Table Talk 5: It's better that I go - John 16v4-15 - 11th Oct 2015 - Dave Walker

Bible reading: John 16:4-15

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Letter writing is a dying art these days, but people still send postcards, don’t they? And one of the old clichés about postcards is that when you write one, at some point you have to say “wish you were here”. It’s great if you can’t think of much else to say. I remember writing that quite a lot on postcards when I was young. “Go on David, write the postcard.” “Mum, I can’t think of anything to say.” Just say ‘wish you were here.’ Wish you were here.

The thing is, I never once had a reply to one of those cards which said “I’m glad you wish I was there, but actually it’s better that I’m not.” It’s better that I’m not there.

But Jesus says that in today’s reading. Actually, that’s what all of today’s Bible reading is about. Remember, Jesus is sitting there talking to his best friends and he says “it’s better that I’m going.” By implication, it’s better that Jesus has gone now. If he was still here, that wouldn’t be as good. Seems a strange thing for Jesus to say, and a strange thing for Christians to believe. After all, we’re always talking about how knowing Jesus is the heart of Christianity, so how can it possibly be better that Jesus has gone? It seems inconvenient. Surely it makes believing in Jesus more difficult, doesn’t it? But Jesus says it’s better. Why? That’s what we’re going to answer today. Why is it better that Jesus has gone?

So let’s get reading. Read John 16:5-15.

It starts a bit weirdly, did you notice that? Jesus says in verse 5 “none of you asks me, “where are you going?””. But they have, haven’t they? If you’ve been switched on, you might remember that at the end of chapter 13, verse 36, Peter asked exactly that: “Lord, where are you going?” But it’s OK, Jesus is not daft, he knows that. What he’s doing here is unpicking their emotional reaction to the news that Jesus is going. As he says in verse 6, they are filled with grief. They have got the fact that he is going, and they don’t like it. They can see the loss, but’s that’s all they can see. When Peter said “where are you going?” he wasn’t really interested in where. He just didn’t want Jesus to go. It’s a bit like if someone you were sitting with walked out right now. You might ask them “where do you think you’re going?” But you wouldn’t really be interested in where, you just be saying ‘don’t go’. All the disciples can see is the loss. But Jesus says actually there is a lot of gain. It is for your good that I am going. It’s to your advantage.

Because Jesus going will change things for the better. Remember, like we were seeing a couple of weeks ago, Jesus going means him going to the cross. It means him dying and rising. That is going to change many things. Like we saw the other week it will change things so that Jesus’ followers have access to God as members of his family, it will change things so that they will have great future beyond death. None of those things would have been possible had Jesus not gone to the cross and risen again. But Jesus here is concentrating on something else. Verse 7 again:

“Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” Jesus going means the Holy Spirit is coming. And – Jesus says to his disciples – that is better for you. Better. Notice better doesn’t necessarily mean ‘nicer.’ As we’ve been seeing in the last few weeks, Jesus’ disciples are people with a mission. They have a task in hand. Jesus doesn’t just leave them saying “I’m going, now you try to enjoy life without me.” He says “I’m going, you’re going to stay in the world, you’re going to love one another and testify about me.”  That’s what he’s been saying before this, isn’t it? Stay in the world, love one another, testify about me.

The coming of the Holy Spirit is better for that. For the sake of this mission, the mission of making Jesus known in the world, for the sake of that it is better that Jesus is going and the Holy Spirit is coming. And because this mission is the disciples whole reason for being, it’s better for them.

You can see that by seeing the link between who the Holy Spirit is coming to here and what the Holy Spirit is going to do here. So, OK, let’s ask those questions. Have a look at verses 7 and 8. Who is the Holy Spirit coming to? The disciples. Initially those guys Jesus is talking to. The first disciples, the apostles. OK, so the Holy Spirit comes to the disciples. But what is the Holy Spirit coming to do here? To convict the world. Now do you remember who “the world” is? We were talking about this two weeks ago, and we said that in John’s gospel “the world” is those people who are not believing in Jesus. “The world” in John is humanity in rebellion against God. Unbelieving people.

