I Will Not Leave You as Orphans

On the evening we call Maundy Thursday, as told by John, Jesus gathered his eleven disciples around a table, perhaps like your dining room table with all the extensions inserted.  Judas had left.  With those who remained Jesus had a long, meandering discussion about what was going to soon happen.

Our church has celebrated the Christian Passover several times on Holy Week.  Last time it was led by an Israeli member of Jews for Jesus.  The Jewish Passover seder format calls for drinking four cups of wine.  The third is the cup of redemption, which is when we assume Jesus consecrated the wine and bread to be his blood and body.  I noticed last time that after those four cups I was feeling rather mellow.  Imagine that as the mood of those twelve gathered around that table.

Jesus told them, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept him because it neither sees him nor knows him.  But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans”  (John 14: 15-17).”

The key term in Greek is paraclete, rendered as counselor above but better translated as an advocate, like a lawyer who stands beside you and presents your case.  The Spirit advocates what the Father and the Son want in your life.  In his first letter, John uses that word to describe Jesus as our advocate before the Father.  So, in that one word paraclete, we have the job description for Jesus and for the Spirit.  In the 169 references to the Spirit in Paul’s letters, only seventeen us the title “Holy Spirit.”  Six refer to Christ’s Spirit.  So Jesus was teaching about “his” Spirit who will take his place.

A few verses later in John 14, Jesus teaches that the Advocate (paraclete), the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.  The most used symbol for the Spirit is the dove that came down from heaven and sat on Jesus’ shoulder at his baptism.  I envision the Spirit as sitting on my shoulder whispering godly thoughts into my ear.  If you are going to accept the Spirit dimension in your worldview, you need also to envision the Enemy sitting on the other shoulder and whispering.

Here is how I wait on the Spirit.  I go about my day hearing whispers of the Spirit in one ear and the Enemy whispering thoughts into the other.  This makes for interesting discussion in my head as the day unfolds.  I try to “keep in step with the Spirit”, as Paul encourages in his letter to the Galatians on the fruit of the Spirit.

Probably the most helpful part of Jesus’ discussion with his followers is his promise, “I will not leave you as orphans.”  This is a revolutionary truth for classic Protestant theology that basically ignores the Third Person of the Trinity.  Calvinists emphasize the First Person, the Father.  Lutherans emphasize the Second Person, the Son.  The Third Person just does not fit into their understanding of the triune God active today.

Classic preaching expands on our duty as Christians and gives strong encouragement to become more Christ-like.  But it usually leaves us on our own to get from where we are to where God would like us to be.  It leaves us as orphans.

The Gospel is that God the Father sent his Son Jesus Christ to redeem us for eternity.  The additional Good News is Jesus’ promise to send his Spirit to change us into experiencing a better life now.  This is truly revolutionary for traditional Protestants.  Paul tells us about how the fruit the Spirit works, that is, the product of the Spirit’s work in our individual lives.  The Spirit grows within us increasing amounts of love, joy, patience kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Is there anybody who does not want more of those qualities?

The first Good News is that by grace we have eternal salvation when we accept the Second Person who advocates our case before the First Person.  The additional Good News is that we are not on our own to become more Christ-like.  The First and Second Persons send the Third Person, the Spirit, to change our human spirit, our motivations.  This forgotten Gospel is that by grace the Spirit comes to help us grow closer to God and to experience more love, joy, and peace and the other qualities that make our lives more abundant.

We are saved by grace to live by grace—joyfully.  Pray that the Spirit comes and makes that happen in you.

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