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What would my kids think if I said to them, “I will always be here for you, except that I’m leaving now…and you’ll never see me again in this life.” That would seem a bit twisted. Well, that’s kind of what Jesus did. The last recorded words of Jesus to his disciples were, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” And then he left. Can you imagine James turning to John and saying, “I thought he just said….” How are Christians supposed to reconcile the fact that Jesus is not here anymore with the promise that he always would be?
Think of it this way, if the Church is called Christ’s Body, and that body remains on earth, then what does a body need in order to live and thrive? It needs a Spirit to inhabit it. Christ’s presence would be a presence of that kind…a Holy Spirit that would come and give this Churchly Body life, because that’s what a Spirit does.
Welcome to the Homilies of St. Asinus, the recycled saint.
So far this series of homilies has focused on the Spirit of God’s relationship to God’s people in former times—to the ancient Israelites and to Christ in the incarnation. We have now reached the turning of a corner because the goal of this series is not merely historical—what was the Spirit for them, but who is the Spirit for us. In what sense is the Spirit of God the endowment of the Church, of the individual Christian? What does it mean for our lives to be lived within the environment of the Spirit of God? All that has gone before was necessary and frames all that is to come, and this homily is the bridge between the two— if I may risk a Dickensian pastiche, the difference between the Spirit of Christ Past and the Spirit of Christ Present.
You see, the Spirit has not come upon the Church randomly or incidentally. This presence is not just a function of the general universal operation of the life-giving Spirit in nature. Rather the very life of the Christ’s Church is bound up in a series of promises given by Christ himself that his Church would live and move within a Spirit that he would specifically send or ask to be sent upon the Church. As such we must begin this journey of several homilies by considering the nature of the promise Christ made to his disciples regarding the Spirit, for whatever is to come, it will be bound by those promises.
By and large Christ’s promises regarding the Spirit are found in the Gospel of John, in the upper room discourses of chapters 13-17. This conversation takes place on Christ’s last night with his disciples, just before he goes to the cross. He speaks of things near and dear to his heart. He tells them that he is going away, he is returning to his Father, and the disciples are understandably upset by this. They feel they are being left behind, orphaned, cast out on the stormy sea of the world in a ship with no captain and no rudder. Their apprehension is entirely understandable.
To this Jesus says in 14:1 in essence, “Trust me, Trust my Father, it’s going to be alright.” But it’s not so clear to the disciples that it will be alright. So at several different points in the Upper Room discourse Jesus attempts to comfort his disciples with a very concrete promise—that they will have all they need, not only to survive, but to thrive in his absence.
He even declares that the one who trust in him will do greater works than he, and that this will be possible “because I am going to the Father.” Something about Jesus’ departure will actually be to the disciples’ advantage.
What could possibly compensate for the departure of Jesus, in fact so over-compensate that they shall be even more potent in the world than he was himself? It’s incredible, impossible, scandalous. Would could possibly be more powerful than having Jesus’ physical presence?
Elisha probably thought the same of Elijah’s departure… until he received the double portion of his Spirit. What if the disciples, nay the whole Church that would spring from their testimony, were in similar fashion to receive a portion of Jesus’ own Spirit? It is exactly that promise that Jesus now makes, beginning in chapter 14, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth…”
And he returns to discuss this Spirit a half a dozen more times in this conversation. Clearly we are dealing with something of great urgency and importance to Jesus that on the very last night of his life he should return to this theme so frequently.
Why does Jesus put so much stock in this coming Spirit? Indeed, he rests his entire program upon it. We have seen in a previous homily how the Son during the incarnation laid himself out in complete and humble dependence upon this Spirit in everything from the agency of his birth, to his strength and obedience, even to his very resurrection.
Jesus believes that the promise of this Spirit has the power to produce hope, peace, power, and comfort in the disciples—and enough to compensate for his departure. He believes this because he speaks from his own experience with this Spirit. Jesus had “tested” this Spirit—proved It under every circumstance and found It to be strong and sufficient. And now he promises that this Spirit will be to his disciples what it has been to him.
First of all, it will be an agent of great power in them. He says in John 14:12, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.”
Like Elijah himself passing the cloak of his power to Elisha, so too this is why Christ must go. If he does not, his power cannot pass to his disciples. If it does, however, as he says, greater things shall you do, for the same Spirit of Power will be on you. Now don’t make the mistake of thinking he is speaking only of miraculous things here. No, no, that’s not all Jesus did. It is not even obvious that his miracles were his most important works. His greatest deeds may have been his works of humility, service, and love. Rather we will be empowered and equipped to mimic the totality of his life and ministry.
Even in regard to the miraculous, it does not necessarily mean that we will all be able to do the things Jesus did exactly—like turning water to wine, raising Lazarus from the dead (though the Spirit possesses the power and authority to work even such things as these in our midst if the Father so wills). What is ‘greater’ is that these works will be done, not by the Son of God, but by regular people in whom the Spirit of Christ has taken up residence.
The people of God, not some special clerical class, not some rarified priesthood, not some council of Jedi masters, but WE, the people of God—in all of our smallness, confusion, and weakness. WE are to be the recipients of the greatest endowment known to man—the Spirit of all power.
But there’s more. Jesus has already said that the disciples are not going to understand all he has said and done. Some of that inability is simply that Jesus has not yet gone to the cross and been resurrected. They must simply live through the darkness and into the morning before they can understand the nature of the night.
But it is more than this, they cannot understand because they have not yet received the Agent of Truth. Three times here (and once in I John) this coming one is called the “Spirit of Truth.”
Listen, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you”.
And, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth.”
Now we have the promise that all Jesus was really doing and talking about will be made clear to them…how? By this Spirit. The Spirit is here called “another helper-advocate” (we’ll deal with the helper-advocate part in a bit). But hear the first word, “another.” Jesus is saying “I will send another like myself.” John clearly gets this and actually uses this “helper-advocate” word for Jesus himself in I John 2:1.
This coming one will be like Jesus in many ways, here we see one of those ways. Just as Jesus came, not to proclaim himself, but his Father’s name, will, and kingdom. So too now this Spirit will not seek his own benefit and glory, in fact, says Jesus, “He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.” This promised one will come and remind, teach, and proclaim the words of Christ. He will bring Christ’s people into the necessary knowledge and understanding of all that Jesus said. At this Spirit’s hands, the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ will not be lost.
At this Spirit’s hands, the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ will not be lost.
And there we discover our role. “When the Helper comes… He will testify about Me, and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” Under the guidance of the Spirit of Truth, we too shall be empowered to speak truth—to proclaim with confidence and accuracy the message of this Christ, who saves from sin. We shall become agents of truth and proclamation under the tutelage of this Spirit. It is a heavy and difficult task that we have inherited. But do not loose heart, for we shall not speak on our own.
This promised one will go before us as an Agent of Holiness.
“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.”
This Spirit once come will make known with clarity the hopelessness and despair of a life outside of Christ. He will proclaim the defeat of the enemy and the absolute victory of Christ. As the agent of holiness… nay the very HOLY Spirit itself will confront the world with the brokenness of its sin, with the call to righteousness, and of the certainty of coming judgment.
Now we must not miss the implication here. Jesus is not speaking of some mystical work of the Spirit in the inner most parts of the sinner (or at least in context that is not his first meaning)—a cosmic Jiminy Cricket who will serve as a surrogate conscience for our pagan neighbors, so that they will magically come to know right from wrong. (Now I do not doubt that the Spirit can and does do this, but it’s not Jesus’ point here.)
The Spirit will have this work because it comes as “Another” like Christ, and what has Christ been about for the whole of his ministry? What has this Spirit-empowered Messiah been doing? He has moment by moment been speaking out against evil and sin, against false religiosity and onerous legalism and hypocrisy, social exclusion and despair, against principalities and powers, arrogance and violence and injustice. He has personified the rule and reign of his Father by calling out to rebels to lay down their arms, surrender, and enter the Kingdom of life and light.
His very death upon the cross is a testimony to that confrontation, wherein he has disarmed the powers of sin, death, and the devil by submitting to their mistreatment, by taking onto his own shoulders the sin of his own people and carrying it to the grave and leaving it there. And now his own Spirit will come upon his people so that they might do the same.
