GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT - THE FORGOTTEN PERSON OF THE TRINITY: "The Presence of the Holy Spirit"
I mentioned last week that the Holy Spirit is often viewed as the silent partner, and frequently we treat the Holy Spirit as an impersonal force rather than the personal third member of the divine Godhead. We treat the Holy Spirit as something we sense rather than Someone who is a vital part of our salvation. We focus on the Father and the Son, but we forget about the Holy Spirit. Consequently, we focused last week on the importance of understanding the Person of the Holy Spirit.
In the aftermath of the COVID pandemic that struck last year, many meetings went “virtual.” In many ways, this proved to be beneficial since it allowed us to maintain contact with one another in the midst of the need to “social distance” during the lockdowns. One technology that was already available was Zoom. I had the opportunity to connect digitally with my chaplain endorsers, Andy Meverden and Randy Brandt, as well as a number of other fellow Conservative Baptist chaplains (most of whom I’ve never met) for a time of encouragement and prayer. While this was quite enjoyable and very needed, I was reminded of just how much more beneficial physical presence is. When we are physically present with one another, we experience a level of relationship that is different from and deeper than we could experience in any other way.
The text for this message is John 14:15-31. In would encourage you to take a moment to read through this passage.
When God created us in His image, as we see in Genesis 1, He created us inherently to be relational beings. God created us to engage in proper relationships with one another, certainly, but He created us first to engage in a proper relationship with Him. This is because God, in His triune nature—Father, Son, and Spirit—is relational. We will see this in more detail in a moment. But what we can learn from this text this morning is “The abiding presence of the Holy Spirit affirms our relationship with the Triune God.” Jesus brings out several points here about the relational nature of the Holy Spirit.
I. THE HOLY SPIRIT IS NAMED.
The first thing we can notice is that the Holy Spirit is named. Perhaps a more accurate term would be that the Holy Spirit is “titled,” but since that doesn’t alliterate well I am using the word “named”. Regardless, we see in our text there are a couple of names that Jesus gives for the Holy Spirit—names that help us to understand a little more about the Holy Spirit.
a. The Holy Spirit is the Helper.
The first name for the Holy Spirit is “Helper.” The term that is used here has alternately been translated, “Comforter”, “Counselor”, or “Advocate.” It can communicate the idea of someone who is a spokesman on behalf of someone, or it can refer to someone who “pleads another’s cause before a judge, a pleader, counsel for defense, legal assistant.”
The word used here occurs only five times in the New Testament, all of which appear in John’s writings. The first two are in our text. Here are the other uses:
John 15:26-27 – “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”
John 16:7 – “But 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.”
1 John 2:1-2 – “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
Jesus tells us that He will send us “another Helper”. This implies that one Helper already exists. As we saw in 1 John 2:1-2, Jesus Himself is this first Helper. Jesus’ very presence provided a benefit to the disciples. However, the time was near for Jesus to depart, and, like any good leader, He was making preparation for His departure. On the eve of His death, Jesus promised to send another Helper, one of like nature to Himself. Jesus is our first Helper, and the Holy Spirit is our second Helper.
I have often heard the word Jesus uses here described with the picture of a defense attorney in mind. However, it’s only been very recently that I have really come to appreciate with any depth what this means.
For the past several months, my dad has been going through some legal difficulties. At the outset, I got in contact with a friend of mine who agreed to represent Dad. In the midst of the rollercoaster of emotions that go along with the legal system, our family has discovered that a good attorney provides more that quality representation in the courtroom. He provides an objective perspective not possessed by those he represents, he helps ground and guide the expectations of his clients, and he provides sound advice born of a thorough understanding of the law.
When Jesus calls the Holy Spirit our Helper, Comforter, or Counselor, He is doing more than simply describing in a single word what the Holy Spirit does. In His very nature and by His very identity, the Holy Spirit is our Advocate, our Comforter, our Counselor, and our Helper. This is not simply what He does; this is Who the Holy Spirit is.
b. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth.
The second name Jesus gives to the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth. As we saw a moment ago, Jesus uses this name in John 15:26. Once again, we see a name here that is more than simply a name; it is more than just an additional job description.
Just this past week, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and his American wife Meghan, gave a bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey in which they accused certain unnamed members of the British royal family of racism among other things.
In response to the interview, British news anchor referred to the interview as “Sickening. Shameful. Self-pitying. Salacious. Scandalous. Sanctimonious. Spectacularly self-serving.” When he was confronted by a fellow anchor, he described his response as “my truth.”
