Taking Heart in Worldly Tribulation


Sermon Text: John 16:16-33
Sermon Recording: CLICK HERE to listen
Main Points:

I. Some contradictions
II. Seeing and not seeing Jesus
III. Taking heart while living in tribulation

The number I read on last Thursday was 53 and yesterday morning, it was increased to 64 (and earlier this morning, it was 90). I’m talking about the confirmed cases with coronavirus in WA. Is it the beginning of a chaos in our state and nation? Or would it gradually die out and we recover what we remember as the normal way of life? We don’t know. No one knows what is coming.

However, we’re in a much better situation than those disciples of Jesus in these chapters of John’s Gospel. Their Lord was about to leave them and, ironically, they would soon scatter, leaving their Master alone. You and I are constantly informed these days by the governments and the media about what is coming to us, but those disciples who were listening to Jesus’ final words had no idea of what they would soon face. Mark’s Gospel depicts such a complete ignorance of the situation by telling us about a young man who fled naked when a mob with swords and clubs came to arrest Jesus.

Although we’re in a better situation, knowing what is coming, we and Jesus’ disciples in Jn. 16 share one common feeling, that is, troubled and worried in heart. Moreover, both we and they are sorrowful in a sense; Jesus’ disciples by hearing their Master’s departure and we by hearing the troubles of people and loss of lives in Australia and around the world. In addition to all these mixed feelings, both we and Jesus’ disciples are confused. While we’re confused with this new challenge that sweeps the world and changes our normal way of life, Jesus’ disciples were confused with the Lord’s words about His departure and about seeing and not seeing Him in a little while and so on.

So, this passage we opened up and read a minute ago is the Lord’s message for us to hear and take to our hearts as it is His message of encouragement in a challenging times and His message of assurance in a time of disorder and confusion. In my preparation of today’s sermon, I was quite excited by the timing of opening up this specific passage. We’ve been following John’s Gospel in a series and we hear the Lord’s words of assurance and joy in times like this when most of us are – as I think – most confused with new challenges due to coronavirus. It is His message for all to look to Jesus the Lord more, turning away from sin, repenting from disbelief or disobedience. In this sense, it is a timely message for us. His message is for us to take heart while living in a troubled world; His message for us who are confused is to find peace in Jesus and continue rejoicing in Him.

So, let us ponder together our gracious Lord’s message for us.

As our first step, let me help you to see some simple contradictions that are found in our text passage which, I believe, might confuse you and make your understanding of the Lord’s words in this passage not easy. In fact, such was the problem Jesus’ disciples had – they were confused.

First of all, Jesus mentions about time that contradicts. He says in v. 16, “A little while, and you will see Me no longer” and in v. 33, “In the world you will have tribulation.” He talks about a short moment and a life on earth that lasts years and decades. Secondly, He talks about ‘seeing’ and ‘not seeing.’ Thirdly, He points out His disciples’ sadness and sorrow, then, their joy and peace. Alongside their contrasting emotions, Jesus contrasts His disciples with the world. They will lament but the world will rejoice; then, their sorrow will turn into joy which implies the world’s lament. Fifthly, Jesus is going to go back to His Father which implies – as He has already promised in the earlier part of Jn. 16 – that He’ll send the Holy Spirit to be with the disciples.

There are more contrasts, at least a couple more things that are opposite to each other. The disciples seek an answer among themselves but unable to answer that, while Jesus knows everything, including the hearts of His disciples (as of all people), even before no one asks Him anything. Then, lastly, those disciples will scatter, leaving their Master alone, but Jesus will not be alone because His Father is with Him. In this way, our text passage from Jn. 16 is filled with these contradictions.

And these contradictions might confuse us like those disciples, blurring the gist of the Lord’s message. So, the disciples were confused and said to each other in v. 17, “What is this that He says to us ‘A little while, and you will not see Me, and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” And in v. 18, they asked, saying, “What does He mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what He is talking about.” If you sympathise what they say in these verses, you’re on the same page with the disciples and you’re on the right track because this contradiction is the key to understanding the Lord and His message for us all.

