Ideas drive history. You ever thought about that? Behind the all the Emperor’s, Generals, politicians, philosophers, thinkers, and theologians throughout history – stands one thing: ideas. Not small ideas or fleeting thoughts but grand ideas that fill out the meaning of their existence, becoming the narrative through which they interpret all of life, driving them to do what they do. One way ideas are very meaningfully driven home to us is through images. One particular idea/image that means a great deal to me is Hugh Knolly’s portrait The Cutty Sark. There is something about this image that draws me in. As long as I can remember the ocean in the portrait has always seemed lovely and terrible to me. A thing beyond my little self in its immensity and yet stirring within me thoughts of adventure and exploration…daunting and dwarfing me yet beckoning me to come aboard the ship and brave the waters.
The Cutty Sark leaps out at me because here is one heading out adventurously on stormy seas. If you look at it long enough I think you’ll begin to see much about the Christian life. The waters of the world we live in are stormy indeed. Sailing on such fallen waters, eventually forces us to ask a question. How are we going to last, how are we to make it through safe to other side? Not by our wisdom or ability or strength in sailing, no. God has graciously put Someone within our ship to keep us afloat in the Person of the Holy Spirit, and by holding fast to Him, to this Ancient Mast, we’ll make it through.
Well, you may know exactly what I’m speaking of, or you may have no idea what I’m talking about. Either way, today marks the beginning of a 3 week mini series called Ancient Mast. We’re still within John’s Gospel, but we’ve come to an extended section on the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit. For the first week in this series in John 15:26-16:4a the key idea here is this: the Holy Spirit does His work of upholding, maintaining, and expanding God’s grace within us as we do life in this fallen world, even while this world hates us. This is why I’ve called the Holy Spirit the Ancient Mast.
Our passage today brings these things out to us in two ways:
The Spirit’s Assuring Assistance (15:26-27)
Right away in v26 we learn the Holy Spirit is connected to the Father and the Son. Remember, again and again John’s gospel tells us how the Father is closely connected to the Son, so close in fact that to hear the words and see the works of the Son is to hear the words and see the works of the Father, and so close in fact that to reject the Son is to reject the Father. Learn again, the Godhead is not just comprised of Father and Son, but of Father, Son, and Spirit. That Jesus says He will send the Spirit from the Father, and that He says the Spirit proceeds from the Father is a reminder that the sending of the Spirit is an activity which concerns all three members of the Trinityas well as a reminder that this Spirit is no ordinary Spirit, He is the Holy Spirit. Not a kind of force or quality or property, He is the third Person in the Godhead, “…not a gift of men but a pledge of divine grace”from God Himself.
That God would dwell among us in Christ is simply breathtaking, that God the Spirit would dwell within us is incredibly comforting. Our hearts then become His home. And now that the estate that is ourselves is under new ownership, a sacred renovation begins. Renovation that looks and feels like disorder yielding to order, darkness yielding to light, and fog yielding to sunshine.
That is all good and well but particularly in this context what does the Spirit do within us? Notice the two names He calls the Spirit in v26-27.
Helper: “But when the Helper comes…” Some do think v26-27 is a later addition to John’s gospel because to them it doesn’t fit well with the theme of the hatred of the world. Sadly, those who believe this miss the point of the text and therefore miss out on what could be a great encouragement. There is a very close connection between our passage today and the passage that comes before and after. Jesus has been speaking about the rebellion of the world against Him and His Church, that the world hates Him and will hate those who follow Him, and from hearing this it is easily understandable that the disciples (and we ourselves) would be fearful, anxious, and deeply uneasy about what a life with Jesus might very well bring in this world. How can one last as a follower of Jesus if the world will hate you for doing so? This fear, anxiety, and unease about Jesus’ words makes us desperate for one thing…help. So is it no surprise that here in this context with these things in view Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as what? The Helper, for help He brings. When Scripture perplexes us it is the Spirit who opens our eyes and understanding to what God has said. When sin tempts us to run after foul and forbidden things it is the Spirit who tugs and pulls us back. When we find ourselves dry, cold, and stony in heart, unmoved by the beauty and loveliness of God it is the Spirit who refreshes, warms, and softens us to be moved as we ought to. Do not despise the gift of God in giving us the help of God the Spirit!
Spirit of Truth: Next we see God the Spirit called the “Spirit of Truth” and perhaps we ask, ‘Out of all things why choose to call the Spirit the Spirit of Truth?’ Perhaps it’s for our encouragement. In view of the opposition of the world we might think the truth of God no longer has a place in our world today. That truth has become and must remain a private matter rather than a public topic of conversation or even debate. That truth has fallen in the street, as Isaiah 59:14 says, and is in need of resuscitation while people continue to walk on by not caring an ounce to revive it. That the Spirit is the Spirit of Truth ought to encourage us. The world hated Christ and His message endures. The world has hated us and our message endures! Despite the world’s efforts to stop, squash, or silence the truth of God it is the Spirit who maintains, upholds, promotes, and expands the truth of Christ in us and through us. If ourconsciences rest on this testimony, wewill never be shaken.The disciples, having been with Jesus from the beginning would’ve seen this and come to know this for themselves. And we too, from the beginning of our Christian lives have seen the same.
But how does the Spirit of Truth spread God’s truth in this fallen world? Answer: by bearing witness. Look at v26-27 again, “…He will bear witness about Me, and you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” Present here is both the witness of the Spirit and the witness of believers. The Spirit has born witness to Christ before and during the ministry of Christ. Now that Christ has ascended is the Spirit done bearing witness? Not in a million years! The result of the assuring assistance and help of the Spirit of Truth is not private advantage or personal revelation but public proclamation. The Spirit bore witness not of Himself but of Christ to us, and now the Spirit bears witness not of Himself but of Christ through us. The Apostles remember, received power when the Holy Spirit came upon them and became His witnesses (Acts 1:8), first feeling the winds of the Spirit fill their sails to preach the gospel and write of the gospel, and now we continue in this Spirit driven apostolic calling not by claiming to be apostles ourselves, but by continuing to proclaim the same apostolic gospel message from the Spirit inspired apostolic Scriptures we now have. So the Spirit in His inspired Scripture bears witness to man, and in His powerful work within us He bears witness through man.
