Sermon on John 16:12-15: The Spirit of Truth
In this morning’s gospel reading, Jesus was preparing the disciples for his departure:
• Jesus saw the cross that loomed on the horizon, but his disciples could see only the stars in their eyes. Who was the greatest? Who held the upper hand.
• Jesus’ disciples expected the messiah to restore David’s great kingdom. They believed that Jesus would gather an army, win victories, push back borders and expel the Romans. Jesus knew it was not to be. Jesus told his disciples:
“It is to your advantage that I go away,
for if I don’t go away, the Counsellor won’t come to you.
But if I go, I will send him to you” (v. 7).
Jesus reassured his disciples that he had made provision for their needs. They would not be alone. In fact, the whole world would benefit by Jesus’ departure and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus had limitations, you see. There was a great deal that he could not do. We don’t like to think of Jesus as limited. We like to think of Jesus as perfectly powerful and perfectly smart––able to do anything––able to understand everything––able to see the future––able to look into people’s hearts and see their deepest secrets.
Part of that was true. Jesus did have a deep spirituality that was perfectly in tune with God:
• He could “read” people uncommonly well––and know their hearts––and understand their motives. (stoning of Mary for example)
• He could write spiritual prescriptions that met people’s deepest needs.
• Jesus knew God’s plan. He knew that he would suffer and die and be resurrected after three days. He knew that he would ascend into heaven and that the Holy Spirit would come to take his place.
• He knew that the Spirit would lead the disciples onward and upward.
All those things were true, but they weren’t the whole truth. It was also true that Jesus was God wrapped in flesh––and the “flesh” part imposed severe limits on him.
• Most obviously, the “flesh” part meant that he could be in only one place at a time. Even though he attracted crowds in the thousands, he could personally touch only a few people on any given day.
• The “flesh” part meant that Jesus felt the stress of the crowds, and had to retreat to private places for prayer.
• The “flesh” part meant that Jesus had to stop to eat and sleep.
• The “flesh” part meant that Jesus was limited in time. People live only a few decades. As it turned out, Jesus lived fewer years than most.
How much could this “man” accomplish, living in a small, backward country, traveling on foot, unable to take advantage of airliners or newspapers or radio or television or computers or the Internet or media specialists or public-relations people or a well-trained staff? Jesus had no power-base, no money, and no chance––or so it would seem.
But there was an answer to the problem. He said, “When the Spirit of truth has come, he will guide you into all truth” (v. 13). That was the answer!
• When Jesus left, the Holy Spirit would come––the Spirit of God––the Spirit of truth.
• The Spirit would dwell in people’s hearts––living inside them rather than outside.
• The Spirit would be able to dwell in all hearts at once, limited only by their willingness to receive the Spirit.
• The Spirit would never have to take time to sleep or travel to another city.
• The Spirit would never be absent. Whether at home, or at work, or in jail, the disciples would have the Spirit with them always.
• The Spirit would guide the disciples into all truth––into truth that they would one day be ready to bear but were not yet ready to bear.
What a blessing! Jesus did not have to burden the disciples with truth too heavy to bear––truth that would break them. The Spirit would open each new page as circumstances required, and would help the disciples to bear the hard truths that they would face.
What a blessing! Truth liberates, but it can also destroy. Some truths are just too much to bear. Just imagine what it would be like to have people able to read your mind and to know your every thought. Just imagine every person knowing your unvarnished opinion of them. How many friendships could endure that kind of transparency?
Just imagine that you could be a fly on the wall, overhearing every conversation about you––learning people’s unvarnished opinions of you––knowing the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Could you stand it?
Just imagine that you could know the future. Just imagine you could know when and how you will die! Just imagine that you could know every problem that you will face! Just imagine knowing all the problems that your children will face! Would that help you? Not unless you could use that information to change the future!
Knowing the future could be a terrible thing. Some truth is too much to bear. Truth liberates, but it can also crush. God gives us the Spirit of truth, who guides us into truth AS WE NEED IT and AS WE ARE ABLE TO BEAR IT.
The Spirit of truth is dependable. The Spirit of truth neither crushes us with more truth than we can bear nor leads us into a lie. We can depend on God’s Spirit to lead us aright.
Dr. Paul Brand, a missionary surgeon who served many years in India, tells of a woman who came into his office with symptoms of gastritis. Dr. Brand examined her, and told her that she had gastritis, a treatable condition. She just needed to change her lifestyle a bit. However, the woman responded fearfully. Dr. Brand tried to reassure her, but she would not be reassured.
Dr. Brand ordered additional tests. They confirmed the diagnosis––she had gastritis. Dr. Brand recommended moderate treatment. The woman stared at Brand, panicky.
But finally she relaxed and said, “Well, thank you. I was sure I had cancer. I had to hear the diagnosis from somebody I could trust, and I think I can trust you.”
And then she explained. Her mother had been ill, and had called a doctor. The doctor told her that she had gastritis, and didn’t need to worry. But, in the hallway, the doctor had told the daughter, “I’m afraid your mother will not last more than a day or two. She has an advanced case of cancer of the stomach.” The mother soon died.
Now the daughter was sick. She had gone to that same doctor––the one who had misled her mother––and he had diagnosed her condition as gastritis. She had left his office in tears, and found it difficult to believe any doctor who told her not to worry. Only after Dr. Brand finally won her confidence could she believe that she would survive.
Jesus told his disciples, “The Spirit of truth…will guide you into all truth.” Truth is not always easy to bear, but it is preferable to a lie. The first doctor had intended to save the cancer-ridden mother unnecessary suffering. Instead, he robbed her of the opportunity to prepare for her death. He also planted in the daughter a seed of fear which threatened to destroy her.
Jesus tells us, “The Spirit of truth…will guide you into all truth.” What a blessing! We can have the same confidence that a child has in the presence of a loving parent.
• The Spirit of truth will guide us rightly.
• The Spirit of truth will guide us perfectly.
• The Spirit of truth will never lead us into a lie, but will always guide us to the truth.
The Spirit of truth is never far from us. God sends the Holy Spirit–– the Spirit of truth––to dwell within our hearts, so that the Spirit of truth is always present to meet our needs.
Another name for the Spirit of truth is “the Advocate.” The Spirit of truth is our Advocate––our help––God’s presence with us to defend us and to take our side.
• The Spirit of truth is with us in the doctor’s office.
• The Spirit of truth is with us in the hospital.
• The Spirit of truth is with us when we awaken at three o’clock in the morning.
• The Spirit of truth is with us in the classroom.
• The Spirit of truth is with us at our work.
• The Spirit of truth is present with us in every time and every place and every circumstance.
The only place the Spirit cannot go is to a person who is not willing to receive the Spirit. The only limit on the Spirit is our willingness to follow the Spirit. The only obstruction to the Spirit is the hardness of our hearts.
We received the Spirit at our baptism. Ever since then, we have faced a daily struggle whether to allow the Spirit to direct our lives––whether to allow the Spirit to guide us to the truth. That struggle will continue until our dying day. It will never be easy. The Tempter whispers in our ear, inviting us to choose the broad pathway that leads to death. But the Spirit of truth will help us to find the narrow pathway that leads to life.
So the question is not whether the Spirit has the truth we need to hear. The question is whether we will hear the Spirit’s truth.
• If we will hear, the Spirit will GUIDE us.
• If we will heed, the Spirit will SAVE us.
• If we will respond, the Spirit will BLESS us with every blessing.
Jesus provides us with a faithful guide–the Holy Spirit. So, on this Trinity Sunday, let us prepare our hearts to receive him–to accept his guidance–to learn from his teaching. If we will do that, God will bless us beyond measure.