In the prelude to his
famous giant chicken heart story, Bill Cosby talks about how his parents would
leave him home alone. Those were the days, he tells us, before babysitters. His
father would say, “What! Let some stranger look after my kid? I’d just as soon
leave him home by himself!”
knew better than Bill Cosby’s father. As He prepared His disciples for His
death, resurrection and then ascension into Heaven, our Lord was very careful
to assure His followers they were not being left by themselves. One of the main
themes of Jesus’ talk with His disciples in the upper room beginning in John 13 and contining through our text in chapter 16 is that Someone will come to them and
be with them. That Someone is the Holy Spirit.
Here in verse 26 of
chapter 15 Jesus gives the Spirit a name that goes back to chapter 14 verse 16.
The Holy Spirit is the “Advocate.” If you survey English Bible versions you
will find a whole range of translations for the actual word: “Advocate,”
“Comforter,” “Encourager,” “Counselor,” “Helper,” “Friend,” and the list goes
on. Bible scholars tend to just make an English word out of the Greek word and
call Him the “Paraclete.”
means “one who is called alongside.” Technically, it can mean someone like a
lawyer. So we get the translation “Advocate.” But for Jesus here it is such a
personal and loving presence that the other, more intimate meanings, like
“Comforter” and “Friend,” make good sense. Jesus assured them like we assure
children that they will not be left alone. He was sending them a wonderful
In this part of Jesus’
brief on the Holy Spirit, He talked about how the Advocate would “testify on
his behalf.” Part of the Spirit’s work would be to instruct the disciples of
Jesus, like a good babysitter who helps kids with their homework. The purpose,
in verse 27, is so that the disciples themselves may testify to Jesus. The Holy
Spirit teaches them, so that they will be able to teach others.
All this talk of the
Holy Spirit coming at the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth is new. In Luke and
Acts, Jesus only promised that rushing wind of the Spirit we heard about in Acts 2 as He prepared to ascend into heaven. Here in John’s Gospel, He instructs them about
the Spirit as He’s preparing to die on the Cross. Where our text picks up again
in chapter 16 at the end of verse 4, He explains why: “I did not say these
things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.”
As long as Jesus was
with the disciples, He was their teacher, their guide, their help and comfort.
Now as He makes ready to leave them, He provides for the Holy Spirit to take
His place in that ministry. And He realized that His disciples were not going
to understand this, anymore than a little child will completely understand what’s
happening when she’s left with a babysitter.
Verse 5 points out to
the disciples that they’ve failed to even ask the right question about what
Jesus is up to, “I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where
are you going?’” This is a spot where folks who like to find contradictions in
the Bible have a heyday. Turn over to chapter 13, verse 36 and there you will
find Peter asking the question plain as day, “Lord, where are you going?” Then
just a little further along in chapter 14, verse 5, Thomas says, “Lord, we
don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
So how is it that now
in chapter 16 Jesus says they haven’t asked where He’s going? Let’s assume the
writer of John was not stupid. He knew that what Jesus says here doesn’t seem
to match what the disciples say earlier. John wouldn’t have written it like
this unless it was clear to him that Jesus was referring to a deeper and more
meaningful question than just the literal words, “Where are you going?”
Go back to Bill Cosby.
In the story of another time his parents were going out, he tells how he and
his brother would cling to their legs as they were getting ready, crying,
“Mommy, you going out? Daddy, you going out?” That’s the spirit in which Peter
and Thomas asked their questions. They weren’t really after a literal answer.
They weren’t trying to find out just what the Father was doing with Jesus.
Instead, they were just expressing their fear and dismay that He was leaving
Peter wasn’t sincerely
asking for Jesus’ destination anymore than when you leave your toddler in the
nursery and he cries, “Where are you going?” Your child doesn’t want to know
the literal answer to his question. He doesn’t really care exactly where you
are headed. He just wants you to stay with him. And that’s how the disciples
were feeling about Jesus. That’s why in verse 6, He acknowledges their feeling
saying, “because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your
Yet once again, like
we do with children, Jesus comforts His disciples by telling them how much fun
they’re going to have with their new babysitter. You know how it is, when you
go out. “She’ll play your favorite game with you. She’ll let you watch television.
She will feed you ice cream.” You say what you can to make them happy and
excited about the prospect of being left with someone else.
Jesus puts it this way
in verse 7, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I
go away…” You know how it is. If you hire a really good babysitter, then after
the first couple times, your children may actually look forward to your
departure and her arrival. They know they’re going to have fun, that the sitter
will come with a bag full of books or games or videos they will truly enjoy.
But it can’t happen until you leave.
That’s what Jesus is
trying to tell His disciples is true of the Holy Spirit. They’re actually going
to have a great time with the Spirit, but as He goes on in verse 7, “if I do not
go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to
you.” That’s exactly what happened on the day of Pentecost which we celebrate
this morning. That forlorn group of disciples, missing Jesus as Jim talked
about last week, suddenly found themselves having the time of their lives when
they received the Holy Spirit.
Yet it couldn’t happen
until Jesus went away. Sometimes we wax nostalgic about how wonderful and
glorious and better it would be if we could only have walked with Jesus like
those disciples did. If we could only have sat at His feet and heard Him teach.
If we could only have watched as He put His hands on people and healed them.
Wouldn’t our faith, wouldn’t our spiritual lives be so much stronger, so much
better? But right here Jesus is telling us it’s not so. The Holy Spirit things
would be better for them. For us, they are better now.
How is it better that
Jesus is gone and the Holy Spirit is here? Jesus explains in verses 8-11 by
laying out what the Holy Spirit would do, and why. Verse 8 summarizes it as
“proving the world wrong” in three respects, “about sin and righteousness and
Here’s where that
legal sense of “Paraclete,” comes in. But rather than an advocate, the Spirit
is a kind of prosecuting attorney, arguing to convict the world. And His case
against the world, says Jesus, is to the disciples’ advantage, to our advantage, because the day of Pentecost, the work of the Holy Spirit, has made
this world a better place, has given us hope and joy we would never have
That first work of the
Spirit, convicting the world of sin, was at first focused on the demonstration
that they had sinned in not believing in Him, as it says in verse 9. Yet out of
that has come a broader and deeper conviction of sin that has changed the way
human beings live. The Holy Spirit has made a difference in history.
At the beginning of
the month we sat and heard Kay Strom and Ruth Hill talk to us about the evil of
modern-day slavery, of human trafficking. But it’s only because of the Spirit’s
work of spreading the Christian faith that the world today finally understands
that slavery is wrong, is sin. Without that, we would still be where the
ancient world was, with slavery accepted as a normal part of life. We’re better
As Christians in this
country, we deplore the fact that unborn children are killed every day in
abortions. But without the convicting work of the Holy Spirit in the world, we
would still be where the ancient Romans were, believing it perfectly all right
to murder unwanted infants even after they are born. It may be bad, but it’s
better than it would have been.
It is the work of the
Holy Spirit in the world that convicted human beings with a decent sense of sin
and shame for evils like war and poverty and racism. It’s the Spirit whom Jesus
gave to us who has taught everyone to see those things as sin and to want to
remove them from our lives. We still do all those things, but at least we see
them for what they are. It’s better now.
Verse 10 says the Holy
Spirit convicts the world about righteousness, because Jesus was going to the
Father. Jesus taught the good news of new life in Him to at most a few thousand
people in His ministry on earth. In the power and strength of the Holy Spirit,
Christian missionaries have carried that good news around the world. The world
has had the opportunity to hear about a righteousness that comes from God.
encountered perhaps a few hundred people that He could personally touch and
heal. But led by the Holy Spirit, His followers not only did their own miracles
of healings, they cared for the sick, invented the idea of a hospital, and
brought health and wholeness to millions of people throughout the earth. We
still have disease and cancer and birth defects, but there is a righteous
desire to help everyone we can. We are healthier now.
