Have you ever wondered why you sometimes feel God is distant and doesn’t seem to care?
Come with me to John chapter 14. The chapter forms part of the record of Jesus’ final hours before his arrest and crucifixion. The meal he had with his friends that night was the last meal with them before his death. The reality that a separation was about to occur was hanging like a pall over them.
The disciples were puzzled and frightened. On the one hand Jesus was saying that he was soon to be ‘glorified’, but at the same time he was saying he was ‘going away’: ‘Where I am going you cannot come,’ he said (14:3).
In the same way a dying parent tries to warn their children of their going, so Jesus, with great tenderness was preparing his friends for his departure.
However, from verse 15 of John 14, we read that his going would mean the coming of someone else. He was not going to leave them bereft.
Verses 15 through 17 read: ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.’
With his reference to the Spirit, we might think Jesus is speaking of an impersonal power or force. However, the personal pronouns him and he in reference to the Spirit, tell us that he was not speaking of a ‘force’ but a ‘person’. Indeed, in referring to the Spirit this way Jesus breaks the rules of grammar, for in the original language spirit is a neuter noun. The him and he in the verse are emphasized pronouns: He dwells with you…
The moment we think of the Holy Spirit as an ‘it’, we miss the point of Jesus’ promise: he, Jesus, is going away. But he is to be replaced, not by an it, but a he, the Spirit, the Helper. Into this time of deep loss with Jesus’ departure, comes the promise that the Holy Spirit perfectly matches the need for a Helper, a Comforter.
The Helper or Comforter is not like Linus’s blanket, nor is it a hot water bottle for cold, hard times. He comes to strengthen God’s people – not just with a pat on the head, but rather to put new life, resolve and vitality into our hearts.
Relationships. ‘If anyone loves me,’ Jesus says, ‘they will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them’ (14:23).
Jesus knows better than anyone that relationships can only be meaningful when they are based on truth. So he continues, ‘But 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’ (14:26).
The Spirit, who caused the Scriptures to be written (2 Peter 1:21), will teach us through the written Word of the Bible. We can be sure the Bible is true!
What the disciples preached and what they wrote, comes with this authentication: they were promised accurate recall of all Jesus said and did, as well as the true interpretation of these events.
This promise is not primarily for us. We arrived too late to see and hear Jesus. But we do have the assurance that the disciples got it right. Their preaching, teaching, and writing is true because the Spirit of God was at work through them. He was inspiring them, breathing into them God’s Word of truth.
This is so encouraging, for it means that we are being brought into a true, authentic relationship with the living God. Our faith is not some vague, mystical experience.
The Bible is more than memories of a long-dead hero, more than following the wisest teachings the world has known. The Bible enables us to listen to what God is saying and to what Jesus says, so that we can grow in the riches of that relationship. If we ignore the Scriptures, our relationship with God will grow weary and weak.
‘If anyone loves me,’ Jesus says, ‘we will come and make our home with them’ (14:23). What a wonderful promise and privilege, a wonderful experience: God in us. Or, as Paul the Apostle writes in Colossians 1:27: Christ in you, the hope of glory. There’s nothing second rate about this. Jesus couldn’t make it clearer.
Yes, there will be times we feel God is distant. But we need to remind ourselves, and one another, that God has not forgotten us. It can happen when we’re so focused on our own interests that we forget that the Spirit speaks to us and makes his presence known to us through the Word of God. Sometimes the Spirit will prompt us to take up and read our Bible, perhaps starting with a Psalm.
Peace. Jesus also promises, ‘My peace I give you, not as the world gives…’ In the midst of the turmoil and conflict of the world God’s people can experience God’s peace.
Others will notice our changing lives as the Spirit works within us. They will also notice how we cope with the challenges of life in an unjust and unpredictable world.
Jesus’ words to his disciples on the eve of his arrest and crucifixion, tell us that God is passionate about people of all ages and cultures knowing him, loving him and enjoying his peace. The promises were not just to the disciples but also to you and me today.
A Prayer. Almighty God, you show to those who are in error the light of your truth so that they may return into the way of righteousness: grant to all who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s service that we may renounce those things that are contrary to our profession and follow all such things as are agreeable to it; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
You might like to listen to, Holy Spirit Living Breath of God from Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend.
© John G. Mason