So who will now be the mouthpiece of the Spirit’s work of confrontation? Whose will be the hands of the Spirit’s work of justice? Whose will be the shoulders upon which the Spirit will lay the burdens of a broken world? Whose voice shall cry out in faithful imitation of Christ’s own, “Oh Jerusalem, Oh Jerusalem…” but now, with humbling and horrifying implications, “Oh, America, America, how we would have gathered you under our wings like a mother hen her chicks…but you would not come….”
The Spirit is mysterious, to be sure, but not that mysterious. The Spirit’s work is very concrete, the agenda very plain. The Spirit desires to continue through us the work of Christ, so thoroughly and completely that when that broken world looks at us and hears our proclamation, they see and hear the very one they crucified coming to them offering peace, forgiveness, and restoration, clothed in the covering of his people.
The Spirit desires to continue through us the work of Christ, so thoroughly and completely that when that broken world looks at us and hears our proclamation, they see and hear the very one they crucified coming to them offering peace, forgiveness, and restoration, clothed in the covering of his people.
But if you are person of an conscience, you must blanch as such an idea. Who am I to do such a thing? How can I being what I know myself to be speak thus? I who have so often failed, who am so prone to weaknesses, wandering, and fear. The world would rightly laugh in my face as the greatest of hypocrites.
Be at peace, friend, for this one who is coming will also be to us an Agent of Comfort—the very presence of Christ to us. We have spoken already of the Spirit as a “another helper.” This word here Paracletos in the Greek, is used only by John—four times in this section for the Spirit and once in I John for Christ himself, and it means “one who comes alongside.” A hard word with a lot of debate.
The King James Version translated it “Comforter,” but they did not mean the word as we use it—rather in the Elizabethan as someone who strengthens. The NIV used “Counselor,” but again not in the therapeutic sense, rather “legal counselor” so the best translation may be “Advocate, ” as in one who will make our case for us. Who will stand by us. Who takes our side in the midst of our burdens and weaknesses. One who carries the weight for us when we have exhausted ourselves.
Remember, that line back in chapter 14, “he shall do greater things than these…” but hear now the next verse—“Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” It seems that with the Spirit, prayer is another of these great works that we shall do. The Father will grant our prayers as he did Jesus’ and not just because it is in the name, authority, and power of Jesus that we pray—oh yes, it IS that at least and Jesus is clear on that. But wherein are we given authority to take up that name? Wherein is the power to so pray transferred to us? Wherein are we given such a right to approach the Father as if we were Jesus himself? How is that we have the right to address God as Father? It is because Christ has given us of his own Spirit. When Paul speaks of Jesus himself interceding with the Father, it is because his Spirit advocates for us. Remember the groaning in Romans 8—that the Spirit is making intercession even when we do not know the words or even the right requests—that Spirit groans with us in our trouble.
It is with the promise of this Spirit that Christ wishes to comfort his disciples. It is with this promise that he invites them so repeatedly to “not be troubled at heart.” Do not fear that I am going away. I will not leave you as orphans in the world… that is, as children who have no Father. For Christ himself will bring us to his Father. How? By means of his ever-present Spirit in our midst.
It is no coincidence that here in the upper room Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” That same Spirit who emboldened, empowered, encouraged, and enabled this Jesus to fulfill his mission shall embolden, empower, encourage, and enable his people to fulfill theirs. We are not alone, we are not forsaken.
What do we lack to accomplish our mission? We have Christ here with us. And he will not leave us, he will not abandon us, rather he has fit us with every resource we need to follow him, do his sort of work, and live his sort of life. Christ is here with us in the midst of our labors, our burdens, our hopes. We have not been left alone to wander our way through the world. We are the beneficiaries of the greatest inheritance in history—the Holy Spirit of the Living God. So rest in that one who groans on your behalf. For the Spirit of Christ will not let you go.
We’ll see you next time at the Homilies of St. Asinus, reflections of a recycled saint.
 Matthew 28:20
 For all the relevant sections, see John 14:16-18, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7-15.
 John 13:7
 John 14:26
 John 16:12-13
 Joun 16:13-14
 John 15:26-27
 John 16:8-11
 As well as the American Standard Version
 As in the TNIV and NLT.
 John 14:13
 John 14:27
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