Jesus tells the disciples that they will be filled with sorrow. We know what that is like. There are times we are overcome with sorrow. But it’s important that we distinguish between worldly sorrow and and godly sorrow. Just as it’s important to distinguish between worldly joy and godly joy.
Jesus begins by telling the disciples that he will be leaving in a little while. He means his death. For the next few weeks we get our Gospel readings from this section of John’s Gospel –Jesus final words in the upper room: After the Lord’s Supper and before they went to the Garden of Gethsemane. He warns them that he will be going away in a little while. A couple more hours, and he will be betrayed and arrested. He will die. That’s the little while when they will see him no longer. And they will be filled with sorrow.
But then after another little while and they will see him. Friday he is crucified. On Sunday morning – the third day – he will be raised from the dead. Then, they will be joyful, and that joy will be so complete and so enduring that no one will be able to take their joy from them.
So what is joy, and what is sorrow? This tells us – sorrow is God dying for our sins. Joy is him being raised to life again.
The sorrow of the disciples is a godly sorrow. We just finished the season of Holy Lent. That is a time of sorrow over sin. Such a sorrow is godly, because it is sorrow arising from the Word of God. When we consider our sins we should be sorrowful. The world despising the word and promise of God, it is a sorrowful thing. Yet we are told not to be sorrowful at such things. Just as we are not to be sorrowful if others are more successful than we are. That’s not godly sorrow – it’s envy. We are not sorrowful about the things of this world. Our sorrow should be for our own conduct that is not in keeping with God’s Word. Peter went out after denying Jesus and wept bitterly. And yet in his sorrow he did not despair of the love and mercy of God. Judas despaired of the love mercy of God, and so went and hanged himself, and was lost. When we are filled with sorrow over our sin, we must not lose sight of this – the one who gave us the Law, also gives the promise of forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
The world seeks happiness, and tries to avoid all sorrow. But happiness is not the opposite of sorrow. Happiness is an emotion, as is sadness. True godly sorrow is sorrow over sin. The reason we need this sorrow is because our nature is opposed to God and his word. We must come face to face with how much our own sin condemns us if we are to be saved. If we are not sorrowful over sin, we can never see the need for a savior. And as Jesus says, those who do not need a physician, do not seek one. If we do not see a need for a savior, we will never accept that Jesus is our Savior. We will always try to save ourselves. But we must let Jesus be the savior from our sin. For that to happen, we must be convicted of our sin – the Law must do its work. We must be filled with godly sorrow.
And once we recognize our sin, we have the promise of joy in Christ Jesus. He has saved us from sin by his death. And by his resurrection he has given us eternal life in Him.
This is the basis of our joy – a joy that can not be taken from us. The world tries to imitate this joy with happiness, self actualization, various physical comforts and pleasures, and so on. Just keep flooding your brain with dopamine and don’t give any thought to matters of life and death. That’s why the last few weeks have been so hard for the world to grasp – because the word had to (for once) come face to face with the idea of mortality. You could not hide in business, or in earthly comforts. We spend so much time denying death – ignoring the godly sorrow and trying instead to focus only on worldly pleasures. But worldly pleasures – which never move beyond the level of feeling things in this world – can not replace true joy.
True godly joy is the joy that Jesus has risen from the dead as the firstfruits of all that believe in him – where he has gone we shall go. There is nothing that can happen in this world to destroy our joy, because it is a joy that goes beyond this world.
That doesn’t mean we aren’t ever sad, or as they say now, depressed. But it does mean that even in our sadness, we are not overcome, we do not lost hope and we are still joyful. It’s why, even at funerals, even as we shed tears, and as we grieve the loss of a loved one in this world, we are still filled with joy because we know that our loved one is with Jesus, and someday soon we will be with him as well.
After the resurrection, the disciples were preaching in the temple. They were arrested and told to stop preaching the name of Jesus. They said, “We must obey God rather than man.” When they were beaten and released, they rejoiced that they were counted worthy of suffering for the name. That’s the sort of joy they had over the resurrection. The sort of joy that, when finally called to either renounce Jesus or die, the apostles all chose death, and went to their deaths with joy and in the peace which God gives. Only John was allowed to die a natural death. He was ready to die – he suffered greatly, even being exiled to Patmos for a time as a criminal. And yet, even then, John was filled with the joy of the resurrection.
That’s what Jesus resurrection does. It is either a fraud – and therefore of no importance at all. Or it is real and the most important thing that has ever happened because Jesus broke the power of death. CS Lewis points out that the resurrection must be one of these two either not important at all, or the most important – what it can never be is of moderate importance. As if it were kind of cool, but not really anything big. We’re talking death undone. There is no bigger event. There is nothing that impacts us more – even all these years later and even moving forward into forever.
The joy of the resurrection remains. And no matter what happens to us in this world, that joy can not be taken from us. Not by loss, or sadness, or grief, or even death. The joy of the resurrection breaks through all of those. And so we rejoice. With angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.