Cross-Centered Joy – John 16:16-22

Cross-Centered Joy

Nick Esch, 6/17/2018 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Introduction

I love our passage today because it gets at the heart of the gospel, the heart of Christianity, and at my own heart for you… In our passage Jesus is seeking to prepare His disciples for His death and resurrection, and for their own sorrow and suffering, as He has been doing throughout the Upper Room Discourse; He’s already told them how the Spirit is going to help them in this, and now He points to the importance of joy in the Christian life.

You see, joy in Christ is a result of the Christian life, but it’s also a motivator for the Christian life… What I mean is, the more our hearts delight in Christ, the more we’ll desire to live for Christ… And that’s partially what Jesus seems to be getting at in our text today… And that’s always been my heart’s desire for us: thatwe’d be a joyful people in Christ. I want that 1) because I love you, and 2) because when we’re truly joyful in Christ we will be faithful in every area of life.What I mean is, when Jesus becomes our supreme treasure we’re freed up to be the Christians, the husbands, the wives, the fathers, the mothers, the ministers, the employees, the children, the citizens, the people that God has called us to be… Delighting in Jesus, taking great joy—supreme joy in Him frees us up to live for Him. When our joy and satisfaction are in Christ then we are a force to be reckoned with because we don’t need anything of this world for satisfaction or happiness. We can hold loosely to the things of this world and gladly give of our time, talents, finances, and lay down our very lives if necessary for Christ’s sake and the mission of the gospel, because we’re banking everything on Jesus, and no matter what we may give up or lose, we’ll never lose Him, and He is our joy…

So, Lord willing, this is what we’ll see in our passage today. We’ll see that the cross is the heart of the gospel, and that joy in Christ is the heart of the Christian life, because when we delight in Him supremely we’re enabled to truly live for Him… This is what Jesus is shares with His disciples in our text, and now with us… So with that in mind, look with me at John 16:16-22…

John 16:16-22

Our passage begins in verse 16 with Jesus telling His disciples, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” But, the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus meant. In verse 17 John tells us that some of the 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’?” In other words, they were confused. In verse 18 they say, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.”

Now, if I was Jesus I’d be very frustrated… He’s been essentially preaching and teaching His heart out for hours; and this is right before He’s arrested and crucified mind you… So, He’s been spending the last day of His life before the cross teaching, and His disciples have understood very little… As a preacher, I know what it feels like to pour your heart out in preaching and teaching, and for people to basically have no idea what you’re talking about… But, on the other hand, I’ve also often been in the place of the disciples here… I mean, haven’t you? Have you ever tried to read the Bible and had no idea what it was talking about? If so, you’re in good company…

Sometimes the words of Jesus are hard to comprehend; but, by God’s grace we can get to the point of understanding… And that’s where Jesus seeks to take them next. In verses 19 and 20 we’re told that Jesus knew what 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’? 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.”

You see the disciples didn’t comprehend Jesus’ teaching because they couldn’t get past their preconceived notions of who they thought Jesus should be and do… They were expecting a military Messiah: One who would conquer the enemies of Israel and establish His rule and reign then and there through sovereign might… So before they could understand God’s plan they had to be willing to let go of their own… They couldn’t understand why the Messiah, who they thought was supposed to make war and conquer would be going away… And then if He went away, why would He soon return? They didn’t get it… And they wouldn’t get it until they realized that they didn’t have everything all figured out; until they realized that the Jesus of the Bible, God the Son, God in the flesh is not subject to their ideals and preconceived notions of who they think He ought to be…

Now church, could it be, that all too often we don’t understand God’s Word rightly because we have faulty preconceived notions? Do you know what I mean? For instance, when we read God’s Word and Jesus says things like, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35)… Our first reaction (if we’re honest) is to say, “Well, that can’t mean what it says… There must be some way around this…” I mean it’s obvious that the church in the west thinks this way, just look at how we live… Our actions typically revolve around comfort and security, not dying to ourselves and risking all for the sake of the gospel… Our first instinct is to try to twist the Scripture to fit into some sort of American worldview… We try to make the Bible about us instead of about Jesus… But like the disciples here, our views are faulty, and we must submit ourselves to what the Word of God actually says… We must allow Scripture to shape our thinking… Often the Bible doesn’t make sense to us because we aren’t humble enough to hear what it’s saying; we must repent and humble ourselves and pray, and then seek to understand what the Word says… And when we do we’ll find—by the power of the Spirit—that we can not only understand God’s Word, but we can embrace it and live in obedience to it…

And so, God in the flesh here, speaks to His disciples and seeks to correct their faulty views… They’re expecting Him to conquer through sovereign might, but in verse 20 Jesus tells them that He will conquer through sovereign grace… Again He said, “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.” Notice the language of weep, lament, and sorrow; this is the language of a funeral, of death, of grief… We weep, we lament, we have great sorrow when we lose those we love… So what Jesus is doing here is explaining to them what He meant when He said, “A little while you will see me no longer…” He isn’t going on a trip or hiding somewhere; He’s going to the cross, He’s going to die…

