With You and In You

John 14,15,16

It is a haunting photograph. It is a photograph of a man bending over and talking to a small boy. Both are dressed in black. The man wears a flat-brimmed hat and has side curls. They are Jews. He stoops to the same level as the boy and looks directly into his face. His right hand is on the boy’s shoulder and his left is pointing upward toward the sky. Lifeless bodies are lying all around them. About ten feet away stands another man, in a Nazi uniform. He is holding a rifle and sighting it at the heads of the man and boy. It is their turn to die. The squeeze of the trigger must have been almost simultaneous with the click of the shutter. The photograph is horrifying, but strangely, it is also encouraging. The man spends his last moments on earth telling a story. As he bends down to speak to the boy, finger pointing to the sky, perhaps he is saying something like this: “Do not be afraid, my son. This man cannot really hurt us. He is sending us to the next world, where we will join your mother and sister. God is waiting for us. Everything is going to be all right.” In that moment of death, he is comforting a frightened child, and he does so by interpreting this final horrifying event in the light of the story of their whole lives. While this soldier might have the power of life and death, the father has God, and that is more powerful than any weapon, more powerful than life and death.

As Jesus spends these final hours with his disciples, he is like the father in the photograph, pointing up, telling them that this world has no power over them, that God has something even better in store.

And it is here in chapter 14 that Jesus begins to introduce them to the Holy Spirit. In fact, in the next three chapters, he will come back again and again to the sending of the Holy Spirit and the work of the Holy Spirit among them and within them. I am going to take all the things Jesus says about the Holy Spirit in these three chapters and combine them into this one lesson. That way there will be some continuity to the overall message instead of stopping and starting it over the next few weeks.

Let’s take these three blocks of teaching and read them here to give us the context for what Jesus says:

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:16-18)

“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:25-27)

“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.” (John 15:26)

“But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.” (John 16:7-15)

Just a few months ago we did a more comprehensive study of the Holy Spirit in the NT, but I want to focus on what Jesus tells his disciples that evening and how the Holy Spirit will give them what they need in the face of Jesus’ departure.

Let’s begin by noticing that Jesus calls him the Counselor. This is just one of the possible translations for the Greek word Parakletos, which literally means “one who is called alongside.” Various English translations are Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor, Proclaimer, Helper and of course Counselor. But the root meaning tells us that the Spirit will be up close and personal, not distant and inaccessible. Jesus says, “he lives with you and will be in you.”  And “he will be with you forever.”

Jesus was with his disciples for three years. His physical presence strengthened them and sustained them. But now the work for which he came was almost finished, and he was going back to the Father. But, as he tells them: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”

Jesus would still be with them, but it would be in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

I know, we’re still trying to wrap our minds around this idea of God being one, yet three. But when Jesus says, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father,” he could just as accurately have said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Holy Spirit.” Jesus, the eternal God, creator of heaven and earth, became flesh and lived among us. The Spirit, who in Genesis 1 moved over the face of the waters, remains spirit, but is just as real and just as powerful in his presence with us. They, together with the Father are God. Not three Gods but one God.

In fact, what Jesus tells them is “Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” A little later he will say the Father sends him in Jesus’ name. And then a little later Jesus says the Spirit goes out from the Father. There is never unilateral action within the Godhead. The Father and the Son and the Spirit act and work in complete and perfect unity and harmony. And when Jesus says, “I will be with you,” or “the Spirit lives in you” he is speaking of that unity which he will more fully voice in chapter 17: “Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”

I’m not going to try to explain or simplify or give some kind of analogy that will clear up our confusion about the Godhead. At best it would be inadequate, at worst it would be misleading or out and out wrong. We don’t have the eternal perspective with which to even begin to understand it. And so, let’s leave it as a mystery. We can grasp and appreciate enough from what we read in scripture to know that it’s true and that they have invited us into this amazing and perfect relationship that exists between them, and now us.

