Saint Matthew Lutheran Church—Ernestville, Missouri

Jesus says, “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20).

What does this mean?

You will weep and lament.

You will be sorrowful.

And the world—not you but the world—will rejoice.

But that is just a little while.

Jesus adds: your sorrow will turn into joy.

The “little while” that’s mentioned is both comfort and warning.

Today’s Gospel lesson anticipates the certain, Christian joy of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, but there’s something else here that we need to talk about.

So it’s not just, What does this mean?

But also, Why does it mean that? Or, What else does this mean?

I’ll give you two other examples.

You hear Matthew chapter eighteen quoted a lot. That’s where Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20).

If I ask ”What does this mean?” someone will answer that if no one else shows up to church but you and the pastor—you still get Jesus.

And you’re right.

Jesus isn’t a revivalist preacher, a televangelist, or the pastor of some megachurch—which is to say, Jesus still shows up even if more than two or three don’t.

But if I ask “What else does this mean?” what would you say?

In truth, Matthew 18 isn’t even about God’s presence when church attendance is low.

Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault. If he listens to you, you’ve gained your brother. But if he doesn’t listen, take one or two others with you, that the charge may be established by two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (cf. Matthew 18:15-20).

The real context of Jesus’ words there is forgiveness and judgment—how Christians are to deal with sin and each other.

If a Christian, with and by means of the Word of God, calls you to repentance, listen to him.

But if you don’t care…

If those given the care of your soul, through God’s Word, call you to repentance, listen to them.

But if you don’t heed that warning…

If the congregation practices what is historically called “church discipline,” following what Jesus says, of course, turn from your ways and live.

That judgment is as valid as though God Himself has said it—and, speaking through the congregation, He has.

That’s the context of Matthew chapter eighteen, and so we have how we use that verse, and we have the proper context of the verse.

The same words are both comfort and warning.

What it means to us—and what else it means.

I’ll give you another example of this, again, using words with which we’re all familiar.

Job writes, “Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:23-27).

What does this mean?

Of course Job is confessing his faith in the Redeemer. Of course this is a marvelous confession of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

Of course it is.

But what else does this mean?

What does Job say next?

What is the conclusion of everything Job is saying?

No one knows.

Now, you know I’ve studied the book of Job.

I can’t seem to stop talking about it.

But before I studied it, like everyone else, I knew the famous words from chapter nineteen, but I didn’t know the final words from chapter nineteen.

Job adds: “If you say, ‘How we will pursue him!’and, ‘The root of the matter is found in him,’ be afraid of the sword,for wrath brings the punishment of the sword, that you may know there is a judgment” (Job 19:28-29).

Job makes what may be the single most wonderful confession of the resurrection of the body contained in Scripture—but he makes it in the context of warning his friends regarding the coming judgment.

We commonly use those verses at funerals and at Easter.

But Job, himself, uses those verses to confess faith in his Redeemer, certainty regarding the resurrection of the body, and as a call to repentance for his friends who are far from faithful.

The same words are both comfort and warning.

And so there is some urgency here.

From Matthew, from Job, and from Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel lesson, there is some urgency regarding the coming judgment.

There is comfort—and there is warning.

Jesus says, “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20).

As the disciples did when the Lord was crucified, you will weep and lament. You’ll have your share of fear and of foreboding because of what is coming on the world.

You’ll live as exiles, strangers in a strange land.

Hated and misunderstood by those who hate or misunderstand Jesus.

You’ll weep, and you’ll be flummoxed and confounded by the world’s rejoicing. So many appear to do so much and all so much more easily than you.

That’s the warning.

But—you have a Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.

And so—your sorrow will turn into joy.

That’s the comfort.

Our Lord and Christ bore the sins of our fallen race, heel bruised, in order to beat down satan under even our feet, that we, and all believers in Christ, would be called conquerors.

That’s the great reversal.

And—said elsewhere and throughout Scripture but unspoken in today’s Gospel lesson is the second, implied reversal.

Jesus says, “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20).

And then—what of the world?

Where two or three are gathered, or two or three thousand, if they’re not gathered in Jesus’ name, purely teaching the Gospel and rightly administering the Sacraments, that’s not the Church.

That’s the warning.

With some urgency, then, we should aim to get the message right before we get the message out.

