Jesus says farewell – Part Sixteen (John 16)

We’re continuing in our series through Jesus’ farewell speech in John 14-17. 

Yesterday, we saw how Jesus comforted his disciples ahead of what would be a long, dark weekend. He pointed forward to his resurrection – when they would see him again – as a time of joy in their future. Not just because they’d see him (briefly) again, because it would change everything. And we were reminded that for us, that joy doesn’t lie in our future, but in our present. The resurrection is the source of our present joy.

The resurrection is the basis of our future hope

But we still have a future hope, because we haven’t yet received the full measure of our salvation. There’s a tension between the already and the not-yet – precisely because we are not yet face to face with Jesus, in the age to come.

Jesus has won the war. The enemy has been defeated; but we’re now in the mopping up phase. And this has been going on for some time. Nearly two thousand years and counting from when Jesus rose from the dead and when he comes again.

So again, like the disciples, we find ourselves waiting for a future hope.

John 16:16 “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”

We, too,  “see Jesus no more.” Again, we look forward to the time when, after a little while, we will see him. So the comfort Jesus gave to his disciples’ in the face of their upcoming long weekend gives us a model for the even ‘longer weekend’ we are now living in.

For the disciples, the message wasn’t simply “you’ll mourn for a few days, then you’ll rejoice, end of story.” The next chapter (17) makes it clear that beyond the joy of the resurrection and the new era it ushers in, there will still be struggles, opposition and suffering. And so the words of comfort Jesus gave to his disciples for those three days could also comfort them – and comfort us – as we await Jesus’ final return. The sorrow-which-turns-to-joy motif that played out over three days in the life of the disciples is still being played out on a much larger scale over the past two thousand years.

The pain will often be intense now, but the end result is worth it

Jesus uses the illustration of a woman in labour (reminiscent of Paul’s use in Romans 8:22, as we saw a few weeks ago):

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.”

Now if you haven’t witnessed a woman in labour, you won’t get how true this is. Childbirth is an unbelievably painful experience. But women somehow forget how bad it all was! I think there must be some kind of hormone that kicks in and induces partial memory loss. I mean, if you’re not a first-born child, that hormone is the only reason you were born.

Women forget. Men don’t. I’m still traumatised from the birth of both of my kids. But a few days after a long and complicated sixteen-hour labour, my wife was talking about one particular part in the middle of it all when the pethidine had kicked in and she’d finished vomiting – about how that part “wasn’t too bad.” She thought that bit went for a few hours. By my count it was twenty minutes. Women are programmed to forget, once the baby is born. Which is why we have a second child.

That, says Jesus, is how it will be at his resurrection. The disciples’ pain now will seem a distant memory at the joy of his return. We, too, experience pain, struggle, and suffering as we await Jesus’ final reappearance. And yet, from Jesus’ resurrection appearance to his disciples two millennia ago, we draw a certain hope for the future. Our pain will seem like a distant memory the moment Jesus returns.

This isn’t to say that our present suffering is insignificant. To us, now, it is real, and may well be big. Try telling a woman in labour: “what’s a bit of pain now when you’ve got a beautiful new baby to look forward to.” Actually, don’t, unless you know she’s securely restrained. By comparing the disciples’ present grief to the pain of labour, Jesus acknowledges that the pain is painful; that our suffering will be difficult to endure.

And yet – a woman in labour draws her strength to endure the pain from the hope of a baby at the end of it all. We draw our strength from the future hope of seeing Jesus again; of being with him for all eternity. A hope that is certain, because the resurrection proved that Jesus was as good as his word.

When it gets hard, focus on the end.

We’ve been given the strength to endure

Yet as well as having that vision of the future to motivate us, we’ve also been given extra strength to endure in the here and now. You see, despite Jesus’ encouragement, the disciples failed during the first long weekend of testing. Jesus predicted as much:

John 16:32a “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.”

Two chapters later, we read about how they fled when the soldiers came; that even the feisty Peter denied knowing Jesus three times.

But after Jesus’ resurrection, after he returns to heaven, we read in the book of Acts of these same disciples willing to face death for the sake of Jesus. We read of how Peter and John are brought before the Sanhedrin and ordered not to preach about Jesus.

Acts 4:19-20 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

What changed? What was it that enabled them to stand firm this time around?

The answer is: the event that changed history. The power of the resurrection which brought them into a new kind of relationship with God. The power of the resurrection that changed their thinkingso that now they truly understood that God was in full control of his world. The power of the resurrection, which enabled the coming of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to live within them.

This is what gives us the confidence that we won’t fail and be scattered like the disciples after Jesus’ arrest. We, too – like those same disciples after Pentecost – have been given that strength to endure whatever opposition we are faced with.

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