Take Heart! COVID-19 Easter Sermon
A warm welcome to everyone joining us via live stream. Despite our circumstances, I am very encouraged this morning. I’m encouraged because the gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be stopped. No virus can suppress the message of the gospel. Nothing can thwart or stop it’s progress. God’s truth will go forth. And it is going forth. I’m so encouraged to have seen all your testimonies on social media. So many of you posted powerful testimonies of God’s grace. Amen. Kathryn, my wife, went out running yesterday (don’t ask me why she runs. Why would anyone do that?) and she told me that she saw that someone had written our church’s website and the times of our Good Friday and Easter services on the sidewalk with chalk in the gulch. That’s so cool. Praise the Lord for that. It is so encouraging to see our people, our church members trying to engage the community by inviting them to hear the gospel. I’m encouraged this morning, dear friend. And most importantly, I’m encouraged because Jesus’ isn’t dead. What hope we have dear, friend. That is why we share our testimonies. That is why we invite people to church. That is why I’m up here this morning, because Jesus is risen from the dead.
This morning we will be tackling an amazing passage. A truly amazing passage. Turn with me to John 16:33. This is what 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.
The last part of this verse, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world,” will be the portion of v. 33 that we focus on this morning.
From this passage, I have three points for you this morning. Three truths from God’s word this morning on this wonderful Easter morning. The first two points will be theological observations of the text, and the last point will be a point of application.
Life is Hard
My first point this morning is this: “A world of suffering.” I get this point directly from what Jesus says in v. 33. Jesus says, “In the world you will have tribulation.”
To understand what Jesus is saying here, we must first understand what this word, “tribulation,” means. Tribulation is a somewhat archaic English word. That might not be the best way to understand the Greek word here. Other English words that we can use to describe the Greek word here are “trouble, distress, difficulty, suffering.”
Jesus is saying to his disciples that life will be hard for them. Jesus is here preparing his disciples for what will come to them after he is resurrected. He is preparing them for the hard road ahead. By Chapter 16 in the Gospel of John 16, the chapter where this verse comes from, we are getting close to Jesus’ death. As he prepares for his own death, Jesus is preparing his disciples for their death. As the disciples go out into the world to preach the gospel, they will have trouble. Jesus is foretelling that to them here. He is saying to them, “The road will be marked with difficulty. Be prepared.”
This difficulty is something that all Christians experience in this life. This truth of tribulation, trial, difficulty, and suffering was not just true for Jesus disciples in the first century. It is true for all Christians. Central to the calling of Christianity is perseverance through difficulty, suffering, and persecution. Think of all the trials that Christians go through:
Depression, cancer, trauma, abuse, death, losing your spouse, losing a child, singleness, infertility, anxiety, depression, insomnia, rape, loneliness, sickness, poverty, failure, criticism, physical pain, rejection, meaninglessness, temptation, ongoing sin and its consequences, getting laid off from work, divorce, being a single parent, being victimized, stress.
All of these are trials that Christians can go through. Being a Christian does not make you immune or exempt from life’s difficulties. When Jesus saves us, he does not always take away our trials. Instead, he gives us the grace to go through those trials. Some Christians can experience some tremendously difficult trials and tribulations. Periods of testing and refinement. This is part and parcel to the Christian life. In these trials, we might be persecuted for our faith. Or, we might get cancer at a young age. The tribulations of the Christian life are many.
Further, non-Christians have trouble, too. This difficulty that Jesus mentions is applicable to his disciples, to Christians, and to non-Christians. Non-Christians experience difficulty just like Christians do. They get flat tires, their children die, they get cancer, they get depressed, anxious, and fearful in very similar ways that Christians do. They get COVID-19 at the same rate.
What all this means is that life is hard. Life is difficult. This life is filled with difficulty, pain, and trial.
To press this point even more, I want you to notice the tense of the verb that Jesus uses here. The ESV reads, “You will have tribulation.” The verb here is “will have.” Based upon the way the ESV renders the verb, it seems that Jesus is referring to the future reality. It’s almost like he’s saying to his disciples, “Tribulation is in the future; it’s coming; it’s something to get prepared for.”
The verb here is actually present tense. Jesus is not saying that you will have tribulation in the future. He is not saying this is just a future reality. He is saying that characteristic of life in this world is trouble and distress. He is saying that in every age and in every place, his disciples, Christians, and non-Christians experience suffering. At all times and in all places, suffering is real.
In the World
Jesus specifies the location of this suffering, difficulty, and tribulation, within a specific place. Notice the prepositional phrase, “In the world.” Jesus specifies that suffering and diificulty are characteristic within a location. And that location is “in the world.” That “world” is the present existence. The current age.
The Bible teaches that this world is different than the world that existed before sin and different than the world that will exist once Jesus returns. This world is marked by sin, guilt, and death.
