Sixth Sunday of Easter (C)
May 26, 2019
Text: John 16:23-33
He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
“In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33; ESV). Jesus promises it. Is this supposed to be comforting? Here “the world,” of course, is not the planet earth or everyone who dwells on it, but “the world” as in unbelievers, particularly unbelievers whose focus is on this life, now, in this place, without regard to God or things eternal. This is “the world” as in the second of our three main enemies: the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature, enemies that would deceive us and mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice so that we tear ourselves away from our Lord and join the world in its determined leap into the abyss of death and hell. Against “the world” in this sense, along with the devil and our sinful flesh, we pray that our Father would “lead us not into temptation.” But it will be hard. We will be attacked by these things. Our enemies will not give us up without a fight. “In the world you will have tribulation.” That is the promise.
And it is comforting, believe it or not, for this reason. Our Lord is not unaware of our suffering in this life. He knows the great temptations with which we struggle. He knows the fears within and fightings without, the seductions of the evil one, the great pressures exerted by our peers who sneer at the goody-two-shoes Christians with their heads in the clouds, who cannot bear the Christian voice of conscience in the public arena against a culture of death and hedonistic promiscuity and perversion, who cannot handle the Christian assault on the world’s precious idols, all that the world worships as salvation and the path to heaven under the guise of self-esteem and self-actualization. Which is exposes the real idol, the sinful flesh itself, the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. Our three main enemies always work as a team. But our Lord knows. And He isn’t just a disinterested observer. He acts. He’s in it with us, in the battle, in the tribulation, in the flesh. And He saves us from it. Already in our text, on the night in which He would be betrayed, on the threshold of His sin-atoning death and victorious resurrection for us, Jesus promises, “take heart; I have overcome the world” (v. 33).
So here we are, in the world, and the world hates us, as it hated Jesus and killed Him, and there is tribulation, persecution, hardships, but we are assured that our Lord knows and has already claimed the victory. It’s a rather strange position to be in. We are like the Israelites in Egypt. Pharaoh says we’re slaves, but God says we’re free. Each claims that we belong to him, and not to the other. It is a struggle, an all-out war between the gods of this world and the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And you and I are the territory in dispute, the battlefield, and war always leaves scars. It’s enough to scatter disciples, which is always a very real and present danger, and our Lord warns us as He warned the Apostles in our text. Just as the Twelve were scattered when Jesus was arrested in the garden, so our temptation is to scatter, to apostatize, at the first sign of suffering for the sake of Jesus. Don’t let that be you, beloved. Whenever you are tempted in this way, pray for God’s help. Ask for grace. Ask for His Spirit to fortify you by His Word. And wherever you have been silent when you should have spoken, when you should have confessed Christ and His Word, whenever your courage has failed you and you have shied away from confessing the truth for fear of blowback from the world, repent. And return to Christ. For He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. He forgives. He restores. He strengthens you to persevere in this present tribulation.
As a matter of fact, our Lord has given us a great gift to sustain us in times of trial, and it is a gift we too often neglect. That is the gift of prayer in Jesus’ Name. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you… Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (vv. 23-24). Now there is a passage we have difficulty understanding. The reason is, we hear it with the ears of the world rather than the ears of the Spirit given us in Baptism. We hear that the Father will give us whatever we ask for as long as we remember to say “in Jesus’ Name.” Wolves in sheep’s clothing specialize in the proclamation of precisely this gospel. So I hear this verse, and I pray that I would win the lottery, and I remember to say the magic words, “in Jesus’ Name,” and for good measure I even promise to be generous to the Church and the poor. And I sit back and wait for God to live up to His end of the bargain, like Jesus said He would. But nothing materializes. Did Jesus lie to me, or did I just not do it right?
But do you see how the very request is Old Adam seeking to exploit God’s gift of prayer for ends that are precisely the opposite of faith? And do you see how short sighted that kind of thinking is? Here we are in a war zone, in the heat of battle, with eternal life and death at stake, and we’re worried about a few extra bucks in the bank to buy us a few more toys to play with (because, after all, Jesus said!), as the razor sharp talons of the evil one pierce our hearts and his fangs sink into our necks. Oh, beloved. Repent. That’s not what the verse is about.
It’s about screaming for help when the enemy is overrunning the trenches. It’s crying to the Father for salvation and rescue in the Name of Jesus who died for you and is risen from the dead. It is God making good on His promise through the Psalmist: “call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Ps. 50:15). It’s not about asking for more stuff, you Americans. It’s you drowning, desperately flailing, gasping for breath in tribulation, and Jesus grasping you in His pierced hand and pulling you up into the safety of His embrace. Ask for that. And you get it. Jesus Christ, risen form the dead, healing you and enlivening you with the medicine of His Word, His Body, His Blood, Himself.
Jesus is the Father’s answer to your prayer. The Father gives you Jesus. The Father provides for your every need in and through Jesus. In Jesus, the Father Himself loves you. Jesus is the revelation of the Father as our Father, to whom we should pray, upon whom we should call, and from whom we can always expect an answer as a dear Father always does for His beloved children. God is no deadbeat dad. You can trust Him. You can always rely on Him. He will never forsake you. The proof of it is Jesus.
Knowing all of this, we have peace. Which doesn’t mean we aren’t in the midst of tribulation. Oh, there is plenty of tribulation. The eye sees death and destruction, war and bloodshed, the hostility of the world toward Christ and His Christians, and it appears as though the evil one has conquered. But just the opposite is true, as is evident to the eyes of faith. Jesus has overcome the world. Jesus has conquered Satan. Death had to give Jesus up. It could not digest the Lord of life. The eye of the body sees the pain and the suffering, but the eye of faith knows things are not as they appear. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.
Peace is to know that. Peace is to know your sins are forgiven because of Jesus. God has nothing against you. He is not out to get you. He is for you. He loves you. Peace is to know that whatever tribulation the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature may throw at you, they ultimately cannot harm you. Because you are safe in Jesus. Your end, your goal, is Jesus. It is life in Jesus. To live forevermore with Jesus. Your enemies have been conquered. Jesus leads captivity captive. He bound them by His death. And you? You are free. For He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.