The Gospel of John XXXIII:
Sorrow into Joy
September 27, 2009
Main Point(s) of sermon:
· While we are called to pursue God as our highest joy, we should not expect that joy to be fully seen in this life – Jesus promised that we will know sorrow and trouble.
· Sorrow is a promised part of life. God doesn’t promise a life of ease, but peace.
· God takes that sorrow and converts it to joy.
· We chose temporary sorrow and eternal joy over temporary happiness and eternal sorrow.
Objectives of sermon:
· To encourage us to endure and thrive through the sorrows of life, knowing that they will be turned into joy.
· Leftovers, esp. marked previous sermons (incl. “peace”)
· 085 (for Gospel of Joy)
· 2 Cor 4:16-18 and commentaries
Scripture reading: John 16:20-22
I talk a lot about pursuing God as our highest joy –it’s becoming my life mission to preach a “gospel of joy,” that we are most happy when we are most fully pursuing him.
· But there is a vital caveat, clarification: we may not be happy right away.
In this sermon, we will look at some less “claimed” promises: You will have sorrow, you will have trouble. And how yet even these are part of God’s gospel of joy.
Life is not always easy, especially when it seems like the life is easy and good for those who ignore you and hard for those who love you.
· May I speak words of encouragement, that will allow us not only to survive in our earthly trials, but thrive.
A “little” while?
Since chapter 13, Jesus has been speaking just to his disciples. This is all part of his final moments with him before his death and resurrection, preparing them for all that is to come.
Q This passage has puzzled scholars – as I read it, ask yourself if “little while” refers to 3 days or going on 2000 years.
John 16:16-19 16 ¶ “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” 17 Some 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’?” 18 They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.” 19 Jesus 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’?
In the larger passage, esp. when he talks more about prayer, it really seems like “3 days” and that is the most common interpretation. Yet there is a good case for “2,000 years”:
· “In that day” is typically eschatological.
· Other eschatological imagery and reference (such as childbirth and rejoicing heart).
· The promise of no sorrow and joy never being taken fit heaven.
So what is it, 3 days or 2,000 years? I think both: Like many things about the “new era” it is now and not yet. Jesus has overcome the world, we are filled with his Spirit, yet things are not yet the way they will be.
John’s audience (a HERMENEUTICAL note)
On one hand, we are not in the same situation as the disciples: We are not hours away from watch Jesus be crucified and having our entire world crumble down. “Weep and mourn” was not a figure of speech for them.
On the other hand, our situation very much matches that of John’s original audience. The reason John repeats “a little while” a bazillion times is they were asking the same question.
That to say: we may look to this passage to speak to us in our sorrow and suffering and be encouraged. You may think that’s obvious, but it is vital if we are to be good exegetes.
· This is important to bring up because sometimes we are too quick to directly apply statements in the Bible to us.
One pastor I listened to didn’t do that work, and hence applied this passage to us inaccurately, and hence gave a weaker sermon.
Jesus’ talks about suffering
So what is it that Jesus teaches us about suffering and sorrow?
John 16:20 20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.
Also at the end of the passage (we are skipping several verse because Jesus talks about prayer, which we covered last month):
John 16:33 “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.”
There are several important things here:
1. Suffering is not an illusion.
The sorrows of life are very real. The Bible in general and this passage specifically recognizes “you will have trouble in this world.”
This is in contrast to ancient Gnosticism and modern Buddhism. At the Co-op there is a book “Suffering is Optional.” No it’s not. Two of the main points are “believe nothing” and “nothing is personal.” Sounds good in theory, until someone punches you.
The Bible’s explanation is that suffering is a very real part of life, but it is not God’s intention. Sorrow reminds us that we live in a world corrupted by sin and in need of redemption.
2. Suffering is part of the Christian life.
As I said, “You will grieve” and “you will have trouble” are some of the less “claimed” promises of the Bible. Jesus promises trouble, he tried to dissuade people from following.
· If things are going well, be happy, but beware the false teaching that that is what we are promised.
When we evangelize we need to be careful not to give the impression that “Jesus will make it all better.” Come to Jesus for Jesus, follow God because he is God.
· He may not save your marriage, but he will walk with you. You may still die of cancer, but he will be with you.
Interview with Steve Taylor: Christian films tend to use “deus ex machina,” meaning God makes everything better. But in reality God promises struggles as part of the faith.