So, Jesus is sending the Holy Spirit to who? – to the disciples. But he’s going to do something in the world, in unbelieving people. It’s like addressing a letter. If I wanted a package to reach Graham I’d put Graham’s address on it. I probably wouldn’t put Tony’s address on it, if it was for Graham. Because if I did Tony would have to pass it on. It’s a bit like when a parcel comes to you because you’re neighbor isn’t in. there’s an extra step involved, you’ve got to pass it on to them. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to his disciples so that through them he can reach the world. That’s a crucial step isn’t it? The passing on step. The testifying to Jesus step. Just like you can see in 15 verse 26 and 27 if you want to look there, the Holy Spirit comes to testify to Jesus by working through and alongside the disciples as they testify to Jesus. As they speak about him. That’s what the Holy Spirit has come to do. Whatever else you’ve heard about the Holy Spirit and what he does, notice this because this is the heart of the matter. The big thing the Holy Spirit has come to do is to reach the world with the message of Jesus, by coming to his disciples. To the disciples to reach the world. Hold that thought, because we’ll come back to that.

But what is it he does in the world?

Well, look again at verse 8: “When he comes he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin, righteousness and judgment.” Now in a nutshell that means that he’s come to convince people that they need Jesus. He shows people that when it comes to things like sin and righteousness and judgment they are badly in the wrong, bankrupt, in need of rescue.

Because to be rescued you have to know that you need to be rescued, don’t you. You know, if your house is on fire, you don’t mind a fireman coming with a firehose and drenching everything and dragging you out of the building. You’re pleased about it, because you need rescue from the fire. Imagine how you’d feel if a fireman did that when your house was not on fire. A message of rescue is only well received when people are convicted of their need for rescue. That’s what the Holy Spirit does in the world. He convicts people, convinces them of their need for rescue, so that when they hear the gospel, the message of Jesus the rescuer, they receive it gladly. This is actually the only place in the Bible where we’re told about the Holy Spirit working in non-believers. He convicts people of their need for Jesus.

Have you got that? All nice and clear? Because we’re going to zoom in on verses 9 to 11 for a couple of minutes now and we have to think pretty hard here. But if you’ve got the idea that the Holy Spirit convinces people that they need Jesus the rescuer, you’ve got the main thing.

OK: sin, righteousness and judgment. Here the big idea is that in each of these things the Holy Spirit shows people their need in the same sort of way that Jesus did. So verse 9: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me. In the Bible the heart of sin is rebellion against God. Like we often say to the children: shove off God, I’m in charge, no to your rules. Rejection of God’s rule. And so when Jesus comes along and people are all of a sudden up close and personal with God himself, that is when their sin becomes most obvious. Think about Jesus’ ministry. The more Jesus made himself known as the son of God, the more he was hated. To know about Jesus, like they did, and to not believe in him is more than just a religious choice: it is the heart of rejecting God, the heart of sin itself. Jesus showed that. The Holy Spirit will do the same thing, convincing people that they have been wrong to reject Jesus.

It’s similar with righteousness. Righteousness just means ‘being in the right’ or ‘being justified’. So verse 10: “In regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer.” When Jesus was on earth he was a display of what righteousness looks like. And all the time he was clashing with people who were self-righteous. You see the thing about righteousness is that most people think they have it already. We’re very good at justifying ourselves and making others out to be in the wrong. If you doubt me on that, just talk to two drivers who have recently crashed into each other. We justify ourselves. Self-righteousness. But when Jesus was around he showed what real righteousness was. And alongside that, the self-righteousness of the people was shown up as the empty sham and pretence that it is. And, he says, when he is gone, the Holy Spirit will do the same thing. Convincing people that actually they are not righteous already, that only Jesus is, and that they have fallen far short and in need of rescue.

And judgment? Verse 11 “and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” The “prince of this world” is Jesus’ way of describing the devil, the evil one. The devil is the prince of “the world”, of humanity against God. He stands at the head of the household of those who are rejected God by rejecting Jesus. And so when Jesus died and rose again, that was his victory over the devil. That was the way that he made a whole new resurrection people with resurrection life, not bound to a life against God any more, freed to be God’s people. That was the proof that the devil was defeated, overthrown, and that his days were numbered. And so the Holy Spirit will convince people that they are on the wrong team. By rejecting Jesus they are siding with the devil. And he and all his team are defeated and doomed.

Ok, summary, the Holy Spirit will convince people that they are sinful, that they are not righteous, that they will come under judgment. He will convict people of that, says Jesus. So that they will run to him, crying out for rescue.

I just want us to grasp that for a moment. The Holy Spirit brings deep conviction. Deep awareness that we need rescue from Jesus. That’s the mark of his work. When somebody becomes a Christian, that work of the Holy Spirit is always involved. He is the one to bring the conviction.

