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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:The gospel promises to turn mourning into dancing
Text:John 16:16-24 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 5

Psalm 73:9 (after the Law of God)

Psalm 30:1,2,5

Hymn 34

Psalm 46:1,2,5

Scripture reading: Isaiah 26

Text: John 16:16-24

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

In his book Do You Believe?, Paul Tripp asks his readers to imagine someone offering them the perfect place to live.  Imagine that it’s the most beautiful place surrounded by relationships of love forever.  A peaceful place where you would be happier than you’ve ever been.  But then what if this person said that to get to this perfect place, you’d have to suffer and make huge sacrifices?  There would be people trying to prevent you from getting there.  You might lose family and friends along the way.  Sometimes circumstances would be so tough that you’d feel like giving up.  Yet this person promised to be with you so that you would have the encouragement and strength you needed to continue the journey to this most beautiful place.

When you compare the destination to the sufferings and the sacrifices, would you want to make the journey?  Would you be willing to make the sacrifices and endure the suffering?  This journey is the Christian life.  Our destination is glorious, but the journey is hard. 

There are many places in the Bible that make this point.  Being a Christian means going through suffering to glory.  This life -- the journey of this life -- is hard, but at the end it’s going to be worth it.  God promises it.  We just sang about it from Psalm 30.  David knew that weeping is just for a night, but joy comes with the morning.  There is sadness for a time, but our joy will last forever.  For now there may be mourning, but God will in due time turn it into dancing. 

We see that in our passage from John this morning as well.  Here our Lord Jesus encourages his disciples – including us – with the gospel promise of reversal.  There may be mourning for a time, but God will turn it into joy.  So I preach to you God’s Word on how the gospel promises to turn mourning into dancing

We’ll consider:

  1. Why Christ’s disciples mourn
  2. Why Christ’s disciples will dance for joy

One of the expressions that leaps out in this passage is “a little while.”  It’s repeated several times.  In a little while, the disciples will not see Jesus anymore, and then in a little while, they will see him.  When Jesus said that, his disciples were confused.  The Holy Spirit had not yet illumined their minds to help them understand these things.  Christ perceived that they weren’t understanding, so he explained further. 

His explanation begins in verse 20.  He says that during this “little while” of his absence, they will weep, lament, and be sorrowful.  Jesus piles up the words for grief to emphasize how what’s about to happen will profoundly shake them emotionally.

This is going to happen the very next day.  Within 24 hours, their Master Jesus will be hanging on a cross.  Though he’d spoken of it several times, when it finally happened, none of the disciples were prepared for it.  They had expected Jesus to bring a kingdom of earthly glory.  But then it was all turned upside down.  Their hopes were dashed.  Suddenly the Master they’d been following for three years was nailed to a Roman cross, sentenced to die.  He’d been beaten, a thorn of crowns pushed into his scalp, and now he was humiliated by hanging there naked like the criminals next to him.  All their hopes had been pinned on him.  They had trusted him and followed him.  And now he was dead.  Can you see why they would have wept, lamented, and been sorrowful?  When your beloved friend and spiritual leader is taken away and treated like this, shattering all your dreams, that’s devastating. 

At the same time as the disciples are grieving though, the world would rejoice.  This is especially referring to the Jewish religious leaders.  Seeing Jesus on that cross would be a nightmare for the disciples, but a dream come true for the scribes and Pharisees.  They’d been plotting for a long time to get him there, and now they finally get to see it.  They think the cross is the end of Jesus and the threat he represented to their power and religion.

Of course, for us all of that is now in the past.  Is there any sense in which Christ’s disciples today continue to have sorrow as they journey through this world?  In Mark 2, Jesus was asked about fasting.  He said fasting was inappropriate while the bridegroom is present.  He was referring to himself.  Jesus is the bridegroom.  And he says when the bridegroom is gone, that’s the time for fasting.  And fasting is associated with sorrow.  What Christ was saying was that, in his absence, there would be sorrow of a kind.  We would be longing for his return as we experience the suffering and brokenness of this world.

This is the experience of Christ’s disciples today.  Living in this world as a Christian does involve suffering and sorrow.  It’s a sinful, broken world and we feel it all the time.  And our Master Jesus hasn’t yet returned to put an end to it.  He is still absent.  Yes, we have his Holy Spirit with us – and he’s a valuable Comforter and Helper, for sure.  But when Christ appears again, all of our need for the Holy Spirit’s comfort and help will disappear.      

