16 “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 So some of his disciples said to one another, “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’?” 18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” 19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 20 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. 21 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. 22 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. 23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:16-24, esv)
As we look at our text of Scripture today I want to begin by explaining the text in light of it’s immediate application to the disciples, and then after that I have nine points concerning Christian joy from this passage. As we have read our text, we notice that there are some shiny bright diamonds in this passage, in statements about joy from Christ. It is tempting for many readers to want to go straight to the shiny parts and immediately begin appropriating them to themselves. I want nothing more badly than also to appropriate these glorious truths to the believer, but in order to get the most joy and understanding out of them, we need to get a grip on the immediate application of the passage to the disciples to whom Jesus spoke, and then the brightness of these diamonds will increase to illuminate our understanding, faith, and affections.
The Passage in Relation to Disciples
As we pick up in the text, we find the disciples once again confused at what Jesus tells them. They have no idea where Jesus is going and what He means by a “little while.” Jesus has talked extensively about His departure, and yet the disciples are in much confusion. They know Jesus is going to be leaving but they don’t understand where, when, or why. When you look at the disciples in the gospels and contrast it with who they were as apostles in the book of Acts and as authors of New Testament Scripture, there is such a difference in them. For one, it is such a testimony to the revelatory nature of the work of Christ in His death and resurrection – how much was illuminated by the cross and empty tomb! It was the cross and resurrection the disciples had so much trouble comprehending before they witnessed it happen. They couldn’t seem to fit such a death and resurrection into their conception of what the Messiah was to be. Of course all of it was in fulfillment of Scripture and to be expected, but nevertheless it was quite difficult for them.
Jesus, as always, knowing their hearts and their private discussions brings up the issue to discuss it more with them. He tells them that they will weep and lament while the world rejoices. This is certainly not what they wanted to hear. But then Jesus tells them that their sorrow will turn into joy, and He compares it to a woman giving birth. When labor is upon her she is in anguish, but it is worth it for the joy set before her when her baby is born. Jesus says that though the disciples have sorrow, they will see him again and in that time their hearts will rejoice with a joy that cannot be taken away.
So what is being referred to here as when Jesus will leave and when the disciples will see Him again? I believe that Jesus is speaking about His death, when they will see Him no longer, and then His resurrection when they will see him again. There are several reasons I come to this firm conclusion and believe you should as well. First, Jesus says a little while and you will see me no longer. He gives a time indicator when they will see Him no longer, and indeed it was later that night that Jesus would be betrayed and arrested. Immediately after this discussion in chapter 16, we see that in the same day, chapter 17 takes place where Jesus offers up what is known as His high priestly prayer, which we find is immediately followed by His arrest in chapter 18. So it is just a little while when they will see Him no longer. And then Jesus says back in verse 16 of chapter 16, “and again a little while, and you will see me.” Here the same time indicator is used, which indicates that it will be a similar amount of time when they won’t see him and when they will see Him again. Indeed, after Jesus’ death, it was just a little time until He rose again. It wasn’t even three full days that Jesus was in the tomb, it was simply on the third day that He rose. He was buried the night before the Sabbath, was in the grave on the Sabbath (which was Saturday), and then rose early in the morning on the first day of the week (which is Sunday, the Lord’s Day).
In addition to the time indicators we recognize that Jesus is speaking directly to His disciples giving them these time indicators and telling them about when they will see Him in relation to it being a “little while.” Furthermore, we are told that when they see Him again their hearts will rejoice. Thus, when John writes a few chapters later about when Jesus first appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, John notes that when they saw Him, they were glad. And it’s John 20:20 where you find that. The ESV says they were glad, the NIV says they were overjoyed, and the NASB says they rejoiced. So don’t let the word “glad” pass by you as underwhelming.
Finally in verse 23, Jesus tells them that “in that day” they will ask nothing of Him. In what day? They day that they rejoice when they see Him again. Why is it that they will ask nothing of Him when they see Him resurrected? I believe Jesus is referring to all the confusion and questions they have had during this time. There are so many things they don’t understand and so many questions they have, yet when they see Him resurrected from the day, so much will be clear and will be brought to their understanding. This is why we have comments like we did back in John 2, where Jesus talks about destroying the temple and raising it again on the third day, and John says in John 2:21-22, “But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” The point I am making is this: when the disciples saw the resurrected Lord, so much light and understanding dawned upon them, that they remembered and understood and believed the Scripture and the things Jesus said, they were not so confused with all kinds of questions about what Jesus was doing. It began to all make sense. That is why Jesus says in that day you will ask nothing of me.
Then finally we have verse 24 where Jesus says until now they have asked nothing in His name. Now of course they have asked Jesus various questions, but they have not yet had the New Testament privilege of praying to the Father through the Son who is seated there as the advocate of His people at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us. That is something they will soon be able to do to receive and be full of joy.
So as we get an understanding of this passage, we see that there are several incredible statements about joy. Indeed these are rich wells of life and encouragement for the believer that understanding the immediate interpretation will help us to drink even more deeply of.
The Resurrection as Foundation to Our Joy
The first thing I want you to notice is that in this text, the resurrection is the foundation of Christian joy. In verse 22 Jesus told the disciples that though they currently had sorrow, their hearts will rejoice with a joy that cannot be taken from them when they see Him again. And as we saw, the day when they see Him again refers to His resurrection. The implications of this for our Christian life today are incredible. Since our joy comes from the resurrection which we have seen and believed with the eyes of faith, we too can have this joy as Christians, and we can have it now in this life, in a world yet filled with sin and imperfections, we can have this resurrection joy that cannot be taken from us. Since the resurrection is the foundation of Christian joy, this means that we can have this joy now and we do not have to wait until heaven to have our joy made full. Obviously we will see with glorified eyes and have an even greater joy when we are present with Christ and sin hinders us no more in heaven; but the fuller enjoyment of that joy does not mean that the joy that comes from the resurrection is a partial joy or a joy in promise form only. It is a joy Christians can presently possess.
The resurrection of Christ is the ultimate antidote to all sorrow and hopelessness in this world. I believe that we ought to appropriate by faith, the reality and joy of the resurrection to ourselves more often than we do when we face trials of various kinds. We can apply it to small things like the Monday blues we have when returning to work in a toilsome world. Jesus rose from the dead, our work is not toilsome for toilsome sake it is meaningful and important, because our world is fundamentally a toilsome world, it is a world in which Jesus rose from the dead. That means that since Jesus turned death into life, he can turn our work into fruitful productivity. We also ought to apply the resurrection to much bigger things in our lives such as serious marriage problems or even the death of a loved one. Since Jesus rose from the dead, hopelessness is banished from the Christian life and no matter how dead our marriage may be, Jesus can resurrect it to new life, so we do not give up. While we are on this earth, nothing is yet irreconcilable. Anyone who says so is not counseling or thinking like a Christian. Fundamental to Christianity is death and resurrection. Not death, and not resurrection. But death and resurrection.
Joy can’t be had without Sorrow
This leads us to the second point here which is that joy cannot be had without sorrow. You can’t have resurrection without death. Resurrection implies death first. Jesus couldn’t rise from the dead if He didn’t go to death. This is the illustration of pregnancy that Jesus gives in verse 21. There is sorrow and anguish in a pregnancy, but when the baby is delivered, she remembers it no more for the joy that now has come into the world through the birth. The sorrow is not simply what happens before the joy, but it is necessary to take place before the joy. Certainly this is a post fall reality, but it is a reality nonetheless. Jesus sweat great drops of blood, praying and asking the Father that if there be any other way, to let the cup pass from Him. But there was no other way. He had to drink the cup and endure the sorrow and aguish of His sufferings for the sins of His people. As Hebrews 12:2 tells us it was for the joy set before Him that He endured the cross. My friend, what sorrows are there that this world may bring that are not worth enduring for the joy of faithful obedience to our risen and reigning Lord? It is indeed necessary that we be vexed over this world, over our idols, over our sin, for the sanctification and maturity of our joy into Christ. Christ went before us into great suffering and greater joy, that we may follow Him there. But as Christians today, we do not sorrow just as the disciples did before the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus has already risen from the dead, so that we now are indeed sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. We do not sorrow without joy as Christians, as if the joy is awaiting us and we don’t currently have it in our sorrow. No, we have the joy in our sorrow, and it is an even greater enjoyment of that joy that we already have that awaits us through endurance. The greater our endurance of sorrow for the sake of Christ on this earth, the greater our enjoyment of the pleasure at his right hand will be forevermore.
Sorrow turns into Joy for the Christian
The third thing I want you to notice about Christian joy is that, for the Christian, sorrow turns into joy. Verse 20, “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” This means that our sorrow will not simply be replaced with joy, but that the sorrow itself will turn into joy. For the Christian, the sorrows that we face are not alien experiences apart from the hand of God, rather they are from His loving hand as He gives and takes away, thus He is able and so does turn frowning providences into eternal smiles. As our sorrows turn into joys, what was once the most bitter taste will yield an unending sweetness to our faith. For the Christian, memorials of sorrow and anguish are made into memorials of God’s faithfulness and the great joy that we now experience from it. Is this not the very thing that has happened to the cross and the grave? Symbols of suffering, sorrow, anguish, death, evil, and darkness, Jesus has taken and turned them into symbols of great and overwhelming joy and happiness and triumph and victory and life! Since Jesus can do that with the cross and the grave, He can do the same with our sorrows and our pains. It is quite fitting to recall what Charles Spurgeon once famously said, “I have learned to kiss the waves that throw me up against the rock of ages.” Indeed it is not fit for the Christian to curse and and complain against God’s providences and the circumstances of their life, but to thank them for bringing them closer to Christ, as they were so designed to do. It was indeed the great suffering and anguish of the cross that brought us about to Christ. This is the way of the world in which Christ has risen from the dead: the sorrow turns into joy. When looking with the eyes of faith, a Christian does not look at his sorrows and despair. He looks at his sorrows and sees joys sevenfold. The Christian looks at the millions of little problems in his life, and sees a billion little joys. Like seeing a caterpillar knowing it will soon be a beautiful butterfly with wings to fly, likewise the Christian sees his tears as one day becoming a spring of joy and happiness. Those who cannot see past their own sorrows have little creativity, imagination, and most importantly, little hope and little faith. By faith a Christian can always see more than what is right in front of him. Jesus looked at the grave and did not see a door that would enclose Him in darkness, but a door which He would unlock. What do you think the current problems in our world and in our lives are to Him?
Christian Sorrow is for a Little While
The next thing I want you to notice is that Christian sorrow is but for a little while. Jesus says over and over again, “a little while.” In the direct case of the disciples it was just a few days. But even for us when we endure sorrows that stay with us for our entire life, it is yet but a little while, as the apostle Paul calls them “light momentary afflictions.” Your life is so short. It is here in a moment and gone in the next. So often in the midst of sorrow and sadness we feel that it will never end. We so often feel like there is no way that we can endure and keep going for another moment. But we do, because God gives us strength, and it is just a little while. Maybe some of you, right now, have been dealing with a sorrow that you don’t see the end of. If you are Christ’s, take heart. It is just for a little while. For the Christian, sorrow is short and joy is long.
No one can take Joy from a Christian who has Received it from Christ. Christ is Better at Giving than the World is at Taking.
Verse 22, “…you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” The next point is this: no one can take joy from a Christian who has received it from Christ, because Christ is better at giving than the world is at taking. Christ is better at giving joy than the world is at taking it. And since our joy is based upon the resurrection of Jesus, our joy is not something they can take away. Our joy is not based upon circumstances. The world can seek to change our circumstances all they want, but they can’t take our joy. Our joy is not based upon our physical possession. The world can cancel us and take everything we own, but they cannot take away our joy. Our joy is not based upon other people, so people can come and go and stab us in the back and betray us like Judas, but they can’t take away our joy. Until they can put Jesus back in the tomb, the Christian’s joy cannot be taken from Him, and that’s not something you can take back. Jesus knew and told His disciples that they would face beatings and prison and persecution and sword, yet He also tells them that their hearts will rejoice and the world cannot take away the joy that they will have. If someone can take your joy from you then your joy is not Christian joy based upon the resurrection of Christ and thus it was good to have it taken to expose your idols and bring you to Christ, where true, deep, lasting, enduring, untakeable joy is found. Things that we can grasp with our hands can be loosed and taken by a stronger man, but things that are put into our hearts cannot be taken by any man. Christ is better at giving than the world is at taking.
Sorrow to Joy is Curse-Reversing
Since this Christian joy is based upon the resurrection of Christ, the turning of sorrow into joy is not merely a personal and private experience. This is part of Jesus’ work of curse-reversing. I think it is fitting that Jesus uses the illustration of pregnancy and child birth in this discussion of the joy that His resurrection from the dead will bring. Child birth itself is a type of death and resurrection. But also it was integral to the curse and to redemption. The woman was cursed with great pain in child bearing. But it was also promised that through her child bearing the promised child would come that would bruise the serpent’s head and reverse the curse. Because of sin, sorrow and anguish was brought into this world. And because of that seed of the women, that sorrow and anguish is reversed in its course and turned into joy.
Redemption is Greater than the Fall
You see as great as the sorrow, anguish, and death is that was brought into this world through sin; as great as the destruction of sin; as extensive as the web-like nature of sin is; the joy brought through the death and resurrection of Christ is that much greater, His redemption is that much more thorough, and the extensiveness of His work is that much more extensive. This is the fundamental principle: redemption in Christ is greater than our fall into sin. Romans 5:20, “…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…” Jesus is better at redeeming than sin is at destroying. Jesus has more joy to give than sin has to sorrow.
A World of Joy
If the sorrow of sin has reached its way into every area of life and creation in all the world, will Jesus not continue reversing the curse until He has made for Himself a world of joy? Jesus rose from the dead out of the heart of the earth. That is where Christ the seed was planted and He sprouted out with branches that are growing and crawling this earth bearing fruit and bringing joy. A world that was once full of sorrow, sin, sin, and death, will it not one day be a world full of joy, since one man did not sin and rose from the dead to turn sorrow into joy?
New Covenant Maturity of Praying in Jesus’ Name (Maturity is Joy)
I want to conclude our time by dealing with verse 23 and 24. I mentioned near the beginning that Jesus refers here to the disciples having not yet petitioned the Father through Jesus the Son, while asking many things of Jesus Himself. It is an aspect of New Covenant maturity to have the privilege to pray to the Father in Jesus’ name. In the old world people did not pray in that way. We have dealt on somewhat recent previous occasions with these phrases where the disciples are told to “ask anything in my name and you will receive it.” We know it first refers to the immediate questions and issues the disciples were dealing with, as well as generally relating to us when we ask in accord with the name of Jesus, not as a magic word, but in accord with His namesake. But the point I want to emphasize here today is that it is a sign of historical maturity that we can pray to the Father in Jesus name and receive what we ask for. And that results with our joy being full, which also implies that it is not just anything that we can ask and receive but only that which accords with filling up our joy. So this, along with the resurrection bringing joy to God’s people, are signs of New Covenant maturity and privilege. Herein we see that Christian joy is maturity. Oftentimes people think of joy as immature childhood bliss and as you mature you grow out of such ignorance. But the opposite is true in God’s world. Joy is a sign of New Covenant maturity because joy is not frivolous superficial peppiness. It is deep rooted, contented happiness in God. This joy is not immature and ignorant of the great evils, sorrows, and darkness of this world, but in the face and knowledge of that, has an even greater reality and confidence in Christ, who triumphed over that. If this joy is maturity, then the more the gospel advances and takes root and is applied to every area of life, the more people repent of their sins and turn to Christ, the more that this joy will cover the face of the earth. The more mature, the more joyful. The more that maturity sees and learns of darker sins, sorrows, and anguish, the more deeply rooted and lasting it’s joy will be, for it sees the risen Christ as greater and stronger than all. It is immaturity that finds out more sin and sorrow and then despairs and loses hope. Such needs greater faith and greater knowledge of the power and triumph of Christ.
So what are you going to do this week? My prayer is that you would remember the resurrection, and that you would, in remembering it, appropriate the resurrection, by faith, to your life. You have a terrible day this week in your home with your spouse and/or your children. What do you do? You repent and forgive because Jesus rose from the dead, so sin doesn’t have to ruin our week and our lives, the resurrection ruins our sin. We do not want it to happen, but what if you lose a loved one this week? Remember the resurrection and hope in Christ who is the Lord and Victor over death. What if you lose your job this week? What do you do? Other than going out there and looking for another one or starting your own business, you first remember the resurrection. If Jesus rose from the dead then it’s nothing for Him to provide for you and your family out of nowhere. Maybe you get robbed this week. What do you do? You remember the resurrection and know that Jesus said that the world cannot take your joy from you. Jesus is better at giving than the world is at taking. What are you waiting for? Behold your risen Savior and receive what He is giving!