Summary: For the disciples, the death of Jesus appeared to be the death of all their hopes and dreams, but those who lived through both Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday never doubted God again. Easter transformed them and the world.
“From Grief to Joy”, John 16:16-22 -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts (Easter Sunday 2015)
Tomb, you shall not hold Him longer. Death is strong, but life is stronger
Stronger than the dark, the light; Stronger than the wrong, the right;
Faith and hope triumphant say: Christ will rise on Easter Day (Phillips Brooks).
In the “fog of war” mistakes are made. A day after the Desert Storm ground war began, the Pentagon tasked an officer to make a death notification to Ruth Dillow, to inform her that her son, PFC Clayton Carpenter, had been killed by a land mine. She later wrote: “Words cannot begin to describe my grief; it was almost more that I could bear. For three days I wept and expressed anger and loss. For three days people tried to comfort me to no avail, because my loss was so great.”
But three days after receiving that awful message, another officer knocked on her door. It wasn’t the Casualty Assistance Officer she’d been told to expect. It was an officer with an apology. Her son was alive. She couldn’t believe it. Then the telephone rang. The familiar voice on the other end said, “Mom, it’s me; I’m alive.”
Ruth said, “I laughed and cried and felt like turning cartwheels, because my son whom I thought was dead, was alive.”
We can’t fully appreciate all this military mom went through, but in a way we can understand it because of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. But Jesus wasn’t thought to be dead for three days. He really, truly died. And better than a phone call, He appeared alive to His friends.
Ours is a know-so salvation, because of a historical event. The unbelieving world dislikes regarding Easter as historical. You’ll likely hear someone on the news say: “Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead.” Do you catch that subtle suggestion of doubt? This is like saying: “Americans believe Barack Obama is the President.” “How can there be Easter faith unless Easter really happened?” (Peter Kreeft). The resurrection is a fact of history—whether we believe it or not.
Many of us believe the facts, but have we embraced the faith? Do we live in the power of the resurrection? Does an event that happened 2,000 years ago make a difference in our lives?
In our reading from John 16, Jesus gathers His followers to tell them that their sadness over His death will be followed by great joy. It will be brief grief. But they’re not buying it. They’re in denial. It is too awful to contemplate. We live in a grief-stricken world. “The whole world is one great wailing wall” (Weems). But death does not get the last word.
We’re tempted to regard these disciples as dim-witted. It’s easier to understand these verses from John’s Gospel from our perspective, because we know “the rest of the story.” Perhaps after Jesus’ return, we’ll better understand that other book of John’s, the Book of Revelation! Like that military mom, the disciples are overwhelmed.; They’re thinking, “This just can’t be!”
Jesus patiently compares the grief they will soon experience to a woman in labor. It is painful indeed, but the “end result” makes the labor all worth it.
Grief is also like a tunnel; you have to go through it to get to the other side. For the disciples, the death of Jesus appeared to be the death of all their hopes and dreams, but those who lived through both Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday never doubted God again. Their faith was strengthened to the point where they transformed the world.
They will mourn “while the world rejoices” (20). What a contrast! Our Lord’s enemies will celebrate, thinking His death will put an end to His revolutionary teachings. And followers of Christ will be heartbroken.
The death of Jesus brought temporary despair, but the resurrection resulted in endless rejoicing. Easter guarantees our forgiveness and assures us that Jesus will return. Whenever resurrection is mentioned in the Bible, it is a shaft of light penetrating our helplessness and hopelessness” (Adrian Warnock). Jesus has conquered every enemy that was opposed to Him, to God, and to us.
Death seems so final, but “The resurrection is a reversal of death’s seeming irreversibility. It is the end of ‘nevermore’” (Tim Keller). An Eastern Orthodox hymn proclaims, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death with death.”
The curtain of the Temple was torn in two…a seemingly minor detail, with major implications. When Jesus died, the curtain in the inner Temple leading to the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom. In the Holy of Holies rested the Ark of the Covenant, and the very presence of God. Only the High Priest could enter, on the Day of Atonement. The curtain symbolized how sin separates us from God. For the whole world, Good Friday was the Day of Atonement. With the curtain torn, God was sending us a message: Access to Him has been made easier than ever before. We can experience the presence of God every day as we walk with Him, by faith.