“So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” Jesus knew that 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. 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. 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.” (John 16:18–22, ESV)
It is no wonder that my mind was drawn to more than one way that Jesus’ words in verses 16 and 17 would be true. As we read on today we see that His disciples were unclear concerning this as well, questioning and saying to themselves in verse 18, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” The difference is that they had not been there yet and did not grasp what was ahead. As for us we have seen in Scripture what Jesus was speaking about unfold and in that we can also see multiple facets to it.
Of course, Jesus was not going to miss the opportunity to answer their question. He had set the table for the question, and now that they were prepared to take their first bite He fed them the answer they truly need to have. Verse 19 records that He knew what they wanted to ask, and He specifically asked them if this indeed was what they wanted to ask. Then in verse 20 He began to tell them what they needed to hear in order to answer their questions. But as He frequently did He did not get straight to the answer, but started with a picture pointing to or preparing the way for the answer.
Beginning to respond He made the last of His “Truly, truly” statements recorded for us by John that side of His death, burial, and resurrection. He told them that their hearts were going to be truly broken, that they were going weep and lament. They were going to be buried in sorrow, and all of this while the world around them was rejoicing.
This is not quite how I would like to hear things. I don’t know of anyone who wants to be told that something was going to get worse before it gets better. I can’t fathom anyone rejoicing over being told that something was going to happen that was so troubling that they would weep and mourn over it. Imagine being told that while the world parties that you will be left in sorrow and experience great heartbreak. This is contrary to all that we hope for. But Jesus told them “Truly, truly” this was going to happen.
But He did not leave them there. He began to explain the light on the other side by bringing them to something they knew and understood. He compared what they were going to experience with child birth. We recently found out that our fifth grandchild is on his/her way. I even saw an ultrasound picture which we were told showed this precious little baby, who is just over an inch long, waving in the womb. What incredible joy there is in life. Yet anyone who has been through it or been there for it knows that with the birth of children comes a season of intense pain. It is this picture that Jesus uses in our passage for today to illustrate what was immediately ahead for His disciples. He spoke of the pain and He also spoke of the resultant joy.
In Genesis 3:16 God told Eve, “To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”” (Genesis 3:16, ESV) After Adam and Eve had eaten from the tree which was forbidden and sinned against God they faced God to face the consequence of their sin. When they ate everything changed, and as God pronounced the consequence of these actions He said that what was intended to bring about new life and great joy now had to be preceded by a season of great or multiplied pain. But even in the pain God did not remove the joy.
Life would still come, and in that there would be great joy as the mother holds her newborn child. The amazing thing about the joy is that if it weren’t there on the other side I imagine that man would have died off a long time ago. But because of man’s rebellion the pain must come before the joy. Similarly, Jesus told His disciples that the sorrow they were about to endure would indeed melt away in that same way. Knowing the horrific things that lie ahead and the great pain that they would endure, He let them know that He would see them again and that their hearts would rejoice in such a way that no one would be able to take that joy from them.
Life can be hard. Evil can even seem to prevail, and the world might have its season of great rejoicing in having its own way. Christians may (have been and are) be put down, stepped upon, legislated against, fired or not hired in the first place, and lose public favor. They would even be put in jail and even put to death as we see even today, while others are rejoicing in their “liberty” and demanding their acceptance and approval. But Jesus says this is not the end. He has already prevailed at the cross and through His resurrection. In this we are to have great hope and know His joy.