4-21-24 Jubilate

Bible Text: John 16:16-22 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus

“I will see you again and your joy will be full, and no one will take that joy from you.” The joy of heaven and the resurrection will consist of this – to see the Lord Jesus. Yes, there will be a new heavens and a new earth, everything will be more beautiful than you’ve ever seen. But the joy of heaven will be to see your Lord. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. They had a taste of heaven. In my childhood we would go up to a beautiful lake in the summer, for at least a few weeks, sometimes a couple months. My entire year revolved around it. I waited to go for months and I dreaded to leave. We said that if it weren’t for the mosquitoes, it would be heaven. But it wasn’t heaven. In fact, God sent a fire and burned it down about twenty years ago and then came all sorts of family division and what we thought was heaven came closer to a hell. So God destroys our idols. The closest you come to heaven in this life is right here, where you receive what no fire can burn and no moth or rust destroy. Because here by faith you see Jesus. He forgives you your sins. He speaks peace to you. He feeds you with His body and His blood. He teaches you with His word.

When Mary recognized her Lord the morning of the resurrection, when she experienced heaven on earth, she called Him Teacher, this is what your Lord does – He teaches you: my sheep hear my voice, Jesus says. So the vision of heaven as a great banquet. What do people do at a banquet? They eat, they drink, they talk, and heaven, the resurrection, will be to see Jesus and hear Him speak constantly. So the closest we get to heaven is here where Jesus speaks to us, teaches us, and gives Himself to us. And in our homes where the same Word of Jesus sounds, there is a taste of heaven.

Let’s get away from sayings like, “He’s in a better place.” That is how the world speaks – vague, undefined, what is this place that’s supposedly better? Let’s say instead of the dearly departed, “He is with Jesus.” There is clarity and certainty and joy. That’s how Jesus talks – you will see me again and you will rejoice and your joy no one will take from you.

The joy we will have at seeing Him, Jesus compares to a mother seeing her baby. I have seen that joy many times and it is the closest to pure joy that you can possibly come to on this sinful earth. There is no closer human connection than this, a mother with her child. Science has shown what we already knew, that this love between mother and child is built into the very fiber of a mother’s body, the DNA of the baby implants in the mother’s body for decades. So babies and mothers separated at birth can often recognize each other intuitively. This is why Jesus, when He speaks of His love for us, speaks of it as a mother hen with her chicks. He says that even if a mother could forget her nursing infant, He cannot forget us. And when He speaks of our love for Him and our joy at seeing Him, He compares it to a mother’s love for her child. It is a connection that envelops both body and soul. He loves us more than a mother her child and we love Him and we want to see Him.

To be a Christian is not to have some head knowledge of facts that happened in the past. It is not simply to know the history of what God did. You are orthodox, you know the truth, big deal, so do the demons. To be a Christian is to trust in and to love the God who did it all and desire to be with Him, see Him, hear Him. It is to taste of the joy the disciples had on Easter.

We don’t criticize the cheesy contemporary Christian worship songs because they speak too much of love for Jesus. You can’t speak too much of that. The Bible and our own hymns speak constantly of love for Jesus. We criticize them because they make that love sound like some romantic teenage obsession, so much so that you can have a very hard time distinguishing a Christian rock song from a cheesy rocknroll love song. My kids and I will make a game of it sometimes in the car. You surf through the stations, you can’t tell if you’re listening to soft rock or Christian rock.

The love Jesus has for us is that of the perfect Husband for His Bride, that of the mother for her child, of the friend who lays down His life for us. It’s not fleeting. It is hard and enduring. And our love for Him is the same. Not fleeting, not cheesy or romantic, but intense and lasting. We stood lost, alienated from God, dirty and guilty by our own fault, and He loved us, and bore our punishment, and laid down His life for us, and cleansed us, and made His Father our Father, and now He shares with us an eternal inheritance, His inheritance, sealed to us by His own body and blood. If I cannot bear to think of living without my children, without my wife, if I would travel all the world over to be with them and to see a single smile on one of their faces, how much more to see the Lord who rescued me and whose face smiling on me has given me every blessing of body and soul and will forever? To see His face and hear His words is simply the goal of life. It is to have the joy that no man can take away.