And this is an act of sovereign grace, because as Jesus said in John 10:18, no one takes His life, but He lays it down on His own accord… Jesus is going to the cross, He is going to die, but this is all a part of God’s grand plan of redemption… Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners… Jesus came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many… This is what Jesus has been telling His disciples. In Matthew 16:21 we’re told that Jesus had been telling them that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And that’s what Jesus is telling them here… And indeed, we know that Jesus does in fact go to the cross. Jesus loved us and gave himself up for us… For He suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God… Jesus’ death is an act of sovereign grace… It’s God showing His love for His people… “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)…

But the disciples aren’t seeing things this way; and Jesus knows they wont… That’s why He tells them that the world will rejoice, but they’ll be sorrowful… In a little while, in just a few hours Jesus will be arrested, and the disciples will scatter… Confused and scared they will run for their lives… But while they are seeking to save their lives Jesus will lay His down… He will be tried and falsely accused, beaten, mocked, spit upon, flogged, bruised and battered, and then nailed to a Roman cross—to our cross—the cross we deserve for our sin… Some of His disciples will make their way back to see this horrific act take place, and they will watch their beloved teacher suffer and die… And that’s what Jesus means when He says, “A little while, and you will see me no longer…” Death, along with Roman guards and a heavy stone closing off a borrowed tomb makes it to where the disciples cannot see their beloved Jesus; and that so, they are filled with worry and sorrow—they weep and lament…

But that is not the end of the story; and that’s why Jesus says, “and again a little while, and you will see me.” On the third day after His death Jesus—showing Himself to truly be the Son of God who is our Savior and Lord of all—gets up from the grave; Jesus rises on the third day showing that He is the Lord of life who has power over death… You see, we are all sinners; we all sin and fall short of the glory of God… And because God is infinitely glorious, our falling short is an infinite offense… Because of our sins we deserve the infinite righteous wrath of God… But, by the grace of God, because of the love of God and for the glory of God, the Son of God took the wrath of God that we deserve upon Himself. When He went to the cross He didn’t just endure the wrath of man—the beatings, the nails, and the like—but He also took the wrath of God… Though the world could not see it, God poured out the wrath that the world deserves upon His own Son in our place… And Jesus took it all… He took an eternity worth of wrath due all of His people upon Himself, until God was satisfied… And then He cried out, “it is finished”, and He died our death… And on the third day He proved that it was finished by rising again, showing that God had indeed accepted His sacrifice in our place… The resurrection proved that Jesus truly is the Son of God, and the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world…

So when Jesus says, “and again a little while, and you will see me,” He’s referring to the resurrection… After all, this is what makes the cross good news… Good Friday isn’t good if Easter never comes… But it came… So the cross that caused the disciple’s sorrow now turned into an instrument of joy; which is why Jesus said, “your sorrow will turn into joy.” In other words, the very cause of their sorry will now be a cause of joy… Later on in John, after Jesus has died and rose again, we’re told that, “Jesus came and stood among them (that is His disciples) and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (John 20:19-20). Because of the resurrection they went from sadness to gladness, their sorrow turned to joy…

And beloved, do you realize that this is true in every area of the Christian life? God’s Word tells us, “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28)… In other words, as we are on the path of obedience in the Christian life, anything that comes our way, no matter how bad or good it may seem, in God’s providence, is working for our good… Nothing is meaningless… From days filled with laughter to days willed with pain, God is working in and through all things for our good… And the good here is the good of becoming more like Jesus and being with Jesus forever… He’s preparing us for eternal joy with Christ… So, though you are not promised an easy life as a Christian, as you’re seeking to life by faith in Christ, God does promise to work all things for your good: to transform your sadness to gladness, your sorrow to joy…

Just as it is with us in our lives, the fear, the confusion, the sorrow, and the grief that the disciples felt were all very real… But, Jesus is telling His disciples that the joy of the resurrection, and all that it means, will make it worth it… And though it’s hard for us to see this now in this broken world, one day we’ll see that every hardship in the Christian life is worth it… And this is what Jesus illustrates in verse 21; He says, “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.” The pain of childbirth is tremendous, yet no matter how painful labor and delivery is, once that mom hears that baby crying, tears fill her eyes and joy fills her heart… She immediately knows that it was worth it… Beloved, when we fully enter into the joy of our Master, in that moment we too will know that it was worth it…

Jesus’ very life illustrates this for us… In Hebrews 12:2 we’re told that if we are to be faithful in this life we must continual look to Jesus, who is the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Jesus endured the anguish and the shame for the joy set before Him… And what was that joy? Well, it would seem that Jesus uses the illustration of bringing new life into the world for a reason… A mother who endures through the pains of labor and delivery causes a child to be born into this world; and likewise Jesus’ anguish on the cross causes children of God to be born into this world—to be born again… So in one sense, the joy set before Jesus was the joy of bringing many sons and daughters into the family of God… But it was also entering into glory, and sitting at the right hand of God… So it was the joy that comes from the glory of God, the joy of heaven, and the joy of salvation for people from every tribe, tongue, and nation… And this same joy is shared with every true believer, and that joy makes the hardest things in the Christian life worth it…

