This text is used as one of the texts for the Lectionary Year B on May 24, 2015.
Suffering for one’s faith oftentimes challenges one’s commitment to one’s beliefs and values. Though we American Christians do not suffer the privations of religious liberty and persecution of the early Church or of our contemporaries in anti-Christian countries, we are engaged in the same spiritual, cosmic war. Many of us feel increasingly out of place in a society that is becoming less Christian. We feel outnumbered, our values and morals abandoned as the Church has an increasingly diminished role in the public forum. The Western Church feels defeated, despairing, and grieving the loss of its former glory.
However, Jesus Christ has conquered sin, Satan and death. He promised, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18, NIV). We are not to see ourselves as defeated or as victims. He has given us his Holy Spirit. Pentecost was the beginning of the Spirit’s ministry to empower, teach, guide, and glorify Christ’s name. Even though the Church began with a small number of seemingly powerless and insignificant followers of a crucified leader, within three hundred years there were 3 to 5 million Christians. The very empire that persecuted, imprisoned and killed countless Christians adopted Christianity as its official religion. The growth in numbers, power and influence of Christianity was not due to human wisdom, skill, or power. It was due only to the Holy Spirit’s ministry as promised by the head of the Church, Jesus Christ.
In the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus had assured his disciples he would not abandon them, but would send them another Paraclete just like himself. Paraclete means “one called or sent for to assist another; an advocate, one who pleads the cause of another.” The Amplified version includes these translations for Paraclete: the Comforter (Counselor, Helper, Advocate, Intercessor, Strengthener, Standby). The Holy Spirit will be with them forever. He will be with them and in them in a way that Jesus was not (John 14:15-16). The Holy Spirit will teach them all things and remind them of everything Jesus said (John 14:26). He will fulfill his role as the abiding presence of Jesus Christ and as teacher.
Not only was Jesus going away but also his disciples were going to be persecuted. In this context Jesus promises them that the Paraclete sent by the Father and himself will help them give witness of him (John 15:26). The Holy Spirit will fulfill his role as witness to the nature and mission of Jesus Christ.
In John 16:4b-15, the disciples grieved and despaired. They had believed that he was the Promised Messiah and that he would usher in the glorious reign of God to bring about everlasting righteousness and peace. They, like the rest of their contemporaries, looked forward to a Promised Messiah who would bring about military victory and national independence. But now he spoke of his death and their persecution. They were filled with fear, with the uncertainty of the future and their aspirations, and of his departure. They were sorrowful (16:7).
In response to this emotion Jesus reframes the situation. He sees what they cannot see. He assures them that it is necessary for him to leave so that another Paraclete can come and help them in a way that he cannot. He will come and prove that his followers are on the right side of eternity. The Holy Spirit will come as a judge to convict the world in order to bring about repentance. The unbelieving world declared Jesus a liar, a blasphemer, a false messiah, and ultimately a loser whose façade as the Son of God was unmasked through his inglorious and shameful crucifixion. But the Holy Spirit will help the world to see that the cross was the means of victory, not defeat. It is God’s means through which we have a right standing before God, our sins are forgiven; we are saved by grace not by works so that no man can boast. The Holy Spirit will show the world that Jesus Christ is the Lord of lords, that the ruler of this world is defeated, judged, and his destiny is secured through the victory of the crucifixion (John 16:8-11). The Holy Spirit will fulfill his role as advocate.
And lastly, Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, will continue to lead them. He will lead the Church to the truth regarding his mission, his identity, his teachings, and the implications this has for the church and all humanity. The Holy Spirit will speak on Jesus’ behalf and for his glory (John 16: 12-15). The Holy Spirit will fulfill his role as Pastor/Shepherd.
Western Christianity seems to equate power and influence, much like the Jews at the time of Jesus. Political, economic, and military might is the kind of power the world has sought after throughout human history. But that is not the kind of power Jesus talked about. Jesus promised Peter, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19, NASB). The kind of authority and influence Jesus promised was that of winning the souls and hearts of people to pursue a selfless life of service for the glory of God. It is a life is of love (Eph. 5:2), living out and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not the American dream, a life of ease and comfort, but one of selfless service in Jesus’ name to bring about the will of God on earth “as it is in heaven” (Matthew 5:10).
Mario A. Ramos
Baptist University of the Americas, San Antonio, Texas