Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, December 15, 2018
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Living By The Spirit

John 14:8-17

 “I won’t believe it until I _____ it.” That’s not exactly what Philip said, but it’s pretty much the same idea.  And he is certainly not the only one who has ever said that.  Thomas said it just a few days later, after the resurrection.  I’ve said it, too, about various things.  You’ve probably said it as well.  No less a spiritual giant of the Bible than Moses wanted to see God in Exodus 33.  

 I think our basic thought process here is that if we were to see God, if we had a genuine experience of his glory and power, then we wouldn’t have any more problems with doubt or disbelief or disobedience.  If we were to see God, we would be faithful to him from that moment forward.  

 I’m not sure that’s actually the case.  Did anyone ever see more evidence of God and his glory and power than the Israelites did in the Exodus and in the wilderness of Sinai?  They saw God bring 10 plagues on Egypt.  They saw God part the Red Sea.  They saw God give them water out of solid rock.  They saw God’s glory come down on the mountain.  Did it take away their doubt and disobedience?  No.  

 According to what Paul has to say in Romans chapter one, we all have the chance to see God.  The truth of God is known instinctively.  God has put this knowledge in our hearts.  From the creation of the world, we have been able to see his power and divine nature.  We have no excuse for not knowing God.  But in our sin, we have suppressed the truth and instead of worshipping God, we have made idols and believed lies.

 Jesus says of the Holy Spirit:  “The world can’t receive him and doesn’t recognize him.”  When the Bible speaks of the world, often, and in this case, the world refers to a mindset of practical atheism, living as if there is no God.  The world might claim to believe in God, but it carries on as if there is no God.  

We can only see with our eyes what our hearts and minds are able to receive.  The astronomer sees a whole lot more in the night sky than you or me.  The artist sees more in the painting than you or me.  And the person of faith sees God everywhere.  But the person without faith sees him nowhere.  Their minds are not enabled to see God, because they are closed off to the reality of God.  

“I’ll believe it when I see it.”  The truth is we see it when we believe it.  

Jesus responds to Philip’s request by saying, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.”  

The nature of God is that he is a Triune God.  There are three distinct persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, united in one Godhead.  Each person of the Godhead is distinct, yet they are interconnected.  To see the Son is to see the Father, because the Father is living in and working through the Son.  

Jesus didn’t act on his own.  When he took on flesh, when he became incarnate, he emptied himself of the full use of his divine power and knowledge.  He became truly human.  To be human is to be dependent on God.  Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit, just as you and I are.  

Jesus tells the disciples, “Believe because of what you have seen me do.”  Jesus couldn’t have done these great works of healing and miracles without the work of the Holy Spirit.  

Then Jesus makes two incredible promises to us.  

The first is that we will do even greater works than he has done.  The word works could refer to “righteous deeds” or to “miraculous expressions of divine power,” or both.  That’s a pretty remarkable statement that we will do greater works than Jesus.  We might think, well, how could that possibly be true?  How could we ever do greater things than what Jesus did?

The answer is because Jesus is going to the Father, and the Father will send the Spirit.  The Spirit was with them at that moment.  It was with them in the person of Jesus.  But soon the Spirit would be in them, as he is also in us.  

In the Old Covenant, the Holy Spirit came upon people here and there, selectively.  He came upon certain individuals at certain times for certain works.  Usually it was prophets who received the Holy Spirit.  It could also be kings or judges or governors.  In at least one case, it was craftsmen, Bezalel and Oholiab, who were gifted by the Spirit to construct the Tabernacle in the wilderness.  But in the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit comes down on all of Christ’s followers.  There is a universal gifting of the Spirit on all people of faith.  

Who is the Holy Spirit?  In this translation, Jesus calls him a Counselor.  The Greek word is PARACLETE.  “PARA” means “alongside of,” as in parallel lines.  “Clete” is from

the Greek verb KALEO, which means, “to call.”  So literally, a PARACLETE is one who is called alongside, specifically one who is called alongside you to help you in a time of trouble or trial.  

Normally, it referred to a lawyer.  I know, I know.  That’s not very comforting to hear Jesus tell us that he’s going to send us a lawyer.  But at least he didn’t say, “I’ll send you a politician.”  It could also refer to an advisor, someone who comes to give counsel or advice about a problem.  Both meanings are relevant.  The Holy Spirit is our advocate before the Father.  In Romans, Paul reminds us that the Spirit prays for us with groaning that cannot be expressed with words when we don’t know how to pray.  And the Spirit is our advisor.  When we don’t know what to do, we can pray and seek God’s advice.  

Some older translations of the Bible render the word as “comforter.”  That’s not a bad translation, except that the meaning of the word comforter has changed.  We hear comforter, we think shoulder to cry on.  That’s not the meaning.  The Latin word “FORTIS” meant strength or courage.  The Holy Spirit gives us strength.  He encourages us in times of trial.  He’s not simply a shoulder to cry on.

Jesus also says of the Holy Spirit that he will never leave us.  Jesus had to leave after the resurrection.  As an incarnate person, he couldn’t be in more than one place at one time.  So Jesus left to send us the Holy Spirit who is in the heart and mind of every believer, in every place, at every time.

Jesus says of the Spirit that he will lead us into all truth.  When we talk about the Bible, we use words like authoritative, necessary, and sufficient.  God’s word is authoritative.  We should listen and obey it.  God’s word is necessary.  We need it in order to know God.  God’s word is sufficient.  It teaches us everything we need to know to be saved.  But God’s word is not exhaustive.  It doesn’t answer every question we might have about the life of faith.  It can’t tell us what to do in every conceivable situation.  But the Holy Spirit is always available.  He can lead us into all truth through prayer, meditation, consultation with other believers, and many other ways.

Through the Spirit, we can do greater works than Jesus did.  As a matter of fact, the Church already has done greater things than Jesus did.  Jesus never left the land of Canaan during his three year ministry.  He never went further north than Sidon or further south than Jerusalem, or further east than the Decapolis.  But his followers have carried the gospel to every nation on earth.  Jesus healed dozens of people.  His

followers have built hospitals and healed millions.  Jesus fed 5000 men plus women and children.  But his followers have fed hundreds of millions. Everywhere Jesus’ followers go, Jesus is now there working through them by the power of the Holy Spirit.  So, yes, we can do greater works than Jesus did.

The second remarkable promise of Jesus is that we can ask for anything in his name, and he will do it.  

This is not “carte blanche.”  That doesn’t mean that we can pray, “Dear God, please give me a million dollars, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.”  Though that would be nice.  

In Scripture, a person’s name is more than just what you call them.  Your name is your character.  It’s your reputation.  It’s your honor or renown.  To speak in someone’s name is to speak with their authority and according to their will.  Notice that the very next thing Jesus says after this promise is, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.”  To act in Jesus’ name is to live by his authority, to do his will, to seek his honor.  

So asking in Jesus’ name means that you are seeking his glory, you are representing his will, and you are asking according to what he has commanded you to do.  For us to claim this promise, we have to know his will and represent his character accurately to the world.  Only then can we claim this promise.

But it’s still a remarkable promise.  The Jews in Jesus’ day believed that only a very few, select individuals, only the most holy and pious of people, could plead with God, like Moses and Abraham did.  But Jesus tells us that each and every one of us can plead with God, make our requests known, and hope to have them answered.  

What it means is that we are more than just slaves or servants to God.  We are partners with God.  Through his Spirit at work in us, we are cooperating with God to accomplish his will on earth.  As Jesus said in the very next chapter of John, “I no longer call you servants, because a master doesn’t confide in his servants.  Now you are my friends.”  

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