John: Grief Will Turn to Joy

Read John 16:16-33

The disciples still don’t quite understand what Jesus is telling them. While they have faith that one day it will all make sense, at this point in the story they are following without knowing what will come next. Jesus explains that He will go away and come back in “a little while.” Those who knew Him best couldn’t fully understand what this meant. He sees their grief, their pain. His response is soothing for my soul and I pray it will minister to you.

How long is “a little while?” Please don’t ask me to put add an appointment on my calendar for what this means! I’m with the disciples:

They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.” John 16:18

In my wild imagination, I see John sitting there alone with paper and quill as the Holy Spirit reminds him of the hours leading to Jesus’ betrayal and arrest. With perfect clarity, John recalls the moment when they were struggling to get their minds around the concept. Just how long is a little while? It’s troubling and Jesus knows it.

Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A 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. John 16:20-21

Jesus chooses to compare their experience to a woman giving birth to a child. When I first read this I thought it was odd that He would use such an analogy, but then I thought about it a bit more. It’s a perfect comparison. As a husband and father, I know my wife endured labor and delivery for our four children. I was there for 3 of the 4 deliveries (thanks to the military) and watched as she withstood the pain associated with delivering our beautiful daughters.

I know it was hard, but I can’t actually know the pain. Very soon they will watch Jesus endure the cross. Their pain will be great, they would know grief like never before. In my imagination I see tears forming in their eyes. They’re listening to their Master and have an intuitive sense that He is speaking words of finality. They are beginning to sense a heaviness they can’t bear alone.

Here’s the key point I hope you’ll appreciate here: Jesus doesn’t shy away from grief. He doesn’t shrug it off as a useless emotion that hides a lack of faith, knowledge, or wisdom. Grief is a human emotion that Jesus, God Incarnate, knows and understands. One of the many reasons He came and walked on earth in human form.

Instead of telling them to simply paste a smile on and quote Paul with words like, “all things God works for the good,” Jesus embraces their grief. He wades into the turbulent water and holds His brothers tight, then gives them this amazing promise:

Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. John 16:22

My prayer is that my words help to highlight the significance of this incredible promise:

no one will take away your joy

Keep on reading, Jesus isn’t done yet!

Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. John 16:23-24

Jesus tells His closest friends on earth that He’s leaving and though they will grieve on that day, this is the best possible scenario for building His kingdom on earth. Have you ever asked yourself this question: Is my joy complete? If not, why is that? Have I heard, yet refuse to fully believe? Take a few minutes to wrestle with that thought for a while, then read the rest of this passage.

Not only did He promise the Advocate would come, but He also gives them this rather impossible idea:

In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. John 16:26-27

God the Father loves you because you have loved Jesus.

This is amazing and wonderful, but John’s memory isn’t quite complete. I’m thinking that Jesus saw their faces light up, their tears wiped away. They get it! They have no doubt they love Jesus. They’ve been doing ministry with Him for the past three years. Yes! This is great! Their response is predictable:

This makes us believe that you came from God. John 16:30

Oops! Who said that! John didn’t point a finger, but my guess is either Peter or Thomas let the words slip out. Jesus looks at them with one of those expressions that said, “Oh, I see, now you believe…hmmm”

From the high to the low, Jesus has some final words in this section to keep them humble, to keep us all humble.

“Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:31-33

With those words, John puts the quill down. When he picks it up again we will hear a prayer that I think is the most significant prayer in the Bible. That’s the next chapter. For now, how did these words make you feel? The rollercoaster ride from grief to complete joy comes to a sudden halt with the idea that they will be scattered, they will abandon Jesus at just the wrong time.

I don’t know about you, but I’m worn out chasing these thoughts going up and down. In essence, Jesus tells us that we are loved, we will have complete joy in Him, in spite of our faults and mistakes. Yes, we are all sinners, but He knows that. Take heart! Jesus has overcome the world. He has all the grace you need this day.

Lord, may we fall into your arms each and every day knowing that you see our missteps and love us anyway. I pray that we would believe and in that belief, our joy would be complete. I’m completely confident that when that joy enters our hearts, the world will want in on the action. When they ask, give us the strength, courage, and humility to point them to Jesus.

Thoughts about serving others

This link includes a list of posts about Serving the Least, the Lost, and the Lonely.

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Let the Word evoke words. May your life encourage lives.

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