Anticipating the Future
Date: 10 Sep 2017
Text: John 16:16-33
In the previous sermon a couple of weeks ago in this series on Living in Christ, we finished in 16:16, a rather confusing verse where Jesus said “in a little while...” the disciples would see Him no more and then a little while later they would see Him. I can imagine that the disciples were totally confused by what their Friend had just told them. Jesus sensed that they were both confused and grieving over some of His earlier comments, and yet in 16:16 He seems to be adding to that confusion.
In that previous sermon we also thought about how we will be equipped and helped by the Holy Spirit to deal with the hatred and rejection that will be aimed at us by the world. In this week’s sermon we can think much more positively as we consider the future that awaits us and is available to us as a result of our coming to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
As we look at these few verses we need to remember that most of what Jesus is saying here had not yet happened although events would start to unfold within just a few hours of Him speaking to His disciples.
We’ll start this morning by looking again at 16:16. As Jesus spoke those words the disciples were as ever totally baffled; they looked at one another in a seeming state of utter confusion, which may well have been an understandable confusion. Jesus sensed this and so He tried to explain what He meant. Jesus had already hinted that He was going to leave them when He said in 14:1-2 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father's house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” They didn’t seem to pick up on that comment at the time nor on His further comment in 14:3 when He added, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” It was only when Jesus said “You know the way to the place where I am going” (14:4) that Thomas queried what He meant. Jesus tried to be a bit more explicit in John 14:28 when He said to them, “You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” I’m not totally sure that they understand that comment either which was probably why they now discussed things amongst themselves and admitted “We don’t understand what he is saying” (16:18b).
Grief Then Joy
I frequently wonder just how much the disciples did take in and how much they fully understood of what Jesus had said to them. They seem to me to spend quite a lot of time in a state of confusion wondering what on earth He was on about. That can happen to us when we read the Bible although we are fortunate in that we have the Holy Spirit with us to help us and to illuminate a troublesome text. At the time that Jesus was speaking to His disciples, the Holy Spirit had not yet been given and so they were less fortunate than us and had to try and puzzle things out for themselves. In an effort to overcome that problem and to help them with their understanding Jesus liked to use everyday illustrations which is probably why He spoke of the woman in childbirth who experiences a lot of pain, pain which soon turns to joy on seeing her baby. In 16:20 Jesus told the disciples that they would “weep and mourn” while the “world rejoices”. Without saying specifically that He was about to die, Jesus was hinting at what their reaction would be following His crucifixion. On that day and in the days following, they would be weeping and mourning and wondering what awaited them; the world meanwhile would be rejoicing. Does this give the impression that the world and Satan might have thought they had won? Probably! You see, people at the time thought that Jesus was yet another madman claiming to be the Messiah and in the main they obviously didn’t truly believe Him or trust Him, and so on that day would be happy that He had been crucified and got rid of once and for all. How wrong can you be? The world today is similar in that there are far too many who show indifference towards Jesus and so aren’t bothered by the events of Easter or anything surrounding the life and work of Jesus. However, in 16:20b Jesus reassures the disciples that their “grief will turn to joy” when they saw Jesus again after His resurrection. At that moment they would know that He would return. Jesus knew that on the day of His crucifixion they would be totally devastated and would go into hiding for fear of their own lives. Remember that it was only when Mary Magdalene reported that she had seen Jesus and that He was alive that their tears of sadness turned to tears of joy. At that time they would have realised that He was back and they would have been able to testify to that as they would have seen Him as a result of which they would be filled with joy. This was to be a joy that would not be diminished or removed in any way. The immediate reaction of the people to these events on the actual day is not totally clear in the Bible; and we have to wait for the Day of Pentecost for any reaction. You may recall that on that day, after the Holy Spirit had been given the sceptics in the crowd felt that the Apostles had had too much wine!
