Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.
The DEEP

It is Always Brightest Before the Dawn

Hope in a time of despair

 

John 16:25-33

25 “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; 27 for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God. 28 I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.”

29 His disciples said to Him, “See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech! 30 Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God.”

31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. 33 These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

 

In early June 1944 over three million Allied troops prepared for the invasion of Europe. On the morning of June 6, over 160,000 men landed and stormed the beaches of Normandy. By nightfall they had secured the beachheads and were making their way inland as they battled the German army. 

Victory in Europe was on its way, and General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, basked in much deserved glory–and no small amount of relief. 

Before the great battle, a letter from Eisenhower was provided to Allied troops as they prepared for the task ahead:

Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you…

With the invasion a success, Eisenhower tossed aside another letter he had written:

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.

Eisenhower’s D-Day “failure letter” is now a footnote of history–but can you imagine a world in which the invasion of Normandy did not succeed? A world where dawn on June 7, 1944 revealed the Allies driven into the sea and Europe now forever to be under the yoke of Nazi rule?

We cannot imagine failure, simply because it did not turn out that way. 

However, life does not always turn out that way, does it? Where do you find your comfort when the despair of living in a fallen world impacts you, disaster strikes, or night falls on the sunny days of your happy life–even a contented life in Christ?

There is an often quoted phrase:

“It is always darkest before the dawn.”

This is a common theme in the stories that fill our lives, is it not? It is a trope of literature and movies that has become so universal that it is almost unrecognized unless a little thought is applied.

It is Charlie Brown giving up on the Christmas play before Linus’s recitation of the meaning of Christmas as found in Luke 2 and the change of heart shown by the Peanuts gang. 

It is Gandalf telling the embattled defenders of Helms Deep in the Lord of the Rings, “Look to my coming on the first light of the fifth day, at dawn look to the east.” And when all seems lost, the White Wizard appears with a fresh army of reinforcements.

The “darkest before the dawn” is also seen in almost every biopic or rags-to-riches story of a pop artist, celebrity, or public figure: there is the childhood tragedy, the moment when gifts are realized, the discovery of talent, the journey to the dizzying heights of stardom to the depths of personal defeat by (insert drugs, betrayal, or tragedy here)–and finally the moment of redemption when the true passion is rediscovered. 

Have you ever wondered where it comes from or why we say it? We usually deploy this to comfort a friend or loved one when tragedy has struck, or the frustrations of life have gotten them down. 

An extensive research (meaning a 5-minute. “Google” search) reveals that this phrase may have been first used by 17th century Anglican clergyman Thomas Fuller. The phrase  entered popular use in the nineteenth century through the work of writer and composer Samuel Lover: 

There is a beautiful saying amongst the Irish peasantry to inspire hope under adverse circumstances:- ‘Remember,’ they say, ‘that the darkest hour of all is the hour before day.’ “ - Samuel Lover, 1858 

It is fitting that an Irishman like Lover is attributing this phrase to his countrymen, for the Irish have a long tradition of seeking hope in the midst of tragedy. 

For a period of time during the early Middle Ages, Irish Christians kept the faith of Christianity alive in a world that was swiftly falling into darkness and barbarity with the fall of Rome and a new age of spiritual darkness sweeping civilization. Many saints, like Patrick, Columba, and Brendan the Navigator worked to found and grow Christian communities in a formerly pagan land. Irish Christians even preserved the physical Bible through the laborious task of copying and keeping safe biblical and ancient works. 

As darkness swept across Europe through invasion and ignorance, the light of the Gospel was still burning bright. There was hope in the face of despair.

Here in John Chapter 16, we find Jesus providing hope in the face of despair. His farewell talk to the disciples as they left the upper room and before they gathered in the Garden of Gethsemane is filled with encouragement to his eleven followers. 

As John remembers and recalls the words of Jesus and recounts to us the events of that beautiful, scandalous night he shares with us that there was a little more to it than Jesus simply saying “cheer up, buckaroos” to His followers. Jesus was telling us hat victory was not only possible, but that victory was assured. 

25 “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father.–John 16:25

Jesus knows His disciples are upset, confused, and even growing alarmed as the realization of what is happening in these final hours sinks in. Jesus has told them He will be going away, that they will be scattered, and that the world will soon hate them because of Him.

It is all becoming so overwhelming to them. He tells them that soon they will not be guided by stories and parables but by the real thing. Jesus is letting them know that the events of the next few coming hours are all a part of God’s plan, a plan that will usher in a new relationship for them with the Father:

26 In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; 27 for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God. 28 I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.”–John 16:26-28

Jesus tells them that they will be able to speak directly to the Father in Jesus’s own name. The victory of the resurrection will mean that they will have direct access to the Father because He loves them. They will be adopted as sons by the work of the Son.

The disciples, struck by this sudden directness, latch on to Jesus’s words:

29 His disciples said to Him, “See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech! 30 Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God.”–John 16:29-30

“We get it!” they are saying, thinking that Jesus is already speaking to them plainly. In their immature faith they are telling Jesus to “say no more” when in reality they still barely comprehend because they have not yet seen. They are impatient to know and understand, but immediately prepare to go off “half cocked” once they think they have all the pieces of the puzzle. 

How many times do you and I do this very thing in our own walk of faith? It is easy to face the challenges of life, the threat of tragedy or problems and latch on to half truths or misunderstood teachings–only to find little real comfort. In times of despair it is easy to look for worldly wisdom or rely on your own limited knowledge rather than immersing yourself in the Word or earnestly seeking Him in prayer for guidance. 

31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe?–John 16:31

Jesus stops and looks at them. “Really?” He says. “You think you understand? You have no idea yet.” He seeks to sober them a bit:

32 Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.–John 16:32

“Bad things are about to go down,” Jesus says, “but it is okay, my Father is right here.” 

This is the hope that Jesus provides in the face of tragedy and despair: because of Him, victory is not only possible, it is assured. Your heavenly Father is HERE with you. 

The disciples cannot see this yet because the cross and resurrection have not yet happened–but they will. The King of Kings will defeat the ruler of this world–Satan will be overthrown (John 16:11):

33 These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”–John 16:33

Do you live as if Jesus has truly overcome the world? This is one of the most difficult things for a believer to do in the face of all the grief and tragedy that seem to surround this life. What brings you despair? 

Is it the constant barrage of bad news about COVID-19 and the pandemic? You have lost loved ones and friends, and you struggle with decisions to get a vaccine, wear a mask, or even go to Sunday worship at your church. 

You grow weary of politics, war, and the general unkindness that people seem so quickly to show you. You feel as if you have to look for good news–and when you get it, you worry that it cannot be trusted. When you do find earthly encouragement in the form of a friend or a bright moment in life, a part of your mind may feel that even if you relax and enjoy yourself, something else will come along soon to dash your hope and cause you pain.

Jesus is telling you, as He tells His disciples, that your hope does not lie in what may happen but in what He has already done. It is not darkest before the dawn when you know that you have already seen the light of morning in the cross, the empty tomb, and the love of your heavenly Father:

2 
The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined.–Isaiah 9:2

You have seen the light that the disciples could only look forward to. This is what you cling to in your darkest hours:


When I remember You on my bed,
I meditate on You in the night watches.


Because You have been my help,
Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice.–Psalm 63:6-7

Some versions translate this as “in the shadow of Your wings I will sing for joy.”

When despair and discouragement come, the shadows you feel are heavenly wings of comfort and healing as the arms of the Father surround you. Sing for joy, for though the battle rages, the victory is already won.

 

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The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/community

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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