This morning we prayed that we – who have been admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s Church – would be given faithfulness. A prayer to remain faithful – it’s certainly a prayer that we need to pray. But it’s an odd prayer for today’s Gospel reading – Jesus doesn’t explicitly talk about faithfulness.
Todays’ Gospel reading is not the most well-known of the Gospel readings. But it’s the one that is easiest to remember the topic. What was today’s Gospel reading? It was the “A Little While” Gospel reading. John manages to include the Phrase “A Little While” seven times in four verses. It’s almost comical, or perhaps even a little bit obnoxious.
God wishes to use His holy word to teach us. And He is very good at it. That’s why he gave the words to the prophets, apostles and evangelists. That’s why he sent his Holy Spirit to them – so that they would write down the words that the Spirit would have them write. It’s why John includes “A Little While” so often in the first few verses of our Gospel reading. Because God wants you to remember the phrase “A Little While.”
There are actually two “a little whiles”. A little while and you will not see Jesus, and then after a little while and you will see him. After the first little while, Jesus goes away. After the second little while, he returns again. He is talking of course about his own death and resurrection. Those are the two little whiles. He is preparing the disciples for what is to come. And he wants us to remember that phrase.
The disciples remembered that phrase, even if they didn’t understand it at first. They didn’t understand it because they didn’t know that he had to die. It just didn’t make any sense to them. Why would he have to die? He is God. God can not die. How would that work? How could God fulfill his plan for his people if his own son ended up dead. That just can’t be.
And yet it is exactly what happened. Jesus had to die for the sins of the world. Without his atoning death, there can be no forgiveness, so salvation, no life. He had to die for you. Sin brings death. Because of your sin, there must be death – not just death in this world. There must be eternal death. Separation from God, and the pouring out of God’s wrath over and against your sin. That is what Jesus had to do for you. And so he went to the cross and died your death for you. He suffered your punishment for you.
But the cross is foolishness to the world. The disciples, even after hearing him predict his death in plain words can not believe. In Matthew and Luke, Jesus tells them point blank that he will die and rise again on the third day. There response is either confusion or disbelief. “No” says Peter. Not going to happen. Who can believe that Jesus death leads to your forgiveness. To eternal life. And that only in that death can you find life.
It’s an offensive thing to say to someone. Because if someone needs forgiveness, it means they have sinned. And that’s not polite to say. It’s offensive. You can’t tell someone they sinned. That’s judging others. And the one thing that the world will judge you for is if they think you are being judgmental. The hypocrisy of that is lost on the world, by the way. That you need forgiveness from sin – that’s ridiculous. You just need to forgive yourself. Feel better about your own self. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Trying to please a god you have never seen – that’s foolish. But the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom. The Weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. And the shallow self-love of the world does not lead to the things of God, it does not lead to peace.
The world works against the things of God. Jesus tells the disciples this is the case: The world will rejoice, and you will weep and mourn. That’s not very comforting language. Lot’s of ads come into the church about how to cast a vision for the future, about how to really increase excitement about youth, or evangelism, or missions, or fellowship, or assimilation, or a hundred other things. There are even ads for programs to help people who struggle with pain and loss, to lessen the suffering. Not a single ad comes into the church that says, “Rejoice in suffering. Rejoice when the world mocks you and utters all kinds of evil against you falsely for Jesus sake.” That’s what Jesus is predicting here. The world will rejoice and you will mourn: Good thing!
It is a good thing. We may not think so – we may not like it. But it is good news. God does not want your sin to separate you from him. The Good news is, the idols that get between you and God – the things most likely to make you not be a part of his church – the things you love more than life itself (family, job, health, financial security) Jesus might just take those away for your own good, so that you have no choice but to hold onto him. It isn’t easy. It isn’t pleasant. It is hard. But it is good.
He even tells us that suffering is coming. We heard way back before Lent about the sower and the four-fold field. The seed that falls on the path gets eaten right away, the seed that falls among weeds gets distracted and crowded out by the world. And the seed that falls on the rocks. It springs up. If you look carefully, it grows up quickly, Jesus says “immediately”. But It also is the first to wither. Because it has no roots. No support. Plenty of initial excitement! But nothing to support that. It isn’t fed properly. Our faith in Jesus and the cross must be fed. We must return to the source – the Word of God. We must receive from his hand the sustaining gift of salvation.
The world mocks this. And that is part of the suffering, the hard time, we endure. How do we prepare for the crosses God will send us? By looking constantly, and only to his word. By binding ourselves to the promise he makes. He bound himself to you in Holy Baptism and made you his own.
So, cast aside your own thoughts and desires, and bind yourself to the Word and promise of God. It’s a short walk from faithful to unfaithful. It’s hard to see God’s hand in it all. Remember ancient Israel. They were at Mount Sinai – they had just been through the Red Sea and seen Pharaoh’s chariots and horsemen drowned. They pledge to Moses that they will do all that the Lord commands. And then Moses goes up on the mountain. They don’t see him again for 40 days. And they get impatient. They have Aaron fashion for them a calf of gold, and worship it. 40 days. That was all it took for them to forget the one who saved them at the Red Sea, and to try and create in their own minds and with their own hands a god who will save.
In our Gospel reading Jesus tells the disciples point blank, I am going away, the world will rejoice, and mock you. There will be tough times. But it’s only a little while.
That’s the phrase we use to try to comfort impatient children. “Are we almost there yet?” A little while. A little father. Is it almost dinner yet? Soon, a little while. Almost time. Jesus tells the disciples – and us – It is a little while. I am here for yet a little while, and then I must go away. But that will also only be a little while. The world will rejoice, it will carry on with it’s eating and drinking, the world will rise up to play while you mourn. That’s not God rejecting you. It is how it must be. In the case of the disciples, it was God actually fulfilling the plan of salvation for the whole world in Jesus. Without the little while when Jesus went away to the cross, there would be no hope. No salvation.
Now, we are still here for a little while, and Jesus has returned to the Father. We mourn, while the world rejoices, makes fun of those who would hear the word of God and believe the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. That he is the one who saves us from our sins – yes our sins – we sin and daily stand in need of forgiveness. We must live daily by contrition – sorrow over sin – and repentance – that is, faith to grab hold of the promise – and so by that Work of God in us, we must daily put away the old sinful flesh and those sinful desires, and daily walk in the word of God, daily return to the Baptism where Jesus bound us to himself.
And then, we come together today and each Lord’s Day to hear the Word of God and be fed from the hand of his servant. We have opportunity to rejoice in the salvation that is ours even in the midst of our mourning, in the midst of our sadness. We have opportunity to be strengthened in the true faith so that we would not be burned up by the difficult times that lie ahead. That, in this little while before our Lord returns for a final time, we would remain faithful, humbly hearing the Word of God and submitting ourselves to that Word. Humbly receiving the forgiveness of sins and forgiving others for their own sins against us. Knowing that we have sorrow now, but like a women giving birth, that sorrow will turn to joy, that weeping will turn to rejoicing. And when the world and all it’s folly melts away, we will have joy in Christ, that no one will take from us. Our sorrow lasts only a little while. The joy that will be revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord, will never end.