The Guiding Light
(John 15: 26-27; 16: 1-15)
Back during my lawyering days, I made my living representing people who had found themselves on the wrong end of the law and, in many cases, were facing some very serious, life-altering consequences. Some defense attorneys think their only duty is to do battle with the State and let the chips fall where they may. If they win, their client goes free, if they lose their client suffers the consequences and life goes on. I took a different approach. I told my clients they had three options. Their first option was to plead not guilty and take the case to trial. They would usually say they were guilty and that they didn’t want a trial. I would then tell them that option number two was to let me work out a plea agreement with the prosecutor that all parties could live with. They then would ask about option three which was that if they didn’t like the offer they could still plead guilty and let the judge set the punishment. I would caution them that putting their fate in the hands of a person whose livelihood depended upon getting re-elected was not wise as most judges, in Texas anyway, got elected for being tough on crime and not for being lenient to criminals. At that point they would ask me what they should do. I would tell them to let me do some work on the case and see what I could work out with the assistant district attorney. I would do this after taking the time to get to know my client better so I would have a better understanding of who they were and what their issues and problems might be. An important part of my job was that of counselor. To be a person who could guide them and help them see the light at the end of the tunnel. Many wanted to take the path of least resistance which might have been a short jail or prison sentence but, as I would tell them, the best path may not be the easiest path. I could work out a longer probationary period that included conditions like counseling, job training, and treatment but they would have to work hard for it and there were no guarantees but if they were successful they’d be a better person for it. All they had to do was follow my advice as their advocate, their counselor.
This is what Jesus is talking about in our scripture reading for today. Depending upon which translation of the New Testament you use, the Holy Spirit is described in different, yet similar terms. In the New Revised Standard Version, the Holy Spirit is described as an Advocate. In my New International Version Study Bible, the Spirit is described as a Counselor. In my Common English Bible, the Spirit is described as a Companion and in Eugene Peterson’s The Message, the Spirit is described as a Friend. All pretty good descriptions. Jesus is sending us an advocate, a counselor, a companion, a friend to stand by us, to guide and protect us. Somebody who has our best interest at heart.
To put this passage in perspective, Jesus is talking with his disciples just prior to his betrayal and crucifixion. He tells them that when the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. Jesus gives two names for the Holy Spirit in this passage, Advocate and Spirit of truth, which conveys the two functions the Spirit will fulfill, ministering to both the head and the heart. Advocate or Counselor conveys the helping, encouraging, and strengthening work of the Spirit. Spirit of truth points to the teaching, illuminating, and reminding work of the Spirit. To the work set out before the disciples and future followers like us, both dimensions are important and one is not effective without the other. They work in tandem.
Jesus says that he has told them all of this so that they would not go astray. He tells them that they will be put out of the synagogue and that there is a time coming when they will be hunted down and killed by people who think they are doing right by God. He is foreshadowing Saul and others like him who went on a rampage rounding up followers of The Way throwing them in prison and executing them. Jesus says that they do such things because they have not known the Father or him. Jesus says, I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you. Jesus knew what lay ahead for the disciples and his followers. He didn’t want their faith shaken or destroyed but he felt that now was the time to tell them so they would understand what was happening as it happened. But now, Jesus says, I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Although the disciples had asked Jesus about his death, they had never wondered about its meaning. They were mostly concerned about themselves. If Jesus went away, what would become of them? Jesus tells them that it is to their advantage that he goes away because if he doesn’t, the Advocate will not come. Jesus says that if he does go, he will send the Holy Spirit who will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment and about sin, because they did not believe in him. They will learn about righteousness and about judgment because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
Unless Jesus did what he came to do, there would be no gospel. If he did not die, he could not remove our sins; he could not rise again and defeat death. If he did not go back to the Father, the Holy Spirit would not come. Christ’s presence on earth was limited to one place at a time. His leaving meant he could be present to the whole world through the Holy Spirit, through us as we are moved and guided by the Spirit to do his will.
Jesus concluded this portion of his discussion with his disciples by telling them that he still had many things to say to them but that they couldn’t bear them now. They could only comprehend so much and understanding the gravity about what was coming would have been difficult for them to get their heads around. But he tells them, when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason, I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. Jesus is telling them that the Holy Spirit will tell them what is yet to come, the nature of their mission, the opposition they would face, and the final outcome of their efforts. They wouldn’t fully understand these promises until the Holy Spirit came after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
And that’s what happened on the Day of Pentecost that we celebrate today. The Holy Spirit came like a loud wind and settled upon them like flaming tongues of fire. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, as the Spirt gave them ability. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, truths were revealed to the disciples as they went about the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ in all of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. As they went where the Spirit led, they recorded their experiences preserving them for future generations to read and learn from. They gave us what would later become the New Testament, our Owner’s Manual.
The Holy Spirit, our Advocate, our Counselor, our Companion, our Friend, our Guiding Light, is alive and well and still working in and through us in our daily lives. As disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world we must open our eyes so that we may see glimpses of the truth Jesus has for us. We must open our ears so that we may hear the voices of truth He clearly sends us. We must open our mouths and gladly bear the warm truth of Jesus’s love and grace everywhere.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious, loving and merciful God, we cannot possibly express what it means to us that your Son, Jesus Christ, came to live among us, serve as an example of what it means to have a loving relationship with you, and then take our sins upon himself and become a sacrifice for all our wrongs. Though we did nothing to deserve the cleansing power of his blood, we are ready and willing to do your work and will here on earth with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, our Guiding Light. Silently now we wait for thee, ready our God, thy will to see. Open our eyes, illumine us, open our ears, illumine us, open our hearts, illumine us, Spirit divine. Amen.