“I’m leaving you, and you should be happy for me!”
This was the latest conclusion that Jesus offered His disciples in the upper room on the evening before Passover in Jerusalem. He had begun with “Let not your hearts be troubled,” and had continued on to explain that there would be “another” who would come and bring strength and comfort for the disciples after Jesus left. But now, Jesus had reiterated “let not your heart be troubled,” and followed it up with, and “if you love me, you will rejoice for me that I get to leave you.”
The disciples had learned to trust Jesus in their hour of need. There were numerous occasions where enraged mobs had rushed upon them, and with supernatural power Jesus held back the mobs so that He and His disciples could escape. On the Sea of Galilee the storms had arisen and multiple times Jesus calmed the storms rescuing His disciples. When they were hungry He provided them with food. He was truly everything they needed. Now, He was going to leave them. And to complicate things, when they were obviously beginning to show signs of sorrow, He told them that they should rejoice for Him.
Before we see His reason for why they should rejoice, we must understand what it means, biblically, to love someone. 1 Corinthians 13 is commonly referred to as the “love chapter” of Scripture. In it Paul articulates what love looks like. One of the defining characteristics about love is found in 1 Corinthians 13:5, “[Love]…seeketh not her own…” In other words, love is not self-seeking or self-serving, but rather as Paul later explains in Philippians 2:4, love is concerned with others’ interests.
Here, Jesus explains to His disciples that if they truly loved Him, they would be thrilled for Him that He finally will be glorified and that He would be with the Father. Jesus loved God so much, and now, He would be with God. So, as He looks at His disciples, He explains to them, rejoice for me that I get to go. Perhaps they were not ready to rejoice because they were self-seeking. They wanted Jesus to be there with them. They didn’t have any regard for what was good for Him; they cared about what was good for them. They should have been excited, but they were not. They failed to share in His joy because they feared it meant the loss of their joy. They did not love Him, they were selfish.
I think that if we are not careful, we can end up having the same bad theology as the disciples. Instead of rejoicing at what Jesus was going to heaven to accomplish for them, they were concerned with having Jesus there with them as their pocket-god to rescue them from peril and provide the next meal for them. Heaven is a terrific place where all who enter are immediately ushered into the presence of the perfect and holy God.
Understanding this could perhaps shift our thinking when it comes to the passing of those we love. There is always grief, and that is natural. But there should not be a long-lasting depression and devastation at the loss of a believing loved one or friend. The separation felt is genuine and should cause a bit of pain, but the separation from a believer is only temporary. Ultimately we can rejoice that they will be enjoying themselves much more now that they have arrived in the presence of God. This should be liberating and exciting for us as we seek to love those who have passed and as we look forward to the day that we too can join them in the joy of heaven.
Food For Thought: What did Jesus mean when He said “If ye loved me, ye would rejoice.”?