Our lives are made up of a real mixture of sorrow and joy- golden threads and darks ones woven together in the tapestry of our lives. The disciples are about to experience both deep sorrow and deep joy in the space of a few days, as Jesus is crucified but then rises again. It is the night of Jesus’ betrayal, and Jesus wants to prepare his disciples for what lies ahead. He does this by giving three concrete reasons why joy will swallow up their sorrow.
Much of our joy is ephemeral – it doesn’t last.
The fabulous holiday comes to and end and we go back to work.
The delicious meal is eaten, and we have to wash up the dishes.
Great times spent laughing with friends, times walking in the mountains, and times reading a good book, they all come to an end. Death brings all of these things to an abrupt end. Is there really a deep and lasting joy to be found? Jesus says that there is. Would you like to know the secret? The secret of Christian joy lies in its source; the source is God himself.
1. The joy of knowing Jesus
‘Truly, truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.’ (John 16:20)
‘The world’ will rejoice when Jesus dies. Right from the start of his ministry, Jesus had many enemies, who longed to get rid of him. They hated Jesus – the one who exposed their hypocrisy. Those who lived in darkness reeled at the presence of Jesus, the light of the world, and longed for that light to be extinguished. While evil will rejoice, the disciples will mourn. They will witness the crucifixion of their loving master.
Jesus lovingly prepares the disciples by telling them that their ‘grief will turn to joy’! (John 16:20) And that’s exactly what happens when the risen Jesus appears to the disciples and their hearts are absolutely bursting with joy. Now they know that Jesus is the Saviour-King, the Messiah, the Son of God. Now they understand that Jesus had to suffer first on the cross, in order to pay the price for our sin, and in so doing he has secured eternal life for his people.
The joy that no one can take away from us is our relationship with Jesus: ‘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 16:23) This will never end. Not even death will spoil it, because we will go straight to Heaven and continue in that loving relationship with our Maker and Saviour.
The joy that this world offers us is temporary. It will come to an end. And in any case, it won’t satisfy us in the deepest parts of us because we have been made to have a relationship with God. That’s how God has designed us! What can give me lasting joy? Only the fact that Jesus has died for me, given me eternal life, and promises to be with me each and every day (and forever) no matter what life may bring. When Paul and Silas are severely flogged and thrown into in jail we’d be forgiven for thinking that this is not the kind of circumstance which leads to joy: ‘About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.’ (Acts 16:25) For Paul and Silas, they knew joy IN suffering, because their joy flowed out of their relationship with Jesus.
For us today in 2020, even in the midst of a pandemic, as the people of God we can still know joy. It will come when we go off on our own and open our Bibles and listen to God speaking. It will come as we talk to God in prayer and experience his transforming power as we do so. That’s why we talk so much about the ‘quiet time’. If we don’t have a daily time with God when we listen to him – Bibles open – then we are robbing ourselves of deep joy. Ironically, we often choose searching for joy in the wrong places, in TV or food and drink. These can be good things, but they are not the best of things.
We can clearly see the difference between the fleeting joys of this world, and true lasting joy: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials…’ (1 Peter 1:3-6)
2. The joy of answered prayer
‘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. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.’ (John 16:23-24) Christians can rejoice in the amazing provision of resources which the Father will give his children.
Have you ever known God answering your prayers in a wonderful way? It brings great joy. It’s yet another reminder of how much our heavenly Father really loves us and how generous he is. Why does the Father give us what we need? ‘for the Father himself loves you…’ (John 16:27)
This passage also reminds us that we must pray in Jesus’ name – we’ve heard that millions of times. But this is the first time that the disciples have heard the teaching, and we can easily forget why we do it, just tagging ‘in Jesus name, Amen’ on to the end of our prayers. Real prayer must be in Jesus’ name. There’s no other kind of real prayer. It means we’re not approaching the Father on the basis of our own goodness (we have none). It means we’re acknowledging that it is Jesus’ death for us sins which allows us to enter the holy presence of God.
3. The joy of being on the winning side
All the way through the ‘upper room discourse’, Jesus has been giving encouragement and comfort, as well as a realistic picture that being a Christian involves suffering and persecution. He ends with a statement which captures both of these elements.) ‘I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33)
We have joy in knowing that we are on the winning side because Jesus has overcome the world. He will rise again on the 3rd day, and his resurrection will prove his defeat of Satan, and sin and death. Jesus has already conquered. Christians already have eternal life now. We are united to Jesus by faith, and because he has been victorious over death, we too are victorious over death, and will live forever. A reason for joy? I think so.
VE Day has recently been celebrated – that was the turning point of the war, signalling the defeat of the enemy. It wasn’t the end of the war which came a few months later. Likewise, the resurrection is our VE Day. The enemy, Satan, has been defeated. When Jesus returns at the end of time, the war will be totally over.
‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, rejoice!’ (Philippians 4:4) True joy, lasting joy, flows from knowing Jesus, praying in his name, and knowing we’re on the winning side.
If you want to have this joy it begins when we talk to God in prayer, saying sorry to him for living life without him at the centre, thanking him for dying for us, and asking him to come into our lives.