The One Who Comes Alongside
The Holy Spearmint
A family was sitting in church when their youngest daughter tugged on her mother’s dress. Mom leaned to her side and the little girl whispered.
“I know who the Father and the Son are, but what’s the Holy Spearmint?”
The little girl was probably not the only one in church that Sunday who was uncertain about the third person of the Trinity. If the Holy Spirit had to go through adolescence in a typical American church, he would most certainly suffer an identity crises. If the Spirit’s search for an identity and self discovery ever prompted the question, “who am I?” the Spirit would probably hear the congregation respond with a unanimous, “Good question, who are you?”
The Spirit of God is difficult to describe. The other two members of the Trinity are much easier to characterize. God the Father created the heavens and the earth from nothing. He spoke and the waters were parted and dry ground appeared. He hung the stars and the moon in the heavens. He breathed life into women and men. The works of creation enable us to understand God the Father.
We can also more easily understand, God the Son. He was the baby born of a virgin. The famous preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, “It takes no great stretch of the imagination to picture the babe in Bethlehem.”i He was also the Son who obeyed his Father, now that might be more difficult to grasp at times, but we are able to appreciate a relationship between parent and child. However, how does the Holy Spirit enter the equation? The Spirit of God is “so mysterious, so secret his acts are so removed from everything that is of sense and of the body”ii that we struggle to understand and appreciate the third person of the Trinity. No doubt, the disciples did also.
The Trusting Relationship
We must remind ourselves of the time and setting of this passage. Jesus is at the table with his disciples. They are behind closed doors. The city of Jerusalem was preparing to celebrate the festival of the Passover meal. Judas has left the fellowship to arrange for his act of betrayal. Jesus has predicted Peter’s denial and the desertion by the other disciples. How much of his pending doom he specifically knew, remains a mystery to us, but from his recorded words, we can assume that he was expecting to die very soon. So, to prepare the eleven for his imminent death, he tells them about the role of the Holy Spirit. He says, “
This promise is prefaced with a rather startling statement “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” A casual reading of the verse may lead a person to conclude that the promise of another Counselor was conditional to a life of obedience. That would be tantamount to a mother saying to her young baby, “Child, if you stop crying in the middle of the night, if you eat all your food without spilling any on the floor, if you keep your hands off my exquisite figurines and if you pick up all your clothes and toys, then I will give you my love and take care of you.” Now as we all know mothers are not above doing certain things to get our attention. When writing on the subject of how to be a good Jewish mother, someone once wrote,
While a parent may attempt to influence a child’s behavior, a caring parent will not withhold love from their child. Jesus is not warning his disciples that the gift of the Spirit is conditional but rather describing the relationship of the disciples to their Master. Keeping the commandments of God is a natural expression of our love for him. “We trust Christ because we love him and loving and trusting him we follow him.”iv Obedience is the natural response to a loving relationship. We want to please the people who love us and care for us. God then returns that affection by giving the disciples another Counselor.
If you use a different translation of the Bible, you may find other words to describe the Holy Sprit–helper, companion, comforter, or advocate. The Greek word parakletos is a difficulty to translate. It has several different meanings depending on the context.
The Companion Who Comes Along Side
Jesus tells the disciples that the Holy Spirit comes to do two things. First, the Spirit provides companionship. Jesus tells his disciples that the Holy Spirit comes along side to “to be with you [them] forever….the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive… abides with you [them], and he [the Holy Spirit] will be in you[them].’ He wants them to know that they will never be abandoned as orphans.
This was a very important promise. In Jewish society, an orphan did not have the guarantee of a home or daily provisions. They were at the mercy of the generosity of the people. The disciples of a deceased rabbi were referred to as orphans because they also no longer had the guarantee that their basic needs would be met. While the rabbi was alive, people provided food and shelter to both him and his disciples. The rabbi offered the people spiritual food and they cared for his physical needs. The disciples benefited from their association with the teacher. However, after the death of the rabbi, the disciples were often impoverished, unable to support themselves and were forced to wander the countryside destitute.
I have counseled with several high school students who were adopted. They have shared with me the pain of the loneliness they feel, having never known their mother or father. Jesus tells his disciples, “You will never be orphans.” You will never wander the countryside alone and forsaken. You will have another Counselor with you.
The assurance of loving, caring presence in our lives is so important throughout our lives. Children who grow up in unstable homes often struggle with feelings of rejection and low self worth all their lives. We need the emotional support of other people throughout our life. We especially need it during life threatening situations.
Surgery was scheduled for the next day. Tom could feel the anxiety rising. He knew his very life would be in the hands of the doctors. The day before surgery an attractive nurse came into the room to talk with him about the operation. She took hold of his hand and asked him to hold it tight and feel its warmth. Tom had no objections to that. The hand was soft and smooth.
“Now,” she said, during the surgery tomorrow you will be disconnected from your heart and you will be kept alive only by virtue of certain machines. And when your heart is finally restored and the operation is over and you are reconnected, you will eventually awaken in a special recovery room. But you will be immobile for as long as six hours. You may be unable to move, or speak, or to even open your eyes, but you will be perfectly conscious and you will hear and you will know everything that is going on around you.. During those six hours, I will be at your side and I will hold your hand exactly as I am doing now. I will stay with you until you are fully recovered. Although you may feel absolutely helpless, when you feel my hand, you will know that I will not leave you.”
The next day the surgery went exactly as the nurse had told him. When Tom woke, he could do nothing. Before he panicked, Tom felt the touch of the nurse’s hand and he was at peace.
Jesus told his disciples that he would send another Counselor that would be along side them so that they would know that they would never be alone.
The Teacher who comes along Side
It is tempting to end this sermon on that wonderful promise that God would never leave us desolate. Our lives our marked by many unexpected events that create turmoil and distress. We watch the video clips of the destruction at the Jenin refuge camp. We hear about a German student gunning down his teachers as a act of revenge and remember the massacre 3 years ago at Columbine. Even if we avoid reading the newspaper or watching TV, we still must face the news of a relative or friend who has recently been told that she has a fatal disease. We need a Spirit of Comfort, someone whose presence brings reassurance. This is very much the role of the Holy Spirit. However, we must be careful not to limit its role to only that.
There is a danger in creating a “teddy bear” image of God the Holy Spirit. Children cling to their blanket or favorite stuffed animal for emotional security. The soft fur reassures them in their uncertainty. The animal shape calms their fears. They believe that their Teddy Bear will protect them from the dangers of the darkness. By limiting God the Spirit to only a God of Comfort, we hinder the true work of the Spirit in our life. Jesus tells us that one of the other functions of the Spirit will be to teach us in truth.
We live in pluralistic age in which many voices are claiming to know the truth. There is revival in spirituality in our country. People are reading the theological teachings of the world’s great religious leaders. Each offers its own unique insight in how we are to live, how we are to understand divine realities, and how we can encounter God. As we listen to these many voices, we ask ourselves, how are to separate truth from fiction. Jesus tells us that this is the role of the spirit. “God’s Spirit is bound to and belongs to the truth that he has already shown in Jesus Christ.”v John will later expand on this in his first epistle,
God the Spirit not only comforts us during the terrors of the night but he keeps pointing us back to the truth about the Son of God. He is our counselor who stands with us during a crises and he is also the one who guides us into the truth. He brings the security of God’s love but also teaches so that we might live as faithful disciples.
i Charles Spurgeon, Sermons, Vol. VI, p. 26.
ii Spurgeon, Sermons, Vol. VI, p. 26.
iii Glendon Harris, Pulpit Resource, Vol. 6, No. 1, p. 29.
iv Earl Palmer, The Intimate Gospel, (Waco: Word, 1978), p. 126
v Palmer, p. 127.
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