Sermon: God's Paraclete

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Sermon: "God's Paraclete"

2nd in the "The Holy Spirit" series.
Delivered May 30, 2010 (Pentecost) by Andy Gathman.
Sermon Text: John 14:15-27

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Good morning. It's a pleasure to be with you again. I have the pleasure of talking about the second part of our two-week series on the Holy Spirit, which Pastor Laura began last week. In fact, she gave a little preview last week. I don't know if you were maybe here at the nine o'clock service. She said something to the effect of, "Now I know I've been giving you a lot of theology today, but don't worry. Next week Andy is preaching." I assumed she was going to say, "And he is not going to have much theology at all." No, actually what she went on to say was that I'd be sharing a little bit more of a practical side of what the Holy Spirit means to us in our lives.

But, you know, that moment where I was like, "Huh..." got me thinking, "I have been a little self-conscious about this sermon" because, you know, we don't really talk about the Holy Spirit all that often at our church. It's come up for us at this point because we celebrated Pentecost last week. But I'd submit on the whole we tend to underplay the role of the Holy Spirit.

Let me just take a quick step back for a moment so we're all on the same page about what I mean when I'm talking about the Holy Spirit. Christians believe in one God, who exists as a Trinity. That means there is one God who exists in three distinct Persons. So we've come to describe those Persons because of how the Scripture talks about it as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not only that, we know that the Son of God became human, that Jesus became a human. He lived among us. He came to us as a little child. That's what we celebrate at Christmas.

Let me fix my microphone here a little bit.

But he came to live among us. He taught us about God. And then at the end of his ministry, he was crucified. He died, and he was buried. And then on the third day, he rose again. And that's what we celebrate at Easter. And then 50 days later, after Jesus had ascended into heaven to be with the Father, God sent the Holy Spirit to live in his followers. And that's what we celebrate at Pentecost.

And even though the Christian faith over the last 2,000 years has some very well developed theologies about the Holy Spirit, I don't think that we have a very good working definition of who the Spirit is or what He does in our lives. Well, let me suggest why I think that is. You know, we live in an age of science and of reason, of technology. And the Holy Spirit, I think, is the member of the Trinity that is the hardest for us to truly embrace.

You know, we can approach God the Father and God the Son with a certain sense of historical distance and objectivity. God as Creator. God as Judge. God as Savior. Definite actions in far away times and far away places. Yes, they have an impact on me, but they don't demand much of me personally. However, the Holy Spirit refuses to be nailed down to such tightly confined definitions. We have to be willing to accept a certain degree of subjectivity because the Holy Spirit is God within me! Here! Now! What a wonderful, terrible thought. Somebody, quick, please change the subject!

Sorry, we've a few more minutes to go on it. We're not going to change the subject because honestly we have been given this incredible gift, the Person of God, the Holy Spirit, living inside of us on the one hand. And on the other hand, we don't really have a lot of language to talk about what that means. In fact, we aren't really that comfortable with the very idea. And yet Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit, the very Person of God, working within us to help us to become like Him. And when we neglect or ignore the reality of the Holy Spirit, the quality of our Christian experience is deeply impoverished.

Fortunately, Jesus himself goes a long way to clearing up some of our fears and our misconceptions. He helps us by giving a particular name to the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. This name comes up several places in the Gospel of John, including the passage we looked at last week and will be looking at again today. So I want to invite you to open your Bibles to page 984, and we're going to take a look at a couple of places where this comes up. It's the passage we looked at last week, and we're going to be looking at it again today.

I'd like us to take a closer look at this word "Paraclete" because I think if it was important enough for Jesus to use it to describe the Holy Spirit, we better understand what it means. So Paraclete is a Greek word. It comes from the root word "parakaleon." "Para-" is a prefix, which means "alongside." "--Kaleon" is a verb, which means "to call." So in its noun form, literally Paraclete translates as "one called alongside to help."

Now in our TNIV version you'll see that Paraclete has been translated as "advisor." And I think that is a fine translation. But in the Greek language, Paraclete had a couple of different connotations. One of them was in a legal sense, and so a Paraclete would be a defense attorney or an advocate. In a political sense, a Paraclete as someone who is coming alongside might be a counselor or advisor. Or in a medical sense, a Paraclete is someone who might offer comfort or aid in recovery.

But what unites each of these definitions in all of these contexts is that a Paraclete is someone who has a supportive role. And not only does a Paraclete do supportive tasks, but it also has a very personal relationship with the one a Paraclete is supporting. So with these shades of meaning in our mind, let's read the text. And where Paraclete shows up in the manuscript, I'm actually going to translate that. I'm going to actually insert the word "Paraclete."

And allow me to pray before we do that. Lord, we come to you today seeking your Word, seeking to be taught by your Spirit. And so as we read these words, let them truly be your Word to us today. By your Spirit, open our hearts and our minds to truly hear your Word. Amen.

