The last gift - John 14:15-31

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the Riverside Church service on 28th October 2007.

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Let’s imagine that I want to learn to dance. At the moment I can’t. I can manage to barn dance under the careful guidance of a caller, but waltzes, foxtrots or salsa and I am a total ignoramus. No ‘Come Dancing’ for me. But say I want to learn. So, being the rational, cerebral type I go to Waterstones’ and buy a book- ‘Dummies Guide to Dancing’. After all, I read a similar book to help me operate my computer in the study, so why not a book to help me operate my feet on the dance floor?

I then take my book home with me and in the quiet of my study I set to work. I do everything it says. The book says sway: I sway. The book says shuffle; I shuffle. The book says turn; I turn. I even photocopy the steps from the book and make shoe patterns which I place on the floor so I can get the steps just right.

This goes on for several weeks. Of course, during all of this time my wife Heather is kept totally in the dark because I want to surprise her with my new found skill. Then, when I feel confident enough, I invite her to come in and watch. I hold the book open and follow the instructions step by step. I even read the word’s aloud so she will be pretty impressed knowing I have done my homework. "Lean with your right shoulder," so I lean. "Now step with your right foot," so I step. "Turn slowly to the left," so I turn.

I continue to read, then dance, then read, then dance until the dance is finally over and I flop exhausted in the chair, and I look at Heather and I exclaim- ‘There! What do you think of that? I executed the dance perfectly.’ She looks back at me, shaking her head in pity. ‘You certainly did execute it’ she says, ‘you killed it!’ ‘What do you mean?’ I reply. ‘Well, you forgot the most important part-the music.’ I had not even given a thought to the music. I had bought the book, I learnt the rules, I laid out the pattern but forgot all about the music. Not only that, but I would have done better having a dancing partner. So my wife gets up, she puts on the CD, takes my hand and- off we go. Before I know where I am, I am dancing, really dancing and I don’t even have the book.

What is the point of that little story? It is this. Sometimes Christians can be so tight on following the book that they forget the music. That is, we might know our Bibles backwards. We have been brought up on the stories of Jesus, fascinated by the deeds of David, and even managed to get some key doctrines under our belt. And so we set out on the dance floor of the Christian life with the book but with no music in our hearts, no animation. We measure each step, we note each turn and then we finish the day exhausted because we have danced with the book. Dancing with no music and just a book is hardly going to be a joy is it? Also, not to have a partner who would be with us in the dance of life is hardly dancing at all. And yet, it is possible to own the name of Christ and that is what our spiritual life is like- following rules rather than fulfilling a relationship.

Now Jesus knew that. That is why on the night before his own death when the disciples were beginning to get anxious with all this talk about him ‘Going Away’ that he introduced them to the great music maker of the Trinity- the Holy Spirit. More than that, the one who could lead us on in the dance of the Christian life which is to be consummated in the great dance of heaven, as C.S. Lewis called it. We read all about it in John 14. And I want us to look at this passage under three headings, the person of the Holy Spirit, the purpose of the Holy Spirit and the prerequisite to receiving the Holy Spirit.

First of all, the person of the Holy Spirit, look at verse 15: "If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever-- 17the Spirit of truth.’ If I were to ask you to describe God, your heavenly Father, I am sure you would be able to say something- he is the Creator, he made us and knows about us and cares for us. If I were to ask you to tell me something about God the Son, again I am sure that you would make a decent job of it, he is the human face of God, the second person in the Trinity who came to die on the cross for our sins, has been raised to life as the rightful ruler of the world and will one day return to wind up history. But if I were to ask you about the Holy Spirit, things might be a bit more difficult. Of the three persons of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit is the one we seem we understand the least. The Holy Spirit seems a shadowy figure, and even more so when he used to be referred to as the ‘Holy Ghost’ –you can’t get more shadowy than a ghost! Perhaps the most common mistake is to think of the Holy Spirit as being more of a power than a person. Even within Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement this is the predominant way of thinking and speaking- as if the Spirit were some sort of liquid to fill us or a gas to blow us away. But that is not the understanding the Lord Jesus gives here.

