Jesus Sends the Paraclete
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“I am going to him who sent me… It is for your good that I am going away” (Jn 16:5,7). The words of Jesus to his disciples in this reading from John 16 are a bit confusing in the context of this Sunday. Because by now, Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection on Easter Sunday is 50 days ago – almost 2 months. And the neat part about that is Pentecost actually happened 50 days (7 weeks) after Jesus’ resurrection. So, we understand the timeline to a degree. Although, I’m sure that the disciples were on much more of an emotional rollercoaster during those 50 days than we were. The timeframe is the same.
So, when we read the words today, “I am going to him who sent me… It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you” (Jn 16:5-7), naturally, we are thinking of Jesus’ ascension into heaven as the context of these words. That being the case, we are probably thinking, “What?! No! Jesus it would be soooo much easier to proclaim the good news of salvation if you were still here. You could do world tours visiting every major city every few years. You could book special guest preaching engagements, and all the world would see that you are most definitely alive and our Savior from sin. What do you mean you have to go?! How could this be for our good?!”
Well, despite our reading these verses today, and them still being very fitting for Pentecost Sunday, the context is not just before the Ascension. The departure he is talking about – the “going away” – is not strictly referring to his Ascension. Jesus actually spoke these words on Maundy Thursday – the night he was betrayed, the day before he died on the cross. So, although yes, he is talking about his coming departure when he ascends into heaven and then sends the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, this isn’t the full picture. The departure he is talking about includes his death and resurrection. It’s the full picture we confess in the creed: “I believe that Jesus Christ… suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried… The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty” (Apostles’ Creed). So that’s the full picture we are talking about here. That’s the “going away” that has to happen for our good – all of it wrapped up into one “package”.
Now we can understand these words rightly. Now, it makes sense that he says, “It is for your good that I am going away” (Jn 16:7). If Jesus didn’t “go away” to the cross and grave, well then, our salvation would not be complete. You and I would still be in our sins – lost and condemned creatures destined for hell. And put yourself into the context of the disciples who couldn’t see past the cross. Jesus has been warning them that he “must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed” (Mk 8:31). And now comes that time when he must “go away”. They are so completely stunned and frightened by these words that they can’t even think to question further, “Where are you really going?” I mean, this is Jesus – the Son of God. He can’t really die, can he? This isn’t the end, is it? They were so completely accustomed to Jesus and so glad to have him with them that they thought the worst thing that could happen to them was for him to be taken from them. They should have caught that he did say he would rise again in three days. They should have caught that he says right here that he is going away to the Father. But they can’t see past his suffering and death to ask where he is really going, or, the more important question, why is he going.
Sometimes we too get so caught up in the fact that Jesus is not visibly present with us here that we forget to ask why he ascended. “It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn 16:7). And I think I know what you might be thinking, because I think it too. In fact, I struggled with it anew while working with this text this week. I ask, “Why couldn’t Jesus die and rise – accomplishing our salvation – and then just stay here on earth?” Wouldn’t that be better? The answer is threefold. First, and most importantly, that isn’t what God did. So, although we might think it is a better plan, it simply isn’t, because God knows and always does what is best. Second, if Jesus didn’t ascend into heaven, not all of Scripture would be fulfilled. His ascension was prophesied in Psalm 68(:18) and quoted by Paul in Ephesians 4(:8-10) as being fulfilled by Jesus’ ascension.
Finally, and the reason I want to focus on more today, is that by thinking it would be better if Jesus remained on earth after his resurrection, we are severely downplaying the power of the Holy Spirit. Remember that the Holy Spirit is God – no less than the Father or the Son. I think so often we talk about the persons of the Trinity that they actually get separated in our minds. The Holy Spirit is God just as Jesus is God. God still dwells with us to this day with all the same power and authority we see after Jesus rose triumphantly from the grave. What I’m trying to say is, I think it would do us some good to remember and emphasize the unity of the Trinity – especially as we highlight the different persons of the Trinity. God is with you still today! Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (Jn 14:23).
