John 16:20-24 (Christian Standard Bible)

I will see you again. Your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy from you” (John 16:22b).

We sing this hymn every Christmas, but it was not originally written as a Christmas Carol. In fact, the song is more about the second advent than the first. What is it? It is “Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts.

joy banner

Watts originally wrote this hymn as an interpretation of Psalm 98, which says “Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth; Break forth and sing for joy and sing praises” Psalm 98:4 NASB).

It is appropriate for us to sing about joy at Christmas though. The Christmas cards remind us of that.

During Christmas, we share the joy of giving and getting gifts. We share the joy of life together with friends and family. Also, because it comes at the end of the year, we can know the joy of stepping back and seeing the year in the big picture. Even if we have had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year, we can usually find some reason to be joyful.

The New Testament associates the story of the birth of Christ with joy.

  • When the wise men saw the star “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:10).

  • The angel Gabriel told Zechariah that he would have joy and gladness, and many would rejoice at his son’s birth (Luke 1:14).

  • And that baby himself, John the Baptist – leaped in his mother’s womb for joy when his mother heard Mary’s greeting (Luke 1:41,44).

  • And who could forget what the angels told the shepherds “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10).

The New Testament also associates the Christian life with joy.

  • The apostle Paul said “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).

  • He listed joy as one of the evidences of the Spirit’s presence – what he called the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

  • The apostle James encouraged his readers to “consider it all joy” when they encounter various trials, because those trials test our faith and are perfecting us (James 1:2).

  • The apostle John once reflected on his writing ministry. He said “these things we write, so that our joy may be made complete” (1 John 1:4). Passing on the gospel message comes with its own joy.

I struggled with using this text from John 16 because I think it is usually misunderstood. When people comment on Jesus’ words to the disciples, they think he is explaining about his resurrection. So, let me go back a few verses to get the context. Jesus had just told his disciples that it was for their benefit that he is going away, because if he didn’t go away, the Holy Spirit would not come (16:7).

The Holy Spirit did not come while Christ was in the tomb. So, he is not talking about the interval between his death and resurrection here. He is talking about the interval between his ascension and the second coming.

Secondly, Jesus had told his disciples in the same discourse that he was going to the Father.

  • I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me” (16:10).

  • I came from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father” (16:28).

The reason most people misunderstand what Jesus is talking about here is that they think Jesus went to the Father when he died. He did not. He went to the grave when he died. He went to the Father at his ascension.

Remember, after his resurrection, Jesus told Mary “Don’t cling to me … since I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17). That is when he went to the Father.

So, the joy that Jesus is predicting in John 16 is not the joy of Jesus’ resurrection. It is the ultimate joy of the return of Christ in his glory at the second advent.

when our ultimate joy comes, we will forget our sorrows

Truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice. You will become sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain because her time has come. But when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the suffering because of the joy that a person has been born into the world” (20-21).

Jesus is talking about a period of mourning while the world rejoices. He is talking about a time when the world celebrates, but Christians suffer.

The good news that Jesus is sharing is that the period of suffering will end. It will be like labor pains. The joy of the newborn child will overtake the memory of the suffering that preceded it.

Jesus described that period of birth pangs in his eschatological discourse in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21.

before our ultimate joy comes, we can find joy through prayer

In that day you will not ask me anything. Truly I tell you, anything you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. Until now you have asked for nothing in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete” (23-24).

I think the “that day” that Jesus refers to in verse 23 is today: the day of the interval between the ascension of Christ, and his return. Nobody on earth can see Jesus, so we cannot ask him for anything directly. But Jesus assures us that we can ask the Father for things in his name. In fact, he wants us to pray so that our joy can be complete today.

We are in the time of sorrow and suffering, but prayer is that tool that Jesus prescribes to give us joy during this time. In other words, until Jesus returns, every day is Christmas day, but only for people who are in the habit of praying. Joy is available, but it is not going to come automatically. Even if you have faith, you will not necessarily experience joy. Joy comes to those who have the audacity to ask for it.

Just like wisdom. It is not automatic. James says “if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

Joy is literally ours for the asking. God loves us and wants us to have it. All he asks is that we ask. In fact, our joy is always going to be incomplete unless we start asking. Jesus said “Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete” (24).

when our ultimate joy comes, it will be permanent

So you also have sorrow now. But I will see you again. Your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy from you” (22).

It is important for me to once again state that Jesus is talking about the interval between his ascension and his return here. It is true that Christ’s resurrection gave his disciples joy. But Jesus also knew that they were going to experience a long period of sorrow. He was preparing them for that.

We are living in that time. We can have joy in fellowship with God and each other in this time. We can even have a more complete joy by asking for it. But our ultimate joy still awaits.

What Jesus told his disciples, he is also telling us. He is saying “you also have sorrow now. But I will see you again. Your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy from you.” No one will be able to take away that joy because it will be permanent.

The gifts we get this Christmas cannot give us ultimate joy, because they will not last. Even the good times we share with friends and family will not last. But our ultimate joy is coming, and when he comes, he is coming to stay.




One of my favorite Christmas memories dates back when I was in the army, stationed in Germany. Penny and I had been part of the brigade Choir, and the choir put on a wonderful Cantata on campus. We were also invited to be part of a local Christmas celebration. We sang “Silent Night” and then a local German choir sang “Stille Nacht.”

That wonderful Christmas carol has been bringing us into the stable to watch the baby Jesus sleep in heavenly peace for over 200 years.

For even longer than that, people have been reading the prophecy of Isaiah 9:1-7, and seeing a portrayal of Jesus as the Prince of Peace he prophesied. The question I want to consider today is: How could Jesus possibly be the Prince of Peace that Isaiah predicted?

I know, of course Jesus is who Isaiah predicted, right? After all, every year we get Christmas cards with this text on them. They all proclaim that Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Not to mention – which is what we say and then go ahead and mention anyway – all the books that have been written about Jesus entitled “The Prince of Peace.”

But let’s just imagine that we were back there in the time of Isaiah for a bit. The first thing I would like to establish is the audience to whom Isaiah was actually talking when he predicted the words which eventually became chapter 9, verses 1-7.

If you had asked the average citizen of Judah in Isaiah’s day about the north country, the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali – Galilee beyond the Jordan river, their assessment would have been that it was a write-off. Isaiah had just talked about how paganism and idolatry had turned out the light in the holy land, and Galilee was considered the darkest of the dark. There was no hope for Galilee in the future. But, now Isaiah says that it is in this gloomy land of darkness that the light is going to shine first. What? Galilee… are you kidding?

And what is going to be the result of that light shining there first?

Isaiah prophesied honor in the place of shame.

Isaiah said that “in the future he will bring honor to the way of the sea, to the land east of the Jordan, and to Galilee of the nations” (1). These citizens of that shameful corrupt land had no idea that some day millions would want to put their hand in the hand of the man from … Galilee! Our Lord chose to grow up in a place that was on the wrong side of the tracks. But Isaiah predicted that one day Galilee is where everybody would want to be.

Isaiah also said that Galilee was filled with “people walking in darkness” and “living in the land of darkness” but they would see “a great light” that light will dawn on them. The Bible equates darkness with sin, and sin with shame. The light that Isaiah predicted would bring honor to a land that had previously only been know for its shame and sin.

Galilee also had the reputation of being too Gentile to actually be counted as part of the Jewish nation. It had the nickname “Galilee of the nations” (1) and that word “nations” was the same word they used for Gentiles. In other words, Galilee does not count. It has too many Gentiles in it to be actually considered part of God’s kingdom.

