Take Heart

Original Date: 
Sunday, March 22, 2015

John 16:19-24, 33 But God… Take Heart

Standing on the Promises
Mark Hall, the lead singer of the Christian band Casting Crowns tells the following story:

Laurie Edwards watched her little girl gasping for air and wanted to breathe for her. She wanted the Maker of breaths to swoop in and fill her child's lungs and dissolve every tumor with His mere glance. She wanted another miracle.

It was the early morning of Saturday, October 30, 2004. Ten-year-old Erin Browning lay in a hospice bed in her home, in such pain and shortness of breath that, in fear and exasperation, she could manage only one request of her mother.

"Just read the Scriptures!" she said.

So Laurie began reading the Scriptures. She included Erin's favorite passage, Proverbs 3:5-6. From 1 a.m. until 5 a.m., loved ones took turns reading aloud the Word of God over a child in the last, cruelest stages of cancer's grip. Little Erin had battled for more than three years.

And now the end was near. Laurie tried to refuse to believe it, but her trust in the Lord remained steadfast... At one point, she placed her Bible on the floor and stood on it, literally standing on the Word of God as she read over her child...

Erin was six years old when she prayed to receive Christ. She was diagnosed with cancer when she was seven, and by the time she was eight she was visiting area churches to give her testimony. Four months after Erin was first diagnosed, a second bone scan revealed that the cancer was gone. Doctors called the results remarkable. Laurie and Erin called it a miracle. Emboldened by the Lord's clear hand in her life, she began regularly sharing her faith and giving her testimony.

"She had a desire to reach people to let them know there is no hope or joy without God. And even though she had reason in her life not to be happy, she was joyful because she had Jesus in her heart," her Mom said. "She wasn't afraid. She let the Lord speak through her, and when she would get up and speak it was like I wasn't listening to my own daughter. He would put words in her mouth, and it was just awesome."

But the cancer eventually returned, and this time, it didn't go away. The tumors grew so large that they displaced organs and created a visible bulge in Erin's chest. They pressed down on her spleen, pushed her heart to the right, and deviated her trachea, straining her breathing.

Near the end, Laurie's e-mail updates were desperate. Her last one before Erin's death was a simple request in all caps: "PLEASE PRAY FOR ERIN!" It was the night in which Laurie stood on her Bible during the four hours of Scripture reading…

Fifty-one hours later, [she] finally gave up her fight. Erin Browning went home at 4:24 a.m. on November 1, 2004.

Laurie still doesn't fully understand what happened next. She remembers only a tremendous peace and describes it as being under the shower of the Holy Spirit. She held Erin's body for 90 minutes while her daughter played in heaven.

"It was not like how I expected her last minutes to be. I thought I'd be hysterical, but I wasn't," Laurie said. "But she was where she always wanted to be. She told me when she was six years old that she couldn't wait to get to heaven. She said she had felt an emptiness in her heart, but when she asked Jesus into her heart she never felt it again because Jesus had filled her and would never leave her. For the 10 years she was on this earth, God used her in a remarkable, powerful way.” (Excerpted from Mark Hall, Lifesongs, found at http://www.onlinechristiansongs.com/2013/04/praise-you-in-this-storm-cas...)

After meeting Erin early in her struggle with cancer and following her journey through prayer requests and phone calls, Mark Hall and Casting Crowns wrote a song. The lyrics read, in part:

I'll praise you in this storm
And I will lift my hands
That you are who you are
No matter where I am
And every tear I've cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm

It’s a remarkable story of faith in spite of a terrible situation. You have to wonder, how could both Erin and her Mom cling to God in the midst of such tremendous pain? How were they able to, as the song says, “lift their hands” even “though [their] heart [was] torn”?

And the answer is: they were worshipping their creator, not their circumstances. Even though the storms of life were raging, they were able to look past the conditions to a King who was still in control.

John 16:33
We are in the midst of a series I’m calling “But God…” I’ve said that two of my favorite words in the Bible are “But God…” Because when those two words show up, or at least the idea of those two words, it usually means that there is a bad situation, but God is about to do something to make it better. There is bad news, but God has good news. I love the “But Gods” of scripture.

And today, our “But God” comes from John 16:33. Jesus says:

33"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Quick background: Jesus is in the final hours before the cross. This part of scripture is known as Jesus’ final discourse. These are the things Jesus said to his disciples in the hours just before His betrayal, arrest and trial. This is His last chance to talk to His closest friends before things get ugly. And here’s what He says: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

You can almost picture Jesus in this verse as a weather forecaster who is giving us his seven day outlook: It’s trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble and trouble. Jesus wants us to know that trials and tribulations are coming our way.

