“In a Little While”
Easter 5, April 24, 2016
In a Little While
Text: John 16:12–22
Question: What occurs once in every minute, twice in every moment, yet never in a thousand years? The answer: the letter m.
Riddles can be fun, but they can also make you crazy, right? Let’s try another. Who makes it, has no need of it. Who buys it, does not use it. Who uses it, can neither see it nor feel it. What is it? I’m going to make you wait…
If I have puzzled you here, and I truly hope that I have, we note that in a similar way, the disciples reacted with puzzlement to the words Jesus spoke to them in our Gospel today: “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me” (v 16). It sounds a little bit like a riddle. To us, looking back, we may think that it’s not much of a riddle. We know that In a Little While the Lord Would Bring Redemption, Life, and Salvation into the World. But even now, we might ask, “How long is a little while?”
Well, how about tomorrow and in three days? Is that “a little while . . . and again a little while”? Well let’s back up a little bit. We’re in the season of Easter, but this text takes place Maundy Thursday night. “In a little while,” that is tomorrow in reference to our text, Jesus will go to His death. In a little while the disciples will hear about Jesus being beaten, hanging on a cross, dead—and then see Him no longer when the stone on the grave slams shut.
Jesus had told the disciples earlier that this departure was for their benefit, but at that time, in that moment, they were completely unable to grasp that. Elsewhere in the Gospels when Jesus first announced what was going to happen, Peter said “No way, Jesus!” Do you remember that? They just didn’t realize Jesus’ death would be for their redemption, life, salvation. They thought at that point that having Jesus visibly present was the whole point, they saw Jesus as their teacher, their leader, and maybe they saw Jesus as a ticket to fame and fortune. They didn’t realize they desperately needed a redeemer. They needed forgiveness. They needed forgiveness for each one of them wanting to be the top dog after Jesus. They needed forgiving because they wanted to nuke the town in Samaria that would not let Jesus in. Peter was going to deny Jesus. Judas would betray Him. They would all desert Him. And so on. Not understanding all this, in a little while they will mourn deeply (v 20a).
But “again a little while” would be three days. This is Easter! Jesus will descend into hell to declare His victory over Satan (16:11) and will rise victorious. And then the disciples will see Him again! He will bring new life into their dead, despairing lives, turning their sorrow into joy (vv 20b–22).
So yeah, in a little while, at His death and resurrection, Jesus will bring redemption, life, and salvation. Is that how “ a little while” Jesus means? Yes, but how about forty days and more? Is that in “a little while . . . and again a little while”? There’s more than one answer. Because here is the thing, Jesus is doing a little prophecy here, and prophecy usually has different levels or layers of meaning.
In a little while the reunion between Jesus and His disciples would come to an end—just as our Easter season will end in a couple more weeks. Forty days after Easter, Jesus returned to His Father in His ascension. Again, in a little while, the disciples would not see Him. Recall that Jesus had told the disciples that His departure was for their benefit. It now opens the door for the Holy Spirit to do His work in the new lives of these men (vv 12–15). In a little while the Spirit of truth will take what Jesus received from the Father and give it to them (14:26). In a little while the Spirit will make clear to the disciples the things that had happened. This would be Ascension and Pentecost.
Think of it this way. You’ve been shopping for a new car over the last few days and then finally find the one that suits you best. You drive it home, park it in the driveway. You stand there with a big grin on your face. It’s the perfect, unique car for you. Just the sight of it brings you joy.
Over the next few days, you drive “your” perfect car to and from all the places you go: work, school, church. And what do you discover? Your new car is everywhere. Once your mind and sight have become tuned to this particular make and model, you can’t miss ’em. It seems like they are everywhere. Oodles of people seem to be driving one just like yours, and you see them all.
Jesus spent three years turning the disciples’ hearts for what was to come. For them, it was unclear at first (Jn 16:18); the cross of sacrifice was not the model they wanted. It’s not what they would have chosen for themselves. But when Jesus’ nail-scarred hands and feet were before their very eyes after the resurrection, the pieces of the puzzle began to fit together. Looking at their sin-tainted lives, guided by the Holy Spirit (16:13), they realized the cross was a perfect choice. Especially when equipped with the perfect accessory—an empty tomb. Any questions, doubts, gaps in their knowledge were filled when they saw everything Jesus wanted them to see when the Holy Spirit hit them at Pentecost.
Now we also have to think there is a third meaning to this: that one of the things Jesus was saying to us “and again a little while” was regarding His last return at the end of the age. How little a while will that be? Two thousand years? Two thousand more years? This week? Don’t know. All I can tell you is that Jesus calls it “again a little while.”
Yes, it’s that too. Life for us really is only a little while. Life here. That means we desperately need to see Jesus for the redemption, life, and salvation only He brings. We needed Jesus to come and die and rise again so we would be saved, gifted, forgiven: forgiven for all the times we lie, all the times we blow off church, all the times we gossip, all the times we ask God to send something to hell that does not have a soul to send, if you know what I mean. (Think about it.) We were born sinners. That’s the way you came into the world.
But in a little while after we were born—for many of us only a few days—we were baptized into the death and resurrection of the Lord, given faith, and forgiven of your sins. And each week that forgiveness is given again in the absolution and in Jesus’ flesh and blood present in His Holy Meal. As you were reminded the Sunday after Easter, we have not seen the Lord’s scarred hands and feet with our eyes, but we have seen them by faith, and “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (20:29).
In a while—maybe a very little while—death will take you as it has those who have gone before. You know the deep sorrow of mourning just as those who love you may know that sorrow. But the Spirit of truth is at work in you and will keep you in baptismal faith, faith in the things yet to come and in Jesus’ glorious promise. “Again,” then, “a little while” and we will see Jesus with our eyes. Our body’s time in the tomb, even as our soul is rejoicing with the Lord, will be the “twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor 15:52), and we will rise to see Him forever.
So this “in a little while” and in a little while more” works three ways: Easter weekend, Ascension/Pentecost, and our time here on Earth. With that in mind, let’s go back to the beginning of our sermon. We began with a riddle. Here it is again: Who makes it, has no need of it. Who buys it, does not use it. Who uses it, can neither see it nor feel it. What is it? A coffin. For us who are Christians, we will not need those coffins for long, for in a little while the Lord will come again, and for His redeemed, all the sorrow of death will be turned into the all-surpassing joy of resurrection to eternal life. And that my friends, is no riddle.