John 16:16-33 A Riddle to Remember
My Grandmother used to share the following riddle with me and my siblings:
As I was traveling to St. Ives, I met a man with seven wives,
The seven wives had seven sacks,
The seven sacks had seven cats,
The seven cats had seven kittens,
Men, wives, cats and kittens; How many were traveling to St. Ives?
The answer is one (1). Since the “I” was traveling to St. Ives, the man “I” met with the wives and cats was headed away from St Ives. Only one was headed to St. Ives.
Riddles can be a fun way to make people think about what is being said, and also to remember it. In the case of the riddle above, it is merely a way to make the hearer think about what is being said. I do not even know were St. Ives is, much less do I care about how many people were on their way there, or why it matters.
However, the riddle Christ shares with His disciples in today’s text is of lasting importance. He quipped, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again, a little while, and you will see me” (16:16). He is communicating to His disciples what was about to happen in a matter of a few hours. He is talking with his disciples on His way to Gethsemane (see 14:30b & 18:1). When He finished this last topic of His “Upper Room Discourse,” He will pray for His disciples and cross the Kidron Creek into Gethsemane where He will be arrested.
He is telling His disciples, I am going away in “a little while,” but “a little while” later I will return. In the meanwhile, the disciples will be in mourning, but the mourning would turn into joy. In particular, He is preparing His disciples for the events of the next 72 hours. He will be arrested, crucified, buried, and the disciple’s will think their world has come to an end. However, by early Sunday morning, they will hear rumors about His resurrection, and eventually see Him alive and in person by suppertime.
But I believe the message goes much deeper than a riddle about “the next few days.” I believe He is prepping all His disciples of all ages to understand that the sorrows of this moment in this world must be viewed in light of the bigger picture of Christ’s return to earth. I say this because in the prayer Jesus is about to make for His disciples, He prays not only for the disciples before Him, “but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (17:20 ESV). Thus, just as Jesus prays for “all disciples of all ages,” He also is teaching all of us how to live in the “little time” between the first and second comings of Christ.
Let’s look at what He says. First, He calls it “a little while.” We look back in history to a crucifixion about a decade shy of two millennia. And we are forced to ask, why “a little while.” Time is a matter of perspective. When I was young, it seemed a lifetime between Christmases. Now that a few more years have passed, I see them coming more frequently. The same with eternity. We only see 70, 80 or 90 yrs, and feel that is a “life time.” But in light of a Millennial Kingdom (1,000 yrs), it seems short. And in light of eternity, even the Millennium is short.
Thus, life is short, so are our trials. We need to see first that both life and its trials are short in light of our “eternal life.” I am speaking, as was Christ, to those who are believers. If you are not, please come to know Christ and become His disciple. It is the only thing that helps make sense of life as we know it.
Second, we see that the sorrows of the present are for the purpose of greater joy in the future. The amount of pain is superseded by a more than equivalent amount of joy in the future. Christ compares our earthly trials to the pain and joy of child birth. The pain is forgotten in light of the joy of a new birth. The pain of trials of this life will dissipate away in the joy of the world to come.
The third and final point Christ makes has to do with our ability to pray. The disciples are told that they can now go directly to God in prayer, not through any one else, even Christ. The Father can be addressed directly, and He will respond personally. We are told to come directly “in Christ’s name” to the Father.
I learned something about “names” and the value of “names” in working my way through seminary as a bank teller. Every account has a name on it, a person or a business. There is at least one person allowed to “demand payment” (banking term) on that account. In the old days, we had to check “signature cards” to verify a person had the right to “demand payment” on an account. The wrong signature would mean the check is not only “invalid” but “illegal.”
Apply that same idea to what Christ is saying. The Father has an “account” of all the resources of the universe. If I come on my own merits, and attempt to “draw on this account” the check comes back NSF, (non-sufficient funds). I have no right, in and of myself, to draw anything out of God’s account. But since Christ has access to the account, we can “request payment” based on His standing with the Father. That is using His name to draw on the Father’s account. Further we are told that the Father will pay the “demand” (banking term) and answer our request.
Again, I stress, this is for those who have put their faith in Christ, not for every human being. It is important to be a believer in Christ to claim this privilege.
So as we face the problems, trials, and challenges of this world, the world may “rejoice” in our trials, but we know that ultimately Christ wins. And we win when He wins. Therefore, we need to: 1) remember the shortness of our lives and trials, 2) acknowledge the pain of the present will be superseded with the joy of the future, and 3) remember to pray and ask the Father for the things we need not only to survive but to thrive in this present world.
CH Jim Odell