To remove the beam from our own eyes before we help our brother with the speck in his.

“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she’s delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world” (John 16:21).

So how do you want to say this?

There is but a little while to wait, and that is both warning and comfort.

We all have much to endure, but—

“At the last [your Redeemer] will stand upon the earth. And after [your] skin has been thus destroyed, yet in [your] flesh [shall you] see God” (cf. Job 19:25-26).

If that’s more than poetry…If that’s more than what’s engraved on the rock outside…If that’s more than man’s word alone…

If you love the Lord your God—and your neighbor as yourself…

If God is with you…

And there is a coming judgment…

Then you need to care about what’s meet, right, and salutary…

You need to care about godly things, not worldly things.

Turn off the tv.

Stop fornicating.

You may weep and lament.

And the world may laugh at you.

But your sorrow will turn into joy.

Jesus says, “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).

That’s the comfort.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Jubilate (Easter 4) Sermon, 2021
John 16:16-22
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

How many of you have ever been called pessimistic or negative? Are you a Negative Ned and Nancy Nay-sayer? Or a Debbie or Donnie Downer?

Something deep within our fallen pessimism tells us that when Jesus says, “A little while, and you will see me” (John 16:16), it’s like a doctor saying, “This will only hurt a little bit.”

We don’t believe it.

We live in a drive-thru world—buying now and paying later. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to watch commercials.

We like hymns with three stanzas, and, thank the coronavirus, Pastor’s sermons are only one page long.

Godly patience is a virtue that we rarely exhibit.

Joseph was betrayed, jailed, and forgotten.

Job, sinner though he was, endured.

The disciples, with Jesus’ body in the tomb, waited.

Those were all “little whiles.”

For Joseph, years. For Job, months. For the disciples, days. All eternal-feeling “little whiles.”

It may have seemed like God was slow to help Joseph. Slow to speak to Job. And even slow to visit and relieve the disciples, but “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

The Lord remembered Joseph. He—finally—spoke to Job. And Jesus came to His disciples on the evening of that day, as promised.

Despite fear, worries, betrayals, and self-quarantine, Jesus came and stood among them speaking peace into existence as light from darkness.

Since then, the Church endures her “little whiles.”

When are yours? They don’t have to be virus-related.

Slow internet? When you have to repeat yourself? When a child won’t nap?

When do you shut the door, as the disciples did, in fear? From your spouse, from your family, from your friends, from your children? When do you hide?

We usually handle the initial onslaught of evil—the devil, the world, and our flesh—fairly well.

Our faith is trained. We pray and hope. Good!

But when the “while” part of the “little while” settles in, when we realize that we might have to live with this, with suffering, with consequences, limitations, broken trust, and maybe even a sad future, we get scared.

Ask the widows. Ask those in prison.

Ask the parents of hospitalized children.

We experience the broken and dying aspects of life.

But do we know that the world is broken and dying because it is at enmity with God?

Inmates know this. And widows. And the cancer ward.

Joseph—and Job—and the disciples—these all learned to hope in the Word and promises of God.

“Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20), Jesus says.

And it’s as if He says, “I’m with you in the little whiles and the long little whiles. You will see Me again. I’m coming back. I’ll keep My Word. Believe in Me unto life everlasting.”

We know that Jesus says, “…A little while, and you will see me” (John 16:16).

We must wait.

But the only way to wait is to be ready.

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14).

He comes to you by means—proclaimed, poured, and given and shed. That you would be comforted.

You (or your children or your spouse) may suffer for the rest of your life. You have peace here and now in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

You may lack. You may doubt. You may fear.

But the perfect love of God casts out our fear.

When you sit before the Lord, your cup runneth over.

You have no lack.

St. Paul says it this way: “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5) [in Holy Baptism].

So we rejoice. And and endure. And wait in the Lord.

Patience is a gift from God, a fruit of the Spirit that abides in the Christian.

It’s part of the good conscience that God gives His children.

Part of the clean heart that God creates in us.

Wait on the Lord and His promises.

And not yourself.

What Jesus says is true: “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:21).

So we pray, “Come Lord Jesus.”

We wait for the Lord.

And we live for our neighbor.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Easter 4 (Jubilate), 2020
John 16:16-22
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt