Present Sorrow, Future Joy – John 16:16-33

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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
Good Friday – April 19, 2019

Present Sorrow, Future Joy
John 16:16-33


It was Friday of the Passover week. It should have been a time of great joy as more than a million Jews had crowded into the ancient city of Jerusalem to celebrate God’s deliverance of Israel from its bondage in slavery to Egypt. Because of a differing method for accounting the start of the day, most of those from the northern areas had celebrated Passover the previous night, as had Jesus and His disciples. Those from the southern areas were celebrating Passover that very day. The lambs were being brought to the temple where they would be sacrificed.

But for Jesus’ disciples, there was no joy. They were full of sorrow. They were also confused and scared. They had first followed Jesus believing that He was the promised Messiah who would sit upon David’s throne and restore Israel to her former glory. The events of the previous night and this day did not fit into their idea of a conquering deliverer. Though Jesus had taught them many times about what was going to happen, they still struggled with it. For the present, it was Friday and they had much sorrow.

How could they begin to comprehend all the events that unfolded upon them so quickly? Judas, once their trusted companion and treasurer, had led the mob sent by the chief priests and elders to arrest Jesus. When Peter sought to defend Jesus with his small sword, Jesus rebuked him and had him put his sword away. Their king had been arrested. There were trials that Jesus had endured the previous night. All of which were mockeries of justice. Jesus had been beaten, scourged and spat upon. Could this really happen to the Messiah?

Then, the worst of all, Jesus was crucified. All the disciples except John had fled and were in hiding. John was there with Jesus’ mother, Mary. They watched the agony of His suffering and heard Him cry out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” Meaning “My God, My God, why has thou forsaken Me?” Then they heard Him cry out, “It is finished,” and watched as His head slumped forward in death. How could it be that the one they believed to be the Son of God could now be dead?

It was Friday, and the disciples were full of sorrow. But the story did not end on Friday. Though the disciples were currently in despair, Jesus had prepared them for the coming of the first day of the week. They had present sorrows, but they would have future joy.


Turn to John 16:16 and let us see how Jesus had prepared them for what had now come upon them. They were still in the Upper room after eating the Passover. Judas had left sometime before and they too were about to depart for the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus would pray and then be arrested. Jesus knew what was coming and so had warned them that He was about to depart. That news itself caused them sorrow and Jesus had comforted them through an explanation of what He would be doing and what they would receive after His departure. In fact, His departure was to their advantage for it would allow several important things to happen.

Jesus would be preparing a place for them in His Father’s house and He would return to take them there. (See: The Promise of Heaven).  Jesus would intercede with the Father on their behalf so that they would have confidence in their prayers. (See: Comfort for Those Who Believe, Part & Part 2). In addition, the Holy Spirit would come and minister to them. He would be another comforter to them. He would guide them into all truth and disclose to them the Father’s will just as Jesus had done. (See: The Ministry of the Holy Spirit).

Turning Present Sorrow to Joy

Starting in verse 16, Jesus said, 16 “A little while, and you will no longer behold Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.” 17 [Some] of His disciples therefore said to one another, “What is this thing He is telling us, ‘A little while, and you will not behold Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’?” 18 And so they were saying, “What is this that He says, ‘A little while’? We do not know what He is talking about.” 19 Jesus knew that they wished to question Him, and He said to them, “Are you deliberating together about this, that I said, ‘A little while, and you will not behold Me, and again a little while, and you will see Me’? 20 “Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned to joy. 21 “Whenever a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she remembers the anguish no more, for joy that a child has been born into the world. 22 “Therefore you too now have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one takes your joy away from you. 23 “And in that day you will ask Me no question. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you shall ask the Father for anything, He will give it to you in My name. 24 “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be made full.”

Jesus is direct with them about what the future would hold, both the positive and the negative. They would have sorrow and there would be good reason for that sorrow, but they would come through that to know His joy.

The disciples were confused by Jesus’ statement in verse 16 about them not seeing Him and then after a little while seeing Him again. We are not told why they do not ask Jesus to clear up their confusion, but they began to discuss it with each other. Perhaps they thought it might be part of what Jesus said in verse 12 that they could not bear yet. Perhaps they were a bit afraid of revealing their ignorance. Jesus had given them rebukes in the past because they were so slow to understand what He was teaching them. Whatever the reason, they discussed the issue among themselves instead of going to the one that could answer the question.