Now, we’ve seen that the departure Jesus talked about meant the whole picture from suffering and death to resurrection and ascension. This is all necessary for your salvation and to fulfill Scripture. Let’s talk just a little more on what Jesus’ physical presence offered verses the universal and abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. When the disciples had Jesus visibly with them, they had his familiar friendship and companionship. They could trust in him to guide and direct them at all times. They had the visible proof of Jesus! Yet, without his death and resurrection, his visible presence would be pointless. It wouldn’t prove anything if Jesus did not die for sin and rise victorious over death. And even if we did go that theoretical route where Jesus would just do non-stop world tours after his death and resurrection, we – his Church – would be at a loss. We would be completely timid and useless while Jesus was not in our vicinity. I think that we would be hampered, hemmed in, with thoughts of, “We can’t do any real ministry unless Jesus is with us.” But again, that’s all just theoretical… and see above reasons for why this isn’t actually better. What actually did happen is far better!
Jesus did ascend and did send the promised Advocate – the Holy Spirit. God is still with you, even today! He comes to you, he works in you, and instills such courage that we do go out as Christ’s ambassadors – his officials and co-rulers! Jesus’ death and resurrection renews everything in heaven and on earth and will establish a rule in which the Holy Spirit reigns everywhere through the Gospel and your ministry. The Law has been fulfilled; Judaism is abolished! Pagan idolatry is destroyed! The world is changed! And even though it annoys the devil and the sinful world, the Gospel of Jesus Christ will endure and prevail forever by the work of the Holy Spirit through you!
History records the truthfulness of Jesus’ promise that “it is for your good that I am going away” (Jn 16:7). On the day of Pentecost alone the Holy Spirit added 3,000 to the number of believers. In city after city where the Apostle’s proclaimed the gospel the Holy Spirit added to their number. Throughout tumultuous times, as in the Lutheran Reformation, when the pure Gospel of Grace alone, Faith alone, Scripture alone was threatened, the Holy Spirit prevailed against the Devil – the Prince of the World – and preserved believers through the pure Scriptures. Even today, when it seems that the Prince of this World dealt a crushing blow, closing churches across the world, the Holy Spirit still prevails – opening one up in every Christian home and leading thousands of churches to go online and come up with different ways to get the Good News of salvation out there. You can’t win Satan. Until Christ comes again the Gospel will prevail by the power of the Holy Spirit!
Jesus has ascended and sent what he promised – the Holy Spirit. He pours out this Spirit on all people. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved by the Spirit’s power. This word that John uses to describe the Spirit – “The Advocate” – is really a fitting word. The Greek word he uses is “paraclete”. A paraclete was someone who gave legal assistance in court, perhaps even to the degree of pleading your case for you. And that’s exactly what the Holy Spirit does. You and I get the joy of proclaiming the testimony, of witnessing for the case that Jesus is alive for the salvation of all people. That’s our part. Don’t worry about the rest. Don’t worry about proving your case or convincing the jury. That’s the Holy Spirit’s part. “When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn 16:8). He will convince the world about sin, about righteousness, and about judgment. “About sin, because people do not believe in me” (Jn 16:9). The Holy Spirit convinces unbelievers that their unbelief is the one great sin which must be overcome. “About righteousness, because I am going to the Father” (Jn 16:10). The Holy Spirit convinces unbelievers that Christ, by his redemptive work, has gained for all people a perfect righteousness that avails before God so that, like Jesus, we to can stand before God! “And about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned” (Jn 16:11). The Holy Spirit convinces unbelievers that the victorious Christ is the one to be obeyed and worshiped, not the devil who poses as the “Prince of this World,” but is in fact judged and condemned already.
God is with you, every day. He has overcome your own unbelief, convincing you of your own righteousness and Satan’s condemnation. Now he also works through you – with the same convicting and convincing power we saw on the first Pentecost – to add to the number daily of those who believe.