The most trusted things are the most tested things. We test drive a car before we buy it, we look at product reviews before checking out, and we try out new clothes before we pay for them. So what teaching can we truly trust in a crisis? Only the kind that has stood the test of tribulation.
We get a taste of this tested teaching in Jesus’s last words to his disciples before his crucifixion (John 16). Jesus’s teaching on suffering here can be trusted because it has been tested in all kinds of crisis, by all kinds of people, in all kinds of places. These words were all the disciples had when the trauma of Christ’s death and their own persecution hit them.
Though they were slow to learn, stumbled and faltered, the Holy Spirit was promised to them to remind them of everything Jesus taught. His testimony in their hearts to Christ’s tested words was their confidence and it can be ours too.
In John 16, Christ gave his disciples (and us) a warning and an assurance. He showed them an unlikely path to joy through sorrow, and he left them with a great encouragement. We may be many things in a crisis but we are not ignorant, we are not alone and we are not overcome.
When things fall apart, people fall away. Jesus forewarned his disciples saying, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away” (John 16:1).
One reason we fall away is because we trust in false teachings instead of the true words of Christ. Like a poorly constructed car that falls apart in a crash test, false teaching can fall apart especially when tested by something like a pandemic. It cannot carry the weight of suffering because it was not designed to bear it.
False teaching always creates false hopes: “I’ll never get sick, I’ll always be rich, I’ll never face trouble, I’ll always be happy.”
If you ever trusted in such false teaching, you may be at risk of falling away. If you are tempted to fall away you should know his words can be most trusted because they have been most tested in tribulation. He did not leave us without warning or instruction.
Yesterday he told us about today so today we can trust him about tomorrow.
In 2015 Bill Gates warned us about a pandemic and our unpreparedness for it. At a TED Talk he said, “If anything is going to kill over 10 million people, in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus, rather than a war. Not missiles, but microbes. We’re not ready for the next epidemic.”
Long before Bill Gates, Jesus warned us of wars, famines, earthquakes, pestilences (or pandemics) and persecution (Mark. 13:7-8). It is why no one who takes the Bible seriously is surprised at the pandemic over the last two years. Troubled, fearful, anxious, heartbroken—yes. But surprised? No.
Yesterday he told us about today so today we can trust him about tomorrow.
Jesus expects his disciples to feel sadness before they feel joy. He says, “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” (John 16:20).
When things fall apart we get too busy or too distracted to face the reality of loss. In times of crisis I want to invite you to resist busyness and laziness. I want to invite you to sadness.
Sadness is not a problem to be solved. It is not a disease to be cured. Sadness is a feeling to be shared. It is poison when kept to yourself, it is powerful when shared with God. It is destructive when kept secret but it creates connection when we share it with people. Godly sorrow is the first step towards experiencing gospel joy.
Yet somehow we are always trying to fix sadness. We say things like, “Why do you look so sad? Don’t feel bad. Stop crying. Let it go. Look at all the good things you have in your life.”
But the way to christian joy is not by skirting around the way of sadness. The way to christian joy is through the valley of sadness. An invitation to sadness means praying the sadness clearly and sharing the sadness well.
Sadness is not a problem to be solved. It is not a disease to be cured. Sadness is a feeling to be shared.
Pray Our Sadness Clearly
Jesus knows his disciples will leave him alone but he knows he himself is not alone. He says, “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” (John 16:22).
Our emotions have value and each of our emotions reveal desire. Joy says we got something we wanted. Sadness says we lost something we wanted. What do you do when you do not get something you wanted? My three year old daughter knows exactly what to do. She comes to her father. Jesus knew this too. He goes to his Father.
The good news of the gospel means that Jesus’s Father is our Father. We can bring our grieving hearts to him and he will listen patiently, speak tenderly and make his face shine upon us in the darkness.
Share Our Sadness Boldly
In 2020 as Covid-19 began to spread rapidly, author Arundhati Roy, in her article in the Financial Times, described the pandemic as “a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.”
As we come out of the pandemic we are not returning to the old world but moving into a whole new world. Perhaps one thing to be left behind is our sense of independence and self-reliance, in favour of trust and inter-dependence.
Sadness is a feeling best shared with others. Our hope in this sadness is that we have not only our Father, but even our brothers and sisters in Christ. As he carries our burdens, we can carry each other’s burdens.
The most effective thing about a crisis is its capacity to purge our self-reliance, invulnerability and self-sufficiency. These postures weaken the body of Christ but crisis can melt them away.
What a gift it would be to know more deeply than ever that we cannot get through testing times without trusted people. But it is difficult to trust people without trusting Jesus. Trusting people comes most freely when we are trusting Jesus most deeply.
Think of what is happening here when Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Jesus is making promises to people who are going to break their promises to him. He is being faithful to people who are going to betray him. He is promising the abiding presence of his Spirit to people who are going to run from him. He is going to the cross to redeem them as they fall away from him to protect themselves. Who does that?
What kind of God rewards the fearful with his unchanging faithfulness? Only Jesus. But these are not empty promises. These are not simply soothing, sentimental words. Jesus is actually going to fall apart for them so they do not fall away from him. He is actually going to offer himself to the cross so God does not cast them away from him.
He tells us we live in this world. It is a world in which we will have trouble. Yet we live in him in this world. We live in him who has overcome the world.
This can change the questions we ask and the answers we seek. In crisis we are always tempted to ask the question, “When will this end?” The promise of the cross urges us to ask a better question, “How will this end?”
What Jesus says to his disciples here is neither idealistic, nor pessimistic; he is being realistic. But he is far more realistic than any of us. He tells us we live in this world. It is a world in which we will have real trouble. Yet we live in him in this world. We live in him who has really overcome the world.
The cross was the Roman emblem of defeat but Jesus turned it into a real symbol of victory over sin, death, evil and the powers of darkness. He has faced the worst the world can do to us, so we can receive the best God can do for us. Because he has overcome the world, we will not be overcome by the world.