As a brief aside, let me point out that we are often the same way. We have some question or confusion about something, but instead of going to the source that can clear up the confusion or answer the question, we tend to discuss it among ourselves. This occurs in many areas other than just spiritual matters. The real problem is one of pride. Rather than risk being thought less of for asking a question others might consider stupid, we stupidly try to figure things out on our own and risk really making a mess because we did not understand. Frankly, the only stupid question is the one we won’t ask because of our pride. The disciples should have gone directly to Jesus.

You can’t hide something from someone who is omniscient. Jesus knew the question that was on their hearts and so He addressed them directly and explained it. Jesus had been warning them for some time about what would happen when He made it to Jerusalem. He would suffer at the hands of the Chief priests and would be crucified, but He would also rise again on the third day.

Jesus is direct that this would initially cause them great sorrow and that they would weep and lament. Their sorrow would be aggravated by the joy that others would have because of Jesus’ death. The religious rulers would believe that they had finally vanquished their adversary. They did not like their evil hearts exposed by either Jesus’ teaching or His holy life. The world that does not know God and rejected Jesus would be glad that He was no longer alive to hinder them from living however they wanted to live or to tell them that their own efforts were not enough to become righteous before God. Satan and all his followers would also be happy in the false belief that they had actually somehow gained a victory over God.

But the disciples’ sorrow would be turned to joy. Jesus used the analogy of a woman giving birth to explain all this. What a fitting analogy that is. Anyone present at the birth of a child knows that the birth itself is unpleasant, to say the least. There is sorrow in the midst of the travail. But after the child has arrived, the thoughts are no longer on what was just endured. The thoughts are on the child and the heart is full of joy.

So it would be for them. They would have sorrow when Jesus would be crucified and He would not longer be physically present with them. But they would have joy again when they would see Him again, and no one would be able to take their joy away then.

When would they see Jesus again? There are a couple of different views on this. One view makes the point that because two different words are used in verse 16 for “seeing” Jesus, (qewrevw / theōreō , oJravw / horaō ) that the first must be a reference to seeing Jesus physically and the second to seeing Him spiritually. From that argument and the near context of Jesus speaking about the Holy Spirit, they conclude that Jesus is speaking of seeing Him in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Others argue that the reference is to seeing Jesus physically after the resurrection. The two different words used in verse 16 are very similar in meaning with qewrevw / theōreō (the first word) having a greater emphasis on continuity and attention in observing something. TDNT describes it as a synonym for oJravw / horaō in John.

Personally, I think Jesus is referring to their seeing Him physically after the resurrection connected with the thought that their joy would continue because of the coming of the Holy Spirit. The emphasis though is on their immediate joy upon seeing Jesus after the resurrection. They would be joyful because Jesus was alive again and with them. That would be the reaction of anyone. Thoughts about the ramifications of His resurrection in terms of promises of the coming of the Holy Spirit would be secondary if any thought was given to that at all at that moment in time. Their joy could not be delayed until the coming of the Holy Spirit. It would be at Jesus’ ascension that their focus would turn to the ministry of the Holy Spirit as they waited for Him to come.

The day that they would see Jesus after the resurrection would also bring about some other changes which Jesus points out in verses 23 & 24. Many things that Jesus had taught them that confused them at the present would be understood after the resurrection. This would be due to both the event itself having taken place and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Back in verse 17, the disciples were confused and inquiring among themselves. In the future, those questions will have been answered. In addition, their relationship with the Father will have changed too because of Christ. They will be able to approach the Father directly in the name of Jesus. That was not the way they had prayed up to that point, but it would be the way they were to pray in the future. Jesus’ death and resurrection will have secured redemption. Their prayers would be answered. Hebrews 4 tells us that because Jesus is now our great high priest, we can come boldly before God’s throne of grace. We can have confidence in prayer because of Jesus.