Isaiah comes along and says “You have enlarged the nation
and increased its joy. The people have rejoiced before you
as they rejoice at harvest time and as they rejoice when dividing spoils” (3). What would the inhabitants of Galilee think about that prediction? The harvest is a picture of revival. The rejoicing over the dividing of spoils was a picture of national growth due to warfare.

So, let me put it this way: What if I told you that Delco was going to be the starting place of the next great awakening, the next great revival? You might say, “not little old us.” And the Galileans would think the same thing about this prophecy. But Isaiah was right!

Isaiah prophesied freedom in the place of bondage.

Next, Isaiah predicted that God would shatter “their oppressive yoke and the rod on their shoulders, the staff of their oppressor” (4). These are all images taken from agriculture. The yoke, rod and staff are all ways that the farmer exercises control over his animals. As such, they naturally stood for political control of oppressive tyrants over the little guys.

Isaiah also adds these words to his prediction. He says God would bring this freedom just as he “did on the day of Midian” (4). He was referring to Gideon’s defeat of the Midianites with only 300 men. I think Isaiah was drawing attention to the fact that once those 300 men gained the upper hand, they sent messengers to the tribe of Ephraim to “come down against the Midianites” as well (Judges 7:24). In other words, Gideon’s miraculous defeat of the Midianites was the beginning.

So, what was Isaiah saying to the Galileans? He was saying that they were going to start the next move of God to bring deliverance from bondage to all his people.

Isaiah prophesied peace in the place of warfare.

But this is where it really gets interesting. You would think that if the Galileans were going to be a force for deliverance, that would mean Isaiah is predicting that they would be like the 300 men under Gideon – amazing warriors. But this is what Isaiah says instead:

“For every trampling boot of battle and the bloodied garments of war will be burned as fuel for the fire” (5).

When I was a soldier, I had to keep a duffle bag ready. It had to contain load bearing equipment, a helmet, magazines for my m-16 rifle, a flashlight, cold weather gear, extra boots and a battle dress uniform.

If you are preparing for battle, you don’t burn your boots and battle dress uniform. But Isaiah told the Galileans not to prepare for war, but to prepare for peace.

He told them about a child who was going to be born “for us” and a son given “to us” and “the government will be on his shoulders.
He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (6).

So this victory that brings honor to the shameful and freedom to the oppressed is going to be won without a battle. It is going to happen as a result of a child being born.

Then Isaiah tells us that the child will have permanent dominion over a vast territory and “its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever” (7).

Now, Isaiah’s words become even more mysterious because he concludes his prophecy with “The zeal of the LORD of Armies will accomplish this.” The title “LORD of Armies” was usually used to indicate that God could change the world by moving armies to execute his judgment for him. But Isaiah was saying that the same passion that God uses to destroy using the armies of the world will now be invested in the peace he is going to bring about through that one child.

the gospel of Christ’s kingdom is the gospel of peace

When the apostle Paul told the Ephesians to put on their armor for spiritual warfare, he said that their battle boots were going to be “the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15).

When we share the good news of the coming kingdom of Jesus Christ, we can tell people that he offers them honor instead of shame and humiliation. He offers them freedom instead of slavery and bondage. He offers them peace on earth, instead of war on earth.

But, let’s be careful when we tell people that. Jesus himself said that his first advent was not to bring peace to earth, but a sword (Matthew 10:34). It is his second advent that will bring peace by destroying all his enemies. At Christmas, we celebrate the peace with God that we can have in our hearts, and the permanent peace that is to come.

During the Advent season it is good to be Advent Christians. We can share the good news of the gospel. That news includes the fact that the Prince of Peace is going to return to set up his permanent kingdom. Our peace is coming.

Piney Grove Advent Christian Church, Delco North Carolina, USA.

Kindle books by Jefferson Vann



1 Peter 1:3-13 (CSB)

“… set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 1:13b.

Most of the Christmas stories that we tell ourselves every year come from the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel and the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel.

Matthew records the story of the angel’s appearance to Joseph, the young couple’s travel to Bethlehem, Jesus’ birth, the visit of the wise men, the escape to Egypt, and Herod’s massacre of the children.

