Read – John 16:16-24
Key Verse – Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy (John 16:20 NKJV).
Key Thought – For a Christian, sorrow might come for a while, but it will be replaced with joy that lasts for eternity.
It seems somewhat traditional to preach a special sermon, related in some way to the topic of motherhood, on Mother’s Day. Some women, having been to many a Mother’s Day service in their church, come expecting to hear about the Proverbs 31 woman. Others, perhaps, expect to hear about one of the great moms in the Bible – Mary, or Hannah, or Jochebed, or some other.
But I always struggle with the idea of preaching about motherhood on Mother’s Day, and I’ll tell you why. As I’ve spent the majority of my adult life in some form of ministry, and as I’ve interacted with many people and families, both saved and unsaved, I’ve come to learn that for many many people, this day is not a happy day. It is a hard day.
If you’re one of those whose family is still intact, and whose mother is alive and well and serving Jesus, and with whom you have a sweet and whole relationship, then you might not understand that. But there are many who mourn the loss of a mother on this day. Her loss is felt everyday, but more than ever on this day. Some ache over a broken relationship with their mother, whether that relationship was always bad, or something happened along the way to damage it. Some families have been torn to pieces by divorce, and relationships between mothers and children torn to pieces as well.
Then there are those who long to be mothers, and for reasons only known to the God who loves them, He has withheld children from them. And perhaps most painful of all are those mothers who have held children in their arms, only to have them taken away by death.
Mother’s Day is not all happy family dinners and carnations and cards and gifts. To some… even to many… it can be a time of tears and pain and longing.
There is a word in the passage we read this morning that is helpful. It does speak of motherhood (vs. 21). Of course the verse speaks very specifically about the act of childbirth… that it is painful and distressing and a time of sorrow. But it is only for a short time, and is followed by a time of joy and rejoicing in the newborn’s birth. No doubt, every mother here can relate.
I was present at the birth of both of my children. I felt all kinds of emotions, and all kinds of anxiety… but nothing I felt compared to what my wife felt. For her, it was painful and agonizing. And when they handed that slimy little newborn to me, I felt a rush of joy that cannot be expressed, but when I saw the look on her face when they laid the baby on her breast and she looked for the first time upon that baby, I realized I didn’t know what joy was really like. The look on her face defined joy at that moment.
Indeed, vs. 21 gives us a beautiful picture about childbirth and motherhood. But this passage is not really about motherhood. Jesus was actually illustrating a much larger point, and a point that pertains to all of us, whether mothers or not… whether male or female… whether our experiences have been blessed or painful… whether this day hurts or helps… ALL of us can take hope and help from what Jesus was really talking about in this passage – pain and sorrow may come for a while, but that is only for a while. Joy is coming, and it will be forever.
Let’s tackle this passage… let’s talk about that joy… by asking first of all, “What did Jesus mean,” and then move on to ask “What can we learn from it.”
What did Jesus mean?
Jesus and His disciples were in the upper room at this time. Actually, everything from John 13-17 took place in the upper room. Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet (John 13), He had instituted the Lord’s Supper or communion, which we observed just a few minutes ago. John doesn’t really speak of that, but the other 3 gospels do, and John 13:2 – supper being ended… helps us see that all these events took place during that same Passover meal time.
There in that upper room Jesus said, “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father” (John 16:16 NKJV).
What did Jesus mean by that? Obviously, the disciples wondered about it, for their confusion is plainly stated in vss. 17-18. Their confusion centered on the meaning of His words, a little while (vs. 18).
Well, there are usually a couple of interpretations suggested as to what Jesus meant:
- Possibly, Jesus was referring to His impending death and resurrection, and encouraging the disciples whom He knew would suffer intense pain during that time. Some believe that vs. 22 argues for this interpretation. If this is the proper interpretation, then Jesus was telling them that the pain they would feel at the crucifixion would be transformed into joy at the resurrection.
2. Possibly, He was referring to the time between His ascension and the Second Coming. His words, because I go to the Father (vs. 16) argue for this interpretation. He had said this in vs. 10. I think He explained it in vs. 28. If this interpretation is correct, then He was telling them that the sorrow of waiting for Christ’s return would be replaced by the joy of that return. And though it might seem a long time by earthly reckoning, it is really just a little while when viewed in light of eternity. Cf. Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NKJV) “For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry. (Hebrews 10:37 NKJV)
Valid arguments can be made for either interpretation. And actually, the main point Jesus was making in vs. 20 applies equally to either interpretation.
What did Jesus mean in vs. 20? “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy (John 16:20 NKJV).
There was coming a time of sorrow and grief and pain, but it would be short-lived, and soon replaced by joy unspeakable and full of glory.