This world has been cursed. This world is ruled by the devil. This world is marked by evil and rebellion. Jesus is saying in this world, not in the world that existed before sin or in the world that will exist when Jesus returns, there is difficulty, struggle, and trial. We have this difficulty in the here and now. A characteristic of this current existence is difficulty, pain, and misery.
The importance of capturing this first truth—that there is difficulty in this world—is tied to capturing the second truth that Jesus speaks in this passage. That second truth is found in what Jesus says at the end of v. 33. Jesus says: “I have overcome the world.” I have overcome the world. This portion of v. 33 leads us to our second point this morning. Our second point is this: “Jesus Conquerors.”
That Jesus Has Conquered
The first idea in this portion of John 16:33 that I want to tackle is this idea of “overcoming.” Jesus says, “I have overcome.” What does that mean? Another way to translate this verb is with the word “conquer.” Jesus has overcome the world. That is, he has conquered the world. To conquer means to vanquish, to claim victory during obstacles and forces that prevent that victory. Jesus has conquered, he has overcome, he has attain the victory. Jesus is the true hero. He is the hero upon which every other hero models their lives. Jesus is the victor, the conquer.
What Jesus Conquered
And Jesus specifies what it is that he has conquered. He has conquered, he says, “the world.” Now, “world” here is a bit different than “world” mentioned with our previous point. “World” in our previous point meant “the current age,” “the current order of reality.” “World” in the second part should be understood a bit differently.
To better understand what Jesus has conquered, listen to what the book of 1 John says. This reference is 1 John 2:15. John writes this,
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
Notice that the same word that occurs in our John 16:33 passage also occurs in this passage in 1 John 2:15. “World” in this 1 John 2:15 passage refers to an evil reality. A reality that is opposed to the work of God in the world, in the current age. Christians are not supposed to love this evil world. John mentions that this evil world is characterized by sin. Specifically, it is characterized by the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life. This evil world is passing away. It will come to an end. This evil world is opposed to God.
That is the world, this evil world, that Jesus says he has overcome in John 16:33, our passage this morning. Jesus has overcome our sin. He has vanquished it. He has overcome it and destroyed it. Sin no longer has a hold on Christians.
He has also overcome the consequence of our sin—death. Death is a penalty placed upon mankind by God for his sins. Jesus overcame that.
Also, Jesus overcame the demonic forces that have held mankind captive. As of yet, I have not talked about these forces very much from the pulpit. I mostly talk about sin as what it is that separates us from God. And I believe that is true. If you sin, it’s not because the devil made you do it. You sin because of your sin nature. I believe that. However, the devil and demonic forces are real. And these forces rule the world. These demonic forces do all that they can to turn us from the living God. They influence society with lies and deceit so that people do not follow Jesus Christ. Jesus conquered these forces.
I saw I picture this morning that beautifully demonstrates Jesus victory over demonic forces. The picture was of Jesus’ descent into the abyss that occurs in between Jesus death and resurrection. In this picture, the OT saints all have their hands lifted up as Jesus walks to them with his hands raised in victory. Underneath Jesus feat, is the devil’s skull. In the picture, Jesus is stepping on the devil’s head. He crushes it. That is what Genesis 3:15 predicts. Jesus has crushed the head of the Serpent, that ancient foe the Devil. Jesus is victor over the demonic forces.
How Jesus Conquered
Jesus conquered the world by means of his life, death, and resurrection. In his life, he overcome the forces of darkness by means of obedience to the Father’s will by means of the Spirit. He acted in a way that Israel was supposed to act but failed to do. He was faithful, true, and good. He performed miracles, healed the sick, and served others. He modeled true godliness. He modeled true live. He obeyed God perfectly. He fulfilled the law for us. In his death, he brought upon himself the guilt of mankind and died the death that mankind deserved. He died for suffered, blead, and died for you. Death, though, did not have the final say on Jesus. Jesus is not dead. We proclaim not a dead Savior, but a living one. One who can meet your every need. Jesus was raised from the dead by the Father and the Spirit. Now he reigns in heaven, providing forgiveness, hope, peace, and joy to people from every tribe, nation, and tongue.
Where does all of this leave us? Jesus gives us one exhortation in this passage. Looking back again at John 16:33. Jesus says,
This is our third point this morning. It is, “Take Heart!”
In this commandment, we find the summary and the application of the sermon. The verb beautifully pulls together the two points of the sermon. This word here is defined this way:
To be firm or resolute in the face of danger or adverse circumstances
We are called by Jesus with this verb to have confidence and strength in the midst of trials and difficulties. These trials I touched on at the beginning of the sermon with my first point. My first point was, “Life is hard.” So many difficulties come our way in this life. I detailed those already. This verb, “take heart,” accounts for those difficulties. Jesus is telling us that, yes, difficulties will come, and when they do we are to be courageous. And that courage in the trials and
difficulties is established on my second point. My second point was, “Jesus is Victorious.” The reason why we have courage in life’s difficulties is because Jesus has already conqueror those difficulties. This courage is real. It should be just as real as Jesus’ victory over the dead.
