Another Counsellor

John 14:15-27

12 May 2002

Greyfriars Church


I was six years old, my sister was five. Our family had just moved temporarily into a house on an RAF base while my parents looked for somewhere more permanent to live.

My sister and I had gone out to play for a while, and eventually decided it was time to go in. As soon as we got to the house we could see something was wrong. The curtains had been taken down. The rooms had been emptied. But worst of all, no-one came as we banged and banged on the door. I peeled off the tape that had been put over the letter box since we'd left just a short while earlier and yelled through it "Mummy, Mummy! Daddy, Daddy!" but still no-one came. Our worst nightmare had come true: our parents had abandoned us. They'd moved on and left us.

A few minutes later a kindly neighbour came and took us next door to the house we actually lived in, and returned us to our parents who were rather bemused by our joy at seeing them again.

That's a funny story with a happy ending, but our fear of abandonment runs so deeply in us that that experience has etched itself into my heart as one of my earliest memories. Twenty-six whole years later it's still a painful memory.

There will be some here tonight who will genuinely have known the desolation of being abandoned by someone they loved. If so, then you have a deep insight into how Jesus' disciples were feeling around that table at that last supper on that Passover evening two thousand years ago.

We find Jesus in the middle of his so-called Farewell Discourse. It will help me and you if you could have the passage open in front of you as we study it: John chapter 14.

Jesus has just told the disciples in chapter 13 verse 33, I will be with you only a little longer; you will look for me but where I am going you cannot comeref. The disciples are stunned. Jesus has been everything to them for the last three years. This little band has been their only family, and Jesus was like their father. They've literally given everything they had for him, and now he's just going to leave them. What about his work? What about them?

Preoccupied with his imminent departure the disciples raise a series of questions and demands, each showing that they hadn't quite grasped what was going on. So Peter asks him, Where are you going? Why can't I follow you now?ref Then Thomas, We don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?ref and Philip, Show us the Father and that will be enough for usref.

So its no surprise that in the midst of all this Jesus begins chapter 14, and ends our text in verse 27, with words of reassurance: do not let your hearts be troubledref; do not be afraid.ref And, as he explains in our passage tonight, they have no need to be afraid, because far from abandoning them he has even greater things in store for them.

I want to unpack what Jesus said to his disciples using three of the things he says in verses 17 and 18: first I will not leave you as orphans, second I will come to you and third The world cannot accept him.

I will not leave you as orphans

First Jesus assures his disciples that he will not leave them as orphans. This is not an abandonment. He promises that God will send them another Counsellor, one who, unlike the earthly, bodily, man Jesus Christ, can be with them forever, and therefore with us forever. In fact, in chapter 16 he tells his disciples that it is better for them that he is going, precisely so that he can send this other Counsellor.

So who can this be, this other Counsellor whose presence is even more to be desired than having Jesus with us himself? Well, verses 17 and 26 tell us that he is the Spirit of Truth: the Holy Spirit himself.

We are told that the Spirit is sent by God, and he is therefore divine. He is the same Spirit as hovered over the water as God created the world at the beginning of time.

Nevertheless, Jesus insists that he is not a vague force or some kind of divine "influence". We're not in Star Wars here. Jesus is not saying as he is about to leave his followers, "May the Force be with you" .

No, the Spirit is clearly a person. In English the word "baby" is a neutral word, signifying neither male nor female. But when I refer to our baby, Hannah, I never use the word "it", but always "she" or "her". So, I never say, "can you change the baby, it's rather smelly" , but I often say, "can you change the baby, she's rather smelly" . The reason I do this is that she is a little person. And a very cute one too.

Similarly, in the Greek text of John's gospel the word for Spirit, pneuma is neuter, neither masculine nor feminine. However, John always uses the masculine pronouns in connection with the Spirit, effectively calling him he. He does this because the Spirit is a person. Actually, there is just one time he doesn't do this, which is when he first introduces the Spirit in verse 17. As one commentator brilliantly puts it, "he was thus ensuring that his subsequent shift to the masculine would be perceived not as incompetent Greek, but as magisterial theology."

