April 12, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 14:00 in the audio file.
Or, Sorrow Must Give Way to Easter
We live in an amazing world. Not everyone sees how amazing it is, and not everyone will appreciate it even when they do finally see it. The world is the theater of it’s Creator, and because of who He is, certain things cannot help but be.
It may appear that the world is dominated by death; there are over 100 deaths every minute. Of course, death only stands out because of life, and life has a built-in preference for life and laments over what we lose from death. Because of death’s finality, death enslaves men in fear (Hebrews 2:15). Other generations may have been less risk averse, while our generation is so cautious and safety-conscious that we would much rather make each other miserable with petty rules than face the possibility of dying. Look around.
Death is inescapable. In the post-Genesis 3 world death is certain. And, death is not God. The glory of today, however, is more than a celebration of life, it is a celebration of the God who is resurrection from the dead.
We actually live in a world dominated by resurrection, which is a key part of what makes it amazing. I already said that not everyone sees it, but as Christians, it is why we exist. In the world that God created, resurrection is not just possible, resurrection is inevitable. Resurrection had to be because of God’s nature. We live in a world made by the God of resurrection, a world overcome by resurrection, and a world being remade by resurrection.
In John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion he spilled pages of ink against idols, including the speculations of men who claim to know the true God. He famously described the hearts of men as idol factories, that idolatrous errors spew from us all the time. All those who say, “My God is not like that,” who don’t then immediately say, “because He declares Himself in Scripture thus,” are as guilty as those who bow before totem-poles.
When we talk about the attributes of God we talk about Him as the sovereign God, the holy God, the Triune God, the God of love. He is the living God, compared to the lifeless idols, and He is the God of resurrection. As Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). The world can’t help but be dominated by the defeat of death.
Jesus told His disciples a lot of things on the night before His death. They gathered for the Passover meal together, Jesus washed their feet, commanded them to love one another just as He loved them, foretold the coming of the Spirit who would guide them in truth and convict the world of unrighteousness, urged them to abide in Him as a branch in a vine, and prayed for them in front of them for their union and fruitfulness.
Jesus’ final words to His disciples, at least as John recorded them, prior to His priestly prayer, are His promise to see them again. He was seeing them at the moment, but in “a little while, you will see me no longer” (verse 16). The disciples started asking each other if they understood what Jesus meant: “What is this he says to us?” “What does he mean by a little while?” “We do not know what he is talking about.” The phrase “little while” comes up seven times in four verses.
Jesus perceived that they were confused, and He explained what was coming.
Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. (verse 20)
This was Thursday night. What Jesus said was about to happen happened within hours. This was their preparation, but there is no way that they had categories to appreciate these upcoming realities.
Other than Jesus Himself, who has wept and lamented in sorrow more than Mary and the disciples as they watched their Master be tortured and crucified and buried? What fears did they have on Saturday, wondering if the authorities would also come after them as followers of Jesus? It wasn’t merely that the ship of their faith had hit still waters. “Silent” Saturday was not still Saturday. The waves of doubt, the rocks of loss, the reef of mourning was tearing up the boat.
The disciples would weep, and their sorrow would be out of step with the zeitgeist. Whatever was to happen that caused them grief would be a source of celebration to those of the “world.” It’s not that the world would understand their loss, the world would party at their loss. Jesus didn’t die in His sleep in a distant place so that His enemies would be none the wiser. His enemies would take credit for their righteousness, acting like they won, rubbing spite into the disciples’ wounds. But the disciples would have a completely different experience than the world, twice.
Sorrow would not be the final word. Sorrow, like a seed buried in the dirt, would sprout into joy. Jesus used a different analogy.
When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. (verse 21)
Jesus didn’t have a wife, so He never coached His own woman through contractions and dilation and pushing and pain. His trade was that of a carpenter, not gynecologist, so among the many stories that were not written about Him (see John 21:25), it’s less likely that He performed midwifery, doula services for other pregnant ladies. Yet most births were home births, and if your neighbors were close, you not only heard the story afterward, you probably had more “live” experiences.
The pain of giving birth giving way to the delight in seeing and holding the newborn is universal. Of course there are other complications, and times when the narrative follows a different arc. But generally speaking, this is how it works. It is a consuming anguish, and I say consuming because no birthing woman, even with a modern epidural anesthetic, is multitasking at that point. She is singleminded, focused on the task and fighting through the physical pain. Exhausted, bleeding, and hurting, the attitude of moms everywhere (typically) changes to relief and gladness. The bundle of pain has become the bundle of joy with the cutting of the cord.
Jesus knew the general truth. But this is more than just a convenient illustration. It is connected to the labor Jesus was about to endure.
When did pain in childbirth begin? Why is there pain in childbirth? The pain is not called a curse, but it was given to Eve in the garden of Eden because of her sin. “To the woman [the LORD God] said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children’” (Genesis 3:16). Eve’s disobedience brought anguish of soul in guilt before God, and part of her discipline was the anguish of body in giving birth to children.
I propose that Easter is not illustrated by labor pains and delivery and then joy, but that the hour of giving birth, anguish and then joy, is an illustration of God’s eternal plan for Good Friday to Resurrection Sunday. Millions of mothers have given witness not just to the realities, but to the inevitability of sorrow turned to joy. Jesus didn’t just look around and see a fitting illustration, all of those joys are echoes of this redemptive, resurrection joy.
The anguish and pain of God’s triumph over sin and death were announced with the first promise of hope. Immediately prior to His judgment on Eve, God told the serpent that he would be defeated by the offspring of the woman, even though he would wound the one who defeated him: “he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heal” (Genesis 3:15). Jesus is the seed of the woman, Jesus was wounded, and wounded for our transgressions. The pain of Christ’s labor of sacrifice to death has not been forgotten in the sense that we don’t care, but it has been eclipsed by the joy of salvation He purchased for His elect.
His hour had come. They would weep at His murder and they would not see Him.
So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. (verse 22)
He’d told them numerous times already that He was headed to die, that He “must be lifted up,” a reference to how He would die (John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32-33). He told them that He would lay down His life for them as those He loved (John 15:13). He told them that the world hated Him because His life and message exposed the guilt of their sin (John 15:22). He told them that one of them would betray Him (John 13:21), that soon all of them would be scattered from Him (John 16:32). He knew what was coming, “in a little while,” and then “again a little while.”
”I will see you again.” I know that this promise has specific meaning to the disciples, but it resonates for all disciples every Easter, and even with a different ring on this particular Easter as we are scattered. We have not ever seen Him (1 Peter 1:8), but as sure as the eleven did three days later, so will we. Even Job was convinced by faith that he would see his redeemer in his flesh (Job 19:25-27).
By the time Jesus would see them, He would have been mocked and beaten. He would have been tried unjustly and treated cruelly. He would have known the anger of man and the wrath of God. He would have been crowned with thorns and burdened with the weight of the sin of the world. They would lament, He would have been crucified for them, for all their disobediences and for the unbelieving cowardice they were about to show.
And yet He could not not be risen from the dead. Death could not keep Him. His body could not be corrupted (Psalm 16:10). He is the resurrection and the life. He would see them again, and their hearts would rejoice! The phrase, “your hearts will rejoice” comes from Isaiah 66:14, and verses 7-14 promise peace like a river. That joy will consume them because the world is dominated by the resurrection of its Creator. That joy will be, that joy is, secure not just because God has power, but because resurrection joy is in God Himself.
The immediate application of Jesus’ words took place on the third morning, and there is additional application in the eschaton.
Though not detailed in these few verses, we are in a position to know why resurrection joy is so dominate.
Because of the resurrection, to die like this is fruit. That was another illustration that Jesus used in John 12. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (verse 24).
Because of the resurrection, to die like this is to bring life. Paul understood the gospel as something to be embodied. “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 4:11-12).
Because of the resurrection, to die like this is gain. Paul told the Philippians, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21) because then we “know him and the power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:10).
Because of the resurrection, to die like this is glory. Back again to John 12, Jesus told the seed illustration because His hour had come. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (verse 23). “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name” (verses 27-28).
We are resurrection image-bearers. “Just as we have born the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:49). We are already raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4), and we will be raised to put on the imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:42, 53).
The world was created, overcome, and is being remade by the one who is the resurrection and the life.
Sorrow must give way to resurrection joy for all who believe. We are pregnant with anticipation, not only to get out of our houses, but to see our risen Lord.
The benediction on this resurrection Sunday was originally given by Jesus to His disciples before His resurrection, but in view of it. There is some irony in that we as Christ’s disciples are scattered to our own homes today, but not to desert Christ. By faith in Him we see that this is a world He has overcome by resurrection, a world He rules because He is risen from the dead. Beloved, take heart.
Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32–33, ESV)