In the climactic statement of Sunday’s Gospel Jesus avows: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b)
Christians are often given the very wrong impression that their life will be wonderful and peaceful, that if they have enough faith God will see to it that all their problems—of health, of finances, of family, of relationships, of our nation, etc.—will go away. Similarly we are told that we will be raptured out of our great tribulation. These are lies from the “father of lies”. Frequently Jesus predicted the very opposite.
In our text Jesus plainly predicts, “In the world you will have tribulation.” He does not say, “You might have,” or “some people will have,” but He forewarns that you, His disciples, will have tribulation. The Greek word for “tribulation” has the same root as the Greek word for “path”. The word identifies a constant friction and rubbing—which is how a path comes to be. What an apt word for tribulation!
We Christians will have spiritual tribulation as temptations and trials keep trying to rub and wear away our trust in Christ. The devil with his lying and murdering will let us have no peace within or without. The world will surround us with no lack of enticing sin and tortuous trouble. And our own flesh—the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life—is also working to wear away our confident faith in Jesus.
Not only are we worn down spiritually in this world of tribulation, but we are worn down physically, emotionally and mentally. In this sin-laden entropic world we are all “naturally” in the process of being worn away. Our bodies are worn and wracked with accident, disease, and the aging process. Often our minds and our emotional well-being are being worn down right alongside our failing bodies. And if we are not yet personally experiencing this tribulation, still we see it around us, all the more as we age—and just seeing it wears us down. It is easy to get discouraged and depressed.
Take heart, Jesus HAS overcome the world! When Jesus informs us, “I have overcome the world,” He is telling us that our victory is certain because His work of salvation is a done deal—He HAS overcome the world. The astounding fact of the matter is that when Jesus spoke these words He had neither yet died for sin nor been raised for our justification. Yet this future salvific work of dying and rising to life is so certain (and unlimited) that Jesus can speak of it as having already been accomplished. What good news for all who lived and died before Christ…He HAS overcome the world for them as well! On the cross He absorbed all of the world’s tribulation—the friction and the wear and tear inflicted by the devil, the world and our sinful flesh—from the beginning to the end of time. By this willing absorption of the world’s tribulation He has now “worn” a path—a path heretofore untrod—to life eternal. And He guarantees that in Him we now possess this path, and in fact He Himself is the path. He who was worn down to death for us has overcome the world, as finalized in His resurrection! With our sins forgiven and our bodies united with Christ in Baptism, we, in Christ, have overcome the world’s tribulation. Keep feeding this tribulation-defying faith through reception of the Conqueror’s Word and Sacrament and thus be enabled to believe the victory is already ours and our eyes will behold it into eternity!