“You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”
– John 16:33b
Shortly before Jesus was arrested and later tortured and crucified, He spoke with His disciples. The Gospel of John records this “farewell address” in chapters 13–17. Jesus knew He needed to prepare His disciples for His departure—not only for the three days between His death and resurrection, but for the unknown number of days between His ascension and His return.
He knew that immediately after His death they would be confused, anxious, and afraid. But He also knew that even after His resurrection, even after they saw Him ascend into heaven, His followers would face suffering. So He prepared them. He told them what to expect and how to respond.
It was in this context that Jesus said to His followers, “You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). Those words don’t only apply to His first twelve disciples; they apply to all of His followers throughout time—even us. I think they give us a timely word of hope during this unprecedented season of our lives.
We will have suffering.
In this short section of Scripture, Jesus tells us three things. First, He tells us we will have suffering in this world. Some people think Christianity is a religion of optimism. We’re supposed to be glass-half-full people, always looking at the silver lining or the light at the end of the tunnel. Because of this, some people have accused Christianity of being a pie-in-the-sky religion, out of touch with reality, an “opiate for the masses.”
But that was not the religion of Jesus. Jesus was not an optimist. Of course, He wasn’t a pessimist either. He saw things exactly as they were, and He called them exactly what they were. “You will have suffering,” He said. Not, “You might.” Nobody gets through this world unscathed. “You will have suffering.”
Those early followers of Christ faced suffering in the form of social marginalization, religious oppression, and even persecution. Many Christians around the world still face that kind of suffering today. And all of us face the normal suffering of life—physical suffering, financial suffering, emotional suffering, relational suffering. And, yes, the suffering brought about by this pandemic.
Coronavirus has brought much suffering—many thousands of people have lost their lives, many thousands more have become ill, the economy is crashing, and all of us have seen our rhythms and routines ripped to shreds. You will have suffering in this world. Indeed.
The second thing Jesus says is a command: “Be courageous!” The kind of suffering we are going through right now brings fear, doubt, worry, and anxiety. My guess is all of you have at least briefly channeled those emotions the past several days. Some of you may be completely stuck in them. And into that emotional sea that threatens to drown us, Jesus says “Be courageous!”
If Christianity were a religion of optimism, Jesus wouldn’t need to say that. If we’re always looking past the world’s suffering—looking around, over, and under it—we don’t have any need to be courageous. If we just refuse to admit negative realities, what use could we have of courage? But if, like Jesus, we see suffering and call it what it is, we have to have courage, or it will crush us.
But this is important: Courage is not the absence of fear. You can be afraid and still be courageous. You can be anxious or worried or doubtful and still be courageous. Because courage isn’t the absence of fear; it’s the willingness to take another step even when all you feel is fear.
When I asked my wife, Lindsay, to marry me, I was terrified. Why? I knew she was going to say yes. We had already talked about wedding plans and imagined our life together. But something about getting down on a knee and actually asking the question was horrifying! But I still did it. I still had courage even in the face of fear.
How? Because of the great confidence I had in her response. I may have had to jump, but I knew her resounding yes was going to be there waiting for me. And that’s what courage is. Taking the step and trusting that you’ll meet strong, steadfast arms to catch you on the other side.
I have conquered the world.
That brings us to the final thing Jesus said, “I have conquered the world.” The only way—the only way—we can have courage in a world of suffering is if we have confidence that Jesus has conquered the world.
And how did He conquer it? By putting on flesh and becoming a human being. By living the perfect, sinless life that we all failed to live. By dying a substitutionary death on the cross, bearing God’s wrath against sin that we should’ve borne. By getting up from the grave on the third day and defeating death, because death could not hold Him. By ascending to heaven where He now sits at the right hand of the Father, ruling and reigning over the world, directing everything—even COVID-19—by His sovereign hand. And by one day returning to earth, dealing the final blow to sin, Satan, and the final enemy, death.
Then he will deliver up everything to the Father, and God will be all in all. Then He will wipe away every tear from our eyes and there will be no more sin, sickness, or sadness. Then we will be with Him, will see Him face-to-face, in new bodies that cannot be touched by any virus, with new minds that will not doubt or worry, with new hearts that will overflow with love and joy.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.