A Little While


The text for today is our Gospel lesson, John 16:16-22, which has already been read.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Before I begin, I must issue the following warning: This sermon contains an illustration featuring the exploits of one of my adorable grandchildren.

A couple of years ago we were in the van headed to Gillette, Wyoming for a wedding.  My grandson Abbott started fussing.  So I just said: “Ten more minutes and then we’ll stop.”  Much to my surprise, he quieted down.  And in ten minutes, I kept my promise.  After a quick diaper change and a bottle of formula he was good to go for another 200 miles.  Then he started fussing again.  Since it worked the first time, I decided to try the same line again: “Ten more minutes.”  It seemed to work so well that I used it over and over again.

Now, as biased as I may be about my grandchildren’s advanced abilities, I realize Abbott didn’t really understand.  He was only four months old at the time.  But even though he didn’t understand, that voice seemed to reassure him.  And the running joke seemed to pass the time more quickly for us adults than a crying baby.  At the same time, it was a reminder to me that the day will come when Abbott will ask that age-old question: “How much longer until we get there?”  And now that he’s almost three we’re getting pretty close to that time. 

The key to good communication is to speak to someone’s level.  Not too far below as to be condescending.  Not too far above, as to be unintelligible.  What do you say to a young child, who has no real concept of time or distance?  You tell them: “We’ll be there in a little while.”  They don’t really understand “10 minutes” or “15 miles,” but they do learn to understand “a little while.”

And that’s what Jesus is doing in our text.  He’s speaking to His disciples, who are like young children, theologically speaking.  They don’t understand His plan of salvation.  They don’t realize that God, who is not bound by time and space, looks at time and space in a much different way than we mortal, finite men and women.  And so to explain to them what is going to be happening in the next few terrible days and in the glorious age to come, He says to them: “A little while, and you will see Me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see Me… because I am going to the Father.” 

“A little while.”  We’ll come back to that phrase.  But before we do, we need to understand the context in which Jesus spoke these words.  “A little while” could be a few days if you’re waiting for Christmas, but not much more than a minute or two if you really have to use the restroom.  And so it’s helpful for us to have a better understanding of the situation Jesus and His disciples faced when these words were spoken.

Our text is part of Jesus’ last discourse with His disciples in the Upper Room as He prepared them for the difficult days ahead.  The disciples were still laboring under misconceptions as to what the Messiah would do for Israel and were bewildered by the change in mood in Jesus since Sunday, when He had purposely fulfilled messianic prophecy and had entered the city to acclaim as the Son of David.  Concerned about the growing conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities, they waited for Him to establish His kingdom here.

But now He was talking about going and suffering and dying.  He was telling them that they would be denying Him and be put out of the synagogues and killed.  And if that weren’t enough, Jesus was trying to explain the work of the Holy Spirit and the interaction of the Trinity, and indicated that He had many other things on His mind He wanted to share with them, but they were more than the disciples could bear at that time.  No wonder they were confused and bewildered.

Indeed, their hearts were breaking.  They had left their homes behind.  They had given everything just to be with Jesus.  He was their home now.  Wherever He went, they followed.  And being with Him was enough.  Hearing that voice, sometimes so gentle and sometimes so stern.  Looking into those eyes, sometimes filled with laughter and sometimes sparking in anger.  He was their Jesus.  He was their home.  But now He says that He is going away and that they cannot come with Him.  Their hearts were breaking.  He tries to help them understand.

“I am not leaving forever.  I am going away.  Going to the Father.  You will not see Me.  But then you will see Me.  Truly you will have sorrow.  You will cry and weep and the world will go on oblivious to your pain, in its own happiness.  But look… though you will be sorrowful, your sorrow will be turned into joy.”

The look on their faces must have told Him that they did not understand.  They were not following what He was trying to say to them.  So He explained further: “Look, it’s like this.  A woman, when she is in labor has sorrow because her hour has come.  She’s in pain.  It hurts.  It hurts badly.  But it doesn’t hurt forever.  No.  There comes the moment when the little baby is laid beside her and she looks into his face.  She embraces her in her bosom and her joy is total and complete.  The sorrow and pain are forgotten.  The anguish is gone.  Her heart swells with joy that a human being has been born.  Her little baby.”

