Table Talk 6: Your sorrow will turn into joy - John 16v16-33 - 17th Oct 2015 - John Cooper/Christine Denny

Bible reading: John 16:16-33

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Click here to listen to Christine's talk

We are continuing Jesus’ conversation with His disciples during the Last Supper. Jesus has been saying that He will leave them and send the Holy Spirit in His place. Obviously this begs the question when will this happen? He says ‘in a little while’. This just mystifies the disciples. What constitutes a little while? Having a science background I am used to being very precise in my measurements. Is He talking about days or hours or even minutes? We of course know the answer: three days: dying on the next day, Friday and reappearing on the Sunday. But the disciples have no concept of the Messiah dying and raising again. In the Old Testament the Messiah figure was seen as a different being to the Suffering Servant found in the Book of Isaiah. Jews still separate them today. A mighty conquering King and a person on whem all the problems of the world will fall, appear, on the face of it, mutually exclusive. We can only understand, like the disciples, in hindsight.

Jesus knew what they were thinking. He tells them a time of great sadness will come upon them whilst the rest of the world will crow with joy. However that sadness will turn to joy for them just like a woman in childbirth. In the books of Isaiah (26:17f) and Micah (4:9f) the deliverance out of Egypt was also compared to childbirth. Both during the Exodus and the Crucifixion God was saving His people. In v33 Jesus says He has overcome the world. The ultimate battle against the Devil was fought on the cross. World history revolves around the pivot of the death of Jesus.

When Jesus dies we will be forgiven sinners and able to approach God the Father directly. His utter holiness will no longer be a barrier for us. So in our prayers we pray to the Father but through Jesus. But what is prayer? It is seeking a meeting with God. However we often see it as a chore to be got through! There is a promise in verses 23 and 24 that God will give us whatever we ask for. This can be misleading: the request has to be in the name of Jesus. In other words the request and answer need to be consistent with His desire for us. I think it is easy to get the wrong idea about prayer. It is not a shopping list given to God as though He is an overbountiful Father Christmas. But prayer is not just asking for things.  Our purpose in life is to love God and our fellow man as ourselves. So our prayers should be directed to that end. It is praise to God for what He is and what He has done. It is to ask to have the mind of Christ and to be moulded to be, not only like Him, but to work as His presence on earth. Thus prayer is not getting our will done in heaven but getting God’s will done on earth. In particular we need to pray that we might show to the world the gifts of being a Christian such as love, joy and peace.

Jesus says He has been speaking figuratively. Jesus frequently used imagery from everyday life. It was an agricultural community and His parables are full of sheep, vines and olive trees but that is going to change. For a start the Early Church mainly advanced in urban communities. Jesus knows what His disciples were thinking so He can answer their doubts directly. This shows Jesus is from God the Father. It is a common experience that when people become Christians the doubts in their minds are dealt with. This was definitely true of me. I did not come from a Christian family yet I can recall how each of my many doubts were dealt with one by one. Scientists are preoccupied with evidence! But of course it is a sobering thought that God always knows how we think!

Jesus says that God the Father loves the disciples because they have loved Jesus and believed that He came from the Father. This seems to me to be implying two things: Firstly that Jesus and the Father are the same. The same personality but functioning differently. And secondly the way to God is through knowing Jesus. As I have previously said I was quite sceptical until I considered the reliability of the Bible and the record of the Early Church and in particular the evidence for the Resurrection. No other religion is open to historical investigation in the same way. Now obviously Mohammed and the Buddha existed but neither claimed to be God or even divine. And any religion that is based on emotional response such as Hinduism leads to many different expressions of that faith because there is no historical precedent to base it on.

Because Jesus is speaking clearly to the disciples they realise that Jesus came from God. (As an aside not many of us woud think Jesus was speaking clearly! I suspect the record of what was said is highly abbreviated just like minutes of an important meeting.) The disciples could see the authority Jesus had even if they did not understand the words! However in spite of their confession of faith Jesus realises that it is rather shallow. In a few hours the disciples were going to scatter. Our own faith can be very weak at times but I am sure God understands. Subsequently, after the Resurrection, the disciples would be persecuted and yet they kept their faith. What greater test of a person’s faith could there be?

The disciples would scatter and Jesus would be left alone. Yet He says the Father would be with Him. Just compare the Father’s faithfulness to the fickleness of the disciples. However even the Father would reject Him on the cross as Jesus suffered the punishment for all our sins. And it was because of His atoning death that we now have direct access to the Father. The barrier of sin has been removed.

A man got lost in the desert of the Old West. He stumbled about until he saw a farmhouse in the distance. He went towards it and when he knocked on the door to his surprise a minister of religion, complete with a dog collar, opened the door. The minister gace him a much needed drink and then cooked a meal for him. When he was refreshed the stranger asked the minister where the nearest town was. The minister told him and, what is more, offered him his horse to take him there. The stranger accepted with profuse thanks. So they went out to the stables but the minister stopped and explained that, because he was a minister, the horse responded to some unique commands. “When you want the horse to move you have to say’Thank God’ but when you want it to stop you say ’Amen’ explained the minister. The stranger got on the horse, said ‘Thank God’ and, true to the minister’s word, the horse moved off. Good byes were said and the stranger started on his way. After a bit he said ‘Thank God’ and the horse started to canter. The stranger realsied he was enjoying himself so he said ‘Thank God’ again and the horse broke into a gallop. They were charging along but then the stranger saw an enormouse canyon edge ahead. Desperately he tried to remember the command to stop. ‘Whoah’ he cried and then feverishly he shouted  ‘Stop’ all to no avail. Then he remembered and he cried out ‘Amen’ and the horse skidded to a halt just inches from the canyon edge. ‘Thank God’ the man cried out….!

Unfortunately this story’s moral is the opposite to what I want it to say. On every possible occasion we ought to thank God for what he has done through Jesus.

Finally in verse 33 Jesus warns the disciples (both them then and us now) that they will experience trouble. Obviously many Christians have, and will suffer persecution. For most of us in Britain it will just be scorn  although that might change in the future! Opposition might come from the government. It is no longer legal to refuse homosexuals the use of your guest house.

And I would like to add that if we have not suffered such mild opposition as scorn then we have not been sufficiently open about our faith. The idea that our faith can always bring prosperity and physical healing I find repugnant. In the story of Naboth’s vineyard he and his sons are slaughtered because they followed God’s Law rather than take up the very generous offer of a covetous all-powerful king (1 Kings ch.21). Naboth’s faith only brought him suffering.

But what our faith offers us is peace; peace with God. There is a saying that Christianity offers ‘pie in the sky when you die’. But that misunderstands what peace is all about. It means that you have a certainty about your life. To know that no matter what happens you are loved by God both in the here and now and in the future. Jesus’ Resurrection shows that there is a Resurrection of the dead. And this is a Resurrection all Christians will take part in (Isaiah 26:19).

A friend of mine asked me where  I would most like to have been in history. Her husband immediately said “Obviously First Century Jerusalem.” “No way” I thought. It would be like standing in front of the doors of the Bastille when it was stormed! If I had been in Jerusalem I would not have understood what was going on and, I strongly suspect, I too would have forsaken Jesus. I have an interest in Lawrence of Arabia but I cannot talk to him because, obviously, he has been dead a long time. Not so with Jesus and this is a relationship that I can refresh each day. Thank God!