Let me read you this recent news report:
"Three weeks after an elder was killed in an attack on the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church in Omdurman, Sudan, a mob with police on April 24 ransacked the living quarters of the compound guard and arrested his family. After being detained until 10pm at the police station, the wife and children of church guard Azhari Tambra, who was not home at the time of the attack, returned to find all their belongings destroyed."
I myself was working with Sudan Presbyterians in Omdurman in the 1960s and in this Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, if it isn't a new building. I was responsible for the English language service in the church for Southerners and teaching in a nearby Presbyterian school which one day while I was teaching was attacked and broken up by scores of invading Muslim youths. Such was the destruction we had to close the school for that term.
From that and other similar experiences in Sudan in the 1960s I learnt the truth of what Jesus said in the verses preceding our passage for tonight. For Jesus was predicting that persecution – being put out of Synagogues, or their equivalents and being killed – would occur in the life and history of the Church. Thank God that life is still relatively peaceful at present in Britain. But you mustn't think that such peace will always be maintained. For you can't expect a nation, that in so many ways is corporately defying God and his clearly revealed word, will always be at peace. So our passage this evening – John 16.4b-15 – with its Promise of Help as this sermon has been entitled, is in the context of such hard times; but it is also relevant, as we shall see, for when the going seems good. And my headings for this evening are first, The Promise of Help; secondly, The First Work of the Holy Spirit; and thirdly, The Second Work of the Holy Spirit.
1. The Promise of Help
Look at verses 4b-7:
"I did not say these things [about persecution] to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?' But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you."
So what was Jesus saying in his final address to his disciples just before his arrest and crucifixion? This - that he hadn't warned them so strongly before about persecution, probably because while he was physically with his disciples, he had attracted the opposition, so to speak, onto himself. And also while he was with them he could protect them – verse 4b:
"I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you."
But with his mission completed, Jesus then tells the disciples he is returning to his Father in heaven – verse 5a:
"But now I am going to him who sent me."
And he adds these words – verse 5b:
"and none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?'"
There had been a vague question earlier by Peter, but no one seriously wanted to know about Jesus and his destiny. It seems that they were all so depressed by what Jesus was saying. They were interested in very little about anything other than themselves and what would happen when Jesus had left them on their own. So Jesus says in verse 6:
"But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart."
When you hear some devastating and bad news that affects you, with some people a kind of mental darkness occurs. Well, it was like that with these disciples. Jesus knows that and so says, "sorrow has [not just affected but] filled your heart" – and 'heart' is singular. It is their corporate heart. As a little community they were all depressed. But then there is this great promise of help – or the Good News regarding the Holy Spirit in verse 7:
"Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you."
This is so important. "Nevertheless, I tell you the truth." Jesus is being as emphatic as he can be. "It is to your advantage that I go away." The disciples, however, don't yet know that although Christ is going away through death on the Cross, it is so then he can go through the Resurrection and Ascension back to his Father's glory. So the death of Christ, the prospect of which was generating misery for the disciples, was for their good. How the disciples needed to see that bigger picture. For the pathway to the Cross would end up with something amazingly good.
Who this evening is in a situation like the disciples were in? You are in the middle of a great problem. Can I say, that if you simply trust and obey God, what seems so bad at the moment, will somehow be, long term, in God's plan, for your good. For God is good. Certainly this was the case with the disciples – verse 7:
"For [said Jesus] if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you."
"The Helper" is the translation of the word literally meaning, 'the one called alongside' and refers to the Holy Spirit. There are various translations instead of 'Helper'. The old Authorized Version of the Bible translates the word as 'Comforter'. But what was the amazingly great advantage of the sending of this Helper – the Holy Spirit? Well, this:
At that time in the 1st century, Jesus could only be known and heard by a relative handful of people who lived in the Holy Land 2000 years ago. But the coming of the Holy Spirit as promised meant the following. The universal, invisible, timeless presence of the Holy Spirit would make Christ present and real in the hearts of believers everywhere and throughout history and simultaneously. The blunt reality is that Christ's body could only be in one place and for one lifetime. The Holy Spirit of Christ, however, can be everywhere making Christ real to all believers and convicting non-believers at one and the same time and at all times in all ages. So this was an amazing promise of help extending throughout the world and down the ages. But what more can we say about the Holy Spirit? Well that brings us to
2. The First Work of the Holy Spirit
Look at verses 8-11:
"And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged."
There are three things to note about what Jesus is saying. First, that the Holy Spirit is personal. Look at verse 8 and the first three words:
"when he comes."
The original makes it crystal clear that the Helper, the Holy Spirit, is "he", not "it". The masculine pronoun is used repeatedly. So the Holy Spirit has personality. The Holy Spirit is not a divine force or impersonal power. He is the third person of the divine Trinity.
Secondly, "when he comes" refers to the coming of the Holy Spirit after the death and Resurrection of Christ. But that, of course, was not the first appearance of the Holy Spirit. For the Holy Spirit was at work in Creation; and in Old Testament times he was experienced and known about. But after Christ's Ascension the Holy Spirit came down on men and women in a totally new way with amazing consequences as the Acts of the Apostles and World history witness.
And, thirdly, and most importantly, this first work of the Holy Spirit is, verse 8, to:
"convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment."
