Turning Your Sorrow into Joy

Gary Wilkerson

Christ’s Promises for Turbulent Times

“These things I command you, so that you will love one another. If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:17-18, ESV). Jesus spoke these words to his disciples at the Last Supper, when he knew he was about to be taken away and crucified. He made two things clear to them. First, they were to love one another. To do this was an absolute necessity because of the second thing; they would be hated by the world.

Why would the world focus its hatred on Jesus’s followers? He explained, “I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). Christ distinguished between the world’s way of doing things and his way. As his followers, we are to be different from the world, one which harms, abuses and seeks its own interests. Jesus calls us to do the opposite, to love, serve and forgive; and we can be sure this will offend a darkened world.

We will experience several levels of hatred as Christians.

The most blatant type of hatred we experience is demonic, coming directly from hell. I experienced this most intensely when one of my sons was in the grip of drug addiction. I knew that Satan was out to destroy his life. At one point, my son’s car flipped over on the highway, rolling several times. I’ve never felt the devil’s hatred as deeply as when I heard this news. Thankfully, my son was okay.

A second level of hatred comes from Satan’s representatives on earth, in the form of persecution. I saw this type of hatred on trips to the Middle East, where refugees have been traumatized by seeing their relatives killed. ISIS was persecuting Christians to their deaths, slaughtering those who wouldn’t renounce their faith.

There is also a societal hatred toward followers of Christ, a hatred that is spreading in the Western nations. A few years ago, Christians were labeled intolerant if they believed in the Bible’s teachings. Now the label is worse: Bible believers are labeled bigots and haters.

Finally, there is personal hatred, when someone has it in for you. It could be a neighbor, a coworker or even someone in your family. Personally, I find this kind of hatred hard to handle; it bothers me to be disliked, much less hated. It’s worse when that hatred comes from a fellow Christian.

Jesus’s command to love each other becomes that much more urgent in a global environment of hatred. Amid all the bad news, however, he promised us, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me” (John 15:26). He was assuring us, “The world will grow worse in its hatred of you. You’ll be rejected, persecuted and despised. Don’t worry or be afraid, though. In the midst of it all, the Helper will bring you my peace. He will enable you to walk with all boldness, joy and confidence.”

Why did Jesus warn us about the certainty of the world’s hatred?

Christ said, “I have said all these things to you to keep you” (John 16:16). He knew that when we become targets of the world’s hatred, we’ll be tempted to lose faith. We’ll grow weary, thinking it’s more than we can handle. He warned us ahead of time so that we could call on the Holy Spirit to supply us with a peace this world can’t give. Notice Jesus doesn’t say he’ll stop the world’s hatred of us. Rather, he prays that when we’re persecuted, our faith won’t fail and that we’ll keep believing God’s love for us.

Hard times are coming upon the world; there’s simply no avoiding it. When that happens, we all need to recall Jesus’s warnings, which return to us as a merciful gift. That may sound strange, but in any other area of life, we’re thankful to be warned about things: bad weather, traffic jams, economic recessions. The strange thing is that a lot of pastors won’t warn Christians of difficult spiritual realities. I believe they’re not being faithful to their holy calling. Middle Eastern Christians face the point of a sword yet still proclaim their love for Jesus; do western Christians have the same resilient faith?

Jesus knew his disciples weren’t ready. “Now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart” (John 16:5-6).

Jesus took the need for judgment completely out of our hands.

“If I go, I will send him [the Helper] to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:7-11).

With these words, Jesus removed all judgment from our hands. This is crucial because as we face the world’s hatred, we’ll be tempted to retaliate as Peter did. Jesus made it clear that he’s going to do all the judging. One day soon, the source of all hatred in the world—the originator of sorrow, suffering and persecution—will be thrown into a lake of fire.

Jesus didn’t stop there. He assured us that when we’re most discouraged and without hope, the Helper will come to us with words of life. “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine” (John 16:14-15). Jesus assured us, “When you’re being hated and persecuted, the Holy Spirit will remind you who sits on heaven’s throne. When you can’t see any way forward, he will reveal the Father to you and give you strength.”

Christ then told his disciples something that speaks powerfully to me. “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me” (John 16:16). Jesus was speaking in literal terms here, indicating his physical absence from them; yet this also speaks to any follower today who has felt his absence in their life. Have you had such dark, turbulent periods when you thought God was nowhere near? My hardest times were when I faced a personal storm without any sense of his presence. I pled, “God, where are you? I can’t handle this on my own. Why have you left me alone?”

Jesus predicted such times for us. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice” (John 16:20). Maybe your lament will be over a prodigal child who causes you to weep bitter tears. Maybe your marriage has shown signs of fracture. Maybe the hatred you face on your job is becoming too much.

The Lord doesn’t leave us there. Jesus said, “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 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. 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” (John 16:20-22).

What a turnaround! For a long while, we may walk in lament, pressing forward in faith despite our pain. Then in an instant, Jesus said, our sorrow will be turned into joy. The turning we’ll experience is a full 180 degrees from sadness and sorrow to peace, grace and power. Our circumstances may not change, but our hearts will.

If you’re in sorrow right now, you may not be able to comprehend the peace that will come to you, but you can know ahead of time that it is yours. As Jesus told his disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:12-13).

What does Jesus say to us when we’re the ones doing the hating?

Christ told the disciples, “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone” (John 16:31-32). Even those with strong faith are capable of abandoning Jesus and hating each other. When we commit this sin, however, Jesus promises a 180-degree turn if we repent.

I cringe over memories of hurtful things I’ve said and done to others. Maybe you slump over at the thought of your parenting mistakes. Maybe you wither over terrible things you’ve said to your spouse, things you can never take back. God’s grace makes a way even through these dark places.

Jesus assured the 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” (John 16:33, my emphasis). Here is our answer: He has overcome, and all that we need is found in him. He commands us, “Take heart,” meaning, “Have courage. Be bold. Walk with the undaunted resolution that God is with you, so therefore who can be against you?”

Our Savior has overcome the world. Whether you’re bent over with sorrow or you struggle over sin, this is all you need to know. Take heart; he makes the way for you, turning your path of lament into a walk of joy. Thanks be to our great God who graces us in and through all things. Amen.