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Two-Part Promise

May 22, 2022 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Lectionary

Topic: Biblical Verse: John 16:23–16:33

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 22, 2022

John 16:23-33

 “Two-Part Promise”

Again today, like last Sunday, we hear in the Gospel lesson how Jesus is preparing his disciples for his coming departure. That may seem pretty clear, at least to us who live this side of Jesus’ resurrection, when he says: “I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father” (John 16:28). But I imagine that it was not so clear to those first disciples. They still had much to learn about Jesus, as do we. Remember that Jesus spoke these words before his suffering, death, and resurrection. He revealed the truth of what would happen: “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone” (John 16:32a). And that is what happened when Jesus was betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane: all the disciples were indeed scattered as they fled from Jesus when he was arrested. But it doesn’t end there. Jesus tells his followers that he’s never alone because the Father is with him. Jesus has given this same assurance to all who trust in him: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). In the final verse of today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus gives a two-part promise: “In the world you will have tribulation” and “Take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). That becomes the theme for preaching today entitled, “Two-Part Promise.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.

First, let’s take a look at promise #1: “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33a). Well, that’s news nobody wants to hear! But it is true, isn’t it? And wouldn’t we rather have the straight-up truth than being deceived by something that masquerades as the truth? Following Jesus as his disciples in the world does not guarantee that the world is going to love and respect us, giving us preferential treatment. If anything, it’s the other way around. We shouldn’t be surprised if the world sets its face against Jesus’ followers because that is what the world did to Jesus. Why would we expect that things should be different for us? That word “tribulation” (θλῖψιν) has both a literal and a figurative meaning. It comes from a verb (θλίβω) that means to press or squash. That’s the literal meaning. But the figurative meaning if even more descriptive. Think life’s demands and burdens pressing in on you like a pressure cooker. It’s when the weight of the world is bearing down on us, threatening to crush us. That is something that we can all understand, regardless of what our situation in life may be. Jesus tells us – he promises us – that this is going to happen (see Acts 11:19, 14:22; Romans 12:12). That’s not very comforting, but it reminds us that we have a truth-telling God who doesn’t gloss over the hard things; things that we might choose to avoid if given the opportunity. And when the world is bearing down upon us in whatever form this might take, it hasn’t caught God off-guard or unaware. The Lord God has not abandoned us to deal with all of this by ourselves. This points us ahead to the second of Jesus’ two-part promise.

Promise #2 is this: “But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33a). At other times, Jesus encouraged his disciples to “take heart,” like when he spoke to the disciples in the stilling of the storm (Mark 6:50); when he spoke to the paralytic (Matthew 9:2) and to the woman with the hemorrhage (Matthew 9:22). Because of what Jesus has done for us – entering into our messed up lives and world where things seem to be spinning out of control, offering his very life as the atoning sacrifice for all our sins – we are of good courage (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). Even when life is pressing down upon us and we know first-hand what tribulation looks like, we are of good courage. We are people of hope because Jesus has overcome the world. Because of Jesus, who loves us and has laid down his life for us, we know where we are headed. Because of Jesus, come what may, we know our future is secure in his nail-pierced hands. Even when things seem to be falling apart around us, we know that this is not the final word. Jesus has the final word.

That word “overcome” (νενίκηκα) is significant. It’s where the Nike sporting goods company gets its name, meaning “victory” (νίκη). The verb tense of this word is the “perfect, indicative, active form of the verb νικάω (to conquer). The perfect suggests completed action with enduring results. Note when Jesus made this promise. It was before Easter. Even before He rose from the dead, Jesus had overcome the world. His resurrection confirmed His victorious lordship of the world opposing Him. This is no small thing, for it reminds us how His victory over the ongoing pressures we face is already completed, even before we finish enduring them” (Dr. Peter Nafzger in Gospel: John 16:23-33 (Easter 6: Series C) | 1517). And that is good news for all of us.

The completed and finished work of Jesus’ victory is something we celebrate at every gathering of Christ’s people, just as we are doing today. We do so through the Means of Grace, Word and Sacrament, together with song and prayer. Today we give thanks to God for our new Director of Music, David Leahey, whom we are installing today. He will help us sing God’s praises in our life together in this congregation. May the Lord richly bless this new beginning for his glory and for building up the Body of Christ. In the week ahead, we celebrate Ascension Day on Thursday, May 26. Due to the COVID pandemic, it’s been three years since we’ve gathered in person for this worship service, something that is often overlooked in the life of the church. Three sister congregations, their pastors and people, will join us here at St. John’s as we host this special time of worship. I encourage you to come and sing praises to our crucified, risen and ascended Savior who has overcome the world through his life, death and resurrection, empowering us to live in the world sharing his promise of life and salvation for the world. Amen.

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