Text – John 16:5-15
It is a horrible thought to try to imagine life without someone you dearly love.
The disciples were having to get used to the prospect of life without Jesus.
There they are, sitting around the table sharing one last meal with Jesus. They listen with increasing alarm as he tells them that he must leave them. On top of that, he warns them that they can expect to be treated with terrible hostility after his departure. But they’ve got to carry on without him and witness on his behalf before a hostile world. Sounds like Mission Impossible. No wonder they’re so upset and confused.
V6 – “Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief.”
But then, v7, he says the most amazing thing: “It is for your good that I am going away.” How can that be so? “Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”
I’m planning to serve up two courses this evening. I want to explain, firstly, why all this was good for the disciples. Then I want to suggest, secondly, why it’s also good for us.
1. Why it was good for the disciples
According to 14:26 ‘Counsellor’ is another name for the Holy Spirit. But it’s a very interesting name. The underlying word in Greek is ‘Paracletos’. It is notoriously difficult to translate into English. If you were to look it up this passage in six different English versions of the Bible, you might find ‘Paracletos’ translated six different ways: Comforter, Advocate, Helper, Companion, Friend, Strengthener, Counsellor.
But if we look at the context one thing becomes clear: the role of the Holy Spirit as paraclete is to act as ‘counsel for the prosecution’. V8 – “He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment”.
Let me remind you again that this was the night before Jesus’ trial and execution. When, the very next day, Jesus found himself mocked and ridiculed, tortured and spat upon, convicted on trumped-up charges and hung up to die, evil seemed to have triumphed. When the Jewish authorities accused Jesus of being a trouble-maker and a blasphemer, righteousness seemed have been turned on its head. When those in the crowd shook their fists and shouted, “Crucify, crucify”, they were passing a judgement of ‘guilty’ on this wise teacher and compassionate miracle-worker from Nazareth.
On that first Good Friday, the world, and the prince of this world, did its sinful worst. It delivered its unrighteous verdict. It judged the Lord of Glory worthy of death.
But fast-forward just a few short weeks to the Day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is poured out, just as Jesus had promised. Speaking by the power of that same Spirit Peter testifies to Jesus, crucified, risen and ascended. And there is an explosion of conviction. ‘They were cut to the heart”.
They now realise how wrong they had been to treat Jesus with such unbelief. They now see that God has vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead and sitting him at his own right hand, showing him to be in the right after all. They are persuaded that it is not Jesus who is in the dock at all, but themselves.
So they ‘said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”’
Peter replied, “It’s too late. You should have come to your senses a long time ago. There’s no hope for you now.” Did he say that? No! In the name of Jesus he offers forgiveness and new life. “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”’
Yes, it was good for Peter and the rest of the disciples that Jesus went away. That he went from the cross to the grave, and from the grave to the sky, in order to send this ‘Counsellor’, this paraclete, this Holy Spirit. Good, not least because they found that they could do far more for Christ now, than when he had been physically present with them.
So that’s the first thing – it was good for the disicples that Jesus was going away, because he sent the Counsellor, who convicted the world of guilt regarding sin, righteousness and judgment. Now for the second thing – it is also good for us.
2. Why it’s good for us
(a) It is good, because the Holy Spirit continues to convict people of guilt regarding sin, righteousness and judgment.
A man was once accused of a serious crime. He pleaded ‘not guilty’, and a court hearing took place. After the counsel for the prosecution had finished making out the case against him, he changed his plea to one of ‘guilty’. The judge was furious, and asked him why he had wasted the court’s time by changing his plea. “I hadn’t realised that the case against me was so overwhelming,” he replied.
That’s how the Holy Spirit works.
I don’t know how you feel about this. I’m sure that some folks are not at all happy about it. Some people only ever want to think and speak and hear about nice things – love, and joy and peace. Not guilt, sin, righteousness and judgment. But this is a serous mistake.
Here’s a multiple-choice question. You develop a sore on your body that won’t go away. Would you prefer, (a) to go to a quack doctor who tells you, “There’s nothing to worry about. Here’s an Elastoplast to cover it up. Now go home, relax and enjoy yourself. That will be 50 guineas, please.” Or, (b) to go to a proper doctor who examines you thoroughly, tells you that although it is sinister and the treatment may cause you some discomfort, there is every hope of a full recovery?
That’s how the Holy Spirit works. And that’s why the great Methodist evangelist John Wesley declared, ‘Before I can preach love and grace, I must preach sin, law and judgement.’
(b) It is good, because this convicting work of the Spirit is a positive, and not a negative, thing.
The Spirit does not convict in order to condemn us, but in order to convert us. He speaks to us of guilt, sin, righteousness and judgment not with a view to ruin, but redemption. His purpose is to bring men and women to see and feel their need, and so turn to Jesus.
Jn 3:17 ‘God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.’ And the Holy Spirit continues in exactly the same vein.
Rico Tice tells of young woman, aged 29. Despite having been raised in a Christian home, she had very politely kept God at arm’s length all her life. She came along to a Christianity Explored course. A few weeks into the course there was an explanation of the cross, and of sin. Rico asked: “Any questions or comments?” This young woman replied: “I cannot believe how I have treated God.” She burst into tears, and had to leave the room. But that was the turning-point. Ever since that moment, over 15 years ago, she has been utterly committed to Jesus Christ.
Now, I do’t want to give you the impression that attending Christianity Explored, or being in the same room as Rico Tice, will always have precisely that effect on people. But I do want you know know that whenever and however he convicts you, it will be for your good.
(c) It is good, because the Holy Spirit is the senior partner in all of this. In ch 15:26f Jesus has spoken of a partnership between the Holy Spirit and the Christian: “He will testify to me. You also must testify.” But it’s perfectly clear who is the senior partner in this. In fact, in our passage tonight the disciples hardly get a look-in.
We might almost call the Holy Spirit, ‘God the Evangelist.’ And a very remarkable evangelist he is. He does not remain in a pulpit or on a platform. He comes down and moves among the congregation, speaking, moving, and convicting according the the inmost thoughts and needs of each individual.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones once pointed out that the Holy Spirit can achieve more in a single hour than we with all our organisation and hard work can achieve in a life-time. This is not, of course, an argument in favour of disorganisation or laziness. But it is a reminder that whatever our efforts may be, we are utterly reliant upon the Holy Spirit. One person plants, and another waters, but it is God who gives the increase.
Maybe we need to remind ourselves of this if we feel discouraged in our efforts to share Jesus in a world that seems increasingly hostile towards him. Maybe you feel very isolated as one of the few Christians in your family, in your class at school or college, in your team at work. It is no cliche that ‘one plus the Holy Spirit is a majority’.
How good it was, then, that Jesus, after his work of atonement on the cross, after his glorious resurrection from the grave, after his triumphant ascension to his Father’s right hand in glory, sent the gift of the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, to be with us for ever. It was good for those first disciples, huddled together in that upper room, and good for us too, as we face the challenge and the adventure of being his witnesses today.