Okay, so here we go. The Word of God. John 14, verses 15 through 27. This is Jesus speaking to the disciples. And he says:

"'If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another [Paraclete] to help you and 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; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.'"

"'On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. Anyone who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.' Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, 'But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?' And Jesus replied, 'Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.'"

"'Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. All of this I have spoken while still with you. But the [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. Peace I leave you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.'"

All right, so this passage comes in a particular context in the gospel story. Jesus has spent three years with the disciples, but now he is going off on a part of the mission that only he can accomplish, mainly to offer himself up as a perfect, sinless sacrifice for the sins of the world. But, he is leaving his followers to carry on what he started, telling the world about God's grace and love, bearing witness to Jesus' teaching, and inviting the world to believe in him.

So let's unpack that idea for a second. Incarnate God is leaving, and he is now asking his very human followers to finish what he began. Can you imagine how daunted and confused they must be feeling to think that they will be left to do this task without Jesus, their Teacher, their Leader, their Lord? Can you imagine how small and alone they must be feeling? Following Christ is at times a difficult and lonely thing to do, is it not?

I remember a mission trip I took with my high school youth group. It was the summer after my senior year, and I was one of only two seniors on the trip. The other guy had his girlfriend with him, and everyone else was an underclassman. My youth pastor had asked me to lead some significant parts of the trip. I helped to run a sports camp for some of the kids who we were serving. The first half of the week was just filled with activity. But about halfway through, we had this night that was just sort of free time. And everyone just sort of paired up and went off on their own.

And I was sort of left just me and my youth pastor, Tom Bowers. And he is a great guy and all but, you know, high school kid, you sort of want to hang out with your friends. And so I was feeling a little sorry for myself and talking with him about this. And he says, "You know, Andy? Sometimes it's lonely at the top." I really didn't want to hear that. And after the conversation, I went up to my room. Those of you who know me know I'm not a very emotional guy, but honestly, I wanted to cry not because I wanted someone to hang out with but because I felt that God was leading me into a vocation where leadership would be a primary role that I would have.

And what he was telling me is that you can expect to be lonely for the rest of your life. Now leadership isn't the only instance when we feel lonely in the Christian life. But when we do, it can be deflating and overwhelming and demoralizing. When we make a tough decision that affects other people, when we lose a friend because of following Christ, when we encounter hardship when we're trying to do God's will, when we face difficult circumstances for no apparent reason, when our business falters or our family suffers, when our motivation dies, and we feel alone, and we don't have anyone to turn to. And we cry, "God, where are you?" Jesus tells us, "I will not leave you as orphans."

There may be times in life that we will feel lonely. But thanks be to God, we are never alone. In fact, one commentator suggests that the best translation we have in English for "Paraclete" is simply "friend." Jesus says, "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another [Paraclete]." And he offers us in this passage a pretty specific picture of exactly what the Paraclete will do as he ministers to Jesus' followers. So let's take a look at that to give us a sense of what we can expect from the Spirit and how we might turn to him for help.

First, we can see in verses 16 and 17 that Jesus says, "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another [Paraclete] to help you and be with you forever - the Spirit of truth." So one of the main ways that the Paraclete helps us is to reveal truth to us. Do you realize that if you've committed your life to Christ, you have the Spirit of truth inside of you? You know, life can get pretty crazy at times. And in those whirlwind moments when confusion sets in, remember that God has given you the Paraclete to speak truth to you and cut through the confusion.

Next in verse 21 we see that Jesus tells us that, "Anyone who loves me will be loved by my Father. I too will love them and show myself to them." So not only does the Paraclete show us truth, but he also helps us experience what is probably the most important truth to us, which is the reality of Jesus' love for us. Then in verse 26, Jesus says, "But the [Paraclete], the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you everything I have said to you."

Just like Jesus has taught the disciples, even though we never walked or lived with Jesus, the Paraclete teaches us. He reminds us of Jesus' words. The Paraclete helps us interpret our life experiences in view of the Word of Christ. Have you ever been in a situation where all of a sudden a verse of Scripture comes to mind, and you know without a doubt that that verse pertains directly to the experience that you're in? That's the Holy Spirit teaching us and reminding us of everything that Jesus said to us. And it shows also that the Paraclete's ministry of teaching always points us back to the words of truth, the words that Jesus said.

Finally in verse 27, we hear these profound words. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. So do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." Now not all scholars attribute this last statement about peace as directly pertaining to a function of the Holy Spirit. There is some evidence that Jesus is sort of changing subjects and moving on to sort of concluding remarks in this section. But either way, I think that in context of this discussion about the Holy Spirit, it's very clear that the Holy Spirit will have a crucial role in conveying to us this peace that God is talking to us about.

