Summary: Whatever you're going through, Jesus will get you through.
“HOW LONG CAN YOU STAY under water without coming up for air?” That was the challenge my boyhood friend made to me. He boasted himself a full minute-and-a-half. “No contest!” I said. “Three minutes! Watch this.” I sucked in as much air as I could, and I plunged myself face-first beneath the surface of the pool. In the muffled quiet of the moment, I knew my friend had begun his count: “One Mississippi, Two Mississippi….” I’d show him. I was determined. I was under the water for what seemed to me like an eternity. Surely, my three minutes was up. My lungs burned, yearned for release. It was painful. I couldn’t stand it another second. My body broke the surface with a surge upward, I blasted out the used-up air and gasped for a fresh supply. Breathless, I asked my friend, “How long?” “Not quite a minute,” he said. Of course, I didn’t believe him. But, later, when I tried to hold my breath topside, I discovered: It’s harder than you think.
How long can you stay under. That’s a question not just for the swimming pool but for life. “How long can you stay under?” That’s the question that seized Jesus’ first disciples. How long can you endure what it is you’re having to go through? Jesus told that first band of followers, “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me” (Jn. 16:16). And they knew they were about to go through something.
They didn’t understand entirely, but they knew he was going away. He had told them he was “going to the Father” (v. 17). They knew they would be separated from him. They knew Jesus would be gone. But for how long? That they didn’t know. He who had “the words of eternal life,” (Jn. 6:68), the very One whom they had “come to believe and know [as] the Holy One of God” – he was going away (Jn. 6:69). Their life’s breath was being squeezed from their spirits. “What does he mean by… ‘a little while’?” they asked. “We do not know what he is talking about” (Jn. 16:18). How long is “a little while”?
We know that question. That’s the question we ask everyday. When we’re going through adversity, when the path is steep and the way is narrow – and the air is thin and we’re near exhaustion – That’s what we want to know: How long is “a little while”?
When I first began to think about what to preach on during Lent this year, I asked God to show me what it is that you might need to hear. And as I reflected on that, I began to think how much pain you are enduring. As a church, we are divided over worship styles. We are trying to find our way through the changes that are occurring in our denomination and in our society. We are in the midst of selling a property that has been symbolic to us of better years. We are in transition with our staff – currently we’re seeking to fill a music spot and looking for someone to take the baton for youth ministry when Tyler goes off to seminary.
And those are just the things we’re dealing with as a congregation. Many of you are facing your own hurdles. Several of our members are dealing with health issues, some are looking for employment, some will soon be moving away, and many families in our church are suffering grief and loss – four just this past week.
With all our sorrow – in the midst of all our pain – is there a word from our Lord that will restore our joy? That’s the question I was asking. As I sat down to plan this series for Lent, I wanted to know what we needed if we were to bear up under our trials. Jesus addressed the heartbreak of his first disciples. Does he also have something to say to us?
And, of course, he does. Here in John 16 he is talking to us as well as to his first followers, “Very truly I tell you…., you will have pain” – no breaking news there, right? We know that much; we’re feeling the pain. But that’s not where he stopped. He went on. And here’s where our lungs begin to fill up with air again. Jesus says, “You will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy” (v. 20). This is what we need to hear. This is what we long to hear. Jesus doesn’t tell us how long our “little while” is going to be, but what he does tell us is: However long it is, there is joy on the other side of it. Whatever we’re going through, He will get us through. But how can we be sure? That’s a nice thought, but what evidence is there that we can depend on it?