When I was in high school I played on the football team here in La Harpe. A lot of you remember that our football team was really good, and many of you even attended some of the games I played in. I have lots of fun memories from football, but I think my favorite is from the semifinal game we played in East Dubuque my senior year.
Our team entered the playoffs as the top-ranked team in the state. Earlier in the year we had beaten the team that everyone else considered to be the best and so we were now the favorite. We traveled to East Dubuque for the game that would lead to a berth in the state championship game if we won. The team we were playing was having a “Cinderella season”; they had made a run deep into the playoffs for the first time in their history. We were expected to easily defeat this team on our way to the state championship.
That day was bitterly cold, with a biting wind and blowing snow. It quickly became apparent that we were not going to have an easy win. At halftime, our normally dominant offense had been shut out and we were losing by a touchdown. As the game continued, hope began to fade, as we still hadn’t scored. I looked like the favorites would lose and our hopes would be dashed. With about 5 minutes left to go in the game, and our team trailing 16-0, defeat seemed certain. But then things changed.
In the last four minutes of that game, we threw two touchdown passes, kicked a field goal, and ran back a punt (which was initially dropped) for a touchdown. Our team ended up winning the game 23-16! Even though it seemed like everything was lost, our team won in the end. Instead of being one of the most painful experiences of my time in football, I remember it now as one of the most thrilling—because just when we though all was lost, we pulled off a stunning victory at the end.
I think, if the disciples were to tell you their story of Easter it would be very similar. Out of the jaws of defeat suddenly there was a stunning and life-changing victory. In the passage that we are going to look at this morning, Jesus told his disciples what to expect in the future. He told them that there would be a time of mourning followed by a time of rejoicing. Jesus would transform the cross from a memory of defeat into a memorial of victory. I believe he also promises that even after the resurrection, Christians will mourn for a while, but will rejoice when we see Him again.
A Time of Mourning
In John 16 Jesus predicted what was going to happen He had been somewhat vague with them, telling them that in a little while they wouldn’t see him any longer, but a little while after that they would see him again. Understandably, his disciples were confused. The response we read in verses 20-22 is Jesus trying to offer them comfort in the midst of their confusion. Jesus was preparing his disciples for what was about to happen.
The first thing he told them is that they would go through a time of mourning. He said,
I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. (v. 20a)
Jesus gave his disciples a glimpse of what would happen after he was crucified. We know from history that what Jesus said was true. When he was crucified, the world outside of his disciples rejoiced. The people (at the prompting of the Jewish leaders) had convinced the Roman government to allow Jesus to be crucified. The Jewish leaders rejoiced at the removal of this threat to their power. Jesus’ death had become a spectacle in a city full of people. It seemed like the religious leaders had won. They rejoiced. But the “game” was not over yet.
While Jewish leaders rejoiced, the disciples mourned. We have to understand what they were experiencing. These men were sure that Jesus was the One who was promised. They believed that Jesus was going to overthrow the Jewish and Roman leaders who were oppressing them and restore order. They didn’t understand everything Jesus said he was going to do, but they knew that what he described sounded marvelous. They probably felt as though the rug had been pulled from under them. A week before, they had been with Jesus as he entered Jerusalem and people lined the streets and lay down palm branches before him, cheering and crying out, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” They probably saw this as confirmation that Jesus was finally getting the credit he deserved—that others were finally recognizing Him as the Messiah and that everything He had spoken of would soon take place. If you will, they felt like they were the “heavily favored team”. A week later Jesus was dead; killed in one of the most cruel and humiliating manners ever devised.
Jesus’ followers not only grieved the loss of their friend and leader, they also grieved because they began to question whether they were mistaken about Jesus. They had believed wholeheartedly that Jesus was the Messiah who had been promised for thousands of years. They were certain that Jesus would come and make everything right. Now they weren’t sure about anything. Jesus was right when he said that they would weep and mourn, because their world had fallen apart and their dreams were in ruins . . .or so it seemed.
The Great Reversal
As Jesus was telling his disciples what to expect, he didn’t stop at telling them they would weep and mourn. He said there would be a great reversal.
You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 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. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. (John 16:20b-22, NIV)
Jesus told the disciples that though they would grieve for a while, the story wasn’t over. He assured his followers that they would see Him again, that their grieving would turn to rejoicing, and that they would have a joy no one could take away from them. Victory would be snatched from defeat.
