Think of the tears in those families blighted by poverty, unemployment, sickness, senile dementia, marriage breakdowns, failure, alcoholism, loneliness, alienation, frailty or death. In real life even the actors know drug addiction, alcoholism, unemployment, marriage breakdown, diet pill addiction, divorce, family bitterness, disease, sexual abuse, and death. Reality is a different world. It is a world from which people want to escape into fantasy.
We live in a real world and we face real issues here in church. Christianity is no escape from reality to fantasy. It makes people face reality and provides inner resources which enable people to turn their sadness into gladness. Many people sad in Sydney this Easter need to find an answer to their tears. So they spend what they cannot afford trying to feel glad. The pursuit of happiness is big business. The $80 million Sega World opened this week testifies to that. But don't send your kids unless they have $50 each. And realise their happiness will not last.
The causes of sadness are complex. *Many people are sad because they lack provision of basic needs. *Many people are sad because their inner guilt weighs them down. *Many people are sad because they lack power adequate for living. *Many people are sad because of poor personal relationships. *Many people are sad because suffering makes life meaningless. *Many people are sad because their heavy sins are unforgiven. *Many people are sad because they feel unaccepted by God. The poet said: "Never morning turn to evening but some poor, sad heart doth break."
Many believe that purchasing things will make them glad, so they spend money they do not have, to buy things they do not need, to find a feeling that does not last. Many believe that gambling makes people glad, so they gamble their possessions away and mortgage their future for a feeling that cannot last. Many believe that eating makes people glad so they try to eat their way to happiness only to be depressed by being overweight. But there is a simpler way to gladness and a lasting joy. Christianity is about turning sadness into gladness. About a happiness that nothing can take from you. It is about finding an answer for your tears. If the twentieth century is marked with despair, depression and death, so also was the first century. The religion of the Jews brought strain. The politics of the Romans brought misery. The philosophy of the Greeks brought pessimism. The world was in dark despair when the heavens rang:
"Joy to the world, the Lord has come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room
and heaven and nature sing!"
Jesus brought gladness into the lives of people. Christianity made a difference to living. There are 24 words in the New Testament that refer to this gladness. They occur 326 times! Christians discovered the answer to their tears!
It was the living Jesus who made the difference! Jesus, when He was about to face the Cross with its painful derision and death, left His closest friends with the most unusual final comment. He declared they would have, ultimately, deep, lasting gladness that nothing could end. Jesus understood the sadness in people, and made them glad instead. God had made us to be happy, but mankind's sin has led to defeat, despair and discouragement. The infection of sin has led the world into sadness and nothing artificial can make us glad. (JOHN 16:17-24)
1. THE REASON FOR SADNESS. Jesus understood the reason why the disciples were sad: "I said, 'In a little while you will not see me, and then a little while later you will see me'. Is this what you are asking about among yourselves? v19. He understood.
Jesus understood the reason why the disciples were sad then. They felt His death would end their friendship, their dreams of God's Kingdom, and their hope of helping people. Jesus recognised death, but knew that death itself could be defeated and its impact last only "a little while". No matter how black that first Good Friday, Easter Sunday was coming!
Jesus understands the reason why we are sad today. People are still defeated by death: their death, death of a marriage, death of a relationship, death of meaning and purpose in life.
That emptiness within cannot be filled with money, possessions, status, success, and things. Nothing we have can fill the aching void within. The Negro slaves in their poverty, hunger and deprivation knew Jesus understands. They sang:
"Nobody knows the troubles I've seen,
nobody knows my sorrows;
Nobody knows the troubles I've seen,
nobody knows, but Jesus"
Jesus understood. He understands you.
2. THE REJOICING OF OTHERS AT OUR SADNESS. "I am telling you the truth: you will cry and weep, but the world will be glad." Imagine people rejoicing over Christians being sad, or despairing, or depressed. But that is a fact. The world: the unbelieving, untrusting, antagonistic and agnostic world, rejoices whenever a Christian is caused to weep. The world cannot stand the Christian's inner joy, absolute certainty, and peace. So when the Christian becomes sad, the world is glad.
