The Lord Jesus would not have been very good as a politician. You can see it clearly in this section of John’s Gospel. Politicians make promises. They promise to do all kinds of things that people want to hear. They are going to cut taxes, increase spending and balance the budget all at the same time. By the same token, politicians don’t tell people the hard truth they don’t want to hear. So for example, they are not going to say you can’t keep spending more money than you take in – especially when you already have a massive debt. You have to spend less. There will have to be cuts in things that people consider to be necessary and important … and that includes you.
In this section of John, Jesus makes a promise that we don’t want to hear. He says that he is going to the Father, but that he will send the Spirit – the Helper. He is going to do this because it is actually better for us. Jesus also tells the truth about what is going to happen, even though it’s not what we want to hear. He says that we will face persecution because of him.
Jesus tells the disciples that he is going away. He is going to the Father who sent him. The disciples don’t want to hear this. Jesus says immediately after our text, “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.”
Just to be clear, this is not what we want to hear either. And the thing about Jesus is that he doesn’t just make promises. He actually follows through on them. Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord. We remembered the fact that Jesus withdrew his visible presence as he ascended into heaven and returned to the Father. Jesus did it. And in fact, he says that this is good for us. He announces, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”
Now we don’t really believe Jesus on this one. We think it would be better if Jesus was right here with us – visible just as he was during his earthly ministry. We wish that he had never left. If that were the case, then people would believe in him and come to faith! If that were the case, then it would be easy to continue in the faith!
Except the thing is that it didn’t work that way during Jesus’ ministry here on earth. So in John chapter 6 Jesus feeds more than five thousand people using five barley loaves and two fish. It was an amazing miracle – so amazing that is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels.
But it did not cause everyone to believe in Jesus and follow him. The next day when the crowd sought out Jesus, he said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” They weren’t there because of the miraculous signs that called forth faith. Instead they just wanted their stomach filled by the wonder worker.
Before the conversation was done, Jesus had told them, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” It was too much for them. They responded, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” They took offense at what Jesus said and after this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.
Jesus has ascended. He has returned to Father. But our Lord makes it very clear that in doing so he is not abandoning us. Instead earlier in this discussion Jesus said, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
Jesus says that his departure will result in the sending of “another Helper.” Our Lord says that his departure and the ensuing arrival of the Spirit is to our benefit. If we ask why, the first thing Jesus tells us in our text is: “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” The first thing we learn is that the Spirit will bear witness to Jesus.
Later in this chapter our Lord goes on to say, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
The role of the Spirit is to guide us in all truth because he is the Spirit of truth. At the heart of this truth is Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life. The Spirit bears witness to Jesus. He takes what he hears from our Lord and speaks it to us. He glorifies Jesus because he takes those things that belong to Jesus – his saving works and words – and makes them known to us.
Jesus tells his disciples that they will have a role in this. He says in our text, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” The disciples – Jesus’ apostles – are able to bear witness to Jesus because they have been with Jesus from the beginning. They have heard the Lord’s teaching and seen his miracles. They will witness his death and experience the risen Lord during the course of forty days.
The Spirit bears witness to Jesus and the disciples bear witness to Jesus. And in fact it is the Spirit who will enable to the disciples to do this. Earlier Jesus said, “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.” The Spirit will work through the disciples to bear witness to Jesus and to give greater understanding about Jesus and his saving work.
Jesus’ departure enables the sending of the Spirit. Why? We aren’t told. Apparently this is an aspect of the way God is. We find the same idea expressed in the book of Acts when Peter says that it is as the ascended and exalted Lord that Jesus pours forth the Spirit on Pentecost.
Jesus’ departure enables the sending of the Spirit. This is good for us because the Spirit bears witness through the disciples about Jesus. The Spirit leads us to understand Jesus’ saving work and what he means for us through the apostles’ words.
What he means for us first is life and peace. Jesus Christ was sent as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He was lifted up on the cross to die for us. And then the Spirit raised him from the dead. Because of this we have life. We already now have eternal life. As Jesus said to Martha at Lazarus’ grave, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
Because of Jesus we have peace. Earlier Jesus had said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” At the end of this chapter he adds, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
The Spirit takes what belongs to Jesus and makes it to known to us. He leads us into the truth of Jesus’ words. That includes what Jesus says in our text this morning, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” The life and peace we have in the risen Lord enables us to face rejection and even persecution because of Jesus Christ. The Spirit’s witness to Jesus leads us to be faithful.
The Spirit makes known Jesus’ love for us – a love that led him to the cross as he carried out the Father’s saving will. And in so doing he leads us to share this love with others. Our Lord said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” This is what Jesus has done for us. This is what the Spirit makes known to us for in the risen Lord we have life and peace.