Text: John 16:16-22
“Just a little while.” That’s what we say to ourselves or to others when we’re caught up in doing something that, maybe, well, we don’t really want to be doing. We say that it’ll just be for “a little while.” Or, if it’s already happening, we might say it’s just for “a little while longer.” We tell ourselves this, or we say it to others to offer some form of comfort. The unpleasant situation we’re in – whatever it might be – will end. We’ll move on to greener pastures, as we might also say, in just a little while. Jesus said to the disciples in our text, “A little while, and you will see Me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see Me.” (John 16:16, English Standard Version)
With these words, Jesus was preparing His disciples for the time where He would be parted from them by death. The world would rejoice at this – its seeming victory. But they, His faithful, would be filled with sorrow. They would weep and lament, but only for “a little while.” Then Christ would see them again, and they would rejoice with an unending joy. Jesus teaches this week that, as He suffered cross and affliction, so, too, will His followers. But, this will only be for a little while, and soon afterward our sorrow will turn to eternal joy.
Our text this week comes from John 16, which takes place the night our Lord was betrayed. Everything from John 13-17 happens that evening. We’ll be in and around this chapter for a few weeks. The Lectionary does this to gradually shift our minds from our Lord’s Resurrection to His Ascension, which we’ll be celebrating the last Thursday of this month. Jesus wanted His Disciples to be focused and prepared as well, so He continued teaching them in our text what was about to happen. He said the words which we’ve already heard, “A little while, and you will see Me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see Me.” He’s telling them by these words that it would be soon – in just “a little while” – that He’d be taken away from them. In just a little while He’d be betrayed and crucified. In just a little while, they’d see the Son of Man suffer for the sins of the world. After another little while, though, they’d see Him again – say, after His three day rest in the tomb.
The Disciples, however, didn’t understand what Jesus was saying to them. At this point, their minds had not yet been opened to fully understand the Scriptures. That would come after the Resurrection. This is why they were wondering among themselves what Jesus meant by both, “a little while,” and “because I am going to the Father.” (16:17-18) Sure, there were little glimmers of a true knowledge about Jesus’ work here and there throughout those three years, but even Peter said just a little bit earlier that same evening, “Lord, where are You going?” (Jn. 13:36) They had been thinking that Jesus would remain with them always – in the very same way He had been with them so far. Jesus responded that that was not meant to be, for He was going to the Father – He means, He was going to die.
At Jesus’ death, the disciples would be filled with sorrow. Jesus said. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” (16:20) How proud the chief priests and elders must have been to see our Lord on the cross. Think about how St. Paul – before he was converted – was fired up by St. Stephen’s execution. The Holy Spirit says that after Stephen fell asleep, “there arose…a great persecution against the church.” (Acts 8:1) What we see in the Book of Acts as a whole, though, is that the rage of Satan cannot stop the spread of the Gospel or tear down the Church of Christ. He may scowl fierce as he will, but Jesus said that it would be just for a little while, then the disciples would see Him again. In history this happened Easter Evening. For a little while the Disciples didn’t see Jesus, then they did. There, Jesus gave to them the peace the world cannot give, the peace which surpasses all understanding. He forgave them their sins, and proclaimed to them that, because He lives, they shall live. This truth turned their sorrow to joy, a joy which never ends.
When Jesus said to the Disciples that they wouldn’t see Him for a little while, He meant a “little while.” From the time of His death on Friday afternoon to His appearing in their midst – that was the little while. Of course, there would be suffering and sorrow for them in the future – but, that, too, would turn to joy. To take things in a little different direction, our whole lives are like the “little while” Jesus speaks of. This is what St. Paul preached, too. One time he was in a city called Lystra. Some of the Jews didn’t like him there, so they stoned him. They thought they had killed him, so they dragged him out of town. Instead, he got up, went back into the same town, and continued preaching the forgiveness of sins which is in Christ. In his preaching he said, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) Experience proves this to be true in our own lives, as well.
Our whole lives we live in this “little while” which is filled with sorrow and during which the world rages and tears. Every day the world rejoices when it seems as if Christ’s Church is growing smaller and weaker. The devil dances a jig whenever someone forsakes their faith, and he continually tempts us to do the same. As Christ’s beloved flock we do suffer the hatred of the world – and if not us, then our brothers and sisters around the world. When one part of the body suffers, the whole suffers with it. In addition to the rage of the world and its prince, we also suffer the various afflictions which are the results of the fall: illnesses, economic hardships, and such. But, remember what Christ said, “A little while and you will not see Me, and again a little while and you will see Me.” (16:19)
We tell ourselves, “just a little while,” to comfort ourselves when something we don’t like is happening. But, there is true comfort in the fact that the sufferings which we endure now are truly just for “a little while.” This is what our Lord says. Someday soon He will return and all evils will finally be put far away from us. Our temporal sorrows will give way to an eternal joy. The sufferings we endure now are but for a little while, and our Lord remains with us through them all. He Himself said, “I am with you always.” Moreover, He uses them to discipline and teach us. But, they will only be for a little while, and then the morning will come.
This is another way of saying what Jesus taught the Disciples in our text. He would be parted from them, but only for a time. They would be filled with sorrow, but just for a little while. Then, they would see Him again and rejoice. Soon, we, too, will see our Lord face to face. Then, we will have joy that no one or nothing will ever take from us.