John 16:16-22: The Church as a Woman in Labor

Woman in LaborThe saints in the struggle, the Church on earth, is a woman in labor.  The saints at rest, the Church in eternal glory, is compared to a mother whose birthing pains are past.  No longer in contractions, she now beholds her baby born, her anguish long forgotten.

The people of God, described as a pregnant mother in the throes of childbirth, is a strange image to our mind.  For our knowledge of the Church is not formed so much by the Spirit-inspired Scriptures, but by our cultural notions.

How do we often speak of life after death?  Often, we bring up pleasures we like, such as golfing, fishing, or dancing in the streets of heaven.  Now, if we let the words of Scripture shape us, we will describe heaven as worship.  The blessed saints gather around the slaughtered Lamb who now lives, falling before Him in reverence and awe.

The saints, now freed from their sin-infected strife, enjoy a full union with their Lord.  In an unfettered and unsullied rapture, they praise Jesus as their King.  Of course, we might consider this as worse than being in a coma.  For if worship here, which lasts a bit more than an hour, is hard to handle, an eternity sounds horrifying!

Ah, assessing heaven’s reality with our darkened minds.  What is exciting and vigorous, heaven, we consider not so much.  Now, if you find some of the trappings of this fallen creation to be enjoyable, think how much better the new creation will be!

Never to be bored or distracted again.  Filled with contentment, we will experience never-ending peace and joy.  All this is because of the undeserved love of the Father through His Son, who gave His life for us, delivered to You in Word and Sacrament.

Now, if we misunderstand the reality of heaven, we may also misunderstand the struggle for us on earth.  The Bride of Christ, the place where Jesus promises to be with His people, is not a club or a social outfit.  What Jesus does here is beyond time and space, eternity intersecting with us, here and now.

How does our Redeemer describe our time before we die, or before He returns?  A woman in childbirth, not a gentle picture.  For childbearing is bloody and painful, fraught with many dangers.   Fuzzy feelings or emotions is not how Jesus expresses our experiences now.  To think as much is to mistake the Church on earth.

A mother’s suffering, however, does bring focus and clarity.  No longer does she care if her arms are flabby.  So what if her favorite pair of pants is too tight.  All propriety is gone, with everything now directed at delivering the baby.  Nothing else matters.

A woman giving birth reveals where we make our missteps.  For we live our lives like a lady on a shopping spree, not in the toils of childbirth.  The House of the Almighty on earth is a woman in labor, aching, but fixed on the new life to come.  In her distress, she yearns for what will soon be.  Soon, soon, her travails will be over.

By vivid imagery, our Lord sharpens our focus on the labors He gives us to do before we are born into heaven above.  What tasks?  The Lord commands His Church to disciple others.  How?  By baptizing in the Name of the Trinity and teaching others everything Jesus taught (Matthew 28:19-20).  The Spirit brings someone into the God’s family through Water and the Word, and His Kingdom grows.

What our Savior directs His Church to do is not optional.  Such is our labor, our focus, what we are to be doing, in this time of travail.  So, we teach what Jesus commands, leaving nothing out.  Now, if we find something hard, or something we don’t like, so what.  All means all; teach everything our Lord commands means everything.

So, don’t tell me doctrine divides or as long as someone believes in Jesus, he understands enough.  Such thinking goes against our Savior’s words.  Do we want to be so bold and impudent?  Not caring about what Jesus tells you to understand and believe means you aren’t interested in what He expects of you.

Don’t say you can’t be sure what the Bible teaches.  For “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).  So, according to Jesus, you can receive and learn the Truth.  Yes, some Scripture is hard to grasp, for the clouds of corruption blacken our minds.  The fault is not with the Scriptures, but with us.

Do we focus on what is needed, the Truth, whether liked or not?  Not as well as we should, so let us now strive and struggle for what awaits.  In our grappling, the Apostle Paul tells us to separate ourselves from false teachers (Romans 16:17).  To do this means you are to judge the Doctrine, the Teaching.  The saving Christ also commands this of you.  For He alerts you to be wary of wolves who come to you in sheep’s clothing (Luke 7:15).

