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Birth Pains

John 16:17-33


One of the certainties of teaching the Bible is that you will eventually deal with pain. As soon as the subject comes up, one of the female members of the class will point out (usually at great length) that men really don’t understand pain, as they don’t give birth. This does not deter me. I am one of those rare individuals for whom Novocain simply has no effect on dentistry. Everything the dentist does hurts – a lot.

My dentist is a kind, Christian gentleman. He’s quite well aware of the problem, and does not tell me “it’s all in your head.” (It is all in my head, if you think about it – but you know what he means.) He handles the problem gently. He begins by telling me what he’s going to do; how much it will hurt; and how long it will last. He then tells me why this is better than my running out the door screaming. Kindly note two things:

  • All that talk does not reduce the pain one little bit.
  • But it does make me more able to deal with it.

That’s what’s going on in the upper room, in this lesson.

17Some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” 18They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”

19Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? 20I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 23In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

25“Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. 26In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. 27No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”

29Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. 30Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”

31“You believe at last!”£ Jesus answered. 32“But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.

33“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”


Jesus describes the transition in a few words. But let us give some thought to the disciples’ state of mind as this begins:

  • Up until this point they have “asked for nothing” in His name. We understand this to mean that they asked him for everything, not relying upon the authority of his name. Why would they, when he is physically present with them?
  • They’ve also been believing what they want to believe. Miracles they have seen, but the mystery of the Atonement is still before them. They are not willing to understand his death.

How depressing, then, to have the matter brought up yet again. We can only conclude that depressing the disciples was precisely what Jesus planned. It makes sense (in the next chapter). The disciples are going to be confronted with an armed mob, come to arrest Jesus. Their physical resistance would complicate things. Jesus rather prepares them for the idea that they will scatter and grieve.

There is an advantage in this. At the Resurrection, they will not be so hard on themselves and each other. The joy of that day should not be clouded by recriminations.


Just what did Jesus tell them would happen?

  • First, that they would not see him.
  • Next, that they would grieve and mourn.
  • Then, that the world around them would rejoice.
  • But then, a little while later, they would indeed rejoice.

It is a clear picture. But is it not also a clear picture for us? Have you ever had the time when Christ left you alone? When you felt that his comfort just did not extend to you?

He does that at times – to strengthen you. It’s like teaching a young child to ride a bicycle. There comes a time where you must let go of the bike and show them that they can stay up by pedaling. It’s a scary time for a young child – followed by the joy of knowing they can ride.

See, too, the method of God: the thing that causes you pain for a short while is that which brings you joy later. The Cross should always remind us of the pain by which Christ made the atonement – and the joy we have because of it.

More than that; the Cross, the Resurrection – they change everything.


If there is any characteristic we can use to describe the early church, it is joy. They rejoiced in circumstances we would think highly depressing. This joy is contagious – and no one can take it away.

More than that, the relationship between man and God has changed. Jesus here gives us some of those changes:

  • First, that God the Father will give us what we ask for in Christ’s name (more on what that means later).
  • Next, he will do that – so that our joy may be complete. Complete, and always ours, the church should always show that joy.
  • He also states that the Spirit will tell us plainly what is the truth. You can see this in the New Testament. Only in the New Testament do we get letters which explain the doctrine clearly.

This business of asking “in Christ’s name” is not at all a trivial change. The Resurrection brought about the priesthood of believers – the concept that we, as Christians (not specially selected ones), can ask God the Father for anything in Christ’s name is foreign to the Old Testament. We have become what the priests were – those who could talk directly with God.

The Name is important. You will recall that God described the Temple – 500 years before it was built – as being the place where He would put his Name. That Name is now placed in us. This changes our relationship to God.

  • It changes our understanding. No longer is God far off and to be feared. No longer is the knowledge of Him confined to the select few.
  • It changes our attitude. He now draws us close, which is to our comfort. But it also implies that we are being held responsible for those things that used to be the duty of the priest.

Most of all, there is a change in dominion. After the Cross, the prince of this world, Satan, has been overcome. The Cross was, if you will pardon the analogy, the Gettysburg of spiritual war. There was a lot of fighting left in the Civil War after Gettysburg. But the issue was no longer in doubt.

In My Name

This is one of the passages in the New Testament that makes prayer sound like magic. The reasoning goes like this:

  • If you’re a “real” Christian, you can ask God for anything.
  • If you end the prayer with the phrase, “in Jesus’ name, Amen” then you are asking in Jesus’ name.
  • If you’re real, and do it in Jesus’ name, you’ll get whatever you ask for. Just name it and claim it.

So, if your prayers don’t turn out the way you wanted, either you’re not a real Christian, or this method just doesn’t work (and you’re an idiot). Right?

Well, no, wrong. We need to understand that phrase “in His name.” It carries some connotation with it.

  • First, it means in accordance with his will. If my boss delegates authority to me, it’s not so I can do what I want – it’s so I can do what he wants. If I don’t do that, it’s obvious that there will be trouble. It doesn’t matter what the delegation of authority form says on it – you have to use it correctly. If this is so in earthly things, how much more so in things of God?
  • Next, it means doing things in God’s way. Have you asked for justice, a verdict upon your enemies, the ones who torment you? He will provide it – in His way. We may ask for things which are in his will – and also provide God with detailed instructions on how this should be brought about. This is impudent, imprudent and impotent. God will work things in his way. Usually, these means taking something evil – and making a greater good out of it.
  • Then, it means waiting for his time. Most of us have trouble waiting overnight for God to act – let alone (say) a week. If it is done his way, it will be done in his time. It is entirely possible that the reason he allows us to pray is (in part) so that we will be taught patience. We are, after all, destined to be eternal. So perhaps a lesson in patience is not out of place.
  • It must be done in faith – that is, trusting him for the results. Note that this means trusting him not only at the time we speak the prayer – but until he answers. This is sometimes difficult when one of the results is a changed “you.”

He leaves them with an epilog. It has three points, all worth repeating.

  • You are going to have trouble. If you are a Christian, you should expect it. The world is going to be after you in every possible way.
  • But – chin up – He has overcome the world. The greatest threat that this world has to offer is death, and he has risen from the grave. He is Lord of all things; he has triumphed.
  • Because of that, we can have peace in this troubled world. The peace that comes from knowing Jesus, the Christ.

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