************ Sermon on John 16:20 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 16, 2010
"Your Grief Will Turn to Joy"
Ascension Day 2010
Today we remember Ascension Day – the day that Jesus went back to heaven.
How important was the Ascension to Jesus? Was it something He thought about often? Do you think He could hardly wait to return "to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God" (Jn 20:17)? While He lived and walked on this earth was He homesick for God and heaven?
I read through the Gospel of John this past week. I was surprised by how often the Ascension showed up. It occurred to me that Jesus said way more about His ascension than He said about His birth – yet, what day do we celebrate? I would like you to open your Bibles and follow along with me:
(Jn 3:13) "No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven--the Son of Man."Do you see how the Ascension was on Jesus' mind from the very beginning to the very end of His ministry?
(Jn 6:62) "What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!"
(Jn 12:35) Then Jesus told them, "You are going to have the light just a little while longer."
(Jn 13:1) It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.
(Jn 13:3) Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God ...
(Jn 13:33) "My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come."
(Jn 13:36) Simon Peter asked him, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus replied, "Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later."
(Jn 14:2) "In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you."
(Jn 14:12) "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father."
(Jn 14:28) "You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I."
(Jn 16:5) "Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?'"
(Jn 16:10) "... in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer ..."
(Jn 16:16) "In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me."
(Jn 17:5) "And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began."
(Jn 17:11) "I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you."
(Jn 17:13) "I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them."
(Jn 20:17) Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"
I will say, again, what I said a couple of weeks ago: Many Christians today tend to shortchange the redemptive ministry of Christ. We focus on Christmas and on Easter, on the cross and on Good Friday. We focus on Christ crucified. We hinder and limit the Gospel when we do this because we miss events like the Ascension and Christ's return. As I said a couple of weeks ago, when we talk about the redemptive work of Christ, it is best to have in mind everything the Apostles' Creed says about Christ.
If the Ascension is important to Jesus – and it is – shouldn't it also be important to us?
I Weep and Mourn
A "I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices" (Jn 16:20). Jesus says these words to the disciples within the context of talking about His Ascension. "You will weep and mourn while the world rejoices."
"Weep." As in "wail, lament, cry." The emphasis is on the noise made. Lots and lots of noise. Loud noise. Moaning, groaning, wailing, and crying.
"Mourn." The emphasis is on the emotional reaction. As in "shock, dismay, devastation, loss."
Put these two words together: "weep and mourn." Their hearts will not simply be touched by sorrow or grief or disappointment. Rather, there will be a fullness of sorrow. They will be overcome with grief. Their mourning will reach the limits of human capacity.
What brings this on? What is the cause? Listen to what Jesus says:
(Jn 13:33) "My children, I will be with you only a little longer ... Where I am going, you cannot come."
(Jn 16:5) "Now I am going to him who sent me ..."
(Jn 16:16) "In a little while you will see me no more ..."
The disciples weep and mourn, their hearts are troubled, theirs is loud crying and an overwhelming sense of loss all because Jesus is leaving. The leaving started already with the cross, extended to the grave, and ended with the ascension into heaven.
Why did the disciples grieve about this? We need to understand the disciples had spent three years in a state of unspeakable joy. They had witnessed what no human beings before them had ever seen in the entire course of history. Their eyes peered openly at things angels themselves longed to look into (1 Pet 1:12). Their ears heard what ancient saints had a fierce desire to hear with their own ears. For three years these men were the disciples of Jesus. They were His companions. Where He went, they went. What He said, they heard. What He did, they saw with their own eyes. These were the original eyewitnesses to the earthly ministry of the Son of God.
But one day, these men heard from the lips of their teacher the worst of all possible news. Jesus told them He was leaving them. Jesus told them the days of their intimate companionship in this world was coming to an end.
No wonder they were filled with shock and panic. No wonder their hearts were troubled. No wonder there was going to be loud crying and wailing. Jesus said it was just about over.
There is a bit of a funeral atmosphere here. Imagine that someone you love and care for asks you to come over. They tell you they have cancer. It is terminal. And, they have 6 weeks left to live. After that they will be gone. Of course you will weep and wail.
Before moving on, I want you to note with me that Jesus' leaving was voluntary. He was not driven away. His ministry was not taken from Him.
I want you to also note that the disciples were thinking only of themselves. They were thinking of how they would miss Jesus. They were thinking of how devastating this was for them. Their focus was themselves and not Jesus. Their preoccupation was with their own problems and their own comfort. Jesus had said more than enough, already, to fill them with joy (Jn 15:11). But they did not see it. By looking only at that which was against them rather than that which was for them they were filled with grief. Which is a reminder that Christians who look only at the dark side of the cloud, who meditate on nothing but terror and dread and negative things, end up turning a deaf ear to the voice of joy and gladness.
Jesus knows this about His disciples so He says, "you will weep and mourn" (Jn 16:20).
B What is true for the disciples is not true for the world. The disciples will "weep and mourn" while "the world rejoices." The "world" means people who are opposed to God and the things of God. It means people who are in a state of continued enmity with God. It means people who hate the Gospel. It means people who have no use and no time for the plan of salvation. This includes a group John knows as the "Jews" – the scribes, the Pharisees, the chief priests, the high priest, and the crowds who screamed for Christ's crucifixion – none of whom believed in Jesus as the promised Messiah.
