Date: 27 Aug 2017
Text: John 15:18-16:16
There is no denying that last week’s sermon in our series on Living in Christ was a bit heavy in places as we considered the idea of being in the world but not of the world. We noted that as a result of our not being of the world, the world hates us simply because as Christians we follow Jesus Christ and not the ways of the world. Jesus Himself told us that since the world hated Him first it would also hate us; it is almost guilt by association. Not only did the world hate Jesus but it also rejected Him by crucifying Him. Consequently it rejects us no matter what we do or say to love people and or do to help those who are most in need.
In today’s sermon I hope that we will see the ways that Jesus will help us to overcome the rejection that we will undoubtedly experience on an almost daily basis. Jesus tries to reassure us and give us the confidence that we need to face the world and deal with the rejection that comes our way. Although Jesus directed these words towards His disciples when He spoke to them towards the end of His earthly life; and even though they were written some 2000 years ago; these words still apply to us today.
Last week, particularly in 15:18-19, we saw Jesus warning us of the hatred that the world will show in our direction. Now in 16:1 He gives an explanation as to why He did that. Jesus cared greatly for His disciples just as He cares for us today and He didn’t want the disciples or any other believer to fall away and lose their faith. He also didn’t want this hatred and persecution that He spoke of in 15:20 to come as a surprise or a shock. They say that to be forewarned is to be forearmed which is probably why Jesus was warning His disciples well in advance of the hatred and persecution that would come their way. It is all too easy for any of us to fall at the first hurdle of rejection if our faith isn’t very strong and Jesus was very anxious that the faith of the disciples should be strong enough to withstand this onslaught of hatred and rejection.
When rejection does come our way there are two possible solutions that we tend to think of. The real temptation for us when rejection occurs is to try and stand on our own, to deal with it by ourselves without reference to anyone else. The other option is to give up altogether and lose, mislay or forget our faith in Jesus. Neither of those options is what Jesus wants us to do and that is why He didn’t leave us alone; in fact He would never even contemplate leaving us without support.
Jesus reminded His disciples in 16:5a that He was going to “him who sent me”; in other words, He was returning to His Father in heaven. He had told the disciples about this in the past and either they didn’t understand or it didn’t totally register with them. It is interesting to see that Jesus commented that no one had asked “Where are you going?” (16:5). This seems rather strange since both Thomas and Peter on hearing that Jesus was leaving them had previously asked where He was going. Towards the end of John 13, in 13:36-37, we read of Simon Peter asking Jesus, "’Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus replied, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.’ Peter asked, ‘Lord, why can't I follow you now?’” Peter didn’t understand then and seemed to have forgotten that conversation now. Similarly in 14:5 having heard Jesus say that He was leaving them but they knew the Way to where He was going, Thomas commented, “Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Just like Peter, Thomas must have forgotten that earlier conversation otherwise he may well have been tempted to ask again! Why do you suppose Peter and Thomas, and the others for that matter, didn’t ask Jesus where He was going? Jesus provided the answer when He commented that “you are filled with grief because I have said these things” (16:6). Grief can do strange things to us including causing us to temporarily forget previous conversations and I’ve no doubt that this was what was happening to the disciples. It’s noticeable though that throughout this brief encounter Jesus had concerns for His disciples, He worried about them and He knew what they were thinking and feeling. He feels the same way about and for us and will always show compassion towards us.
It seems possible that the disciples had also forgotten Jesus’ promise from 14:16 that after He had gone He would send “another advocate” to be with them; they were not going to be left alone! Because of the possibility that they had forgotten, Jesus told them again that He was sending the Advocate to be with them. In 15:26 He told them “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father ...” and again in 16:7, “Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you”.
In 16:13 Jesus called the Advocate the Spirit of truth having earlier said in 14:26 that the Advocate was actually the Holy Spirit. Not only would the Advocate be with them to care for them and protect them but He would also do a number of other things during the time He was with them. Very importantly, we know from 16:13 that “He [that is, the Advocate] will not speak on His own; He will only speak what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come”. We have already been told that the Advocate was the Spirit of truth and now we learn that He would only testify about Jesus and no One else. Jesus also confirms that the Advocate would only tell them what Jesus had told Him and as the Lord said, “the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you” (16:15b).
It is interesting to see that Jesus also told them that, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear” (16:12). I suspect that the reason for that comment was that they were still in a state of shock and grieving over His reminder that He would soon be leaving them. He may have told them this before but it didn’t seem to have totally registered with them, hence the shock and grief that they now felt. Jesus knew that as a result of that they would have been unable to take anything else in and so in many ways it would have been a waste of time if He had told them anything else. Consequently the first job of the Advocate was to guide them into all truth and “...glorify [me] Jesus because it is from [me] Jesus that he will receive what he will make known to you” (16:14).
The Advocate also had another role which was to “prove the world to be wrong...” (16:8). The world has views about sin, righteousness and judgement that are the opposite of those held and understood by Jesus and His followers. This vital role of the Advocate would be to testify to the world about those three things and show them just how wrong they are.
