Acts 18:23-28; John 16:23b-28
All this week we have been reflecting on the Lord’s words from the final discourse in John’s gospel. Again and again Jesus is alerting his disciples that he will soon leave them but that they will be taken care of when he is gone. The lines before today’s reading (Jn 16 ff) repeat the theme. “In a short time you will no longer see me, and then a short time later you will see me again.” Jesus used the dramatic example of a women in childbirth: “A women in childbirth suffers, because her time has come; but when she has given birth to the child she forgets the suffering.”
The gospel story of Jesus’ final discourse is like a modern “before and after” consideration. Whether this is in a weight loss program or a make-over of a junk auto story, we feel good about these stories when a good change in made. The gospel moment that Jesus is describing is hard for us to handle. From before creation and before time and space were created, the Blessed Trinity existed in a wonderful union of minds and hearts. But then in order to save us, “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not be lost but may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16)
This led to that unbelievable moment in our time when almighty God took on our human nature and became like us in all ways but sin. This is described in an early church hymn found in Phil 2:6 ff “His state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.”
Then years later, after growing up in age, wisdom, knowledge and respect for the Lord, we see Jesus in his public life working wonderful miracles of healing and teaching new ways to live one’s life morally. But Jesus knew where he is headed, as the Messiah, as the suffering servant of Isaiah into the harsh rejection by the religious leadership which ends in the passion and death of the Messiah.
Jesus after the resurrection encounters his disciples on several occasions but he was clearly different and lets his friends know that soon he would be gone and the disciples would have to follow him in a different way. They would have to be strengthened with the gift of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost and then go out boldly and spread the message of love and care that Jesus gave them: to hear the cry of the poor, to set prisoners free, to give sight to the blind, etc.
That unbelievable moment of the incarnation is now in our time book-ended with his ascension into heaven. This is the true “before and after” story that we need to live as applied to Jesus from the incarnation to the ascension. We, all of us, need to, with God’s grace, change from our selfishness and pettiness to be a Christian that is a good example to others of how to live a holy, moral and supportive life all for the greater glory and honor of Our Lord. Then our own life story will have a proper before and after passage that leads us to the heavenly prize.
By Paul Mahowald