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What does joy in Christ look like in your life?
The Disciples’ Grief Will Turn to Joy16 Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”
17 At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” 18 They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”
19 Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? 20 Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
Jesus’ statement in verse 16 clearly confuses his disciples, who mumble to each other and finally conclude in verse 18, ‘We don’t understand what he is saying.’
This is no surprise, because they can’t see what’s about to happen. Jesus will shortly be betrayed, falsely tried and crucified. And the Pharisees will hold a party! Pilate and the Romans will be pleased to have washed their hands of a troublemaker. They will rejoice as the disciples are devastated and weep bitterly (v 20). But the tables will be turned three days later. And the disciples will indeed see Jesus again after his resurrection.
So the disciples’ joy will be because of the cross. That means their joy and our joy is rooted in historical events, not in current emotions. And it’s a joy in being with Jesus again – something no one can take away from them (v 22).
Jesus likens all this to childbirth (v 21). That is a time of almost unbearable pain, but the joy and relief of a safe birth overwhelms the sorrow. And the joy of a new life goes on, as the pain recedes into the background. So too our joy of being ever closer to the one who died for us will stretch into eternity, even though for a little while we may face troubles.
Sorrow is temporary but joy is eternal. How does this change your perspective? Your prayers?
How easy do you find waiting for something that you have been promised?
On the face of it, it seems strange that John records this conversation with puzzled disciples (vs 16–19). The phrase ‘a little while’ occurs seven times and there has been much discussion about what precisely Jesus meant. When will he come back? Is he referring to the resurrection, the coming of the Spirit or the second coming? Certainly, we can understand their bewilderment and sadness when he says he is going. How can their Master’s leaving them be for their good?
Jesus gives a picture of a woman in labour whose pain is seen to be eminently worthwhile after the birth (v 21). This may echo Old Testament verses which combine a reference to ‘a little while’ with anticipation of resurrection for God’s people and the judgement of God’s enemies (eg Isaiah 13:6–9). The disciples may be plunged into a brief painful period which seems like a moment of birth, but with Jesus’ death and resurrection a new world will be born. John wants us to appreciate that this is not merely a matter of trouble coming, but that it will be fine in the end. When, in a few chapters’ time, we come to the cross and then to Easter, we’re seeing a visible indication that God’s new world is really being established – something unique and amazing! The joy this will lead to comes also as the Holy Spirit descends after Jesus ascends to his Father. The difference this all makes to the disciples’ prayer life (v 24) will deepen their joy.
Suffering leading to joy is a theme we see in various parts of the New Testament. For example, Peter stresses how the living hope we have may sustain us in the midst of suffering grief (1 Peter 1:3–7). Pain will lead to a joy that no one will take away (v 22).
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