My point in sharing this bit of international melodrama is not to take sides in this conflict. However, it does illustrate that all parties involved in it are seeking to control the narrative and to define what is “true.” While the world gives lip service to the notion of relative truth, people still have a deep longing within our hearts to know what is true. Any elementary school teacher can tell you that even kids want to know that what they have been told is indeed true.
When Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit, He is promising that the coming Holy Spirit will be more than just our Helper, our Advocate, Comforter, and Counselor. The Holy Spirit is the very embodiment of truth. Earlier in this chapter, Thomas asks the question, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” To which Jesus responded famously, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me (John 14:6).”
In his first letter John writes, “I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth (1 John 2:21).” Later on he writes, “We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (1 John 4:6).”
The presence of the Holy Spirit is indispensable to our growth in and understanding of the gospel not simply because of what the Spirit does but because of who the Spirit is. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, and His presence is a reminder of the truth.
II. THE HOLY SPIRIT IS NEAR.
When I say that the Holy Spirit is named, this reflects certain aspects of His character that provides meaning to His presence. Let me see if I can illustrate it this way. To Karen, I am named “husband”, which communicates certain attributes in my relationship to her. In a similar way, neither names mean much or carry much weight if those bearing their respective names are distant. Yet we are reminded in our text this morning that not only is the Holy Spirit named, but He is near.
In this text we see at least three ways in which the nearness of the Holy Spirit is demonstrated.
a. The Holy Spirit is known by us.
First, we see that the Holy Spirit is known by us. Jesus calls the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of truth,” and then He states that the world cannot receive Him. Jesus is literally saying that the world does not possess the ability or the will to receive the Holy Spirit. The world system, all that the world represents, is contrary to the truth.
Even more than that, Jesus states that the world does not see the Spirit. When Jesus says this, He is not using “see” in the sense of observing or looking at something in the way that I observed the bald eagle that flew over the house last week. He is using it in the sense of “perceive,” “contemplate,” or “consider.” The world, those who are not in Christ nor been enlivened by the Holy Spirit, cannot receive the Spirit because they do not even truly contemplate Him.
Even beyond this, Jesus says that the world does not know the Holy Spirit but we do. This is not the type of knowledge gained through rigorous academic study. This is not intellectual comprehension. It is not simply acquiring accurate information. This is a relational knowledge. It is knowledge born of direct personal experience.
This past week, the international evangelist Luis Palau passed away. In one sense, I could say that I knew him because I had read about him and the impact that He had through his many evangelistic crusades. However, I had never met him, and I certainly didn’t have a personal relationship with him. Jesus says that His followers do have this relational knowledge of the Holy Spirit; consequently, we are able to receive Him.
b. The Holy Spirit abides with us.
Our personal relationship and experience with the Holy Spirit can happen, Jesus tells us, because the Holy Spirit abides with us.
We see this in a couple of places in this text. The most obvious is in verse 17, where Jesus tells us, His followers, “…you know Him [the Holy Spirit] because He abides with you.” A bit less obvious is what Jesus says in verse 16, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever.” The words “abides” and “be” are the same word in the Greek. The word means “to remain,” “to endure,” or “to stay in a place.” It is the same word that Jesus uses repeatedly at the beginning of chapter 15 when He speaks of our relationship with Him using the analogy of the Vine and the branches. It is also the same word that He uses when He says in 15:16, “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain….”
The Holy Spirit has been given to us to be an enduring presence. He is here with us and will continue to be with us. We do not need to invoke the Holy Spirit’s presence as if we needed to call some incantation in order to receive greater power. The Holy Spirit abides with us in an ongoing and enduring way. As we keep Christ’s commandments, demonstrating our love for the Triune God, borne out in the way we treat one another, we become increasingly aware of and responsive to the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence.
c. The Holy Spirit dwells in us.
Third, we see that the Holy Spirit indwells us. It is not enough that we know the Holy Spirit and that we are aware of His abiding presence. The Holy Spirit is near to the extent that He indwells us. Jesus tells us that we know the Spirit not just because He abides with us but also because He dwells in us.
When Jesus says this, He say that the Holy Spirit “will be in you.” This was future event for the disciples, but it is a present reality for us. This was fulfilled in Acts 2 with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost and the church was established. It is experienced, I believe, by each Christian at the moment of new birth. We become transformed by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and we take on a new identity.
