Jubilate, The Third Sunday after Easter May 14, 2000

INI

Christians Can Tell the Future

John 16:16-22

Hymns

537, 519, 528, 401

A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father. Then said some of his disciples among themselves, What is this that he saith unto us, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me: and, Because I go to the Father? They said therefore, What is this that he saith, A little while? we cannot tell what he saith. Now Jesus knew that they were desirous to ask him, and said unto them, Do ye inquire among yourselves of that I said, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me? Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. Here ends our text.

In the name of Jesus Christ, who gives each of us a perfect vision of the future, Dear Fellow Redeemed,

"Hindsight’s 20-20!”—That old saying’s very true. It’s easy to look back and analyze what has happened in the past. So-called “Monday Morning Quarterbacks” can look back at Sunday’s football game and say exactly where the losing team went wrong in it’s strategy. Or take our country’s recent military action in the former Yugoslavia—when the massacres were going on and the refugees were pouting out of Kosovo, our political leaders felt that something had to be done. Now that we’ve been there a while and things aren’t going so well, of course, the critics are coming out of the woodwork. Yes, analyzing the past is easy, but telling the future—that’s something else again! Even the most talented analysts can’t predict with certainty what will happen in Palestine, the Persian Gulf, or on Wall Street next week, let alone next year!.

There’s one exception to this rule, and it applies only to those who are disciples of Christ. Let’s take a closer look at our text for this morning. In it, Jesus reveals something surprising; namely, that:

CHRISTIANS CAN TELL THE FUTURE

Jesus tells us to expect:

  1. A measure of sorrow on earth
  2. Unmeasured joy in heaven!

It was Maundy Thursday evening, and the disciples were gathered with their Master in the upper room. Our text for today is part of a long sermon that Jesus preached to them that night—a sort of farewell address. As usual, a lot of what he was telling them went right over their heads. They were especially confused about a certain prediction about the future that Jesus made, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father. Well, what in the world was that supposed to mean, they asked each other? The Master was speaking in riddles again! As they argued about it among themselves, none of them had the slightest inkling of the dark events that would take place on Mt. Calvary the next day, or of the glorious events that would follow on Easter Sunday. They had no vision of the future. None of them could sense that the events of the next few days and weeks would completely change their lives.

Jesus read the confusion in their minds, and started to explain. Do ye inquire among yourselves of that I said? …Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.

Fans attending major league baseball games have gotten used to instant replays. Now, after every play, they can look up at the Diamond Vision screen and see exactly what happened in the last play—whether the decision of the umpires was right or wrong. Imagine how startling it would be, though, if you could look up at that screen and see, not the play that took place a moment ago, but a play that was going to take place a few moments in the future! Whether they understood it or not, that’s what Jesus was giving His disciples that evening in the upper room. He was giving them something rare and precious—a crystal clear vision of what would happen in the future. As true God, Jesus of course could see the future as well as the past, and He decided to share that vision with them. He knew that He wouldn’t be with them much longer, and He wanted them to know what to expect after He had died on the cross, risen, and ascended into heaven. The vision He revealed to them had two sides to it—a time of sorrow, and a time of great joy.

You and I, too, need to pay attention to the words Jesus spoke that evening. Why? Because they describe not only the futures of those few disciples sitting there with Jesus in the upper room, they describe our futures, too! God doesn’t want us to be trapped by the uncertainty that everyone else seems to be feeling in our world of 1999. He doesn’t want us to be confused about the future, so He tells us, in our text, exactly what we may expect. He wants us Christians to realize that, with the insights of God’s Word, we CAN tell the future!

Jesus doesn’t sugarcoat his vision of the future for His disciples; He tells it like it is. After His death on the cross for sinners He would rise again, and walk among them for a brief period of forty days. Then He would ascend to His Father, and for the rest of their time on this earth they would not see Him. He tells them plainly that during that period of time, they would undergo a measure of sorrow. Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful… “Be prepared,” He tells them, “because your life as Christians is going to be tough!” And He was right. In fact, it wasn’t long after Jesus’ ascension that they found out just how right He was. Not long after the Day of Pentecost, Peter and John were thrown into prison for preaching Christ to the people of Jerusalem. When they rulers found out that the disciples wouldn’t stop spreading this new Gospel, the punishments got more severe. Several of them were beaten in public. Others languished in chains in jail cells. One follower of Christ, named Stephen, was stoned to death for speaking the truth about Jesus to the Jewish elders. With glee, the Jews and the Romans persecuted the early Church. The majority of the original disciples would end their lives as martyrs for the name of Christ.