Avoiding Irrational Optimist
There are two tendencies, though, that prevent us from having this type of courage. These two tendencies are irrational optimism and soul-rotting pessimism.
The first is irrational optimism. Regardless how life is going, regardless of how difficult their struggle is, they always have a smile on their face and they always have a positive outlook. There are many dear brothers and sisters who attend this church who are this way. This can be a wonderful gift from God. To always have a positive outlook regardless of how dark the situation seems is a blessing from God. Their arm could get chopped off and they would respond, “God is good.”
There is also a danger here, though. And the danger is this. Some people have an optimism that prevents them from accepting what Jesus says here. These people might rely on their optimism as a way to not really address the difficulty of life. Like an alcoholic who turns to the bottle for comfort; or a drug addict who turns some substance to escape their pain; some people turn to their optimism to provide for themselves a false sense of comfort and safety. The form a defense mechanism that prevents them from really thinking about the difficulty of life. By thinking about it, it makes the difficulty real. Might as well not think about it and act like everything is going great.
The reality is, though, is that life is hard. Suffering is real. Pain can be constant. Some people run from those truths. They act as if everything is peachy and okay. In the Midwest, this attitude is very prominent.
Dear friends, in life, there will be times when everything is no okay. There are times when we must, absolutely must say, that in this world we have tribulations. Yes, there are times for rejoicing. Yes, there are times of victory, success, and celebration. But there are also times for lament, for weeping, and for soberness. Don’t run from what Jesus says here. Don’t suppress this idea with an optimism that prevents you from facing reality, a world that is marked by tribulation. It’s necessary to agree with what Jesus says here regarding the difficulty of life.
Avoiding Soul-rotting Pessimism
On the other hand, there is another tendency that we want to avoid. The first tendency was “avoiding irrational optimism.” The second tendency I want us to avoid is “soul-rotting pessimism.”
Just as there are some people who can fail to recognize the difficulties of the world, who run from any bad news and who always pretend that everything is okay even when they are struggling, there are those who no matter what’s going in life they are pessimistic. They self-pity, sulk, grumble, complain, and are self-absorbed. When you try to offer a word of encouragement, they might role their eyes and make some type of insult to you. They shoulders are always
slouched, and they always have something negative to say, regardless of how great life is. This, too, is a tendency in people.
These people are very hard to be around. Their grumpiness and pessimism tends to overflow from them and can effect a whole room. Let’s say you have a father of a loving wife and joyful kids who comes home from a hard day of work and rather than loving and greeting his family, he sulks and withdraws from the home life. This pessimism overflows and leads to everyone being discouraged. Overly pessimistic people are difficult to be around.
If this is you this morning, you fail to obey this commandment. This commandment is one of hope, victory, and strength. If you’re constantly pessimistic, downcast, and self-absorbed in your own pity party, you’re not obeying this commandment. And this is a commandment. You fail to have hope. We must have hope. This is not just a suggestion. This is a command. Jesus is commanding the pessimistic to hope in him, to have courage in him.
Be bold, dear friend. Refuse self-pity and defeat. Stop being self and self-consumed. Look what Christ has done for you. He gave his life to give you hope. He doesn’t need you to help him. All you need to do is to shift your gaze away from yourself and shift it on Jesus.
I want to conclude this morning with a message to the non-Christian. This idea of struggle, difficulty, and trial should be something that we can all agree on. We can and should all agree on is that what Jesus says here is true. Jesus is correct when he says to us that in this world you will have tribulation. That is something we can all agree here. Especially in light of this pandemic, we all struggle. The Bible teaches it and our experience affirms it. This life, this world, this current existence is marked by struggle, trial, and difficulty.
Something else that we can also agree on is the we all desire deliverance from the troubles of this world. We are all looking for hope, purpose, and meaning in the difficulty. We all long in our hearts to be rescued, to be delivered, to be saved from the difficulties of this world. That is a deep longing in the human heart. All people experience difficulty, and all people want deliverance from the difficulty.
I want you to see, non-Christian, the power of the gospel. Jesus recognizes the difficulty. We already covered that in length. By recognizing the difficulty, Jesus is able to reach to the deepest parts of who we are. The parts that hurt, that are lost, and that are confused. And Jesus says to you, dear friend, that he is the way of your salvation, he is your deliverance. He has lived, died, and risen again. He is not dead. He is alive. And he offers you this morning deliverance from your present plight—from your sin, from your sins consequences, and from the devil. He offers that to you. Will you believe in him? Will you give him your life—your everything? That is what Jesus requires of you this morning. Give him your sin and your pain. And he will give you eternal life.