“Gordon Brownville’s Symbols of the Holy Spirit tells about the great Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, the first to discover the magnetic meridian of the North Pole and to discover the South Pole. On one of his trips, Amundsen took a homing pigeon with him. When he had finally reached the top of the world, he opened the bird’s cage and set it free.
“Imagine the delight of Amundsen’s wife, back in Norway, when she looked up from the doorway of her home and saw the pigeon circling in the sky above. No doubt she exclaimed, ‘He’s alive! My husband is still alive!’
“So it was when Jesus ascended. He was gone, but the disciples clung to his promise to send them the Holy Spirit. What joy, then, when the dovelike Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost. The disciples had with them the continual reminder that Jesus was alive and victorious at the right hand of the Father. This continues to be the Spirit’s message.”
Let us read what Jesus had to say to his first disciples, on the eve of his death, about the promised Holy Spirit. Hear the words of Jesus from John 16:5-15….
But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about[b] sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason, I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
We return to one of the most grief-stricken nights for the disciples. Jesus has told his closest followers that he is going away. The disciples can think only of what this means for them. They are not thinking of what it means for Jesus. They know Jesus is going to the Father, but they cannot take it all in. This is what grief does to us: it makes us feel like we are walking in a cloud, or a bubble. It is hard to be interested in what others say to us. Our own emotions envelop us.
However, Jesus seeks here to puncture the balloon of the disciples’ grief. He tells them the startling truth that it will actually be to their advantage for him to leave them. Why was this the case?
During Jesus’ earthly ministry, space and time confined him. He could only teach and heal so many people. However, now the ministry of Jesus would no longer be limited. Through the Spirit he would be present with his disciples in all times and places.
Jesus uses a very important name for the Holy Spirit in this passage. In the Greek text, Jesus calls the Spirit the παρακλητοσ. The Greek word can be translated as Comforter, Counselor, Encourager, Intercessor or Advocate. It literally means “one who comes alongside”.
In his book, Healing the Masculine Soul, Gordon Dalbey says that when Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Helper, he uses a word that was an ancient warrior’s term. “Greek soldiers went into battle in pairs,” says Dalbey, “so when the enemy attacked, they could draw together back-to-back, covering each other’s blind side. One’s battle partner was the paraclete.” Our Lord does not send us to fight the good fight alone. The Holy Spirit is our battle partner who covers our blind side and fights for our wellbeing.
Jesus here tells his disciples and us about two of the greatest works of the Paraclete. Jesus talks about the convicting work of the Spirit and the revealing work of the Spirit.
Let us look first at: The Power of the Paraclete in Conviction (5-11).
Jesus tells us that the Paraclete convicts, or proves the world wrong, about three things. First, the Paraclete convicts the world of the sin of unbelief.Jesus says, “When he [the Paraclete] comes, he will convict the world of sin because people do not believe in me.”
The Greek word translated as “convict” in this passage is ελεγξει. The Greeks sometimes used this word to refer to the action of a person’s conscience upon that person’s mind or heart. In addition, the word for convict used here often referred to the cross-examination of a witness, or a person on trial, or an opponent in an argument. The word always conveys the idea of cross-examining someone—until that person admits his or her error or acknowledges the force of an argument.
When I was young, I used to enjoy watching re-runs of Perry Mason on television. As most of you know, Mason was a fictional defense attorney. Each episode of the program would usually revolve around the murder trial of one of Mason’s clients. Often, the most dramatic moment in the show would be when Mason would prove his client’s innocence by cross-examining another witness, forcing that witness to admit that theykilled the victim in the case and not the defendant. Perry Mason would argue not only for the jury to be convinced of his client’s innocence, he would argue to the point of convicting a particular witness of his or her own crime.
That is similar to the work of the Holy Spirit in this passage. However, we should take special notice of one thing: it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict. That is not our job. As Billy Graham once said, “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.”
The second thing that Jesus says the Paraclete will convict the world of is righteousness.“When he comes, he will convict the world of … righteousness … because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer.”
When the Father raised Jesus from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit: that was Jesus’ vindication. The Father was showing the world that Jesus was the righteous one, that he was not guilty of any crime. The Holy Spirit continues to convince the world of the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
It would have been very hard for Jews or Romans in the first century to see a crucified criminal as a righteous person. However, the Holy Spirit performed this seemingly impossible work in the hearts of many, starting with the centurion at the Cross (Matthew 27:54) and continuing with people like Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9). Ask most people today whether they think Jesus of Nazareth was a holy person, a righteous person, and most of them will answer “yes”. When we look at Jesus, we see what real righteousness is.
A third thing that Jesus says the Paraclete will convict the world of is judgment. “When he comes, he will convict the world of … judgment … because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” In other words, the Holy Spirit will convict the world of the judgment of Satan.
When we truly understand what happened at the cross, the Holy Spirit shows us that it was not the judgment of Jesus, but the judgment of Satan that took place. What Satan thought to be his supreme triumph was, in reality, his downfall. What looked to the world like the end of Jesus was only the beginning of his victory. Therefore, if we want to stand on the winning side, we must stand with Jesus and not with the prince of this world.
One more thing about the convicting work of the Holy Spirit: What is the purpose of it? Why does the Paraclete convict the world of the sin of unbelief, of the righteousness of Christ and of the judgment of the prince of this world? The Holy Spirit does this so that we might come to Christ for salvation.
There is a wonderful truth contained in this passage if we will but pause to notice it. That wonderful truth is that the Holy Spirit convicts the world. “The world” to John’s way of thinking is the “world system” that is set against God. Think of it! God the Father sends his Holy Spirit into the world to convict people who are dead set against him, people who are his enemies, so that those same people might come to him to receive his love, his forgiveness through the cross of Christ, his salvation. Think of the extent of the convicting work of the Holy Spirit! We may not see it now, but the Holy Spirit is about the work of convicting the wholeworld of sin, of righteousness, of judgment. While this may sound negative, it is really a positive. It means that God is giving and will give everyone a chance to come to him and receive everlasting life. The Holy Spirit does the work of convicting, but we have to do the work of choosing. We still must choose how we will respond to the Paraclete’s convicting work.
The second major thing Jesus tells us in this passage is something about the Power of the Paraclete in Revelation (12-15). Jesus tells us here at least four things about the Spirit’s work of revelation. First, he tells us that the Paraclete’s revelation is a progressive process. Jesus says, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.”
Jesus was a masterful teacher. He knew, he sensed, exactly how much his disciples could take in, and when they were ready for more.
When teaching any subject, one does not begin with the most complicated matters but with that which is simple. When our son James was beginning to learn Arabic at the Virginia Military Institute, he told us that most of the first semester of the class the teacher focused on teaching the Arabic alphabet. That is the way to start with any subject; we must begin with the basics.
God’s revelation comes to us the same way. It begins with simple things, and as we grow, we learn more of the deep things of God’s revelation. His revelation is progressive. As I have said many times, being a Christian means giving as much as you know of yourself to as much as you know of Christ. Our knowledge of ourselves and of Christ ought to both be growing over the course of our lifetimes.
William Barclay, I think correctly, notes one of the consequences of the progressive nature of revelation. That is that there is no end to God’s revelation. Though I have thought differently at times, I have come to believe that it is a mistake to say that God’s revelation ended with the New Testament. Jesus does not even imply in this passage that the Holy Spirit will ever stop revealing things to God’s people.
Now, I believe it is true that God’s supreme revelation came to us in Jesus Christ. However, Jesus is not simply a person who died two thousand years ago. He is alive and active today. God is still leading his people into a greater, deeper understanding of what Jesus said and did. I believe we must test all so-called revelation by the standard of Jesus that we have in the New Testament, but at the same time we must be open to what God is continuing to reveal to his church today about Jesus through the Holy Spirit.
A second thing we see here about the Paraclete’s revelation to human beings is that it is a revelation of all truth. Jesus says, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.”
All truth is God’s truth wherever we find it. God’s truth is not limited to Scripture nor is it limited to theology. We see God’s revelation in creation. We also see it in great works of art. The Holy Spirit has used artists down through the ages to reveal God’s truth and God’s glory. Where would we be without Michelangelo or Da Vinci, or Handel or Bach? Scientists also discover God’s truth as they study the world, though sometimes the church has struggled with accepting their discoveries, as in the case of Galileo.
Thirdly, Jesus reminds us that revelation is God’s gift, not a human construct. Jesus says of the Paraclete: “He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” God is the possessor and giver of all truth. Truth is not something we make up. It is something waiting for discovery. Even the Holy Spirit does not create the truth; rather, he speaks what God gives him to speak.
Finally, as I have already suggested, the Paraclete reveals more and more of the inexhaustible Jesus.Jesus says the Paraclete “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.”
Again, William Barclay says, I think helpfully, “Revelation is a continual opening out of the meaning of Jesus.
“There we have the crux of the matter. Revelation comes to us … from a living person. The nearer we live to Jesus, the better we will know him. The more we become like him, the more he will be able to tell us. To enjoy his revelation, we must accept his mastery.”
A man once said, “I don’t know what I may seem to the world, but, as to myself, I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea shore and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
The man who wrote those words wasSir Isaac Newton, a scientist who lived from 1642 to 1727. We remember Newton today especially for describing universal gravitation in his book: Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica.
God’s truth, God’s revelation in Jesus Christ is like what Newton described: a vast ocean. Some people spend their entire lives content to play on the beach beside that ocean. Others dive in and begin to discover what they can. Which way will it be for you?