The Joy of Rightly Placed Affections
Truth Taught- The cross of Jesus Christ has put to death eternal sorrow and His resurrection awakens immeasurable joy in all His followers
In his classic book Mere Christianity, former atheist C. S. Lewis offers a profound insight into the psychological engine that pulls along the entire train of human experience: “All that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.” Simply put, the driving motive in history is the desire for happiness. All sin, from slavery to prostitution to racism to terrorism to extortion to the sparks that ignite world wars—all are driven by a desire for happiness apart from God. In one sentence, Lewis jabs a steel dental probe into the raw, unmediated nerve of atheism. The greatest hazard we face is not intellectual atheism— denying that God exists. Our most desperate problem is affectional atheism—refusing to believe God is the object of our greatest and most enduring joy. This is the heart of our foolishness. The fool speaks from the depths of his affections and longings and declares: God is irrelevant (Ps. 14:1). This is the affectional atheism that plagues every heart.
Jesus reminds all today through this passage that to place our affections ultimately anywhere else is to always come up short. The eternal joy Christ has in mind can only be found when our hearts are fixed on God and we follow Christ with all our hearts…that will be for us true and lasting happiness.
Our need today that is met through this passage is our need to understand where true and lasting joy is found and then to secure it through Jesus Christ.
Father, You have Gathered Your people that You may let us hear Your words, so that we may learn to fear You all the days that we live on the earth, and that we may also teach our children…amen
John 16:16–24 (ESV)
16 “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” 18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” 19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 20 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. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 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. 23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
16 “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” 18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” 19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 20 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
Here we see a prime example of humanity’s wrong expectations and misplaced affections when it came to Jesus’ messianic reign. The disciples were all ready to join Jesus as He triumphed over the enemy and set up His kingdom. They thought as everyone probably would that the fullness of the Kingdom of God was about to be ushered in.
It did begin with Jesus’ entrance into the world and He preached the Kingdom of God is at hand but it would not be as the disciples thought. The Kingdom of God is an already and not yet Kingdom. It has already began. In fact, when we are saved we are taken from the domain of darkness and translated to the Kingdom of light. At the same time, the fullness of God’s Kingdom will only take place when our Lord someday returns.
Jesus in just a little while, hours to be exact, will be going to the cross and His followers will see Him no more.
The cross was the most horrific event the world has ever seen. Jesus has already told the disciples that they will be devastated as they witness the cross event. The will be deeply troubled and weep. Their hearts will break as they see their Lord tried by sinners, scourged, mocked, mistreated, crucified and then die. How could this happen to One who claims deity? How could the One who Himself raised the dead, die? Was it all a scam?
Our Lord told them these things ahead of time and sought to explain them knowing full well that the disciples would not really understand.
There hearts and dreams for the future were shattered because of the cross.
It wasn’t just the cross that broke their hearts it was also the cause of the cross. Why did Jesus go to the cross? Why was He crucified?
The reality is that it was our sins that took Jesus to the cross. He was crucified for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.
Isaiah 53:4–6 (ESV)
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
Charles Spurgeon is quoted as saying, The sword which pierced His heart through and through was forged by our offences: the vengeance was due for sins which we had committed, and justice exacted its rights at His hands.
Here, Jesus refers to His resurrection. After a little while (three days) they will see Him again. When they see Him again their deep and dark sorrow will immediately turn to joy.
You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy
This is much like what David sang about in the Psalms…
Psalm 30:5 (ESV)
5 For his anger is but for a moment,
and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
One part of what Jesus says here that we must understand is that He is not saying that the sorrow of the cross would be replaced by joy but that it would turn into joy. The point I’d like to make here is that the resurrection causes us to reevaluate the cross. The apostles, when they wrote about the cross, wrote with wonder and awe of what God accomplished through the cross. The anguish and grief of the cross was still there but now because of the resurrection they can write about it with wonder. We sing about the cross because of the resurrection. With no resurrection there would be no cross-focused songs. We sing because the event of the cross has monumental purposes for us. It was the punishment for our sin. It was the wrath of God poured out on His only begotten Son. Because of what the cross accomplished for us the very anguish is seen as joy. As we understand and gain accurate knowledge concerning the crucifixion we too can stand in wonder at all God accomplished for us. Our guilt and trouble also turns into joy.
Look at how the Apostles wrote about the cross after they also witnessed the resurrection…
1 Corinthians 2:2 (ESV)
2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Galatians 6:14 (ESV)
14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
1 Peter 1:19 (ESV)
19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
Revelation 5:9–10 (ESV)
9 And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
Are you a happy and joyful Christian? Has Jesus turned your sorrow over sin into joy due to His miraculous feat of atoning work?
