“A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.” Then some of His disciples said among themselves, “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 go to the Father ‘?” They said therefore, “What is this that He says,`A little while ‘? We do not know what He is saying.” Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, “Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said,`A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me ‘? “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. “A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. “Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.
The Easter season is not a time that the church has looked at with a sense of profound sadness. There are always two sides to a tragedy wherein God is at work; the darkness beforehand and the light that comes later. Years ago, Jim Elliot and his small group of missionaries would reach out to the indigenous people of a small jungle tribe in eastern Ecuador only to end up dying as they would be murdered in 1956. There was a movie made about this probably around ten years ago called “End of the Spear”; the movie unfortunately was fairly watered-down when it came to the gospel message these men stood for. The story, and you very well may know it, doesn’t end with their deaths; rather, their families (probably the most famous would be Elisabeth Elliot) went back among those very people, the Auca, and the door to the gospel swung wide open. Tragedy gave way to victory, and knowing the hearts of those men, they wouldn’t have changed what took place not only for the privilege of giving their lives for Christ, but also for the outcome of many believers growing out of such calamity.
My goal this week is not to cover every part of the events that happened during the Easter events, but to highlight moments and to hone in on particular verses and passages. There are a lot of people who could do much better on history and prophecy than I could, so if you’ll bear with me, I hope to touch upon significant words and moments and to mine the text.
The disciples would look at this week with a growing sense of alarm for significant reasons, such as: Christ telling them He’s going away; Judas betraying Him and bringing many soldiers to take Jesus in the night; the unjust and unfair trial by Jewish leaders which would be turned over to Pilate, and the mob cry for Christ’s death that would eventually lead to the cross. So many reasons for them to give up hope and to jump ship: that’s the power of incredibly difficult circumstances when coupled with knee-jerk emotional reactions. Truth can quickly fall to the wayside and words of promise go in one ear and out the other when fear mounts.
Let’s focus on v. 20 today as Christ is calling them to hold on to a hope that goes beyond momentary grief, pain, and bitter loss. Jesus begins the verse by comforting them, “Most assuredly.” The Greek version says “amen amen.” That’s the word we end prayer with, right? When we say “Amen” we are giving “a strong affirmation of what (has been) stated.” (BDAG Lexicon, Bibleworks). Jesus says “amen amen” to get their attention to the affirmation of what He is about to say.
His words to the disciples first were, “You will weep and lament.” He knows how things are going to happen. We know to weep means crying in sadness; lamenting is what one does when they mourn in sorrowful tones. The word for lament is used in Matt. 11:17 and Luke 7:32 from the same conversation speaking of a funeral dirge. They would be crying and they would be consoling one another; they would not be passing it off and saying, “Oh, He’ll rise again in three days, we’re not worried.” When we celebrate the Easter story, we see the whole picture and know how it played out; for them, they hoped He’d rise but they had no absolute confirmation until they saw Him. Easter is essentially a time of joy for us; I can’t really remember ever seeing anyone being sad about His death because we all knew He’d rise again. The disciples of Jesus, on the other hand, went through a roller coaster of emotions.
In contrast, Jesus tells His disciples, “But the world will rejoice.” The world is referring to a hostile environment towards God, lost in sin and separate from Him. Every Christian is called to not “love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in Him” (1 John 2:15). There is definitely a difference in how we are to understand “world” as the hostile system towards God, for if it were always referred to in the same fashion, John 3:16 “for God so loved the world,” might seem to defy 1 John 2:15, “do not love the world.” The “world” of John 3:16 is speaking of humanity itself, especially believers, versus the hostile world system as used in other passages (though it’s the same word, kosmos). The hostile system will rejoice, meaning that it will be glad or in a state of happiness. This response is the rejoicing of a battle won in the day and yet the greater war yet to be lost. At the resurrection, the sense of loss would be immediate for Christ’s spiritual opposition.
“You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.” The disciples would be sad and distressed by what had taken place. Notice that Jesus says “your sorrow” almost as a contrast to the world’s rejoicing: the world’s rejoicing would not prolong and would not translate into joy. “Your sorrow will be turned into joy.” It doesn’t say that they’d move on from their sorrow and later find joy; it says that their sorrow will be turned into joy.
How does sorrow become joy? Sorrow becomes joy when what once was a trigger for sadness now is a cause for gladness. We share that joy with the disciples today; when we look at the cross, all we see is hope. We don’t look at the cross like the low-level method of execution that it was; we cling to it and bow before the Christ on the cross. We sing of the nails and the shame He bore and glorify His death because it was glorious in what it produced. We rejoice as we worship the risen Savior and see an empty tomb. All of the hostility leading up to His death only brought victory in the end. Sorrow was turned into joy and that joy has never gone back to being a place of sorrow, has it? Yet for the world, that hostile system, and Satan and his demonic horde, the cross at one point was a cause of joy but now has become the greatest source of their sorrow. Christ stands victorious and we await the consummation of our hope in Him in glory.
Today’s prayer comes from Psalm 23:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.