But we're not just talking about a sense of calm in a particular situation. I think there is a more fundamental peace that he is referring to because there is an existential peace that exists between Jesus and the Father. Jesus has said, "I and the Father are one." There is no division or discord, only peace and harmony and community. This is the peace that Jesus promises to all who confess him as Lord and trust in him through faith for forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. And the Spirit not only guides us into that peace but, in fact, is our proof that we have that peace. When we belong to Christ, God's Spirit lives in us! We are at peace with God, our Lord and Maker forever.

Now I imagine that there may be some people here who haven't taken the step of receiving Jesus as Lord. In fact, I hope there are some of you here and that you're here exploring that. And I'm really glad that you're here. And what I hope that this passage that we're looking at today is conveying to you is that Christianity is not a religion in a sense of structures or an organization. I know we have those things, and to the extent that they serve God and his purposes, perhaps they're not completely devoid of value.

But that's not what Christianity is about. At its core, the reason we're all here is because through Jesus, we're offered a relationship with God. Jesus taught us that God loves us, that he wants a relationship with us. In fact, that he died to make that possible. He took on the penalty of our sin on the Cross so that we could be free to love God and to live our lives for him. And so when we put our faith in Jesus and his saving work on the Cross, we enter into a new relationship with God. And God puts his Spirit, the Holy Spirit, to live within us as both the proof and the means of being in relationship with God. How wonderful!

Well, if that's true, then how do we gain access to the work of the Holy Spirit in our own lives? I mean, if he is always with us from the moment of our salvation, how do we begin to experience the benefits of God's presence in our lives? I was talking with Pastor John about this, and he offered a phrase that I think is really helpful. He said, "When it comes down to it, what it's really about is cultivating a life of conscious dependence on God."

You know, if you look at this passage, there are actually four verses where there is almost this conditional statement about loving God and keeping his commands. Verse 15, it says, "If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another [Paraclete]." Verse 21, "Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me." And again in verse 23, "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with them." Finally in verse 24, "Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching."

I believe these verses tell us that there is a reciprocal relationship between our love and obedience of Jesus and our experience of the Holy Spirit as a Paraclete in our lives. Now the witness of the New Testament is that God doesn't give the Spirit partially or based on our efforts. But he gives the Spirit fully and freely as an act of grace. It's not something that we have to aspire to or earn after we believe in Jesus. So we can't, for example, lose the Holy Spirit because we disobey God.

At the same time, though, our ability to perceive the Holy Spirit working within us, and I think Christian experience bears this out, seems to be directly tied to our love and obedience of Jesus. In other words, we can't use the Holy Spirit for our selfish purposes, nor is the Spirit given merely to fulfill some deeper sense of personal spirituality in our lives. And the truth is, we really don't need the Holy Spirit to live normal, run of the mill, middle class, suburban American lives. Millions of people do that every day, and they're not nearly as smart or resourceful as you guys are.

I mean, what's so great about that anyway, living a normal life? Instead, Jesus is telling us that the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, has been given so that we will not be alone as we follow Christ in his mission to call humanity back to God. It is precisely when we submit ourselves to God in love and obedience that we begin to experience the Holy Spirit as our Guide, our Teacher, and our Comforter.

So how might that look in our lives? If we experience the benefits of the indwelling Spirit, as we cultivate a life of conscious dependence on Him, what might that enform? How might that enform the direction and the shape that our life takes I want to suggest three things. First, that out of love and obedience of the One who has given everything to us, we must start with a willingness to submit to God. As I've just said, if we merely want to live life on our own terms, well we don't need any guidance for that. We must begin with a willingness to submit.

Secondly, we need to approach prayer and the Scriptures with a desire for God's direction and leading. Of course, the implication is that you are, in fact, praying and reading the Scriptures. But when we do those things, it's not out of a sense of duty or habit, but with a posture of anticipation and a desire to hear from God. And finally, when direction comes (and it will come when we seek God with the desire to hear from Hm), when direction comes, obey.

You know, direction can come in many forms. It can often come through the word of Scripture. Sometimes it's an idea that quietly enters your consciousness as you pray. Sometimes it's in conversation with another believer. Sometimes it's how circumstances align themselves. Or maybe it would be in a combination of all of those things. But when direction comes, the trick is to actually follow the direction that you're given however strange, however difficult.

Now, I know these aren't particularly complicated things. They are not magic. They don't lead to spiritual fireworks. But I think you could see how if you repeated this over time that these things would lead to a deep and profound connection with God. Now I began by saying that one of the reasons we hesitate to talk so much about the Holy Spirit is because by nature our experience of these things are subjective. Our experience of the Holy Spirit is subjective in a certain way.