And Jesus isn’t talking about I-lost-my-car-keys trouble or I-can’t-get-the-garage-door-to-come-down trouble. He’s talking about soldiers knocking on your door kind of trouble. He’s talking about cancer on your lab report trouble. He’s talking about kids turning their backs on you and spouses walking out the door kind of trouble. He’s talking about the kind of trouble that makes you think, “I don’t know if there is a God. I don’t know if I even believe anymore.”

And Jesus says it is inevitable. We live in a world that is broken and cursed. A world that exists in the shadow of sin. All of creation has been “subjected to frustration” and groans to “be liberated from its bondage to decay.” (Rom. 8:20-22) The world is falling apart, so trouble is going to find you.

But then Jesus ends this verse by saying: “But take heart! I have overcome the world” In other words: Jesus has already done what is necessary to take care of the curse. He’s defeated the world. Jesus says: “Don’t lose sight of the big picture. Don’t give in to despair. Remember the end of the story.”

Bad Theology
Pete Wilson, in his book Plan B, points out that this one verse can lead to two kinds of bad theology. There are two parts to this verse, and if you separate them and read them on their own, it can lead you to some pretty bad places.

On the one hand, if you just focus on the part that says “in this world you will have trouble” you could develop a mental framework that this world stinks. It could make you a real pessimist. Everything is bad. Everything is a threat.

For instance, I’m reading a book right now for a book discussion with a group of pastors. It’s a book about all the crises that the church is facing right now. 25 threats to Christianity. Things ranging from a redefinition of marriage to pluralism to greed to the deification of technology and so on. It’s trouble after trouble after trouble. Reading a book like this is really depressing, because it makes it look like Christians don’t have a chance.

If you only focus on the “in this world you will have trouble” it can be pretty hopeless.

But you can also make the mistake of focusing only on the second part, the part that says “I have overcome the world.” This is much more optimistic, but it can force you to gloss over some real pain. It can turn you into the characters from the Lego movie, always singing: “Everything is Awesome!” Wilson writes:

If you take this statement as a mental framework, you start to think there will never be any trouble—or at least no serious trouble. “Nothing bad is going to happen to me as long as I’m following Jesus.” If you cling only to this statement, you force yourself to live in a false reality. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, you just pretend everything is great and all the charts of your life are going to keep moving up and to the right. In the process, you’re probably setting yourself up for a fall because your false reality will eventually be shattered. (p.148)

We really need to take the two parts of this verse together. As Christians, we need to be realists. We need to recognize the fallenness of our world and acknowledge the real pain that exists. There is trouble. And yet, we need to remember that as Christians we have a great story to tell, and it has a great ending.

That’s the power of the word “but.” “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Joy vs. Happiness
This verse makes me think about the word “joy.” Jesus doesn’t use that word here in John 16:33, but He does use it quite a bit earlier in the chapter.

We talk about joy quite a bit here at Hope Church. We made it the center of our mission statement when we said we are here to bring joy to Jesus and to experience joy in Him. Our conviction is that the Christian life is a life of joy. That God’s will for us is that we be filled with joy.

Personally, I feel that Christianity has suffered from the stereotype of black-clad pilgrims sitting in long rows with frowns on their faces. The idea that church is supposed to be a somber, even uncomfortable experience flies in the face of the Bible. Jesus promised joy for His followers. And so an emphasis of our church is on living in that joy together.

But we have to be careful when we talk about joy. The temptation is to equate joy with happiness. Because words like “rejoice” and “jubilant” bring to mind people laughing and celebrating, we think joy only exists when feelings of happiness are present.

In fact, joy and happiness are different ideas and spring from different sources. Happiness comes from the world around us. It is conditioned by what is “happening” to us. If people treat us good, if things are going well in life, if we have what we want, we are happy. And if our circumstances are not favorable, then we are unhappy.

Joy, on the other hand, throbs throughout Scripture as a profound, compelling quality of life that transcends the events and disasters which may dog God’s people. Joy is a divine dimension of living that is not shackled by circumstances. It is created in us by God’s Spirit and allows us to feel “happy”—to be content and peaceful and glad—even when our situation is unhappy.

I’d define Christian joy like this: it is a confident gladness that remains even in difficult circumstances. Christian joy is resilient.

And it is joy that Jesus is talking about in John 16. Jesus is promising those who follow Him that they will experience a joy that is greater than the trouble of this world. In fact, that’s the thing I most want you to know today. Jesus promises a joy that rises above any trouble.

There may be moments in your life—or days, or entire seasons—which feel like trouble, trouble, trouble. But Jesus promises that for those who trust in Him there can still be peace in the midst of the trouble. Another word for that is joy. And it’s available to you and me.

So, let me back up to verses 19 through 24 and we’ll learn three things about this joy that Jesus has promised.

The Bottom Line
First, Christian Joy is Resurrection Bought. Our joy finds its source in Jesus’ victory over death. Look at verses 19 and 20:

19Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, "Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, 'In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me'? 20I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.

Keep in mind the context. Jesus has been telling His disciples repeatedly in the last few chapters that He is about to depart. He knows that He’s about to die, but they’re not getting it. So in 16:16 He says: “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”

So now the disciples are trying to understand what Jesus means by “in a little while”.

In these verses, then, Jesus is explaining. Jesus’ mission on earth is nearly at an end. There is just one more fundamental, all-important act for Jesus to carry out: His sacrifice on the cross. "In a little while," he says--a very short time--they will see him no more. He's going to die on the cross. The first “little while” is the next twelve hours, leading to his death.

And then, Jesus says, in another "little while" they will see him again. And that’s the resurrection. Jesus knows that his death is coming, but he also knows that He will be walking back out of His tomb. So the second “little while” is the time from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning.

And Jesus knows, in that first little while, His disciples will be weeping and mourning. He knows it’s going to be tough. The world is going to be rejoicing. The Devil is going to be dancing. There will be trouble.

But then, after that second “little while”, Jesus knows their grief is going to be transformed into joy. He knows the stone will be rolled away. He knows He is going to walk and talk with His disciples again. He knows that death cannot beat Him.

And it is the empty tomb, our Easter Hope, that serves as the source of all our joy. We can have joy that rises above all trouble because we know that Jesus is the victor over death. Whatever happens to us, we know this one thing for sure: Jesus is alive. He has overcome. And so we have joy.

Personally, this is a thought I fall back on again and again. When I’m having a stressful day. When I’m worried about my kids. When I get news that somebody I care about is very sick. When a situation looks dreadful and gloomy—I always remember this: Jesus walked out His grave. That’s the bottom-line. Jesus faced our greatest enemy and beat it. And that reminds me that no matter how bad things look, the situation can get better.

So, Christian joy is Resurrection Bought. Second, Christian Joy is Recession Proof.

In the midst of the economic crisis back in 2008 and 2009 I saw a sign that said “God is recession proof”. It stuck with me. My point here is not so much to talk about the economy as to say that Christian joy stands up to any circumstance. Christian joy hangs in there even when things are tough. Verses 21 and 22:

21A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

Jesus gives an illustration to help his disciples understand what they are about to experience when He goes to the cross. It’s going to be like childbirth He says. For those of you who have given birth, you know, it’s not a pleasant experience. There is pain. It’s hard work. Jesus calls it “anguish”.

But you also know the feeling of joy that comes when that precious baby is placed in your arms for the first time. The overwhelming gladness. It’s not exactly something I can relate to, but I can only imagine having that baby in your arms is one of the best feelings in the world, or I can’t see why any of you would choose to go through pregnancy and labor more than once.

And Jesus is saying that’s what life is like: sometimes we are going to go through circumstances that hurt (like when He goes to the cross), but He will be there (the resurrection) and we will rejoice! It will be like a new birth!

And look how He describes that joy in verse 22: “NO ONE will take away your joy." This joy is unstealable. It's permanent. It's here to stay. Not Satan, not sin, not circumstances, not the world, not anyone can take this away. It’s recession proof. "No one will take away your joy."

This is important for us to think about, because as we’ve seen: our circumstances will, from time to time, be difficult. We have to avoid the notion that says if we are strong enough Christians nothing bad will ever happen to us. That’s simply not true. Jesus never promises that everybody who believes in Him will always be healthy and wealthy. Jesus says just the opposite in fact.

Pain and suffering, cancer and relational problems, financial difficulties, employment issues, conflict, sin, trials and tribulation. It’s all possible—even likely for Christians. Jesus doesn’t promise we just get out of those things.

But what He does promise is that we can have joy even in the midst of those troubles. Resilient, confident gladness that stands up even in difficult situations. The great promise of Romans 8:28 says that in all things God is working for the good of those who belong to Him. We know that whatever we are going through, God has a good plan for us. It’s like childbirth. A time of suffering and pain followed by rejoicing.