The key among these contradictions is the matter of ‘seeing’ and ‘not seeing’ Jesus. All other contrasting notions in this passage are facets of these two, that is, ‘seeing’ and ‘not seeing’ Jesus. If you read and interpret it from the immediate context, you’d consider that Jesus is talking about His imminent departure from His disciples – so they cannot see Him – and His reappearance after the resurrection – so they can see Him again. This could also be understood with Jesus’ ascension after His 40 day stay with the disciples – so they can no longer see Him – and then Jesus’ return at the end of the age – so they will see Him again.

But the spiritual implication of seeing and not seeing Jesus is much bigger than simply pointing out those historical events of Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension and second coming. In fact, the matter of seeing and not seeing Jesus points out the core of Christian faith and life. In other words, seeing Jesus means Christian’s life together with the Lord whereas not seeing Him is a life without Jesus’ power or strength. One with joy whereas the other with sorrow.

See how Jesus teaches this in our text passage. He says that He’ll depart – so they will not see Him – and because of that, they are sorrowful. But He’ll return to them – so they’ll see Him again – and because of their seeing Him again, they will rejoice. So, seeing Jesus is the direct cause and source of joy in believer’s heart. Also, this joy is, in another word, ‘having peace in the Lord,’ as v. 33 explains.

What, then, is ‘seeing Jesus’? What of ‘seeing the Lord’ gives joy and peace to us as well as those disciples of Jn. 16? ‘Seeing Jesus’ means, beholding His true nature and knowing His wisdom and power based on who He is. With Jesus’ disciples, they had been with Jesus for over three years and, at numerous occasions, witnessed Jesus’ divine power and wisdom. With Him, the Lord, they were safe; alongside Him, they experienced serving in love; following Him, they learned full dependence on Him; at His feet, they were nurtured to humility and being content with all and thankful to the Father. Once more in our text passage, especially in v. 30, they confess that Jesus is the Lord who came from God, and they say this: “Now we know that You know all things and do not need anyone to question You; this is why we believe that You came from God.” In this way, ‘seeing Jesus’ means knowing who He is – the Son of God, the Saviour and Lord of all; ‘seeing Jesus’ is abiding in His grace, in His love, and depending on His power and guidance!

On the contrary, ‘not seeing Jesus’ is to lose sight of His lordship and kingship over all creation, both visible and invisible. ‘Not seeing the Lord’ does not necessarily mean disbelief in Him but losing sight of His guidance and His near presence with His beloved ones whom He purchased with His blood. While a Christian who ‘sees Jesus’ rests joyfully in the Lord’s divine power, another Christian who does ‘not see Jesus,’ thus, loses sight of His saving grace and helping hand grabs hold of all sorts of worries of the world, doubting the Lord’s guidance and protection.

Among many examples of Christians who see Jesus always, the case of Paul the apostle and Silas, Paul’s missionary partner, recorded in Acts 16 is a good example for us to recall. While preaching the gospel in Philippi in Macedonia which is the northern part of the present-day Greece, Paul and Silas were falsely accused. So they were arrested and imprisoned. But about midnight, they were praying in their cell and singing hymns to God. They were not crying for mercy; they were literally giving thanks to God in prayer, seeking His protection in confidence, then, singing praises to God, most probably singing hymns like what we’ve sung earlier today, like ‘Rejoice, the Lord is King!’ or ‘Praise the Saviour, all who know Him.’ If you read the second half of Acts 16:25, you’d know this was the case with Paul and Silas because there you read this: “[they] were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them”! In their dark and miserable 1st C Roman prison cells, those convicts were listening ‘attentively’ or ‘intently’ to their words of prayer and praises. In other words, they were enjoying their prayers and praises. Please picture that in your mind; in a dark prison cell, two Christians seem to have no fear of their whereabouts or chains on their feet. Maybe, at first, all prisoners must’ve thought that they were lunatics. But soon, they realised that something was different with them. Their words were consistent, logical – although they couldn’t really understand that logic of their faith – and their songs sounded real, coming from their hearts, bearing their unshakable confidence in the God they gloried.

