Hello, and welcome to the STC podcast. My name is Casey Strine, I’m a member of the STC staff, and I’m excited to be sharing a few of my reflections on the Gospel of John with you this week.
This week we will be looking at materials from chapters 12, 13, and 14 of the Gospel according to John.
This section of the Gospel of John include Jesus’ final public conversation and some of the last conversations he has with his closest disciples. These passages are filled with the ideas Jesus wants to ensure his closest followers understand before his death because they are the concepts on which God will build a movement of people following Jesus and seeking to complete his mission.
With the beginning of chapter 13, the Gospel of John has taken us literally inside Jesus’ inner circle of disciples. Already this week we have seen Jesus’ wash their feet, expand the command to love others, and to promise these disciples will do even greater things than Jesus himself. Today, John tells us how God remains present with us after Jesus’ departure.
There is no harder idea in Christianity to understand than the Trinity. If anyone says they can explain it to you, their heart might be in the right place, but, I’m afraid to say, they’re lying. Preachers search for illustrations to make it comprehensible; theologians make up words even they know aren’t real words to write about the Trinity; most people just attempt to avoid thinking or talking about the Trinity if possible.
Within the complexity of the Trinity, perhaps nothing induces more confusion than the identity and role of the Holy Spirit. I can’t possibly solve those questions – but I think I can explain what is said about the Holy Spirit in this particular passage.
Jesus opens this section of his discourse with the disciples by saying that he will ask God the Father to send another to help the disciples. This helper is called the advocate. That might make you think of a solicitor or a barrister – a legal advocate. It is the realm in which we most often use this language in English. It isn’t a bad analogy: the idea of someone with knowledge, training, and an appreciation of a situation that might be unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and intimidating to someone without that knowledge.
In this passage, Jesus explains two thing that the Holy Spirit does.
First, the Spirit teaches things to those who will listen. The point Jesus is making is that he has only told the disciples so much – in his mind, not as much as they will need in the future. It is the Spirit, then, who will be with the disciples every step of their lives. The Spirit will teach them all the other things of God they need to know. That must have been a great assurance to those disciples. Since it holds true for us today too, it should be a great encouragement for us as well. Indeed, it is really reassuring to someone, say like me, who has advanced training on how to read and interpret the Bible and still feels unsure about what God would say on so many subjects!
Second, Jesus explains that the Spirit will remind them of those things Jesus did teach that are relevant for them in whatever situation they find themselves. Whether that is a specific verse from the Scripture, a saying of Jesus, one of his parables or a story, or simply the recollection that Jesus has entrusted them to complete the work of God that he started, it is the Holy Spirit that will bring to mind what they need when they need it. This promise remains true for all of us today too. It is equally as good a piece of news as the first one.
When Christians speak of the Holy Spirit being active in the world, we mean that in sometimes obvious ways and in sometimes almost impossible to explain ways the Holy Spirit offers guidance to those who ask for it. To return to where I started, it might help you to think of the Holy Spirit like a legal counsellor who is by our side telling us what we need to know when things get complex, beyond our expertise. For anyone who has been involved in a legal case, you know just how reassuring this is.
You might also like to think of the Holy Spirit as the tutor who can talk you through a test you’re preparing to take. The tutor isn’t there to give you the answer, but to remind you of the things you know that you need to solve the problem you face.
God does not offer to do everything for us in the Holy Spirit. No, God promises to walk along with us as we take on the tasks we face and to remind us of the knowledge we have and the skills we possess to handle our challenges.
King Jesus, thank you for knowing that we need reminders of what we know and instruction for what we face. Father God, thank you for sending the Holy Spirit to fulfil that role for us. Holy Spirit, be with us and guide us in all that we face. We pray all this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
READING: John 14:15-31
‘If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me any more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.’
Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, ‘But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’
Jesus replied, ‘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. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
‘All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
‘You heard me say, “I am going away and I am coming back to you.” If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.
‘Come now; let us leave.’