Jesus Sees Us Through Every Trial.
The Fourth Sunday of Easter – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 16:16-23
In Christ Jesus, who lovingly gathers us to Himself as a hen gathers her chicks (Mat. 23:37), so that we are comforted and kept safe, dear fellow redeemed:
Everyone has a mother, and so it is right for all of us to celebrate motherhood this weekend and the impact our mothers have made in our lives. You would not be here today if your mother had not carried you in her womb and given birth to you. In most cases, mothers continue to care for and nurture their children through their developmental years and into adulthood. Often it is mother who addresses scrapes and cuts. It is mother who rocks a sick child to sleep. It is mother who listens with compassion and gives her support.
No one really outgrows the need for a mother. God gives life through the union of woman and man to show that a person needs both a mother and a father. When we have lost one or the other or both, we feel the gaps—we are aware of their absence. Our mother particularly is the one who makes a house feel like home. There is a comfort where she is.
But for all the wonderful qualities God has given mothers, their power is limited. They cannot keep their children from pain and heartache. They cannot always stop their children from making bad choices. As much as they want to, they cannot make everything better. During these times of trial, Christian mothers look where they teach their children to look: to Jesus.
But Jesus does not always seem easy to find. He does not always seem present when needed. This is what His disciples were thinking when Jesus told them, “A little while, and you will see Me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see Me.” “What does He mean?” they wondered. Is He going to leave us? This conversation happened the night before Jesus’ death. Soon the disciples would watch a mob arrest Him. Then Jesus was driven toward Calvary and crucified. What He said to the disciples came to pass: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.”
That was a terrible time for the disciples. Jesus was dead, their great Teacher and Friend. Everything they had come to believe in and work for seemed lost. What now? They worried that they, too, might be arrested and crucified. They wondered if they had it all wrong. How could Jesus be the Son of God if He died? Had they put their faith in the wrong person? They didn’t know what to think. They felt utterly alone.
You have gone through times like this also. You have worried what might happen to you if you tell the truth, if you tell the truth about sin and about Jesus. You have wondered if you have it all wrong. What if the God of the Bible is not the true God? What if there is no God who cares for you? You feel this way when you experience great pain and sorrow, great loss. You feel like no one is there to take away the hurt. You feel alone.
But someone is there. Jesus is there. These might sound like empty words. We might ask why Jesus doesn’t make Himself known if He is really with us. It would be so comforting if we could be certain of His presence, if He would just let us see Him or sense Him. But we heard two weeks ago the danger of relying only on our reason and senses. Thomas said he would not believe the Word unless He could see Jesus alive with His own eyes and put his finger into the mark of the nails and his hand into His side (Joh. 20:25). Then Jesus appeared and said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29).
Why? Why does it have to be “by faith, not by sight” (2Co. 5:7)? It is this way, so that it depends on God and not on us. Imagine a young child at play. Which is better, for the child to need to keep his mother in view and know where she is at all times? Or for the mother to watch over her child? If it were up to the child to do this, he would soon forget about mom because he is so caught up in what he is doing. The primary responsibility falls to the mother, and even if she is busy with something else, she has an eye on the child to make sure he is safe.
Like that child, we children of God do not always keep our eyes on Him. We get caught up in what we are doing in the world and wander away from Him or put ourselves in some other dangerous situation. But none of this escapes the Lord’s notice. He sees everything and knows everything. The psalmist writes, “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways” (Psa. 139:2-3).
But even though He knows all, the Lord does not promise that He will keep us from all trouble and pain. To the contrary, in the same conversation with His disciples, Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you…. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you…. In the world you will have tribulation” (Joh. 15:18,20, 16:33). There is sin in the world and in ourselves, which means there will be trials.
But there is also hope for us. It is not a weak and wavering hope; it is a certain hope. It is a hope anchored in the promises of Jesus. It was not easy for the disciples to hear Him say, “A little while, and you will see Me no longer.” But that is not all Jesus said. He continued, “and again a little while, and you will see Me.” He was talking about His death and resurrection. He had tried to tell the disciples about this many times, but they didn’t want to hear it. They couldn’t bear to hear about His death, so they ignored the part about His resurrection.
But the Son of God had to do this. This is how He would “overcome the world” (Joh. 16:33). This is how He would conquer sin and triumph over the devil and death. This is how He would free us from the dark troubles and trials of this world and open to us the gates of the kingdom of heaven.
And while we are still here, the Lord even uses the trials and pain and sorrow of this life for His everlasting purpose. These things teach us to “[s]et [our] minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). Placing our hope in the passing things of this world is to live without hope. This is why the Lord allows troubles to come upon us, and even sends these trials. They are intended to remind us of our sinful weakness and to turn our focus back to Him.
Sometimes these are heavy trials, heavier than we can bear. They are more than we can handle. Jesus gives the example of childbirth. He says, “[w]hen a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come.” It is hard to be hopeful when the pain of childbirth is so intense. Some women probably wonder if they will survive it. Most vow that they will never go through it again. But the Lord sees them through, and there is joy on the other side.
For how terrible the anguish is, the joy of a newborn baby outweighs the sorrow. That is why women do not have pained expressions on their faces each Mother’s Day as they recall the trauma that made them mothers. Instead they rejoice in their children and consider the suffering they endured worthwhile.
Jesus uses this example as an illustration of any number of troubles a Christian may experience. Some loads may be heavier and some lighter. But whatever the amount of burden or hurt or pain or sorrow, Jesus is present. He told His disciples, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” Whether or not they would be looking for Him, Jesus said, “I will see you.” He would come to them and bless them.
This is our hope and comfort. We do not always fix our eyes of faith on Jesus. Instead all the troubles loom large, and they only seem to grow bigger and bigger. But Jesus sees us. He looks upon us with eyes of mercy and compassion like a mother looks upon her suffering child. And He comes to help and strengthen us. Through His Word and Sacraments, He comes to nurse us back to spiritual health and strength. He comes to heal the wounds we have inflicted on ourselves by our own sins, and the wounds that others have inflicted upon us. And He is ever ready to hear the prayers borne out of our anguish, loneliness, and sorrow.
Mom cannot be there all the time, and as much as she wishes she could, she cannot make everything better. But Jesus Sees Us Through Every Trial. He understands our suffering. He experienced the utmost anguish Himself by His suffering and death in our place, and He emerged from the infinite darkness of that trial in glorious victory. The author of Hebrews writes that “for the joy that was set before him [Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2).
We likewise look for the eternal joy that will be ours when the trials of this world come to an end. We have this joy now by faith in Jesus, but we do not fully experience it. In heaven we will experience it fully, when we see Jesus as He sees us. Then looking upon our Savior, we will have perfect joy—joy that “no one will take” from us.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(portion of painting, “Jesus Discourses with His Disciples,” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)