In verse22 Jesus says, “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.” When we turn from our sin, when we repent, and when we trust fully in Christ, believing in the person and work of Jesus alone for our salvation, we are brought into this same reality of joy that Jesus has—Jesus Himself actually becomes our joy… The disciples wept and lamented when they thought they had lost Jesus forever; but when the resurrected Lord appeared to them their sadness was turned to gladness; hearts that were once filled with sorrow were now filled with joy… Why? Because they had Jesus… Jesus is alive, and will never die again… In fact He defeated death… In His life, death, and resurrection He defeated sin, death, and Satan, and satisfied the wrath of God for all who will repent and believe… And those who do repent and believe, are forever united to Him, and will live forever with Him in perfect joy… Even here and now in this broken world Jesus is with His people always; He will never leave us nor forsake us… That’s why He says that, “no one will take your joy from you.” Because no one can take Him from us…

Church, we can lose much in this world… We can lose possessions, we can lose jobs, we can lose freedoms, we can lose loved ones, and we can even lose our lives, but if we are truly Christians we can never lose Christ, or better yet, He will never lose us… Sin and Satan may tempt us, the world may persecute us, our health may fail, but Jesus will hold us fast… And that’s the greatest news in the universe: that Jesus saves us and keeps us… That’s why we shouldn’t try to Americanize verses like Mark 8:34-35, where Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it…” Beloved, we should do whatever is necessary to go after Christ and follow Him, and be willing to lose anything and everything for His sake, because no matter what we may lose Jesus will never lose us… And He’s where satisfaction and joy are found… He’s what our hearts are really after… We were created for God, to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever; so we’ll never be satisfied in the temporal things of this world… We long for the eternal… We long for Him… He is the joy that makes everything worth it…

Now, no doubt, we can grow weary in this life as we seek to live for Jesus; and because sin still plagues us, and is all around us, we often forget that Jesus is better than the things of this world… And when that happens we may be tempted to lose heart, and to despair, but in those moments we must look to the cross… The cross was meant to be a symbol of pain and shame and death, but through the redeeming work of Jesus sorrow has been turned into joy… What was meant for shame and death now gives life and peace… This is why the Friday on which Christ died is called Good Friday… The cross is at the heart of the good news that is the gospel…

This is why Paul said things like, “far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). Or when he told the church in Corinth, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Beloved, the cross is the center of our joy, because it was in and through the cross that Jesus turned what would have been eternal sorrow into eternal joy… At the cross He purchased our redemption… At the cross He purchased the redemption of people from every nation and generation. As Revelation 5:9 puts it, “for [He was] slain, and by [His] blood [He] ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…” Or as Peter puts it, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18)… And this all happened at the cross…

So the cross is the center of our joy because it’s at the cross that we were redeemed through the substitutionary death of Jesus… At the cross Jesus died to save sinners; sinners from every ethnicity, social status, and background; from all over the earth and all walks of life… And in saving us He reconciles us to Himself, making things right between us and God for all eternity… At the cross He purchased eternal life for us; but it’s important for us to know what eternal life is… And Jesus tells us what it is in John 17:3: in His High Priestly prayer to the Father He says, “this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Eternal life is knowing and being with and enjoying God for all eternity; it’s being able to bask in the radiance of the glory of God, and enjoy Him forever… And that’s what every true believer has been given in and through the cross…

Conclusion

What we see in this passage is the heart of the gospel and the heart of Christianity… The heart of the gospel is the cross, and the heart of Christianity is joy in Christ… As John Piper once pointed out in his book God is the Gospel, “The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: if you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?” Beloved, as Christians our hearts should scream out a resounding, “NO!” to that question…

You see, what makes heaven heaven is Jesus… As the Presbyterian Pastor from the 1600s, Samuel Rutherford once said, “O my Lord Jesus Christ, if I could be in heaven without thee, it would be a hell; and if I could be in hell, and have thee still, it would be a heaven to me, for thou art all the heaven I want.” Jesus lived, died, and rose again to save us… He went to the cross to redeem sinners… But He didn’t go to the cross so that we could merely go to our version of heaven; He went to the cross to save us and give us eternal life—true eternal life where we are enabled to love Him, live for Him and with Him, and enjoy Him forever… As Jonathan Edwards once said, “To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here.” And when the disciples realized this, and saw that through the cross Jesus paid it all, their sorrow was turned into joy… That’s what this passage teaches us… In this world sorrow will come, but Jesus is better than the world; He turns our sorrow into joy… And no one can take that joy away from us, because Jesus is ours, and we are His… If we truly trust Him… If we really love Him… And in order for us to do this, in order for us to truly find eternal joy in Christ we must desire Him and delight in Him above all else; and that’s only going to happen through the work of the Holy Spirit as we look to Jesus again and again… We must look to Him and marvel at how He—in the cross—turns our sorrow into joy… For in looking at the cross we see everything that Jesus is and has done to save us, and the infinitely joyful future He’s purchased for us. The cross reminds us of who Jesus is and who we are… So may the Lord give us the grace, this day, and every day, to look to the cross, to stay near the cross until we fully enter into the joy of our Master…