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A Sermon from
Valley Covenant Church
Eugene, Oregon
by Pastor Steve Bilynskyj

Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

John 14:8-17
“Spirit of Truth”
May 19, 2013 - Pentecost

         All it took was a letter from a lawyer. In my first church in Nebraska, we entered into a lease for a copier that was a lemon. It was always breaking down, left stray marks on everything we printed, and the repair people never could get it to work right. So after consulting Don, an attorney in our church, we just refused to keep paying the lease and invited the copier company to come pick up their machine.

         As you might guess, they called telling us we owed them the money and threatened to sue us for the balance of the lease plus legal expenses. So Don sat down and wrote a letter back to the company, carefully detailing their non-performance of the contract to provide and maintain a working machine and explaining that several provisions in the lease contract were illegal according to state law. We never heard another peep from the copier folks and they didn’t even bother to collect the machine. Don was later elected attorney general of Nebraska.

         We needed what old-fashioned language calls an “advocate,” speaking the truth on our behalf. That’s what our Gospel text for this morning tells us is the work of the Holy Spirit. In a much quieter, more intimate passage than all the wind and fire of Acts 2 John 14:16 promises the gift of “another Advocate.” That Advocate, Jesus went on in verse 17, is the “Spirit of truth.”

         If you skip down to verse 25 and continue reading in John 14 and then 15 and 16, you will find Jesus has more to say about the promised Holy Spirit and what He will do. But different from all the Pentecost pyrotechnics of Acts, the primary thing Jesus talks about is the advocacy and teaching of the Holy Spirit.

         The word Advocate in Greek is a word you may have heard, parakletos, “The Paraclete.” Literally it means someone “called alongside.” A paraclete is someone who stands alongside you, bringing help and support. In other Greek writings outside the Bible the word always carries legal overtones. It’s someone who comes alongside you in court or with legal advice and direction.

         You may have heard other translations or see them in your own Bibles this morning, with Paraclete translated as “Comforter,” or “Counselor,” or “Helper,” or even just “Paraclete,” because the translator chickened out. But the best understanding of Jesus here is that He promised to send another Advocate, someone who would come beside us to help us in a kind of legal way. So if you want to translate it “Counselor,” fine, but keep in mind the idea of legal counsel.

         So the Holy Spirit is our lawyer, our attorney, our representative in court. Think Atticus Finch or Perry Mason or Ben Matlock; maybe Sandy Cohen on “The O.C.” or Elsbeth Tascioni on “The Good Wife.” Think of someone with wisdom, compassion, skill and a burning desire for truth and justice. That’s the Spirit Jesus promised.

         We know the Spirit is our Advocate. It’s harder to discern the legal situation in which He advocates for us. The church fathers and Martin Luther liked to talk about the devil as our accuser, the prosecuting attorney. So you could see the Holy Spirit coming to our defense, arguing our case before the court of heaven. But look at what Jesus goes on to call Him, “the Spirit of truth,” and at what Jesus said leading up to promising the Spirit, about the great works His followers would do in His name. Our Advocate is more than our defense attorney. His legal advice pushes us toward taking action.

         Keeping the Advocate role of the Spirit in mind helps get rid of fuzzy Christian thinking that wants to turn Him into some sort of intangible feeling or force inside us. As you may have heard a couple weeks ago, science fiction geeks have taken to calling the fourth day of this month “Star Wars Day,” because of the awful pun, “May the Fourth… be with you.”

         We can get the Holy Spirit confused with “The Force,” imagining He’s just some sort of spiritual power we can grab hold of and put to use. Our fifth Covenant Affirmation is “A conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit.” Well, you might interpret that to mean something like Obi-Wan Kenobi or Yoda kept urging on Luke Skywalker, “Use the Force, Luke, use the Force.” But we don’t use the Holy Spirit. If you pay attention to our Pentecost texts, what you learn is that the Holy Spirit uses us.

         In the first part of our text Jesus made an incredible prediction and promise to His disciples, and to you and me. In verse 12 He told them they would do greater works than Jesus Himself did, and in verses 13 and 14, that whatever they asked in His name would be done.

         It’s an almost unbelievable promise. Jesus preached to huge crowds, healed the sick, fed the hungry, even raised the dead. How could the disciples, how can we, expect to do anything at all like those “works,” as Jesus called them? But if you look at the day of Pentecost, the continuation of our reading from Acts 2, you can see what Jesus was talking about already beginning.

         If Jesus had stayed, He would have been limited to one place and one voice. He could only preach to or touch so many people. But on Pentecost, through the work of the Holy Sprit filling and enflaming the Apostles, Jesus suddenly had twelve voices, maybe speaking twelve different languages. Paul in I Corinthians 15 tells us that while the risen Jesus was still on earth He appeared to more than 500 people. But on Pentecost, we’re told in Acts 2:41, three thousand people heard that Jesus rose from the dead and believed. As strange as it sounds, the followers of Jesus were already beginning to do greater works than Jesus did when He was here.

         The Holy Spirit is the Advocate for that greater work. He comes alongside us to encourage and help and push us out to spread the truth of Jesus Christ and make that truth visible in the world, just like He pushed those twelve apostles out into the streets of Jerusalem to preach the Gospel on the first Christian Pentecost.