And we need to remember those three words, “a little while.”  When you’re lying in bed awake at night struggling with chronic pain or discomfort of some kind, it can seem like forever.  When you’re dealing with problems related to your kids, it can seem like it never ends.  Or your struggles with this sin or that sin – it feels like it goes on and on.  But at times like those, let’s remember the words of our Lord:  “A little while and you will see me.  Your sorrow will turn into joy.”  The gospel motivates us to carry on by offering us the hope of being in the presence of our Master. 

To illustrate this, Christ uses a familiar picture.  A woman is giving birth.  As the mothers among us know, the pain of labour is intense.  I’m told that the only thing comparable for a man might be kidney stones.  The Bible often uses childbirth as a picture for something involving horrible suffering.  We heard it in our reading from Isaiah 26.   So it is here too, but with a slight difference.  In Isaiah 26, the pregnancy and labour led to the birthing of wind.  There was no point to it, or so it seemed.  But here in John 16, there’s suffering, but it has a point, it has a purpose.  After a woman has suffered the agony of labour, she has that baby in her arms.  The anguish was worth it.  The great joy of holding a new born baby makes you forget everything that came before it.  Or if you don’t forget it, at least you can see it was worth it.  Through the pain of labour, a woman comes to experience the joy of a new born baby.

That’s what it’s going to be like for Christ’s disciples.  They’re going to have intense emotional pain with the cross.  But it’ll be eclipsed by the exuberant joy they’ll feel at his resurrection.  When they see Jesus alive again on Easter Sunday, the pain of Good Friday will be gone.  Their hearts will rejoice like they’ve never rejoiced before. 

And Jesus says, “…no one will take your joy from you.”  In other words, this joy will be permanent.  The sorrow, the pain, was all temporary.  It was just for “a little while.”  But the joy will be forever.  It’s like the sorrow was written with an erasable marker, but the joy is written with a permanent marker.  This joy is indelible – which means no one can get rid of it.  This is the kind of joy Christ’s resurrection brought to his disciples.

Now if you look at verse 23, you might be left with a question.  Look at what it says there, “In that day you will ask nothing of me.”  But didn’t we see in John 14 that Jesus said his disciples could ask anything in his name and he would do it?  Here in verse 23 of John 16, Jesus isn’t speaking about prayer.  He’s speaking about what happens when his disciples meet him after his resurrection.  In this passage they’re confused and they don’t understand.  They want to ask Jesus questions.  But after the resurrection, the Holy Spirit will make everything clear to them.  He will help them understand why the cross was necessary.  Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?  Why did they have to experience that horrible grief at his suffering and death?  It was all out of love for them, and love for us.  Christ loved us so much that he was willing to be our substitute on the cross.  He took our place and experienced the hellish wrath we deserve for our sins.  He paid the price so that we could be reconciled to God.

Now that we are reconciled to God through the cross, Jesus gives us a wonderful promise.  It’s about prayer.  He says in verses 23 to 24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.  Until now you have asked nothing in my name.  Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”  Jesus has spoken similar words previously.  This isn’t saying we can ask for whatever we want for ourselves and we’ll get it.  Rather, when he says we’re “asking in his name” that means we’re asking in agreement with his will.  For example, in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray for the kingdom to come.  When we pray for that, God will give it.  The kingdom will come.  Jesus taught us to pray for the forgiveness of our sins.  When we pray for that, God will give it.  And so on. 

But disciples also have the privilege now of bringing their prayers through the intercession of Christ.  Prior to Christ’s resurrection, no disciple ever ended his or her prayer by saying, “for Jesus sake, Amen,” or words like that.  But the resurrection and then Christ’s ascension changed this.  Now Christ is our great High Priest in heaven interceding for us.  Our prayers go to the Father through his merits, through everything he has done in our place.  The Father is pleased to hear us and answer us because he’s always pleased to hear and answer his Son. 

So loved ones, this is why we usually end our prayers with a reference to Jesus.  I think the kids need to learn this too.  When we say, “for Jesus’ sake,” what we mean is that we ask God to hear us because of Jesus and through Jesus.  Our prayer doesn’t deserve to be heard because we’re sinful people.  We don’t deserve to be heard.  But Jesus does.  And he tells us that we can pray in his name, and so we should.  The Father will hear us when we do.  When we pray according to his will, we will ask and we will receive.  That will fill us with even more joy as we see how blessed we are to have a Saviour who speaks up for us and a Father who loves us through him.

And in this world where we have so much sorrow, there will always be many reasons to pray.  And one thing we ought to pray for regularly is the return of our Lord Jesus.  That is when the mourning of all God’s people will be turned to dancing.  The return of Christ is when we will dance for joy.  And I mean that quite literally.  That’s because the return of Christ brings about the resurrection of the dead.  Our bodies will be raised imperishable.  In that final state, we’ll have bodies with which to dance for joy.  A soul without a body can’t dance.  At the resurrection we get our glorified, physical human bodies.  With these, we’ll dance like never before.