Turning Point - 1
A key phrase comes in 16:23 where Jesus says, “In that day...”. These words represent a turning point in the lives of the disciples. Jesus was talking about the time after His resurrection when they would have seen Him and would know that He had been telling the truth all along. Let’s face it they spent a lot of their time in a state of confusion and some of them may have even been a little dubious; after all they were only human! Jesus added that from then on they wouldn’t need to ask Him for anything anymore since “my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name” (16:23b). That promise still applies today to all those who have faith in Jesus and believe in His death and resurrection. Prior to this day they had not prayed for anything in Jesus’ name but from then on if they did ask for anything in His name they would receive and then their “joy will be complete” (16:24b). Jesus wants them to have and experience full and complete joy. John wrote about this in his first Epistle where he said, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us — whatever we ask — we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:13-15). The disciples had not done that before and so when they did and when God answered just imagine the joy that they would have experienced. The same applies to us; just think of the joy that we experience when our prayers are answered, especially if they are answered in the way that we hoped they would be. Notice too that we also pray direct to our Father without any intermediary; Jesus died to give us eternal life and to open the door of access to our Father. As a result of Jesus’ amazing sacrifice we are able to approach our Father in heaven directly knowing that we now have that privileged access.
Turning Point – 2
We see a similar turning point in 16:26 where Jesus again says, “In that day...”. In the previous verse, 16:25, Jesus explained why He had spoken to them in the way that He had done so far. However, come the day of the resurrection He wouldn’t need to do that anymore as they would understand as a result of their having a new, living relationship with the Father. We read in 16:13-15 that when the Advocate, that is the Holy Spirit, did come He would speak the truth about Jesus and explain everything to them. Once again in 16:26 Jesus tells them that they would be able to ask for things in His name; He wouldn’t need to ask on their behalf. In 16:27-28 Jesus seems to reiterate that He was about to leave the world and return to be with His Father. At the same time though, He reminded them that the Father loved them since, “you have loved me and have believed that I came from God”. It is important for us to believe that as well. If we do believe then what Jesus told His disciples in 16:23b and 16:24b will most definitely apply to us.
We see a further change in 16:29 when the disciples suddenly start to understand what Jesus has been saying to them. The penny had dropped and amazingly they fully understood and accepted what Jesus had been saying about His life, death, resurrection and subsequent ascension. Obviously His death, resurrection and ascension were yet to happen although it had all become clear to them as He spoke to them. They acknowledged that Jesus had said everything clearly to them and He had not used “figures of speech”. It’s wonderful isn’t it when the penny does drop, when we suddenly understand what someone has been trying to say or explain to us. That’s what happened to the disciples and so I can imagine that even though they now had a rough idea of what was about to happen they were still full of joy. Jesus had used illustrations and figures of speech to try and make things clear and yet in some ways He may have simply added to their confusion. Does that happen to us? In trying to make things clear do we over-complicate them and so confuse people? Notice that this meant that they were now able to acknowledge just Who Jesus was. They were able to say “This makes us believe that you came from God” (16:30b). Do we believe that? Do we truly understand that Jesus came from God our heavenly Father, and more importantly, do we believe in our hearts that that is the truth? Just cast your minds back to Jesus’ words in 14:6-7, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him."
It is interesting to see that Jesus asked in 16:31, “Do you now believe?” That may well have been a rhetorical question as if Jesus was saying, “Yippee, you believe at last!” In fact my Bible Society translation actually says in this verse, “Finally, you understand”; you can almost hear relief in Jesus’ voice. Unfortunately it wasn’t all good stuff as Jesus told them in 16:32 that immediately before and also following the crucifixion the time would come for them to be scattered to their own homes. Jesus knew that they would leave Him as He was arrested and they would disappear for fear of losing their own lives. It’s an interesting turn around as they had been worried about Him leaving them but soon they would be leaving Him. However, as He reminded them He would not be alone as He had the Father with Him.
The final reminder comes in 16:33 where Jesus reminds them that He has told them all this as He wants them to have peace in Him. They were soon to face trouble in and from the world and so it was very important that they were at peace in their hearts. At the time that Jesus promised the Holy Spirit in John 14, He also said to His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (14:27). Such a sentiment applies to us as well; we will face troubles in the world but we have that promise from Jesus that we will always have peace in our hearts as a result of knowing Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Just to round things off Jesus added that no matter what happened “I have overcome the world”. That’s quite an assurance really, given what is happening around us.
There is a lot going on in this passage with Jesus trying to explain to His disciples what was about to happen in the future. The passage opens with the disciples being confused as usual. Jesus tried to calm them down by pointing out the joy that would soon be theirs, and after using various figures of speech Jesus explained to them in plain language what was going to happen. Suddenly the penny dropped and they started to understand Him; finally! Jesus concluded by leaving them with His peace; which, let’s face it is something we all need in our hearts as we try Living in Christ in a hostile world.