Is Jesus really with me in challenging times?

[Jesus speaking] “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

These words of Jesus from John’s Gospel come at the very end of an extended teaching segment that began back in Chapter 13. The context is that Jesus is about to be betrayed and arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. As a matter of fact, these are the final words of instruction that Jesus gives to his disciples before he prays for them, and is arrested. And the final words of hope that Jesus gave to his disciples apply to us, today.

Let’s look at the four main ideas in this concluding statement from Jesus, and see what hope they offer to us today. Imaging Jesus is speaking these same words to you, right now.

“I have said these things to you…” In the preceding chapters, Jesus speaks to his disciples about the suffering they’re about to experience: suffering that touches the physical, emotional, and financial aspects of their lives. The religious authorities will call them heretics. Their very lives will be threatened.

Yet intertwined with many prophecies of suffering, Jesus clearly makes promises of his presence with his followers as they go through those hard times. Here are some of them:

  • John 14:3. Jesus says that he goes to prepare a place for his people, and that he will come and take them to himself, so they will be together forever.
  • John 14:16. Jesus promises to ask the Father to send his people the Holy Spirit, to abide with them forever.
  • John 15:4. Jesus invites his people to abide in him, and he promises to abide in them. To abide with Jesus means not only to live with him, but to experience the benefits of his love and presence.
  • John 16:22. Jesus acknowledges that the disciples will experience sorrow now, be he promises that he will be with them again, and that they will have joy that perseveres no matter what circumstances they face.
  • John 16:27. Jesus tells his followers that God the Father already loves them, and is ready and able to provide what they need in the face of suffering.

“…in me you may have peace.” What does peace in Jesus while enduring suffering look like? Trusting in God’s purposes and provision, mostly…even if the end of our suffering doesn’t seem to be in sight.

There are two examples of what this peace looks like in the Psalms.

  • Psalm 123:1-2. Here, the image of people at peace are of two servants: a man and a woman, each looking to the hand of their master and mistress for what they need. The “hand” in Scripture is frequently an instrument of strength, of provision, of protection. Here, the servants look patiently and expectantly to the hands of the people on whom they depend to provide everything they need. In doing so, they trust their masters to provide for them, because the servants are loved.
  • Psalm 131:1-3. In verse 2, we encounter the image of a weaned child with its mother. An unweaned child will fuss and cry until it is fed. But a weaned child on its mother’s lap knows, even if it is hungry, that its desired food is coming. All it needs do is wait patiently.

Each of these examples gives us a different picture of what it looks like to experience peace in Jesus. He alone is the strong Master who will protect and provide for us. With the love and tenderness of a nursing mother, he will give us precisely what we need. And because he is Jesus, we can trust him to do both.

“In the world you will have tribulation…” Another word for tribulation is trouble. And you and I experience it daily. Perhaps your particular trouble today focus around finances, employment, anxiety over coronavirus, your children, or loneliness and isolation. Perhaps it’s something entirely different. No matter what, I find it actually encouraging that Jesus says, flat out, that trouble is something that everyone will experience. Not only does Jesus know in a general sense that you and I will experience trouble, but he knows in detail the particular trouble you and I will face.

But not only does Jesus know everything about our trouble, but he is perfectly and sovereignly in control over that trouble. Even in the midst of our hard circumstances, Jesus keeps them from being as bad as they could be. That isn’t to say that they might not become severe and bring us almost to our breaking point—sometimes, that does happen. But we accept by faith what the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8:28-30: that the Lord works everything together (even the very hard things) so that some good results for us. And that good is usually that we would see his love, mercy, provision, and power at work—and that we would trust him more.

“…take heart; I have overcome the world.” The same world that presents troubles to us is a world that has been overcome by Jesus in his resurrection. God tells us in Revelation 21:5: “Behold, I am making all things new.” That renewal of the world isn’t only a future event. It began when Jesus rose from the dead on Easter. He conquered not only death, but all of the rotten fruit that death brings: suffering, disease, hopelessness, misery, heartache.

We begin to see that victory in small ways as we cling to Jesus. Even in hard times, we often see the seeds of good and blessing at work. And even if we can’t see those seeds yet, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

Jesus calls us to share in his victory over death, and to be his instruments of making all things new in the here and now. Even if you find yourself now in the midst of challenging times, it is a comfort to realize that you are not alone. Jesus himself, the One who has conquered sin and death, and viruses and the suffering they bring, is with you. And he invites you to rest from the struggles of life in the embrace of his powerful and faithful love.