See here that no one can ask the Spirit to move in power and then sit back waiting as if we can relax and leave everything up to the Spirit of God.No, the Spirit so moves within us that we, in His power, would bear witness of Christ to others. Or we could say it like this, the Spirit’s work creates the Church’s work, and it is this work of bearing witness that is to remain the chief work of the Church. We easily get sidetracked. Our witness for Christ isn’t to be about a certain kind of experience, or political opinion, or current fad, but a witness to the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.
And how great an encouragement is it that in these stormy seas God has given us an Ancient Mast we can lash our souls to in order to last?
The Son’s Sobering Preservation (16:1-4a)
In 16:1 Jesus, anticipating what’s to come, says, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” Then in v4 He similarly says, “But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” These form bookends to v1-4, because in both Jesus gives reasons behind why He tells them what He is telling them, and the main reason is preservation. The reason in v1 is so that they won’t fall away when trials come, and the reason in v4 is so that they won’t be surprised when trials come. Taking them together we can see the meaning in view. Jesus doesn’t want His disciples, and doesn’t want you and I, to encounter the hatred of the world and be so shocked or scandalizedby it that we abandon the faith.No, He wants us to last, He wants us to be informed and prepared for what’s to come.
So He continues on in v2-3 saying, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor Me.”
Sobering words from the Son intended to function as a means of preservation for His disciples. v2-3 repeat many of the same things we saw in 15:18-25 but here the tone is stronger. Back in chapter 15 the hatred in view was from the world in general, here in chapter 16 the hatred has a very specific origin. It’s from those who are very religious. Does that surprise you? That someone with deep religious zeal could be so blind and so violent? These religious zealots will first excommunicate them, which wouldn’t only remove them from the spiritual life of the society (they wouldn’t be able to attend sacrifices, feasts, etc.) but the social life of the society as well. This would’ve meant things like getting a job would now be difficult, it meant you’d likely lose business customers, and might ultimately lose your livelihood. Some of you have experienced these very things already and the trend of our world isn’t headed in a Godward direction. May we not be caught unaware.
As bad as these things are they didn’t stop there, it also says here that they would kill them while fully believing they’re pleasing God. Only in a fallen world could such a monstrous reality be true. This pattern has played out throughout history ever since. Today we find it true that most of the vicious threats to the gospel are often by religiously motivated zealots, thinking their god is pleased with such violence and will reward them for doing so. But go back a bit further. Did you know Thomas Cranmer, the English Reformer, was burned at the stake in 1556 by Roman Catholics as one of their priests was preaching a sermon? Did you know when Pope Leo X excommunicated Martin Luther from the Roman Catholic church and put a price on his head he said, “Arise O Lord, a wild boar has entered Thy vineyard.” Go back a bit further. Paul himself followed this pattern in his pre-Christian life. By persecuting the Church he believed God would be pleased with Him. It was Paul who chased down followers of The-Way and threw them in jail and it was Paul who looked on and held the coats of those who stoned Stephen in Acts 7. Thank God, that for Paul, his zealous pattern of violence was interrupted on the Damascus Road as he became a Christian and experienced an overwhelming irony going from persecutor to persecuted. We could speak of all the disciples here as they we’re executed or exiled at the hand of religious zealots but go back a bit further one more time.
This pattern was played out most vividly with Christ. The Jewish leaders, being very religious, claimed to know God but in v3 Jesus says they didn’t, and that their ignorance of who God truly was and who He truly was is actually the origin of their vile ways. These leaders believed God would be pleased for Christ to die, and that in doing so they would be glorifying God and keeping their religion pure and undefiled. The irony here is that they were right in a sense more true than they could know. Jesus seemed to be suffering defeat while He was accomplishing the greatest of all victories at the very moment the Jewish leaders seemed to be winning a victory while they were suffering the greatest of all defeats.In the most ironic moment of history the hour of their persecution mentioned in v4 was really the hour of the Son’s glorificationwhere God was glorified and was very pleased for Christ to die as He bore the full wrath of God for sinners like us. And having been warned of it by Jesus, when these things fell on the disciples afterwards, the trials of persecution and death wouldn’t be an obstacle to their faith but a strengthener to their faith because they saw that everything plays out as Jesus says it will.
But remember where we began this morning. Between the hard words in 15:18-25 and 16:1-4 we find a marvelous description of the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit. From hearing about the Helper and the Spirit of Truth this morning in the midst of this fallen world full of hatred we must embrace a certain reality this morning: the Holy Spirit isn’t sent to be our Helper to aid us sail the seas of calm serenity, but is sent to be our Helper to aid us sail through the hard and difficult waters that lie ahead in this world. For the way of Christ is the way of hardship and difficulty.But, it is a way He walked before us, so we do not lose heart. As high as the waves become, the Ancient Mast of our soul – the Holy Spirit, reminds us of Him and thus we remain ever sturdy within.
Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971) page 683.
John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries – Vol. 7, The Gospels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: AP&A, year unknown) page 857.
Richard Phillips, John 11-21 – Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 2014) page 327.
The Greek word ‘scandalizo’ is here translated as ‘falling away’ in v1.
D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1991) page 532. See Phillips page 329 also.
Ibid., page 532. Also see Morris page 694.