Sermon for Jubilate
Lamentations 3:18-33 + 1 Peter 2:11-20 + John 16:16-22
Jubilate. Be joyful! For Christ has risen from the dead, and lives and reigns eternally. Jubilate. Rejoice! For God has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light and has brought you into the kingdom of His Son!
Jubilate. Be joyful! But what if you aren’t? Jubilate. Rejoice! But what if you can’t?
That’s OK. It’s not a command from God’s Law. “You shall be joyful!” If you’re not full of joy all the time, you’re not alone. And there’s nothing wrong with you; it doesn’t make you a “bad Christian.” Jesus tells His own disciples in our Gospel, “You will weep and lament.” And He isn’t rebuking them for it, either. God’s Word gives you permission to cry.
In fact, “crying” is the name of the Old Testament book from which we took our OT reading today. “Lamentations.” The “cryings” or the “laments” of Jeremiah, the Prophet. “You will have sorrow,” Jesus assures His disciples. But, your sorrow will be turned to joy. That’s a promise.
Right in the middle of this depressing book called Lamentations, full of laments, full of grieving and mourning, as Jeremiah weeps over the idolatry and rebellion of Israel against God, over the imminent destruction of Jerusalem and the slaughter of his people by the Babylonians, you have the beautiful, comforting, even joyful words of the OT reading, saying the same thing as Peter said, and the same as Jesus, and the same as so many of the Psalms, especially Psalm 30.
4 Sing praise to the LORD, you saints of His,
And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.
5 For His anger is but for a moment,
His favor is for life;
Weeping may endure for a night,
But joy comes in the morning.
There will be grief in this life. But see! Jesus says it will only be “for a little while.” You will not see me, Jesus says, and then you will see me.
Of course, He said that on the night in which He was betrayed. He was speaking of His death and burial, over which His disciples would weep and mourn while the world rejoiced. But just for a little while. Then the sorrow of Jesus’ disciples would be turned to joy when they saw Him again.
But these words aren’t recorded in Scripture for the sake of those disciples. They had all fallen asleep by the time John wrote down these words. This promise of Jesus is for you, too, and it’s consistent with the entire history of the people of God, Old and New Testament. There are times when God hides His face, and His people mourn. But He promises to show it again, and the joy will outweigh and outlast the sorrow.
God hides His face for a little while. He allows or even brings affliction into the lives of men, even the lives of His chosen and precious people. But did you catch the last verse of the OT reading? “He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.”
What a comforting verse. God doesn’t take pleasure in afflicting the children of men. He doesn’t afflict willingly or apathetically. So when He does bring affliction, He must have a good reason for doing it.
Now, that’s easy to say. “I don’t enjoy bringing this punishment on you.” It sounds like a father disciplining his son. Of course, you have two kinds of fathers who discipline their sons. You have the wicked ones who don’t love their children. Their discipline is more abuse than discipline. They may say “this hurts me more than it will hurt you,” but they don’t mean it. For them, it’s about power and control and inflicting pain.
But then there are fathers who truly love their children and discipline them, and afflict them harshly, for the good of their children, and it really does hurt the father more than the child, because he doesn’t willingly deprive or hurt or rebuke. But he knows he has to do it, and it hurts.
Now, what kind of Father is God? Is He the second kind who takes pleasure in afflicting? Or is He the third? And how can you know?
Listen to what He says. And then look at what He does. Could anyone doubt the love of the Father for Jesus? And yet, look what He does. He forsakes His Son to affliction, pain, suffering and death. But what does Jesus say about it, even ahead of time? I am returning to my Father. This is how He returns to His dear Father? Returning through affliction? Returning through agony? Returning through suffering and death? Yes. And all the while, Jesus knew, My Father loves me. And He wanted His disciples to know, no matter what happens to Me, no matter what I suffer, you remember, I am returning to the Father. And even in this time of sorrow, do not imagine that God has abandoned Me, or you, forever.
But how did it turn out? It turned out with Easter Sunday and the redemption of the world. It turned out with joy that knows no end, and the establishment of an eternal kingdom.
Through it all, Jesus illustrated to His disciples, that when God afflicts, He has a good reason. You won’t understand it at the time. You won’t see it. But after a little while, you will see it.
And so, Jesus’ disciples would grieve for awhile over Jesus’ death. He must have a good reason. But how could He possibly have a good reason for this?
Just a little while. Then they would see. Then would understand and know that it came from a loving Father. Then they would rejoice forever, because it is the ultimate proof that God is good, that He gave His Son into death for a good reason, to pay for their sins and to earn forgiveness and life for them. Then they would see Jesus, risen and glorified.
It will be this way with you, too. God must have a very good reason for bringing affliction and sorrow into your life, for hiding His face. How could He possibly have a good reason for it?
That requires faith, doesn’t it? Sometimes God just needs to crush your human reason and grind it down to powder. He promises that it will be for just a little while. He’s shown you what He means. The joy of a risen Savior who lives to intercede for you. Now that He has suffered and died and risen again, He lives to shelter you from God’s wrath, to protect you from the devil’s attacks, and to preserve you at all times.
It’s OK not to be joyful all the time. That doesn’t mean you’re supposed to be sorrowful all the time, either. You’re not supposed to be anything, except sorrowful over your sins, but confident of God’s mercy to you in Jesus Christ, who gives Himself to you in His Word and in the Sacrament. You will have times of sorrow, and times of joy. Which will last longer? Which will outweigh the other? You have God’s gracious promise that the joy will outweigh the sorrow and last forever while the sorrow will surely fade away. Jubilate. Rejoice! If not now, then in a little while. Amen.