I believe you know what happened to Paul and Silas after that. The prison doors were open and their bonds were unfastened. Then, Paul and Silas shared Jesus with the jailer and all his family, and they believed in God! Paul and Silas were Christians who ‘saw Jesus’ always, no matter what. Seeing Jesus, they knew that Jesus the King and Lord would carry out His good will for His dear ones. Paul says in Phil. 1:21 that for him, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” and such is the faith of one who always ‘sees Jesus.’ Such a Christian confesses with the words of Rom. 8:31-39. I’d like to invite you to join me and read together with me.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the One who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This is a confession of you and me and all who ‘see Jesus’ always, no matter what!

Lastly, the ultimate purpose of the Lord Jesus through all these words is to once again urge His disciples and you and me to ‘take heart’ rather than ‘be troubled’ or ‘afraid.’

How can we ‘take heart’ or ‘be of good cheer,’ as NKJV renders? Because, as Jesus says, He has ‘overcome the world’! When we always behold Jesus and rest in His power and wisdom, we must also enjoy His triumph over Satan. He HAS OVERCOME the world! Jesus in whom we believe and reside has won the battle and defeated our enemy once and for all; then, why would any of His army – that is you and me – worry about our enemy and any of his evil schemes anymore? So the Lord Jesus is saying, ‘You mustn’t be troubled or afraid! But take heart!’

Interestingly, as we listen to the Lord, we find Him saying that He ‘has overcome’ the world in v. 33. And this is the hour before His crucifixion and death. Yet, He says that He ‘has overcome’ it as a done deal, completed work. So, Jesus’ triumph, His victory is not won at the moment of His death and resurrection, but at much earlier point in time. As I mentioned last Sunday, Jesus said earlier in Lk. 10:18: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” That was when He received His 72 men whom He had sent out earlier to many villages and towns to preach the gospel. So, according to Jesus’ word in Lk. 10, Satan had fallen much earlier than even the hour before Jesus’ arrest.

That’s not all. Jesus in Mt. 12:28 spoke to the Jews that His casting out demons by the Spirit of God meant that the kingdom of God had come upon them. Coming of God’s kingdom upon people means the defeat of Satan, the prince of the power of the air! Simply put, Satan’s power was broken at Jesus’ birth, then, the Lord’s victory was finally claimed at His death when He said on the cross, “It is finished!

If this is so, why would any Christian remain troubled in his/her heart? We must take heart instead, in other words, be of good cheer! The Christ is on His throne; the Father loves us, His children; the Holy Spirit has been dwelling in us since the moment we were brought to Christ in repentance and faith. No one or nothing can take us out of the love of the Triune God!

So, why should we worry about a virus? Why should we fear this invisible evil and shiver with fright? We must not. Instead, we fear God; we come to the Lord, searching our hearts and souls and life to see whether we have stains of sin, whether we have disappointed our gracious and longsuffering Father in heaven. If yes – I believe all of us answer yes to this – then, humble our hearts and come to the Lord in prayer, and ask His forgiveness in the name of Jesus our Saviour. In doing all these, we must take heart; we must be of good cheer because Jesus has overcome the world!

By this, I don’t mean we should be careless with this virus that is spreading in an alarming rate. Instead, we should take care of ourselves and others too because that is a part of our duty in Jesus. But my point is that, while we’re careful, do not lose our heart, do not lose our joy, do not lose our sight of the power of Jesus. He is King; He is Lord who never forgets you and me, but is always ready to lead us to His way of blessing!

Let me conclude. The Lord and King Jesus has said these words in Jn. 16 so that we may have peace in Him! And hearing His voice, I pray that the Spirit of God who indwells you may restore your joy, restore your confident dependence on God through Christ Jesus! ***

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