So Jesus promises that he is not abandoning the disciples, but when he leaves them he will ask the Father who will send them the Holy Spirit, another Counsellor.

What does this word Counsellor mean? In Greek it is paraclete, which appears to have no direct equivalent in English. It's been variously translated counsellor, comforter, helper, supporter, advocate, ally, defender and representative. The word seems to carry the idea of a person who represents one party to another party. So, a legal advocate, or legal counsel, will represent a person in court, and the Spirit pleads our case with the Father in that way. But the Spirit also represents God to us: teaching us; guiding us; revealing God's will for us and creating God's character in us. He is God's presence with us.

The point is that our God is not distant. Allah is a distant god. The Hindu gods are all somewhere in the superconscious realm of the third of their worlds. Buddhists don't even have a god, they have a set of ancient teachings to follow. And the secular point of view is summed up by the philospher Nietzsche when he observed "God is dead".

Even the Jewish God—our God as people related to him under the Old Covenant, the Old Testament—is totally other; completely separate from his people. Once a year one man could approach God's inner sanctuary, and then only after incredibly elaborate cleansing and purifying rituals. Sure, God's spirit came upon quite a few people for a while, but he was very rarely said to be in someone.

Yet Ezekiel prophesies in Ezekiel chapter 36ref that God will one day put his Spirit in his people's hearts, and here we see the fulfilment of that prophesy. John chapter 14 verse 17, and he will be in youref.

The awesome, almost unbelievable truth is that The True God of the universe, Yahweh himself, has come to live in the hearts of his people. In your heart, and in my heart. The True God is immanent. He could not be closer!

As a consequence of this even our children can rebut Friedrich Nietzsche. You know the song:

God's not dead - No! He is alive.
God's not dead - No! He is alive.
God's not dead - No! He is alive.
He is alive in me.

This is not a kind of New Age nonsense, "we are all part of God; everything is God" theology. What we are talking about is God actually placing the Spirit of Truth in some people's hearts, and not in other peoples hearts, as we shall see a little later.

So what does this mean for you? Well, I guess that depends on how far away you happen to think God is right now.

Perhaps you agree with Nietzsche, that God is dead, or that he never existed at all. Well, all I can say to you is that he is alive in me. I know that God is there, because I know that his Spirit is in me!

Perhaps you've always thought of God as distant; enthroned on high; an Old Testament God who dwells in inapproachable light; a God to be worshipped from afar, but not really interacting with your daily life. Well, He is still God Almighty, but that doesn't mean he has abandoned us. Here is encouragement from Jesus: if you have the Holy Spirit then God lives inside you! So, he is passionately interested in your daily life. How could he not be? He is intimately involved with your hopes, your fears, your joys, your sorrows, your words and your deeds. In the Spirit, God comes closer to us than Jesus was with his disciples. As one of the Proverbs puts it, there is a friend who sticks closer than a brotherref.

Or perhaps this evening you feel abandoned by God. You're banging on that door, but no-one is coming. Well, I hope you can see that God never abandons his people.

Jesus has kept his promise not to leave us as orphans. He has asked the Father, and the Father has sent another Counsellor to be with us forever. And a little later we will look at how we can build our relationship with God's Spirit.

But first, what are we to make of Jesus' other promise, I will come to youref? That's my second heading.

I will come to you

It's difficult to avoid talking about the Holy Trinity when studying a passage like John chapter 14. Jesus, the Father and the Spirit are so intermingled in the text that they are used almost interchangeably.

Yet, each of the three, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are quite clearly separate individuals: Jesus says I will ask the Fatherref, and it is the Father who sends the Spirit, and so on.

However, we also see their unity. Jesus has already earlier identified himself with the Father when he says in verse 9 of our chapter, anyone who has seen me has seen the Fatherref. And now we find him identifying himself with the Holy Spirit as well.

First, recall that the word translated Counsellor here is the Greek word paraclete. In John's gospel it always refers to the Holy Spirit. The word paraclete is, however, used in the Bible in just one more place, in First John chapter 2 verse 1ref, where it is used to describe Jesus speaking to the Father in our defence.

So in John's mind, Jesus and the Spirit are doing the same work. They are both our paraclete.

Just sticking with the Greek lesson for one more minute. In verse 16 Jesus says that the Father will give them "another" Counsellor to be with them. Now, in English we can use the word "another" in two quite different ways, distinguishing them by context. We can say, for example, "I didn't like that cake. I think I'll have another one" , meaning of course, a different one. Alternatively we can say. "I liked that cake. I think I'll have another one!" , meaning another of the same kind.

The Greeks, sensibly, had two different words for the different uses, and in this case the word for "another" usually has the second meaning. So here, "Another Counsellor", is a Counsellor of exactly the same kind. The Holy Spirit is another Jesus!

I'm sorry for all that footling about in Greek, but with that behind us we can now understand what Jesus means when he says in verse 18 I will come to youref; and in verse 19 you will see meref; and in verse 20 on that day you will realise that I am in youref. And we understand verse 23 where he says of himself and the Father, we will come to you and make our home with youref.

When the Spirit comes to live in us we have Jesus living in us and the Father living in us. That's why we have the advantage over the disciples. This is the reality of the Holy Trinity.

What does all this mean for us? What are the practical consequences of all that I've talked about? Well, I can hardly begin to describe the entirety of the work of the Holy Spirit tonight, so I've just picked three areas that are particularly pertinent to this passage.

First, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. This means that we can trust the Bible, because, as we see in verse 26 the Spirit was ensuring that its writers got it right. It also means that we need the Spirit's help to understand the Bible. Conversely , if you don't have the Spirit you can't understand the Bible, because it is so alien to the worldview of the non-Christian.

I keep buying poetry books, and I'd love to be someone who appreciates poetry, but a good deal of poetry is completely impenetrable, isn't it? Poetry is often so personal that to understand it you have to enter deeply into the worldview of the writer, to empathise with his or her experiences, and that's really hard when usually you don't actually know that much about the writer.

So I rather enjoy it when on the radio there are sometimes programmes where the poet will himself or herself come and explain the poetry: it suddenly begins to make sense.

The same is true of the Bible. We need the Author's help to understand it, and if we have the Holy Spirit within us, then we have the Author's help in understanding it. The Author has come and sat down with us. As Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians chapter 2, The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.ref So, pray for the Spirit's help as you come to read the Bible.

Second, the Spirit is the proof that God has not abandoned us. As Paul, again, puts it in 2 Corinthians chapter 1, God has set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to comeref. This means that we can have total confidence that God will never abandon us.

One day I was wandering along Charing Cross Road in London, as you do, when I was approached by a fellow clearly from some religious cult or other who invited me to a Bible study on the book of Revelation. Now, Ben's first rule of theology is to be deeply suspicious of anyone who claims to understand the book of Revelation. So when I declined he asked me, "how do you know you will be saved in the last times if you don't fully understand what's going to happen in the last times?"

With 2 Corinthians 1 in mind, for the first and only time I won an argument with one of these guys. I said to him, "I know that I will be saved because God's Spirit inside me is his guarantee of it. I don't need to know every last detail of the end times" . And what a relief that is! Do you have that assurance?

So the Holy Spirit interprets the Truth to us, and he guarantees our salvation. But, third, he radically changes the way we live our lives.

Once again, Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 6 verse 19 asks us, Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?ref If God is distant then he might not see us when we sin, but if he lives in us—if he knows our every thought and word and deed—then how can we continue in sin? How can we defile his temple?

Penny and I are not very tidy people, But we always make a point of tidying up a bit when guests come to stay. Now, as you know, the Queen is currently on her Jubilee tour, and was in fact quite near here last week. What if she decided that as part of her tour she would try staying with some ordinary commoners to see how the other half live? What if she came to stay at your house? I don't care if you're a monarchist or a republican, I bet you'd tidy up! I bet your house would be spotless!