We would love to receive a telegram or a text message saying, "Okay, here is what you do. Step one, step two." That would be great. I don't... Well, no, I don't know anyone that's happened to. But He does speak to us through Scripture. He does speak to us through prayer, through other people. We can't be certain, but when direction comes, we must obey.

Over the last year, I've had the opportunity to test these things that I've been saying to you in my own life. Last summer, Eileen and I felt a nudging by God to take the next step of our ministry life and enroll in seminary. And many of you know about this because last fall we let the congregation know that's what we were going to be doing. And I appreciate all the support that we've received to this point. But what you may not know is some of the things that led to that decision because a lot is at stake for us.

We have two young children, one of whom is entering Kindergarten in the fall. We have a wonderful house that we love, a neighborhood filled with our friends, a church that has become like family to us and offers us amazing opportunities to use our gifts in ministry. And I have just about the best job I can imagine working with the most wonderful pastors and staff and volunteers that I could hope for. So on paper, this decision does not make any sense. I can tell you because I've put it on paper, and it does not make any sense.

But Eileen and I in response to this nudging decided to commit to seek God for 30 days and specifically said, "God, if this is something you want for us, make it clear by your Holy Spirit so that we can take this step." So that's what we did. For 30 days, we prayed regularly and specifically. We prayed together and separately. We asked a few close friends to pray along with us. And let me share with you how the Lord met our challenges to Him.

Perhaps the most important thing is that he worked in our hearts as we prayed to ease the fear of the unknown that comes in taking such a big step. There is that peace that I was talking about. Another really important thing that happened for me personally is that as I was praying one day, God brought to mind a verse that had been very important to me when I was earlier in my Christian life, and I had been felt called to participate in ministry, which is 1 Timothy 4:12.

And it says, "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity." It goes on to say, "Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching." And he says, "Don't neglect your gift." And honestly for the last 10 years or so, I had really sort of forgotten about that word from God that had been shared with me earlier in my life. And as I was praying that one day, this verse came to mind, and it was like a new breath of this truth that He shared with me in my life earlier.

And the last piece of the puzzle was actually the sermon I gave last summer, which was right in the middle of this season of prayer. And all I can say is that I felt the Spirit was working inside of me in a special way, and I can't really describe it other than to say that I felt uniquely empowered and inspired while I was studying and while I was writing it out and as I delivered the sermon. And I received some, I don't know, I guess some unique responses. And I don't expect that you'll all remember anything that I said.

But I did get one particularly special response, and it was actually a handwritten letter by a long-time member here at Central I consider sort of a living saint. And he wrote to me and said how much the message had impacted him personally. And I just... As I read those words, I thought, "My goodness. Here I am, 31 years old, and I've done something helpful for one of these living saints here at Central." And it was... I don't mean to say anything about that other than for me, it was sort of a way of God revealing his truth through the Spirit of truth, revealing it in a special way who God made me to be.

Peace in place of fear, reminders of words that had been spoken to me, evidence of the Spirit's work in our lives. And it was just clear what God was calling us to do. So now we're leaving in August for Fuller Theological Seminary. We have no anxieties whatsoever. We're... No, I have to say, it's... Let me put it this way. We need to sell or rent our house. We have to find a place to live in California. We have to find a school my son entered in Kindergarten, find a school that will do a good job for him, figure out how we're going to make our ends meet financially, and deal with the loss of our friends and our community of faith without having any idea of what really waits for us on the other side.

Just some minor concerns. But you know, I cannot begin to tell you the strength and courage that we have knowing that it is God who has called us to take this step. I don't know how all those concerns will be met, but as I've gone through this process in engaging with the Holy Spirit inside of me, I know that God will meet those challenges. More than knowing about God's presence, I've come to have a deep knowledge that God is with us. Do you see the difference?

Just like He removed our fear when we were seeking him a year ago, just like He reminded us of his words, just like He showed us his truth, comforting us with his presence, we know that He will continue to do that and that He is doing that even now. I don't know where you are. I don't know what direction you need from God. I don't know how you need the presence of the Holy Spirit to be real in your life. But what I can tell you is that what starts out as knowing about God in our Christian life can truly become knowing God as we seek him, as we hear from him, and as we obey him.

And when those lonely moments come, and they will come, we won't have to feel alone any longer. As we engage with the Spirit who indwells us, as we learn to become consciously dependent on God through the Holy Spirit in every part of our lives, we will truly know that He is God, that He loves us, that we can trust him, and that we will never be alone.

Let's pray: God, we thank you for these words of truth. We ask that as a seed of truth takes root in our hearts, you would allow it to blossom into a deep and full experience of you. Help us to know the wonders of your presence inside of us as we submit our lives to you, as we seek to hear from you, and as we step out in faith to obey. Lord, let all who draw near to you be assured of your presence with them. We ask this in Jesus' name, Amen.

© 2010, Andy Gathman
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145