Being a parent is hard. Partly because it’s in parenting that we learn how to parent, but also because as much as we may encourage, instruct, and disciple our children, sometimes our children won’t learn unless they make mistakes on their own. Mistakes we made when we were their age and mistakes we’ve warned them against time and time again. We see them when they’re young and know, one day they’ll get hurt and lost in this fallen world, and will have to find their way back home.
The singer and musician Andrew Peterson knows this firsthand and also knows the way to find our way back home is the old roads and ancient paths Scripture speaks of. So in a song dedicated to his sons, called You’ll Find Your Way, he speaks to this very thing saying: “I know you’ll be scared when you take up that cross, and I know it’ll hurt, cause I know what it costs, and I love you so much and it’s so hard to watch, but you’re gonna grow up and you’re gonna get lost. Just go back, go back, go back to the ancient paths, lash your heart to the ancient mast, and hold on, boy, whatever you do, to the hope that’s taken ahold of you. And you’ll find your way, and you’ll find your way, back home.”
You’ll notice the phrase ‘Ancient Mast’ in this song is what we’re using as the title to this mini sermon series on the Holy Spirit, and today we’ll see much of the same things again as we continue on in John 16. How the Spirit works in us and through us in the stormy waters of this fallen world, and from seeing these things, it is our prayer that you’d once again rejoice in God the Father and God the Son, for the gift of God the Spirit.
Last week in 15:26-164a we saw the Spirit as a Helper in the midst of a world that will hate us, Lord willing next week in 16:12-15 we’ll see the Spirit as a Helper operating within the Church, and today in 16:4b-11 we’ll see the Spirit as a Helper operating within the world. First see…
A Painfully Pleasant Parting (v4b-7)
v4b-5 begin our passage today saying, “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are you going?’”
For most, if not all, of their time with Jesus thus far the disciples had heard about the hatred of the world from Him and knew that most of the world’s hostility would fall on Him rather than them. For all that time before Jesus did not tell them about these things because He was with them. But now, Jesus brings up something painful for the disciples, His near departure, telling them that things will soon change. He is leaving, He will depart back to the Father, to Him who sent Him. But then we see something curios. After telling them of His near departure Jesus questions them about not asking about where He is going, implying that they should be doing that very thing right now. This is curious because earlier in John it was Peter in 13:36 and it was Thomas in 14:5 who seemed to be asking this very thing. Did they ask or did they not ask? This is not a contradiction, as some see, not at all. In speaking this way Jesus makes it clear that He is curious as to why they’re not, at that moment, concerned about where He is going. They may have asked Jesus a question earlier using the words “Where are you going?” but their real intent in asking those questions wasn’t to discover where He was going, but to protest that He was going at all. Think of it like this.When a little boy, looking forward to a camping trip with his Dad for sometime, finds out that his Dad has been called in to work – has to leave – and has to cancel the camping trip, he protests asking the question, “Dad, where are you going?” In that moment the little boy isn’t intending to find out precise details about his Father’s departure and destination, no. He is disappointed and frustrated, protesting that his Dad is leaving when he promised to go camping! So too, earlier when the disciples asked where Jesus was going they were acting like this little boy, disappointed and frustrated and understandably too blinded by their own self-interests to really understand what Jesus’ departure would mean for them.
But what would Jesus’ departure mean for them? In v6-7 we see an explanation of this. It begins with a negative painful comment followed by a positive pleasant comment about His ascension (which is ultimately when His departure will occur). The painful comment is v6, “But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.” The pleasant comment then comes after in v7, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.” There is true pain and sorrow present here. Jesus understands, He gets it, v6 shows us this clearly. But Jesus also gets what they don’t get, that His leaving is not to their disadvantage but is an advantage for them. Why? If Jesus stays the Helper will not come, but if He does go away He will then send the Helper. The larger meaning of Jesus’ departure they have missed for so long is now clear. They’ve been concerned and taken up with the worry and anxiety of having to do life without Jesus, of the world and it’s hostility, and having to face it without Him. But Jesus again reminds them here that His earthly mission is about to be accomplished and He will leave, but the overall mission will continue and spread throughout all the earth through the disciples by the coming and indwelling of the Spirit.