The reality of the Holy Spirit is that the God of the universe has come to live with us, in our bodies, in our hearts and in our minds. What kinds of filth and junk is it that you need to clear out of your life to make it a home fit for the King, the Lord Jesus Christ, to live in? Resolve to clear out your life, and you will find that the Spirit is there to help you.

So, Jesus said, I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to youref. His final saying that I want to look at is, the world cannot accept himref.

The world cannot accept him

Judas—not Judas Iscariot who had already left, but Judas son of James, also known as Thaddaeus—, Judas, had not yet "got it" at all. In his theology he still expected the Messiah to be a great earthly leader, liberating the Jews from the Roman's tyranny, setting free the people of God. So he is understandably confused when Jesus says that he will not be showing himself to the world. Hence his question in verse 22, But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?ref In other words, how can you establish your kingdom in the world without anybody in the world seeing you do it?

In reply Jesus yet again iterates that his reign is a spiritual reign. He will build his kingdom as he and his Father begin to rule in the hearts of individual believers.

And three times he tells them how this will happen. When Jesus says something three times, we know that we'd better pay attention. Look at the text:

The world cannot accept the Holy Spirit because it knows nothing of Jesus Christ. It neither loves Christ nor does it obey Christ.

The Christian, however receives the Holy Spirit because he or she loves Jesus and is committed to obeying him. The two are bound up together: the more we love, the more we will obey; the more we obey the more we will love him. If you give your life to Jesus in love and service, then at that moment the Father will fill your life with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, Jesus and the Father, three-in-one and one-in-three will move into your heart forever.

Jesus is quite clear, these are the only grounds on which we can receive the Holy Spirit, and without him we simply do not belong to Christ.

This means that although you may think of yourself as a spiritual person, unless your spirituality is founded on obedience to Jesus Christ then you have a counterfeit spirituality. How can it be otherwise? You can't have the Spirit of Truth because The Spirit of Truth will dwell only with those who love and obey Jesus. And who wants a spirit of falsehood? If you want true spirituality in this spiritually bankrupt age, then come to Jesus. Start to love him. Start to obey him.

For the Christian, there is no other way to continue than the way we started. If the Spirit first came to us when we decided to love and obey Jesus, then we go on in the Spirit as we continue to try to love and obey Jesus.

Have you noticed that people are always searching in the church for a deeper spirituality, whether it's through singing, through meditation, through pilgrimage, through new ways of praying, being slain in the spirit or dancing in the aisles?

But I can tell you: you can sing until you are hoarse; you can read the Bible till your eyes water; you can pray until your knees wear out; you can meditate until you float a foot above the floor; you can be slain in the spirit until you end up in hospital. But unless you are also obedient to Christ not one of these things will make you the slightest bit more spiritual.

If you want a deeper spirituality then discover a deeper obedience to Christ. If your Bible reading is dry and dull, then obey Jesus' commands and he will fill you with the Holy Spirit. If your prayer life is weak and ineffectual, then obey Jesus' commands and he will fill you with the Holy Spirit. If your praise and worship is half-hearted and unsatisfying, then obey Jesus' commands and he will fill you with the Holy Spirit.

The message is this: don't go in search of "spiritual experiences" as an end in themselves. Go in search of obedience to Christ, and as surely as Arsenal did the Double God will fill your heart with His Holy Spirit.

Obeying Jesus means ridding ourselves of lust and anger. Obeying Jesus means giving sacrificially to those in need. Obeying Jesus means taking care of what we say so that we only speak to build up and never to tear down. Obeying Jesus means forgiving those who hurt us; and loving those who hate us. Obeying Jesus means confessing our sins to him. Obeying Jesus means daily laying down our lives to love and serve others, never considering ourselves better than they are. This is how we demonstrate our love for him, just as he demonstrated his love for us in laying down his life for us.

It as we do these things that we will find true spirituality. It is only then that we will know the reality of what Jesus says in verse 27 of our passage: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give youref.

Don't you long for that peace? Isn't it so much better than what the world has to offer us? If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever.ref