“Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” John 16:20 [NIV]
Consider your planning for a great trip. You’ve mapped out your route. You’ve saved enough money to pay for it. You’ve even found a wonderful house sitter or dog sitter. After your first day of driving to reach this grand place of which you’ve dreamed, your car has a flat tire. When you go to change the tire, the engine hisses. When you find a mechanic and get to his garage, you learn your car needs a new radiator along with a new tire. One thing after another hits you as you contemplate your plans and what you are going to do. You did not plan on having difficulty and so didn’t save extra money. Now, you must use the rest of the money you saved for your trip to pay for your car repairs. Are your hopes dashed? Do you wonder what you should do, go home or go onward to your destination? How can you ever have joy on this great adventure you planned when it will cost you much more money than you saved? Life is like this. God knew what would happen before you even began your journey. He had a plan for you for that time.
The statement above by Jesus to His disciples in John 16:20 came after He began preparing them for what would happen to them when He fulfilled His purpose on earth. Jesus told them in the first eleven verses of John 16 that people would kill and persecute them thinking they were serving God. He told them these people would do this because they do not know the Father or Him. But, Jesus, because of His love for the disciples and their devotion to Him, warned them about these future dire circumstances to prepare them. After He told them He would go to the One who sent Him, He told them He recognized their grief because of these things He said. Because the disciples believed in Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, He said He would send an Advocate, His Holy Spirit. Jesus sends this Advocate to each person who believes in Him.
Jesus recognized His disciples could not bear anymore teaching about His last days on earth (His departure from them) and about their future persecution and death by people who don’t believe in Him. He told them the Spirit of truth would guide them in all truth. Jesus would not leave them without a guide and teacher, One who teaches what He hears from the Father and who will glorify Christ. This Spirit will tell the disciples what Jesus wants them to know.
Jesus began teaching in John 16 by preparing the disciples. He told them He would depart from them and return to the Father, and people would persecute and kill them because they were His disciples. Yet, Jesus would send an Advocate to teach them, the Spirit of truth Who comes from Him to guide them in all truth. He returned to telling the disciples, they would not see Him and then they would. The disciples questioned what Jesus meant. How can a person be seen then not seen, except by death? Even their understanding of death meant they would not see a person after he or she died. The disciples were confused. Jesus recognized their confusion and sought to give them clarity.
The death Jesus spoke of was His own. At His death, the non-believers would rejoice, while His disciples would mourn. Yet, from the day Jesus rose from the grave, the disciples would rejoice, and the people of the world would be confused. Some people would be angry and consult others in an attempt to understand how this could happen. Jesus told the disciples they would mourn for a little while then rejoice. They would understand that earthly mourning was just for a season, but joy lasts forever because Jesus lives for eternity. He conquered sin and death forever. Mourning and grief are a momentary part of time while joy is eternal for the people who are Jesus’ followers.
For the disciples to understand this better, Jesus used the analogy of a pregnant woman in labor. While the woman labored, her pain was great, and she found it hard to experience joy because of the depth of the pain. Yet, when she held the child in her arms, the joy of his/her birth would overshadow the anguish and pain of labor. Just so, Jesus said, their mourning of His death would be overshadowed by His resurrection, His victory over death forever. Because Jesus conquered sin and death, the disciples could know joy exists forever even when pain, anguish, and trials existed. Those times of pain, anguish, and trial would last for a moment, but the joy of victory over sin and death and the eternal hope it brings would last for eternity.
While the world rejoices at your difficulties and points their fingers at how they bested the one who follows Jesus, you can know your grief for the moment will turn to joy. You can have joy despite and in the midst of whatever your circumstances may be. Though people may persecute you and kill you, Christian, you have a joy that outlasts what humans can do to you.
Let’s take that thought one step further. To love Jesus means absolute (total) devotion to Him and His will. As we pray each day in our time with Him, we ask Him to use us and to make us like Himself. Often this thought comes habitually without really thinking about what the consequences might mean. If we do not truly mean these things and do not seek Him and desire to be completely devoted to Him, circumstances will surprise us. They never surprise God. He knows our heart, our inmost being. (Psalm 139) When we pray this prayer from habit, without depth of heart, we try to make ourselves like Jesus as if Jesus is the pattern or example of supreme goodness. What we need to realize is that we cannot make ourselves like Jesus. True followers of Jesus, believers in Jesus as the Messiah, recognize He makes us into His image through His power and by the guiding and teaching of the Holy Spirit. When we truly mean what we pray, “Make me like You, into Your image for Your service,” we understand Jesus is the One who makes us like Himself. Only when our prayer to be made like Him comes from the depth of our devotion and faithfulness to Him can we preparedly and joyfully face persecution trials, and death.
