5th Sunday of Easter – C LSB #’s 685, 461:1, 5, 7-8, 818
Text – John 16:20
Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep & lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.
SORROW TURNING INTO JOY
It was the 1950’s & W. E. Sangster, a British pastor, noticed something that didn’t quite seem right in his throat, & his leg seemed to be dragging. He went to the doctor. Tests revealed that he had Lou Gehrig’s disease. His muscles would gradually waste away; his voice would fail, & soon, he’d be unable even to swallow.
He threw himself into his ministry, figuring that once he could no longer stand, or preach, he could still write. Later, he’d have lots of time for prayer. He wrote books & articles. He helped to organize prayer groups throughout England. He told people who pitied him, “I’m only in the kindergarten of suffering.”
As doctors predicted, his legs wasted away & he could no longer speak, but could still hold a pen shakily. On Easter morning, just weeks before he died, he wrote to his daughter. He said, “It is a terrible thing to wake up on Easter morning & have no voice with which to shout, ‘He is risen!,’ but it would still be more terrible to have a voice & not want to shout it.”
Even walking through the valley of the shadow of death of Lou Gehrig’s disease could not take the Easter joy from Pastor Sangster’s heart. Your joy, which also comes from Christ’s resurrection, cannot be taken from you either. You must surrender it of your own accord, because Jesus’ promise still stands, as recorded in the 16th chapter of John, verse 22:
“So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, & no one can rob you of that joy.” (NLT) No one can rob you of that joy, the joy of Easter morning almost 2000 years ago, but how often have you & I surrendered that joy on our own? As children of God we know that joy. You & I have felt it in our bones, but there are Oh so many times when that joy is really & truly difficult to believe. When divorce blows a family to pieces, & the effects of it continue on year after year, do you surrender the joy, or do you keep on believing?
When the diagnosis comes back that your disease is terminal & you aren’t even half way to 60 years, with several young children & a spouse, do you surrender the joy, or do you keep on believing? With just the people in this room we could make up a list of sorrows as long as this room. As children of God we know that too. You & I have felt it in our bones.
For the Gospel reading from John, we must flash back a little over four weeks. It’s Maundy Thursday. Jesus had personally chosen each of His disciples & then lived with them, & taught them literally, for three years. Everywhere He went they followed. As Peter once said, they gave up everything to follow Him.
The Gospel reading addresses His disciples in the upper room on the night when He was betrayed, the evening before He was crucified. Eleven of them had absolutely no idea what was going on. The 12th man, Judas, knew more than the rest, & yet he was completely deceived. Darkness was alive in his soul, & he would die even before Jesus was nailed to the cross.
No doubt thoughts like these were running through the minds of Jesus’ disciples, “What on earth is our Master talking about? I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them. A little while, & you will see me no longer; & again a little while, & you will see me.” What is going on here? John recorded some of the confusion for us:
…Some of His disciples said to one another, “What is this that He says to us, ‘A little while, & you will not see me, & again a little while, & you will see me’; &, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what He is talking about.” (16:17-18 ESV) Up to that evening, their entire faith in Jesus as Savior had been based upon His very physical presence with them. In less than 24 hours all of that would change, drastically. They were going to experience sorrow & fear, & they were going to feel it in their bones. Hopelessness, despair & surrender would be their constant companions over the next three days. One of them would go so far as to say:
“Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, & place my finger into the mark of the nails, & place my hand into His side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25b ESV) In the upper room on Maundy Thursday not a one of His disciples understood that Jesus was going to be raised from the dead. There was no Easter hope or joy in their hearts – only confusion & then fear.
When Jesus said, “A little while, & you will see me no longer,” He was saying that in a little while He was going to be betrayed, then tortured, killed & buried. Then, Jesus said, “& again a little while, & you will see me.” This meant Jesus would come back to them through His resurrection from the dead, & He predicts the joy they would experience.
Because our entire experience of Maundy Thursday & Good Friday has always been with the knowledge of Easter morning in mind, we cannot begin to grasp the horror & the despair that came upon the 12 disciples of Jesus as they realized their Master was dead.
And without that, we cannot begin to grasp the range of emotion they went through as they moved from being convinced Jesus was dead to being convinced Jesus had defeated death for all of eternity. In a little while this, in a little while that.
Regarding the death & resurrection of Jesus, we cannot fully appreciate the range of emotion through which His original 12 disciples went, however, we too live in a sequence – a little while this, then a little while that. We have experienced the judgment of God’s law upon our own sinful heart. We have felt it in our bones.
When loved ones, or we ourselves, have gone through the crucible of divorce, we’ve seen
& felt the depths of failure & despair that sin will bring into God’s good creation. We have seen, & experienced, what it is to surrender the joy of Easter morning. We know from the experience of divorce how really & truly difficult it can be to continue believing in the joy of Easter morning. That is experiencing the judgment of God’s law upon our own sinful heart.
Also, we have felt it in our bones as we grow old, where our mind & body betray us because they are growing old. If you are still young, you have seen & felt death encroaching upon those you love. As the infirmity of disease takes it toll upon heart & soul, we have experienced what it is to surrender the joy of Easter morning.
Disease, & growing feeble from old age, do, at times, make the joy of Easter morning really & truly difficult to believe. For that reason, the reading from Revelation 21 was given to us. Down through almost 2000 years of history the reading from Revelation 21 has been brought to your ears today. Your heavenly Father accomplished that for this reason:
It says in Romans 10, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, & the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (10:17 ESV) Here is that word from Revelation 21 which turns sorrow into joy:
“Then I saw a new heaven & a new earth, for the 1st heaven & the 1st earth had passed away… And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, & they will be His people, & God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, & death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. …Write this down, for these words are trustworthy & true.” (21:1ff ESV)
Looking back at the disciples of Jesus, we can see clearly how their sorrow was turned into joy. You & I have stories from our past where we see that our sorrow was turned into joy. Still, there may be times of sorrow from our past that are not yet resolved & remain painful. And the most difficult to see are the current struggles & sufferings. For them, it often seems totally incomprehensible that they could ever be turned into joy. The pain is too fresh & too raw, & it is too common that the world rejoices during our misery. Fortunately, Jesus does not sugar coat our future. He gives it to us straight: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep & lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” (John 16:20 ESV)
It’s the punch line that matters – your sorrow will turn into joy! In this life, God does patch things up at times. He heals & fixes relationships, at times. While Jesus was here on earth He raised people from the dead, but they died a 2nd time later. It is only at the Last Day when our healing will be complete. It is only then that we will be living a holy & perfect life.
Divorce, disease & death will continue as long as this broken world is still rolling along. Our hope is never located in this life, but always in the next. In this world we will have trouble. Jesus tells us that, & then He says, “Take heart for I have overcome the world.” He certainly is at work turning sorrow into joy, but that’s something we will not see clearly until the Last Day.
Until then, we get a down payment now & then, as relationships & diseases are healed; & as death is cheated through medical care. But the goal of Easter is not this world. It is the firstfruits of the next – heaven, where there will be no more sorrow, for all will be joy. Amen.
He lives to grant me daily breath; He lives, & I shall conquer death; He lives my mansion to prepare; He lives to bring me safely there. He lives, all glory to His name! He lives, my Jesus, still the same; Oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives: I know that my Redeemer lives! Amen. LSB 461:7-8.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet