Lecture: John 13-21
Welcome to lesson #12. We are in the second half of the Gospel of John. We looked at the first 12 chapters last time with most of our attention on issues of Christ’s Divinity and today we’re going to look at chapters 13 to the end of the book, chapter 21.
Just a couple quick notes about structure, this section of the Gospel breaks into 3 pieces. The first of the sections is what’s called the Upper Room Discourse in chapter 13-17, also sometimes called the Farewell Discourse. We’re going to focus most of our attention tonight on these chapters. It’s really important to keep the discussion in context. We’re at the end of Jesus’s ministry, he’s got a couple of hours probably at max in which he can summarize the essentials of his ministries to his disciples, who have consistently shown a knack for not getting it. Whenever that happens you have to pay really close attention to the words and to the concepts that are being used because these are the prime things that Jesus is trying to get across. The Upper Room Discourses is in 13-17, then the Passion is in chapters 18-20—Jesus’s death and resurrection. There are a couple of things that we’re going to look at there and then chapter 21 almost reads like an epilogue. It’s as if the book ends at chapter 20 and then John sticks on one more chapter of odds and ends. Most people treat 21 as a separate section.
The Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17)
Servanthood (John 13:1-20)
Let’s look at the Upper Room Discourse. Jesus begins the Upper Room Discourse with this very powerful parable on the whole issue of servanthood. I want to take a little bit of time here because this is how he starts this most important two-hour segment with his disciples. The first and perhaps the most important thing you need to get right off the bat is the whole issue of servanthood. Let’s just work our way through this paragraph. “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come,” you know all the way through John Jesus says my hour’s not yet come, Jesus is in complete control of what’s happening and where he’s going, but now finally he knows that his hour has come—that towards which his whole life has been pushing, his death and resurrection is now here, “to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end (1). During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him (2), Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God (3),” these are just a whole bunch of different clauses where John is trying to set the stage. This expression that’s translated “loved them to the end” is an example of something that John does a lot. He will say things that have a double meaning and he does it so much that the assumption is that it’s always intentional. He “loved them to the end” means that he loved them to the very end of his life, he didn’t quit in other words, but he loved them to the uttermost—to the fullest extent of his love. What that phrase is doing is setting us up to understand that this foot washing story that’s going to happen has to do with the cross. There’s a connection that’s going on between servanthood and foot washing, and Jesus loving his own to the very end to the fullest extent by dying on the cross. You have to interpret foot washing in light of Jesus’s complete and total love which is exhibited on the cross. There’s a connection in John’s mind going on there. Now the one piece of information that John doesn’t tell us that Luke does in chapter 22 is that during this time, they were eating the Passover meal together and the disciples were arguing about who’s the greatest. That’s another important background piece of information because then it really makes what Jesus does stand out even more so. That’s the context: he’s at the end of his life, he’s in control of his life, he loves his disciples, he understands that the betrayal is going to happen, he understands who he is and that this death is his pathway back to his father so that all sets the stage.
Then verses 4-5, Jesus rose from supper. "He laid aside his outer garments." You’ll notice that garments is plural, so he stripped down to a loin cloth which is what a servant would have worn, he didn’t just take his coat off, "and taking a towel, tied it around his waist (4)." It was a very long towel that a servant could tie around and still have enough to do his job with. “Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him (5).” The custom in that day and age was to take a bath before you went to a banquet, but the sandals were all open-toed so by the time you got to the banquet, your feet were dirty, so a servant would put the bowl under your feet and pour the water on top to get the dirt off of your feet. What Jesus is doing is picking up the role of a servant. Then you get to Peter. I like to try to put myself in Peter’s shoes. No pun intended. They’re sitting there watching their Rabbi, of whom they have said, “Yes, we believe that you are the Messiah” taking the role of a servant, which they never expected him to do and foot by foot work his way toward them. Just imagine how Judas felt. I like to imagine sometimes that Judas and Jesus looked at each other and what their eyes would have said, but I know what Peter was thinking because it tells us. Peter is getting more and more nervous as Jesus gets closer and closer to him.
Verse 6: “he came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet (6)?’ Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand (7).’ Peter said to him,” (basically, “No, I’m not willing to wait, I’m not willing for this to happen”), “’You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me (8)’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’” In other words, I’m going to bath again (9). “Jesus said to him, ‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. You are clean, but not every one of you (10),’” meaning Judas. Peter had already been bathed in preparation for the banquet if you want to carry the metaphor over. He’d already been bathed, he had already believed in Jesus, he already had been cleansed, and Jesus says that elsewhere. Bathing is a non-repeated event; it’s not something you do over and over again. Jesus died on the cross once, we are bathed by Christ’s death on the cross once—it’s a non-repeated event. Jesus says to Peter, “No, I don’t need to bath you again, you’ve already been bathed.”
What’s Paul language for what Jesus is discussing? Justification—the bathing is our justification, our being cleansed. You understand that Western Christianity’s terminology is almost always Pauline and so what’s helpful when you’re looking at the Gospels is to say what’s the word I tend to use for what is going on here? Jesus is saying, “I’ve bathed you, you’ve been cleansed by the Word of God, it’s a non-repeatable event. That’s what Paul calls justification—they are right with God in other words. While Peter’s been bathed in preparation for the banquet, he still must be daily washed. In other words, as you and I and as Peter walk around this sinful contaminated world, our feet get dirt. Paul’s terminology for that is sanctification. The bathing and the washing of the feet are what Paul calls justification.
Sanctification is being made clean by God and yet the need to deal with the sin that we come in contact with and that we do on a daily basis. This involves confession and forgiveness. Jesus is laying out this basic thing that Peter’s already been cleansed and of course Peter doesn’t get it. That’s clear, but Jesus is going ahead and saying this stuff because he knows that especially when the Spirit comes and he makes all things clear to the disciples they will then understand what Jesus was doing when he did this baptism. You have the bathing, which is justification and yet the ongoing need for you and for me to confess our sins, to be forgiven of our sins, to be cleansed of our daily sins because we walk in a sinful world. It’s interesting—both of the things justification and sanctification, bathing and confession of sin—all this is made possible by the cross. That’s the point that is going on here. Jesus goes through this whole thing, and Peter’s once again put in his place.
Then in verse 12 Jesus explains what he’s done, and the word I like to use is this is an “enacted parable.” We talked about this with the fig tree in Mark 13. Instead of saying the parable, Jesus is acting out the parable. He begins to explain himself in verse 12: “When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you (12)? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am (13).’” In other words, understand the relationship that exists: I’m the boss, you’re the servants, I’m the Lord, I’m the Master, I’m the Rabbi, you’re the disciples, you’re the followers, you’re the learners—remember that. “‘If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet (14). For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you (15). Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him(16).’” In other words, I’m the Master, you’re the follower. I’m the teacher, you’re the learner, I’m the boss, and you’re the servant. He’s emphasizing that if given their relative position, if our boss does this to us then we certainly should do it to one another. “‘If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them (17).’” What Jesus is saying is that discipleship, the life that you and I live is to be filled with humble service. Our lives are to be lived in service to one another. Discipleship is not about power. Discipleship is not about worldly greatness, reputation, fame and fortune, but rather discipleship is about service to one another.
Why do you think this was the first thing that Jesus did in the Upper Room Discourse? He’s setting the tone. He doesn’t explain why, so we’re guessing, but I think part of the answer is that if you don’t get this right, you don’t get anything else right. It’s foundational. He’s later going to talk about love. What does love look like? Well, washing one another’s feet. Look at the disciples, they never understood it until they received the Spirit, which we have, so they have an excuse that we don’t have, but they had over three and a half years with Jesus and they still don’t get it. They’re sitting there, in the Lord’s Supper arguing about who is the greatest. If you don’t get this, I’m not sure you can get anything else about the Christian life. It certainly sets the tone, it summarizes a lot of the things that Jesus has said: he’s been talking about discipleship ever since Peter’s confession, about denying yourself. He’s been saying that the one who is the least is the greatest and that if you want to be great be least. All of these teachings get summarized in this one passage. I don’t know for sure why he did this first because he doesn’t tell us, but I suspect it’s something along those lines.
How much of your Christian experience shows that Christians understand John 13:1-20? There are a lot of convicting things like this in the Upper Room Discourse. It’s all heightened by the fact that we are at the end of Jesus’s ministry. He’s pulling the prime things together; he’s trying to drive those main points home one last time. That’s why it’s so convicting. I’ve been in employment situations where the bosses were very fast to use the phrase “we’re servant leaders,” but they understood nothing about servant leadership. There’s so much baggage with the phrase that I won’t use it myself. I can remember the time when I was paid $16,000 a year to teach in a college with a PhD and one of my bosses was driving an $80,000 Mercedes telling us all about the fact that he was our servant leader. It’s really sad; a lot of these things just do not epitomize the church or Christian organizations.
Foot Washing as an Ordinance?
The other thing I need to talk about really briefly is whether this is an ordinance or not. An ordinance is something that we are commanded to do. I would like to hear about your experiences. Let me lay the ground work for just a second and you can sit there and think about it. The Protestant Church recognizes two ordinances, which are baptism and communion. They are things we were commanded specifically to do. The Catholic Church recognizes seven, but Protestants have two. One of the questions that comes out of this passage is, should we have three, and the foot washing be the third ordinance? In other words, are we commanded to wash one another’s feet? Is this a ritual that we are to practice in the church? Jesus says, “I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Is he commanding a ritual or is this something that is symbolic of something else? One of the arguments that it’s not an ordinance is that if he intended it to be an ordinance he would have said, “Do what I’ve done,” but he says, “I have given you an example.” Through the history of the church, they’ve tended not see this as an ordinance. The early church and the disciples never saw any need to do this on a regular basis. There certainly were some examples of it, and yet, it can be a very powerful thing. In fact, when I preached on this passage a while back we really went back and forth about whether to have foot washing in the church. I know most people would have gone blank looking at us because we’ve never done that before, but it would have been interesting.
The problem with any ritual is that it can become meaningless. Baptism can be meaningless, the Lord’s Supper can become meaningless, and foot washing can become meaningless. I read some things that Luther and Calvin said about foot washing that were really strong, because their experience with it was that the people didn’t mean it, and they thought that if I just wash my friends’ feet then I don’t have to be a servant to anyone else. They used it as an excuse.
Let’s hear from Katy, who’s from a tradition that does foot washing. Tell us what it’s like and why you have enjoyed it.
Katy: Well, first of all, I come from a Grace Brethren Church. For communion, we gather together and the pastor would set it up, and we would all go down to our Fellowship Hall and have a meal together. We call it three-fold communion. We do a meal together, then we break off and the men go with men and the women go with women. It’s a neat time, there are two basins of water that go around and you sit next to a friend or your mom. Often times people will have a time of confession, and they’ll work through issues that has been something that has been dividing them. We bring hymnals and we sing while we do this. It just a really neat time and we have a long towel that we wrap around our waist, we just wash their feet and dry them off and then you give them a hug. It’s really a cool time. Then we get back together and we finish the communion time with the bread and the cup.
So the three-fold time involves the meal, the foot washing and then communion. I don’t believe it’s an ordinance. One of the arguments is that you have very clear teachings on baptism and very clear teaching on the Lord’s Supper, nothing on foot washing. The early church didn’t practice it, it’s not in the Epistles, and it’s not in the Book of Acts. What I wanted to suggest is that perhaps at some point in time, it might be something that’s helpful to do. Again, this is at the very beginning of the Upper Room Discourse, there’s something that’s pivotal about this and I thought through whose feet would I wash. I can think of some people whose feet I probably wouldn’t want to wash, because it would embarrass them to death. I wonder why we wouldn’t do this. I wonder why we would be hesitant to go through an act that says, I’m here to put you first; I’m here to serve. We even thought about washing hands because in one sense it’s your hands that get dirty because they are exposed, because we don’t have sandals normally. I don’t think it’s an ordinance, but yet I think there’s power in doing it, and I want to know why I don’t want to do it. Something to think about, motivated mostly by something in my heart that says I’ll never do that, and I want to know why that’s in my heart. Maybe I understand less about servant leadership than I think I do. You’re putting yourself under their power, humanly speaking, and that’s a humbling thing. Why do we fight that? Pride. This is why the story is at the beginning, it’s setting the stage, but it’s encapsulating a lot of what’s been going on in Jesus’s teaching. I’ll let you all reflect on that.
A New Commandment of Love (John 13:34-35)
Jesus goes on and he talks about the fact that he knows that Judas is going to betray him. Then in verse 31 you get to this whole passage about the new commandment, the commandment of love. I want to say a few things specifically about verses 34 and 35. Jesus says, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another (34)." Now this is a guy that is stripped to a loin cloth and washed their feet, you’ve got to keep all of this in context. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for…” me? no that’s not what it says: “if you have love for one another (35).” You would expect “me” wouldn’t you? This is how you show people that you love me, but no, it’s your love for one another, that’s the point. This whole theme of love was introduced back in chapter 13, and we’re going to read about it in several other places.
One other passage I think that’s helpful to read is a passage written by the same author, but in his letter of 1 John, 2:8. In fact this whole paragraph is about a new and an old commandment so it all relates. 1 John 2:8, let me start with verse 7, “Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. In fact, the commandment goes all the way back to Leviticus 19:18, where is says, “but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The commandment to love one another isn’t new; it goes all the way to the beginning of the Jewish nation. “The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him” (Jesus) “and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light” (who is Jesus) “is already shining (8).”
That’s a related passage that helps. In what sense is this commandment in John 13 new? It’s not new in the sense that no one has ever said it. It had been around for a while so it’s not new in the sense that no one had ever thought of it. Let me read you what Leon Morris in his commentary says: “The new things appears to be the mutual affection that Christians have for one another” (nothing new there except to the Christians) “on account of Christ’s great love for them. A brotherhood has been created on the basis of Jesus’s work for men and there is a new relationship within that brotherhood.” It’s not that the commandment itself is new, what’s new is that it is now a possibility. It’s new because it’s in Jesus, it is in Christ, and the ability to truly love one another is now possible. It wasn’t possible before, but it is now possible in a way that it never was before because of Jesus’s death. We love because Jesus first loved us, right? John tells us that later. What’s new about the commandment is that now we are able to actually do it in a way that has never been possible before, in any community.
Verse 35 is a pretty powerful verse, because what it shows us is what’s at stake. Why is this love thing so important? “By this (by loving one another) “all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (35).” Again here’s another convicting statement. How many times have you heard someone say that they were attracted to Christ because his followers loved each other so much? Now, if we hear that people come to church and it’s a friendly place, then we’re pretty happy with that. Certainly, like in Carolee’s situation, Craig and Christie loved you, and you were attracted to Christ because Craig and Christie loved you so much as a new neighbor. But if this is the heart of what Jesus wants for his disciples should it not be the case that we could spin off account after account after account of how many times we have witnessed people respond to the love that Christians have for one another, and so be attracted to Jesus Christ? I can’t think of a single incident, now I’m sure there are some in history if I went reading, especially if I read in some of the missionary accounts, I would assume that I would start coming across this stuff with more frequency. It’s just a convicting thing.
I’ve often said from the pulpit and I’ll say it again that I think, for me personally, the worst case scenario for this church is that this church becomes known as a place where you can come and get some good preaching and good worship and leave. That’s the knell of death. I think that means we’ve failed. If we are known as a place you can hear some decent Bible preaching and some decent singing and go home, then we’ve failed. I don’t see that in John 13; what I see is people coming into the church and seeing a group of Christians who so obviously love each other that they feel like they want to be a part of it. They are attracted to the fact that we love each other as a group. To have the church be consumed with a servant-like love for one another that’s palatable, that you can see it when you walk in—that’s what Jesus wants for this church and for every church. Because then when people see that, people will know that we are disciples of Jesus. He says some more things about this later on.
A Definition of Love
I think it is critical that define love. What is it that people should see when they walk in? Well, I struggle a lot with defining this word love and I’ve found it’s really a generational thing, because in different generations, the pendulum swings different directions. In my dad’s generation, if you pushed that love is an action, if it’s to move you to treat people a certain way he’ll say, “Of course it is, what else would it be?” But if you start talking about love being an emotion as well as an action, the response is that there is a difference between emotion and obedience. My dad’s generation tends define love not as an emotion, but as an action. Now my generation is the exact opposite: “I love you man, I love you.” And the next day, they hate me. It’s all this emotional hype, but there’s no activity. My generation fails, so it’s up to your generation to get it right.
What Jesus is talking about here can’t be our normal definition, if for no other reason there’s no way that I will love any of you the way I love my wife or my kids, it isn’t going to happen. It’s impossibly emotionally and physically.
The best definition I know of for love doesn’t ever use the word love, but its in Philippians 2:3-4. Paul’s telling the church, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves (3).” That’s the best definition I know of love. Paul continues, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (4).” This love that is supposed to so characterize us and flow through us has to be an activity. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he” thought about? No, “that he gave his only Son.” Love always propels a person to action. It has to involve emotions otherwise it’s obedience, and love and obedience have to be different. It is put in the other person first, it’s affection, it’s a hard word to define because it is so abused today. In fact, personally, one of the things that I’ve decided to do is that I generally don’t tell people I love them—that may be a horrible thing, but it’s used so much and people have said it to me, and I know they don’t mean it. I don’t want to use the word, but that’s my baggage.
What Jesus is saying is that the way that everyone’s going to know that you are my disciple, that you’re my follower, that I am your Master, and he’s going to add more to that later on—is if you love one another. I think it’s fair to say that this is something that is sadly missing from the American church as a whole. It has become an institution, a place you come to for one reason or another—whether it’s to get fed or do your religious thing or to look good by going to a socially posh church be the case.
The Upper Room Discourse Continues (John 14)
The Farewell Discourse, as it’s also called the Upper Room Discourse, continues in chapter 14. There are some marvelous verses, starting in verse 1, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me (1). In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you (2)? if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (3).” Some of the most comforting words in all of Scripture I think. You have an I AM saying in verse 6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In verse 9 you also have a very important verse when Jesus is talking to Philip he says, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father." Jesus is the unique revelation of God the Father so some very important and fun verses at the beginning of chapter 14.
The Holy Spirit
But I want to move on to the discussion of the Holy Spirit that we meet in the Upper Room Discourse. This is one of the most important discussion in all of Scripture of the Holy Spirit, who he is and what he does. He is mentioned four different times in the Upper Room Discourse.
Monotheistic and Trinitarian
Let me first review two phrases. One is that we are monotheists. Monotheists are people who believe in one God, so we believe that there is one God. Yet we are also Trinitarian—it’s an English form of a Latin word that means threeness. It is a word that was developed by the early church. The statement of faith for the Institute states it this way: God exists eternally in three persons — Father, Son, Holy Spirit — equal in essence and divine perfection. In other words, God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit are fully God. All three uncreated. In other words, Jesus is not a Son of God in the way the Mormons say. Executing distinct, but harmonious offices. What that means is that the Trinity, the Godhead, has different functions, and the basic way in which theology states it is that God the Father plans, that God the Son accomplishes, and God the Spirit completes. God the Father makes a decision to create the world, but God the Son actually created the world, and God the Holy Spirit is going to complete the purposes for which the world was created. God the Father decided that there would be salvation, God the Son accomplished salvation and made it possible on the cross, and God the Holy Spirit completes the cross by applying the forgiveness of the cross to individuals. When we talk about the Holy Spirit, it’s that third member of the Godhead, fully God, but with a distinct and different function in the Godhead.
Another Helper (John 14:15-17)
There are four places it’s discussed. The first is in chapter 14:15-17: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments (15). I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever (16), 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 (17).” There are four fundamental things that come out of that. First of all, the Holy Spirit is called a Helper, it’s an impossible Greek word to translate. Have you ever heard of the word paraclete? That’s the Greek word, parakletos, it is just brought into English because it’s such a difficult word to translate that sometimes we just give up and call the Holy Spirit the Paraclete. Other translations will use a word like Advocate or Counselor. What the word appears to refer to is a friend who will argue your case in court; that’s the most fundamental meaning. I’m accused of some crime and I go into court and not necessarily legal counsel, but Don would come and Don would argue my case before the judge as my friend. There’s a nuance that it’s in a court, but it’s also a nuance that you’re a friend so you get helper, advocate, and counselor. That’s who the Holy Spirit is. The basic message is that God is on our side. He’s not the one on the other side trying to destroy us; he’s on our side trying to help us and encourage us to argue our case in court.
Secondly, notice that he’s called another helper. In other words, the Holy Spirit is in one sense simply going to keep doing the things that Jesus did. Jesus had a certain relationship to his disciples—teaching them, caring for them, watching out for them, correcting them—all these kinds of things. The Holy Spirit is going to keep doing the same thing, but the difference is that Jesus has to go away before the Holy Spirit can come. Jesus says, “No, you really do want the Holy Spirit more than me; it’s a good thing that I’m going away; you want me to go away because he can’t come until I’m out of here.” I think we tend to think we’d rather have Jesus right here. Jesus says, “No you don’t, you’d rather have the spirit than me.”
Thirdly, he’s in conflict with the world. This is one of the strong themes in the Upper Room discourse: “whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.” The fact of the matter is that you cannot convince someone of the Holy Spirit. By argumentation or by force, you cannot convince the world of the existence of the Holy Spirit, the goodness of the Holy Spirit, the power of the Holy Spirit; you can’t do it. Jesus already laid down the ground work for that in John 3 when he told Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (6).” They are separated, and you can’t argue the Spirit to the world, the world isn’t go to see him, it’s not ever going to see him. That’s why it takes the Spirit, that’s why it takes a supernatural act of the Spirit to bring someone into the Spirit realm. The world is over here, it hates Jesus, it hates his disciples, it’s father is Satan. In John 8 I think it is, they can’t even recognize the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s so bad that when the Spirit through the Son does a miracle, they think it’s the devil doing it. On this side, that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit, is empowered by the Spirit and knows the things of the Spirit. It’s setting up this dichotomy, this break.
But the fourth thing that is worth emphasizing is this last phrase: “he dwells with you and will be in you.” One of the interesting questions is that before Pentecost, before Acts 2, how did the Spirit relate to followers of Jesus Christ? There’s not a lot of good clear biblical information on that, but I think this is what he’s saying: he’s with you in some sense, the Spirit is here, maybe through Jesus, but he’s going to be in you, which is a reference forward to Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit and the indwelling of the believer and the permanent possession of the believer by the Spirit and the permanent possession by the Spirit of you and me. That’s why it’s good that Jesus goes away. We talk about Jesus being in my heart; it’s not really Jesus is it? It’s the Holy Spirit—that’s his function. Jesus is before the throne right now, but we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit because of the nature of the Godhead. It gets confusing because God’s in the Son and the Son’s in God, but the indwelling of the Spirit is the fulfillment of the New Covenant promises in Jeremiah and Ezekiel that the law that we follow is not written on tablets of stone, it’s written on our heart. We’re given a new heart of flesh that the Spirit can work with. The law is written on our heart and the Spirit is given to us to empower us to live our lives out. That’s why it’s better that Jesus go because the Spirit can’t indwell us until Jesus is gone.
Brings All to Remembrance (John 14:25-26)
The second passage is in John 14:25-26. Actually the material between these two is still talking about the Holy Spirit in the background, but in verse 25 we get right to it: "These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you (25). 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 (26).” Now this passage is quoted a lot in reference to you and to me. My problem is that I don’t think that’s what it means, because I don’t know about you, but God has never brought to remembrance everything that Jesus said to his twelve disciples. I think, and the commentaries agree (although it’s not a popular understanding of the verse), that this is a promise just to the eleven disciples. This is why I trust the Bible so deeply; this is why I’m absolutely convinced that they got it right, because Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, when they are writing their gospels, have been promised by God the Son that God the Spirit would cause them to remember everything that he had said to them. So, I think this verse is not for ongoing inspiration today, but it does explain why we can trust the Bible so much. Jesus promised that they would get it right. Now you’ll hear that preached other ways a lot, but that’s my take on it and again this is a standard commentary position.
Bears Witness (John 15:26)
The next passage is John 15:26. There Jesus says, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you” (notice that in the previous passage it’s my Father’s going to send, so you simply cannot divide the activity of the Trinity too much, the Father sends, Jesus sends, all the same thing in a sense) “from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me (26). And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning (27).” One of the functions of the Holy Spirit is to bear witness about Jesus. In John 16:14, Jesus says, “the Holy Spirit will glorify me.” In other words, one of the functions of the Holy Spirit is to help people deal with what Jesus did on the cross, to interact with his teaching, and conviction. Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology goes to quite length to argue that that’s not the only thing the Holy Spirit does. I remember growing up, at a youth meeting, the pastor said, “The Holy Spirit is a flashlight; it doesn’t shine any light on himself it only shines light on Jesus.” And I thought, but what about the fruits of the Spirit? One of the functions of the Spirit is to illuminate Jesus—what he did on the cross, the significance of his death, the meaning of his teachings, but it’s not the only thing that he’s going to do. Here again you have the Trinity at work. You have the Spirit proceeding from the Father, sent by the Son, helping us to understand the significance and to complete the process of salvation as the work of Christ is applied to you and to me. You have the interaction of the Trinity here.
Convicts (John 16:7-15)
The fourth passage is John 16:7-15. I really want to focus just on two verses, that of verse 8 and 13. I’ll start at verse 7: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away.” You want me to leave, I know you don’t think you want me to leave right now, but you want me to leave. “For if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you (7). And when he comes,” then here’s this three-fold function of the Spirit and this is a verse that our Statement of Faith draws from: “he will convict the world concerning sin, concerning righteousness and judgment (8): concerning sin, because they do not believe in me (9); concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer (10); concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged (11).”
The Holy Spirit has a convicting function, and he’s going to convict us of three different things. He’s going to convict the world of its sin. This is the really easy one to interpret: he’s going to convict the world of its sin when they don’t believe in Jesus. In evangelism, if you can’t get someone to the point of recognizing their sin, you’re still trying to do the wrong thing. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict the world of sin, not mine, it’s not our spouse’s, it is the Holy Spirit’s function to convict us of our sin. In one sense, this convicting power is a gracious thing. Conviction is not necessarily a bad thing, it is a gracious act of saying you are in the wrong, but it’s also a necessary act because the world can’t respond on its own: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." The convicting power of the Spirit is actually a gracious action visited on people who otherwise could not even identify their sin, much less repent of their sin.
Now the interesting question is how does the Spirit do its work? Well it does it through conscience and other things, but it also does it through you and me. I want to emphasize that while the Spirit does his work, God works through his people. If I never preached a sermon like I did last week on sin, how is anybody going to know they are a sinner? If you’re not willing to step up to the plate to talk to your children or your neighbor about sin, since it truly is ultimately the Spirit’s work to convict them of their sin, how are they going to hear the message unless you and I give it? While this is a function of the Spirit, the Spirit is working through us in order to do it.
The second thing that the Spirit convicts the world of is righteousness, namely, that it has no righteousness on its own, but positively that there is righteousness available through Christ’s death on the cross. That’s what verse 10 is talking about: “concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer.” The idea is that when “I go to the Father” it’s through the cross, and on the cross you will see the righteousness of God. That’s how the world is going to get convicted. It sees that it has no righteousness of its own, it’s poor in spirit, but rather the only righteousness there is to be had is through what Christ did on the cross. How is the Spirit going to convict the world of righteousness? Through you and me. Except for very unusual circumstances where God chooses to talk to people directly, generally, this conviction comes through you and me sharing the Word with people. It’s the Spirit’s job, he the one that does the work, but he works through us.
Thirdly, he’s going to convict the world of judgment, namely that Satan stands condemned, and his children are condemned with their father. How’s the world going hear the message of the Spirit that they are condemned? Through you and through me. There’s a very powerful balance going on here that this is the function of the Spirit. It is ultimately his responsibility. I don’t have to beat conviction of sin into people. Yet the Spirit works as you and I preach and share the gospel of Jesus Christ in all its fullness, including the message of sin and judgment.
The Holy Spirit obviously is mentioned elsewhere in Scripture, but the bulk of what we know about the Spirit comes out of these four passages in John. We’ll get different aspects of the Spirit in other lessons. The whole thing is a mystery. How do you describe something that is indescribable? How do you describe something that has no analogy? There simply is no way; it’s just what the Bible teaches.
Student: I think this whole thing makes your presentation of the Gospel to other people easier because it’s God who does the saving, it’s not us; we just present it.
Response: Yes, that’s the message we need to hear over and over and over again. My neighbors are going to hate me unless God does a work in their lives and draws them to himself, because they hate Jesus, and John 8, their father is Satan. You go into it feeling powerless, because you are powerless, humanly speaking, but God’s not powerless and God can do his work. The only time you fail in evangelism is when you don’t share. Our success or failure in evangelism is an issue of whether we share the Gospel or not. How they respond is none of our business. I heard about one guy, and I’ve never been able to track this down, but he was an evangelist, and yet he only had one convert his entire life, but that convert was Billy Sunday, who God worked through to have thousands of converts. So was the guy who preached to Billy Sunday successful? Yes, he was successful, because he shared the Gospel with people for years, but God chose to work in Billy Sunday for his glory.
