How many of you like riddles? I like them mainly because they make you think. So in light of that, let’s try a couple of riddles shall we? If you know the answer, go ahead and say it. Riddle number one. “There’s a one-story house in which everything is yellow. Yellow walls, yellow doors, yellow furniture. What color are the stairs? … There aren’t any – it’s a one story house.” Riddle number two. “What can’t talk but will reply when spoken to? … An echo.” Riddle three, a bit harder. “What is so fragile that saying its name breaks it? … Silence.” Last one. “With pointed fangs I sit and wait; with piercing force I crunch out fate; grabbing victims, proclaiming might; physically joining with a single bite. What am I? … A Stapler.”
Did you happen to know that Jesus is a riddler too? Jesus in our gospel lesson essentially tells his disciples a riddle. Here it is. “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me” (John 16:16). Good one huh?
At just a quick glossary reading of this context of where this passage is located, I’m confused. I actually had to go back and read it and re-read it a couple of times because it just didn’t make sense. And if I’m confused as to what Jesus is saying, how on earth do you think the disciples felt? John even tells us that they were confused. They say to one another, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying” (John 16:18).
Jesus, in his omniscient, all knowing knowledge knows that the disciples are confused and that they want to talk about it. So Jesus goes on to explain, “I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn into joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: 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 16:20-22).
Alright, lets break this down a little more. “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me again.” Remember, when Jesus is saying this, he is in the Upper Room with this disciples celebrating the Passover only days before he is crucified. The first “little while” in question is referring exclusively to the fact that Jesus will leave the disciples in his being betrayed, condemned, crucified, killed, and buried. The second “little while” is referring exclusively to the fact that the disciples will seem him after he rises from the dead on Easter morning.
Ahhh, now I get it! The light bulb comes on. Even later on after Jesus is done explaining it and telling the disciples how he is going to go and be with his Father in heaven, they say, “Ah, now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God” (John 16:29-30). To which Jesus replies, “Do you now believe? A time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone” (John 16:31-32). The happy feeling of understanding the disciples had is now gone again.
But here’s the thing … this riddle and the explanation Jesus gives to his disciples has no immediate or direct application to you and me today. I see the puzzled look on your face. “But Pastor, I thought that the Bible is suppose to impact or apply to my life?” It does … but not every part of it. Let me explain and try to clear up any confusion.
You see, some parts of the Bible simply give us historical context. Some of the things which Jesus says to the disciples, is in fact only for the disciples. That’s what is going on here. Now at the same time, Jesus does have in mind not only his original disciples, but also those “who will believe in me through their message”, through the disciple’s message (John 17:20).
But right now in our reading, Jesus is trying to prepare the disciples for what they are about to experience. He’s trying to prepare them for the real fact that he is going to be betrayed, suffer at the hands of sinful men, be crucified, die, and then rise again on the third day.
The disciples had something which we won’t have. They were privileged to be with Jesus and be amazed. They were there and saw the miracles. They saw the sick healed, the blind receive sight, the deaf receive hearing, and they even saw the dead be raised to life. They heard the promises of the coming of an eternal kingdom come from Jesus’ lips.
They also experienced their teacher, their Messiah being beaten, mocked, crucified as a lowly criminal and then die. Their amazement, their joy … it was turned to sorrow when Jesus died. If Jesus dies and the disciples never see him alive again … where’s the joy, the hope, the gift of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide them into proclaiming the message of salvation which we cherish today? … It’s not there. If Jesus only dies … there is no joy, no hope, no gift of the Holy Spirit to comfort them or even you and me. If Jesus only dies, then sin and Satan win. They win because death has defeated Jesus just as it has been defeating people ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden.
But friends, Jesus does not only die! Jesus laid down his life in order that he might take it up again (John 10). Easter activates and renders the powerful events of Good Friday. Christ has indeed risen from the grave and because he rose, Jesus comes back to the disciples. Easter, Jesus’ victorious resurrection turns the disciple’s sorrow into joy. With Jesus risen from the dead, Jesus can then send them the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit will lead and guide them into sharing the truth that becomes the Church’s faith and our faith today.
So where this particular riddle of Jesus and the explanation may not apply directly to our lives today, the joy of Christ’s Easter resurrection sure does! Easter does the same thing for you and as it did for the disciples. Granted, our situation in life is not the same as the disciples, but Easter still turns our sorrow into joy. The Holy Spirit which was given to the disciples to proclaim the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection, to proclaim the truth of God’s eternal love for all people and the wonderful gift of eternal life … that is the very same Holy Spirit which is at work in you and me today. The same message of life and salvation won through the resurrection of Jesus is for us too!
But what about when Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve” (John 16:20)? Yes, it was said to the disciples, but it also applies to us today as this world of ours … because of sin, continues to provide God’s people, provide you and me with struggles, heartaches, and countless number of tears. And I hate to say it, it ain’t going to get any easier. If anything, the persecution of the church and our religious freedoms as Christians is only going to get worse. The pressure to deny your faith in Jesus in order to live a peaceful life will grow more and more difficult. As Christians … we will weep and lament over this, it will hinder us and at times discourage us … and all the while, the world will rejoice. But friends, the rejoicing won’t last forever.
Remember how Satan rejoiced when Christ died? Satan truly believed that he had once and for all won. But the thing is … he didn’t! Easter, Christ’s resurrection, turns our sorrow into joy because God’s enemies did not win! They will never win! This world will not win! And even though we suffer for a time, Paul says in Romans 5, “we rejoice in our sufferings, because know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (5:3-5). We can rejoice in our sufferings because by Christ’s gift of the Holy Spirit … this suffering is not the end.
Christ promises to return and when he does, everything will be different. This sinful world will be transformed, our bodies will be raised to eternal perfection, and we will live in that new creation, the new heavens and earth with Christ forever. Easter turns our sorrow into joy because on that last day, there awaits a place for all believers where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old older of things has passed away (Rev. 21:4). More than that, there waits for you a Savior who welcomes you and all believers into his eternal kingdom with open arms.
That promise made to you is no riddle. It is the truth of God made clear to the disciples by the Holy Spirit. It is the truth of God made clear to you by the Holy Spirit who lives in you. In a little while … when our own eyes and not another see Christ return in glory … our joy will be made full, and no one, no one will take our Easter joy away from us! Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.