September 11, 2001, is a day that forever changed the shape of America. Like you, I will never forget it. Early that morning I had gone riding horses with a good friend, surveying the many things he was doing to develop his newly acquired ranch. Because I knew much of our morning would find us tucked deeply into an array of box canyons that defined his sprawling property, I had left my phone in my truck.
When I was finished, I returned to my truck to discover on my phone numerous calls from my wife. Wanting a better signal I drove up out of the canyon lands toward the main road. Casually turning on the radio I was instantly bombarded with incoherent details about planes and towers and the president. And before I could call my bride the phone rang again. “Please come home . . . now,” she said.
I arrived home in time to see the Twin Towers fall. I was horrified. Christa and I sat in stunned silence, occasionally muttering shocked exclamations common to shocking moments. Fear gripped us. We wept. We wailed. We couldn’t believe what was going on.
September 11th changed everything. For years now we’ve known nothing but war and the constant scrutiny of those on point in the war on terror. We have had family and friends die in the mountains of Afghanistan or the chaotic streets of Mosul. We have learned about coded threat levels, been overcome with a variety of emotions with Usama Bin Laden’s death, and watched with frustration as a nation that was so unified following 9/11 has seemed to drift back toward complacency.
But the rubble of Manhattan isn’t all with which many of us deal. In some ways we all have our own very personal 9/11s. A husband announcing he no longer loves his wife. A seemingly secure job suddenly phased out. A 401k now empty. A child’s life taken by a freak accident. A tumor that simply won’t go away. A tornado that rips through a neighborhood. Such things are so hard to fathom, so difficult to explain. People will ask me, “Why does God allow such pain?” I don’t know.
John 16:33 quotes Jesus telling us that in this world in which we live we will have trouble. The word “trouble” signifies the kind of destructive pressure one might apply to grapes or olives when seeking to squeeze them for their juices. It is a word that is figurative for pain and turmoil and tribulation, and is therefore used to describe things ranging from the pain of war to the pain of childbirth. It is a word that describes, particularly in the context of John 16, the conflict that disciples of Jesus will face in this life. But it is also a word that describes the difficulty commonplace to all of humanity. Jesus is very clear: in this world, destructive pressures are real, common, and impact everyone. No one is immune.
Thankfully, that is not all he says, for he immediately follows up that dose of reality with a command to have hearts of courage. Of course, the fact that it is a command implies that we must choose to have hearts of courage. We must take heart, be of good cheer, take hold of courage. And the reason?
The last line of John 16:33 finds Jesus declaring “I have overcome the world.” Those in tune with the grammar of the ancient Greeks will note that this statement is in the perfect tense, suggesting that the overcoming of the world by Jesus has definitively happened, and that the fact of it is sufficient for all of time. Something else to note, which the English language does not bring out, is that there is an emphasis placed upon the person of Jesus. He says literally, “I, even I, have overcome the world.” And, of course, the word “world” relates to all that the cosmos offers in its vast array, with a particular view toward all that is tragic within it.
In what way does the fact that Jesus overcame the world benefit us today, especially in light of the tragedies commonplace in this life? Well, it must be pointed out that the proof that Jesus has conquered the world is found in his death and resurrection. In his death Jesus purchased for all who would believe passage unto new life with God—freedom, forgiveness of sin, restoration unto God and rightness in God’s eyes, hope beyond the mess of time and space as we know it, and so much more. Jesus overcame Satan’s power, the reality of temptation and sin, and death in all of its breadth. Just when it would appear that Satan had captured victory over Jesus, Jesus rose from the grave—a conqueror! Some benefits, therefore, are these:
First, that someone, namely Jesus, has come from beyond the world as we know it, reminds us that there is more out there than what this broken world offers. Secondly, that that someone, Jesus, is so good, reminds us that there is good that can, in fact, capture our hopes, regardless of what this world throws our way. Thirdly, that that someone, Jesus, has triumphed over evil and death, reminding us that evil and death will not ultimately prevail. Lastly, that that someone, Jesus, beckons us to have confidence that he will one day come and take us home (see John 14:1 and following). The dust and rubble of this old world will give way to . . . a realized dream of fresh air and clean pathways and . . . joy.