Luke tells us about the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Zechariah about the coming birth of John the Baptist. Then he records Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would give birth as well. Luke then tells us what happened when pregnant Mary visited pregnant Elizabeth. Then he records the birth of John, and Zechariah’s prophecy about him.

It isn’t until chapter two that Luke gets back to the story of Jesus. He explains why Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. He is also the only one who mentions the manger, and the only one who tells us about the angel’s announcement to the shepherds, and their visiting the baby Jesus in the manger.

Toward the end of Luke 2 there are two stories that take place when the infant Jesus is being dedicated. Two old people are featured in these stories. Simeon and Anna recognize who Jesus is when his parents bring him into the temple to be dedicated. These old saints were hoping for something. They were looking for something that Luke called “Israel’s consolation.” They recognized this infant Jesus as the key figure in God’s plan to save their people.

Over 60 years later, Peter pens the words of today’s text. He has lived the events described in the four Gospels. He wants to encourage the people who have put their hope in Jesus Christ for salvation. If I were to summarize what Peter says in chapter 1 of his epistle it would be this: “our hope is coming.”

our hope is coming because of what Christ has done for us.

Peter mentions “the sufferings of Christ” in verse 11. By now, everybody knows the story of the trial and crucifixion of our Savior, but nobody knows it better than Peter. He was there, sleeping in Gethsemane. He was there, denying his master. He didn’t understand it at the time, but now, he understands why Jesus had to suffer what he did, when he did.

Peter preached about Christ’s suffering in the early days after Pentecost. It was a major part of his gospel message. He taught that Christ’s suffering was not a mistake. It was part of God’s plan, and had been announced by his prophets.

Christ’s suffering on the cross were necessary. Without the cross humanity would have no hope. But because of what Jesus did on the cross, Peter can speak of the “glories that would follow (11).

Peter also mentions the “the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” in verse 3. Christ had to do more than just suffer on the cross because the wages of sin is not suffering. The wages of sin is death. But if Jesus were to merely die for us, how would we know that his death has paid the price for our sins? That is why the resurrection of Jesus was essential to God’s plan. His resurrection is also essential to our hope. Because he lives, we too will live.

Paul called Jesus the firstfruits of those who are asleep. That imagery is a harvest imagery. The firstfruits is the first of the crop. When the firstfruits come in, people start celebrating, because there is now hope for a full crop. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, there is hope for us.

Paul even told us when we would be raised. He said “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:22-23 NASB).

our hope is coming because of what our faith is doing in us

Peter not only tells us what Christ has done to give us hope, he goes on to explain what is going on right now in our lives to keep that hope alive until Jesus returns.

He says in verse 5 that we “are being guarded by God’s power through faith.” That word “guarded” suggests the picture of military protection while the battle ensues. The faith that God has given us keeps us in the interval between Christ’s first advent and his second advent.

That is why Peter can speak of his readers rejoicing during this time. He says in verse 6 “You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials.” Also, in verse 8, he says “though not seeing him now, you believe in him, and you rejoice.” Joy is one of the manifestations of the Spirit’s presence – what Paul called the fruit of the Spirit. The joy that God has given us to express keeps our hope alive in this interval between Christ’s first advent and his second advent.

In verse 7, Peter talks about how our faith is being refined by fire in this present age. Faith is described as a precious metal, more valuable than gold. The tough times we go through test our faith, refining it so that it is even more pure.

In verse 9, Peter tells his readers that they are receiving the goal of their faith, the salvation of their souls. In verse 3, he calls this salvation a new birth. So, technically, he’s saying that we can be born-again, and not saved yet. You see, the salvation he is talking about is the permanent deliverance. We have not experienced that yet. That is why we need Jesus to return.

our hope is coming because Jesus Christ is going to return for another mission.

Just like Simeon and Anna, we who have trusted in Christ for our salvation are waiting for his advent. They waited for his first advent; we await his second advent.

They waited for him to come as a sacrifice, because he had a mission, and that mission was to die for our sins on the cross.

Check. That mission was accomplished.

Now, Peter says, Jesus has to return because he has another mission. There is “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for” us (4). We do not have that inheritance yet. In fact, our lives today are the exact opposite. We are living in perishable bodies, defiled by ongoing sin, and our lives are fading away.

Jesus said that our “reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:23). He did not mean that our reward is heaven when we die. Later on, in the book of Revelation, John records Jesus saying “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me” (Revelation 22:12). So our reward – what Peter calls our inheritance – is with Jesus in heaven right now, but we won’t get it until he returns.

Peter acknowledges this in verse 5 when he describes our coming inheritance as “a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” In essence, he is saying we “ain’t seen nothing yet.” Our salvation is secure, but it has not yet been revealed, because our savior has to come back for that.

Peter goes on to say in verses 6-7 that our present sufferings are turning our faith into something wonderful. We start out with the dross of condemnation, shame and dishonor, and the fire of our suffering is producing “praise, glory, and honor.” This result may not always be evident in our lives today, but it will be evident “at the revelation of Jesus Christ” – when he returns.

The Old Testament prophets usually talked about both advents as if they were going to happen at the same time. They didn’t know that there would be over two thousand years between what Peter calls in verse 11 “the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.” His sufferings took place during his first advent, his glories began at his ascension and will continue into his second advent.

So, what is Peter saying for us today? In verse 13, he tells his readers to set their “hope completely on the grace to be brought to [them] at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” That is his message for us as well. Our hope is coming.

During the Advent season it is good to be Advent Christians. We can be grateful for all that God has done for us, and all he is now doing in us. But we can also be assured that the best is yet to come.




Psalm 100 (CSB)

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and bless his name” (4)

When my family lived in the Philippines, we discovered that they do not have a national day of Thanksgiving, like we have in America. Instead, each church had its own Thanksgiving Day. It usually corresponded to the date when that particular church was established.

As Americans, we tried to keep our national Thanksgiving as well. One time we had a big spread with all the fixings, only to discover later that we had done it on the wrong week.

But we appreciated God and we enjoyed celebrating him and his connection to all of us. It just seems natural for us to show our gratitude. Showing gratitude is what this psalm is all about.

who should show gratitude?

The psalm is not too particular about who should celebrate their gratitude to God. In fact, note the expression “the whole earth” in verse 1.

Neither does the psalm limit the celebrants to the very old or the young. Verse 5 says that “all generations” should show their gratitude to him.

There is no age limit, no ethnic, geographic or cultural boundary to showing gratitude to the God of the Bible.

how should we show our gratitude?

We should show our gratitude to God by serving him. Verse 2 encourages us to “serve the LORD.” Do you know that is an honor to serve a great leader? People send in resumes and take proficiency exams in order to get an opportunity to be the president’s butler, or the queen’s maid. They don’t do that because they are slaves, but because it is their opportunity to express their gratitude. In the same way, our service to God demonstrates the level of our appreciation for him.

We should also express our gratitude to God with our worship. Verse 4 talks about entering God’s gates and his courts. It is talking about the gates and courts of the temple in Jerusalem. People had all kinds of reasons for entering into the gates of Jerusalem. But when they entered the gates of the temple, they were supposed to do it as worshipers. Our English word worship is a contraction for worth-ship. A worshiper is someone who is in the act of expressing how much God is worth to him or her.

The Jews had gotten too formal and materialistic about their worship. It had come to the point where people rated a person as a worshiper by the monetary value of the gift they brought with them. But this psalmist suggested that there are two things every worshiper needs to bring with him when he comes into the temple. note what comes after the word “with” in verse 4. The worship had to enter “with thanksgiving” and “with praise.”

