Bible Text: John 16:16-22 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus | Series: Easter 2023 | Alleluia! Christ is risen!
A year ago I went to a pastors’ conference in Uinta County and on the way we stopped at a dive in Rock Springs to eat lunch. It was a dive, so I ordered a burger. My two pastor friends ordered the ribeye – cost like 40 dollars, and they were expecting a beautiful, thick, medium rare steak. They got something that looked like a charred flat pork chop. They shouldn’t have been surprised. You want a big, beautiful steak, don’t order it at a dive in Rock Springs, WY.
People come to the Christian Church also with the wrong expectations. They expect things from it that Jesus simply didn’t institute it to give. So some churches will offer entertainment, praise bands, cue the smoke and the strobe lights, and people will come to expect this from the Christian Church. Then they’ll come to a Christian Church that just does what Jesus told us to do – baptize, forgive sins, teach all of God’s word, warn against false prophets, offer the Lord’s Supper, and they’ll be disappointed because they’re expecting something totally different, something more glamourous, and to them we look like the dive in Rock Springs.
But we’re not. This is the gate to heaven. It is the font of true joy. It is where eternal life is distributed, where God meets us and makes saints out of sinners, where the blood of Jesus gives us immortality. You might think that the eye of God is especially focused on what is happening in Washington D.C. or in the New York stock exchange, but you’d be wrong – God’s focus is here where He wants to dwell with His people and in our Christian homes.
But you won’t understand this or see it if you come with the wrong expectations. The disciples are the perfect example of this. They don’t understand what Jesus is saying. They literally say, “We don’t know what He’s talking about.” At least they’re honest. But why don’t they understand? It’s pretty clear what He’s talking about. He says a little while and you won’t see Me and a little while and you will see Me. You know what that means. It means He’s going to die and rise again. He’s said it before to his disciples. But the disciples honestly don’t get it. Because they have the wrong expectations. They think like the people of their time. And come to Jesus with worldly assumptions. They expect Jesus to be a political savior, to give earthly peace, to address their secondary needs as primary, their body before their soul, and as long as they have that expectation, any talk of His death and resurrection makes no sense to them.
The more worldly minded we become, the more we’ll expect church to look like the world. And the voice of Jesus will become strange to us. The culture around us is becoming more and more worldly. Everything around you in this culture teaches you to treat the church like a consumer shopping around for entertainment, excitement, advancement, or affirmation. This is why church here can seem so strange to people from outside. It’s actually supposed to. Think of it. Where else do you hear talk of sin and forgiveness in our world? It doesn’t exist. It’s gone from the popular imagination. That’s why it makes people so uncomfortable. Where else are you going to hear about God as Creator, of this world, of you – it’s gone from the public schools, gone from your news, gone from your museums (unless you travel to Kentucky), not in your sporting events, rarely at your job or in the conversation of your coworkers, or in whatever else you do to spend your time. And then talk of Jesus, of God becoming a man and dying for us, of hell, of the just punishment for our sin, of our great need for a Savior – where do you see it? Only in Christ’s Church. So it will seem unreal, strange, because God and divine things and divine talk is simply gone from the American scene. And this is the world you live in.
So we need to prepare ourselves to expect divine things from Jesus, to see here the house of God and the gate of heaven. If the culture around us doesn’t mention God or Jesus or Creation or sin or forgiveness, then we need to create our own culture where we do talk about these things, at our school, at home, at the table when we eat, before bed as we pray, singing hymns, spending time with each other, with other Christians. Even then, we’ll still be distracted by worldly stuff when we come to church, because we’re looking forward to hunting or fishing or the sportsball game, or we’re worried about money or job or whatever, so when we come into this house we need to understand that it is God’s house and His Word is spoken here and it is not like the words of the culture around us.
Then when Jesus talks about suffering, you’ll be prepared to hear it. It won’t be strange at all. And when He talks about joy, you’ll know what Christian joy looks like. Because it’s this joy you’ve been expecting, that you want more than anything.
First, suffering. The Christian Church has always suffered and the godless culture has always rejoiced at the Church’s suffering. You notice that. It’s not that they just persecute and hate. It’s that they rejoice, they like it. You will sorrow, but the world will rejoice, that’s what Jesus says.
We’re familiar with the gleeful mocking directed against Jesus, how they laughed at Him as they dressed Him in purple to look like a king, and put a crown of thorns on His head, and gave Him a reed for a scepter, and then took the reed and beat Him with it. They laughed at Him. They rejoiced at His pain. The psalms too are filled with this rejoicing of our enemies: “Let them be ashamed and brought to mutual confusion who rejoice at my hurt.” The enemies of the Church not only persecute us, they rejoice at our hurt. That’s the psalm, that’s Jesus. In the first centuries of the Christian era, the crowds would literally cry out in the Coliseum, rejoicing to see yet another Christian thrown to the lions. Give us another!
