The Spirit of Truth
Sunday school lesson for the week of March 15, 2015
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson scripture: John 16:4b-15
The occasion of our scripture lesson today is still Jesus’ Farewell Discourse to his disciples. His frankness about coming sufferings grows out of his awareness that he will not be with the disciples to deal with the hostility of the religious authorities. In previous times, he has been with them (16;4b), but in the future, while he will be with them in the Spirit, they will have to shoulder the brunt of persecution. So, in the midst of the disciples’ dismay, Jesus returns to the issue of his going away.
Scholars remind us that in 16:5 Jesus speaks in the present tense: “Yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’” In the light of the coming persecution, no one is pressing Jesus about his departure. We have an even clearer understanding of what is happening here in verse 6. The disciples are so swamped with sorrow that they have forgotten that Jesus’ death is not the end of everything, it is the beginning. Yet in the midst of the disciples’ bewilderment and sorrow, Jesus tells them that it is all for the best. Jesus’ departure will bring a direct benefit. “Nevertheless I tell you the truth.”
Jesus says, “it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (16:7). The Spirit can only be sent to the disciples after Jesus’ departure. The Spirit is a gift that must await the signal of Jesus’ going.
When Jesus was in the flesh he had to face the human limitations of place and time. He could not be in the minds and hearts and consciences of people everywhere. But there are no limitations on the Spirit. As William Barclay put it, “The coming of the Spirit would be the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise, “And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:29). Through the Spirit, Jesus could be with everyone, everywhere, all the time.
In today’s scripture lesson we see several important functions of the Spirit.
The Spirit assists the disciples and the Church in understanding Jesus’ death and resurrection!
Jesus gave assurance to the disciples that they will not be left by themselves when he is gone. Scholars suggest that the disciples’ first questions would be why was Jesus gone and what that would mean about who he was and what his life meant. The passage before us not only offers assurance to the disciples but to the Church as well.
Jesus states that the Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of Truth,” therefore, the presence of the Spirit will show the disciples the meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ.
It may not have been much of an issue for us in the modern church to grasp that the Crucifixion was the conclusion of the ministry of Christ. But to those in the early Church it was not so easy to understand or explain. How could it possibly be that the will of God is accomplished through the death of God's Messenger? Isn’t God all powerful? What is the possible explanation for Christ’s death? As we have been reminded, these verses before us assure the church that the disciples, now Apostles, have understood the life, ministry, death and resurrection correctly. Consequently, the church can trust the apostles’ interpretation of Jesus’ life and death because it comes from Jesus himself. Here, we recall that the Spirit’s work is to glorify Christ (v.14) and to speak what Christ gives the Spirit to speak.
So, while Jesus assures the disciples that they will understand the meaning of his death, the church is also assured that what it says Jesus’ death means comes from God, through Christ, by means of the Spirit.
The Spirit convicts outsiders
To summarize verses 8-11, the world is now properly notified: its guilt will be exposed. The Spirit will reveal the true meaning of sin and righteousness and judgment and expose the world’s fatal mistakes. As in the courtroom, the verdict will be announced with great clarity. No misunderstanding here: the world is guilty!
Scholars make clear that the work of the Spirit is an operation on the “conscience of the world.” But since the world cannot receive the Spirit, this operation will be carried out through the work of the Church, which has the Spirit and is committed to the Spirit’s purpose. Consequently, there are several things the world ought to see when it looks at the church.
The first thing is that the matter of life is Jesus!
As the late Ray Stedman, scholar and pastor stated, “The world ought to be convicted of sin, because it doesn't believe in Jesus.”
If the church had not preached Jesus, the world would have forgotten that He lived and came among us, and that's what the world wants to do – forget Jesus. So, the task of the church is to keep Jesus consistently before the world. And that will require that the church keep Jesus consistently before the church.
The second thing the world ought to see when it looks at the church is righteousness!
What did the world see in Jesus? Righteousness! And righteousness is what the world should see in the church – a different standard of behavior.
For John Wesley, the way of righteousness for God’s people can be found in three simple rules. In Methodist circles, we call them “The General Rules.” Modeled after the life of Christ, they are the following: Do no harm, do good, stay in touch with God.
The third thing the world ought to see when it looks at the church is judgment!
Jesus says, “...Because the ruler of this world has been condemned" (16:11). When the world looks at the church it ought to see that a battle is looming between its worldview and Jesus’ worldview and that Jesus is going to win.
A judgment is coming! And a sign of that judgment to the world is that the power of Satan is already broken in the lives of the church people it observes.
The Spirit provides supplementary revelations that the disciples have not yet heard!
While the work of the Spirit in John 14:26 emphasizes “that we will be reminded of all that Jesus taught in his ministry,” our passage today (16:12-15) suggests that the Spirit will provide supplementary revelations that the disciples have not yet heard. In verses 12-13 particularly, Jesus speaks of a future time when new things will be revealed. Scholars explain that both of these passages work together. The historical Jesus and his ministry stand alongside the ongoing living Jesus-in-Spirit, who is continuously experienced in the church.
To be sure, the Spirit is dependent on Jesus for everything he says (v.13). The Spirit is not only going to repeat the things Jesus has said (recalling 14:26) but he will transmit the things that Jesus will say (revelation). As we understand, the revelation of Jesus will continue in the faith community and the Spirit will be the authoritative channel through which he in heard. Thus, this revealing presence of the Spirit is not limited to the past. The Spirit continues to be with the church today as the church seeks to discover the will of God for a new day.
The late William Barclay, noted biblical scholar, stated that “It is true that God’s supreme and unsurpassable revelation came in Jesus Christ; but Jesus is not a figure in a book. He is a living person, and in Him God’s revelation goes on ... God is not a God who spoke up to A.D. 120 (when the latest book in the New Testament was written) and who is now silent. God is still revealing His truth to humankind.”
All this does not mean that the truth of God changes or that the character of God changes. Certainly, they do not. But it does mean that the church must discover fresh ways of communicating the gospel that speaks to the world in which we live. And we always rely on the Spirit to help us remain faithful to the gospel as we find those new ways.
Where do you see evidence that the Spirit is working in the church today?
How does the class understand the Spirit's supplementary revelations?
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries.