As Jesus prepared to leave this world and ascend into heaven, He made sure that His ministry would continue from heaven. To that end, the Spirit was sent by the Father through the Son to earth, so that the disciples of Jesus Christ may be blessed. Entire theological treatises could and have been written on the importance of this point, but there’s one point we should all grasp this morning, and it is this: the Holy Spirit is nothing less than the presence of Jesus Christ with His people.
Imagine that you are one of the 12 disciples of Jesus Christ. It is the week before Jesus’ death, and He has some difficult things to say to you, His disciples, the most difficult of which is that He must shortly leave you. Later, you realize that He is referring not only to His Crucifixion, but especially to His Ascension into heaven and His departing from you in His flesh. But He recognizes your fears and says to you: “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”
In this He recognizes that one of man’s greatest fears is that of being left alone.
Some time ago, a movie came out called Home Alone (with the obligatory sequels) that humorously preyed upon this fear, and horror movies are filled with true fear about the things that may happen when we are alone. God Himself told Adam, “It is not good for man to be alone.” I was very dependent on my parents growing up, even to a relatively late age, and had a fear that they would die before I was 21 and could make it to manhood. (Thank God they are still alive. As for me, I’m still working on the manhood thing!)
The disciples express this deep, human fear. Many times throughout their life with Jesus, the disciples had known fear, and they had learned to trust Him for all things (though not perfectly). He is the one who has calmed all their fears: fear of persecution, fear from want, fear from drowning, and the like. But perhaps their greatest fear of all was to be left by their Lord, from whom they were now inseparable, and who was the source of all their security in this world and the next.
This was the Lord for whom they had forsaken and left all else, and now He was telling them that He was leaving them.
But Jesus, even when His own soul is so troubled, comforts them and takes time to teach them. He also encourages and equips them for their future ministry, and He does all of this by promising the Holy Spirit.
Now if you put yourself in the disciples’ place for a moment, you might begin to realize what they’re going through. It’s simple for Jesus to say that He will send another Comforter or Helper (verse 16), but it’s not so simple for the disciples to accept it. It’s almost as if you tell a child, “I have to leave you forever now, but don’t worry, I’ll send another father to replace me later.” Even though they trust the relationship, this would not be easy, and there is no substitute for the human, fleshly presence.
But is this enough? To make sure it is enough, He also says, in verse 18, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” Now what does He mean, “I will come to you”? In the context, He can only mean that though He is going, He will also come. I don’t think He means His Second Coming: that would provide no comfort for the disciples then and there.
He means that though He will soon physically ascend into heaven, shortly after that, at Pentecost, He will send His Spirit to be with them in His place. In verse 19, He continues to make His meaning clear: “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me.”
How can they see Him while the world does not? If this referred to only the Resurrection, the world could see that. But if it refers to the sending of the Spirit – only His disciples can see that.
Now here is where theology becomes very practical (as true theology always must). Jesus is leaving the disciples, and they need to be en-couraged. Jesus can only do this by sending them someone of equal value to Himself, someone who is, in fact, Him. Since Jesus promises to be with them, and He promises to send the Spirit as well, we find that the doctrine of the Trinity and the equality of the Son and the Spirit suddenly becomes very real and personal.
In other words, the Holy Spirit, as Peter tells us in his epistle, is the Spirit of Christ. Jesus can promise to be with His disciples because He is sending them His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, for The Holy Spirit is the very presence of Jesus with His people.
“But what about me?” I ask this morning.
What about you? What was true for Jesus’ disciples the week before His Crucifixion is just as true for us today. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ who is Jesus’ presence with His people. Like the disciples, we are prone to think it is an inferior thing for Christ to be gone in the body. “If only He were here in person, in the flesh,” we are tempted to think, “then things would be different.”
I hear people say, “I can’t wait to be with Jesus,” and certainly, it’s true that the joys of heaven are unsurpassed . . . . But I tell you that Jesus of Nazareth, the same one who walked the shores of the Holy Land 2000 years ago, and who will be with you in heaven . . . is with us – with you today. And He’s here through His Spirit that He sent first on Pentecost.
Wherever we find the Holy Spirit, there we find Jesus Christ Himself . . . because the Holy Spirit is the very presence of Jesus in your life. It is even proper to say that God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit dwells within you! Look at what Jesus says in verse 23. “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
I’m sorry, but WOW!
Therefore, it is a far better thing that Jesus ascended into heaven and sent the Spirit. While on earth, in the flesh, Jesus was limited. Only a relatively few people were graced with His presence. But now, through the Spirit, Jesus Christ comes to millions upon millions all at the same time. It’s like the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 where earthly food was multiplied, except that by the Holy Spirit, the Bread of Heaven Himself rises and is multiplied and made available to the whole Church universal!
It is a far better thing as well because we not only have the presence of Christ standing beside us, as did the disciples: we also have the presence of Christ, through the Spirit, dwelling within us. We are now made God’s holy temple: God truly dwells with man, and His glory inhabits each of you, because by the Holy Pentecost the presence of Jesus Christ lives in each of you!
The miracles of the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and Pentecost reside in each of us each day!
Just where do we see Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit today? What do we find the Holy Spirit doing for us, as the Spirit of Christ? We find Him doing the very same things Jesus Christ did while here in the flesh.
The Holy Spirit therefore extends and completes the work of Christ, and He does it through you and me! As Jesus comforted His disciples, He comforts you, through His Spirit. He comforts us because Christ is present with you, and He comforts us especially through the Christians, or Christ-bearers, that He puts in our lives.
In our lives, the Spirit of Truth teaches Truth, and He does it once again through those in whom He dwells, that is, the saints. Through the Spirit, the Master encourages and equips the Church for ministry, just as He did His more famous disciples 2000 years ago.
Sometimes, we think, and even desire, that the Holy Spirit would work in a magical kind of way. But instead, we find that our King comes to us lowly and riding on a donkey and that the Holy Spirit does what He does through us humans.
And why? For the same reason that the Son became flesh: because of His love for
humanity and because of the glory it brings Him to do His will through sinners and weaklings like you and me!
Through the Holy Spirit, the Son was incarnate in the human flesh of Jesus Christ. And through the Holy Spirit, the Son is incarnated in the flesh of the Church, which is His Body. You, therefore, (and this is the extremely practical lesson of Pentecost) you, the Body of Christ, are the very presence of Christ here on earth. And so you too must continue His ministry of comfort and love, of encouragement and equipping.
The Spirit is the presence of Jesus Christ, and He is in you. Therefore, do the works of the Spirit; do the things Jesus Christ did. And rejoice, that the Lord, though He has ascended, is with us!
Prayer: O God, who dost teach the hearts of thy faithful people by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit: grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
- If you truly saw that the Jesus Christ and the Spirit work through the people of God in your life, how has Jesus come to you today? How has He come to you in the past?
- How is He asking you to go in His name and serve Him today, as His presence on earth?
Resolution: I resolve to spend today looking for how Christ and the Spirit come to me today through the saints in my life.
© 2016 Fr. Charles Erlandson