Look at verse 17 for example and you can’t get it any clearer-‘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.’ That the Holy Spirit is a person is underscored for us in verse 15 as well as unpacking for us the kind of person he is: ‘I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever-- the Spirit of truth.’ Jesus is promising to send ‘another Counsellor’. There are two words in the original language which can be translated ‘another’. It could be ‘another type altogether’ – a different kind of counsellor. Or it could be ‘another of the same kind’. That is what is meant here. But another like whom? Well, like Jesus of course. Jesus is going back to heaven via the cross and he will then ask his Father to send someone just like himself. So what is Jesus doing by describing this other person who will come from the Father and the Son, that is from heaven where they reign- as a ‘Counsellor’? It is an odd word that Jesus uses- strictly translated it is ‘Paraclete’- which means someone who comes alongside to assist. Think of it like this. If as happened to me the other month, I develop a flat tire on the bridge over from Goole and I pull into the side of the road to change it and a kindly motorist sees me struggling and decides to get out to help me, he will have become my ‘Paraclete’, and I would be very grateful. As it happened it was my wife who had to help out! Some Bible translations render the word ‘Comforter’ which is certainly one way of thinking about the Spirit, not just in terms of wiping away tears, but in the old English meaning of the word- as someone who strengthens. Some render it ‘Advocate’ with legal overtones- someone who represents his client and speaks on his behalf. In some case the word used is ‘Helper’. But we would be best to work out what the Holy Spirit- the Counsellor does by seeing what Jesus says he will do, as well as thinking about how Jesus was a ‘Paraclete’- ‘Helper’ to the disciples himself.

So what of the purpose of the Holy Spirit? First of all, he is someone who is with the follower of Jesus for ever- v 15 he will ‘be with you forever’; v17 ‘you know him for he lives with you and will be in you.’ I still have very vivid memories of my Dad teaching me to ride my bike when I was about 5 years old. He took me onto the back street, which was really a mud track and rather gingerly I would get onto the bike with my knuckles white with gripping the handle bars too tight. He would push me along, holding on to the saddle and urge me to peddle, telling me to keep my eyes fixed straight ahead. But I kept calling out, ‘Are you still there?’ And he would reassure me he was, then he would let go, I would panic and fall of. So I would get on and try again. Then the moment came, when I was peddling away furiously, all the time asking, ‘Dad are you there?’ and then I found myself cycling away and heard my Dad laughing away about fifty feet down the road. I was actually cycling by myself! Well, according to Jesus, the Holy Spirit both is and is not like my Dad. He is like him in that he is someone who comes alongside to help the Christian, as my Dad was beside or behind me helping me keep my balance. And that is not a bad way of thinking about his role as ‘Helper’, he helps the Christian to keep his balance. But one difference is this, whereas my Dad left me once I had got going myself, the Holy Spirit doesn’t leave us. He remains beside us. This spatial imagery of being ‘with’ us preserves the Holy Spirit’s distinctiveness as a person.

But even more startling is the other word Jesus uses, that he will be ‘in’ us. In this way he works differently to the way Jesus did while he was on earth. There Jesus was ‘with’ his disciples, but not ‘in’ them. Here we are told he will be ‘in’ all the followers of Jesus for all time. So why is he with us and in us? Jesus goes on to explain.

In the first instance he mediates the presence of God the Father and the Son. Look at verse 18: ‘I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.’ Jesus has just been speaking about sending the Helper, the Holy Spirit to be with and in his followers and immediately he follows this up by speaking of himself being with them. But how can he when he has already told them he is going away back to the Father? Well, because once he goes back to heaven God the Son’s presence amongst his people will be mediated by God the Holy Spirit. Also the Holy Spirit unites us with God- v20 ‘On that day (the day of the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost) you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you.’ There is this spiritual unity between Christian believers and God like there is within the Trinity itself- and you cannot get a more intimate relationship than that.

And there is more-v 23b ‘My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’ Do you see what Jesus is saying? He is claiming that the Holy Spirit’s function both within the Godhead and within the Church is to mediate the presence of the different persons of the Trinity to each other. The Spirit is equal to the Father and the Son as God, but as the Father’s role is to love the Son and honour him by giving all glory to him and the Son’s role is to love and obey the Father and so honour him- including obeying the Father’s will to go to the cross to save sinners, the Spirit’s role is to unite, as it were, the Father and the Son, so by the Spirit, where the Son is, so is God the Father. But what is so amazing is that the Holy Spirit brings the Father and the Son into our hearts and lives. So in way which is certainly difficult to get our minds around, the Trinity not only exists separate from us in eternity, but lives within us as Christian believers.

