The Spirit's tasks - John 16:1-16
Have you ever walked round Beverley in the dark? If you have you can't help but be struck by the spectacular 14th C Minster. It is surely one of the great architectural treasures of the North of England & of course the Queen visited it a few days ago.
If you see Beverley Minster in the dark, your attention is drawn because floodlights make visible what otherwise would not be seen. The lights maximise the Minster's dignity by throwing all its details into relief so that you can see it properly.
Now when you see Beverley Minster at night you don't think "Wow what brilliant lights" (unless you're Tim Mitchell down here who's in the lighting business!) No, when floodlighting is well done, the floodlights are placed so that you don't see them; in fact, you are not supposed to see where the light is coming from; what you are meant to see is just the building on which the floodlights are trained.
In some ways this is like the task of the Holy Spirit as Jesus teaches in ch16 of John's gospel.
In v14 we read; "He (the Counsellor), the Spirit of truth) will bring glory to me (Jesus) by taking from what is mine and making it known to you". And as he said just before our passage in 15:26 "When the counsellor comeswill testify about me".
The HS is, so to speak, the hidden floodlight shining on Jesus. Now he is God himself & so worthy of honour & glory Himself but He is as someone has put it, "self effacing", He is not quick to draw attention to himself rather his delight is to point people to Jesus, to illuminate him, bringing glory to him. That is his supreme overall task.
Already in John's gospel, (as we saw a few weeks ago) Jesus has introduced the Holy Spirit as the "counsellor". He is one called in to help like a friend when we're feeling down to encourage us, or like a lawyer might plead our case when we're in trouble, or when we need to acquire some knowledge or skill a teacher coming alongside to coach us.
Jesus particularly described the HS in 14:15 as "another" counsellor. The Spirit comes to fulfil the role of a previous helper to the disciples of course that previous counsellor is Jesus himself. The HS then is sent by Jesus from the Father to fulfil just what Jesus would do if he were still here on earth in his body.
In all the HS does in every one of his tasks he "brings glory" to Jesus, he "testifies" about Jesus.
But how does this work out in specific terms? According to Jesus the HS has particular tasks for the people of the world & the people of God;
1)For the people of the world: To Convict of their need of Jesus. V8-11
Have you ever tried to change someone's mind? It's often pretty difficult. Some are good arguers but generally no one likes to have to admit defeat, so most people dig in their heals.
Imagine trying to change someone who is completely set in their ways someone used to a pattern of living that has become the only one they can imagine, someone who to make matters worse is completely dead to your efforts because their ears are blocked & their eyes blindfolded!
Spiritually speaking that is what it is like trying to persuade anyone that they are a rebel against God & need to trust in Jesus to be rightly related to God. We are all naturally, without God, deaf, blind & dead spiritually (Ephs 2:1, Col 2:13). We are unable to respond to any Christian message no matter how clear, persuasive or compelling.
This is a description of people Jesus calls the "world" as recorded here in John's gospel. This is non-Christian human society rebelling against God & it's a rebellion seen supremely in a failure to recognise & accept Jesus.
Putting it bluntly trying to help people become Christians is an impossible job.
Trying to change the mind of the "world" is hopeless for us.
The great news of these words of Jesus is that it is not impossible nor hopeless, when the HS is at work!
V7 "I go away, the counsellor will not come to you , but If I go , I will send him to you".
And why will Jesus send the HS to his disciples? v8 "When he (the counsellor) comes, he will convict the world of guilt."
The Spirit's task in the world, is to be one of conviction.
He works like a prosecuting lawyer driving home to a guilty criminal the personal realisation that they are in the wrong & guilty.
He works like a penetrating light showing up what is in fact reality, whatever veneer is put on the surface to hide the truth.
The Spirit's task is to enable people in the rebellious world to see their shame & so be convinced of their own guilt before God & their need for his forgiveness through Jesus.
Jesus explains that the HS does this by pointing to 3 wrong views held by rebellious men & women.
v8 "When he (counsellor) comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgement"
In the context of John's gospel the sense of this seems to be "The HS will convict the world of its sin, its righteousness & its judgement".
i) "convict the world of its sin". The human heart needs to be convinced that it is guilty & rebellious that it is sinful. We human beings seem generally very reluctant to admit this. We invent all kinds of excuses & mitigating circumstances for our bad behaviour.
This HS conviction about sin is needed says Jesus in v9 "because men do not believe in me". That is the ultimate sin - & people don't believe in Jesus partly because they don't see the need. The Spirit's task then is to convict people, driving home to hearts & minds that we are sinners & need God's forgiveness in Jesus.
If you're here this eve & you're a Christian it is not because of anything you have done but because of God's mercy. If you were dead, deaf & blind spiritually not seeing your need, the fact that you have seen your need & been enabled to turn to Jesus is only because of the HS' help!
Secondly the HS convicts the world of "righteousness" or better "it's righteousness". There seems to be a degree of irony in Jesus'; words. The world, despite its fundamental sin of rejecting God's son thinks of itself as "right".
Certainly true today; The number of times I've heard people say "I've never done anything wrong!" or "I've always done my best". These are common statements but when you examine them for just a few seconds they are nonsense for any human being we're always & continually doing things wrong in thought, word & deed & not doing the good we should. We're often putting selfish interest 1st & not doing our best.
This HS' conviction about empty righteousness is needed says Jesus in v10 "because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer."
Jesus spent much of his time in his earthly ministry convicting people of their self righteousness & exposing by his light the darkness (3:19), now he is going back to heaven, the HS will continue the work.
The Spirit's task then is to convict people, driving home to hearts & minds that we are not righteous (though we might naturally think we are) so that we see we have a need for God's forgiveness in Jesus.
AP: Isn't this a great encouragement to us when we think of trying to convince people of their need for Jesus? People might tell us they've never done anything wrong & may genuinely believe it despite our protestations but when the HS works in minds & hearts our words & the challenge of Christian lives that are positively different, have greater force.
Thirdly the HS convicts the world of judgement or better "it's judgement".
Rebellious human beings have made fundamental misjudgements about life, reality & supremely the true God & his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus said to the people at a religious festival back in ch 7 "Stop judging by mere appearances & make right judgements" (7:24). That is the message the HS impresses on human lives since Jesus has returned to heaven.
This HS convicting work about wrong judgements is needed says Jesus in v11 because "the prince of this world now stands condemned or (judged)". Jesus has in mind the cross (yet to take place as he spoke but nonetheless certain.)
The world looking on at the death of Jesus of Nazareth sees it as his judgement, his defeat, but in fact of course it is judgement on the rebellious world which will one day will be seen by all & it is the devil's (the prince of this world's) defeat.
The Spirit's task then is to convict people, driving home to hearts & minds that men & women have misjudged Jesus so that it can be seen that there is a need for God's forgiveness.
Every Christian when faced with the task Jesus gives us of passing on his gospel is at times intimidated, sacred, discouraged. The great news is we're not alone, there is someone who is at work in a profound way. The Counsellor, the HS, is at work in the non Christian world giving people the chance to recognise their sin, realise the emptiness of their own claims to righteousness & their misjudgements.
Also his work is always in connection with the truth of the gospel after all his principle purpose is to bring glory to Jesus & also his principle weapon is the sword of the Spirit (Ephs6:17). So the HS works this work as the gospel message is got across however that is done.
Reminder that we must wield the "sword of the Spirit" which is the word of God. In our witness & evangelistic activity we need to make sure that the HS's weapon is available for him to use. It would be foolish indeed to expect a person to change & become a Christian if we don't make use of the appointed means God has set up & seek to convince people with our own cleverness, methods or impressiveness. It won't work!
The first of the HS's tasks as Jesus' explains it here is to convict the people of the world of their need for Jesus. Great reminder of grace to us & hope of success in our witness. There's another;
2)For the People of God: To make known Knowledge of Jesus v12-16.
Jesus continues his message about the Spirit's tasks to his disciples in v12; "I have much more to say to you (disciples), more than you can now bear. 13But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come."
Some have taken this as an expectation that the HS will mystically guide Christians today & enable us to be able to predict future events. But remembering the situation & who is being addressed by Jesus it becomes clear that this promise of the work of the HS amongst his people has a rather different focus.
Jesus is of course speaking to his disciples in the upper room, those who were designated Apostles with a unique task of making Jesus known. It was to these men that God entrusted the task of recording the life & words of Jesus in what we now have in the gospels of the NT. So as Jesus had said to them earlier; 14:26 "The Counsellor, the HS, whom the Father will send in my name will teach you all things & will remind you of everything I have said to you". Their memories would be refreshed under the influence of the counsellor, ensuring accurate historical & reliable records of Jesus' words, for us.