This heathen world, this atheist world, this unbelieving world "rejoices" with the departure of Jesus. It is delighted that Jesus is gone. The world is filled with gladness and great happiness and dances with joy. They rejoiced and were glad at the crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus. They were happy that Jesus was gone. The response of the world to the leaving of Jesus is similar to the response of the world to the death of the two witnesses in the Revelation:
(Rev 11:10) The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.Imagine that: gloating, celebrating, exchanging gifts because someone is dead and gone. That was the world's response to the leaving of Jesus.
Why? Why does the world rejoice? Because Jesus torments their souls. They hate Him for His purity and righteousness. They hate Him for His love and care for the common people. They hate Him for the claims He made about Himself and His ministry. They hate Him for ignoring their legalism. They hate Him for being so popular with the common people. They hate Him for ignoring their spiritual authority. They hate Him for not making nice with them and kissing up to them. Especially, though, they hate Jesus for the Gospel. They hate Jesus for calling them to repent and believe.
Jesus is like the prophets before Him. Do you remember what King Ahab of Israel called the prophet Elijah? He called Elijah the "troubler of Israel" (1 Kings 18:17). What did Elijah do? He dared to proclaim the Word of the Lord. He dared to call the king to repent. He dared to stand against evil.
Don't we see the same thing today? How the liberals hate those who oppose abortion and dare to call it murder. How the liberals hate those who call teens to abstinence rather than birth control. How the liberals hate those who say marriage, as designed by God, is between one man and one woman. How the liberals hate those who dare to say their views and their actions are wrong. How the liberals hate those who call them to repent and believe. My brothers and sisters, the faithful preaching of the Gospel always arouses opposition. Like Elijah, like Jesus, witnesses to the truth of God are viewed as trouble makers.
So, the Ascension causes two reactions: the disciples "weep and mourn while the world rejoices" (Jn 16:20).
II Grief Will Turn to Joy
A Now notice the second part of our text: "You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy" (Jn 16:20). Meaning what? Jesus says the disciples' grief will be temporary. Their weeping and mourning will be temporary. Their sense of abandonment will be temporary.
"You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy" (Jn 16:20). Can I ask you to turn with me to Luke 24:50ff:
(Luke 24:50-53) When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. (51) While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. (52) Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. (53) And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.Do you hear that? Jesus ascended into heaven and the disciples worshiped Him. Jesus was taken into heaven and the disciples were filled with joy – great joy, enormous joy, overflowing joy.
The very thing Jesus said would happen did happen: grief was turned into joy. The fullness of their sorrow that had completely engulfed them at the news that Jesus was leaving, had given way not only to contentment, not only to acceptance, not only to joy, but to a great and fulfilling joy. They returned from their last sight of Jesus with their hearts filled with elation! Wow!
Did you hear the comparison Jesus made? Jesus compares this to the birth of a child.
(John 16:21) 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.In the Ancient World, childbirth was painful. Now, after the baby is born, does the mother concentrate on the pain or on the joy? Of course her focus is the joy. The pain is still there. The pain has not gone away. But it has been transformed. It has been transformed into joy. What sticks out is not pain but joy.
B Why? Why was the disciples' grief transformed into joy? Why was their grief only temporary? The obvious answer is that the disciples came to understand the significance and the benefits of the Ascension.
We need to talk about the Ascension in terms of its meaning for Christ and its meaning for the Christian.
First, let's look at the Ascension in terms of its meaning for Christ. I read earlier from John 3:13. It says something that, at first glance, you might disagree with:
(John 3:13) No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven--the Son of Man.What do you mean "no one has ever gone into heaven"? What about Elijah who was carried into heaven by chariots of fire? What about Enoch who ascended into heaven?
Jesus is using a technical expression for the Ascension in John 3:13. He has more in mind than simply "going up." He has in mind the coronation of a king (Ps 2, Ps 110). Jesus ascended into heaven. Then what? Then He was seated at the right hand of God. He was placed in the position of honor and authority. He was given throne and dominion and power and honor and glory. I think Paul puts it best in Philippians 2:
(Phil 2:9-11) Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, (10) that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, (11) and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.No one else has gone to heaven in the same manner or for the same purpose: not Elijah, not Enoch, not David, not Paul. What a home-coming that day must have been!
C Second, let's look at the Ascension in terms of its meaning for the Christian. I want to ask you to open the Psalter Hymnal to Q & A 49 of the Heidelberg Catechism (p.880). We are reading this tonight, but I want us to also read it this morning.
How does Christ's ascension to heaven benefit us?
First, he pleads our cause
in the presence of his Father.
Second, we have our own flesh in heaven--
a guarantee that Christ our head
will take us, his members,
to himself in heaven.
Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth
as a further guarantee.
By the Spirit's power
we make the goal of our lives,
not earthly things,
but the things above where Christ is,
sitting at God's right hand.
Sometime between the announcement of His leaving and His actual leaving, the disciples of Jesus came to believe they were better off with Jesus in heaven. The disciples came to believe Jesus' bodily absence was of more benefit than His bodily presence. The disciples came to believe that they were better off with a crucified and resurrected Jesus in heaven. So they returned to Jerusalem with great joy.
A couple of times I've been offered "Holy Land" tours. People who have gone on them rave about the benefit of walking where Jesus walked, going to the River Jordan, seeing with their own eyes where Jesus lived and ministered. Listening to them, it is almost as if they wish Jesus was still here in the flesh.
I know there are benefits to a "Holy Land" tour. But, today, I want to remind you of what the disciples discovered: we are better off with Jesus in heaven. We don't need a fleshly Jesus upon the earth anymore.
(John 16:20) "I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy."
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page