“A little while and you behold me no more, and again a little while and you shall see me, for I go to the Father.” -John 16:16
“A little while,” he says, “and you behold me no more,” for I shall be taken prisoner and they shall deliver me to death. But it will not last long, and during this short time you shall be sorrowful, but only remain steadfast in me and follow me. It will soon have an end. Three days I will be in the grave; then the world will rejoice as though it had gained a victory, but you shall be sorrowful and shall weep and lament. “And again a little while, and you shall see me; and, Because I go to the Father.” That is, on the third day I will rise again; then you shall rejoice and your joy no man shall take from you, and this will not be a joy of only three days, like the joy of the world, but an eternal joy. John most beautifully expresses the death and resurrection of Christ in these words, when Christ says, “A little while, and you behold me not; and again a little while, and you shall see me; and, Because I go to the Father.”
An example is here given us, which we should diligently lay hold of and take to heart; if it went with us as it did in the time of the apostles, that we should be in suffering, anxiety and distress, we should also remember to be strong and to rejoice because Christ will arise again. We know that this has come to pass; but the disciples did not know how he should be raised, or what he meant by the resurrection, hence they were so sorrowful and so sad. They heard indeed that they should see him, but they did not understand what it was or how it should come to pass. Therefore, they said among themselves, “What is this that he says to us, A little while? We know not what he is saying.” To such an extent had sadness and sorrow overcome them, that they quite despaired, and knew not what these words meant and how they would see him again.
Therefore, we must also feel within us this “a little while” as the dear disciples felt it, so that we may by it be comforted and be made better. And we should use this as a familiar adage among ourselves; we should feel and experience it, so that we might at all times say, God is at times near and at times he has vanished out of sight. At times I remember how the Word seems neither to move me nor to apply to me. It passes by; I give no heed to it. But to this “a little while” we must give heed and pay attention, so that we may remain strong and steadfast. We will experience the same as the disciples. We cannot do otherwise than is written here; even as the disciples were not able to do otherwise.
The first “a little while” in that he says, “A little while, and you shall behold me no more,” they could soon afterwards understand, when they saw that he was taken prisoner and put to death, but the second “a little while” in that he says: “And again a little while, and you shall see me,” that they could not understand, and we also cannot understand it. And when he says: “Because I go to the Father,” that they understand still less. So it also goes with us: although we know and hear that trials, misfortune and sorrow endure but a little while, yet we see that it constantly appears different than we believe. Then we despair and waver, and cannot be reconciled to it. We hear and we know very well that it shall not last very long, but how that result shall be accomplished we can never understand, as the disciples here cannot understand it.
But since they are unable to understand it why does Christ relate it to them or why is it written? In order that we should not despair but hold fast to the Word, assured that it is indeed so and not otherwise, even though it seems to be different. And although we do at times depart from the Word, we should not therefore remain altogether away from it, but return again, for he makes good his Word. Even though man cannot believe it, God will nevertheless help him to believe it, and this he does without man’s reason or free will and without man adding anything to it. When it is a question of understanding the work and Word of God, then human reason must give it up; it cannot make head or tail of it, although it pretends to understand a great deal about it. The glory of it is too bright, the longer he beholds it the blinder he becomes.
We should take to heart and firmly hold fast to these words and keep them in mind when in sorrow and distress, that it will not last long, then we would also have more constant joy, for as Christ and his elect had their “a little while,” so you and I and everyone will have his “a little while.” Pilate and Herod will not crucify you, but in the same manner as the devil used them, so he will also use your persecutors. Therefore, when your trials come, you must not immediately think how you are to be delivered out of them. God will help you in due time. Only wait. It is only for a little while, he will not delay long.
(This is an edited excerpt from a longer sermon by Martin Luther)
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