The Spirit Jesus Sends
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement:
There are things in life that you can’t put a value on because our typical value systems cannot contain their splendor—they truly are priceless. A good friend who walks with you in life; that person who you know has your best interest in their heart would fit into this category of “priceless.” Think about children whose parents and grandparents show up on the sidelines of their sporting endeavours or art or music recitals; the encouragement derived in the heart of a child by the presence of people they know love them is a priceless treasure that helps them to offer their best. In many respects we know life to be a team sport. When you know yourself to be loved by someone—loved through all the twists and turns of life—such love helps us to perform well, to achieve what we could never do on our own, to call from us the best we have to offer.
1. When something happens that severs such love and friendship it undermines life in many ways. This is where the disciples find themselves as Jesus tells them “I am only with you a little while longer, and them I am going to him who sent me” (John 7:33) and “where I am going you cannot come.” (John 13:33) The disciples cannot imagine life without Jesus present with them. They know Jesus loves them, that he is Messiah—what will they do without him? Their whole reason for leaving their fishing business behind or the lucrative income of tax collection or the connection to the band of Zealots sworn to end Roman occupation was because of Jesus; because Jesus was with them. They are reeling. What will they do? The proverbial rug has been pulled out from under their feet. They are so consumed with thoughts of what is going to happen to them they don’t even think to ask Jesus about where he is going—how this is going to impact Jesus.
It is in this context that Jesus tells them about the Spirit he will send to them and, by extension, to us as well. In fact, Jesus says, this is for our advantage. At this moment the disciples cannot see how but Jesus insists it is an advantage nonetheless. The word Jesus uses to describe the Spirit is translated in our NRSV bible as Advocate. Literally the words means “to come along beside” and, hence, had the meaning of helper or counsellor. The truth for the believer is that while you may be by yourself, you are never alone. The clear advantage Jesus could see was a future where presence with his people would no longer be limited to a particular location and time as it was on this evening as they walked to Gethsemane.
The Gospel of John is written somewhere between 75 and 95 CE (AD). It has been forty-five years plus since that evening John is recalling when our Lord said these things to his disciples on their way to the garden. Forty-five years since the promise to send the Spirit fell from Jesus’ lips. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. The church has spread throughout the then know Roman world. John has come to Ephesus where he leads a group of churches in Asia Minor—these seven churches are mentioned in his Revelation. He writes this gospel to encourage believing in Jesus so people can experience life in his name—life as Jesus envisioned for them.
As the Apostle John thinks back to that night; back to that awful moment when they were contemplating Jesus word that he was leaving them; and thinks about all that has transpired since then, John wants us to know that Jesus is as good as his word. The Advocate did come. The promised Spirit was poured out upon them. He does guide them into all truth. He does testify about Jesus. It was indeed to their advantage just as Jesus said. And John wants his readers to know that the Spirit’s presence is also for them. You have an Advocate who is always with you; the Spirit Jesus promises to give you.
The letter of 1 John is, in many respects, an application of the truths announced in the Gospel of John. It is there we read an application of the promise of Jesus to send the Spirit; “by this we know that he (Jesus) abides in us, by the Spirit he has given us.” During our Lent Bible study this past year we explored the letter of 1 John following a study by Dr. Tony Evans. He used an interesting parable to speak of the work of the Spirit in our lives. He said, “if you have a television in your home you have some sort of dish or cabling that allows you to get a picture. It allows you to see on the screen something that’s invisible made visible. When that receiver is on you are able to take a picture from another realm and see it made visible in your home on your television screen. Jesus has given every believer a receiver, the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit makes know to you what God wants you to know regarding his great love for you in Jesus Christ.
2. I invite you to reflect with me on this gift of the Spirit Jesus gives us and our experience of the Spirit in our lives. The Spirit, said Jesus, this One who will come alongside you, will testify to the truth regarding Jesus. The fact that we know of Jesus at all is the work of the Spirit Jesus sends. Yes, we heard through the witness of the church, our Lord’s people, but that witness is a response to the work of the Spirit in people’s lives. The Spirit Jesus sends is like a floodlight lighting up the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus for us.
The letter of 1 John probes this truth regarding the Spirit from another angel of vision. “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” (1 John 4:2) In the beginning of John’s gospel he said the living Word of God (Jesus), is God’s self-utterance and self-giving.” John never says that the Word became words, speeches, chatter. John insists that the Word became flesh. One man; one man only. Jesus from this no account-town of Nazareth. John is saying that God is to be found definitively in a one-horse town in the person of an ordinary Jew named Jesus. John doesn’t say that God has neglected or forsaken people who are non-Christians. Nevertheless it is in Jesus Christ that we learn that God neither neglects nor forsakes anyone.
As John writes his gospel and reflects on the years that have passed, he can see that the Spirit of God has taken the witness of the Apostles’ about Jesus and made it alive in the hearts and lives of people. John can see that they too know Jesus—even though they did not have the first-hand experience he had of Jesus; “Blessed are those who have not seen yet they have come to believe.” As you too have come to believe—whether just beginning, considering the possibility, or have been in the way a long time—you are experiencing the Spirit Jesus sends.
The prayer I typically pray before preaching for the Holy Spirit “to convict, convert, and consecrate our lives” is a prayer that has been in the churches’ liturgy for centuries. I invite you to reflect with me about this work of the Spirit to convict, convert, and consecrate with respect to Jesus’ teaching that the Spirit “will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement.” The word translate here as “proving the world wrong” also has the idea of “to expose.” Our thoughts are not God’s thoughts and we need to have our ideas and assumptions exposed for the errors that are in them.
(1) The Spirit’s exposing work “about sin,” said Jesus, is “because they do not believe in me.” The implication is that at the heart of sin is unbelief. Humans, in their sinfulness, don’t believe God. The story of the fall in the Garden of Eden happens because Adam and Eve abandon their belief in God—they listen to a lie, the lie that God is two-faced withholding good things from them. They don’t believe that God’s commands come from a heart that wants only good for them. At the very heart of sin is unbelief.
The nature of unbelief is brought to light in Jesus’ life. Our unbelief is exposed when God comes among us in Jesus Christ, wanting only good for us, and the response of the world is to get rid of him. I don’t know if it is the height of human arrogance or the callousness of unbelief on display; but surely the fact that humans question the existence of God reveals unbelief. Humans actually say with apparent erudite conviction—“if there is a God who exists.” Who among us got life for ourselves; which one of us secures our own existence? No, we just found ourselves alive in the world and know that life to be rather fragile. It is because our existence is fragile that we project the same onto God and question the existence of God.
The point I invite you to treasure is this; the fact that you have come to believe in Jesus in because of the Spirit’s convicting work with regard to our unbelief. And the Spirit Jesus sends continues to work in our lives chipping away at our unbelief as we grow in our knowledge of Jesus and intimacy with him. Faith begins by trusting as much of ourselves as we know of ourselves to as much of God as we know of him. And it is to grow in that same rhythm, ever knowing more of him. This is the Spirit at work in us.
(2) The Spirit’s exposing work “about righteousness,” said Jesus, is “because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me.” Recall that Jesus says this as they are on their way to Gethsemane. The manner in which Jesus will go the Father is by way of the cross. The nature of righteousness is brought to light in this way Jesus goes to the Father. The lifting up of Jesus on the cross was in the world’s eyes a demonstration of his unrighteousness was none other than the means of his exaltation. It was at once the reversal of the verdict of humans and God’s attestation of Jesus’ innocence and the installation of Jesus to the right hand of the father.
No one ever imagined that the crucifixion of Jesus was the means for fixing anything. The self-forgetful self-giving of God the Son hanging limp on a cross doesn’t look like God has power over anything. Yet here God’s power, his ability to achieve purpose, is on display. Here we see that God has dealt with human sin in himself and gives what we could never do for ourselves. And that fact that you have come to treasure the righteousness of Jesus as a gift given for your redemption is the work of the Spirit Jesus sends. What looks to the world like another despised criminal getting what they deserve is for you a precious treasure of God giving all for you; this is the Spirit’s converting work in our lives.
(3) The Spirit’s exposing work “about judgement,” said Jesus, is “because the ruler of this world has been condemned.” It was on the Tuesday prior to this night when they are on their way to the garden when Jesus was at the temple and some Greeks asked for an audience to see him. This brought to the forefront of Jesus mind the kind of death he would soon die. He prayed for the Father to “glorify you name.” It was then that Jesus also said “Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world is driven out.”
Here at the cross, vindicated by the resurrection from the dead, the decisive victory was won over sin and the evil one. Here we see the nature of judgement. As the song in John’s revelation makes clear—“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” We know who won. The Spirit Jesus sends makes clear in our hearts who to follow—to whom we are to render allegiance. Our lives are consecrated for him. I often think that this is one of the reasons Christians are despised. We have given our ultimate allegiance to another—not to a government or ideology—but to Jesus whose kingdom will never end. The Spirit Jesus sends enables us to be part of both the rebellion against and resistance to the evil one.
‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.