Jesus went away from
us so that He could come to us in the person of the Holy Spirit and extend His
ministry in ways that simply were not possible when limited to His bodily presence
here. As nice as it might seem to still have Jesus walking among us, our lives
are better because Jesus ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit out into
the world among us.
That’s even true in
the third convicting work of the Spirit, the conviction of judgment in verse
11. By the Spirit we are taught to hope in a final, righteous judgment of this
world. However incomplete the conviction of sin is, whatever evil and hatred
persists, however lacking in righteousness we are, whatever pain and poverty
remains, we have been given the promise that Jesus Christ will return to judge
the world and set it all right.
In fact, we might say
that work of the Spirit to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment
is summed up in that mystery of faith we proclaim as we receive Communion:
“Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” Christ has died.
There’s the conviction of our sin, enough to cost the Son of God His life.
Christ has risen. There’s the conviction of Jesus’ righteousness, that He was
an innocent victim and the Father raised Him up in vindication. Christ will
come again. There’s the conviction of a just judgment on our lives and on this
The message of
Pentecost is that Jesus has left, but He has not left us alone. In fact, in a
deep and mysterious way, in and through the Holy Spirit, He is still with us.
That’s what He was saying in the remaining verses of our text. In verse 12 He
spoke about “many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” So in
verse 13, “When the Spirit comes, he will guide you into all truth; for he will
not speak on his own…”
What Jesus meant is
that the divine Holy Spirit babysitter is way better than any human babysitter.
When we go out and leave our children with a sitter we wish for the impossible.
We want someone who will do everything the way we would, someone who will watch
our kids with the same care we would give, who will put them to bed at the
right time, feed them the sort of food we cook, discipline them with the same
firmness and gentleness we offer. In other words, if we could clone ourselves
to be their caregivers, we would do it. We can’t, but because of the mystery of
God, Jesus could.
The Trinity, the
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all share one heart and mind. What one knows the
others know. What one cares about, the others care about. What one would do,
the others would do. So in verse 14 Jesus says about the Holy Spirit, “He will
glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” And verse
15 just shows us this mystery of the Trinity in its wholeness, “All that the
Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and
declare it to you.”
Jesus brought us all
the blessing of God the Father. And now, because what belongs to one person of
the Trinity belongs to all, the Spirit brings us what belongs to Jesus, all His
grace, all His healing, all His love. And because the Spirit brings us all
that, it’s better now.
It isn’t just about
the world being a better place because of the Holy Spirit. That’s true, but
it’s also true for each us, true for you. I invite you to think on that today,
on the Day of Pentecost. You may be feeling terribly confused. Things you
thought you understood seem murky and hopeless. You may be suffering pain,
whether it’s physical or agonizing emotion. You may be horribly ashamed of some
sin you’ve committed against people you love. You may be in deep despair,
wondering if your Christian faith makes any real difference. In and through the
Holy Spirit, Jesus says the answer is yes. By the Spirit, your life is better
than it would have been without His presence.
Let the Holy Spirit be
the Paraclete for you today. Let Him draw alongside you as He takes the love of
God the Father and the grace of Jesus Christ and declares them to you. You are
God’s child. He has not left you alone. He’s left you with the help and comfort
and hope of His own self in the person of His Spirit.
And if you feel that
presence of the Holy Spirit near you today. If you experience what John Wesley
called having your heart “strangely warmed,” then do what Jesus asked us to at
the beginning of this lesson. Testify about it to someone else. Let a friend or
a family member know that they are not alone, that the Paraclete, the Comforter
is alongside them as well. Let the presence of the Holy Spirit, which is the
continuing presence of Christ our Lord, which is the love of the Father,
continue in and through you.
We are not by
ourselves. Our Lord left us with His Spirit, and because of that, it’s better
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2012 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj