The Holy Spirit
John 14:26 "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you."
We looked at the earlier part of this chapter last Sunday evening. We saw how Jesus made a series of wonderful promises to his disciples when they were disheartened by the thought of him leaving them. They were great promises too:
He was going to prepare a place for them
They would do greater works than him
He would answer their prayers and give them just what they needed
This evening we are going to consider a further amazing promise he made to them – the Holy Spirit would be given to them.
Let’s look at this more closely.
Who is this Holy Spirit?
Jesus is the One who introduces the Holy Spirit to his disciples and refers to him as:
The Helper (or comforter, counsellor, advocate)
The Spirit of Truth
The Holy Spirit
But what are we to make of this?
The word "helper" found in vv.16+17 is a translation of the Greek word paraclyte. The NT uses this word 4 times to speak of the Spirit and once to refer to Jesus himself as we see in the first letter of John where we read:
1Jn.2:1 "we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."
The word paraclyte is rendered here by the word advocate which is a particularly helpful translation because it describes a person who has been called alongside another in order to provide much needed help. In a legal setting for, example, a paraclyte (or advocate ) pleads another’s cause before a judge, as a barrister might do. But the meaning of the word is much broader than that and so "helper" is also a very good translation.
In describing the Holy Spirit as "another helper" Jesus was making it clear that the Spirit would take his place and carry on his work with his disciples when he left them and ascended into heaven.
Now if Jesus, the original "helper", was a person then it follows that the functions he carried out with regard to his followers could only be continued if his replacement was also a person. The Holy Spirit then is not an "it" and we are not to think of him as some kind of impersonal force or energy. Scripture tells us that he carried out the functions of a true person and in addition to that he possesses the emotional make-
Sometimes when you make an appointment to see your doctor when you get there you find a locum is working in his place. The locum is a fully qualified doctor who does the job of another doctor who is absent for one reason or another. The role of the Holy Spirit is similar to that of the locum – he does for the disciple what Jesus had done previously.
Now we believe that Jesus is fully divine and so it follows that if another person were to replace him fully then that other person would also have to be fully divine. The Spirit that Jesus promised to his disciples was a divine Spirit – we refer to him as the Third Person of the Trinity.
This identification of the Spirit as divine is further confirmed by the way in which Jesus described him. He is the Holy Spirit – and holiness is an attribute of God – he is also the Spirit of Truth and truth is another such attribute.
As the famous Westminster Shorter Catechism put it in its fourth question: What is God?
God is a spirit, Whose being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth are infinite, eternal, and unchangeable.
The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth is fully God and this means among other things that the Spirit communicates truth and desires to impart holiness. He will supply the strength that is necessary to ensure that the truth produces holiness he desires to see.
It is this Holy Spirit that is promised to the disciples and what a promise it is!
The Father sends the Holy Spirit
The Father gives the Spirit in response to the Son’s asking
He gives the Spirit to the Son for him to pour out the Spirit which he did for the first time at Pentecost.
(Pentecost was not however the only coming of the Spirit as he came again and again bringing freshness and renewing power. Sometimes he came upon those who had already benefitted from his earlier coming and sometimes as he came upon others for the first time. He continues to come upon the church both in ordinary days and in periods of reviving power and vitality.)
And he sends the Spirit in the name of the Son
What a wonderful harmony there is in the Godhead! Father, Son and Holy Spirit collaborate in a wonderfully united manner as they carry out of their divine plan and purpose!
How difficult we find it to think about the Trinity! We tend to swing from emphasising the Oneness of God to the Threeness of God and of course he is one and three constantly. There is no competition between the members because the members are one and yet these members while being one exercise different functions and relate in a blissfully happy manner with each other because they are truly One God and not just a company of three individuals who get on remarkably well together. Our God is magnificent and he has chosen to reveal himself to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Where our poor intellects fail to grasp the wonder and majesty of his glorious being our hearts can, and must, bow in adoring worship!
The Father is portrayed here, as always, as the head of this glorious Trinity with everything flowing from him in first place. He plans and initiates for the Son to carry out and for the Spirit to apply – and yet each person of the Trinity is involved inextricably and perfectly with the others for together these three distinct persons are one indivisible God. Praise his wonderful name.
The Father loves us and sent his Son into the world to save us. The Father is ready and only too willing, now that the Son has successfully and completely fulfilled the mission on which he had been sent, to heed the Son’s request to grant the Spirit to his people.
And so the Spirit is given and he comes in the name of the Lord Jesus. But what does that mean?
Well at the very least it means that the Spirit comes in connection with Jesus’ person and work. The Father has given him so that he might be that "other" helper and so he comes to do what Jesus had been doing hitherto. He has been given to us because Jesus had done his work to perfection and he has deserved to receive the Spirit that he might pour him out upon us. Coming in the name of Jesus we should expect the whole of the Spirit’s ministry to be bound up with the Lord Jesus Christ and this is just what we find as we turn to think about what Jesus promised that the Spirit would do.
The Promise is not Restricted to the Apostles Alone
It is true that Jesus made his declarations concerning the work of the Spirit to his apostles in the Upper Room and so the first and primary reference to what the Spirit would do has to relate to those apostles. However there are good reasons to believe that the Spirit exercises the same general ministry towards Christian believers down through the centuries and on into today.
What is it that makes us think that?
Well, for one, in v.16 Jesus promises his followers that the Spirit will be with them forever. Another reason is to be found in the Book of Acts itself.
On the Day of Pentecost the first coming of the Spirit is recorded with all his life transforming power – it was a remarkable event. Towards the end of his sermon Peter had these words to say:
Peter’s sermon had a great effect upon his hearers and many cried out wanting to know how they might be saved. As he responded Peter spoke about the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit:
There could be no repetition of that first event – it was a first after all – but there were other comings that were similar if not identical in their effects. In Acts 4 the same apostles who had experienced Pentecost had been praying for boldness to continue preaching the good news of Jesus in what was an evidently hostile environment. And they were heard:
Acts 4:31 "And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness."
Then later, in a distinctly different context, the Spirit fell upon a group of non-
Acts 10:44 "While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles."
Peter knew how to interpret this: God had sent the blessing of salvation therefore these folk ought to be baptised into the church and they were.
In the following chapter Peter had to explain himself to the church in Jerusalem. He said:
The meeting ended with the church glorifying God for having granted to the Gentiles repentance that leads to life!
What Does the Spirit Do?
At this particular moment Jesus told his disciples about just two aspects of the Spirit’s work.
The first was that he would teach them everything that they needed to know. He would explain to Jesus’ apostles all the truths that would be necessary for salvation and a life of holiness.
The fruit of his ministry in the lives of the apostles is still evident for us to see and read today – it is the New Testament itself. We often refer to this particular teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit to the writers of the NT as the work of "inspiration". We have our NTs not because the authors were clever and imaginative but because God breathed out his word into their hearts and minds. In every step of the way the Spirit oversaw their thoughts and ideas so that what they wrote, in the words they chose and in their own individual style, conveyed exactly what he wanted them to. And that is the reason why the NT is set apart from every other book written in the Christian era – it is God’s Word and as such so very useful for us. As Paul was to put it in writing to Timothy:
2Tim.3:16 "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work."
Now when Paul wrote those words he was thinking primarily about what we refer to as the Old Testament and if that part of God’s Word which speaks of God’s plans and purposes using the veiled language of types and shadows how much more appropriately does Paul’s description fit the much clearer revelation of Christ that is the subject matter of the New!
The Spirit taught the apostles what they were to write in a way which he no longer uses with us. We have the fruit of that early ministry now before us and we should not expect God to speak to us with new truth independently of the Scriptures that we have. Yet, we still look to him, indeed we are still utterly dependent upon him, for our understanding of the truth that he has revealed. And we must never forget it!
The second area in which Jesus promised the Spirit would minister was to enable his apostles to remember what Jesus had actually taught while he was with them.
This, of course, is not unrelated to the writing of Scripture to which we have referred above but perhaps places the emphasis slightly elsewhere. Specifically the Spirit comes to prompt our ailing and flagging memories. And what an encouragement that should be to us!
In the longest psalm of the Psalter the psalmist declared:
Ps 119:11 "I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you."
We can all read God’s word for ourselves and I hope we do. The more we read it attentively the more of it there will be in our hearts and minds to guide us and to help us make wise decisions in life. But sometimes we are tempted to think we won’t know how to apply it when we hit difficulties in life. Sometimes we despair because we seem to be so forgetful. But Jesus has gifted us his Spirit so that we are not left to our own devices – we have the perfectly wise, understanding and patient Holy Spirit who wants to guide us into all truth and to ensure that we lead increasingly holy lives, lives which will glorify our Great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.
So rejoice and don’t despair! Be glad that you are loved so greatly that the Spirit has been given to you – it is by the Spirit that Jesus and the Father dwell with you and in you!
What a glorious truth to know! Let us press on with joy and confident expectation of making progress in our individual Christian lives and as we live together as a Christian congregation.
And may God be glorified in us all!