I wonder if you believe this. You can surely understand the difficulty this would have brought the disciples. I think we have a hard time with this too. I think so because many people nowadays believe the disciples had it better than we do today. That it would be better for us to be alive in Jesus’ day, to be able to see Him, hear Him, and behold His wonders. That to be alive today is something of a lesser experience than they had. Does it surprise you that Jesus has a different opinion about this? He does not say that it’s better for Him to stay on earth with them but that it’s advantageous – that it’s better for Him to leave the earth rather than remain.Because when God the Son ascends to rule on the throne He’ll send His Spirit to descend and rule in our hearts. He Himself could only minister to a certain group of people in a certain location at a certain time. But by His departing and the Spirit arriving the whole world will change as they hear the gospel through the Church. So the choice isn’t between Christ being present and Christ being absent, the reality is Christ was present in body and Christ now present in His Spirit.
What though, would the Spirit do when He comes? The answer of that brings us to our next point…
A Comfortably Crushing Convicting (v8-11)
From working as a part time professor at Trinity College of Florida, I feel I’m always answering questions. And that I teach in the evening program for working adults, I feel I get more questions than the average professor because these students actually want to be there and want to learn. Every semester when it comes time for the students to begin working on their final essays I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been asked about how an essay should be written. My answer is always the same. There are three steps to every good essay: first – tell me what you’re going to say, second – say it, and third – tell me what you said. These three sections form the introduction, main body of content, and the conclusion. In v8-15 here, Jesus somewhat follows this pattern. In v8 He tells us what He is going to say, in v9-11 He says it, and then in v12-15 (Lord willing, what we’ll cover next week) He concludes this section before moving on to similar but different things.
See the thesis statement in v8, “And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…” This is what the Spirit will do when He comes. Interesting to note, this is the only time in the Bible when we see it said that the Spirit does a work ‘in the world.’ We usually see a description of the Spirit’s work in and through believers, here the Spirit works in the world. To put this in legal terms, we usually see the Spirit working for or in favor of the defendant, here we see the Spirit working as “…prosecutor to bring about the world’s conviction.”His threefold work described in v8 is about to be expanded in v9-11, but before we move on do not miss that without the Spirit of God those in the world would never know the truth about sin, righteousness, and judgment.One commentator here wisely states, “The world regarded Jesus as a sinner, saw itself as righteous, and because of this believed it could stand in judgment over Jesus. On all three of these points the world was disastrously in error and needed correction.”The result of the Spirit’s exposing conviction feels crushing to the world, but to some in the world – to those who believe, this crushing conviction gives way to a deep comfort and repentance leading to new life. So let’s jump into v9-11 to see the comfortably crushing conviction of the Spirit.
a) Concerning Sin (v9)
v9 says, “…concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me…” This first work of the Spirit in the world is about sin, and in particular the sin that causes those in the world to not believe in Christ, or the sin of unbelief, and the chief problem of all unbelief is putting self over God. So when Jesus entered this world the world did not receive Him and did not believe Him. If they had believed Him they would’ve believed His words about their guilt but they didn’t, therefore they remain blind to their guilt. It is this blindness and this unbelief that the Spirit exposes to the world, despite the world.Driving it home to the consciences of men, awakening the guilty verdict within, and dropping a heavy awareness on man of man’s ultimate need for redemption. This is the first work of the Spirit in the world.
b) Concerning Righteousness (v10)
v10 says, “…concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see Me no longer…” The second work of the Spirit in the world is about righteousness, and in particular a righteousness that has to do with the Son’s ascension. “I go to the Father, and you will see Me no longer…” Jesus tells His disciples. What’s this mean? Well back up a bit. It is at first strange to think of the Spirit convicting the world of righteousness because the world doesn’t have any righteousness of their own that will be of any benefit before God. But then, upon realizing that fact, we now can see what this means. The Spirit works in the hearts of unbelieving man to awaken them to the ineffectiveness of their own self-centered, sinful, and worldly righteousness. Righteousness that is as useful as filthy rags as Isaiah says.
We get this. There is plenty of religious righteousness present in our day.Many good deeds are done in the name of religion, homes are built, mouths are fed, bodies are clothed, and slaves are emancipated…but if all of this righteous work isn’t done in the name of Christ and seeking to meet the greatest need of lost men and women (ultimately redemption) these righteous deeds are hypocritical and as helpful to their eternal welfare as an empty well. It’s like monopoly money, very useful in the world of monopoly but unable to profit you anything in a real bank.After seeing the hollow worth of their own counterfeit righteousness, the Spirit brings an awakening in the hearts of unbelieving man to the effectiveness of Christ’s perfect, flawless, and pure righteousness. He adds that part about Him going to His Father because His righteousness does not depend on His physical presence with us, for the Spirit Himself reckons it to our account at the moment of belief. This is the second work of the Spirit in the world.
c) Concerning Judgment (v11)
v11 says, “…concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” The third work of the Spirit in the world is about judgment, and in particular the judgment of Satan, the ruler of this world. Behind the world’s false judgment of Christ, is the father of lies who has been a liar from the beginning. The unbelieving world, as Satan’s blinded children, echo his values, judgments, and opinions. This fallen family judged Jesus by nailing Him to the cross. But the great twist of the story of redemption is that Satan was judged and found wanting at that very same cross. Colossians 2:14-15 speak of this moment saying the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands was canceled…set aside, nailed to the cross, in this the rulers and authorities were disarmed, put to an open shame, and triumphed in Christ. Here’s the lesson of the third work of the Spirit in v11. If Satan, the ruler of this world, was judged, exposed, and convicted as guilty at the cross, all those who follow his agenda are ‘doubly exposed.’Or as John 3 says, “…whoever does not believe in the Son is condemned already.” As the Spirit drives home an awareness of the world’s sin and lack of righteousness in their hearts, so too the Spirit drives home an awareness of the judgment sentence standing over all those who reject this Son of God, forcing the world to face what our culture would have us ignore.Heaven will be the home of all who repent and trust this Savior. Hell will be the home of all who don’t. This is the third work of the Spirit in the world.
Be sure to understand what’s going on here. First, do not see the Spirit exposing the world of their sin, unrighteousness, and judgment as a negative thing, or a thing that reveals the malice of God toward sinners. God does hate sin, no doubt about that, but do you not see that in exposing our sins He is drawing us to Himself and allowing our eyes to behold our true deathly nature to grab hold of the remedy with all the might we can muster? Indeed, to reveal such things to us is a mighty gift.
Second, the Spirit does not operate on His own out there in the world in regard to these three things. No, the Spirit did these things through Christ in His earthly ministry and now that He has risen and ascended the Spirit will continue this threefold work through the preaching of the Apostles, and through all those who believe in the Apostles message, down to you and I.
That the Holy Spirit does these things is gracious. Without the Spirit bringing such conviction, no one would ever know his or her need for Christ. Here is true power, power that attends the preaching of God’s Word, power able to change a sinner’s life.Power like an ancient mast, causing our ship to keep afloat in the stormy waters of this fallen world.
Glory to the Father, Glory to the Son, Glory to the Spirit – ever three and ever one.
D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1991) page 533.
Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971) page 696. See Carson page 533 also.
Grant R. Osborne, John – Verse by Verse (Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Press, 2018) page 374-375.
R.C. Sproul, John – Saint Andrews Expositional Commentary(Orlando, Florida: Reformation Trust, 2009) page 300. See Carson page 534.
Richard Phillips, John 11-21 – Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 2014) page 334.
Westcott, quote in ibid., page 698, footnote 20.
This passage (v9-11) is incredibly hard to understand. Because of how the Greek word elencho can be translated with some variety there is little agreement on it in the commentaries. Carson’s explanation on page 534-538 helpfully wades through the varying options but feels ‘thick.’ Morris is also good on page 698-699 but feels too short. Sproul’s is also good on page 301-302 but it’s difficult to see the difference between the two views he explains. Ironically though, it seems that all three seem to land in the same place.