Separating this part of Jesus’s conversation with the disciples from last week’s helps us focus on the bonded (in the sense of stuck to/with) nature of God-with-us, no matter which particular person of the Trinity it is who is with us. The ties that bind us, of course, is the love of God.
If we are bound to Christ, if we love him and have him, then we will keep his commandments. If we are bound to Christ, then Christ seeks whatever it is we need from the Father. And the best thing that they can give us, out of the bonds of love, is the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of truth.
Jesus explains being bound to God in the negative because of the truth of the positive: to know love is to be able to receive it; to know God is to be able to receive God the Spirit. Drawing upon the distinction made between those who willfully and woefully choose to reject God and do not come to know God (a synonym for belief in the gospel of John), Jesus says that the world will not receive the Spirit because it does not see nor know it (the Greek for Spirit is neuter, not masculine).
But just as we know our connection with Jesus by living the way Jesus would live (i.e., keeping his commands), we know the Spirit by living with the truth—truth that others might reject or deny because it doesn’t fit their own schema or plans or needs, but one which we know from the inside out is true, because the Spirit abides with you, and will be in you (v 17).
“You” is plural in both instances in verse 17—throughout the entire pericope, actually—so we can’t just make this about our personal truth or read this in a postmodern sense of truth. We are still deeply connected to God the Holy Spirit’s truth here, the kind of truth captured by Jesus’s command to love God and neighbour as a summary of all the commands.
No wonder the “world” does not recognize this kind of truth: it runs counter to the kind of love that undergirds its methods of selfish ambition and vain conceit. The week I happened to write this sermon commentary, I was also reading early 1930s “German Christian” propaganda with Christian graduate students. The Nazi-led church twisted the message of God’s loving death on the cross, demanding that “the people be protected from those who are inept and inferior” because “mere compassion is charity,” which “makes a people soft.” To be “soft” with love for those with needs, according to the Reich-poisoned church, was to show that you were NOT grateful for Christ’s death on the cross (Principle 8 of the Principles of the Religious Movement of ‘German Christians’). Truly, the world does not recognize the Spirit of truth if it reaches the conclusion that God does not care for the infirm, or anyone who cannot care for themselves (in whatever circumstance that might be).
Literally, Jesus says in verse 18, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” No one is meant to be alone in the family of God. No one is meant to be without hope. To gird up that hope, Jesus binds to us the promise of his return, when we will see him again, face to face, and will know by experience the way that the first and second persons of the Trinity are bound to one another because we will be part of that bond.
And in the meantime, Jesus reminds us that we are still bound to him through love while we’re walking around on this side of eternity. This is a love that is lived within God’s design (another way of thinking about obedience to the will of God expressed in the commandments of God).
To be with us, the third person of the Trinity is given to us forever, another Advocate. Jesus the Christ understands himself, as the Gate, as the Shepherd, as the Light, as the Way and the Truth and the Life, as the Bread, as the True Vine, and as the Resurrection and the Life. In all of these things, Jesus has been an Advocate who provides for humanity, and now we will have another part of the Trinity here with us to do likewise. Or, as Eugene Peterson has chosen to translate parakletos, a Friend. Dale Bruner modifies it slightly, choosing to translate it as True Friend.
Jesus’s promise to not leave us orphaned is not just about welcoming us into the Father’s presence in heaven by serving as our great Mediator; it is about making us belong to the Triune God through the abiding Spirit, the one who remains, even here and now, forever. God isn’t going anywhere. And we will know this to be true when we live the life of freedom found in God’s truth because the Spirit of God is already with us and will be so forever (v 17).
John is the only one who uses parakletos to describe the Holy Spirit. John 14.16 is the first of four uses in this setting (also in 14.26, 15.26, 16.7), and once in 1 John 2.1. Much discussion has been made about whether we should understand the term in its technical and legal sense (especially since we don’t have other uses in Scripture to look at). A parakletos was an Advocate who spoke on the defendant’s behalf. Consensus currently runs in favour of not putting too much stock in the legal imagery and to focus upon the fact that the Spirit’s role as an advocate is put alongside Jesus’s role. There is, then, meant to be at least some sense that, like Jesus, the Holy Spirit is a kind of mediator between the whole Trinity and humans.
Fair warning, this illustration idea isn’t a positive one. A few years ago I remember hearing about one aspect of the crisis at US immigration borders: thousands upon thousands of unaccompanied minors. Since the constitutional right to representation does not extend to any of these children, toddlers included, many have ended up having to represent themselves in immigration court. As I understand it, this is an issue still not fully resolved, though some progress has been made. According to one review of records for 2016, 91% of children who did not have representation were deported, whereas only 22% of children with representation faced the same fate.
What they really needed was to not be orphaned and what they really needed was an advocate. New York-based organizations, Immigrant Children Advocates Relief Effort (ICARE) and the Safe Passage Project are helping thousands of children and youth navigating the legal immigration process.
What does it mean to know the love of the Father in a situation like this? What does it look like to keep his commands, including the command to care for the orphan in our midst? What does it look like for us, who have the Spirit, to live in the Spirit’s ways of advocacy and truth?
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Sermon Commentary for Sunday, May 14, 2023
John 14:15-21 Commentary