Firstly, He was to talk about sin which Jesus stated was because “people do not believe in me” (16:9). The biggest sin is unbelief in Jesus something which applies to a huge part of the world, and the sad fact is that those who reject Jesus will spend eternity cut off from God for all time; not a happy prospect! Sin always includes any number of other failures in our lives; failures brought about by our warped human nature. We indulge in wrong thinking, using wrong words and doing wrong things; we turn our backs on God and blaspheme His name. We fail to live up to God’s standard which means there is no way that we can be in His presence. No one is exempt as Paul confirms when he reminds us in Romans 3:23, “... all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. The world of course denies that there is such a thing as sin and therefore they cannot be sinners. Sadly for them they are very, very wrong. As non-believers will eventually discover there is sin in the world and it is punishable by death! One of the Advocate’s tasks will be to convince people of the existence of sin and then to convict them of that sin and their need to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
Righteousness is one of those Biblical terms that are very difficult to explain. Righteousness means to be in a right relationship with God and only those who are righteous may appear before Him. We know from scripture that God is a righteous God and probably the best definition comes in Isaiah 45:21 where we read God’s own words, “... there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Saviour; there is none but me.” The Pharisees thought that if they obeyed the Law to the last letter, they would be able to meet God’s standards for righteousness. Jesus soon put them right on that by pointing out that observing the Law concerned external behaviour whereas what God sought was a change of attitude in the heart. The people meanwhile mistakenly thought that if they followed the words and actions of the Pharisees then all would be well. Jesus very quickly disavowed them of that way of thinking when He told them, “... I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20). It wasn’t only the Pharisees who God regarded as not being righteous, such a state applied to everyone, something which Paul made clear in Romans 3:20a when he said, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law”.
What this means is that we cannot earn righteousness; it can only come from God. If that is the case then how do we become righteous? This is where Jesus comes in! All we can do to receive righteousness from God is to repent of our sins and accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. We have to place our faith in Him and believe that He died for us on the cross of Calvary. When we do that God will accept us into His family and regard us as being righteous.
Unfortunately the world doesn’t seem at all bothered about this since as they don’t believe in God anyway they don’t worry about being righteous or not in His eyes. The role of the Advocate will be to teach everyone about righteousness and the fact that it only comes through Jesus.
When Jesus died on the cross and then rose again on the third day He not only defeated death and sin but He also defeated, passed judgement on and condemned Satan, the prince of this world. Satan is constantly working against God and trying to mislead us and take us away from Jesus. We need to remain strong in our faith if we are to defeat Satan and his wily schemes. As I mentioned a moment ago, righteousness only comes through Jesus and yet, despite that, Satan keeps working in people and trying to have them believe that they could become righteous simply through their own efforts. How wrong they were and still are, and how wrong Satan was. Jesus proved Him to be wrong which is why he now stands judged and condemned. All sinners will be judged by God and Satan is no exception and we know from Revelation 20:10 that Satan’s punishment will be to be thrown into a lake of burning sulphur as his final punishment!
Finally we come to 16:16 which to say the least appears to be a bit strange. Jesus had been telling them that He was leaving them and “in a little while you will see me no more” but then “after a little while you will see me”. I’m sure that the disciples were totally and utterly confused by such an enigmatic statement. What Jesus meant of course was that He would be leaving them briefly as He knew that He was about to be crucified. The disciples were still blissfully unaware of what was about to happen and I’m sure that if they did know then the grief that they were already feeling would have been multiplied greatly. Jesus’ second comment that He would return “after a little while” obviously refers to His resurrection on the third day; a day that is probably the most glorious day in the Christian world. Again, I doubt that the disciples had any inkling of what Jesus meant by this comment and would have looked at one another in absolute puzzlement. Don’t forget that Jesus had already told them in John 14 that He was going away to be with His Father, although on that occasion they simply didn’t understand what He meant and that bewilderment still hung over them as they were none the wiser after this closing comment.
Although Jesus had told His disciples in John 14 that He was leaving them to prepare a place for them, it’s noticeable that He doesn’t mention here that He would be leaving them for quite a long time, although He does hint at that when He tells them that He has to go so that the Advocate could come to be with them. We aren’t told specifically here but we do know that the Holy Spirit will remain with us to help us, guide us, teach us and do any number of other things for us until Jesus returns to claim His people and His kingdom.
Whilst there are some difficult verses in this passage, particularly 16:8-11, the overall objective of these verses was to provide reassurance to the disciples and all followers of Jesus. Jesus knew that His disciples were grieving at the thought of Him leaving them which was why He told them that they wouldn’t be alone but would have the Advocate with them. The Advocate had a number of roles not least of which was to be with them in the same way that Jesus had been with them. In the face of the rejection and hatred that we receive from the world we need to remember that we too are never alone; the Holy Spirit is always present and is always with us. Not only is He with us now but the Holy Spirit will remain with us until that glorious day when Jesus returns.