As I have pointed out before, the idea of praying or asking “in Jesus’ name” is to invoke it to be done according to His will. A name represents the person, so to ask something in Jesus’ name is to ask for something that is in complete harmony with all that Jesus is and desires. Those that would use the phrase, “in Jesus’ name,” as an incantation are guilty of practicing a form of sorcery. That is strong language, but the practice of prayer should never resemble the casting of spells. The “Word Faith” movement erroneously believes that the words have power in themselves. Our ability to say words does not and cannot bind God, or anything else for that matter. Words represent things whether tangible or intangible. They are not the thing itself. The only power in words is in the communication that is accomplished through them. Asking “in Jesus name” is not a magical formula because prayer is not magic. It is communicating with your Creator, and because of Jesus, we can have confidence in His response to our communication.

Future Changes

Jesus goes on in verses 25-33 to explain how this works and to prepare them for the future.

25 “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; an hour is coming when I will speak no more to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the Father. 26 “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from the Father. 28 “I came forth from the Father, and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again, and going to the Father.” 29 His disciples ^said, “Lo, now You are speaking plainly, and are not using a figure of speech. 30 “Now we know that You know all things, and have no need for anyone to question You; by this we believe that You came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 “Behold, an hour is coming, and has [already] come, for you to be scattered, each to his own [home,] and to leave Me alone; and [yet] I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. 33 “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

In Matthew 13 Jesus explained why He had started speaking in parables saying that it was to explain the mysteries of heaven to His followers while hiding those truths in mystery to those who did not believe in Him. Now Jesus tells His disciples of a day coming when He would no longer speak to them in such confusing figurative language. The Holy Spirit fulfilled exactly what Jesus said here. The reality of this change is seen in the epistles which are much more direct and clear than the figurative teachings of Jesus.

The confusion of the figurative language on disciples is seen in their claim to finally understand that Jesus is from God. They had been confused by Jesus’ statement that they would not see Him and then after a little while they would see Him again, but Jesus statement here that He was from the Father and was returning to Him is clear to them. Upon this basis they make a firm claim to now believe that Jesus is from God, but Jesus gently challenges them because He knows what is going to happen and reveals it to them.

In only a short time from when Jesus spoke these words they would go to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus would pray and then be arrested. The disciples would scatter and return to wherever they had been staying while in Jerusalem because of their fear of what might happen to them too.

They would soon flee and leave Jesus alone, but the Father would remain with Jesus. He would not be alone even when abandoned by His followers. Men fail, but God never fails. Jesus comforts them even when revealing to them their failure. He tells them plainly in verse 33 that He is revealing these things in advance to them so that they would have peace even in the midst of the tribulation because Jesus would overcome the world.

The same is still true today. We fail the Lord, but He never fails us. The Christian life is not a bed of rose petals. There are many thorns. There are many trials and tribulations that will test our faith even to there very foundations. Yet, as each trial comes upon the true Christian, they will see the faithfulness of God and their faith will grow greater. The Christian will persevere and mature. Not because of anything in themselves, but because of the truth that Christ has overcome the world and through the Holy Spirit enables us to do so as well.

I do not know that is going on in your life. Perhaps things are going well right now. If so, praise the Lord for His mercy and grace, but be prepared for what the future may hold. I can assure you that troubles and trials will come because the Scriptures are clear that such will be the life of the Christian since Jesus stated that plainly here in verse 33 and Paul adds in 2 Timothy 3:12 that all who strive to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

Perhaps you are in the midst of such tribulation and your faith is being tested. Look to Jesus. He has already overcome the world. His promises are true. He is preparing a place for us. He will come again to take us to be with Him forever. He makes intercession for us with the Father even now, therefore we can have confidence in prayer. And He has also sent the Holy Spirit to indwell us that we might be taught and lead by Him. He will strengthen and enable us to be the Lord’s servants even in the midst of difficult circumstances. Whatever the trouble or trial, the Christian has a promise for the future that is sure and wonderful. Don’t become short sighted at your present situation, but keep your eyes upon Jesus and eternity.

It was Friday and for the disciples everything was confusing and depressing. Their hopes and dreams were crushed. The future was very uncertain. They had been told the truth and had many promises from Jesus, but they did not understand at that present time how those things would be or could be fulfilled. It was Friday and they could not see through the dark present to Sunday. But Sunday was coming and with it the resurrection of Jesus and with Him would come hope, peace and joy that could never be taken away again.

If you feel like it is Friday in your life, take courage and hope, Sunday is coming. Jesus fulfills His promises.

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