Jesus was going to die on the cross, and for three days lie in the grave, and then on that third day rise. If this is what He meant in vs. 16, then there was going to be a “little while” where sorrow and pain and confusion and dismay would be intense. Put yourself in the place of the disciples during that “little while.”
– They loved Jesus. He was not only their Rabbi and teacher, but also their beloved friend. Now He was dead.
– They had rearranged their entire lives around Jesus. They had turned their backs on their previous lives… given up their previous livelihoods… thrown in with Him 100%. Now He was dead.
– They had identified themselves plainly and openly and publicly with Him. Now He was dead, and they found themselves fearing those who had put Him to death.
Imagine the confusion and sorrow that must have filled their lives during that “little while” Jesus lay in the grave. Now imagine the joy that filled their hearts when they saw their dead Friend standing before them alive forevermore! Sorrow had been transformed into joy!
Jesus was also going to go away… ascend back to the Father… where He is at this moment, and then one day return. If that is what He was referring to in vs. 16, then we all live during that “little while” between His going away and His coming back. We live in a world filled with sorrow and pain and confusion. But when He comes back, that sorrow will be transformed into joy.
Whichever interpretation we think most fits with vs. 16, Jesus ultimate meaning in this passage is pretty clear: For a Christian, sorrow might come for a while, but it will be replaced with joy that lasts for eternity.
What can we learn from it?
Sorrow is to be expected.
We only need to jump down to vs. 33 to be reminded of this truth. In the world you will have tribulation (John 16:33). Sorrow is to be expected in this life.
We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). Sorrow is to be expected in this life.
Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation (1 Thessalonians 3:4).
Sometimes a person becomes a Christian thinking that all trouble and pain will then be erased from their life. When they find that such is not true… that troubles remain… that those old temptations are still there… old besetting sins still beset and old addictions still pull, they sometimes become disillusioned. Jesus spoke of this very thing in his parable of the sower and soils. But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles (Matthew 13:20-21 NKJV).
Hear me now, my brothers and sisters. Don’t let Satan trip you up. Don’t stumble over this hard truth – trouble remains after we get saved. Sorrow is still to be expected, even for the Christian.
Sorrow is only for a little while.
Jesus was repeating a truth here seen throughout the Bible.
Those who sow in tears Shall reap in joy (Psalm 126:5 NKJV).
For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5 NKJV).
Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4 NKJV)
Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness (Isaiah 61:2b-3a).
Again, think of the disciples… what they were feeling during that “little while” when Jesus was dead and His broken body was buried in the grave. And then imagine their unspeakable joy when they saw Him alive.
Luke described their reaction when their sorrow was turned to joy… when the pain of the crucifixion was transformed into the joy of the resurrection – When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?” So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence (Luke 24:40-43). John described that moment in similar fashion, When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord (John 20:20 NKJV).
So often we depict the disciples and their interactions with Jesus in such sterile ways – sitting around Him in a circle, absorbing His teaching… following dutifully behind Him as He went from town to town. But in that room, when their sorrow was transformed into joy, there were no doubt shouts… tears of happiness… hugs (squeezes, as my wife likes to call them)… high fives… laughter (lots of it). There was JOY, and there was not one moment remaining of pain and suffering about the crucifixion. That was now old news, eclipsed… replaced… transformed, by the joy of resurrection.
Oh Christian, can you imagine what it will be like when you see Jesus? You will see Him soon, you know. It is only a “little while” before He comes to get you, either in death or the Rapture. You won’t even remember the pain and struggle of this life, whatever it might have been, for the joy you will experience then will totally eclipse it. Jonathan Edwards said, “Our bad things turn out for good. Our good things can never be lost. And the best things are yet to come.”
That is, of course, what Jesus was conveying with His illustration of the mother in childbirth. Labor is painful… it is a “little while” that might seem forever to her at the time. But then it is over, and the whole experience has transformed into joy. Warren Wiersbe, who just went home to be with the Lord a few days ago, wrote, “To the mother experiencing birth pains, every minute may seem an hour. Our concept of time changes with our feelings. Thirty minutes in the dentist chair may seem like hours, while hours fishing or dining with friends may seem like a very short time. The mother feels as though the birth is taking a long time, when really it may be only “a little while.” When the baby has been born, pain is forgotten as joy fills her heart.”^[Weirsbe]
Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy (John 16:20 NKJV).
This is the key truth of this passage. The phrase “a little while” is mentioned seven times just in this one passage! Jesus was saying that sorrow would continue for a little while, but then comes joy!
Joy is the expectation of every Christian. Joy is a uniquely Christian experience, at least as described in our text, and in much of Scripture. Joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness is an emotion that ebbs and flows based on our experiences. Joy is not an emotion. It is much more. It is fruit of the Spirit – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, JOY… (Galatians 5:22). Joy comes from being saved!