You see the same rejoicing today. Rage and rejoicing are a bad mix, but that’s what we get – rage against the Christian Church and the beautiful things it upholds – the Law, the Gospel, the Creation of man and woman and little babies and family, virtues like chastity and hard work. Our enemies rage at these wonderful things, they’re trying to destroy them, they’re doing a pretty good job at it, and they rejoice when see them hurt. So look at the state of the church in our day: shrinking, losing influence, corrupted and infiltrated by Bible-deniers and compromisers. And our enemies rejoice at this and they think they are winning. Look at the state of the family – what you see is obviously a problem, and you’d think no one would rejoice at the fatherless rate, or that most children are born out of wedlock, or that very few children are born at all, or at abortion, or at the mutilation of children. You’d think no one would rejoice at this, but you’d be wrong. They teach in our universities that the marriage of one man to one woman and the raising of a family is a western construct that needs to be expunged from society. And they rejoice to see it happening.
And we Christians who see this and actually have to deal with it, we suffer. Jesus says we would and we do, especially when this wickedness affects our own families and our own members and we see the pain it brings.
The preparation for receiving this Word from our Lord is the joy He gives us, which is worth suffering for. Simply and obviously. This is why Jesus tells His disciples before it happens that He’s going to die, that He’s going to suffer, but that He will rise again, that their joy will be full. The pain is too much if we don’t know why we’re suffering. That’s why there is so much despair in our time. People are suffering and they can’t find any reason why they should, because they have no idea about sin and the corruption it brings and God’s great love in Christ Jesus who bears that sin for us. So their suffering is senseless – they can’t comprehend why it’s happening and they have no solution for it. But ours is not. Jesus compares it to a mother who has anguish in giving birth to her child. The pain is obviously not meaningless. It has an end, a goal, and that is bringing life to the world. I have seen it many times. I have seen outrageous pain in my wife giving birth and then I have seen that little baby born and placed into her arms and I have seen pure joy on her face. If I could bottle that joy and sell it, I’d be a billionaire. It’s that joy, for the sake of that joy, that the suffering was worth it.
Our joy is Jesus. It is because of our confession of Him and our love for Him that we suffer the hatred and mockery of our enemies. This is how it was for the disciples. It is how it is for us. The only reason the disciples were filled with sorrow and weeping is because they loved Jesus and confessed Him, and this one they loved and confessed, they saw Him arrested, beaten, crucified, mocked, and killed, and their enemies loving it, rejoicing in it, and wanting to get them too. Jesus is the reason for their suffering. Christian suffering is suffering for the sake of Jesus, because we won’t give Him up, because He is our joy.
When the disciples see Him again, on the night of His resurrection, He gives them peace and they rejoice. They receive exactly the joy that Jesus promised, that no one can take away from them. And it is not the peace of having everyone like them or having an easy life full of the pleasures and entertainments of this world. That’s not the peace Jesus gives. These guys get thrown into prison. They get beaten. And they walk away from it rejoicing. Most of them get killed for confessing Jesus. Jesus doesn’t even pretend to give earthly peace. He is giving something that their suffering has trained them to realize is far greater.
To be without Jesus is the only thing that is intolerable. To have Him is to have everything. Peace with God, peace in our hearts, because we know God’s great love for us, manifest in Jesus’ wounds, in the scars of the God-Man, these wounds that pledge to us eternal life, because Christ who is our Life, our Substitute, our Brother, lives forever. Joy that no one can take away because our Lord Jesus simply won’t let them, and He is Lord, not only our Lord, but Lord, Master, God of the universe, whose will will be done, and it is a gracious will, full of mercy and overflowing with love for us, for His Church, so that the gates of Hell will not prevail against us.
And when this is the joy that we expect to receive from Jesus, we will get it, every single time, in His absolution, in His teaching, in His body and His blood – Ask and you will receive that your joy may be full. Any suffering you experience because you trust in Jesus and stand on God’s Word only prepares you to expect the right things from your Lord. And you’ll see that all other things are added unto you. Jesus isn’t going to let His church perish. He’s not going to let the family come to nothing. He’s not going to let male and female dissolve into a soup of genders. He’s not going to let the enemies of the Church prevail. He died to restore His creation. And He will restore it. And it’s our joy to see this begin among us. We are united again with our Creator by the blood of His Son. He teaches us everything that is good and precious and beautiful, gives us things worth fighting for, and the joy and peace to know that the victory over death and sin and pain and persecution has already been won. Alleluia. Christ is risen.