Sermon: Rejoicing in Christ’s Return

Text: John 16:19-24, 32-33
Third Wednesday in Advent
Listen to the sermon here.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

What kind of things make you happy? What are your most significant sources of joy in this life? There are probably many different things that bring you joy. Is it the sight of your spouse at the end of a long day? Spending time with your children or grandchildren can bring joy! Some find joy in the satisfaction of a job done well. Others love taking time to enjoy a hobby. Perhaps it’s getting to enjoy the company of good friends. But there are times when it can be hard to find anything that brings us joy. Quite the opposite in some cases. You might even have reasons to sorrow! Sometimes we go through seasons of life, and it’s hard to feel joy.

The third week in Advent is about joy. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, will I say, rejoice” (Ph 4:4). In the reading from John 16, Jesus is in the upper room on the night he was betrayed. Jesus gives the disciples and us today reason for joy amid great sorrow. First, Jesus points out their present sorrow. Second, he predicts their future joy.

I. Jesus points out their present sorrow.

Jesus looked deeply into the faces of His disciples that night in the upper room at the table. He saw uncertainty, fear, doubt, and sadness. What caused this fear, doubt, and uncertainty? Jesus had just told them, “A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me” (Jn 16:19). Jesus was referring to his death when the disciples will have a deep and anguished sense of loss. In a little while, they would no longer see Him. “In a little while,” Jesus will be lost in a painful, bloody crucifixion. There will be weeping and lamenting and fear in the disciples. The stone would be rolled in front of his tomb, and He would be seen no more. The world would rejoice as the disciples wept.

Jesus tells them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice” (Jn 16:20). Their sorrow will come from watching Jesus beaten and bruised, hanging lifeless on a cross. It’s seeing his disfigured corpse taken down from the cruel tree. The sorrow is watching their friend and Lord die. They will weep and lament his death while the world rejoices because he’s gone. That’s why he says, “So you have sorrow now.” His death is just around the corner, and the loss and pain will be great.

Jesus shared these words with his disciples because he knew their lives would be filled with continuing difficulty. He warned them, “In the world, you will have tribulation” (Jn 16:33). “You will have.” It’s guaranteed. You can count on it–   tribulation is going to come. Expect it. Be ready for it. Certainly, the disciples of Jesus faced their share of pressure and tribulation. The apostles of Christ were arrested more than once and beaten up. All but one of the apostles ended up dying a martyr’s death. And the one who didn’t, John, was exiled as an old man. All this was tribulation, extreme pressure exercised by the world against Christians. And really, it’s been no different ever since. In every century, the church, as it has been faithful, has experienced pressure and trouble from a hostile world. We live here in this world amid a system aligned against God and his ways and his people. Since we don’t share in its values, the world is a hostile environment for Christians “In the world you will have tribulation.” Jesus is saying that to us, too, to all of us here today.

What Jesus says to his apostles about sorrow also applies to us. We weep over our sin, our sinful condition, and what sin has done to our world. We grieve over broken friendships, broken families, and broken lives. We have sorrow over the state of the church, our struggling congregations, and the seeming loss of vitality that once seemed to invigorate the church. We lament the apathy towards the things of God. We weep over the loss of loved ones, say farewell to them in this life, and stand at their graves, not seeing but believing. We mourn as our health fails and death draws near. What Jesus said is true: “You have sorrow now.”

II. Jesus predicts their future joy

“But,” said Jesus, “I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (Jn 16:22). The disciples experienced exactly what Jesus predicted. The sorrow of his death was necessary because his death is the only way for mankind to be saved. Without his death, there can be no life. The sorrow of his death was necessary, but it was short-lived. The grief will only be for a little while because Jesus will rise from the dead and appear to them. Their sobbing turns to shouting, their crying to cheering, and their mourning to joy.

The joy Jesus gives his disciples can never be taken away from them. No one will take it. What else carries the same guarantee? Thieves can take our possessions away, or disease can take our health away. Death can take our family away. What about joy? Doesn’t it seem people have the power to take the joy away? Unkind words, dishonesty, gossip, slander, cruelty, and bullying all seem designed to steal a person’s joy. Still, Jesus guarantees that his joy cannot be stolen. Why can’t their joy be taken away? Because their joy comes from seeing Jesus alive again and knowing he’s conquered death, no amount of torture or persecution can ever change that. If the disciples’ joy is in something else—if they try to find their joy in sex, money, work, or hobbies—then their joy could be taken from them. But their joy is found in Jesus. “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Is 25:9).

Dear friends, Christ gives you a joy that no one can take from you. Your joy cannot be taken because by his dying and rising Jesus has saved you. That is a joy that runs deeper than your circumstances. The world will hate you, even as they hated Jesus. You may have lots of reasons to have sorrow. You may be suffering, but no one can take your joy in Christ. It is a real, true joy. It’s too great and too deep for them to touch. For we know that our Redeemer lives, and, there is sweet joy that this sentence gives! He lives, and because he lives, you will live also. “I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” That’s what awaits you and all who trust in Christ.

The suffering and the sorrow may be intense, and there’s no denying that. But when compared to the future that lies before us, the grief now is just a little while. The better time is coming–Jesus himself is coming, he is coming again–when everything will be restored and made much better than it is now. “Behold, I am making all things new!” our returning Lord declares. Our office hymn put it this way:

The saints, who here in patience
Their cross and sufferings bore,
Shall live and reign forever
When sorrow is no more.
Around the throne of glory
The Lamb they shall behold
In triumph cast before Him
Their diadems of gold.

LSB 515:3, “Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers”

Like the disciples, we endure a “little while” of anguish and sorrow as we await our Lord’s return. Christ has ascended and returned to the Father, we don’t see him here with us right now. That doesn’t mean he isn’t with us–he is. Where two or three are present, Christ is there with them. He is present and active in His Word, Baptism, and the Supper. He can be heard through His office of preaching. The Spirit He sends is busy delivering forgiveness, life, and salvation to our ears. We simply can’t see Him for a little while.

But, you will see Jesus on the day of His appearing, the Last Day of the old creation, the First Day of the new. You will see Him whom you do not now see and rejoice with unending joy. Present suffering gives way to future joy. Darkness gives way to light. Sadness gives way to joy, and death gives way to life. Weeping remains for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning of the resurrection. This is the way of life under the cross of Jesus. Now there is suffering and tears and sorrow. But in the end, there is comfort and laughter and joy. Present suffering, future joy.

“You will have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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