So as he lives in us and brings God to us, what does he do? Verse 25-27: "All this I have spoken while still with you. 26But the Counsellor, 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. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’ Think again of Jesus, the other Helper. What did he do with his followers? Primarily he taught them the Gospel, the truth about God. More than that in his own person he embodied that truth, showing in the rough and tumble of life what God was really like- a lover of holiness, full of compassion and mercy, a kindly ruler. He also came to show us what it was to live a true human life, one which happily submits to God and his ways, as one who serves. And that is what this other Helper will do. In the first instance with these 11 disciples (remember Judas has left by now to betray Jesus) Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will ‘teach you all things and remind you of everything I said to you.’ That is why we can trust the New Testament which these people wrote. The Holy Spirit of Truth inspired them so that they remembered infallibly the words of Jesus and all he did. And so since the Spirit- God- inspired them, what they says is what God says. So the Book, the Bible is important, for this is where we hear the words of God and discover Jesus. But in a secondary sense all Christians are taught by the Holy Spirit- not apart from the words he inspired the apostles to write but through them. Going back to our original picture he enables us to hear the music and not just read the book- so by the Spirit the Bible becomes a wonderful book, alive, full of life and light.

What is more, as we read the promises of Christ that he will not leave us as orphans but come to dwell within us by his Spirit, we then receive his peace. No one wants to be left alone by bereavement. No child wants to become an orphan (v 18), no one wants to become a widow or widower, and the disciples don’t want to be left alone without Jesus. Why, things were difficult enough while he was with them, all that opposition and misunderstanding-what hope would they have of getting it right once he had gone? But Jesus tries to allay their fears by saying he will come again, but his presence will be in the form of the Holy Spirit. And this promise which is fulfilled by the Holy Spirit produces peace, the quiet knowledge that Jesus has kept his Word- he is with us.

And since the Helper is inside the believer we are given something else- a new power and ability. You see sometimes people think that being a Christian is just a matter of following routine, treating the Bible as a book of rules, a set of does and don’ts. The book is vital as we have seen, this is where we meet God and discover how we should live. This is where we find the promises which give us peace. But you not only need to know how to dance, but have the ability to dance and more than that have a partner to dance with. The Holy Spirit fulfils both roles. He is the one who ultimately wrote the book- how to dance or live the Christian life, and so with him living in us he gives us power to start living it out. But it is also a matter of developing a relationship with him, allowing him to be the leading partner in our lives, like a partner who takes the lead in a dance. Or to change the picture very slightly, Paul in his letter to the Galatians urges us to ‘keep in step’ with the Spirit. To love the things he loves and hate the things he hates. What are those? Read this book and you will find out.

Which brings us to the final point- the prerequisite of the Spirit. There is, if you like, a precondition for us knowing these things. Did you spot it? V 15 ‘If you love me you will obey what I command and I will ask the father to send you another Counsellor’ v23 ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching- and the Father will love him and we will come and make our home with him.’ If a child loves their parents they will show that love and respect by doing what they are told. If a husband loves his wife he will do what his wife asks of him, if it is for her good and the good of the family. So it is with us and God. We first receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the teaching of Jesus, that is, believing the Gospel-the promise that whoever believes on him should not perish but have everlasting life. That is how you become a disciple. What is more, you go on being a follower by doing what he says. Remember the Holy Spirit is a person. That means, according to the Bible, that we can grieve him-upset him, disobey him, even in the case of Ananias and Saphira, lie to him and look at what happened to them-they died on the spot! If the dance is going to be a smooth one, then both partners need to keep in time and follow the same steps. The Holy Spirit gently leads us in that dance, comforting, encouraging, correcting, strengthening. He will not lead us to do something opposed to what he has written down in the Bible, but always encouraging us to obey what is written. The music he wants to bring into our hearts is the music of heaven, the great song of the great dance which we read about in the Book of Revelation. What is that? It is the song which puts Jesus where he rightly ought to be on the throne at the centre of the Universe as he should be at the centre of out lives: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power for ever and ever.’ And we can add a mighty ‘Amen’.

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