return.

And you and I share in that Easter joy! We share in it now, amidst all our sorrows. Oh, we do not pretend that we have no distresses; rather, we feel our afflictions keenly. But, like St. Paul, we also rejoice in the Lord always, for we know that Christ cannot be taken from us! The Name of the Holy Triune God has been placed upon us in Holy Baptism, and so we live in Christ. We are His holy flock. He answers for our sins, and all is forgiven. And now, suffering itself binds us together. We suffer with Christ in order that we will be glorified with Him. 

In life’s sorrows, then, do not despair, do not lose heart. Remember, out of His great love for you, your Lord Jesus died on the cross, suffering the intense pain of all the world’s sin. And after three days, Jesus rose again to give you the great and abundant joy of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

And now in just a little while, you will see your Lord Jesus in all His glory. The anguish you experience now because of your sins and adversities will be completely swallowed up by the eternal joy of being in the presence of Jesus forever. What a day that will be! You have sorrow now—in this little while called life—but the day is coming when you shall see your Lord and your heart[] will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. Yes, in just a little while you will no longer [remember] the anguish of life’s sorrows, for the joy of seeing Jesus.  Amen.