But the intensity of this love, the passion of it, does wane in this life, on our side, it does begin slipping into mere knowledge. “Yes, I’ve heard that, I know it. Jesus died for me.” As someone told me recently, “Tell me something more practical, pastor.” And I said, “No, I literally can’t. It’s impossible. There is nothing more practical. Nothing, than that Jesus, your God, your Creator, loves you and has proved it by suffering your punishment and your death and now lives to forgive you and teach you and comfort you and bring you to eternal life.”

This is exactly why God sends crosses. “You will weep and lament.” Those are heavy words. Compared to the labor of a mother. That’s intense pain. Euripides has Medea say that she would rather go out to battle three times with the men than give birth a single time. Rudyard Kipling described childbirth like this, “She who faces death by torture for every life beneath her breast…”. These are the words Jesus uses – weep, lament, not mere words but realities that every Christian knows. The crosses God sends are heavy.

God sends them because you need them. Why else do you think God sends suffering to His Christians? To play with us? No, it’s because we need them. Because our love does grow cold. Because our knowledge of Jesus becomes mere head knowledge. Especially when things are going well. Faith becomes mere knowledge and prayer just a sound in our mouths. But when death hits, fear hits, betrayal, loss of your job, slander, unbearable temptation, bad health, then faith comes alive and takes hold of the Jesus who said, Come to me all ye who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. And prayer is not simply spoken with the lips but comes from the bottom of the heart. And our Lord teaches us that He is our life and our salvation and will work all to our good.

Before the joy of seeing the child comes the pain of childbirth. Before the joy of seeing our Savior come the crosses of this life. God is not unjust in this. He is not cruel. He is exactly the opposite. There is nothing we suffer that our sin wouldn’t deserve. But God doesn’t give us what we deserve. He gives us what Jesus suffered to win us. And that is sonship. It is to be children of God. The Father who has loved His Son from eternity loves us eternally as His children, gives us His name at our Baptism. And He treats us as His children. He disciplines us as a good Father. He withholds only to give and He pains only to give pleasure in the end.

Our crosses are not random. Our pains are not the product of senseless chance. Nothing bad happens to us that was not seen by God already before the foundation of the wolrd and ordered for our good. He is our Father and He is in control. He knows when to stop it, how to temper it, and He promises His aid and presence, “When you call to me, I will answer you; I will be with you in trouble; I will rescue you and honor you.”

And Jesus stresses it, 7 times it’s said, “a little while.” 7 times, a holy number in the Bible, a number that signifies that God is in control (God is three, the world is four, seven is God’s gracious ruling of this world – that’s consistent in the Bible, it’s simply what seven means), so it’s said seven times. It is a little while that God allows suffering, and He answers it with joy. Not only in heaven, but in every foretaste of heaven He gives us. Here in His house, where Jesus meets us and speaks to us and forgives us and teaches us. And as we live our lives as Christians and thank God for the world He created, for the daily bread He gives us, for family, for friends, for talents, for everything good He allows us to do, again, not random things, but gifts from the hands of the risen Lord Jesus.

And these joys are foretastes of a joy that will not be taken from us, a joy that will end all suffering forever, when we see our Savior face to face. So St. Paul says that the sufferings of this present age aren’t worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed. He calls suffering momentary. And so it is. God is preparing for us “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”

There is a debate that college sophomores love to have about whether you could really enjoy the good if you never experienced the evil. Whether you could enjoy pleasure without having experienced pain. It is a silly argument. We do experience pain. That’s reality. We know of no existence that does not have suffering. Now that God has become a man in Jesus Christ, not even He knows any existence that does not have suffering. Imagining realities that don’t exist is not for serious people, certainly not for Christians. There is no life that does not have its sufferings. This is a necessity. It’s what sin has brought into this world.

The question is only how God answers suffering. And He answers it in His Son. Our Lord Jesus Christ. He answers it by taking the suffering Himself. He answers it on the cross where our Creator dies for His sinful creatures, so that we can live with Him. He answers it by His resurrection, where we see what our future is, with death tread under our feet, with sin buried in the grave, with all suffering ended. And we see this in the face of our Lord Jesus, which is pure kindness and love to us.n We recognize it in the breaking of the bread. We hear it in His words, given and shed for you. We sing it with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. And we rest in our Savior’s promise, “but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” Alleluia. Christ is risen.

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