Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Fifth Sunday of Easter (C)
May 2, 2010
Text: John 16:12-22

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!

“You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20; ESV). Jesus makes this promise to His disciples in the upper room on the night of His betrayal. He promises sorrow, and He promises joy. He promises, in fact, that the disciples’ sorrow is precisely what will become their joy. Needless to say, it is a confusing statement. The cause of their sorrow? Jesus’ prophecy: “A little while, and you will see me no longer.” Their joy? “[A]nd again a little while, and you will see me” (v. 16). What is Jesus talking about? The disciples are bewildered. “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about” (v. 18). They cannot know what He is talking about, because their sinful, fallen minds are clouded. They do not have in mind the things of God. The things of God are foolishness to them, and they cannot understand them, because their minds are fleshly. In reality, Jesus is not telling them anything new. He had told them beforehand: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22). The disciples will be sorrowful. They will weep and lament, while the unbelieving world rejoices (John 16:20). It must be this way. When Jesus tells the disciples they will sorrow, for they will see Him no longer, He is speaking of His death and burial. But precisely this, the innocent suffering and death of the Son of God on the cross, will become the disciples’ joy, and the joy of every Christian. For on the third day, the disciples will see Him again, risen, bodily, the firstfuits of the resurrection, just as He said.

“You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” The same is true for us. We live in a world of many sorrows. Many are the griefs that pierce our hearts, because we are fallen, and the whole creation has been subjected to the fall. We are sinners, and the wages of sin is death, and so we live in a world of death and dying. Not just the physical expiration of our bodies, but the bitterness and decay all around us. And don’t think for a minute that Christians are immune from this sorrow. Our bodies age and succumb to various ailments. Our “stuff” is destroyed by moths and rust, broken and failing. As the owner of a well-aged home, sometimes I think my house is crumbling down around me faster than I can keep up with the repairs. And if it isn’t the house, it’s the car. And if it isn’t the car, it is sickness or injury. And if it isn’t sickness or injury, it is the death of a loved one. And one day, it will be me staring death in the face. You will be sorrowful, indeed. Jesus hits the nail on the head. What makes us sorrowful is that we really had hoped these things would bring us joy… true and lasting joy. We search in vain for joy and fulfillment in the things of this earthly life. Stuff will never make us happy. Money won’t either. Nor will sex, or jobs, or power, or honor, of fame. These things can provide fleeting pleasure, but that pleasure is only an illusion. These things cannot provide a joy that lasts. Only Jesus Christ can fill us with eternal and authentic joy. Beloved in the Lord, repent.

In reality, our sorrow as Christians has the same source as that of the disciples in our text. We can’t see Jesus! It would be so much easier if we could see Him, talk to Him face to face, get a better grasp of His plan for us. But then that wouldn’t be faith, would it? We live by faith, not by sight. And that is the problem. We cannot see that which we believe. We have to trust Jesus. We have to let go of the control, and by the way, our obsession with control and autonomy is nothing more than self-idolatry. We have to give up our illusion of control, which is to say, repent, and release ourselves into the pierced hands of Jesus, whom we cannot see. At least for now, for “a little while,” He is invisible to the naked eye.

And yet, we do see Him, in a manner of speaking, for He has given us His Holy Spirit, as He promises in our text. The Spirit of truth comes and casts out the demonic spirits of falsehood and deceit. The Spirit of truth comes and He leads us into all truth, leads us to Jesus Christ who is the Truth incarnate, points us to Christ, and Christ alone for our forgiveness, life, and salvation. The Spirit of truth comes, and He speaks. He speaks with all the authority of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He does not speak simply on His own authority, but He speaks what He hears in eternal counsel with the Father and the Son, and He declares not only what has happened for our salvation, but the things that are to come. He glorifies our Lord Jesus Christ. He is always directing our attention to Christ, crucified and risen. He takes of what is Christ’s, the eternal Word made flesh, and declares it to us. He speaks a Word to us, the Holy Scriptures, the preaching, the visible Word of Baptism and the Supper. And here, in these means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, to which the Holy Spirit has bound Himself, we see Christ. He is here, forgiving our sins, strengthening us, nourishing us, comforting us in the midst of our sorrow. And in seeing Him, we have joy, even in the midst of sorrow. It is true joy. It is joy that lasts. We see Christ, and as a result, our hearts rejoice. And no one can take that joy from us (v. 22)!

Our joy is not in some ambiguous or theoretical idea of salvation, but in the physical reality of the risen Christ. Our joy has the same source as that of the disciples in our text: Christ is risen! Death is dead. Satan’s head is crushed. And sorrow is banished. Oh, they still make a good show in this earthly life, now, for a little while, but mark my words, or better, mark Jesus’ Words, they are defeated forever. We live in the time of what Luther called the “already/not yet.” We are already saved, but it is not yet apparent that hell has been vanquished. We have eternal life now, already, as the Baptized people of God, but we are not yet completely free from death. We are already saints, washed clean in the blood of Christ and sanctified by the Spirit, but the sinner has not yet been entirely cast off. We are already delivered from sorrow, but our joy is not yet fully manifest. Jesus says it is like a woman who is giving birth. She has sorrow in the midst of her labor. Especially in Jesus’ day, giving birth was no safe occupation. Many women died in the midst of childbirth. And even today, while safety has increased exponentially, to say that childbirth is painful is an understatement. Yet I am told that when a mother holds her baby in her arms after labor, she forgets her pain for the joy of beholding her child. It is just as Jesus says: “she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world” (v. 21). So it is for us. The sorrows of this world are the labor pains of the new creation. The new creation is already upon us, but it is not yet apparent that the former things have passed away (Rev. 21:4). We live by faith, not by sight. Our sorrow will be turned into joy. It is a bold confession that only one led by the Spirit of truth can make.

Understand that this is no belittling of the sorrows with which you are currently afflicted. Sin is the cause of little annoyances and earth-shattering catastrophes alike. That the sorrows of this life are humanly insurmountable makes it all the more clear how desperately we need the Savior. To the cancer patient who may not make it through the surgery, to the grief-stricken parents who have lost their child in a horrific accident, to the spouse whose marriage will not survive despite her best efforts, and to every sinner who is ridden with guilt sitting in the pews this morning, Jesus does not tell you to “get over it” or “walk it off.” We’re talking about real sorrow, here. And we’re talking about a real Savior who takes that sorrow into Himself and nails it to the cross. He dies, and that, beloved, is the sorrow of sorrows. He is the Man of Sorrows, the sinless Son of God who dies in the place of sinners. But on the third day, He rises from the dead. And all at once, our sorrow is turned to joy. Though now, for a little while, we do not see Him with our eyes, for He has ascended into heaven where He sits at the right hand of God, ruling all things for our benefit, one Day we will see Him. With these eyes. And on that Day, He who has trodden through the valley of the shadow of death and come out on the other side alive, promises that He will wipe away ever tear from our eyes. Death shall be no more, says He whom death could not hold. Neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain. Sorrow is at an end. For the former things have indeed passed away. “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Beloved, rejoice! For Christ is risen, and He has united Himself to you in Holy Baptism. Our risen Lord has spoken, and He cannot lie. His Word is sure. You are His. In Him your joy is complete. And no one, no one, and nothing, can take your joy from you. He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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