We cannot make ourselves like Jesus by our power.
Only Jesus can make us like Him by His power.
God is not surprised by the depth of humanity’s sinfulness and rebellion against Him. He is not surprised people will persecute His followers and kill them. Jesus told His disciples this in John 16. He told His disciples and tells us today through the Bible and His Holy Spirit that we can have joy during life’s hard times. Why? Because Jesus overwhelmingly conquered sin and death. He lives forevermore. Humanity threw its best to defeat Him; they crucified Jesus. Yet, God’s best is greater than humanity’s best. He has power over all things, life and death. Because Jesus is victorious, we can be victorious and have joy while walking with Jesus through difficult times. Imagine having joy while grieving, and relief while being homeless or jobless. Imagine knowing without doubt something greater exists than this life and nothing in your present moment will have eternal significance. God is powerful, loving, and great. He is not surprised by what happens. He is greater than anything that occurs in your life and in the world. God loves you.
Consider what the psalmist said in Psalm 139 after stating to what depths God knew him. He said in verses seven through twelve,
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You. (Psalm 139:7-12 [NIV])
Whether we try to hide from God or evil tries to hide us from God, God is greater. Even in those supposedly hidden places and in darkness, God’s hand will guide you and support you. Nothing can separate you from God. Paul spoke about this victory from evil for us in Romans 8:36-39. He wrote,
Just as it is written “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things, we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. [NASB]
Hard times will come. People will hurt us. Some people may kill Christians. We recognize these things are true. They are part of human history, our present time, and humanity’s future, but we don’t have to linger and quiver in our minds and lament. Because Jesus is our Lord and by His power, He changes us and makes us more like Himself daily, we have hope beyond this current difficult time. This moment will not last, but eternal life with God in His kingdom will last forever. We are more than conquerors, more than victors, and nothing can separate us from the love of God. Yes, pain will come and is with us now, but we have an eternal, unquenchable joy found only through Jesus Christ. For now, we may have grief, but we can hold onto the joy Jesus gives to each of His followers. We will see Jesus; we believe right now and at the times we face difficulties, always, He is with us. Nothing and no one can take this joy from us.
Jesus gives us eternal, unquenchable joy.
Consider that great adventure you planned, and the expensive car repairs you didn’t plan for on the way to your destination. Will you allow the difficulty to steal your joy about the adventure? Will you seek God and His will, walking in the power He will give you for this situation? God has a plan. That plan includes His love for you and your spiritual growth. What will you do, focus on the problem or on God, who knows what is happening and has a plan to walk with you through the difficulty? These problems are fleeting, but God is eternal and your salvation through Him is eternal. Let the joy He gives you be greater than the burden of the problems. One is eternal and the other momentary.
Problems are fleeting, but God and His salvation to you are eternal.
What grief or what difficulty has come upon you and is causing you to lose sight of Jesus. Are you working through your difficulties with just a human perspective? Keep your eyes and heart on Jesus. Keep looking at Him. His joy, the joy He gives to you, is greater and longer lasting than your grief and pain. Let your momentary difficulties bring glory to Jesus Christ. The song writer, Helen Howarth, reminds us of this in her hymn called Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.
O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
Let your momentary difficulties bring glory to Jesus Christ.
Dear Father, so often I get caught up in my troubles and I lose sight of you as I try to figure out why the problem has happened and what I can do to get out of it. Lord, forgive me for living in my own strength. Forgive me for losing perspective and seeing life from an earthly standpoint. Forgive me for not seeking You, looking to You, and allowing You to be the conqueror of my situation. Lord, truly, I am to be made like You by Your power, not my own. I don’t want to make myself in Your pattern, but for You to make me like You. Help me to grow, to be more devoted to You, and to love You with my whole being. Help me to trust You completely and have the joy You give because You are the Conqueror. This current difficulty is a moment in time, but Your power and joy are eternal. Thank you for loving me, for saving me, and for giving me hope and joy amidst pain, trials, and death. Amen.