Sorrow turned to joy
The promise is not freedom from suffering and sorrow but they will not last forever and they will not be wasted.
John 16:21-22 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. 22 So 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.
No one in their right mind will deny a woman’s suffering is very real, nor that it’s significant. That’s not the point, the point is that it has a purpose, and that makes all the difference.
Our suffering will be converted to joy, and that makes it worth it. But it is important to understand that some of this “conversion” happens “here and now,” and some is in eternity.
· In the same way that “in a little while” is now and not yet, so is “no one will take away your joy.”
Types of sorrow
There are different types of sorrow. Eternally, the way they bring joy is similar, but in the temporal they are different:
1. Sorrows of repentance
When we sin there should be a genuine sorrow for our rebellion and how we have hurt others.
James 4:8-10 Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
This is meant to be a short sorrow, used for its purpose then forgotten forever. The enemy would like to change it to lasting regret and self-loathing.
2 Corinthians 7:10 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
The temporal joy of this sorrow is almost immediate as its accomplishes its purpose.
2. Sorrows of life (10/28/08 sermon covers this)
Some sorrows are part of life. They are experienced by Christians and non-Christians alike. Sometimes they are caused by our sin, other’s sin, or there is no discernable cause.
In any case, it is God’s promise that no pain need be wasted:
Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
God is in the business of redeeming pain. He has done it for the entire world and he can do it for us. Sometimes this can only be seen in the light of eternity, but in most cases, it begins now.
For us to have the best chance of having our grief turned to joy on earth, there are some key things we must ask:
1. Was this suffering was self-inflicted? Perhaps ask others as well – lots of people blame everyone else.
2. What you can learn or how can you grow?
3. How can your community help? Sorrow and trials can drive us to each other. Remember the post 9/11 sense of community?
4. How can God use your suffering to help others?
5. How can you Lean into God during this?
The enemy would love to use suffering to drive you further from God, but God would use it to drive you closer to him. God can make even our suffering sweet if it drives us to him.
3. Sorrows of righteousness
What I mean by this is that living righteously means not doing some things that we would very much like to do. In some cases that means choosing between “okay” and “the best.”
In other cases, it means avoiding sin. Because we understand the nature of God’s commands, we know that these things will bring us grief, but in the short term, sin is fun.
John 16:20a I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices.
Yes, I am taking this out of context, but the point of this is that righteousness is the ultimate “delayed gratification.”
· In the end, we will find we got everything we wanted and lost nothing we didn’t – in the long run.
The world rejoices now, they have their fun now. But what a short lived fun it is! In a little while, their rejoicing will become grief. We don’t say this with glee but sorrow.
In most cases, we will see this in our life time, but sometimes we won’t. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim Elliot (martyred for the Gospel.)
4. Sorrows of separation
This isn’t one we think of often, but like the disciples, we are separated from seeing our Savior and our Father face to face. It feels like being apart from our family on a long business trip.
Psalm 42:1-2 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
We have an advantage on the psalmist because we now have the Holy Spirit in us, yet the closer we get to him, the more we feel that distance.
· In this world, we feel glimpse of joy that causes us to look forward to the fullness of his presence in eternity.
Sorrow converted into joy
But even better than the temporal joy is the eternal joy. The entire Christian life is based on the expectation of eternity (as with Jim Elliot quote). This is why Paul says elsewhere that without the resurrection we are all fools.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV 16 ¶ So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 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.
The perspective here is that if you lump all of our sufferings and sorrows together and put them on a scale against eternity, it wouldn’t even register. And Paul knew suffering:
2 Corinthians 11:23-27 I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
Not only are these things “the momentary lightness of trails,” but they are the actual things being converted into the “weight of glory.” “Your grief will be turned to joy.”
We don’t know how that works, but Paul, like Jesus before him knew that the sorrows themselves will become joy. This is what Lewis meant when he said:
They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me but have this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death.
The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already confirms his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises and the twighlight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven”, and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.’[The Great Divorce, p. 67-68]
So the point of this sermon is:
John 16:33 33 “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.”
Yes, things may be hard. They may suck, but if your life is submitted to God, he is taking these things and making you better, you are becoming gold.
Q & A
Think through your sorrows: Trust him to turn them to joy. This doesn’t mean they go away, but that he will make them bear something so much better.