With the disciples, it was the death of Jesus which they could see as immanently happening, that made them sad. They would weep as He was taken by brutal soldiers, weep as He was lashed and mistreated, weep as He was forced through the city bearing His cross, weep as He was nailed to the Cross and as He was raised up before the mockery of the crowds. They would weep in the garden of Gethsemane, weep at the Judgement Seat of Pilate called Gabbatha, weep at the foot of the cross on Golgotha, weep at the Garden of Joseph of Arimathea, weep at the entryway to the tomb and weep when they saw the stone, the guard and the seal. Sadness overwhelmed that first Easter.
With us today, we weep for ourselves because of our need, because of treatment by family or friends, or because of our lack of faith that leads to despair. We weep for our city when we see the impact of the wicked and the sinful. We weep for the needy, the poor and the homeless. We weep for the spiritually lost and those who are dying within. This week an 86 year old lady who worships at Wesley Mission told me that every night she weeps for her 56 year old daughter, now three years in an overseas jail for drug smuggling. Leave aside what a 56 year old grandmother was doing smuggling drugs and think of her 86 year old mother! Her daughter's letters revealed that after 3 years of privation she is skin and bone and dying of malnutrition. Her mother sends expensive food parcels, but people in the postal service or the prison loot the goods and nothing arrives. Her daughter is dying and no-one cares! We are contacting Christians in that country to visit her and take food we will buy. But the thoughtless, the selfish and the greedy laugh at our concerns. We weep. The world laughs!
3. THE REVERSAL OF SADNESS TO LASTING GLADNESS. But Jesus said: "You will be sad, but you sadness will turn to gladness. When a woman is about to give birth, she is sad because her hour of suffering has come; but when the baby is born, she forgets her suffering, because she is happy that a baby has been born into the world." v2021. The analogy of the change from sadness to gladness found in every woman's experience of giving birth to a baby seems to be very apt. That was how Jesus described the great reversal of feelings you can experience. Note, that the things that caused sadness can become translated into the things that cause joy.
God transforms experiences that cause sadness into experiences of gladness. "That is how it is with you: now you are sad, but I will see you again, and your hearts will be filled with gladness, the kind of gladness that no one can take away from you." (v22) The disciples were sad until they saw Jesus after the resurrection and an overwhelming sense of gladness filled their lives forever.
That promise also applies to us today. Jesus understands the reasons for our sadness and promises us a great reversal: "Your hearts will be filled with gladness, the kind of gladness that no one can take away from you." (v22) Those who come to know the risen Lord find their tears turned to laughter because of what Jesus does in our midst. Our tears because of need, or because of treatment by family or friends, are turned to joy at God's provision. Our tears for our city are turned to joy when we see how God is converting the sinful. Our tears for the needy, the poor and the homeless are turned to joy when we see God supplying their every need. Our tears for the spiritually lost and those who are dying within are turned to joy when we see the lost coming home and those who are dying finding life abundant. The tears of an 86 year old mother turn to gladness as she discovers there are Christians within and about that jail who will care for her daughter.
The tears of Mary Magdalene at the tomb hide the Risen Christ. But the words:"Woman, why are you weeping?" make her look up as the Master softly says "Mary" and her heart is filled with joy! Easter tells us there is an answer to our tears in the discovery of the presence of the Risen Christ.
No other religion gives to its followers such a sense of joy. The Gospels open with a choir singing in the darkness and ends with a choir singing the Hallelujah Chorus! Jesus alone brings happiness that nothing can take from us:
We are glad our sins are forgiven.
We are glad we are accepted by God fully as we are.
We are glad we are provided with all we need.
We are glad we are free from guilt.
We are glad we are reunited with God.
We are glad we are people of Holy Spirit power.
We are glad we are people who find purpose in pain.
We may not have the things the world believes makes them glad: material possessions, abundant food, vast wealth, social status, business success. But we have an inner happiness that nothing can take from us. We can be glad with or without them, for our "hearts are filled with gladness, the kind of gladness that no one can take away from you."
Mary thought that the body of Jesus had been stolen. The words came: "Woman why are you weeping?" Mary responded "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." How many people in our sad world can resonate with that answer! Mary Magdalene turned and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. He said to her: "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?" Jesus knew the depth of such weeping. "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." But Jesus said, "Mary!" She recognises the voice of the Master and responds: "Rabboni!" Mary found her hope in Jesus. He was the answer to her tears!
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