May 12, 2019
“That’s the good part of life.” I’ve heard that statement a lot the past few years. Every Thursday morning at 6:30 I have breakfast at the Country Kitchen Café for Men’s Bible Breakfast. We eat breakfast and then we study the Bible. It’s a lot of fun. And for the past few years I’ve taken one of my children with me. They’ll eat their pancake and then color on a coloring sheet with crayons while the men read and discuss the Bible. With one of my little ones on my knee as I drink my coffee, one of the older guys will inform me that that’s the good part of life. And he’s right. I love my wife and I love my children. I love that I can drink coffee while one of my kids sits on my knee. I love that when I ask a question to the guys during Bible study my daughter will pipe up with an answer before them to express her simple childlike trust in her Savior Jesus. God has certainly blessed me throughout my life. But I can honestly say that I have not enjoyed any part of my life as much as what I’m living right now. I wish it would last forever, but it won’t. The wise men at Bible breakfast have informed me that it won’t and they’re right.
My children will grow too big to sit on my knee. Although I pray to God, I will always have a good relationship with my children, our relationship will change. They’ll grow up to be teenagers and eventually move out, get married, have their own families and their own best time of their life. And although I know that is a long way from now, I’ve been informed by those older and wiser that it will happen sooner than I think.
Our Lord makes reference to women in the travail of childbirth. A mother loves her children, but no woman enjoys the labor that precedes holding her baby in her arms. Certainly, no woman wishes that she were in labor longer. And this is the way it is with us. When we are enjoying life, we want it to last forever. When we are suffering, we want the suffering to end as soon as possible. But that’s not the way life works. All good things come to an end and suffering will last as long as suffering will last.
Jesus tells his disciples that for a little while they will have sorrow, but their sorrow will turn to joy. There are two little whiles that Jesus speaks of. A little while and they will see him no longer and they will weep and lament while the world rejoices. This little while is when Jesus is taken from them. And while Jesus is being put on trial and beaten and finally crucified, his disciples are in fear of the world, which hates their teacher. And for a little while Jesus lies dead, encased in a tomb as his disciples hide behind locked doors in great sorrow and fear. Yet, this little while of sorrow ends when Jesus appears to them alive and shows them his hands and his side. He breathes on them and gives them the Holy Spirit. He speaks God’s peace to them and gives them authority to forgive sins on earth. They see their Rabbi again and their hearts are filled with joy.
Yet, this doesn’t last forever. They see Jesus’ glorious risen body; a body, which was sown perishable, but is now risen imperishable; a body which shed its mortality and put on immortality. Yet, their bodies remained mortal. Not only would each of them eventually die, but they would do what all mortals do, they would sin. And they would feel the pains of their mortal nature until they finally died. The risen body of Christ they saw on that first Sunday would leave their sight just forty days later when Jesus would ascend into heaven. Then their second little while would begin; a little while, which would last for the rest of their lives until their death would bring it to an end for them.
It is this second little while in which we live right now. For yet a little while, Christ Jesus is out of our sight. And for yet a little while, we Christians have sorrow. Christians have sorrow when they are away from Christ, as St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5, “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (vs. 8) This is why Jesus says, “but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice.” We first receive the sorrow of this little while when we receive our faith in Jesus Christ and begin longing to see him, to be with him, and to be as he is. To be a Christian on this earth is to be a pilgrim, a sojourner, a stranger in a foreign land. We are not at home here. We are at home with the Lord. So, until we are with him, for this little while, we will have sorrow.
There are three things that bring us Christians sorrow. First, there is Satan, who will constantly attack your faith and attempt to take Christ out of your heart. Satan wants Christ Jesus removed from you as far as the east is from the west, as far as the heavens are from the earth. And he will not rest until he accomplishes his aim. And he will use whatever tool he has at his disposal.
Second, there is the world. Jesus calls Satan the ruler of this world. The world rejoices while Jesus is taken away from his disciples. The world follows its prince obediently. As the world put Jesus on trial for blasphemy, the disciples hid from persecution. And so, it is today. The world puts Jesus on trial while Jesus’ Christians are persecuted. Now Christians have been accused of dramatizing the persecution of Christians, and it is true that none of us is risking life or limb worshiping Christ here today. Yet, while it is true that Christians are paying for their faith in Christ with their own blood in other parts of the world and have done so since the stoning of Stephen, we too experience the sorrow of Christians living in this world, which hates Christ.
We have sorrow, because the world hates Jesus. And we, who love Jesus, must live in this world. The world manifests its hatred for Jesus in a number of ways. The government, which bears God’s authority to carry out justice sanctions the killing of unborn children. The word love, which God uses to describe his action of sending his Son to bear our sin to save us from eternal damnation is used to describe every perversion under the sun, which God expressly forbids in Scripture. To fit in and be normal you need to routinely deny Christ. Sports activities for children are regularly scheduled on Sunday mornings, the time Christians throughout the world have reserved for worshiping Christ for nearly two thousand years. It is customary to take God’s name in vain, to cuss, speak filthily, and get drunk. It is normal to fornicate and to bring lawsuits against one’s brother. It is expected that we should compromise the teachings of Scripture for the sake of momentary peace. Conventional wisdom and morals continue to move further and further from what Christ teaches us in Scripture.
We are foreigners in this world. As Christians we think and talk differently. Yet, we live in this world and it changes us. Like the Israelites, who forgot how to speak their native Hebrew while living in exile in Babylon for seventy years, so we forget how to speak the language of our God. We talk like the world. We live like the world. We think like the world. And the world does not know Jesus.
And yet, perhaps the most troubling of these three enemies of Christ which bring sorrow to us in this foreign land is that which clings closest to us; that which St. Peter warns us against in our Epistle lesson, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” Our very own flesh, our sinful human nature, attacks us. St. Paul bemoans this in Romans chapter 7, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (vss. 18-19)
This is the sorrow of which Christ speaks to us. It is a sorrow that comes from being removed from Christ and it is a sorrow that can only be realized through faith. Jesus isn’t talking about your chronic pain, your cancer diagnosis, or your money problems. He’s talking about Christ being hidden from your eyes and everything around you, including your own sinful heart, trying to yank you further and further away from him.
Jesus compares this sorrow to a woman giving birth. She is sorrowful, because her hour of pain has come, but when the child is born she forgets her anguish for joy that a man has been born into the world. These are bold words for a man to speak. I don’t know what it’s like to go into labor. But, Jesus does. Jesus is God. He knows everything. He’s the only man ever to live to know exactly what a woman experiences. And it’s not just that Jesus knows what a woman experiences, he has himself borne the pain. On the cross he bore not only great physical pain in his crucifixion, which is where we get the word, excruciating. He bore the just punishment for all guilt. Jesus not only knows exactly how it feels for a woman to give birth, he himself has felt the guilt a woman feels when she fails to be a good mother. On the cross Jesus suffered the travail of guilt for every sin you’ve committed by failing as a mother, as a father, son, and daughter. And he bore that guilt, so that you would not have to in eternity.
Jesus is not like the husband, who holds the hand of his laboring wife yet otherwise feels completely helpless. And he doesn’t simply express empathy like a mother of seven does when she gives a compassionate smile to a young woman in the ninth month of her first pregnancy, knowing what she is about to suffer. Jesus doesn’t just tell us that we’ll have suffering for a little while, so deal with it. Jesus gives us reason to hope that at the end of this sorrow we will have joy, and he even gives us strength to endure this sorrow now.
We must remember when Jesus gives this lesson. It is on the night when he was betrayed, in the upper room where he instituted the Sacrament of his body and blood for his Christians to eat and to drink. Jesus gives his Church this Sacrament, so that his Christians might have strength to endure their pilgrimage on this earth, that they might have joy in the midst of sorrow. Jesus does not give us a cup of woe to drink. No, Jesus had to drink that himself to make atonement for our sins. Rather, Jesus gives us his body, which died on the cross and his blood, which was shed to wash away your sins. He does not give you a dead body, but a living body and living blood. In the Sacrament, Jesus gives his body and blood, which are risen from the dead. And in faith we receive joy, knowing that we too will shed our mortality and put on immortality.
It is faith, which makes you aware of the sorrow you feel because Christ is out of your sight. Yet, it is only through faith that you can receive a taste of that joy, which you will have for all eternity. Through faith you believe that Christ Jesus is in fact with us today. He has not left us as orphans or as shepherd-less sheep. Jesus gives us the fruit of his cross here in this Christ-less world. We are given the power of Jesus’ resurrection even as we live in these mortal bodies.
As a Christian you recognize what true sorrow is, yet you also recognize where true joy is found. True joy is found where Christ Jesus is. And Christ Jesus is where his word is. Here, we have joy through faith alone, but Christ promises us that we will see him again. In that day our faith will no longer be needed. Our joy will be complete, because we will see Jesus as he is, not hidden behind anything. And even more, we will be like him. Our mortal, sinful bodies will not block Christ from us, because our bodies will be renewed after the image of Christ. Satan and the world will not be able to draw us away from Jesus, because Christ will cast Satan out and make the heavens and earth anew. Then we will begin the good part of life. And it will never end. In that day our hearts will rejoice, and no one will take that joy from us. Amen.