That doesn’t mean that we don't mourn and grieve. The Bible says we should mourn with those who mourn. (Rom. 12:15) This doesn't mean that we will never feel sorrow. We will. But beyond that, always, for those who belong to Jesus, is JOY! Unspeakable, unstealable, unbeatable JOY!

In My Name
So Christian joy is Resurrection Bought and Recession Proof. Now, third, Christian Joy is Received by Faith. This kind of resilient joy comes from knowing that God is on our side. Verses 23 and 24:

23In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

Jesus tells us that He will give us whatever we ask in His name. Jesus is talking about the amazing power that is available to us when we pray as His people.

Now, this could be read as though Jesus is giving us the magic word that will help us get whatever we want. Instead of “abracadabra” if we’ll just say “in Jesus’ name” we’ll have all our wishes fulfilled.

In fact, this is the fourth time in three chapters that Jesus has said something like this. He keeps saying, “You may ask for anything in my name, and I will do it” (14:14) or “ask whatever you wish and it will be given you” (15:7) or “the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name” (15:16). So clearly Jesus wants us know there is something significant about praying in His name.

But at the same time, given the context in which Jesus says “in this world you will have trouble”, clearly Jesus cannot mean that His name is a magic talisman against anything bad ever happening to us. Jesus is not saying that all we have to do is name it and claim it and all our sickness will be healed and all of our financial needs met.

Instead, we need to remember that when Jesus says “in my name” He means more than just something to say before we utter “amen.” A name in the Bible is a very important thing. It stands for the essential character of the person or thing named. It includes the named person's nature, authority, character, and essence.

So what this is saying is that you have to pray in line with Jesus' character. You have to pray in Jesus' authority, which means praying for things that Jesus would want.

In that sense, then, praying in Jesus’ name means learning to want the things God wants for us, and having the faith to trust Him to give us what is best.

So I don’t mean to water down Jesus’ promise here. The privilege of praying in Jesus name is indeed a powerful opportunity. By encouraging us to go to the Father in His name Jesus is telling us in no uncertain terms that God is on our side. It is an assurance that God does want the best for us. And that should be a reason for great joy.

Take Away
So what is the take away from today’s message? Jesus wants us to know that real joy is available. A deep, abiding joy that goes beyond the feelings of the moment. A joy that rises above any trouble this world can send our way.

So the application, I think, is for us to “take heart”. That’s what Jesus says in verse 33. “Take heart.” Other translations say "take courage” or "be of good cheer."

In other words, tell your heart to believe this. To rejoice and believe in your heart and stand up and trust Him no matter what. Tell your heart to believe that he has overcome the world--and joy will flood in. You can face your worldly troubles because Jesus has overcome them by the cross and resurrection.

Tell your heart to believe this!

Tell your heart to believe that the resurrection power of Jesus is available to you.

Tell your heart to believe that unstealable joy is yours, even in the midst of great anguish.

Tell your heart to believe that because you come in Jesus’ Name God really is going to do what is best for you.

Tell your heart to believe that in between the "little whiles" of v. 19 something huge, and beautiful and powerful and majestic happened. Jesus died for sinners like you and me, and he was raised to life again. And that death on that Cross and the resurrection that followed overcame the evil of the world and the evil of Satan and the evil even of our sins. And if we believe on him, taking courage in him, cheering ourselves in him, no matter what the world throws at us, we can have joy!

It is Well
Horatio Spafford was a prominent and well known lawyer in Chicago in the 1860s. He was also a close friend and prominent support of the evangelist Dwight Moody. Spafford made heavy investments in Chicago real estate and when the Great Fire of Chicago reduced the city to ashes in 1871 he lost much of his fortune.

Two years later, Spafford decided his family should take a holiday somewhere in Europe, and he chose England because he knew his friend Dwight Moody would be preaching there. He was delayed because of business, so he sent his family ahead: his wife Anna and their four daughters: eleven-year-old Tanetta, nine-year-old Elizabeth, five-year-old Margaret Lee, and two-year-old Anna.

On November 22, 1873, while crossing the Atlantic, their steamship, the Ville du Havre was struck by an iron sailing vessel and 226 people lost their lives, including all four of Spafford's daughters. His wife Anna survived the tragedy. Upon arriving in England, she sent a telegram to Spafford beginning "Saved alone."

Hartio Spafford then set out to sail to England to comfort his grieving wife. As his ship passed over the location where his four daughters drowned, he went to his berth and wrote these words:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.