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John 16:20, 22
Dear Friends in Christ,
The disciples were very confused. They couldn’t figure out what Jesus meant when he said that in a little while they would not see him, but then, in a little while they would see him again.
Having just celebrated Lent and Easter, we know what he meant. We have the benefit of hind sight. We know that in just a few hours after this conversation Jesus would be betrayed and arrested. He would be arraigned before the Sanhedrin and condemned for telling the truth, that he is the Messiah, the Son of God. Then Pilate would give in to political pressure and by that same time the next day his lifeless body would be taken down from the cross, his body laid in Joseph’s tomb, and the stone rolled over the entrance with a guard posted. In less the 24 hours, they would see him no more.
The worst part of all this would not be having to watch helplessly as Jesus suffered injustice, beating and the painful crucifixion. The worst part wasn’t watching Joseph and Nicodemus put his body in the tomb. The worst part was, as Jesus said, that in the midst of their grief the world was rejoicing. Their leaders were celebrating. Their wicked plan worked. Jesus was dead and buried. They thought that the trouble he caused them, pointing out their hypocrisy, disrupting their income from the buying and selling in the temple, was over. They must have been laughing at the disciples, one betrayed him and then hung himself, and the others ran away and were still in hiding. Because of their lack of understanding and the weakness of their faith it would seem to the disciples that maybe the world was right; maybe Jesus wasn’t the Messiah after all.
In a little while the disciples wouldn’t see Jesus. His body would be in the tomb. But, in a little while, just parts of three days, maybe about 36 hours, they would see him again. Jesus rose from the dead and began to appear to people. He appeared to the women as they left the tomb to go to tell the disciples what they had seen, and what the angel had told them. He appeared to Mary Magdalene as she wept at the tomb. He appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and then to the disciples that were gathered in the upper room Easter evening. The world had laughed at them and mocked them, but now it was the disciple’s turn to laugh, to laugh with joy and amazement. It had been only a little while and now they saw him again, risen from the dead, standing in front of them and eating with them. The joy they experienced was a joy that no one could take away.
The facts of Jesus’ death and resurrection are the only things that can give us the kind of joy that no one can take from us. His death and resurrection prove that he is God’s Messiah and that he did pay for the sin of the world. He has destroyed death and made it a sleep from which we will awake when he calls us forth from the grave. He did what he came to earth to do. He has destroyed the devil’s work. His death and resurrection mean that, although we don’t see him now, in a little while we will see him again.
The facts of Jesus’ death and resurrection help us when we face the death of a loved one who trusted in Jesus. Yes, we weep and mourn, just as Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus. But we do not mourn like those who have no hope. We know the separation that has been caused by death will last only a little while. In a little while Jesus will come again in glory and will raise all the dead. Our grief will turn to joy. We will have the joyous experience of seeing Jesus as the disciples did. We will have the joy of being reunited, not just with our loved one who died trusting in Jesus, but with all those who trust in Jesus—Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses and David, Elijah and Elisha, Peter, James and John, and countless others. Now is our time of grief, but in a little while, our grief will be turned into inexpressible joy that no one will ever be able to take away from us.
The facts of Jesus’ death and resurrection help us also when we face trouble or persecution in this life. When the world mocks us and laughs at us because they think that what the Bible says about Jesus is a fairy tale and believing in him is for weak people, we might feel sorrow while the world rejoices. When pro-abortion laws, and anti-marriage laws are passed, and fellow Christians are jailed or sued for standing up for their faith, we might grieve while the world rejoices, thinking it has won a great victory. But Jesus’ death and resurrection remind us that whatever trial or trouble we face, whatever form of persecution might come our way, it can last only a little while. As Luther wrote, “take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife, let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won. The kingdom ours remaineth.”
No one can take away the joy that is ours as we think about that kingdom, the kingdom Jesus has won for us and is preparing for us. We heard about it in our second lesson today. The New Jerusalem. The place where there is no need for a temple because we are always in the presence of God. The place where there is no need for the sun because the glory of the Lord provides light. The place where there is no mourning, death, crying or pain because God has made everything new; all the effects of sin have been purged away. The place where there is nothing to make us sad, so that our hearts are filled with pure joy, not just for a little while, but for ever and ever. That’s why Paul says that our present sufferings aren’t worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us. Our grief will turn into joy.
There was a little while when the disciples did not see Jesus, while his body was in the tomb. But then they saw him again, resurrected and victorious. Jesus lets them know that there would be another “little while” when they would not see him. He was returning to the Father. After 40 days of appearing to his disciples he ascended into heaven and they were no longer able to see him. He returned to his rightful place in heaven at the right hand of the Father. This little while of not seeing Jesus would last the rest of their earthly lives. But, they would see him again. The moment they died they would see him, as Stephen did while he was being stoned to death. The moment they died they would, like the criminal on the cross next to Jesus, be with him in paradise.
Because Jesus is at the right hand of the Father in heaven, we have joy in the midst of our little while of grief, of living in this troubled world. As Jesus reminded the disciples, it is a good thing that he returned to the Father where we can’t see him. When he returned to the father he sent the disciples the Holy Spirit, opening their understanding, and enabling them to record the Scriptures for us. At the Father’s side, he rules over everything that is happening in the universe to make sure that it serves our good so that when the little while of our lives is over we get to live and reign with him forever. At the Father’s side, he intercedes for us so that the devil’s accusations fall on deaf ears, and so that we can trust the promise he gave, that whatever we ask in his name will be given to us. Knowing that Jesus is ruling all things for our good, preparing a place for us, and interceding for us so that our every prayer is heard and answered in the best possible way, gives us joy even now when we don’t see him. Imagine how much greater our joy will be when we do see him.
For us, 2000 years seems like a long time. For us, a life time of 70, or 80, or 90 years seems like a long time. But compared to eternity, it is truly a little while. In a little while we too will see Jesus, either at our death, or when he comes again in glory. Now is our time of grief, now the world seems to be rejoicing while we mourn, but when we see him again our hearts will rejoice and no one will take our joy away, not ever.