Here in ch16 we see that the HS was going to more than remind them. v12"I have much more to say to you (disciples), more than you can now bear." v13"But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into (or "in") all truth."
The Apostles were to be able, with the help of the Spirit, to grasp the truth of Jesus & what he was going to do in dying & rising. They would be able to understand the true interpretation of his words & works and record them in the letters & other writings of the NT.
AP: Isn't it so encouraging that we can be confident that we have reliable knowledge of the true Jesus? Jesus' words here are wonderfully & specifically fulfilled in what we have in our hands tonight as we read John's gospel (as well as the other gospels)
And what's more this is the reason why the whole NT is consistent with Jesus. The HS inspired the Apostles with messages that are harmonious with Jesus & that are the implications of the truth that Jesus taught. v13 "He (spirit of truth) will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15All 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".
What the Spirit inspires in the Apostles is completely & only what is consistent with Jesus, what is from Jesus as you would expect seeing as the HS's overall purpose is to glorify Jesus!
Incidentally that's why those Bibles with red words in the gospels for the direct words of Jesus can be misleading. Because of the promise of Jesus here concerning the work of the HS, the whole of the NT should be in red!!
These words are so important in today's Christian scene. Many today are anxious about "hearing from God", "listening to the voice of the Spirit" well it's quite clear from Jesus' teaching where we should go if we want to hear the Spirit's voice it is to the place where the Spirit inspired words of the Apostles is found - in our Bibles.
I remember some years ago having the privilege of being part of a large international conference for Student workers. It was a remarkable experience meeting people from all over the world & learning from Bible with gifted speakers. One of the leaders encouraged us to set time aside to pray & listen to God the eg he set was that he would go down to the woods & deliberately leave his Bible at home & seek to listen to the Spirit.
I don't want to be over critical some space away from the busyness of life is valuable, time to think through situations & people is good, but deliberately not to take a Bible with you if you want to listen to the Spirit is a strange thing to do indeed. It's like going on holiday, promising to keep in touch with the folks back home but deliberately not taking your mobile with you, deliberately not opening letters or looking up your e mails from them but somehow hoping to pick up a message by telepathy, or waiting to happen upon a message in some wayIt's just possible you might hear from them but when there is a reliable, trustworthy sure way of hearing from home, why not make use of it!!
Similarly God's appointed means of speaking to us is by His Spirit through His word according to the promise of Jesus.
The focus of Jesus' words here are that the
Spirit's task is to inspire the Apostle's with God's full revelation of Jesus which we then have in our Bibles. And the task of the Spirit in this regard is not done there for though we are not encouraged to look for new messages we need his help to understand & apply that which he has already spoken.
I mentioned Beverley Minster before it's an amazing building. Surely the best way to really appreciate it would be to have a tour in the company of the principal architect who could uniquely help to explain & interpret it's different features. This is what the HS wants to do with the word he inspired.
It's great to know that what we have in our Bibles is truly God's word about Jesus inspired by the Spirit but also as Christians we have within us the same HS, the author who can help us understand & apply the Bible by illuminating it's truth for us.
Have you ever thought to yourself "If only Jesus were here, things would be so different".
Well what we've seen this evening about the Spirit's tasks as Jesus outlines them helps us to see why Jesus says those surprising words in v7 "It is for your good that I am going away". Jesus continues "for if I go I will send the counsellor to you".
The counsellor comes to the disciples & Jesus' followers now, to help get the gospel out. Like Jesus did when he was here in his body the HS convicts the world of its sin, its false righteousness & misjudgemnets. But it is better that the HS has come because the presence of Jesus through him is not limited to one place at one time. The HS can help Naomi Whybray & the team in Germany to help central European students see their need of Jesus & at the same time help John Brook & the Riverside members out with the Jesus video & at the same time work in your neighbour as you chat over a drink.
And what's more because of the work of the Counsellor, the HS, we as God's people can hear Jesus' speaking to us be drawn nearer to Jesus, be trained & equipped by him as we read his very words from the Bible.
Do you see why it is "for our good" that Jesus returned to heaven & sent his "other self", his Spirit? Because the spirit's task is to bring glory to Jesus by continuing the work of Jesus though his people, all over the world, all of the time.
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