This new identity, Paul reminds us, involves a new responsibility. In 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, he writes, “Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”
As Christians, as those who have been called into a relationship with the Triune God, we have obtained a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit, we have the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit with us, and we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. All of this tells us something else. That brings me to my final point this morning.
III. THE HOLY SPIRIT IS NEEDED.
The reason the Holy Spirit is named and near is because the Holy Spirit is needed. The Holy Spirit is an instrumental and essential member of the Trinity. Jesus reminds His disciples in this text that He is going away. In the text that I will cover next week—John 16, Jesus states, “But 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 (John 16:7).” The Helper, the Holy Spirit, is near because He is needed. Although we will get into greater detail next week regarding the purpose of the Holy Spirit, I do want to touch on a couple of things that reveal why the presence of the Holy Spirit is needed.
a. The Holy Spirit affirms the presence of the Father and the Son.
We see from our text that the Holy Spirit affirms the presence of the Father and the Son. I want to illustrate visually this relationship that Jesus describes in this passage.
This graphic is not perfect, I’ll grant you; I was reminded of this when I shared it on Facebook recently. I think it does, however, help demonstrate the point. What you see here is a very common depiction of the relationship of the members of the Trinity to each other. It is what we might call a mutual indwelling. While the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are different persons, in their divine nature they are not independent from one another. They share the same nature. They are one.
In verse 17, Jesus tells us that the Spirit abides with us and in us. In verse 20, Jesus says that He is in the Father and that He is in us and we in Him. While we are not members of the Trinity (we are not divine), we share a mutual indwelling that is similar, though not identical to the mutual indwelling inherent in the Triune Godhead. We have a new relationship that affirms the presence not only of the Holy Spirit, but also of the Father and the Son.
b. The Holy Spirit confirms the peace of Christ.
The second thing I want to point out is that the presence of the Holy Spirit confirms the peace of Christ.
Imagine being the disciples at this point. You had been with Jesus nearly all day every day for the better part of three years. You had heard Jesus teachings, you had seen His many miracles, you had witnessed His confrontations with the religious leaders of the day. You had heard Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Messiah for whom Israel had anxiously longed for so many centuries. However, in the past few days, you have heard Jesus speaking of His imminent death, and only moments ago Jesus said that one of them would betray Him and another, specifically Peter, would deny Him. What must have been going on in their minds at this point? Fear? Confusion? Unimaginable anxiety?
Jesus knew all of these things, and He knew that the best thing for His disciples was the coming of the promised Helper, Counselor, Comforter. Jesus says in verse 27, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”
I tend to thing that we jump too readily to the “comfort” verses without parking sufficiently in the “conflict” verses. Jesus promises His peace because the disciples needed that peace. He promised them hope because they needed that hope. We are not that different from the disciples. We struggle with doubts and discouragements. We struggle with fears and anxieties. At times we feel lonely even when we are in the presence of other people.
However, Jesus promised that He would not leave us as orphans, and He promises us His peace—a peace that is dramatically different from what the world can and does offer. These promises, remember, take place in the context of the promise that He would send the Holy Spirit. The enduring and indwelling presence of person of the Holy Spirit is and ought continually to be a reminder of the peace that Jesus the peace promises is ours.
Sometimes it feels like life has been not unlike an endless Zoom meeting, particularly over the last year since the Corona pandemic hit. God created us to be relational people, to be encouraged by the physical presence of other people—some to a greater or lesser degree than other.
I remember Mom telling about a situation that took place at their house last year before she and Dad moved up to the Santiam Canyon. They were preparing their home for sale, and it needed some work done. COVID restrictions were well under way, and social distancing was becoming the norm. When the contractor showed up at their home, out of instinct he held out his hand to offer a handshake. Under any other circumstances, no one would have given this gesture a second thought, but in that moment Mom almost cried. It was a simple act of kindness in extraordinary times.
Our sin-sick and spiritually blind world has been deprived of a relationship that is more significant that any human relationship. For us as Christians, what we need most is a reminder of our relationship to the Triune God, the relationship for which we were created from the beginning. When Jesus went to the cross, He broke down the barrier that kept us from engaging in that relationship. When He ascended into heaven, He sent us the Holy Spirit whose enduring presence brings us help and comfort, reminding us of the new relationship that is now ours. As we take the time this week to contemplate the Holy Spirit, let us remember that the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit affirms our relationship with the Triune God.