Jubilate, The Fourth Sunday of Easter: A Little While

Jesus Instructs His Disciples on Sorrow and Joy
Jesus bids farewell to his disciples and tells them that their grief will turn into joy, based on John 16:16-22. From Martin Luther’s Church Postils (Sermons), 1554.

Lessons: Isaiah 40:25-31, 1 John 3:1-3, John 16:16-22
Hymns: LSB 487, 459, 548, 633, 741, 480

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      In just four verses, the words, “a little while” are written seven times. The setting is Maundy Thursday. Jesus had already instituted the Lord’s Supper, washed the disciples’ feet, and said, “Arise, let us go from here” because they must go to the Garden of Gethsemane. But Jesus continues with His speech to His disciples for two more chapters of John. It’s no surprise that Jesus had much to say before He is crucified. Yet, a few verses before our Gospel begins, Jesus said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:12-13). Jesus had much more to say, but He was leaving it for the Holy Spirit to guide them into those truths.

      When Jesus says, “A little while,” He uses just one Greek word, Mikron. It is a word that means the smallest. The word has made its way into English as micro. Earlier Jesus called babies the same word, saying, “These little ones who believe in Me” (Matt. 18:6). The smallest of children—infants—can believe in Jesus. Why? Because faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:16) and this faith is not an act of our will (John 1:12-13) but is worked by God the Holy Spirit.

      So when Jesus said, “A little while,” He really meant a little while—a microscopic time frame in the grand scheme of things. Jesus says these things to prepare the disciples for what is about to come. He had just said they are not ready to hear more, even though He had more to say. So Jesus draws his speech to a close saying they will not see Him in a little while but then they will see Him in a little while.

      Remember, Jesus says these things in the evening on Maundy Thursday. His crucifixion is going to be on the following day. He will die, and His Body will be placed in the grave.

      These disciples had been with Jesus throughout His three-year ministry. They enjoyed a lot of time together. They are down to hours before He will die. He will go to the Father (John 16:10), for He will obtain the victory over sin, death, and the Devil. Jesus will cancel out sin through the shedding of His Blood, prove death has no power over Him, and defeat the Devil who lies and destroys.

      So, Jesus is announcing to His disciples that His crucifixion is at hand. His time had come. He is to fulfill what He was sent to do.

      This, of course, would not be easy for the disciples to witness. Even though it was necessary and even though Jesus would be obtaining the victory, sorrow will fill their hearts. They will watch the sinless Lamb of God be slaughtered. They will watch His trial and beatings, His Passion and crucifixion. They know His innocence. And so, sorrow will fill their hearts.

      The pain mankind experiences as they are separated by loved ones by death is excruciating. Nothing quite compares. Jesus points out the great pain mothers experience when they go through labor. Yet, their sorrow is turned to joy for a human being is brought into the world. There’s also nothing quite like this joy.

      This should not surprise us. Great joy when life comes into the world and great pain when lives are ended and souls leave this world. God is, after all, the author of life. Death is not part of God’s original plan. Death is not, in fact, natural. We may see it as part of a natural process. Many call it the cycle of life. But remember what God originally created. He created a world without sin. With no sin, there is no death. Before the Fall of man into sin, no humans could have died. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).

      A mother’s pain when delivering a child is replaced with joy when the baby is born. But the pain endured by those who bury their loved ones does not get replaced with joy. Some may feel relieved, that their loved ones are no longer suffering and have gone to be with the Lord. But this relief, or even happiness that they are with the Lord, does not match the joy that is experienced by the birth of a child.

      Jesus does not sugarcoat the pain the disciples will soon experience through His death. However, Jesus also teaches them His death will be temporary. In His discourse, He doesn’t outright declare that He will die and rise the third day, but His words are clear enough where they should know He is referring to the very things He had told them several times before. He had said on at least three occasions that they are going to Jerusalem where the Son of Man will be betrayed and handed over to evil men who will scourge Him and kill Him, and He will rise from the dead on the third day.

      What this means, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is that our Lord’s time in the grave will be temporary. After all Jesus said, “And again a little while (mikron) and you will see Me.” The time in which our Lord’s Body will lay in the grave will be short. They will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice at His death. The world will figure this holy menace will be gone—the One who was trying to upend their way of life. Such joy they will have when they will be freed from a true Authority in their lives. Such is the way of corruption and false belief.

      Many who have walked away from Christ and Christian living feel they are now free. They think of the Christian faith as religious shackles, keeping them down and repressing them. Once they are free, they begin to do what they want. They don’t have to feel guilty over their life choices. They feel they are not being judged anymore.

      But what they do not realize is that they are not free at all. They have walked into Satan’s domain and put on his handcuffs. Thinking they are now free, they are in bondage to the Devil. Thinking they are not being judged by Christians, they have gone from being acquitted by Christ through the Gospel to being judged guilty by God, for they are now in their sin. Satan leads people astray with enticing lies.

      To remain in Christ’s fold is true freedom. As our Epistle declares, “See what kind of live the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God!” We are God’s children now, and when Jesus appears, we shall be like Him (1 John 3:1-3). That is true freedom!

      Therefore, my friends, do not be enticed by the ways of the world. Do not think that you are somehow liberated when you are not in God’s house hearing His Word. Do not think you are gaining something as you make yourself so busy that you cannot take an hour of rest every Sunday morning in God’s House. Whatever you are doing that keeps you away from the Absolution, the Word, the Prayers of the Church, the Lord’s Supper, and the gathering of believers—whatever it is that keeps you away—they are not granting you freedom. They are false hopes, shackles to the world, things to keep you busy so that you are not receiving the grace of God in Christ Jesus.

      Instead of telling God that you don’t need Him and that you need this hour to get other things done or sleep in, tell your employer that you need a couple hours on Monday morning to get things done or sleep in. If that won’t work with your employer, why do you think it will with the One who knows all things and can see the hearts of man?

      Jesus said, “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). Jesus described the great sorrow the disciples will face when they are not in the presence of Christ. In contrast, consider the great joy they will have when Jesus is in their presence again. No one can take that joy away, for it is a joy and peace we have in believing that Christ is our Savior.

      Ten years ago, I was serving a vacant congregation. I had been serving them in their vacancy for four years. When the vacancy began, they said they would be out of funds in a year and would close. God graciously allowed them to continue for three years longer than they expected. Then came the closing ceremony. The church was packed, unlike the typical weekend when 10-12 were present. Tears filled the eyes of everyone present. A congregation with so many memories was closing. It could have been prevented, but only if people would be willing to see the joy that takes place when Christians gather together in unity and not take the Church and the Gospel for granted.

      The joy (that could not be taken away from the disciples) came to them by way of sorrow. Hardship, tribulation, crosses, and suffering all lead us to Christ. They show us we are not in charge of our lives. They force us to draw near to Christ and trust in Him. When things are easy, our prayers are weak or even gone. We figure we don’t to be shepherded. But when trials cause us to be shaken to our very core, then we turn to Christ with prayer, trust, and confidence that He will shepherd us. God uses affliction for our good.

      On Maundy Thursday, Jesus was preparing His disciples for things they could not even begin to imagine. In a little while, they will weep and lament. But in a little while, they will see Him again and they will be filled with joy. That is, in a little while, Jesus will rise triumphantly from the grave. Death will be swallowed up in victory.

      The victory over death and the grave obtained by our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ means that your times of sorrow will also be “a little while” and that your time of joy will be eternal. It is true. Your life here is temporary. It is but “a little while.” So cling to Christ, your Good Shepherd. Let Him lead you through His Word and Sacrament. Know that He always tells the truth, and His Word is sure and certain. And receive the victory won by Christ and granted to all who call upon Him by Communing with Christ frequently. You are Sheep of His fold, baptized into Christ. In accord with God’s timing, you will join our Lord in the gates of Paradise. And, in a little while, Jesus will return and give us incorruptible, immortal, glorious risen bodies. Truly, our joys will never end. Amen.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen