April 22, 2018
"A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me." What does Jesus mean by "a little while"? Jesus tells us, "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." This little while speaks of two events. During both events Jesus departs from his disciples. And during both events his disciples weep and lament.
The first little while is when Jesus is taken from his disciples just a few hours after he speaks these words. His disciples see him, but only from a distance as he is flogged, condemned to death, and nailed to some timbers. Then his corpse is wrapped in linen, laid in a tomb, and hidden from the eyes of the outside world by a massive stone. For a little while, Jesus was not with them. They had great sorrow. Pilate and the leaders of the Jews drank wine and celebrated. Yet, on the third day Christ appeared to his disciples again and they rejoiced. Weeping tarried through the night, but joy came in the morning.
The second little while includes us Christians, because it is still going on. This little while began when Jesus ascended to the right hand of God the Father. His disciples carried on without their Lord physically with them. And in their Lord's absence they suffered much. Most of them died as martyrs. And Christians throughout the Church have shared in this sorrow.
To be a Christian, you will have sorrow. This is the lesson Jesus teaches us today. Yet, we must make a distinction between worldly sorrow, which unbelievers experience, and godly sorrow, which is experienced only by Christians.
We heard St. Peter in our Epistle lesson, "For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God." (1 Peter 2:20) Unbelievers also suffer in this life. Just because you are sorrowful, doesn't mean that you are suffering as a Christian. St. Paul makes a distinction between worldly and godly sorrow in 2 Corinthians chapter 7, "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death."
The worldly grief is a result of sin. The wages of sin is death. This involves both temporal and eternal punishment. Doing wrong is not good for you. There are consequences for sin. This is why St. Peter says that it not to your credit if you endure suffering as a result of your sin. You're not suffering as a Christian if your wife leaves you because you were unfaithful. You aren't suffering as a Christian if you lose your driver's license for driving drunk. You aren't suffering as a Christian if you get fired for being lazy or go to prison for breaking the law or if no one trusts you because you constantly lie or if your life falls apart, because you constantly avoid God's word and council. Such suffering is worldly grief, that is, grief without faith in Christ.
Unbelievers suffer for different reasons than Christians suffer, because they rejoice for different reasons. The unbeliever rejoices in worldly things, seeking pleasures that last only for a time. Frankly, the unbeliever's joy is self-serving. And it is this very joy that causes the unbeliever sorrow, because such joy is fleeting at best.
It is also important to note that godly grief isn't simply sorrow over sin. Worldly grief includes sorrow over sin. Sin is sorrowful. You don't have to believe in Christ to see the fruitlessness of sin. But such sorrow without faith in Christ is dreadful and hopeless. One can feel terrible for the wrong he has done and regret the harm it has caused himself, but if he does not seek Christ for forgiveness, this remains worldly grief. Worldly sorrow produces death, because worldly sorrow is without faith in Christ.
Godly sorrow is also caused by sin, yet not through sin alone, but through faith, which must battle sin in this life. Your sins cause you grief, because they cause your Lord Jesus grief. The Christian is sorrowful over his own sins, because his sins separate him from God. It is our sins that wounded Christ to his very soul upon the cross. Sin causes the Christian sorrow, because faith in Christ creates a heightened awareness of the damage sin causes.
St. Paul says, "godly grief produces repentance that leads to salvation." Repentance is not simply feeling bad for what you've done wrong. It is turning to Christ for forgiveness and desiring never to sin again. Yet, as long as the Christian goes on living in this world, he goes on sinning. So, each of us Christians are constantly sorrowful, repenting of our sins and calling to him who will deliver us from this body of death.
Godly grief is to be constantly at war with the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh. Satan attacks you with lies. He attempts to get you to question God's promises to you. He accuses you of sin, in an attempt to get you to despair and become convinced that you aren't a Christian. He'll do anything that will knock you off the Rock of Christ.
You are also in battle with the world. Although stories of battle seem glorious in storybooks, they rarely feel so glorious as the battle rages. It's not fun to be at enmity with the world. We want the world to like us. We want people to think we're smart and nice. We want to have friends, who respect us. We want to be at peace with our parents and our children. Yet the Psalmist says, "For my father and mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in." (Psalm 27:10) and our Lord says, "For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household." (Matthew 10:35-36) Battling the world is great and glorious if your enemies are strangers you don't care about. But when faith in the Gospel of Christ sets your own flesh and blood against you the glories of battle get old fast.
And so, the sorrow of the Christian is more intense than most are willing to bear. It sets you against your very self, as Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matthew 16:24)
This is not suffering that you experience as a result of sin alone. This is suffering that comes as the result of having faith in Christ in this sinful world. The devil, the world, and your sinful flesh hate Christ. Realizing this is painful. But if you do not realize this, then you will never know Christ Jesus. Godly sorrow is the only way to eternal joy. Before God makes us alive, he first lets us taste death. Before he leads us to light, he first makes us aware of the darkness around and within us. He makes us experience our weakness before he endows us with power, he makes us sinners before he makes us saints. He humbles us before he exalts us. This is the path of repentance and faith in Jesus. It is sorrowful, but it is the only path to Christ.
Jesus said, "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." Our sorrow is dependent on the fact that we do not see Jesus. When we see Jesus again, our hearts will rejoice and no one will take our joy from us. To be a Christian means that you want to be with Christ Jesus. He is more precious than the entire world, which includes all riches, health, family and friends. This hymn expresses it perfectly, "Lord, Thee I love with all my heart; I pray Thee, ne'er from me depart, With tender mercy cheer me. Earth has no pleasure I would share. Yea, heav'n itself were void and bare If Thou, Lord, wert not near me." Heaven would be an empty wasteland if Jesus were not there. We want to be with Jesus. He is our rock, our fortress, our life, our everything. This is what faith gives us. And this is why we have sorrow.
We have sorrow, because we live in a world where Jesus is departed from us. When asked why his disciples did not fast, Jesus answered, "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast." (Matthew 9:15) This is the chief, yes, the only reason for godly sorrow. We are separated from Jesus. St. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians chapter 5, "We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord." (vss. 6-8)
Our faith gives us sorrow, because faith makes us want to be with Jesus. But Jesus is away. Yet, faith also gives us much joy, because we know by faith that Jesus will not always be away. He will return and our hearts will rejoice again.
Faith, which gives us so much godly sorrow now also gives us reason to rejoice in our sorrows. For Christ has not left us without hope, but with a certain promise of his return and our salvation. And also, Jesus is not entirely away from us. Rather, at Jesus' departure into heaven he said, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Jesus is with us even now, so our faith causes us to rejoice even now.
True, this is not the complete joy we will experience when Christ will banish all earthly sadness and sinning and wipe the last tear from our eye. Yet, through faith we do have joy. Jesus is with us in his Baptism, just as he promised. And so, through faith in this midst of sorrows we rejoice. Jesus is with us in his teaching. Sound doctrine brings comfort in the midst of sorrow. Jesus' disciples were sorrowful, because they did not understand what he meant by a little while. Jesus comforted them by explaining what he meant. And in his explanation, he gave them a promise that they would see him again and they would rejoice with an invulnerable and everlasting joy.
It is also important to note the setting of these words from Jesus. They are sitting at the table where Jesus instituted the Sacrament of his body and blood. This is much more than simply a remembrance meal, although it certainly is that. In this meal, Jesus feeds us his true body and blood and imparts to us every blessing from his glorious throne. We feast on the fruits of the cross, which gives us friendship with God. Through this Sacrament, Jesus is always with us, even as he is far away.
Jesus does not leave us high and dry. He doesn't leave us to sorrow without joy. Rather, in our sorrow he gives us joy that only faith can receive, so that we are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. Godly sorrow is not despair. Godly sorrow always has the assurance of joy. Godly sorrow is not something we should wish to avoid. Rather, we gladly follow this road of sorrow. For by this path we will reach the joys that can only be found in Jesus. And this joy will never be taken from us. Amen.