We certainly do not have an understanding of what lies ahead of us on the journey of life. This is why we seek to walk by faith and not by sight. I believe that our friends, Eddy and Jenny, may understand this better than a lot of folks, given what their family has been through in this past week (and over the last several weeks). They knew that their grandson, Paxton, was going to have surgery to fix a hole in his heart. But, once again, as it is with surgery…and as it is with much of life…we often do not understand what is taking place on the journey, just that we must trust in Him who can and will guide us on the way. As the doctors, nurses and surgeons prepared to do surgery on Paxton, they discovered that the little man had another small complication that needed to be repaired. Thankfully, all of this was able to be accomplished, and without any difficulty. And now Paxton and family are recovering from the ordeal.
But, what do the Ross’, their kids, and others gain from such an experience…an increasing faith and trust in the Lord that brings joy. Is it any different when we experience situations in our lives that do not go as we have planned? (And most of us have been there). The hope is the same, as we remain focused on the goal of living by faith. And the experience can and should be the same…that we can experience the joy and peace that the Holy Spirit brings into our lives. We may not always understand or have answers as to why or why not a certain situation or experience takes place the way that it does, but trusting in Him who is in control is what is able to unleash joy for us on our journey. And this is precisely what Jesus wants His disciples to understand in this section of John’s gospel (16:16-22). All of their cumulative experiences with Jesus…the good and the bad…are intended to teach and train them to be His servant-people so that they can experience joy on their journey with and for Him.
This section of John deals primarily with some of the emotional struggles that the disciples are enduring. Some of them are sorrowful because of Jesus’ words that He will be leaving them…others of them are simply confused…and yet others are afraid. These disciples were real people with real feelings, and yet, Jesus was able to use them…which gives all of us hope, doesn’t it? All of God’s servants have been ordinary people tasked with living according to extraordinary faith, purpose. One of the recurring themes in this section is “joy.” The disciples are not experiencing a whole lot of joy at this point, but Jesus wants them to understand that “joy” does not come in spite of our circumstances, but because of them. Jesus’ illustration of the woman giving birth to the child makes this clear. The same baby that caused immense pain also is cause for great joy! He uses whatever situations we are dealing with to transform us into being His people in a better way. Much like the child that comes to expect a new toy if one is broken, we cannot mature spiritually if someone is always substituting things in our lives in order to make us or keep us happy. Transformation is able to accomplish what substitution is unable to do. God is able to take seemingly impossible situations, add the miracle of His grace, and transform trials into triumphs and sorrows into joys. Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave, and Potiphar put him into prison as a criminal…but, God transformed that hopeless situation into victory. And there are dozens of others stories in the Word of God that we love, because we learn of the victory of grace and faith in people’s lives…including Jesus death on a cruel cross, burial and resurrection from the dead.
Jesus often uses figures of speech when He is making statements to the disciples, and verse 16 is such a case. It has to be perplexing to them. At the same time, He wants them to seek, to question…to grow. He is likely speaking of His upcoming death, but also of the hope that they would experience in His resurrection. It also could be that He is speaking of His ascension, and they would all soon give their lives for His kingdom, and they all will go to join Him. Either way, the hope and joy of His disciples will be fulfilled by His presence. This is the way it is intended to be. The religious and the political leaders of that time expected that Christianity would die out, but such was not the case. Jesus sends His Holy Spirit to them (and to us, His church), in order to continue to live and share the truth of the gospel. There is no doubt that the world did not want Jesus then, and it does not want Him now. But, while the bridegroom is away, the bride longs for Him to return and take her home. We who are in Christ await His return, as He shares with the disciples back in chapter 14:11…He goes away, only to return and bring those who belong to Him home with Him. So, the immediate message He shares is with His sorrowing disciples, but the ultimate application is for all of God’s people…that there may be trials and tribulations that we face on the journey, but it is ultimately for “the joy set before us” as well. While we work and wait, the process of transformation continues for each of us, that we become more like the Son. And as we seek Him, we will grow and mature to be who it is that He wants us to be.
At first I saw God as my observer, my judge, keeping track of the things I did wrong, so as to know whether I merited heaven or hell when I die. He was out there sort of like the president. I recognized His picture when I saw it, but I didn’t really know Him. But later on when I recognized this Higher Power, It seemed as though life was rather like a bike ride, but it was a tandem bike, and I noticed that God was in the back helping me pedal. I don’t know just when it was that he suggested we change places, but life has not been the same since—life with my Higher Power, that is. God makes life exciting! But when He took the lead, it was all I could do to hang on! He knew delightful paths, up mountains and through rocky places—and at breakneck speeds. Even though it looked like madness, he said, “Pedal!” I worried and was anxious and asked, “Where are you taking me?” He laughed and didn’t answer, and I started to learn trust. I forgot my boring life and entered into adventure. When I’d say, “I’m scared,” He’d lean back and touch my hand. He took me to people with gifts that I needed, gifts of healing, acceptance, and joy. They gave me their gifts to take on my journey, our journey, God’s and mine. And we were off again. He said, “Give the gifts away; they’re extra baggage, too much weight”…so I did, to the people we met, and I found that in giving I received, and our burden became light. At first I did not trust Him in control of my life. I thought He’d wreck it. But He knows bike secrets—knows how to make it lean to take sharp corners, dodge large rocks, and speed through scary passages. And I am learning to shut up and pedal in the strangest places. I’m beginning to enjoy the view and the cool breeze on my face with my delightful constant Companion. And when I’m sure I just can’t do any more, He just smiles and says, “Pedal!” -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) pp. 247-248.
Jesus shares some words in 10:10 that fit with what he is sharing here, that His disciples should “live the spiritual life and live it abundantly.” This is a message that is not far from me…much like “live a life worthy of your calling.” (Ephesians 4:1). Why do these have appeal? It is because they keep us honest. They help us to realize in the spiritual battle that we not only have hope, but a continual obligation and challenge. Jesus wanted His disciples to understand -- even though they did not understand much of anything…they needed to trust in Him. It is no less with us. As the Hebrews writer shares (12:1), we need to continue to put aside all of the things that seek to bind us and hold us back spiritually…and press on toward the goal of eternal life. This perspective should help to keep us honest. If we have made a commitment to Jesus that He is Lord (Master, Ruler of our lives), then we need to be certain that it is so. And if it is so, will be able to fully appreciate and experience the joy in the journey that He and the Spirit have in store for us…now, and forevermore.