The last explanation - John 16:17-23

This is a sermon by Malcolm Peters from the Riverside Church service on 9th December 2007.

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Well this week I’ve been reading some extracts from the writing of our Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Rev Rowan Williams.  So I thought I’d treat you to a flavour.  Writing about the doctrine of revelation, Rowan Williams says this:  “intimacy with God means refusing all consoling substitutes for God and bearing the consequences”;  he goes onto say this: “when God’s light breaks on my darkness, the first thing I know is that I don’t know and never did”.    Or how about this:  “Christ’s is the kingship of a riddle, the one who makes us strangers to what we think we know”.   

So that’s clear then isn’t it?   Or are you confused?    I certainly was.    Indeed, the question that came to mind was:  what on earth is he talking about?      Now I hope that’s not what you think about my sermons.  If it is, then do come and tell me, because what I’m aiming to do is to unpack and explain the Bible not make it obscure. 

But the point is that the disciples thought that Jesus was doing a Rowan Williams:  so if you’re not already there, turn back to John 16 [p1007/  1678]  and look with me at v17:

17Some of his disciples said to one another, "What does he mean by saying, 'In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,' and 'Because I am going to the Father'?" 18They kept asking, "What does he mean by 'a little while'? We don't understand what he is saying."

In other words, the disciples are basically saying:  what is Jesus going on about?    What’s all this talk about dieing and going back to the Father.   

Jesus knows all about our Confusion (v17-19)

So first of all in v17-19, we see that Jesus knows all about our confusion.  As we’ve already seen it’s clear from v17& 18 that the disciples didn’t know what Jesus was talking about .  It’s not that they didn’t understood J’s literal words; no, they just didn’t get what Jesus meant by them.  And the reason for that is that they had wrong assumptions.    They had lots of religious baggage that actually prevented them from seeing what Jesus was really on about. 

And it can be the same for us.  One of the main reasons why people don’t really understand the real Jesus of the Bible, is that they have so many preconceptions about who Jesus is and what he did that are a million miles away from reality.  So until we’ve dumped the baggage, we might hear J's words, but we’re not going to get what he’s really on about. 

But in v19, we see that Jesus knows all about our confusion.    In this case, Jesus probably overheard the disciples physically.  But earlier in John’s we’ve seen that Jesus has supernatural knowledge about what people are doing, saying and even thinking when he’s miles away.  And that’s because Jesus is God:  God with a human face.   

And so Jesus knows our every thought.  And if we’re confused about what Jesus is really on about, Jesus is saying he knows all about it.  And more importantly, he’s going to do something about it. 

J’s departure enables us to have a direct relationship with the Father (v20-28)

Look with me a v20:  “I tell you the truth”.    It’s that phrase Jesus uses when he’s got something really important to say:  listen up:    I’m going to sort out your confusion.    I’ve already told you about the Holy Sprit in the first half of chapter 16.  And now I’m going to give you a second reason why it’s better that I die and go back to my F.  Because in v21-28, we see that J’s departure enables us to have a direct relationship with the F,. 

Look again at v20:

20I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.

This Friday is the funeral of one of my Bible college lecturers in London.  He wasn’t much older than me.  He leaves 2 young sons not much older than my daughter Bethan.  His wife is still critically ill after the same car accident.    He was a Christian and so we don’t mourn like non-Christians who have no hope of life after death;  but I suspect that the weeping and morning at that funeral will be intense all the same;  a man in his prime with a wife and young family;  a man not much older than Jesus was when he was cruelly nailed to a cross and left bleeding to death.    A death penalty that the Roman Governor knew was undeserved.  “I find no basis of a charge against this man”, Pontius Pilate said.    And yet the religious authorities whipped up the crowed to bay for J’s blood.  Jesus was a nuisance;  He was a trouble-maker.  They thought they’d be better off without him.    And so as they stood and watched as the life drain out of him, they rejoiced.  “He saved others”, they said:  “but he can’t save himself”.  But what about the disciples?  Well as they watched Jesus die and then be buried, they would feel as if someone had literally ripped their hearts out and destroyed their hopes and plans for the future.

I tell you the truth, says J:  when you see me dieing on the cross, you will weep and mourn while the world around you rejoices.    Yes you will grieve; and grieve like you’ve never grieved before.  But then, Jesus says at the end of v20;  your grief will turn to joy.   But why?  What could possibly take their grief away so suddenly?  Well look down to v22:

22 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.

Now is your time of grief:  tomorrow afternoon I’m going to die.    Yes it’s going to be painful;  painful for me and you.    Now is your time of grief.    But 3 days later on the first Easter Sunday, I will see you again.    As John goes on to tell us in chapter 20, Jesus was going to rise from the dead.    I will see you again.  And when you realise it’s really me, then your grief will turn to joy;  in an instant.   And Jesus gives us a vivid illustration of that instant transformation in v21:

21A 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.”

And in v25 he tells give them a foretaste of what’s to come after the resurrection: 

 25"Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father.

And in v28 at the end of the section, he comes back to his central theme:    

28I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father."

But that journey back to the F would be via an agonising death on the cross on Good Friday, an exuberant resurrection on Easter Sunday and a triumphant exultation on Ascension Day.