Abide in Christ (John 15)
You cannot go through John without looking at John 15; it simply would be a crime against nature. John 15 is one of my favorite passages, and again it’s one of those concepts that is really hard to get a hold of. Yet, it is crucial for a healthy Christian walk. Jesus starts in verse 1, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser (1). Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit (2). Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you (3). Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me (4). I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (5). If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned (6). If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (7). By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples (8).”
Now if that’s not a mouthful I don’t know what it. There’s a lady, she and her husband are in charge of children’s ministries at Bethlehem Baptist where John Piper preaches. She is the one that has been writing all of their curriculum, and several years ago she said to God, “I want to write a year’s curriculum on the concept on abiding in Christ. What does it mean to abide, live in him and have him live in me? What does it mean to be a branch that draws nourishment and strength from the vine? What does it mean to produce fruit, but only because I’m still attached to the trunk of the vine? What does it mean to abide?” She became incredibly sick and was bedridden for a year. Now when she looks back she says, “That was the only way I could write about abiding in Christ because it was the only way I was ever going to learn what it meant to abide in Christ.” Her name is Sally Michaels. It’s an interesting story, and it one of those things where you have to watch your prayers because sometimes you might get them answered, but she wanted to learn what it means to abide in Christ, so God just shut down her life and put her in a position where all she had was pain and Jesus. In the process, she wrote a year’s curriculum for kids on Abiding in Christ. It is a difficult concept to get your hands around I think, but this is what our lives are. This is what it is to be a Christian, it’s not someone who said the magic prayer or raised the hand and goes out and lives any way they want. That’s not Scripture. Christianity is about abiding in Christ.
Let me just say a couple of things about abiding. One is that obviously this has to do with relationship. Christianity is all about relationship: personal relationship. It’s not a series of doctrines that we hold to; it is a relationship that we enter into as we abide in him and he with us. He is our source of strength and he becomes our nourishment. If we don’t do that, what happens? We are swept away with all the dead branches and burned. I’ll let you figure out what that means. It has to do with relationship.
Second of all, look at the necessity of abiding. That should scare the living daylights out of people. I don’t know why the Bible doesn’t scare people more because I think it really should scare people. He says, you’re the branches, you’re grafted into me, I’m the trunk, I’m the vine. If you don’t abide in me, if you don’t stay in relationship with me, you’re thrown away and you’re going to whither and you’re going to be gathered together and burned. Now that should strike fear into the heart of anyone who thinks that they can live anyway they want and still get into Heaven. All other theological decisions aside, that verse should scare people, I don’t know why it doesn’t, it would scare me, but there’s a necessity for disciples to abide in Christ.
Thirdly, what does it look like to abide in Christ? Well, we have a hint here in verse 10: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” In 1 John 2:5-6 the same author writes, "By this we may know that we are in him (5): whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked (6)." Abiding in him is substantially greater than this, but at least it includes the idea that we are in a relationship with him, and that relationship is defined by things that we are called to do and things we are called not to do, otherwise known as obedience. If we don’t want to be burned, then we abide in Christ and that means, among other things, we do what he has asked us to do, and we don’t do what he’s asked us not to do. Now I don’t want to spend a year in bed, so maybe I don’t really want to know what it means to abide in Christ, but I think that’s the starting position. Abiding in Christ, John 15, is really worth meditating on.
The High Priestly Prayer (John 17)
Jesus is finished at the end of chapter 16. He’s said all the basic things that he felt needed to be said to his disciples before he leaves them, but you always leave with a prayer. If you ever wanted to know what it was like to be a fly on the wall when Jesus was praying, here it is. This is how Jesus prays, and it’s a wonderful close to the Farewell Discourse, but it’s even better, an insight to the relationship that Jesus has with his Father and it is even more than that in one sense, a call to us. There are more ouches in chapter 17 than anywhere else I think.
Jesus Prays for “Himself” (John 17:1-5)
Jesus begins in verses 1-5 to pray, and I said for “Himself” in quote marks, because it’s not a selfish prayer. His prayer begins at the end of verse 1: “Glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” Ultimately what he wants is all praise, all honor, in other words, all glory to go to God the Father. He doesn’t want to receive it. He’s looking forward to the time of crucifixion; he knows that it’s here, and while the world saw the cross as a place of shame, Jesus sees it as a place of glory because it is at the cross that forgiveness of sins is made available. Through the cross, is he able to go back to Heaven and have the glory he had before he was born he says. When you think about the glory of the cross, you and I live in constant glory of the cross, because without it we would all be going to Hell. Jesus wants God to glorify him, he wants him to preserve him, he wants him to strengthen him, he wants to get through the crucifixion on the cross because he understands that’s why he came and ultimately all praise and honor and glory are not going to go to Jesus, they are going to go to God the Father.
Jesus Prays for the Eleven Disciples (John 17:6-19)
In verses 6-19, he turns and he prays for the eleven disciples, Judas is gone by this time, and his prayer is that they are unified, that they are one. Verse 11: “Keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” Again another concept that we’ll never understand this side of Heaven and maybe not even Heaven is that the unity of believers is in some way analogous to the unity of the Godhead. That’s why the fragmentation of the church is so terrible. That’s why what we’ve done to the church is so bad, because Jesus’s prayer is that we be one, united in love, even as the Godhead is united in love.
There’s one other thing that I really like in this section, and it’s in verses 15-16: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world,” in other words, Jesus was not asking the Father to make the disciples into monks or to live out in the desert by themselves, but his prayer is, “but that you keep them from the evil one (15). They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world (16).” Our statement of faith talks about being in, but not of the world. This is where that statement comes from. You and I are in the world, we are not called to hide from the world, to go off in a corner and to have no contact with the world. We are to be in the world, how else will the Spirit does his convicting work if it’s not through us? How else, as Paul says in Romans 10, will they hear if we don’t preach? We as Christians don’t have the option of separating ourselves totally from the world. We are in the world, this is where we are supposed to be, we’re salt and light, but we are never to be of the world and that’s the balance. We’re in the world, but we’re not of the world and it affects everything. It affects how we dress; it affects what movies we watch and how we spend money—the list is endless, but for me those are the two prepositions: in the world and not of the world. That’s one of those kinds of internal checks that I do when I’m thinking about something to do or how to spend some money, or how to set a goal.
Jesus Prays for Future Disciples (John 17:20-26)
Jesus prays for the disciples, that they be protected and then you get to what has to be one of the top passages of Scripture in verses 20-26, where Jesus prays for all future disciples. He says, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” That’s you and me, this is the only place that you and I are directly addressed in Scripture. Everything else is inference, but here it is direct. Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took the time to pray to God for us, and that’s really cool.
What is his prayer for us? What did he pray? Well, he prayed for unity; he’s going to end on this note of unity. Verse 21: “That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us.” Verse 22: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,” Verse 23: “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one,” and then the end of Verse 26, “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” John 13:20 and 14:20 both introduce the same topic as well, so he’s pulling bits and pieces together. Jesus’s primary prayer, at least as expressed in John 17 was that you and I be one. Isn’t that amazing? Look at the history of the church. Jesus’s prayer in John 17 was that we be one, that we be united by love.
If that’s not convicting enough, ask yourself, what is the purpose of that unity? The topic has already been introduced, but at the end of verse 21, the purpose of the unity is “so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” As outsiders, as non-Christians, walk into this building and see how you and I love each other, Jesus’s promise is that they will then come to the conclusion that God the Father sent God the Son. I don’t know about you, but that just blows me away. That when an outsider comes in sees how we love each other, they will be drawn to the conclusion that Jesus came from God and was sent by God to save us from our sins. Verse 23: “So that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” As outsiders come in to this church or any church, when they see the unity of believers bound together by love, the world will know that God the Father sent God the Son and then just to top it off, they will understand that God the Father loves each person even as God the Father loves God the Son. You and I share the same love that the Father has for his Son. You have to let that sit for awhile. God loves you with the same love with which he loves his Son. Think of some human analogies, is the love that I have for any of you the same love that I have for my children? No, I’m not there yet. I just think that is such a fundamentally powerful concept that you have to sit there and think about it.
Our mission as a church is that we are bound together in love. That’s the last question: “What does this unity look like?” It’s the love commandment in John 13:34-35; it’s the call to obedience. That’s why you have to define your terms so carefully. As you and I become a biblically informed community in the way that God intends us to be, then that’s pure evangelism. People will see it, they’ll say, “I’ve never seen anything like that on the face of the earth, and I want to be a part of that.” That’s our goal for this church—it should be our goal for any church. I just can’t help being impressed with how badly we fail at this one little thing that Jesus prayed for. You know, we have great systematic theologies, we’ve got a good men’s program coming, we’ve got great Sunday School teachers; you go through the things that we put so much time and energy in to. But do we love each other with the love that is God’s love? Love that is so powerful that when people walk into this church they understand what God the Father is saying to God the Son? I hope so. It’s a growing process.
To become a church where people can come in and sing songs they like, hear the Bible explained and go home—what a waste of a life. It’s a waste of my life and it’s a waste of your life, and it’s a waste of our money. I don’t want anything to do with that church. What I want is to be part of a church that understands that God’s one prayer for us is that we love each other with a supernatural love that is so powerful that it becomes our primary tool of evangelism. I would love it if we didn’t have to, in one sense, go out into the neighborhood, but that the neighborhood could come in and be so overwhelmed with how we treat each other, how we put each other ahead of one another, how we have genuine emotional attachment to one another that they think, “This is something I’ve never seen, this is something that satisfies to the deepest core of my being, this is what I want to know.” Yet that’s not generally what church is like. May that be all of our prayers—that God answers Jesus’s prayer in John 17 in this place and in many other places.