Jesus used the analogy of a mother giving birth. Most of us have heard stories about the trials of pregnancy. Some mothers had morning sickness every day for months. Some craved strange foods throughout their pregnancy. Some mothers describe being bruised on the inside from their babies kicking them in the ribs. Others were confined to a bed for months, feeling helpless while they tried to carry their child to term. Most women will also tell you about how their bodies have never been the same after carrying a child. As women speak about labor, many describe it as one of the most painful experiences of life, and it’s not uncommon for a mother to spend dozens of hours waiting for her body to be ready to finally deliver the baby. As a man, I feel sympathy for these women, as well as gratitude that I can’t carry a child!
The amazing thing is that almost without fail, these same women who speak of such pain also describe it as being the most amazing experience of their lives. Many women, after having experienced the rigors of childbearing actually choose to go through the process again! These women do not minimize the pain and hardship of childbearing, but instead, they focus on the payoff at the end. They understand what all that pain is leading them toward, and it gives them what they need to carry on.
Jesus said that Easter would be like that for the disciples. And of course, that was exactly what did happen. On the third day after his death, Jesus rose again. His resurrection proved not only that He was who He said He was (that is, God), but that He had power over death, that He had the power to ensure eternal life for everyone who trusted in Him. Jesus also told his disciples that because of what He had accomplished on the cross, their (our) relationship with God was forever changed. As the disciples understood what had happened, they realized that Jesus had paid the penalty for their sin, even though He had no sin of his own. Jesus was completely innocent, but took our sin upon himself so that we could be free. As the disciples understood what Jesus had done, they no longer cried tears of mourning, but rather tears of joy. They realized that the very thing that had caused them such grief (the cross) was now a reminder of the greatest joy they had ever experienced, Jesus turned everything around on Easter!
I believe Jesus is telling us that we will experience a similar reversal. He tells us that the resurrection was the beginning of the turning point. Because of what Jesus did, we have the Holy Spirit in our lives. He gives us strength, guidance, and encouragement even in the midst of difficult and discouraging times.
Jesus also consistently declares that we will see Him again, just as the disciples did. He tells us that there is coming a day when He will return and the world will no longer rejoice as they mock and belittle and ignore and marginalize Christ, but they will mourn as they see their sin for what it is. And in that day, those who have trusted in Christ, who have based their lives on what He accomplished on the cross, will find that everything sad will be taken away. We will experience a restoration of order, the end of sin, the end of death, and the majestic love of the Father. We will see that all of the hardship we have faced was leading to this day—and we will have an unquenchable joy.
On that day, the day when we see Jesus face to face, we will be like the mother who has given birth to her child. We may arrive at that time exhausted from the struggle, but we will be filled with a joy that no one can take away from us. Our joy will be untouchable because we will have finished strong, we will see that our faithfulness in the struggle brings a smile to the face of our Savior.
I’ve talked in generalities so far, but let’s get specific. What does Jesus’ promise about what we can expect mean for us?
First, it means we have to understand the bad news of Easter before we can experience the good news. True Christianity is uncomfortable to many people because it starts by pointing out that we are all sinful and deserve to spend eternity in Hell. This is not a message that people like. We like to think that we are basically good and that we deserve God’s love. We like to minimize our sin and think that God can simply overlook it, but that is not the case.
If we want to experience the joy that Jesus promised, we have to start by seeing our sin for what it is. Think about it. God has given us instructions for how to live our lives. Every time we sin, we are in essence telling God that He is foolish and does not know as much as we do. Our sin is, in essence, spitting in God’s face. It is only when we understand that fact that we can begin to understand why God cannot simply overlook our sin. He does not see our sins as mere slip-ups, but He rightly sees our sin as an attempt to declare ourselves as lord instead of rightfully recognizing Him as Lord. We need to understand that what we truly deserve is an eternity in Hell, and that no matter how much good we try to do, we cannot erase our own sinfulness, because the demands of justice must be met. Our sin must be punished.
It is only once we understand (and truly believe) these facts that we can even begin to understand why Easter is so important. On the cross of Calvary Jesus paid the penalty for our sin. He who was sinless took upon Himself the sin of everyone who would believe in Him. God did not simply overlook our sin; He poured out on Jesus the punishment that we deserved. Jesus made it so that we could have a new relationship with God. He made it possible for us to be forgiven. He said all that was required on our part was to follow Him—to trust in His goodness instead of our own, and to devote our lives to following and honoring Him as the Lord of the universe and the Lord of our lives. When we do this, our mourning over our sinfulness turns to rejoicing over God’s amazing grace!
Second, it means we must keep perspective that Jesus is coming back. It can be tempting to become discouraged about our world. Christians are persecuted and marginalized. Christ is not honored, and the world seems to be winning. Christians must realize that we know how the story ends. Even though it seems like the game is all but lost and we ought to simply give up, we know that we must keep fighting because the game is not over.
If I were playing the game in East Dubuque today, my attitude would be different because I know how it ends. Instead of fearing what would happen if we lost. I would be playing with expectant anticipation of what was to come. I would be playing hard, knowing that eventually my hard work would achieve victory! Or think about it from the perspective of a pregnant woman—she knows the blessing that is coming, meaning she can endure the present pain because she knows it will be worth it.
It is the same in the Christian life. We can live with confidence in the outcome, even if it seems like things get worse in the moment.
We can stand up for Biblical truth even though we may be ridiculed.
We can continue to live by God’s law even though the world tells us it is old-fashioned.
We can trust that even in the midst of sickness, God is with us, and we know this world is not all there is—even death is not the end for those who believe.
We can make our relationship with Christ our first priority, even though the world tells us our first priority should be our family, our job, or our entertainment.
We can boldly and lovingly share the message of the gospel with our friends, families, coworkers, neighbors, and even strangers, even though they may view us as a superstitious fool.
We can follow God’s commands to be honest and generous with what we have, even though we may not get to do or have some of the things the world seems to enjoy.
Living for Christ isn’t easy, but it is worth it. The world will try to pull us away from Him and make life difficult for us. This isn’t a surprise to God, and it shouldn’t be a surprise to us. Jesus said this would happen. At the end of chapter 16, Jesus left us with this promise:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)
We might have preferred a blowout victory, but would it be as special? We might have preferred that Jesus promise us that if we follow Him everything will be easy. It would be wonderful if He promised us that the world would like us and that everything would go as we had planned. That isn’t what He promises, however. Jesus promises us that we will have trouble in this world. He didn’t say we might have trouble; He said we will have trouble. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised at our hardships.
Jesus also reminds us, however, that we should take heart in what He has done. He tells us not to focus on our current troubles and hardships, but instead to focus on the fact that He has overcome the world! It may not look like it right now, but the end is already determined. The victory is assured. We can live our lives confident that there is coming a day when order will be restored and we will rejoice together with Jesus.
Easter Sunday is the time when we remember not only the cross of Calvary on which Jesus was crucified, but also the empty tomb that proved his victory over death, sin, and evil. As we think about the cross today, we focus not so much on the horror of the cross, but the glory of the resurrection.
Easter Sunday is like the turning point of a football game. Easter is when the momentum shifts and we are reminded that the game isn’t over—that there’s more to be played. Easter reminds us that Jesus is alive and He has given us hope for the future. The cross is no longer a symbol of defeat and death, but a memorial of victory!
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out one very important point, however. When we won in East Dubuque, not everyone was happy about the outcome. One of the teams went home crushed. For me to imply that Jesus will assure victory for all would be to deny what the Bible really teaches. Those who do not follow Christ will find themselves mourning on the day that we see Jesus again. That will be a day that is fearful as unbelievers take upon themselves the just penalty of their sin. Just as Jesus promises his followers that they will be victorious, those who do not follow Him will find that though they thought they had been victorious, they will face the harsh reality that they have been defeated.
I’m glad you are here this morning, but I want to challenge you to examine your life. Which team are you on? Are you part of the world that is ignoring Jesus in your daily life? Are you only in church on Easter Sunday? Do you only put on the act of Christianity when you are at church? Who is it that is most important to you—is it Jesus or someone else (or even yourself)? Who or what are you following? Today is the day to be sure that you are following Jesus Christ, because we see that He has accomplished for us what we cannot accomplish for ourselves. He has made it possible for us to be forgiven of our sin now, and to be assured of victory in the future.
Easter reminds us of what lies ahead. Right now, you may be in the midst of a battle and feel like all hope is lost, like you can’t possibly carry on. Easter is for you. Jesus reminds us that God is with us, that He cares for us, and that the game isn’t over. Or maybe you feel out of place in the church—like you don’t belong—because you know what is in your past. Easter is for you. Jesus declares that if you will turn to Him and follow Him, you will belong, not because of anything you have done, but because of what He has done. He will give you forgiveness, a new beginning, and a new identity in Christ. Easter changes everything—it shows us that the outcome is already determined. It reminds us that even when it seems like all hope is lost…we will be victorious!