Believer why do you hold on to sorrow when Jesus said it will turn to joy? Are we somehow trying to punish ourselves as we hold to guilt of sin? Jesus tells us that our sorrow will turn to joy. Are you a happy and joyful Christian because you fully see that Christ’s death was sufficient to remove ALL your sin from you? If you’re not joyful as a Christian, you must repent. You may be an affectional atheist, seeking joy in other places. Your lack of joy is the twisted fallen way to rebel against all Christ has accomplished for you. To hold on to sorrow is to declare Jesus’ work insufficient. The cross did not set you free from sin and guilt and the resurrection of our Lord has not turned sorrow to joy. Why would we ever hold on to something Jesus has paid His life for to remove?
The writer of Hebrews tells us that one reason Jesus went to the cross was for His own joy…
Hebrews 12:2 (ESV)
2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Our Lord’s joy is nothing less than knowing that His shed blood would redeem His people from their sin. His joy is found in obedience to the Father and here especially in light of His Father’s mission to set a people free from their sin.
Again we look to Spurgeon for a further explanation…
Heartily do we lament our sin, but we do not lament that Christ put it away nor lament the death by which He put it away; rather do our hearts rejoice in all His atoning agonies, and glory at every mention of that death by which He has reconciled us to God…It is a joy to think that He has taken on Himself our personal sin and carried it right away—Spurgeon
Church, when you begin to travel back into guilt and sorrow due to your sin, repent and ask God’s forgiveness and remind yourself that to harbor these feelings is to think Jesus’ death was not enough to separate you from your sin, not enough to remove them as far as the east is from the west and not enough to cast them into the depths of the sea.
21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.
Our Lord many times in the Gospels referred to the time of the cross, His hour.
John 2:4 (ESV)
4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”
John 7:30 (ESV)
30 So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.
Jesus compares the time of the cross to an expectant mother. She has sorrow because her time has come, the time to give birth.
In much the same way, His followers would experience sorrow as Jesus is crucified but that sorrow will not last. It will turn into joy. Just like the mother’s sorrow turns into joy as she holds her newborn so too when the disciples look upon Jesus after the resurrection they too will experience great joy.
Jesus is really bringing at least two things into view here.
The first is that sorrow is being converted into full joy. As the new mother looks at her newborn she forgets the pain in childbirth because her pain is gone and her joy is full and complete. In the same way the disciples will experience sorrow now but their sorrow will turn into joy that is indescribable. The same for Jesus, His pain will also turn to joy as He has completed His mission to die for His people.
The second is that without the pain there would be no joy. Unless the mother experiences the pain of childbearing she could never experience the joy of holding her newborn. In the same way, if Jesus and the disciples do not experience the sorrow and the pain of the cross there will be no joy. Joy takes place when Jesus completes His mission and gathers His people home. Joy takes place in us as we are redeemed and adopted into God’s family. All this is to be found on the other side of pain and sorrow.
22 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. 23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
Here our Lord shows us in another example of what it looks like when sorrow is converted into joy. He does it by giving His first disciples and us a promise. The promise is that the joy He speaks of is eternal joy. It’s promised to ALL who follow Jesus Christ.
Jesus promises that when His followers see Him again (and we now it’s after the resurrection) they will rejoice much like a new mother rejoices.
Our Lord uses a phrase that has significance to it. He says that in that day. When the New Covenant is birthed like a new born baby this will be very different for the disciples. In that day refers to a future day when Jesus is resurrected, when the Holy Spirit is poured out on all His followers and when they are no longer plagued by uncertainty. They will no longer ask Him anything. The picture is they won’t ask Him the questions they did before…
17 So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” 18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.”
They will be confident in the new dispensation. After the resurrection and the New Covenant has been birthed the followers of Christ will have complete access to the Father through the shed blood of Jesus.
23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.
Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)
16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
So now on the other side of the cross and as we live in the New Covenant era we can access God the Father and pray to Him in the name of Jesus Christ and receive what we pray for.
Jesus promises this and then closes with the reassurance that this joy will never be taken away from us and that our joy will be full,
The Joy our Lord speaks of is eternal because it is found in the eternal God. We have access to Him based solely on the finished work of Christ. Jesus has gained access to the Father for us. Only when our joy is found in God will it be eternal and full. Only when our affections cling to God will our Joy last forever.
Are you an Affectional Atheist? Do you seek joy in other places besides God?
Look back through your life and ask God to show you things that you thought would bring you joy…did they?
Only when we seek joy in God will it last.
I pray your life now as a believer is not like CS Lewis’ assessment of human history seeking joy in everything else but in God.
Fix your affections on Jesus Christ and find true and lasting joy and happiness.
**Commentaries Used: Gospel of John by Ridderbos, John Vol 2 by Phillips