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
The disciples didn’t know what Jesus was talking about. “What is this that He’s telling us—‘A little while and you will not behold me, and again a little while and you will see me,” and “because I am going to the Father’? What is this ‘little while’ He keeps talking about? We don’t know what He is saying.”
Jesus had already told them what He was talking about. But they didn’t understand because they hadn’t experienced it yet and they didn’t yet have the Holy Spirit.
In the same way Jesus has already told us what we are going to experience in His Church after His ascension, but we don’t understand apart from the Holy Spirit granting us faith through His Word. Apart from the Spirit, relying on our own experience and reasoning, everything is dark.
What He has told us is that in this world we will experience distress and sorrow, but that our sorrow becomes joy.
And to make this easier for the disciples and us to understand our Lord uses a picture that is very fitting for Mothers’ Day.
A woman when she is giving birth has distress, because her hour has come, but when the child is born she no longer remembers the sorrow because of joy that a human being has been born into the world.
Not that there is no distress and sorrow for mothers after childbirth. Being a mother is full of distresses and sorrows. It’s not only the near-death experience of giving birth. Then it’s waking up in the middle of the night to feed and change diapers and years of caring for a little life that needs constant attention. Then they become teenagers and need attention for other reasons but don’t want it. And these days moms also often have to do most of the work of providing for her child, because Dad isn’t around.
It’s a lot of work that is demanding but not highly regarded, despite all the money that we spend on Mothers’ day. How many people with a smart and talented daughter would be happy to hear her say, “I want to be a mother when I grow up”—if she didn’t also say—“and a doctor, or a CEO, or president…”
But Jesus said, “What is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15) We are impressed when men build cities and name them after themselves, when they build companies or nations, when they make themselves wealthy and famous, when they create art and literature. But God calls it an abomination when one works to make a name for himself and instead of working and living for the honor of God’s name. it’s what the people of the world did after the flood—they tried to build a tower to the heavens and make for themselves a name.
It is supposed to be progress now when women have the freedom to pursue this same kind of idolatry that goes by the name “career”.
Work doesn’t exist to make ourselves a name or make ourselves rich. It is a calling from God, a gift, through which He wants to work through us to give life to others.
That’s why motherhood is highly esteemed by God and despised by the world. Mothers who do what they are called to do trusting in Christ to work through them, who do what they are called to do in obedience to His Word—they are pleasing to God. They do great works and get no praise from men. Changing diapers and spending your attention and energy on little children isn’t building the Eiffel tower. It’s more important. Mothers bear life into the world for God and then nurture that life.
Those kinds of works, done in faith in Christ, are not regarded as great by the world. But God has regard for them. He looks on works that are done not for the praise of men but out of faith in His Son, works that actually help our neighbor—help to give and sustain his life. Things like towers and music and athletic ability can bless people, but mothers do the work that makes it possible to enjoy these other things. They face death to bring a child into the world and they give up their youth and freedom to care for it.
But you don’t hear mothers, usually, describing being a mother with the words “distress” and “anguish.” That’s because the sorrows of motherhood God turns into joy, as He does with the sorrows of all callings He has ordained.
The agony of giving birth and the difficulties of raising a child don’t remain agony and difficulty and distress. They become joy.
The excruciating pain of labor becomes the joy of the mom holding her newborn, and the joy these two experience is greater than most joys ever experienced on earth. Dads can only stand and watch it with amazement and gladness for them.
The hassles of raising kids becomes the joy and pride of seeing them go out into the world as adults to walk with God the way to life. And even when they stray there is joy for a Christian mother, because she can turn to her Father in heaven for comfort and with confidence that He will care for her child just as He cared for her. Jesus says that the experience of His disciples will be like the experience of a mother in labor. They will have anguish, but the anguish itself becomes joy. The sorrows of Christians don’t go away and then joy comes. No, the sorrows and pains themselves become joy. Believing this, Christians begin to rejoice in the sufferings themselves.
The Scriptures say this in many places. Paul says in 2 Cor. 4: So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison…” (2 Cor. 4:16-17)
And Hebrews 12 says: For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb. 12:11)
When the disciples didn’t see Jesus for a little while, all they could do was lock themselves in a house and weep. He was shut up in the tomb; they were shut up in the house. It was unthinkable. They had seen Jesus calm the sea with a word, seen Him cure lepers and paralyzed people and raise the dead with a word. Then He had died in apparent weakness on the cross. Given up His Spirit. Blood and water poured from a spear thrust to His heart. He was dead.
Anguish seized the disciples. How could this have happened? They must have been abandoned by God. And for a person abandoned by God there is nowhere to run.
