The living Christ, the Christian’s joy

Sermon for Jubilate – Third Sunday after Easter

Lamentations 3:18-26  +  1 Peter 2:11-20  +  John 16:16-23

The Christian life is characterized by joy—the joy in knowing the God who so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son into death for us, who were His enemies, in order to make us His friends. And then there’s the power of the resurrection, the surpassing joy in knowing that the Son of God was not conquered by death, but rather, conquered death for us and lives forever and ever. Christians find true joy in Jesus’ resurrection.

But! That doesn’t mean that Christians are always joyful. As today’s Scripture readings teach us, it is perfectly normal for Christians to feel sorrow at times and to go through times of sorrow and grief. The title of the prophet Jeremiah’s book is “Lamentations,” after all, “passionate expressions of grief or sorrow.” What did we hear Jeremiah say in the First Lesson?  And I said, “My strength and my hope Have perished from the LORD.” Remember my affliction and roaming, The wormwood and the gall. My soul still remembers and sinks within me. And what did Jesus announce ahead of time to His disciples in the Gospel? Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament…and you will be sorrowful.

So you should never measure your Christianity by how joyful you feel at the moment. Sorrow is not a sin, and it’s not the same thing as unbelief. It’s a very real part of the Christian life on earth. There are many reasons to be sorrowful.

Let’s look at the disciples in our Gospel. Their sorrow began on Maundy Thursday when Jesus talked about that “little while” when His disciples wouldn’t see Him, and then the “little while” when they would see Him again, and His going to the Father. They didn’t want to be separated from Jesus at all—not even for a little while. But their sorrow was made worse by the fact that they didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about. Their confusion contributed to their sorrow.

Well, they could have avoided some of that confusion, couldn’t they?, if, instead of wondering and wondering and debating with one another, they had just asked Jesus to explain what He meant and then listened to what He said. There’s a lesson for us in that. Too often, when sorrow and suffering come into our lives, we sit around trying to figure it out, instead of doing the two things that would actually help us to understand: asking the Lord for wisdom, and then turning to the Holy Scriptures to search for the answers He has already given.

Jesus, in His mercy, decided on this occasion not to leave His disciples wondering. He Himself brings it up with them again and explains—but only a little bit, only as much as He knew they needed. Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, “Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’? Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.

Why would they weep and lament? First, because of their own sin. “In a little while,” they would not see Jesus. Why? Because when the soldiers would come to arrest Him, they would all flee for their lives and abandon Him. One of them—Peter—would even deny knowing Him. Three times.

Second, they would weep and lament because of the sins of others, how Jesus was made to suffer, how He died and was buried. Death and the grave hid Him from their sight.

Third, and the ultimate reason for their weeping and lamenting, they would forget Jesus’ words. They wouldn’t believe Jesus’ words. “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.” If they had remembered those words, if they had believed those words, then they would have been waiting in joyful expectation for the third day after Jesus’ death. Instead, they lost spiritual sight of Jesus. To them, Jesus was dead.

But then He wasn’t dead anymore. He saw His disciples again, and as He had promised them: I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.

The joy of the resurrection—the joy of knowing that the same Jesus who willingly went to the cross for them was now alive and with them—that joy no one could take from Jesus’ disciples. What happened later, after Jesus ascended into heaven? The Jews persecuted Jesus’ disciples, threw them in prison and had them beaten. Then what? When they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. They preached and taught about the risen Lord Jesus until, eventually, it did require them to lay down their lives for the sake of the Gospel of Christ, and they did it gladly and willingly—even joyfully. That’s the power of the resurrection.

The power of Jesus’ resurrection is just as valid for you in your times of sorrow. And you will have times of sorrow.

First, because of your sin. Sin should make everyone in the world sorrowful, and to an extent, it does. Everyone has a conscience. Everyone knows he falls short of the glory of God. The world’s solution is to try to ignore God’s Law or rewrite God’s Law or deny God’s Law that condemns them. But if you’re a Christian, then you know that God’s Law is good and unchangeable, and that it rightly condemns you. Your sin bothers you. It weighs on you. You want to be rid of it, you want to do good. But sin is always right there.

Then you will have times of sorrow because of the sins of others who fill this world with wickedness, who mistreat you and who persecute the people of Christ. It will seem as if Jesus is dead. Where is He amid all this wickedness?

There are many reasons to be sorrowful. You could list a few, I’m sure. But in the end, there is only one reason to be joyful: Because Jesus lives.

If Jesus lives, then the sin that makes you sorrowful cannot harm you, cannot condemn you, cannot shame you, because Jesus bore your shame and condemnation on the cross and now lives to save you from it by His blood.

If Jesus lives, then the battle with the devil and the world is already won, and those who rage against Christ and against His Church have already lost, even though they still don’t realize it.

If Jesus lives, then even to suffer for Him—shame and loss and even death—cannot take away your joy. In fact, it becomes another reason to rejoice. Because when you suffer for the sake of Jesus, that means people are associating you with Jesus. Even more importantly, it means God is associating you with Jesus. That’s good company to be in. As Peter says, Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.

If Jesus lives, then even now, when you do not see Him, He promises, “You will see Me,” not with your eyes, but with your ears, not apart from His Word, but through His Word. His Gospel will penetrate the darkness of your soul, because He lives to send His Holy Spirit—the Comforter!—to you in the Gospel. And after you’ve been sorrowful for awhile, it will hit you again, that, oh yeah, Jesus lives. What do I have to be sorrowful about? You will see Me, He says. And you do, when you see a pastor baptizing someone in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And as you go up to receive the body and blood of the Lord, He promises, You will see Me. You will realize that He is right here with you in this Supper with His true body and blood, to get you through today’s sorrow, to forgive your sins and to strengthen you. You will see Me, He says. And you will, on the day He returns in the clouds to wipe away every tear from your eyes.

Now, for a little while—until Jesus comes in the clouds—you don’t see Jesus with your eyes. But that’s OK. As Peter says, Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. That’s the power of the resurrection. That’s the joy that characterizes the Christian life. Amen.

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