Monday, May 06, 2013

Sermon on John 16:23-33, for the 6th Sunday of Easter, "Joy and Peace in Parting"

Sermon Outline:
·         2 weeks ago—Paul’s “farewell speech” in Ephesus. Today in John 16, small section of Jesus’ lengthy farewell discourse to His disciples. Eve of His betrayal, arrest, coming crucifixion. Everything in His ministry had been aiming toward this moment, this hour of His cross. The necessity of God’s plan unfolding, urging Him to that momentous sacrifice. Preparing them; but not a farewell speech of one leaving them behind or never coming back. Rather: remain with them through the Holy Spirit and accessible to them through prayer.
·         Sadness comes with saying goodbye—but Jesus’ departure also brings joy and peace. Jesus recognizes their sorrows; prepares them for the tribulations ahead. Though sorrow would soon overcome them at His crucifixion, inexpressible and untouchable joy would be theirs at His resurrection. Life was about to change radically for them. Nothing could totally prepare them for the total transformation of their lives and their whole view of the world—of life, death, of suffering and of peace—that would take place after seeing Jesus die on the cross, and then rise from the dead. Even their glimpses of understanding—the moments like this passage where they think they finally get it, are going to be blown open by the sheer surprise and joy of seeing God’s plan come to its culmination in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. The verse before today’s reading, Jesus says: “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). This is the untouchable joy—the joy no one can take away—the joy of the Christian faith. It’s the joy of knowing that Jesus Christ has defeated death—that the greatest and most feared enemy of life—the very enemy that steals life itself—is not invincible. That Jesus pierced through the chink in death’s armor and in dying on the cross, sealed death’s worst weapons, the sting of sin and the power of the law—sealed them in His grave. The joy of the Christian is to know that whatever suffering, rejection, trial, sickness, or persecution we endure in this sinful and broken life, is surpassed by the peace that we have in Jesus Christ.
·         The sadness of His departure lessened by: the joy we have in asking and receiving—Jesus’ ascension to heaven doesn’t mean we’ve “lost touch” with Him, like a dear friend moving away and falling out of contact—but we remain in constant communion and prayer with Him. Pray in my name to the Father. Our relationship to God the Father is brought into perfect harmony in and through Jesus Christ. Jesus said that in that day, we will know that He is in the Father, we are in Christ, and Christ is in us (John 14:20). In Jesus’ death on the cross, He was bringing us into Himself, reconciling us to the Father, bringing harmony to our relationship through the forgiveness of sins. Any distance, any barrier created by our sins and the righteous judgments of the law against our sins, that barrier and wall is broken down for us in Christ Jesus.
·         Jesus doesn’t have to ask the Father on our behalf, as though He’s trying to “warm up” an unloving or unfriendly God toward us—but rather God the Father is already loving and receptive toward our prayers. The Father’s own love for us is what motivated and moved Jesus’ very mission to earth for us, to die for us so that we would not die. The Father hears our prayers, not as a unwilling or reluctant judge, but rather as a kind and compassionate Father looking on His children. His eagerness to hear our prayers is shown by His constant invitation to prayer. And He loves us, as Jesus says, because we love Jesus and believe that He comes from God. It is faith in Jesus that puts us in right relation with God.
·         The sadness of Jesus departure is also lessened by another factor—that the time was coming for the disciples, and is already now here for us—when we would have greater clarity and understanding of His teachings. As hindsight is often 20/20, we now have the full benefit of the collected teachings and the complete picture of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, by which to understand all of what Jesus taught about the kingdom of God. The New Testament is complete with the explanation of what Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection means for us and our salvation. This brings us joy in knowing what God has done for us, and in knowing the future of what God has planned for us. We can face life without fear because of the cross, and what Jesus accomplished for us there.
·         We may go through similar experiences as the disciples, especially as we grow in the maturity of our faith, all at different stages in the journey. Sometimes we’ll be grasping and groping at understanding; other times we may have moments of na├»ve confidence in “getting it all” like the disciples thought in today’s reading, and at still other times we may experience the joy of seeing something clearly or fully for the first time. Christ has made it clear that He is the source and center of all Scripture, and that the life to be found in the Holy Word of God flows into and out of Him.
·         As Jesus concluded this part of His speech, He warned that they would all fall away; referring to His crucifixion. There He would face death alone, except for the Father. Even their seedling faith would not meet this great test. And that stands as a reminder to us that our faith too will face time of great trial and testing. There will be times when your faith is attacked by doubt, despair, guilt, or suffering. When you feel like giving up or walking away. “In the world”, Jesus says, “you will have tribulation.” Trials, difficulties, persecutions, illness. Anything that would undermine or weaken your faith. Most of all to doubt Jesus and God’s love for you. But if the world brings us tribulation, Jesus says, “I have said these things that in me you may have peace.” In me you may have peace. Jesus is the refuge, the place of safety where we find calm amidst the storm. Around us the storms of life may gather, but in Him is our peace. The peace of sins forgiven. The peace of a certain future and hope. The peace of perfect communion with God the Father through Jesus Christ His Son. The peace of being right with God, and having nothing to fear.
·         And it all drives to the concluding thought of Jesus’ farewell discourse—“in the world you will have tribulation—but take heart, I have overcome the world.” However grave their failure in faith, their abandonment of Him at the cross, however great our weaknesses and failures, however great our sins that convict us, however great the persecutions that the world brings against us, Christ is still greater. He is victorious, He is the Risen King of Kings and Lord of Lords! Take heart, I have overcome the world. This means for us that the opposition of the world against Christ and our salvation is futile. In the words of D.A. Carson, it’s “pointless and beggarly.” Pitiful. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, however they may rage, can never win, can never triumph over Christ. The victory is His, plain and simple—and by faith it is ours as well. Life after the resurrection is truly different for Jesus’ first disciples and for us—it means the untouchable peace of God is ours in Christ. It means the victory of Christ over the world is the triumph and joy of our faith as well. For all these reasons we can take heart—to have good courage for whatever we face, for we are in Christ, and His cross stands towering over time, proclaiming His victory over the world—for us. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

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