Jesus looked around at their faces.  “Do you understand now?”  There was the dawning of understanding written on their faces.  They understood what He had just said, but they were not sure of its application to them.  So He goes on: “That’s how it is with you and Me.  Now you will have sorrow.  Your gut will feel as though it’s being ripped in two.  Your heart will feel like it’s being pulled out.  You will cry out in your pain.  Because of what’s about to happen to Me.  You are going to lose your home for a little while.  You are going to lose your companion for a little while.  You are going to be alone for a little while. 

“A little while.  Do you hear that?  ‘A little while.’  Cling to that.  Through the hours and days to come, keep saying to yourself: ‘a little while, a little while.’  Because I will see you again.  Though death bars the way, though the grave closes its gates upon Me, I will see you again.  Me.  The One speaking to you now.  Not a phantom.  Not a ghost.  But Me, the flesh and blood Me that you have known lo these three years.  You will see Me again when the time of sorrow is through and when you do… and when you do… such joy will fill your heart…. such rapture will seize you… such happiness will flood your very being that you will be forever changed.  You will have planted in you a joy that no one and nothing has the power to take away.  Because you will see Me again.  And then you will understand.  Joy abounding.  Joy forever. 

Their heads were nodding now.  Pain was ahead.  Bad pain.  The pain of their own weakness, their own betrayals of Him, their own denials and running away…. the pain of watching their Beloved hanging on the tree, in agony.  Knowing that it was their sin and the world’s sin that put Him there.  Knowing that there was nothing they could do to help the One they loved.  Having to stand by and watch Him die, utterly helpless and alone.  Pain indeed.  But it wasn’t forever.  Not for Him, and not for them and not for you.  It was only for a little while.  And when it was over, there was the promise of joy that never ended, the joy of Jesus alive, seeing them again.

That joy was theirs when He came and stood among them and said to them:  “Peace be with you!”  And their hearts burst with joy as they saw it was indeed the Lord, risen and alive with life that never ends.  And the promise He brought them was that He was only the firstfruits, the beginning.  There were many to follow.  Yes, them too.  He would raise them from the dead as He had been raised.  He, who conquered death, would set all His children free from its power.  Joy abounding and overflowing.

It was indeed a joy that no one could take away from them, no circumstances could rob of them.  They went out into the world a laughing, joy-filled, celebrating people.  They marched out into the world where death and the sadness of sin held sway, and by the news they brought they set free then people who dwelt in darkness and the shadow of death.  Those who all the length of their lives were held in bondage by fear of death, they set free.  Everywhere they went they announced: “Your sins have been answered for completely.  Your guilt has been taken away.  Your death has been destroyed.  You are loved by God in His Son.  Repent and believe!  Taste and see!  Your Lord is good to you!”

And they did not forget to tell the rest of the message.  What Jesus had said to the Apostles in the Upper Room illumined for them the way Jesus’ people were to walk through all the sorrows of this world.  The Apostles tell us flat out: “In this world you will have trouble.”  All kinds of troubles. 

In this world your heart will break.  You will grow old and begin to fall apart.  You will have disappointment and heartache and trial upon trial.  You will watch your closest friend turn his back on you just when you need him the most.  You will suffer the consequences of your own sinful actions and the decisions of others.  You will watch helplessly as a loved one struggles with a terrible disease… perhaps, even dies.  You will face the day of your own death.  But do not despair.  Learn to say to yourself: “A little while.” 

And a little while and it will be over.  For it is true that Jesus will see you again.  He will see you again in His kingdom, on that day when He wipes the tears from all eyes and comforts and heals all hurts and gives eternal joy to His people.

In the meantime, we know that we are God’s children now, and what we will be hasn’t been revealed yet, but that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.  And when our hearts are overwhelmed and the joy of Jesus Christ seems far away, we learn to say inside: “a little while, it’s just for a little while.”  We lift our eyes to the heavenly City and see the joy and feasting that awaits us up ahead and so we go on.  We journey towards the goal. 

And for the moments when we are so weary that we do not know if we can go on, when we are bone tired and the thought of our own failures to win the battles against the flesh and our betrayals of the new life in Christ and our sins weigh heavy and we feel discouraged and down, Jesus reaches out to us with the food of the pilgrims, the waybread of His people, His Supper. 

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