That very anguish of Jesus’ death and burial did not go away. It was transformed into joy, like the water at Cana didn’t go away but became wine.
So the disciples’ anguish turned into exceedingly great joy when Jesus appeared to them. But He really appeared to them before He came into the room and showed them His hands and side. He appeared to them when the women came and first proclaimed to them the message of the angel: “He is risen!”
That’s also how He appears to us.
He appears to us in the Scriptures, risen from the dead. HE appears to us in the preaching of His resurrection. And in those Scriptures and in that preaching the Holy Spirit is given to us so that we see Him and share the apostles’ joy.
After seeing Jesus risen, do you think the apostles were ever unhappy or scared or in anguish again? You might think they never were. But you would be wrong.
Paul says: We [apostles] are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair…always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our mortal flesh. 2 Cor. 4:8, 10-11
The apostles still had pain, confusion, great suffering even after seeing Jesus raised. In the same way mothers have plenty of distresses after the great distress of childbirth is over. There may be some distresses that equal the pain of childbirth later. But mothers almost never refer to motherhood as “anguish”. Why? Because just as the anguish of labor became joy, so the pains that come after childbirth become joy.
The biggest anguish for us in the Church is over. Christ Jesus suffered, was forsaken by God, died and was raised from the dead.
The pain He suffered became the joy that He has now in justifying us while we are yet sinners.
Because He was laid in the grave not for His own sins but ours. He bore the wrath of God not against His sins, but ours.
Out of the anguish of His soul came the joy for Him of our reconciliation with God. Now nothing stands between us and God, not even for the chief of sinners. His suffering became the joy of clothing us with righteousness in Holy Baptism, of feeding us the righteousness of God in His body and blood given and shed for us.
And out of the anguish of the apostles’ souls came the joy of their message. The three days He was gone from us, they say, meant the reconciliation of the world to God. He atoned for our sins and rose and showed the new life that is ours, which will be ours in fullness when we are raised from the dead.
And it is the same with your sorrows and pains. You see Jesus. Your pain does not disappear.
It becomes joy, just as these bodies of sin and death in which we live will be raised up and transformed into the likeness of His glorious body.
You see Jesus forsaken by God for you and raised from the dead in the Gospel. He comes and preaches it to you. For you I was forsaken by God and for you I am raised, He says, and for you I reign at the right hand of God. For you I will return on the last day.
The anguish we feel over our sins becomes joy, because it is that pain which He uses to keep drawing us to see Him and hear His voice.
He does not change the face He shows us or change His message. He says, “I forgive you all your sins.” Though they be as dark as death and as deep as hell, I endured the darkness for you and I have come from the depths and pronounce your sins forgiven.”
No one can take this joy away from us, because Jesus is present in His church to the end of the world. Whenever His word is read or spoken; whenever someone is baptized in the name of the Trinity, and whenever His body and blood is distributed as He instituted, Jesus is with us. He is the very one in whom all our sins and agonies were transformed into righteousness and joy. Look at Jesus’ head crowned with thorns. Look at His hands pierced, crying, “My God, why have you forsaken Me?”
That is our sin and agony. And it has become righteousness and joy. The same Lord is risen and proclaims the forgiveness of our sins. He bursts their chains—their legacy of guilt, sadness, and death. In place He declares you righteous, free, alive. And with this true liberating word comes joy—even though it may only be a kernel just starting to grow.
Indeed, all our sorrows will become joy. We too are given over to death for Jesus’ sake so that His life may be revealed in these jars of clay.
Joy lightens our face when we look at Jesus—that is to say, when we listen to His Word. When we see Jesus we are seeing the one on whom our guilt and our despair were placed. And He descended into the depths of God’s wrath with that real and heavy weight. But He has risen and proclaims our guilt finished and our pain turned into joy.
The pain of childbirth becomes joy—great joy.
Are you experiencing some great anxiety or pain? Over yourself? Someone you love?
Do things look like they are closing in on you? It’s all too obvious that we feel that way in the church. And many of you have felt that burden for many years.
Jesus promises that just as labor pains become the joy of a child, our labor pains, your labor pains, will not be stillborn. They will become joy, and no one will take your joy from you.
Indeed, Jesus has already turned them into joy. He has borne them and the eternal wrath of God and risen again with the keys of death with which He sets you free.
And today He invites you to sit down and receive the testament that your sorrow has been changed into joy—the sacrament of His body and blood, which pledge that His agony has ransomed us and purchased us for everlasting joy.
The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 16:16-22
April 21, 2013
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
What is Jesus talking about?
What does He mean “a little while”? Is two thousand years a “little while”? No one has seen Him in that time, except for crazy people and liars. And maybe a few saints.