Billy Graham said, “No matter what the climate is, what the troubles are, what the difficulties are, there is joy for the child of God, because joy is produced supernaturally by the Holy Spirit in us.”
Principal Rainy said, “Joy is the flag that is flown from the castle of the heart when the King is in residence there.”
So, what can we learn from this? Sorrow is to be expected, but sorrow is only for a little while, and then comes JOY.
Well, I mentioned we would consider two questions – What did Jesus mean, and what can we learn from it? But there is a third question we need to face up to this morning:
What about when we are feeling joyless?
Is that your state this morning? Are you listening to all this and wondering why the Bible would promise such a wonderful thing as joy, and yet you don’t think you have it?
“Where is my joy, Pastor? I don’t believe such a thing has ever existed in me.” Is that your state, today?
“Where is my joy, Pastor? I think I had it once, but it’s gone. How do I get it back?” Is that your state today?
“I know what joy is, Pastor. I’ve had it off and on throughout my Christian experience, but it seems to ebb and flow. How can I live in joy… stay in joy… not let Satan steal my joy?” Is that you, today?
Well, let me suggest some practical thoughts that might help us live in joy:
Examine yourself, whether you are a Christian.
Everything Jesus said in this passage was directed to His followers… His disciples… believers. Joy is something promised to the saved, not to the lost. If joy is totally absent from your life, then the very first thing you need to do is ask yourself whether you are saved.
Paul told the Corinthians, Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves… (2 Corinthians 13:5 NKJV).
Oh hear me, my friend, if you are not saved, then what little joy you have in this life is the best you are ever going to have. Turn to Christ and you can look forward to JOY… REAL JOY… everlasting joy.
I have found the pleasure I once craved,
> It is joy and peace within;
> What a wondrous blessing, I am saved
> From the awful gulf of sin.
> I have found the joy no tongue can tell,
> How its waves of glory roll;
> It is like a great o’erflowing well,
> Springing up within my soul.
> It is joy unspeakable and full of glory,
> Full of glory, full of glory;
> It is joy unspeakable and full of glory,
> Oh, the half has never yet been told.^[Barney Elliot Warren]
Is that your experience? I’m not asking whether you are happy… I’m asking whether you have JOY UNSPEAKABLE AND FULL OF GLORY SPRINGING UP WITHIN YOUR SOUL. Have you ever had it? Do you even know what it is?
If the answer to those questions is “no,” then my friend you are almost certainly not saved. FIND YOUR JOY by trusting Christ… by being saved… by believing and receiving the gift of salvation He died and rose again to give you.
Will you do that?
Examine yourself, whether unconfessed sin is robbing you of your joy.
Billy Sunday said, “If you have no joy in your religion, there’s a leak in your Christianity somewhere.”
Christian, you can be born again… you can be safe and secure in Jesus… you can be saved and eternally secure in Jesus… and still joyless. Why? Because sin will rob you of your joy.
David was one of the Godliest men to ever live. He loved the Lord. He wrote and sang the majority of psalms we have in our Bible. He walked so close to God that God called him a man after His own heart. He so pleased the Lord that God made a covenant with him that his kingdom would last forever, and that the Messiah would come from his descendants.
But David was a sinner, just like you and me… a sinner saved by grace. And one day he sinned grievously by committing adultery with a woman, and then trying to cover up that sin by having her husband murdered. For at least a year, David lived with that sin unconfessed in his life. Finally, after the prophet Nathan confronted him about his sin, David confessed it and got things right with God. Afterwards, he wrote Psalm 51 and in that psalm he asked God, restore to me the joy of Your salvation (vs. 12). David was saved, even when he had sinned… he was saved even though he was harboring unconfessed sin in his life… he was saved, but he was JOYLESS. SIN HAD ROBBED HIM OF HIS JOY.
If you know you are saved, my Brother… my Sister, but you wonder where the joy went… there may be sin in the camp… you may need to pray as David prayed, Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin (Psalm 51:2). If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9 NKJV).
Examine yourself, whether you are praying enough.
Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full (John 16:24 NKJV).
Pray. It’s pretty hard to miss Jesus’ point there.
Pray. Jesus plainly said here that prayer brings joy.
Pray. Seeing God answer our prayers is an unmatched source of joy.
Pray. This is a present active imperative, meaning we are to pray and keep praying. It describes persistent prayer that does not give up.
If you have joy but want more joy… pray more. If you have joy, but it kind of ebbs and flows for you… pray more.
A.W. Tozer said, “The Christian owes it to the world to be supernaturally joyful.”
Moms – on this your day, I pray for you to have joy. And not only for you, but for all on this day. May God grant you joy – joy unspeakable – joy that overcomes all the “little whiles” of sorrow and pain we might have to endure.