         The advocacy of the Holy Spirit is God Himself at work in us and in the world. He is the continuation of Jesus’ own work. As Jesus says later in this chapter, verse 26, God the Father sends the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name. Jesus said the Advocate would be the Spirit of truth. Just look back a few verses to John 14:6 and we hear Jesus say, “I am the way, and the truth…”

         Like every truly good legal counselor, the Holy Spirit is here for the truth. He wants the truth to be known, to be understood, to be believed, and to make a difference in peoples’ lives. That truth is the truth of Jesus, that He came into this world to offer His life for us and to rise again to give us new life in Him. Advocating for that truth is what the Holy Spirit is all about. That’s exactly what He was doing on the day of Pentecost, when He made it possible for the truth to be heard and understood by everyone listening, regardless of their native languages.

         Don’t, however, think that the Holy Spirit is just another name for Jesus. As we will remember and focus on next Sunday, the Holy Spirit is a person, a different person of God from Jesus the Son. What we are hearing in this text and will look at in detail next week, is that the three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are one God. They are distinct, but unified. You can see the unity in our text.

         When Philip asks Jesus in verse 8, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied,” where does Jesus point Him? To Himself. Verse 9 says, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?” Then Jesus talked about how His work and His words were the Father’s work and words. They have the same purpose, the same power. They are Father and Son, but they are one God.

         Then after pointing to Himself, where does Jesus point next as He continues to answer Philip’s request to see the Father? Just where we’ve been, to the Holy Spirit. Philip wishes to see God and Jesus invites him to look at Himself, at Jesus, and then at the work of the Holy Spirit as their Advocate, as the Spirit of truth. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God. Look at any of them and you have seen the others.

         Yet if I might dare to contradict the great St. Augustine, the Holy Spirit is not some third rate spin-off from God, not just an abstract relationship of love between the Father and the Son, but a person Himself. He’s not just a feeling, whether that feeling is comfort or love or peace or whatever you want to make it. The Holy Spirit is not some aspect of our own minds or hearts. He is a living, powerful person, as much so as Jesus the Son or God the Father. The Holy Spirit is every bit as much God as they are.

         That’s why it’s good we have the day of Pentecost to remember and honor the Holy Spirit. As Luther pointed out, we don’t have a church holy day specifically for the Father or for the Son, because so many of our days focus around them already. But we tend to neglect the Holy Spirit, to forget the role Jesus gave the Spirit in our lives, in the Church. So it’s good to take this day and remember and praise the Spirit and His work.

         We need to remember the Holy Spirit because Jesus said in verse 17 that the world itself would not receive Him because they do not know Him. Part of the problem is that there are plenty of counterfeit spirits in the world. You will find loads of people who are happy to talk about being spiritual, but want nothing to do with the Holy Spirit who is an Advocate for the truth of Jesus Christ.

         There will be those who simply cannot see that truth about Jesus, even when it’s spoken plainly and clearly in the power of the Holy Spirit. In The Hiding Place Corrie Ten Boom tells the story of how her family in Holland resisted the Nazis, sometimes hiding Jews in a secret compartment beneath their kitchen floor. They also used it to hide the young men of the family from forced labor in German munitions factories.

         Ten Boom tells how one day Nazi soldiers came to their neighborhood to round up every male between sixteen and thirty. She and her sisters and niece just managed to squeeze two of her nephews beneath the trapdoor and pull the kitchen table over it before the soldiers burst in. They immediately turned to Cocky, Corrie’s young niece, and demanded “Where are your men?” She tried to point them to her aunts and grandfather, but they kept at her, “Where are your brothers?”

         Her mother had trained her to always tell the truth, so she did. “Under the table,” she said. One of the soldiers grabbed the tablecloth and flung it back. Cocky got hysterical and started laughing. The soldier saw no one under the table and thought she was mocking them. Furious, he stormed out and his squad followed. He didn’t recognize the truth when he heard it.[1]

         That’s how it can be with the Holy Spirit in our world. He is at work. He’s speaking about Jesus, showing people what God can do. As Jesus explained in John 16, He is convicting the world of its sin and about the righteousness of God and about the judgment that is to come. But when hearts are hard and eyes are blind, people don’t see Him, people don’t know Him. But the Spirit is here.

         At the end of verse 17 Jesus says, “You know him, because he abides with you and will be in you.” That’s our Lord’s promise for Pentecost, that the Holy Spirit would come and be in and among His people, would be in and among us. He’s given us eyes to see and minds to know the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit abides with us, our Advocate and helper to keep doing the work of our Lord, keep witnessing to the truth.

         I’ve kidded that I was going to connect our Comfort Campaign with Pentecost today by talking about our need for heating in terms of that warm flame of the Holy Spirit burning above the heads of the Apostles. And for cooling in the summer we might think of the fresh breeze of the Spirit blowing through that room where they were gathered. But we don’t need to be silly to see the connection. When we provide a comfortable place where the truth of Jesus Christ can heard, where people in need are welcomed and housed and shown the truth of His love, then the Holy Spirit is at work.

         And in giving a portion of our campaign to mission, to assist our friends in Asia as they tell people about Jesus in a country where truth is hard to come by, to join in a ministry to bring reading and writing to children in India, to be a part of starting a new church nearby in Medford, Oregon, we’re also doing the Holy Spirit’s work, letting Him advocate for the truth in our world.

         He is with you and He is in you. He is your Advocate. You show that in every act of service, in every generous gift you offer in Jesus name. May we always know and listen to our Holy Counselor as He encourages and helps us to know and live our Lord’s truth.


         Valley Covenant Church
         Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
         Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

[1] See The Hiding Place (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006), pp. 101, 102.

Last updated May 19, 2013