“Tribulation and Peace, Guaranteed” (John 16:23-33)
There are very few guarantees in life, very few things you can be sure of. For instance, there are no guarantees about the success of your baseball team. The Chicago Cubs were riding high in April, but who knows if they will be shot down in May? No guarantees. You have no guarantee that you’re going to be rich, or, if you are, that you’re going to stay that way. Things could go south in a hurry. You have no guarantee about your health. You could be fit as a fiddle one year and then come down with a mysterious disease the next. No guarantees. But today I want to tell you about two things you can be sure of, and they are these: “Tribulation and Peace, Guaranteed.”
Tribulation and peace. Two things you can be sure of, two things you can count on, that are guaranteed to come your way if you are a Christian.
Let’s start with tribulation. “Tribulation” is just a big fancy word for “trouble.” This is something you can expect, this experience of tribulation. Jesus tells his disciples as much in the Holy Gospel for today, from John 16. He says, “In the world you will have tribulation.” Notice, it’s not you “might” have tribulation. No, you “will” have tribulation. It’s guaranteed. If you’re in the world, you will have trouble.
In Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” there are three witches standing around a big cauldron, stirring the pot and chanting, “Double, double, toil and trouble. Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.” But you don’t have to have a group of witches brewing up trouble and casting a spell in order for you to have trouble. You’re pretty sure to get it one way or the other without the aid of witches.
And that trouble can come in various forms and from various sources. There is the trouble that comes simply from living in a fallen world. Things don’t work right. Cars break down. Nature doesn’t work right. Tornados and hail damage and flooding. People don’t do the right thing. They do things that hurt us, whether directly or indirectly. Economic decisions, way above our heads, cost us money. Or, more directly, thieves break in and steal our stuff. There’s emotional hurt, too. People we care about betray us and break our hearts. People we love–we see them suffering, and we suffer, too. We lose the people we love, whether to death or to distance, and we miss them. All these are troubles we face simply by living in a fallen world, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a Christian or not. You’ve got your troubles; I’ve got mine. But the point is, we’ve all got them, in one form or another.
So those are troubles coming at us from the outside. But then there are the troubles we bring on ourselves. Foolish decisions we make that we later regret. Dumb things we do, when we should have known better. Disregarding the wise counsel that friends or family members have given us, and we see later that they were right. Most importantly, disregarding and disobeying God’s word about the right way to live. That’s called sin, and we ourselves are responsible for that. God gives us his commandments for our own good. Our Creator knows the best way for his creatures to live. And when we don’t listen to God, when we tune him out, we bring trouble on ourselves. Again, this is something that we all do, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a Christian or not.
But then there is the trouble, there is the tribulation, that Christians in particular endure. And that, I think, is what Jesus is especially talking about when he tells his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation.” The whole context in these chapters of John is about how things are going to be different now that Jesus is going away and returning to his Father. Life is about to get a whole lot more difficult for the disciples. Remember, Jesus is saying this on the night in which he is about to be betrayed, arrested, and put on trial. In the morning he will be taken to the Roman governor, scourged, mocked, unjustly sentenced, and put to death on a cross. You want to talk about trouble? That’s trouble! And the world that hated Jesus is going to hate his followers, too. Disciples get treated like their master. So Jesus is preparing them for that. He’s preparing us. “In the world you will have tribulation.”
Whether back in the first century or now in the twenty-first century, the followers of Jesus have always been facing tribulation in the world. This world is a hostile place for Christians. The values of the world conflict with what Christians believe and how we are to live. Think of all the evils that are considered good in the eyes of the world these days: abortion, gay marriage, greed, gambling, divorce, shacking up, sexual immorality of every conceivable form. The world calls evil good and good evil. They not only do these things but give approval to those who do them.
It’s no surprise, then, that the world is so hostile to Christians. If Christians call a thing what it is, if we call sin “sin,” if we know and say and demonstrate by our lives that certain behaviors are right and certain behaviors are wrong, and that this is what God himself says about the matter–well, then we represent a threat to what the world wants to do. What’s more, trusting in God and his goodness, believing that salvation is to be found in Jesus Christ alone and not in the false gods of man’s own making–we represent a condemnation of all idolatry and false belief. When we say that all men are sinners and are not righteous in themselves and that all people need the righteousness found only in Christ, this goes against the pride of mankind, and the world will hate us for it. And so we stand in the crosshairs of the world. The world will hate us, because they first hated Christ. Thus we can expect, we can count on the fact, that in this world we will have tribulation, just as Jesus said we would. It’s guaranteed.
Tribulation, trouble. “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows my sorrow.” I’m sure we all feel that way at times. And when you’re in it, when those troubles are pressing in, that really is how it feels. When you’re down in the pit, you do feel all alone. But remember, your brothers and your sisters here in this family called the church–we also have been through the storms, and we are called to care for and support one another when we see a sister or brother who is hurting. As it says in 2 Corinthians: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus.” That’s the big thing, isn’t it? Jesus knows what we’re going through. He is the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. We have a high priest, now ascended at the right hand of God, who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses and our troubles. “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.” “Cast your cares on him, for he careth for you.” “Call upon me in the day of trouble,” God says, “I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
So, tribulation is guaranteed. But also, peace is guaranteed. Listen again to what Jesus says to his disciples: “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.” Likewise, earlier in this same discourse, Jesus says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
Peace, the peace of God in Christ–this peace, which the world cannot give, Jesus gives to you. It’s a peace that the world cannot take away. Even in the midst of tribulation–especially in the midst of tribulation–you have this peace to comfort and quiet your soul. In the world you will have tribulation. In Christ you have peace. Guaranteed.
Now this is not just happy talk, a denial of reality. This is not wishful thinking or a whistling past the graveyard. This is not saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. No, there really is this peace, objectively so. It exists; it is objectively established. This peace is a reality, even when we can’t see it or feel it. This is the peace that Christ has established by his death on the cross and his resurrection from the tomb. Christ Jesus made this peace in his body on the cross. Jesus made peace between heaven and earth, between God and man. Our sins had alienated us from God, we were by nature enemies of God, but Christ now has reconciled us back to God, establishing peace.
His cross, therefore, is our bridge across troubled waters. When we are in trouble, when we are experiencing tribulation of any sort, we know that we are at peace with God, and that changes everything. Whatever the worst is that the world can do to us, whatever is the worst that life in this fallen world can dish out at us, we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. God is at peace with us, we are at peace with God, and nothing can disturb that.
And so this objective peace, established by Christ, brings a subjective peace–dare I say it, the feeling of peace–to our hearts and minds and souls. This is a great comfort and relief in the midst of sorrows. For we know that right now our heavenly Father is watching over us and cares for us. We know that right now our Savior Jesus Christ knows each one of us by name, and he is interceding for us, and he is ruling all things for the sake of his church. We have the Holy Spirit speaking peace to our hearts.
And we know that ahead of us, when this brief life of tribulation comes to an end, there is the eternal peace and joy of the life to come. We will join that white-robed multitude who have come out of the great tribulation and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Dear friends, you who have been baptized in the name of Jesus and are trusting in him for your salvation: Your names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. You have a place reserved in the holy city, the new Jerusalem. That too is guaranteed. Life and light will fill that city. God and all the saints will be there. And so will you and I be there, ever rejoicing.
And it is all because of the peace won and established by Christ. He has overcome the world. He forgives our sins. The peace he gives is greater than our troubles. His peace is greater than our feelings. This peace is yours today, and it will get you through tomorrow. Guaranteed.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.