But how does Jesus returning to the F in this way make things better for the disciples as he’d told them earlier 16:7.  How could it be better not to have Jesus with us in the flesh?    And the answer is that J's departure enables us to have a direct relationship with the F.  Look with me at the heart of this central section in v23:

23In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

J has spent 3 years with his disciples.  He’d taught them by word and example.  He’d explained his parables to them and answered their every question.  As John had explained back in the prologue, J’s mission had been to make the Father known;  because no one had ever seen God the Father.    No Jew would’ve dared to call God ‘Father’.  That would have been regarded as blasphemously flippant. 

In the OT, the Lord was utterly separate and distant from His people.    Not because he didn’t love them or didn’t want a relationship with them.  He did.    After all, He’d set up the whole sacrificial system so that he, the utterly holy and righteous God, could dwell in the midst of His sinful and rebellious people.  In the heart of the Temple, was the holy of holies.  The inner sanctuary where God dwelt.  But this inner sanctuary was surrounded by a thick curtain.  And only the High Priest could go in there once a year.  And when he went in, he had a rope tied around his foot in case he died in there, so they could pull him out, because none-one else was allowed;  only the high priest.  The whole OT system was a giant visual aid to God’s people;  God is holy and you aren’t and so you can’t come near to God.  You need a mediator. 

But what do the other Gospels tell us happened at the very moment Jesus died?    That’s right:  that curtain at the heart of the temple was supernaturally torn from top to bottom.    The giant no-entry sign was ripped up;  in an instant.    How?   Because of what Jesus achieved on the cross.  Because as Jesus died, He was dealing with the problem of sin;  Jesus was taking the punishment for all the sins of all God’s people for all time.    J, our great High Priest, was making it possible to walk straight into the throne room of Heaven and meet with God the Father.    As the author to the Hebrews puts it:

19Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near to God [the F] with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

This side of Easter, we no longer need a go-between.    Not even Jesus.  As Jesus himself puts it in v23, back in Jn 16:

23In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.   24Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

Up til now, I’ve been revealing the F to you.  I’ve been your intermediary, a go-between you and God the F.  But on that day, after Easter Sunday, you will have direct access to the F.  Because of what I will achieve, because of my name and all that represents, you will be able to ask the Father directly yourself for whatever’s in accordance with my name and His will.    And the more your relationship with the F deepens, the more your prayers will be in line with His will;  and so the more your prayers will truly be in my name and be answered. 

Now Jews like the disciples had grown up with this barrier between them and God, this curtain, this giant no entry sign;  so for them to be given free access directly into the Father’s presence would have been mind-blowing.    It would be a source of intense joy.    It would be like getting a VIP pass to go straight through all the security directly into the Queen’s presence;  whenever you want; no matter how often you want;  anytime of the day or night.    Except infinitely better, because we’re talking about God the F here and not simply a human Queen. 

Direct access to the F.  An intimate personal relationship with God the father;  with no more intermediaries;  no more priests;  no more saints;  no more rosaries;    no more doubt;  but direct, permanent and intimate access to the F who’s made us and who’s sent his son to die for us.    And that’s why their morning will turn to joy in v20;  in an instant;  because that’s a relationship that worth having;  and that’s a relationship that’s even better than having Jesus with us in the flesh. 

And this helps is with out prayer-life.  A fortnight ago I deliberately prayed to God the HS in the closing prayer.  Because the F, Son and HS are all equally God.  One God in three persons.  But within the Trinity there is a hierarchy of function or role:  the F sends the son to do His will, and the Spirit convicts people of their sin and points them to the work of the Son.    There is a functional hierarchy of F, Son and HS.  So while it’s OK to pray to Jesus or the HS, the normal pattern for Christian prayer we find in the NT is to the F, in the name of the Son by the power of the Spirit.  Virtually every prayer in the NT is addressed to God the F.  Because that’s our amazing privilege;  Dear Heavenly F, in J’s name, Amen.

But as Christians, sometimes we’re often not so amazed about the direct access we have to our Heavenly F.   And sometimes our joy is a bit on the low side;  certainly mine get a bit depleted sometimes.  What about you?   So why is that?     

Well let me suggest 2 reasons.  First, I think as 21C Christians, we’ve become overly familiar with God the F.  I wonder of you’ve ever seen stickers on the back of cars that say something like:  God loves you.    Well of course he does, but how often have you seen a car sticker that quotes verses like this one:  [Heb 12:29]  “worship God acceptably with reverence and awe for our God is a consuming fire”. 

As 21C Christians, we’ve become overly familiar with God and that’s reflected in lots of the modern music that’s being produced – some of which talks about our relationship with God as if he were our best mate down the pub or something.    And that’s why I carefully scrutinise all the lyrics of the music we sing here at Riverside to make sure that it’s both theologically accurate and reverent.  I might not always get it right, but that’s what I’m trying to do. 

But it’s not just our music.  Yes we have direct access into the throne room of our Heavenly F whenever we want.  But how do you treat him and speak to him? 