The greatest thing we’ll be dancing for is the glorious sight of our Saviour Jesus.  We will then see him with our own physical eyes.  There are many good things about the new creation.  Not having that chronic pain every night, not having problems with your kids, not having to struggle with sin, not having to say good-bye to a dying spouse, no more death, no more tears, no more sorrow.  These are all great things to look forward to.  But loved ones, I want you to always remember that the greatest thing about the new creation is Jesus, seeing him, and being with him.  You see, his return isn’t just a means to an end.  What I mean is that we don’t just look forward to him coming back, so all these other good things can come to us.  Rather, we look forward to his return especially for him.  If Jesus is only a means to an end for us, we’re not really worshipping him, but those ends that he delivers to us.  One of the Puritans put it well.  Thomas Brooks said, “Many seek Christ, but it is more for loaves than for love.”  That’s a reference to Christ feeding the crowds with the loaves and the fish.  They were happy to have him as their miracle baker, but didn’t want him as their Saviour and Lord.  Similarly, you could be seeking Christ’s return, but more for the absence of every earthly sorrow than for the love of being with him.  So when we pray for Christ’s return, let’s put it something like this:  “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus, come quickly.  I look forward to seeing you with my own eyes and being with you forever.” 

And indeed, the joy that we’re going to have at his Second Coming will be a permanent joy.  No one will ever be able to take it from us.  Joys in this world are fleeting.  They come and go.  But the joy we’ll experience when we see Christ with our own eyes, that’ll be forever.  And it will be joy unimaginable.  Take the greatest joy you’ve ever known on this earth and multiply it by a billion and you still won’t be at the joy Christians will feel when they see Jesus at his Second Coming.

Some Christians say they fear the Second Coming.  They find it difficult to imagine that it will be a joyful moment when they see our Lord Jesus.  They say this because they know the Second Coming includes the Last Judgment.  They’re afraid of that.  But they shouldn’t be.  If you’re a Christian who is resting and trusting in Christ alone, there’s no need to be afraid of the Second Coming.  Why not?  Because Christ has secured your peace with God.  Your sins have all been paid for in full and you have a perfect measure of righteousness in Jesus.  As Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  God wasn’t crossing his fingers behind his back when he said that.  As if he is saying, “I know I said, ‘no condemnation’ but actually at the Last Judgment there is still the danger of condemnation if you haven’t lived right.”  No, when God makes promises he doesn’t cross his fingers.  “No condemnation” means “no condemnation at all, ever.”  For a Christian, what happens at the Last Judgment is what we call vindication.  The verdict God issued in your justification is made public.  Yes, you sinned in this way and that, but Jesus Christ took care of it with the cross and his life of obedience.  God has declared you righteous and now the world will hear it.  And I’ll rejoice as I hear God’s verdict made public about you, and you’ll rejoice as you hear God’s verdict made public about me.  It’s nothing to be afraid of – we’re going to rejoice together with great joy on that day.  It’s something to look forward to with no reservations, no anxiety. 

Loved ones, the life of a Christian is a journey.  It’s a journey with many challenges, much suffering and sorrow.  According to our Saviour, this is to be expected.  The idea of this “victorious Christian life” where life is always easy and you’re healthy and wealthy because you follow Jesus is not found in the Bible.  Right now isn’t the age of glory for Christians.  But if we’re in Christ, that age is coming and it’ll be far better than anything this present world has to offer.  Brothers and sisters, keep your eyes on the prize.  Keep your faith fixed on Christ and someday your faith will be sight and your joy will be incomprehensible.  AMEN.


Our Lord Jesus,

You know how in this world we suffer and groan.  You know the burdens we carry and the griefs we bear.  You have experienced them yourself.  We thank you for having done that, and most of all we thank you for going to the cross for us.  We’re grateful for your suffering and death, as well as your resurrection and ascension.  Now, Lord, we look forward eagerly to your return.  We pray for the day when our faith will become sight and we’ll see you with our own eyes.  We pray for the great joy that awaits us and we pray that it may come sooner rather than later.  We look forward to being with you forever.  We can’t wait to experience your love without any sin to get in the way.  As we wait, please give us patience and endurance for whatever sufferings are placed on our path.  Strengthen us with your Holy Spirit, especially those of us who are dealing with chronic pain or other health challenges, whether mental or physical.  Please continue to be a merciful Physician to the sick, a kind Friend to the lonely, and a sympathetic High Priest to those struggling with sin.                                                                              

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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