Two thousand years is not a little while. And don’t tell me “A thousand years with the Lord is like a day.” I’m not the Lord. With me a day of pain can be like an eternity. Many of you are better than I am, but I know it’s true for you too.
Sometimes you just about give up trying to understand what Jesus says. When everything is going more or less okay, we can all live with not really understanding what He’s saying. But not when trouble comes. Then we want Jesus to tell us what’s going on, to speak clearly.
But He doesn’t seem to do that. The twelve disciples were anxious because they knew that Jesus was going away from them. They knew that bad things were coming. But what were they supposed to do? When would they see Him again? It seemed like Jesus wasn’t being very clear. This was not a good time to be unclear.
We have this experience too. When we’re little someone takes us to Sunday School. We learn that Jesus died for our sins on the cross, that our sins are forgiven, and that when He comes to judge the living and the dead He will give us eternal life.
Then we get a little older and we learn a whole lot more. And sometimes we are able to find enough comfort and strength in it to endure the pain that comes to us for a “little while.”
Much of it is just the daily pain of temptation to pretend like you’re not a Christian in order to avoid conflict. Kids and teenagers are tempted to do and say things they know are wrong in order to fit in, and to hide the fact that they believe in Jesus in order to avoid being made fun of or losing status.
Adults have a similar problem. Even if you are open about being a Christian it’s easy to just avoid interaction with people who aren’t Christians, to write them off instead of actively seeking their salvation and blessing.
But “a little while” comes to us in the callings God has given us in dramatic ways. Parents grieve as their children get into trouble. Children mourn and ask God “How long?” when parents neglect them or their homes are full of turmoil and fighting instead of safety.
As citizens we grieve when tragedies befall our country, as in this latest terror attack in Boston. We have sorrow when our rulers do not rule wisely and justly.
But the worst kind of pain is when tribulation comes to us and what we have learned about the Triune God does not appear to help, or it no longer makes sense.
What about when you or someone you love wants to change but can’t break free of an addiction to drugs or alcohol or something else? Where is Jesus then? Do we just tell a repentant addict, “You must not really be sorry for your sins–or else you must not really believe in Christ”?
Or the person whose life has been chaotic—who may have been abused, or who suffers from mental illness, and who come to church seeking salvation and help from Christ, but just can’t seem to get their act together?
When we find ourselves helpless before some sin, or constantly fighting to keep our heads above water?
This kind of anguish is the worst, because we begin to feel in our hearts that God has forsaken us, or that we never had Him in the first place. It is really the anguish and torment of hell breaking in on us.
If you have God and are certain that He loves you and is pleased with you, all other pain can be endured. With every other kind of suffering, God promises us that it will not last forever—it will come to an end.
But the loss of God is the loss of everything. If God is for us, who can be against us, says Paul. But if God is against us, who can be for us? Who can help us?
Thanks be to God! God is not against you.
“ a little while, and you will not see me; again a little while, and you will see me.”
The two different types of seeing.
“Your sorrow will turn into joy.”
Like water into wine. The very suffering that grieved you will become the cause of joy.
Jesus’ death on the cross, the disciples’ shameful denial—became the source of joy. Our hour of suffering and our failures and sins are turned into joy, because it is ur sins and helplessness that make us thirst for Christ. He thirsted on the cross for our salvation when we were not thirsty. As our hour comes and we have Christ taken away from our eyes (or the feelings of our hearts), we acquire a thirst for the same thing that Jesus thirsted for–our salvation.
When our hour of tribulation comes, it will last only a little while
This will happen not by our doing but because Christ promises it. We do not make it last a little while. It lasts a little while because Jesus promised it. The disciples did not comport themselves well during Jesus’ passion. They fell. It wasn’t because of this that the hour lasted a little while only, but because Christ brought it to an end according to His promise. They experienced the loss of Christ, despair, hell. Then Jesus returned to them and gave them joy.
“No one will take your joy from you.”
This is the story of our lives as Christians.
Through the cross Jesus overcame the world
After our suffering and struggle with sin Jesus gives us everlasting joy through the Gospel.
“It is done.”
Then even when we don’t understand, we begin to be unafraid because we know the ending and outcome. Christ is risen!
So shall His love give us above
From misery and death set free
All joy and full consolation. (483)
The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
- He is Our Meat and Drink Indeed. St. John 10:11-16. Misericordias Domini 2013 (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- “Whoever Does Not Receive the Kingdom of God Like a Child Will Never Enter it”. Sermon on Infant Baptism, Wed. after Judica 2013 (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- The Gates of the City are Always Open – Sermon, Quasimodogeniti 2013. (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)