Easter 4 – Not Deserted

Easter 4 - Christ taking leave of his apostles Duccio di Buoninsegna c. 1308

St James 1:17-21       St John 16:5-15


“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth”


Eastertide is a marvellous time of the year. As we celebrate Jesus' complete bodily resurrection, having triumphed over death, nature too undergoes a transformation after the dark days of winter, with flowers blossoming and trees budding.

Although Jesus’ resurrection brings us immense joy, His departure also causes sorrow because we can imagine the blessings His physical presence would have brought us. Were He among us in the flesh, not only in spirit, He could answer all our questions and dispel our doubts. He would resolve our differences and bring us to unity. He would hear our woes and wipe away our tears. Moreover, He would serve as God’s perfect witness to the world. What could be better than this? Thus, we find ourselves living in a paradox that brings both happiness and sadness.

Jesus said, “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.”

The notion that Jesus' absence could be beneficial may seem unexpected. Yet, if the arrival of the Spirit is more beneficial for us than Jesus' physical presence, the Spirit’s Presence must be of greater significance. But before describing the benefits the Holy Spirit would bring to believers, Jesus first outlined the advantages that the Spirit would offer the world. Jesus said, “When [the Helper] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment.”

So, what does the world receive? The Spirit convicts it of sin; that is, He exposes the state the world is in. This means that the Spirit highlights how humans are alienated from God, possess a fallen human nature, and have violated God’s law. Sin is only recognised once it is contrasted with righteousness, just as a mistake is only acknowledged when the correct answer is understood. Consequently, the Spirit also discloses righteousness. Lastly, the Spirit unveils God’s judgment, the necessary and ultimate response to sin. In this summary of the Spirit’s role in the world, we can discern a familiar pattern we encounter daily, be it in school or the workplace.

Consider a man employed by the government. One day, his superior summons him to his office. As the unsuspecting employee enters, the boss declares: "The quality of your work has been unacceptable from your first day here. Additionally, you are a nuisance to your colleagues. You're fired!” Imagine the shock this man feels. And, you might agree that even if the accusations were true, the situation remains fundamentally unjust because in a just work environment, an employee should not be dismissed without prior warning and an opportunity to improve.

What Jesus described about the Holy Spirit’s role in the world aptly fills the gap in my illustration. The Spirit prepares the world for impending judgement. He initially exposes each person's condition and contrasts it with what it ought to be. Then, He outlines the consequences of being judged. In essence, the Spirit offers a loving, patient, and gracious warning, guiding the world towards Christ, who alone can redeem it from all sin.

Although the broader scope of the Spirit’s work in the world is clarified with this explanation, Jesus provided further specifics. He stated, “And when he comes, he will convict the world ... concerning sin because they do not believe in me.” Mark these words! Jesus didn’t say: when the Spirit comes he will convict the world of concerning sin because of their transgressions, or because of their evil. He said: concerning sin because they do not believe in me.  This clarification is crucial as it pinpoints the focus of the Holy Spirit. Regarding sin, the Spirit could highlight numerous issues: how humans fail to give God His due, how they fall short of loving others, or how they misuse their bodies and resources. The Spirit might also concentrate on specific sinful behaviours, general human sinfulness, or a combination of these, depending on what is most urgent for a particular individual. While all these focuses are valid, Jesus emphasized that the principal sin the Spirit addresses is unbelief. The rejection of Jesus and the resultant unbelief are thus positioned as the primary sins the Spirit seeks to correct[i]. But why does unbelief get such significance for the Holy Spirit amidst so much global malevolence?

The emphasis on unbelief becomes logical once we understand that Christ represents the sole path to salvation. He is the gateway through which individuals enter God's kingdom. Even if a person, influenced by the Holy Spirit, renounced 99.99% of their sins, it would not secure their salvation, only accepting Christ will. Thus, from a salvation standpoint, no sin has as severe implications as rejecting Him. This underscores why the Spirit’s primary focus is on unbelief.

But why is this significant for us to comprehend? I believe Jesus disclosed this to encourage us to align our outreach with the Holy Spirit’s mission. Observing the sins prevalent around us, we may feel it is our Christian duty to convince others, or perhaps the entire world, of their wrongdoings. Although this is motivated by a love for righteousness and may sometimes be necessary, it should not be our main focus simply because it is not the primary concern of the Holy Spirit’s work. When individuals are brought to Christ, the benefits extend far beyond overcoming a particular sin.

To this point, Jesus had only delineated the work of the Holy Spirit in the world, illustrating His role in opening their eyes and bringing them to faith in Jesus, or warning them of impending judgement. For the sake of brevity, let us proceed to the verse, where Jesus outlines what the Holy Spirit will accomplish not for the world but for us as believers. He stated, “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.”

The distinct treatment of the world and believers immediately becomes apparent; while the world requires conviction regarding sin, righteousness, and judgement, as believers, we are privy to considerably more—we receive intimate knowledge of God, who is the truth. In the same discourse from which today’s reading is taken, Jesus declared (John 15:15), “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”

The privilege of being informed and knowing the truth is immense. We know from our daily experience what it means. There is information we don’t share with just anyone but only with our friends; even more intimate information is only shared with our spouse, and the deepest parts of our souls are only shared with God. The nature of the information shared reflects the intimacy of the relationship. Jesus explained, “All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” A relationship cannot be more intimate than one in which everything is shared.

When the Spirit leads us into all truth, He shares with us the full glory of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Spirit. Was Jesus referring only to theology? I believe not. Every facet of creation, every truth found from mathematics and biology to physics and chemistry, from philosophy and psychology to the understanding of morality, unveils different aspects of the wisdom and glory of God.

But what does it take to know all truth? Undoubtedly, as God is infinite, this quest will span eternity. Can we comprehend all truth by ourselves? Certainly not. We require the collective insight of all God’s children to more fully understand, as Paul emphasized in Ephesians 3:18-19 when he prayed that “[we may] comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth” of God's love and glory.

What does this mean for our daily lives? It suggests that, with the Holy Spirit’s aid, our goal should be to continually increase our knowledge of God, as so our love, by contemplating His words and His works. This should not be pursued in isolation but together with all saints in conjunction with the Holy Spirit, who illuminates God’s word and works. The vastness of God’s truth means that no single human being or even generation can fully grasp it. If we focus solely on the discoveries of our own time, ignoring the insights that saints through the ages have gleaned from God, we will fail to apprehend the complete truth. Conversely, if we focus exclusively on the teachings of the early church and neglect new revelations in God's word and science, we also fall short. God's truth is infinite, and His Spirit is ever present to guide; therefore, only with the collective wisdom of all saints—from the earliest to the latest—can we begin to fathom the glory of God. As we learn across the centuries, our perspectives mature.

C.S. Lewis illustrated this beautifully in his Narnia books. In the first book, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," Lucy meets the lion Aslan, who represents Christ. When Lucy returns to Narnia as a young adult, she encounters Aslan again and notices he appears much larger than she remembered. Their exchange unfolds like this: “'Aslan,' said Lucy, 'you're bigger.' 'That is because you are older, little one,' answered he. 'Not because you are?' responded Lucy. Then Aslan said: 'I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.'” Our perception of God expands continually as our understanding and knowledge deepen.

Returning to Jesus' words: "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…" Thus, the learning process that the disciples underwent in Jesus' physical presence continues. The Holy Spirit enables the grasping of truths that were previously inconceivable.

"He will declare to you the things that are to come." In essence, as Jesus prepared His disciples for future challenges, the Spirit prepares His church.

"He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you." This means that the Spirit will reveal Jesus in a way that we can perceive His glory, even when we cannot see Him physically.

If we think about everything Jesus just said about the Holy Spirit, we can see that He truly continues Christ’s work and mission on earth, and does what Christ would have done, but on a larger scale and more intimately. Like Christ, who disclosed far more to His disciples than to the world, we've observed that the Spirit's mission in the world differs significantly from what He accomplishes for believers. Perhaps the work of the Holy Spirit can be likened to a simple image: initially, by convicting of sin, righteousness and judgment, the Spirit guides people from various directions to the sole Door leading to heaven. Once they enter through the Door, the Spirit takes their hand and leads them up the stairs, ever ascending, drawing them closer to God.

So Jesus didn’t abandon us, to be alone. Even though He is not physically present among us, His intimate presence is here by His Spirit, and in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. In the Bible, is an expression of an intimate relationship. The relationship with Christ goes so far, that He shares everything with us He has, not only the whole truth, but even Himself. Let us, therefore, prepare ourselves to commune with Him, secure in the knowledge that we have become His beloved friends, and brothers and sisters.




[i] This is not an exception; Jesus repeatedly stressed that unbelief is the most significant problem. For example, during this same conversation, Jesus said (John 15:22,24): “If I had not come and spoken to them [and]... if I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin....”


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