Words of encouragement in times of trouble only go so far. “Don’t give up!” “Stay the course!” “Hang in there!” “We’re all pulling for you!” “You’ve got so much to look forward to!” “Be well!”
Before leaving His disciples, Jesus knew He needed to leave words of encouragement to His followers. Merely saying, “Be well!” or “Stay the course!” won’t have helped much, especially when we know that, once arrested and led to trial, Jesus’ followers fled for their lives. Even brave Peter ended up denying he even knew Jesus at all! Yet Jesus spoke words of comfort and assurance, that although events would appear bleak, soon the tide would change for the better. Jesus spoke words that sounded very much like a riddle. “A little while, and you will see Me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see Me” (John 16:16). The disciples wondered too what He actually meant by this statement.
When a loved one must undergo some surgical procedure, the family gathers at the hospital and waits anxiously for news from the doctor and nurses. Until they learn that all is well, mouthing words like “Good luck!” and “Hope all goes well!” just won’t cut it. They need real assurance that the best is being done to bring relief to all.
And so Jesus explains to His troubled disciples that their sorrow will eventually be turned to joy. He gives an example from life that would help illustrate a difficult time but also a hopeful outcome. . “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also 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 16:20-22).
The shock of Christ’s betrayal and arrest, and His subsequent trial and torture and death, would catapult the disciples into fearful grief and sadness. Jesus was well aware of this beforehand. And so He assured them that after all these incomprehensible things had passed, much like a terrible, destructive storm, soon a healing calm would come and the fruits of Christ’s labors would become apparent. As the Christ, Son of the living God (Peter’s confession, Matthew 16:16), Jesus willingly became the scape-goat, the atoning sacrifice, the sinless but obedient Lamb of God “who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). His death would be vindicated by His resurrection. God’s plan of salvation would be complete.
Following Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday, He would appear to His disciples and followers for forty days, strengthening their faith in Him as Lord and Savior. Their testimony to His life, work, and salvation would gather others during the “little while” of His absence following His ascension and promise to return again (Acts 1:8-9). Ten days later at Pentecost, God the Holy Spirit would come to Christ’s followers and empower them to boldly preach Christ-crucified and raised again to the nations.
The “little while” of His visible absence now is refreshed with those gifts, His means of grace, bestowed upon His Church in Word and Sacrament ministry. Today the message of Christ’s love is more than a mere “Hang in there!” or “Good luck!” Jesus’ word of grace incorporate us into Him through Baptism. He gives us His very body and blood in His Supper to forgive sins and strengthen faith. Amidst our daily trials and sorrows, His abiding presence and peace will sustain us. He assures us of “a new heaven and a new earth” and that “the dwelling place of God is with man” (Revelation 21:1, 3). Believers rejoice in this promise, calling all to repentance and faith. By His grace in Christ, all sorrow is turned to joy.