A little while, and you will not see me,” Jesus said, “and you will have a measure of sorrow on earth.” That applies to us, too! No, we won’t be dragged off to jail for worshipping Christ; we can thank God for the freedom of religion we enjoy here in America. But even here, the persecution of Christians goes on. It’s just become more subtle. Any Christian citizen is going to feel it if he dares to take a stand against the legalized slaughter of unborn infants in this country. Our young people feel it in high school and college, where any student who doesn’t swallow the godless theory of evolution runs the risk of being sneered at as a simpleton. Our tiny Church of the Lutheran Confession feels it, even from other churches, when we refuse to surrender a single truth of God’s Word for the sake of so-called “love” and “unity.” And in countless other ways, the persecution goes on—I’ll bet you’ve felt it, too. If you haven’t, maybe you should take another look at the kind of witness you’re presenting to the world around you.

It’s true that we will experience a measure sorrow during this period of time when Jesus is physically absent from the earth. But the Lord wants us to put this time of sorrow in perspective. To do that, He uses a picture that I suspect only the mothers in our congregation can fully understand—the picture of what a woman experiences during childbirth. He says, A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.

It seems like more and more young husbands these days are getting brave, and going right into the delivery room to be there when their children are born. But only a woman, they say, can really understand the agony of bringing a child into the world. As painful as it is, though, almost any woman you ask will tell you that the lasting wonder and joy of the experience completely overshadows the temporary feelings of pain. Jesus tells us that the same thing’s true about our earthly life as Christians. While we’re here, we experience the sorrows of a life that’s plagued by sin and hardship. But when our Savior comes again to claim His people, our long lives of battling the devil, the world and our own flesh will seem like only a fleeting moment. When I’m trying to describe the relation of this life to the next, sometimes I tell our young people to imagine their lives as a time line that stretches from here to New York City. On that line, one inch represents the time they will spend on this earth, and the rest is the time they will spend with their Savior in heaven. It’s not a very accurate picture, of course, because our existence in heaven will have no end point at all!

Jesus says, I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. That evening in the upper room, the disciples had no idea that Jesus would die on the cross the following day, or what His death would mean for them. If they had had the vision of the future that Jesus was trying to give them, they’d have known that He was going forth to do battle for their eternal souls! His complete payment, on the cross, for all the sins of mankind guaranteed for them—and us!—eternal life in paradise. That joy, Jesus said, “…no one will take from you.” And the key to obtaining that joy? It lies simply in trusting the sacrifice our Savior made for us, as Jesus said, “He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die!

Must we wait until the Day of Judgment to enjoy this great salvation? No indeed! Frankly, I think it’s a shame the way some Christians go about with long faces and stern expressions all the time. Does that describe you? May it never be! As if Jesus had left some part of your redemption unfinished—He didn’t! As if some part of your burden still remained to weigh you down—it doesn’t! As if He had never risen from the dead and promised you that you too would one Day rise to everlasting life! No, my Christian friends, he did all that. That greatest of all treasures belongs to you right now, and the down-payment on that heavenly treasure is your faith.

The great reformer Martin Luther once said that, when he looked back over his life from the standpoint of heaven, he was certain that he’d wonder why he hadn’t spent every moment of it shouting the Good News about Jesus from his rooftop. No doubt we’ll feel the same way! Why not start now, rededicating your life to His service, “shouting His name from your rooftop”? Our Savior has given us a clear picture of the future. Let’s strengthen ourselves for a measure of sorrow on earth, while we prepare to celebrate the unmeasured joy in heaven. After all, we know what to expect, because the truth is, Christians CAN tell the future! AMEN.

—Paul Naumann, Pastor

Sermon Preached May 2, 1999
Ascension Lutheran Church, Tacoma WA


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