- Romans 8:6-17
- John 16:12-33
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
They say the American painter, John Sargent, once painted a panel of roses that was highly praised by critics. It was a small picture, but it approached perfection.
Although offered a high price for it on many occasions, Sargent refused to sell it. He considered it his best work and was very proud of it.
Whenever he was deeply discouraged and doubtful of his abilities as an artist, he would look at it and remind himself, “I painted that.” Then his confidence and ability would come back to him.
John records what happened in the night before Christ was arrested, only to be crucified the next day. It was in more than way a night of confusion and agony. First, Jesus— like a slave—knelt before them and washed their feet. Then one of them walked out into the night to betray their rabbi to the Jewish leaders, and then they heard that another would disown Him. Next thing is He announced to his small group of disciples that He was going to the One who sent him. But He also assured them that He would send them the Holy Spirit so that they would not go astray, or trip and fall (16:1).
Jesus Christ—the completion of his ministry
The road to the cross
The Father sent Jesus into this world to gather a church for Him. Christ left the eternal throne of glory, was born like a human being—although not from an earthly father—walked the face of the earth like all other humans beings, yet without sin. To complete the mission of the Father, He had to perfectly obey the Law, and also take the curse of disobedience to the Law as his own to become the perfect righteousness which satisfy the holiness of God. That’s the only way we can be saved.
Now, in the last hours of his earthly ministry, He taught his disciples what they could expect, and how they had to be his voice, hands and feet when He went back to his Father. He had to go back to the Father to stand in perfect righteousness before the Father, and as such intercede for those whom He saved. Although they would love to have Him with them all the time, He could not remain with them; He had to finish what the Father sent Him for.
Now, what did He mean with “In a little while you will see Me no more, and then after a little while you will see Me”? (John 16:17, NIV)
In John 14 our Lord was referring to the place in heaven, the rooms in his Father’s house, which He is going to prepare for them, and then come back to take them to where He will be. This clearly refers to the second coming of our Lord at the sound of the last trumpet.
But in 16:17 He did not point to that event. He pointed to his death on the cross—and all which would happen before that; He also referred to his resurrection from the dead. In other words between the night He was arrested in Gethsemane, and the Sunday of his resurrection when He appeared to them.
His suffering, death on the cross and resurrection was the pinnacle of his ministry. As a matter of fact, without the cross his ministry would fail. Those mocking Him while He was dying with his hands and feet nailed to the rugged wood of the cross—“Others you could save; save yourself”—was the final attempt of Satan to avert the necessity that He paid the price for sinners to set them free.
The night Jesus spoke these words to them He was arrested. The next morning, the morning of Good Friday, the disciples would have felt like lost sheep. The One they came to love and worship was handed over, tried, falsely accused and forced to drag the cross on which He would be nailed to the place of execution. On the way He would be mocked, ridiculed, spat one, beaten until He was not physically able to walk, and sank on his knees in agony. Peter who once said that he would give his life for the Lord, followed in a distance with a heart heavy because He denied his Lord.
Then, when it was time for the lambs of Passover to be slaughtered, at about 3.00.pm on Friday, Jesus cried out, “It is finished”. There the real Passover Lamb died and took the sin of the world on Him so that they might go free.
Jesus prepared them for those three days of confusion.
Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. (John 16:20, NIV)
So when on the Sunday of his resurrection Jesus appeared to Mary at the open grave, and she went back to tell them the good news that He had risen, they still didn’t believe. The death cloth folded by itself in some ways helped their unbelief, but they went back to the place they were gathered and locked the doors for fear of the Jews. Then our Lord appeared in their midst. Luke records:
They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, He asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” (Luke 24:37, 41, NIV)
What He prepared them for in John 16 came true:
Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. (John 16:22, NIV)
While they were grieving in unbelief, the world rejoiced (16:20): they at last got rid of Christ. Not so! He conquered death, hell, sin and Satan. This completed his ministry of reconciliation. It is therefore no surprise that Christ adds:
In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. (John 16:23, NIV)
Unfortunately some translations do not clearly translate the “ask” of this verse. They are two different words in Greek. The first “ask” (In that day you will no longer ask me anything) should be enquire—something someone does who is not sure about things. On “that day” Jesus Christ met them and everything was different. Yes, they still needed teaching, but his mission was then complete—after that the Holy Spirit would take over the ministry to the disciples.
The second “ask” (my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name) stands in connection with prayer. Christ now goes back to what He taught them in 15:11 about joy:
Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:24, NIV)
With his mission complete, He stands at the throne of the Father interceding for his church. In his name his church now prays and the Father listens.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31–32, NIV)
The Father Himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. (John 16:27, NIV)
The Holy Spirit
But all of this would not be possible without the ministry of the Holy Spirit. With the Saviour at the throne of the Father, the Spirit continues the ministry of Christ, but not in the sense that He adds to this ministry; no, He takes what belongs to Christ and makes it known to us (16:14). He does not reveal new things apart from Christ. It is the Spirit who does the convicting and convincing work in regard to sin, righteousness and judgement as the disciples does the preaching of the Gospel of Christ; the Spirit guides the church in truth, which is the Gospel inspired by Himself.
Our Lord said:
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify Me because it is from Me that He will receive what He will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from Me what He will make known to you.” (John 16:12-15, NIV)
The main ministry of the Holy Spirit was to constantly take the disciples—and us— back to Christ. Like the flowers in the John Sargent’s picture when he became doubtful, the Spirit holds up the picture of the Saviour before us so that we would not stumble and fall in confusion.
Further, the Spirit connects us with the righteousness of Christ. Paul writes:
And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:11, NIV)
Moreover, the Spirit is also interceding for us when we pray—that “asking” from the Father:
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26–27, NIV)
In another place Paul writes:
… no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. (1 Corinthians 2:11–13, NIV)
Christ and the Spirit: a reason for Joy
Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:24, NIV)
To this He adds:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)
Christ’s complete salvation brings joy. The ministry of the Holy Spirit brings joy. That our prayers in the Name of Christ are answered, brings joy. That Christ has overcome the world, brings peace.
So, when Christ, after the forty days of intensive teaching, on the glorious day of ascension, returned his his Father we read about the disciples:
While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. (Luke 24:51–52, NIV)
Add to this the fruit of the Holy Spirit:
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22, NIV)
O, that we will have this vision: the completed work of Christ, now interceding at the Father’s throne, only to return and judge the living and the dead; the ministry of the Spirit, constantly taking us back to Christ like Sargent who went back to his painting, to sustain us in our task of evangelism and mission; joy, because the Father loved the Son and He loves his church and gives them what they need; joy, because our Lord has overcome – once and for all. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 19 March 2017