Jesus promises an Advocate
Sunday school lesson for the week of March 8, 2015
By Dr. Hal Brady
Scripture: John 14:15-26
How often we repeat the third article in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit…” yet numbers of us are hazy by what we mean. We do not understand the potential of our own confession.
Chapters 14-17 of John are acknowledged as the “Farewell Discourse.” The Farewell Discourse is part of John’s story of the Last Supper. At the conclusion of the supper and just prior to their departure for Gethsemane, Jesus explains to the disciples that he is about to leave them. He will no longer be in their midst as they have experienced him during his ministry. But he assures them that they will not be alone. God will be with them and so will Christ, though in a different way. Thus, our scripture lesson today is the first explanation of the coming of the Spirit in the Farewell Discourse.
Obedience is not an option!
Having just told the disciples he is leaving them, but giving assurance that he will be an advocate for them before God, Jesus now tells the disciples how they must respond. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). This directive is made clear in three more verses of this lesson (14:21, 23, 24).
Jesus has declared his love for his own, demonstrated his love for his own and commanded his own to love one another. Now, for the first time in John’s Gospel, he speaks of their love for Him, “If you love me,” he says, “you will keep my commandments.” In other words, you will live a life of love.
In reality, there is only one true test of love, and that is obedience or faithfulness. Running all through John’s Gospel is an uncompromising connection between love of Christ and obedience to Christ. How did Jesus demonstrate his love for God? He obeyed God. How did Jesus want these disciples to demonstrate their love for him after he was gone? By their obedience! And the same is true for Jesus’ disciples today.
John links loving Christ and obeying Christ’s commands, together. The way to show love for Christ is by obeying his commands.
What about obedience to Christ? As far as his commands go, Jesus does not have a simple list in mind. The writer of John’s Gospel does not intend that we search back through the Gospel to find particular commands. Rather, John wants us to orient our lives toward the will of God as it is seen in Christ. We, as disciples, are to conduct the whole of our lives in the way Christ lived his life. Consequently, both the words and the life of Jesus set the pattern of living that we can identify as the “commands” of Jesus.
It has been pointed out that we can best understand this notion of obedience within the context of our own relationships. We know that relationships come with expectations. These expectations sometimes impose a burden, but one we find acceptable because of our love for the other person. These expectations may come in the form of avoiding certain behaviors or taking up new ways of acting. But adhering to these expectations becomes a way of showing respect and love for the other person. The “commands” of Jesus are expectations that come from One who loves us. And they are not just what Jesus wants for us, but what he knows are best for our lives.
So, why is this previous discussion important? It is important because the presence of Christ in believer’s lives demands that these persons live the proper kind of life. If they live in this way, Christ promises them another Comforter. In essence, the Spirit will fill the void left by the presence of Jesus in the lives of those who keep his commands.
The Spirit as Advocate
The NRSV translation says that Jesus will send another “Advocate,” while the CEB translation states that Jesus will send another “Companion.” Scholars tell us that the Greek word, Parakletos (often transliterated “Paraclete”) here in John’s Gospel can mean a number of things. It comes from a verbal root that describes someone “called alongside” or someone “called in to help.” It may describe One who encourages others or gives them comfort. But it may also designate someone who advocates for others. The CEB translates the term as it does because the Spirit keeps the disciples from being left alone. The Spirit serves as the continuing presence of God among the disciples.
But the Spirit also serves another function. God’s Spirit is the “Spirit of truth.” The world does not recognize or accept the Spirit because it does not recognize the truth about Christ and the knowledge of God he brings. According to Jesus, the Spirit will embrace the community of believers so that they will understand Christ and experience the renewing presence of God. After his departure, Jesus will be present to his disciples in a way the rest of the world cannot perceive. The people who obey his commands are the ones Christ will continue to be with. The promise of the continuing presence of Christ in the Spirit is contingent on the proper responses to the gift of salvation.
The Spirit as Assurance
As Jesus informs the disciples that he is leaving them, he also informs them that he will not be absent from them. He will be present with them through the Spirit as another Paraclete (someone “called alongside to assist”). It is the Spirit, as “Helper”, that gives believers assurance of the presence of God in their lives.
Scholars suggest that the writer of John’s Gospel expects the readers to experience the seeming absence of Christ in different ways. Therefore, this word from Jesus provides significant encouragement. Jesus makes it clear that despite what the outward circumstances may look like, or even feel like, believers are not alone. God has not deserted them. If they remain faithful, God promises to be with them.
As Bishop Paulo Lockman, President of the World Methodist Council observed, “We are not alone, it is not feeling or seeing, but having faith in Jesus’ promise that he will always be with us.” And not only is God present with us (believers) now, but the Spirit gives assurance of our continuing and future life with God. It is the Spirit in our lives, as “Helper,” that renews and grows this confidence.
The Spirit as an Aid in Discernment
We are reminded that when John calls the Spirit the “Spirit of truth” (14:17), he means that the Spirit not only possesses God’s truth, but also communicates that truth to believers. And this promise of the presence of the Spirit of truth (the interpreter of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection) reaches beyond the immediate circle of disciples to the church itself. Granted, the church has sometimes turned a deaf ear to the voice of the Spirit, nevertheless, Jesus promises that the Spirit will continue to assist the church in discerning the word and will of God. That’s the thought in verse 26 when it states that the spirit will teach them “everything” and remind Jesus’ followers of all that he taught.
The late Henri Nouwen helps us here. Among other things, he says, “Spiritual discernment comes from the spirit of God. The human side is the concentrated effort to create sacred time and empty space, as well as concrete structures and boundaries, where God can speak to us.”
In conclusion, it should be deeply encouraging to us, both as individuals and as the church, that God continues to labor within us and among us. Thanks be to God!
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.