Imagine you were one of the twelve disciples. You just heard Jesus – your best friend – tell you that he was leaving soon. You’d be perplexed to say the least. How could Jesus say that he would leave when he promised to always be with you? The disciples must have wondered what all of this meant.
How about you? Do you struggle with these words too? Many do. People wonder – perhaps you’re one of them – why Jesus had to leave. Life would be so much simpler if Christ had remained on earth, then we wouldn’t struggle with doubts or questions. Right? Wrong! Christ Jesus had to return to heaven so that our salvation might be complete. He did this not to complicate things, but to comfort us. In fact, in our text we find that JESUS GIVES US A COMFORTING PROMISE. 1) Jesus promises to care for us, and 2) Jesus promises to be with us.
1) Jesus Promises to Care for Us.
Everybody likes to feel needed. Everybody likes to feel cared for and loved. And now for a small sum of money, you can pay people to tell you those things! In many parts of the country this very weekend select groups of people are meeting; hoping to find some secret power that will develop all their hidden abilities and bring them to a new level of life experience.
One advertisement for such a seminar reads as follows: “Start the major love affair of your life by spending a weekend with yourself. Take two days out of your life to spend just with you. Discover the most fascinating, wondrous, magnificent person you will ever know – yourself – in an experience you’ll never forget.” Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?
That advert makes some bold claims. It promises wonderful results. You may be wondering, “What’s the catch?” Well, the cost of this particular seminar – a mere $250 per person!
It seems seminars, retreats, and self-help groups are en vogue right now. You can find groups of people meeting for all sorts of reasons.
Now, I’m not knocking weekend retreats or seminars. In a sense, the Gospel reading for today is an account of a first century retreat, a special seminar, which Jesus conducted for his disciples. In John 13, we find Jesus telling his disciples about true greatness. He says greatness is found in humility and service to others. Then Jesus demonstrated that greatness by washing his disciples’ feet.
Jesus told his disciples about a radical concept: Christian love. This was the very heart and core of Christ’s love shown his entire life. This love would find its culmination on the cross as Jesus sacrificed himself for us. In order to do that, Jesus had to give up everything – the very glories of heaven – so that we might have a home with him in paradise.
Jesus gave himself wholly to his Father’s will. He dedicated himself to every law, decree, and command his Father ever uttered. He did this for us, so that we might find favor in God’s eyes. Everything Christ Jesus accomplished was for us. And this was all part of God’s plan to provide comfort and healing, care and mercy.
Now in chapter 14:15 Jesus expands on God’s plan of salvation. He promises to send another Person, whom he calls the “Counsellor/ Helper/ Comforter.” Jesus was promising to send the Holy Spirit ‘The Spirit of Truth’.
Jesus was foretelling the events of Pentecost. He did this to comfort his disciples. He knew they would be confused as they witnessed his crucifixion and death. Jesus wanted to let his disciples know that he would not forsake them. He cared for them. And so he makes a promise. He would send the “Counsellor.” Now, the original Greek word Jesus uses was “Paraclete.” That’s the word we translate “counsellor.” That Greek word has the idea of one who walks along side of you, encouraging and instructing. It’s a picture of someone who cares.
I can’t think of a better way for Jesus to describe God’s care and concern than his description of the Holy Spirit.
As a counsellor, the Holy Spirit comforts, guides, and instructs. He does this with the Word of God. First, the Holy Spirit shows us that we need a Savior. The Bible tells us that we cannot love ourselves into heaven. No amount of self-esteem can earn salvation. The power of positive thinking cannot remove sin from a guilty conscience. A pow-wow with the Holy Spirit is needed. Jesus promised this to his first 12 disciples and he promises it to us.
This is a promise he intends to keep. Just listen to the determination in his words: “and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.” The Lord shows his care and concern by dealing with the truth. The truth is that God calls sin what it is: sin. It is an infraction of God’s holy commands. And the Holy Spirit reminds us that we have broken God’s decrees again and again.
We encounter our sins every time we read the Bible. We come face-to-face with the truth as the Holy Spirit convicts us. He shows us that we are sinners. The Spirit does this so that we don’t trust in ourselves for salvation. God wants us to despair in ourselves, so that we trust in him for all things. The Holy Spirit’s main job is to turn us from ourselves and towards Christ for certainty of forgiveness and salvation. The Spirit needs to force us to look into the mirror of God’s law and see our sins.
Sadly, a lot of people deny this truth. Consider Christ’s words: “the world cannot accept the Holy Spirit because it neither sees him nor knows him.” As a whole this world looks at the profound truth of Christ’s love and pronounces it foolish. This world is happy enough with lust and sex. People enjoy romance, or the feeling of “being in love.
” A lot of people talk about charity and peace, but rarely will anyone get close enough to anybody else to actually love, to come along side and help. It’s when we come alongside to help one another – to put our Christian love into practice – that the Holy Spirit feels at home in our hearts. He moves us to love each other even as we have been loved by God. In this way, we obey God’s commands. It’s all about humility and sacrifice. We do not love each other when we do things only to get a pat on the back, or some other kind of recognition or bragging rights. Christian love gives when the sinful heart isn’t willing to do so. Christian love gives when it is inconvenient or unappealing. In short, Christian love is the willing response the Holy Spirit works in our hearts. And it’s evident in our lives, as he leads us to focus on God’s faithful love and promises.
2) Jesus Promises to Be with Us.
Jesus made this clear when he said that the Spirit both dwells with us and will be in us. Talk about loving faithfulness! The Spirit has been with us much longer than we ever knew. Before we knew Jesus or even thought about spiritual things, the Spirit has been calling out to us, drawing us to Jesus. This is not a relationship we can create on our own. As Martin Luther correctly states in his catechism: I believe I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one truth faith.” The Holy Spirit sought us out and made his home within us. He did this through the gospel: the message of salvation in Christ.
The Holy Spirit is responsible for our faith in Jesus Christ. He’s also responsible for keeping that faith alive and allowing us to live for Christ. It might sound a bit unsettling for Jesus to say, “If you love me, you will obey what I command”, but those words need not frighten us. It would be scary to think that our obedience to Jesus was based on our merits or worthiness, but it’s not.
We can’t even believe in Jesus Christ on our own, let alone obey him. Again, this is all credited to the work of our Savior-God. The Holy Spirit leads us to obey God, by reminding us of his faithful promises. The Spirit uses the Gospel in the Word and Sacraments to remind us that we have a faithful God who loves us so much that he died for our sins and rose again so that we might live with him eternally. That message of love leads us to trust, listen, and obey.
It’s all because the Holy Spirit keeps whispering the song of the Gospel in our ears. Have you ever been seated in the car, when suddenly an old familiar song came on the radio – one you hadn’t heard in years – and it made you smile? Why is that? When we don’t hear those old familiar songs for a long time, we fill our minds with other things and forget those old familiar songs. There’s the possibility for that to happen to our faith. We fill our minds with other things and we forget the song of the Gospel.
So many other songs come along and compete for our attention: songs of worry and fear, of lust and greed, and they fill our hearts leading us to forget that Christ promises to be with us. Christ keeps his promise of abiding love by continuing to send the Holy Spirit to whisper the lyrics of the Gospel song in our ears. He reminds us that we are God’s children for Jesus’ sake.
At baptism, the Holy Spirit whispered, “You are mine. You are cleansed in the blood of Christ.” In Holy Communion our Lord says, “Take and eat; take and drink. Receive what I have given to you.” The Holy Spirit leads us to know that the gifts of hope, forgiveness, life and salvation are ours. Our Lord promises it. When you come to worship, go to Bible study, or have a family devotion the Holy Spirit continues to whisper the mystery of God’s love into your ears. He reminds you that the Bible was written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ and by believing you may have life in his name.
Weekend retreats and seminars are nice. They provide a “shot in the arm”, rejuvenating a person’s outlook on life. In fact, it’s good to get away and focus on the simpler things once in a while. The Holy Spirit does that for us every day. Each day he reminds us of the simpler things of faith: forgiveness, salvation, and the hope of heaven. We don’t have to listen to a charismatic, world-renown speaker to inspire us. It’s all right here in the Bible. So listen to God himself. And we don’t have to spend a small fortune to hear about the secrets of salvation. God’s love is a gift of his grace – it’s free of charge. So, don’t doubt. Simply believe. After all, your God promises it. Amen.