And so, Jesus tells us, when he departs, the Spirit will come and be the living, personal presence of God. Not only will he be with them, he will be in them. The Spirit has an indwelling presence within each of us who are believers. In Acts 2, when the Spirit comes on the day of Pentecost, Peter will tell the thousands who are gathered: “Believe and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sin and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Paul will later write to the Corinthian Christians: Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?

And that draws our attention to Jesus’ words that he uses to describe the Spirit. First, he is most often called the “Holy” Spirit. That is a description of character, not activity. We like to dive in and talk about everything the Spirit does: gives us gifts, transforms us, helps us in prayer… But first and foremost, the Spirit is holy, and when he indwells you, he sets out to impart to you that same holiness. He roots out that evil, he deals with your sin, both by convicting you of sin and cleansing you from sin. When God says, “Be holy because I am holy” the Holy Spirit is the one who makes that possible.

Jesus also calls him “the Spirit of truth.” Just as Jesus had said, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” so the Spirit is truth. Not just in the sense that he is honest, but that he brings truth into the world, and more importantly truth into our lives. We have an incredible ability to live in self-deception. We allow our perception of ourselves and the world around us to be tainted by half-truths and lies. We live, if not in darkness, then in this gray-tinged world where we are incapable of seeing the world as it is or ourselves for who we really are.

The Spirit of truth clears away the deception and lies. Jesus says, “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” 

The Spirit of truth places a mirror up to our face so that we can see the truth about ourselves. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.

But more than simply convicting, he brings the life-giving words of Jesus into our lives: “He will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” And a little later: “He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”

In that immediate context, his disciples were going to need to be able to speak and proclaim God’s word in the absence of Jesus. They would be brought before kings and councils to defend the faith; they would stand before crowds hungry to hear the Word of God. The Spirit would give them the words to speak. He would bring to mind the things that Jesus said. The Spirit would teach and remind them of what they would need to say when the time came.

But this also has a broader application and has meaning even for us. This same Spirit of truth had inspired all scripture. Peter wrote: Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21)

Paul writes that the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. In God’s Word, the Spirit continues to teach and remind us of what Jesus said and taught. He uses those scriptures in our lives in powerful ways. Paul also writes in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

But, I’m not saying that the Spirit is only at work in your life when you have your Bible open. Let’s not restrict and limit him like that. He is more powerful than an open book. He is able to take that word and guide and strengthen you. It becomes, not just ink on paper, but God’s living word written on our hearts. The Hebrews writer said this: For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Heb 4:12)

The Spirit in our lives makes it possible for these words on the pages of our Bibles to mold us and remake us into the likeness of Christ.

Let’s go back for a moment to something Jesus said in John 16:7: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. In the minds of the disciples, and perhaps in ours’ as well, this seems like an impossible statement: “It is for your good.” How could Jesus’ going away be good? How can the coming of the Spirit be better? Those are the kind of questions we ask when we have already made up our minds about how God should think and act.

We do it even today. Some terrible thing will happen in our lives and we can’t imagine how it could be God’s will that we go through that. And so we lash out at God and accuse him of neglect, or worse, hostility toward us. We refuse to allow that God has our very best interests at heart and whatever happens, he will bring about good.

Those disciples couldn’t imagine that anything was better than Jesus’ physical presence with them. But as long as Jesus remained with them, his work would be localized and limited. When the Holy Spirit arrived fifty days later, on the day of Pentecost, that ministry expanded exponentially into the lives of his disciples. Four years later, the church was comfortably growing in Jerusalem, and a terrible thing happened – the persecution and scattering of the church. Nobody would have said that was a good thing, until we read that because of it, the ministry was now unleashed world-wide. Who would have imagined that? God would.

Who would have guessed that God would use the death of his son to bring about the redemption of the world? God did. So, while we recoil at the terrible, unimaginable pain and suffering Jesus endured and wonder how it could serve God’s purpose, Jesus says, “It is better for you…”

 It’s a reminder not to second-guess God and decide what and how he should do things. But it is also, and ultimately a reminder that in God’s wisdom, he has planned for our salvation and spiritual growth through the death of his son and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

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