Jubilate—The Fourth Sunday of Easter
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 16:16-22
April 26, 2015
“When Jesus Dies in Us”
The Gospel reading today deals with Christ’s death and resurrection. This is what our Lord is talking about when He tells the disciples, “A little while and you will see me no more, and again a little while and you will see Me.” The little while where the disciples will not see Him is the time He is lying in the grave. This is easy even for children to figure out because we confess in the creed, “I believe in Jesus Christ who was crucified, died, and was buried, and the third day He rose again from the dead.” We may wonder how the disciples had such a hard time understanding this.
But it is one thing to understand that Jesus died and rose again in theory and in words, and it is another thing to believe that Jesus will rise again when you see Him dead. The disciples were told by Jesus that He would die and rise again on the third day, but it was one thing to be told it and another to believe it when He was dead and taken from them.
It wasn’t simply that Jesus was taken away from them physically that caused the disciples great sorrow. It is indeed difficult to lose someone you love and not have their bodily presence, and the disciples loved Jesus. But it is a greater sorrow to lose someone spiritually, where you have no hope of ever seeing them again. And this is how the disciples felt when Jesus had died. It wasn’t just Jesus who had died. It seemed that their faith in Him had died as well. Because they had believed—rightly—that Jesus was the Son of God. But they thought that mean that He was going to set up a kingdom on earth and make them rulers together with Him. And when He was crucified and died without setting up any earthly kingdom, it appeared to them that their faith had proven false. Then it was not just a matter of losing Jesus bodily. They had (it seemed) lost the One they put their trust in. It appeared that the One they called Lord was no Lord at all. So they had not only lost Jesus their friend and teacher but Jesus the Son of God. This was a great, horrible trial for them. All at once they were plunged into hell and despair because in losing Jesus they had lost their God.
This same trial happens to Christians now. We know that Jesus rose from the dead after He was crucified. So we do not, like the disciples, mourn on Good Friday as though we had lost God. We know that Easter is coming. But when sorrow comes to us and Christ seems to be dead and taken away from us, then we are often slow to believe that an Easter will come.
Sorrow comes to us in many forms. Sometimes we lose our health or our wealth or our loved ones die and we are overtaken by sorrow. More rarely, we suffer the loss of our good name or property or even our lives for the sake of Christ. But all of these are only bodily sorrows, as great as they may be. The great suffering comes when we believe or feel that Jesus has been taken away from us. In Romans chapter 8 it says, “Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” If we lose loved ones, property, or reputation, but our hearts are still assured that we have not lost Jesus, we are “more than conquerors,” as Paul writes. “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His only Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8) If we lose wealth or reputation or loved ones but we still have Jesus, we still have the One who has given us all these gifts, and He is able to restore to us more than we have lost. In fact we have His assurance that He will restore to us more than we lose in this life.
But if we lose Jesus, we have lost everything. Then there is no comfort for us. Not even God can comfort us, because if we lose Jesus we lose God.
But how can we lose Jesus? When we no longer feel the assurance from God’s Word that our sins are forgiven for His sake. When we feel that He is no longer with u—that we are forsaken by Him. When we begin to doubt if the Word of God is true. When these things happen it loos to us like Christ has been taken away from us, just like it looked to the disciples when Jesus was dead and buried that He had been taken away from them. Then it looked like they had lost Jesus forever and that their hope was in vain. We know that Jesus would rise again from the dead, but they didn’t know that, couldn’t see or feel that. The only way they could have known was by faith in His Word, that their loss of Jesus would only be for a little while.
So that we may learn not only to say that Jesus died and rose again, but so that we also learn to believe it with our whole being, God allows us to experience sorrow, even at times to experience that we have lost Jesus. When that happens to you He is teaching you to believe in His death and resurrection not only in a historical way, but that it also happens for you and in you. He is teaching you to learn to put your trust in what He says in this Gospel: “A little while and you will not see Me, and again a little while and you will see Me.” When we do not see Jesus and our faith in Him appears to be dead, that is serious grief. Then it appears that we have lost everything. It is a spiritual suffering that only Christians experience, the experience of desiring and hungering to have Jesus but feeling as though He has been taken away forever.
Then Jesus wants us to hold on to these words. “A little while,” He says. It will only be a little while that I am taken away from you. Then you will see Me against and your hearts will rejoice and no one will take your joy away from you. This happens in this life when Jesus seems to be taken away from us and then, after the little time of trial is over, He comforts us again. But it will finally and perfectly happen when Jesus returns visibly and we see Him not only by the assurance of faith but with our eyes. Then we will experience the fullness of joy. But when we pass through times where Jesus seems to be gone from us and then He comforts us again, these are only little sips or bites from the feast of joy that is to be ours when we see Jesus again.
Meanwhile, we should recognize that the world also has its spiritual joy, and that is the joy in seeing Christ taken out of the way, put out of its sight so that He cannot be seen or heard from again. The chief priests rejoiced when the apostles lamented. They wanted nothing more than for Christ to be a fake and a fraud and have Him taken away bodily and spiritually. They wanted Him to be killed and silenced so that they would no longer hear His voice convicting them of sin and proclaiming that forgiveness of sins was through Him alone. When Jesus seemed to be taken away, the world rejoiced while His disciples mourned. And it is the same today. The world wants Jesus taken away. He is no longer visibly present, but He is present in His word and sacraments and mystically present in His Church, which is His body. So the world rejoices at nothing more than seeing Christ silenced and taken away in the silencing and destruction of His Church.
So while we weep and lament, the world rejoices. When it seems that Christ is gone and the faith of Christians is dying, the world rejoices, because it is looking for any excuse not to have to listen to Christ that He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. And Christians are walking testimonies to Christ. So we shouldn’t be surprised when the world rejoices at our suffering. Right now we are watching as our society goes on a crusade to root out and humiliate people who still believe in the sixth commandment—You shall not commit adultery. And the voices pushing for the legitimization of sexual immorality seem to be winning, while Christians seem to be unable to stop the bleeding of their members off into the ranks of those who profess no religious affiliation.
To this too Jesus says, “A little while and you will see Me no more, and again a little while and you will see Me.” The world rejoices and we lament. The world seems to be winning and we seem to be dying, and Jesus seems to have forsaken us. But He says, “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. 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.”
The disciples’ hour was when Jesus died and they appeared to have lost Him forever. We individually experience times when we seem to have lost Jesus. Perhaps now, when the Church in our country seems to be in full retreat, to be dying, perhaps now is our hour. But Jesus says it is only for a little while, and then we will no longer remember the anguish for joy. Our sorrow will turn into joy.
When Jesus dies in us it is to teach us to hope in Him that He will also rise from the dead in us. So let us learn to judge rightly—not by our feelings, but by Christ’s Word. When we appear to have lost Christ it does not feel like a little while. It feels like an eternity, because we have lost not a temporary good but the eternal good, the source of every blessing. But He says it is not forever that we have lost Him but just “a little while.” So in a little while He will comfort us again. A little while after He was crucified and buried He rose from the dead and showed Himself to the disciples and gave them joy. A little while we suffer the hell of seeming to have lost Christ, a little while He seems to have died in us, but He will rise3 from the dead in us. A little while we go on living in this world of death even though we have already died with Him in Baptism. But soon enough we will be raised with Him. A little while the church suffers and is weak but she will not remain this way, because her head has risen from the dead. A little while we have sorrow in the Church and do not see our Lord, but He gives us death and resurrection in His body and blood. And soon the death will be over and we will be raised up and know the fullness of joy.
Soli Deo Gloria