Summary: Jesus gives his disciples hope. A sure, certain promise for the future. He’s telling them that their pain will turn to joy.
Sermon by Rev George Hemmings
I wonder how you felt last night as you were winding your clocks back? As you contemplated how great an extra hour of sleep would be. After I’d adjusted the clock on the oven, and the microwave, after Sarah fixed the clock-radio by our bed, as we thought about the promise that the future held, we knew we didn’t have a hope! Even though I’d changed the gro-clock in Micah and Joshua’s room, we knew we didn’t have a hope of getting them to stay in bed for longer, let alone convincing Jacob that he could go an extra hour before needing milk. Hope is the expectation that our desires will be fulfilled. It’s future focused, and our future didn’t look great. And without hope, it’s hard to have any lasting joy. So when we feel hopeless, truly hopeless, it’s hard to carry on.
The disciples were a pretty hopeless bunch. They’re just a gaggle of former fishermen and retired taxmen. They’ve enjoyed a few good years in the sun, but all that’s about to change. They didn’t realise it when they sat down, but this is their last meal with Jesus. And think about what he’s spent the meal talking about. He’s told them he’s about to abandon them, that he’s returning to his Father. He’s told them that one of them will betray him. He’s told them that Peter, one of the inner circle will deny him. And he’s just told them they’re all about to have a rough time, as the world will persecute them! Talk about hopeless! What hope do they have for the future? Without their friend and leader, with the best and the brightest of them in doubt, with the world arrayed against them? It’s true that along the way Jesus has spoken words of comfort, has promised that his going away is all for their good, and that he’s going to send another advocate, the Holy Spirit, to guide, empower and equip them. But none of that has sunk in. Jesus’s been speaking in figures, in difficult words, saying things that they just can’t understand yet.
As the meal draws to an end, Jesus has one more confusing thing to say to them. ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.’ What is he on about? What’s he saying now. It’s like a riddle. What gets bigger the more you take away? (A hole.) Like a riddle, the disciples try to figure out for themselves what Jesus is talking about. They begin to say, ‘What’s he on about? What does he mean, a little while and you will no longer see me and a little while and you will see me?’ It’s clear he’s not talking about playing hide and seek. They’ve got some ideas about what he might mean. They’re wondering if this has anything to do with him saying that he must go back to the Father as he mentioned back in verse 5. But, even though Jesus had gently rebuked them for not asking what he meant when he said he was going back to the Father, they’re not ready to ask about the meaning of the riddle just yet. They know the key is in what Jesus meant by ‘a little while’ as verse 18 makes clear. They just can’t work it out! Well, they’ve been talking about this amongst themselves, perhaps while Jesus was out of the room, but he knows what they’ve been wondering. He isn’t confused. He knows they want to know what he knows. He knows what’s on their mind and he takes the initiative. He doesn’t need them to ask him any questions, he already knows what they want to know. He says, ‘Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said, ‘A little while and you will no longer see me, and a again a little while and you will see me?’ As if he really needs to ask the question. He already knows the answer is yes.
Then Jesus takes the time to explain it to them. He tells them it’s about sorrow and joy. It’s going to start with their sorrow and the world’s joy. In a little while they won’t see him anymore, and they’ll weep and mourn. But it’s not just general sadness, it’s the kind of weeping and mourning that comes with the death of a loved one. They’re the same words that were used back in chapter 11 to talk of the death of Lazarus. And in John 20, the same words describe Mary’s reaction at finding the empty tomb. In just a little while the disciples will weep and mourn, at the death of Jesus. The perverse thing was that while they did so the world rejoiced. Remember John uses ‘the world’ to describe those opposed to God and his kingdom. The scribes and Pharisees, the High priest and his cronies were celebrating after the crucifixion of Jesus. They thought they’d just gotten rid of a rabble-rouser, a renegade Rabbi. They were busy celebrating, while the disciples were mourning the loss of their leader and friend.