Now that’s important because it shows us what we need, doesn’t it. Becoming a follower of Jesus is a deep thing. It’s the realisation of a deep need for forgiveness and rescue. If forgiveness of your sin does not grasp you as being very good news, you need to ask yourself if you’ve ever become a Christian. You need the Holy Spirit’s work in you. Where the Holy Spirit convicts there is deep awareness of need for Jesus.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones the great preacher said this: "You can never make anybody a Christian – never. You can make them church members, but you can never make them Christians. It is impossible. The Holy Spirit alone can do this, and therefore, we must always be afraid of spurious results, temporary results, something that people have done rather than the Holy Spirit." You can look like a Christian. But to actually be one you need a deep realisation of your need for Jesus, such that you actually run to him. And only the Holy Spirit can give you that. The mark of a revival is not miraculous signs, although God may give them. The mark of a true revival is a true conviction of the need for Jesus.

But he does it as the truth of Jesus reaches people. Remember how we said that Jesus would send the Spirit to the first disciples, for the world? And that their work of passing on the truth, talking about Jesus, was a crucial step? The Spirit works through the word. He uses the truth of Jesus to convince people of their need for Jesus. And that’s where the disciples, the Bible and us come in.

Look at the verses that follow, verse 12 onwards, because it’s there that Jesus describes how the truth of God reaches the disciples. It’s like an unbreakable chain. Verse 13: the Spirit of truth will guide the disciples into all the truth. He will pass on the truth to them. But where does the Spirit get the truth from? End of verse 13 and verse 14 – from Jesus. He will take what is mine and make it known to you disciples. And where does Jesus get the truth from? Verse 15 – his Father. All that belongs to the Father is mine. It’s an unbreakable chain of truth from God the Father through his Son by the Holy Spirit, to the disciples. And it’s all truth, isn’t it? Verse 15: Jesus has all his Father’s truth. Verse 13: The Spirit of truth leads the disciples into all the truth from Jesus.

This is God’s mission carried out, by the Holy Spirit. Passing on all the truth of God to the disciples. As he does so bringing deep conviction, so that people might believe in Jesus and be saved for ever. It’s a big and beautiful work of God.

It’s what happened, isn’t it? Think of what happened next with the disciples after Jesus had gone, as we see in the book of Acts. The Holy Spirit came to the disciples. They went out and spoke about Jesus. Ad they did so their hearers were deeply convicted, and came to them saying “what must we do to be saved?” They were told ‘believe in Jesus’ so they did and then the Holy Spirit came on them too, and they took the message of Jesus to others and so on and so on. All across the world.

That’s why it’s better that Jesus has gone. You know, imagine if the only way that someone could meet with God and be saved for ever was if they met with Jesus physically on earth. How would that work? How difficult would it be to book Jesus to come and speak at church, or to introduce Jesus to your friends and family who don’t believe? But by the Holy Spirit Jesus gave all the truth that we need, full revelation of God to his disciples. The apostles. And they wrote it down. So that now, wherever you have Bibles and Christians who will open their bibles and speak of Jesus there you have the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit who is still at work using that message of Jesus to bring conviction, so that people will actually respond. Praise the Lord that Jesus has gone. Not for ever, want him to come back one day as he has promised. But for now it is better that he’s gone. Because his going has made things better. His going and sending of the Spirit has opened up the possibility of rescue and salvation to the whole world. His going and sending of the Spirit has meant that we now have all we need for his mission. Believe in Jesus. Trust the Holy Spirit. Have confidence in the Bible that the Spirit had given us through the first disciples. We don’t need any more.

What we do need to do is to keep passing it on. That’s why we need to rejoice when we hear about what’s happening with Gareth and Kathryn, bringing the Bible to the kamuku people. We need to pray for them. That’s why we need to pray for and encourage one another as we go out from here today and meet whatever people God has placed around us in the coming week. Who are the people around you who don’t know Jesus? The people who you long to be saved? You may not be able to introduce them to Jesus physically this week. But they can meet you, a Christian with a Bible. And Jesus says that’s better. You have all the truth you need. The Holy Spirit is with you to use that truth to bring conviction. Oh yes, you can expect some opposition, as we heard two weeks ago, don’t be surprised by that. But God himself is with you. He is enough. His Holy Spirit is enough. Will we pray for each other in this?