There’s lots of things that Kate and I are flexible on in our household when it comes to children’s behaviour.  But when it comes to speaking disrespectfully to parents, we have a zero tolerance policy:  so I’m often saying to Bethan:  I love you very much, but I am not one of your friends in the playground:  I am daddy, and you don’t speak to me like that. 

And if that’s the case with a human father, how much more should it be the case with our heavenly father:  yes I love you, I sent my son to die for you and I love it when you come and talk to me in prayer:  I long for intimacy with you:  but just remember that I’m not one of your friends down the pub:  I am the Lord Almighty, the sovereign creator Lord of the whole universe.  The One who holds the nations on the palm of my hand and controls the destinies of empires simply by the power of my word:  “worship God acceptably with reverence and awe for our God is a consuming fire”. 

So that’s the first reason why we might be lacking in joy;  because we’ve been overly flippant with our Heavenly F and so he’s not pleased with us.  And the second reason is related.   As I was preparing this sermon, I was asking myself:  why is it that I don’t have joy in my heart the whole time;  and my reflection is that for many of is, our joy in the Lord is lacking because we’re too busy;  too busy at work;  too busy in the home;  too busy ferrying the children around to 101 different activities;  too busy even doing the Lord’s work, whether it’s upfront stuff or behind the scenes.  And when we’re too busy, we rush in and out of our Father’s presence. 

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who terribly anxious to get on to the next person.  It’s not a great conversation is it;  and not the best way to build a relationship with someone;  and please forgive me if I’ve ever done that with any of you here;  because relationships take time don’t they;  and it’s the same with out relationship with our heavenly F.  if we rush in and out of His throne room, without pausing for breath while we’re in there, we’re not going to enjoy intimate fellowship are we?  We’re not going to enjoy our relationship with our Heavenly F. 

And so especially at this busy time of year, can I  suggest we all make time to cultivate our relationship with God the F.  Yes it’s great to be thinking and praying about who you could invite to the Christmas services.  Yes we’ve all got to get the Christmas shopping done and get ready for the family coming or whatever.   But can I suggest that this Christmas, we all slow down and take time to enjoy being in God’s presence;  in our personal Quiet times;  and when we come together for corporate worship.   Let’s take time to wonder and worship with deep joy in our hearts at the amazing love of our Heavenly F who sent His son into the world as a baby, so he could die for us as a man.    Let’s join with King David who wrote in Ps 108:

My heart is steadfast, O God;  I will sing and make music with all my soul….   I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples.  4 For great is your love, higher than the heavens;  your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

I will see you again, and you will rejoice, and no one will take you joy away, said the Lord Jesus.  Because, J’s departure enables us to have a direct and intimate relationship with our Heavenly F, the Lord God almighty. 

Our relationship with the F will be a source of peace in a troubled World (v29-33)

So does that joy then mean we go through life on a permanent emotional high?     Well no, because in v29-33 we see that our relationship with the F will be a source of peace in a troubled world.  Our relationship with the F will be a source of peace in a troubled world.  Look at v33: 

33"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

J has given us this last explanation so that we will have joy and peace in our hearts.  Deep joy and peace.    But then he brings us back to earth with a bump.    He reminds His disciples that they will be persecuted just as he was.  And worse that that, he rebukes them for their false confidence and tells them that they’re going to mess up big time. 

J has been explaining that after Easter Sunday everything would be made clear.  But right here in v29&30 on Maundy Thur, the disciples say;  oh yeah, we get it.  Thanks for that one Jesus.    And so Jesus replies with biting sarcasm in v31:  you believe at last – literally ‘do you now believe’ – where the implication is no they don’t yet get it, because it’s still Maundy Thur;  and so their grief hasn’t yet turned to joy.    In fact it gets worse, because in v32, Jesus goes on to tell them that when he’s arrested in few hours time, they will all desert him.    His disciples were going to mess up big time.  And of course after the resurrection, we know that Jesus reunites them and reinstates Peter as the chief shepherd.    In this world, says Jesus, you will mess up and go through tough times, whether it’s overt persecution of just the circumstances of life.   

The Christian life is an emotional rollercoaster of failures, set backs and tough times as well as the elations and the good times.    And so ultimately the joy and peace Jesus is talking about is a deep inner peace and security;  a firm anchor for the soul rooted in our relationship with the F through what Jesus has done for us on the cross.  A deep inner peace that will keep us firm through the storms of life in this world and bring us safely to the next.  A deep inner peace that will still want to express itself in outward joy, even though the rain came down and the floods came up.

33"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

So let me ask you as we close, do you have that inner peace;  do you have that joy in your heart.  And if not, then we need to go back to the middle of v23:

V23b:  “I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24Until now [before Easter Sunday] you [could] not ask for anything in my name. [But now] Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”

Let’s pray.


Closing Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you that it’s better for us now than it was for the disciples here in chapter 16.  Thank you that not only do we have the gift of the HS but because, of His death on the cross for us, Jesus has made it possible for us to have a direct and personal relationship with you, our Heavenly Father.  Help us to treat you with reverence and awe, but to have that deep joy and peace in our hearts as our relationship with you grows and deepens through the storms and troubles of life in this passing world.  In Jesus name we pray, Amen. 

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