“All right, pastor, but I live in the real world, not behind religious books and treatises.  Let’s be real, for this congregation is not always friendly.”  So, what should you do, gripe about what you don’t like?  Don’t grouse about unfriendliness.  For when you complain in such a way, you now become unfriendly, which doesn’t help.

So, if you want this congregation to be friendlier, be a friend!  Be part of the solution, which is part of the work we do until we are born anew in eternity.

Here’s another example.  Don’t grumble or protest because you’re not supposed to park in the handicapped spot.  No, instead, thank God for your health!  Thank the Almighty you can walk.  Are we not to be in labor until our Lord calls us home?  Yes!  Enough with the petty demands and childish behaviors.  Let us grow in the Faith.

Think about this—our Lord tells us to forgive.  So, who benefits when you forgive, you or the other person?  Both, but you benefit more.  For if you forgive and let go of what eats at you, the bitter bile is gone.  Why be angry when you can be joyful!

Yes, all too often, we live, absorbed by what doesn’t matter, not as a woman in childbirth.  Selfish thoughts consume us, as we clamor about our rights in the Lord’s House.  The salvation from above is free, unearned and undeserved, but don’t let the freeness of salvation lull you into thinking you now need to do nothing.  Such a conclusion you will not find in Scripture.  Though saved from Satan, you are also saved to be the face of Jesus to others through what you say and do.

A woman experiencing contractions serves by giving birth, though filled with much anguish.  So also the Christian life.  Soon, however, will come our reward.  Amid the pains of passage, the Apostle Paul gives us perspective.  “The sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed” (Romans 8:18).

Press on, as you strive and strain.  For the Crucified One did not die and rise in vain.  One day, you will mount on wings like eagles and soar, leaving all your labors behind.

The non-Christian chooses what suits him best, which our Gospel brought out by mentioning him rejoicing in this world.  The Christian wants to live in faithfulness, shaped by the future awaiting him.  Still, no one survives life in this sin-corrupted world, unscathed.  Is not the grief of childbirth the result of our plunge into sin?  Yes!

So everyone still suffers.  The difference for the Christian is hope, which springs eternal.  The Lord will take all your sorrows and suffering and make everything beautiful in His sight.  Remember your crucified Redeemer and who He is.

The most exhausting labor in all history is the one preceding the birth of our Savior’s Church.  No one bore the curse of sin as our Sin-Bearer did on the tree of death.  What we suffer is a result of sin, which includes our participation in our rebellion against God.

Not so with our Savior.  For He deserved none of the torments, which caused His sweat to fall like blood.  Though innocent, He endured the full brunt of what we deserved.  On Easter morning, the Crucified One rose from death, blameless before all.  Such deep distress, terrible beyond all reckoning, now turned into the timeless wonder of eternity.

Sorrow became joy, with life arising from the grave.  In Christ, all your sufferings now take on meaning.  For what the Father did through His Son, He will also do for you!  So, if God is for you, who can be against you? (Romans 8:31).  In the anguish of contractions and delivery, nothing else matters but the birth to come.

For us now, in this time between our Savior’s appearances, He does not abandon us.  The Savior’s promise endures, “I am with you always, including this little while”—and He is.  For He is with us still in the preached Word, and in His Supper, giving us His Body and Blood.  For being faithful does not only mean Christ died to pay for your sins.  No, faithfulness also includes providing to you what He achieved on the cross.

Without your Redeemer bringing you His cross-won forgiveness, His death does nothing for you.  The Sin-Forgiver, the Promise-Keeper, remains faithful to you in this “little while,” while heaven awaits us, supplying His salvation to you, here and now.

In our labor pains, to keep us attentive on what lies ahead, Jesus gives us a foretaste of heaven’s Feast.  The Supper joins the cross to eternity by the One who experienced both.  The pain He suffered is gone, for He now delights in eternal glory.  So, as on the cross, our Savior comes to us in our sufferings, pointing us to eternity in His Supper.

In a little while, you will be in His full and glorious presence.  Soon, soon, all your strivings will be forgotten, and your joy will be complete.  Rejoice and sing, for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are faithful, now and always.  Amen.

 

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