Fulfillment in the Sorrow-Joy Dynamic of John 16
Messianic fulfillment is a pretty dense subject. The Greek term pléroó renders as a form of "to fulfill" almost 100 times in the New Testament and the concept of Jesus as a fulfillment goes even further than that useage. In fact, the concept of Jesus as a fulfillment is a more far-reaching subject than some realize. We often think of direct prophecy statements in the OT as finding their fulfillment in Jesus. Yet, in addition to that, Jesus can be said to fulfill OT people (Heb 3:3-4) and infrastructure (Matt 12:6). Among the many of these fulfillments there is one in particular that has brought me great joy. That is, Jesus is the fulfillment of joy.
Psalm 126 is a beloved thanksgiving Psalm. It was employed as a thanksgiving song by pilgrims during various feasts such as Passover and Feast of Tabernacles. The psalmist pleas to the Lord for restoration and appeals to the Lord's prior restorative work. It's likely that this Psalm was written in the post-exilic period of Ezra 1-3 which Neh 1 describes as a bleak period. The psalmist knows their god to be a God of deliverance and faithfulness and that is the grounds for their supplication. His plea is capitalized in verse 4 when he writes, "Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb!" which refers to the rushing water that overcomes the barren Negeb when the ice melts every year. As the rushing water restores the wildlife of the Negeb, so the Lord can restore their joy. The audience of the Psalm then seems to shift in verses 5-6 as the psalmist confidently declares,
Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.
The Psalmist has a clear confidence that joy will indeed be restored. Yet, more than that, the psalmist has a conviction that the tears that they sow will become a bounty of joy. Sorrow is turned to joy.
Shift to John 16 and we see a strikingly similar picture. Jesus is telling his disciples that though he has been with them for so long he is going away and they cannot yet go with him. More than that, Jesus' leaving (namely, his death and resurrection) will be a source of sorrow for them in many ways (though he particularly focuses on their opposition to the cheering world at Jesus' death), and yet it is his death and resurrection that will be the ultimate source of joy for them. Jesus then widens the purview in verse 33 as he speaks of the sorrow of the disciples in a more general sense. I particularly enjoy the NIV rendering which reads, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Jesus acknowledges and promises that this sin-sick world is and will continue to be a source of grief and trouble for his disciples. And yet, his promise is this; the cross changes everything. Just as a woman in labor no longer cares of her pains when her child is born, and just as the Negeb no longer remembers its desert state when the waters flow in, so will the disciples no longer consider their sufferings in this sin-sick world in light of Christ's already-not-yet overcoming the world. Their sorrows will be transformed to joy because the cross changes everything.