We also need to check our emotional state when we dare enter God’s presence to worship him in public. What comes after the word “with” in verse 2? We are to serve “with gladness.” The way some people act in church, you would think that it said “with grimness.” They seem to regard the worship service as a chore. No sir. We will earn our living in ways that cause our brow to sweat and our back to ache and our feet to blister. But when we come into the presence of our God, we need to do it with gladness.

We have lots to be glad about. God has blessed us with a place, and a time, and a community like no other in history. We are overflowing with potential. And at the same time, our God has prevented so many disasters, diseases, pestilences and wars that we could have experienced. One of the advantages of learning history is that it gives a person perspective. For us, as believers in Christ, we have every reason to worship the Lord with gladness.

Also in verse 2, we are to show our gratitude “with joyful songs.” It does not say dirges, or mournful songs. There is a time and a place for singing the blues, but it is not this time and this place. God wants to hear our joyful songs. He is listening for the sweet sound of joy coming from his children’s throats. It brings a smile to his face.

And look at verse 1 again. It says we are to shout triumphantly. This is the first psalm I memorized as a kid. From my Rainbow edition of the King James Bible, I memorized “Make a joyful noise.” Saying those words, I think of Joshua and the Israelites attack on Jericho. They marched with their musical instruments, but they didn’t blow those horns until the last day of the march. Then they blew those horns, but not just that. Joshua told them to “Shout! For the LORD has given you the city” (Joshua 6:16).

Brothers and sisters, a triumphal shout is a sign of faith. It says my God is stronger than those city walls. It says God is the God of my coming triumph. The walls didn’t come down when the people marched. They didn’t even come down when the trumpets blew. The walls came down when the people shouted triumphantly!

So, I have exhausted all the ways we can show our gratitude from this text. No, I lied, there’s one more. Look again at verse 4. It says we can show our gratitude by blessing his name.

God has a name that is above all names. We cannot add to his greatness by anything we do. But we can bless his name. He allows us the privilege of demonstrating the greatness of his character by affirming it.

There is a world all around is which is gaining an ever-increasing gratitude for the planet itself, but has never learned to express its gratitude for the planet’s creator. When we bless God’s name, we complete the circuit. The world is not going to learn how to do that unless we demonstrate it.

Which brings me to my third point.

why should we show our gratitude?

Verse 3 challenges us to show our gratitude by acknowledging that the Lord is God. He is God and we are not. I, for one, am grateful that I am not God. I do not qualify. I don’t have the skill-set it takes to control this planet. I cannot even set my alarm clock.

Also, according to verse 3, “he made us, and we are his.” We are living in an age dominated by mechanical computers, but we are still not able to reproduce the computing capacity of the human brain. God is our creator, and we should show gratitude for that.

Also, in verse 3, the psalmist calls us God’s sheep, which implies that he is our shepherd. A shepherd guides and provides for the sheep. Without the shepherd, sheep tend to wander off and die by accident, predators, or starvation. Even stupid sheep learn this. They learn to respond the voice of their shepherd, obeying out of gratitude.

Now, look at verse 5. Here are three more reasons that we should show our gratitude to God. He is good. All the time. We don’t always know how God is manifesting his goodness based on what we are experiencing. But we know that he causes all things to work together for good to those who love him, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). If we cannot spot his goodness short-term, we know enough to expect it to manifest long-term.

God is also faithful, and that is another reason to show our appreciation for him. He is faithful to his promises, and for keeping his covenant. The word translated “faithful love” in verse 5 is a technical term for covenant faithfulness.

And finally, look at that word “forever” in verse 5. That is the word “le’olam” in Hebrew. It indicates permanence. I am grateful that God is not temporary like I am. I have a “use-by-date” but my God does not. My grandchildren’s grandchildren will be reading this same Bible and serving this same God long after I have expired. My only hope for permanence is his promise of a resurrection.

LORD, we want to show our gratitude because you are our good, faithful, permanent creator, guide and provider God.