But what does that mean? Well, verses 9–11 provide the answers. In verse 9 Jesus says the first conviction concerning sin is "because they do not believe in me". That is so foundational. Let me explain. Every society recognizes and has concepts and explanations for the distinction between things as they are and things as they ought to be. Everyone can distinguish between 'is' and 'ought' and some notion of 'good' and 'bad'. But the Bible is adamant. It says that good and bad are not just matters of taste or preference. Rather, they speak of real distinctions. For what is good leads to life and human flourishing, while the bad, in the end, leads to death and human decay, for time and eternity. But what is the cause or the key to being good and remedying being not good and so bad? That is where there are disagreements.
For example, in more recent times in the West, the 18th century Enlightenment said human reason and science were the keys. Then the 19th century Industrial Revolution said technology was the key. And today, following the 20th century Sexual Revolution, many now say the key is the gratifying of human desires. For the West has spiritualized desire in a religion of self-fulfilment where the goal is not to be saved but to be pleased. But the Holy Spirit, says Jesus, will convince and convict people that all these, as fundamental keys, are false and fail. For the fundamental key is believing in Jesus. For he alone can deal with sin through his Cross and he alone can provide new power for living a good life through his Resurrection and the sending of his Holy Spirit. For sin – going your own way, as a finite human being, and not the way of your creator, Almighty God - is the problem that needs the key the gospel of Christ provides.
Then, secondly in verse 10 Jesus says the Holy Spirit convicts …
"concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer."
This is the only use of the word "righteousness" in John's Gospel. But it relates to so much. It relates to all the various forms of righteousness that result from Jesus having ascended to heaven and to God's right hand, after dying and rising again. So there's the righteousness of Christ that is ours after that exchange for our sins through his death for us in our place on the Cross that puts us right with God. And there's the 'right-ness' of all Jesus taught and claimed that is proved by his Resurrection, which like the Cross is implied in Jesus saying:
"I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer."
So the claim that Jesus is the only way to God and the claim to his uniqueness and finality are right. And it is right to claim that he truly was, and is, God incarnate – God come in human form - and so the solution to the World's problems. And he is right in his ethical teachings that the Apostles then apply. So the Holy Spirit convicts and convinces concerning righteousness, in all its meanings, because of the facts of Christ's Cross, Resurrection, Ascension and return to God's right hand.
Then, thirdly, the Holy Spirit convicts (verse 11)…
"…concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged."
He convicts you not only of the truth that there is right and wrong, but that also right and wrong have consequences in the present, and certainly for the future. For there will be a final judgment and heaven, and, yes, hell! God isn't indifferent to all the wickedness that is intentionally and, even, ignorantly committed. Indeed, Jesus' death demonstrated that sin deserves judgment. And Satan's judgment has begun as people are transferred out of his kingdom and into the kingdom of Christ through faith in Christ. So the Holy Spirit…
"…convicts the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer [that is a great proof – especially the Resurrection of Jesus with an empty tomb]; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged."
3. The Second Work of the Holy Spirit
Look at verses 12-15:
"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."
This refers to the fundamental teaching work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had much more he could have taught the disciples – for example, about how to apply the teaching that he had given them. And, of course, as yet he had taught them little about the full meaning of his Death, Resurrection, Ascension, heavenly Reign and Return. It would have been simply beyond their understanding, with the events all in the future. And in their present sorrowful and depressed state now was not the time to start teaching even by way of introduction.
However, says Jesus, when the Spirit of Truth – note that title – when he comes he will "guide you into all the truth" – not dictate it to you, but guide you "into" it. And he will guide those disciples aright, for his message is not his own but comes from God (verse 13):
"…whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come."
Those "things that are to come", indeed, would include precisely all about Jesus' Death, Resurrection, Ascension, heavenly Reign and Return. And those original Apostles would be guided into "all the truth" that he chose to reveal regarding our relationship with God and his will for the world. So you mustn't expect new fundamental truth after the Apostolic age. For the Helper had a special work regarding the first Apostles who had Jesus' actual teaching. Jesus had said (John 14.26):
"the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you."
So the Apostles are unique with regard to God's revelation. They, unlike us, could pass on in permanent form Jesus' actual teaching. And all that is why the Bible is the Apostolic book with Jesus endorsing the Old Testament and his Apostles responsible for the New. Then the declaration and teaching of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles (as he takes or hears from the Son), glorifies the Son. That means the Holy Spirit makes him known and understood in all his glory through this teaching that the Apostles then made permanent for all subsequent history. So the Holy Spirit "glorifies" Jesus to you and me, as we read the Bible, the Apostolic book, and learn about Jesus from its pages. Jesus says in verses 14 and 15:
"He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you [the Apostles – who then wrote it down in various forms]. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you [so there is an absolute unity in the Trinity]."
We must conclude and with two questions. First, what practically does that first work of the Holy Spirit mean today? Well, one thing it means for Church Growth, evangelism, and as we think about the Big Question next Autumn, is that far more important than all the planning and structuring and preparing – absolutely necessary as they all are – but far more important is that we pray for the Holy Spirit to be working to change hearts. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick", says the Prophet Jeremiah (17.9). And what the heart desires, the will chooses and the mind rationalizes. That is why, however, rational you are, the heart of your highly rational listener will cause him or her to ignore all reasoning. That is unless the Holy Spirit gives their heart light and life and erases or heals its spiritual sickness.
Secondly, what practically does the second work of the Holy Spirit mean? Well, it means the supreme authority of the Bible as being the fruit of the Holy Spirit's teaching through the Apostles of Jesus.
So it is fundamental for guiding you in line with Jesus' and his inspired Apostles' word in this confused world; and not least as you have to navigate the current Western sexual revolution in the world and certainly in the church.