JOHN Chapters 14 to 16 provide what in some ways may be called the most intimate and sacred teachings of Christ concerning the Holy Spirit. They provide for us what the Second Member of the Godhead has to teach us about the Third Person of the Trinity. However before the Lord tells us what the Holy Spirit would do, He tells us who the Holy Spirit would be. He is the Comforter. And He is the Spirit of truth. Sometimes Jesus uses the one name and sometimes the other. Sometimes both. Our consideration will now be of the Spirit of God as the Comforter.
In the Bayeux Tapestry there is a section which provides a picture of a soldier, a rather reluctant soldier, not wanting to go into the battle, but probably thinking of his family and friends at home. Behind him there is woven the figure of the king who has the end of his spear pointing at the small of the soldier’s back. There is a caption in Latin for this section, and it reads like this: “King William comforts his soldiers”.
We use the word “comfort” to express that which is gentle, soothing and sympathetic, but the original word does not mean that; not to soothe [45/46] but to encourage or make strong. As the Comforter, the Spirit’s purpose is not so much to soothe as to stimulate. His function is to invigorate and strengthen us for the Christian warfare. We have to stand on our two feet to face the winds and fury of difficulties and opposition and it is the Holy Spirit’s mission and ministry to get and keep us on our feet. We feel our frailty but Jesus asked the Father to send us the Comforter so that we can be strong to face the challenges, the contradictions and the frustrations of our Christian life.
“I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may be with you for ever” (14:16). We note that the Spirit is spoken of not just as the Comforter but as another Comforter. Now in English we use the word “another” in two ways: sometimes we mean “other” in the sense of as an addition and sometimes as a replacement, that is “instead of”. There is a story of a student whose landlady cared for him most carefully but who had a weakness for rice pudding, the result being that whatever had been the first course of his meals, the second was always rice pudding. After about six months of this he plucked up courage and said to her, “Mrs. Perkins, I am very grateful for the way in which you look after me. Don’t think that I am ungrateful for those lovely meals which you prepare, but do you think that perhaps occasionally — not always, but just occasionally — I might have another pudding.” Mrs. Perkins responded very warmly to this, chiding him for not asking before. Of course he should have another pudding! Next day he sat expectantly at the table and had a great shock when this time she brought him two rice puddings!
Had he been speaking in Greek there could never have been such a mistake, for that language has two words, meaning one of the same kind of one of a different kind. What the student really asked for was the latter, but what he got was another of the same kind. When Jesus said, “another”, which did He mean? In fact he meant what the landlady mistakenly understood. The Holy Spirit is another Comforter of the same kind as the Lord Jesus. Everything that Jesus had been to help and strengthen His disciples in those years of their pilgrimage together, the Holy Spirit would now undertake as Christ went to the Father. To His disciples the Lord said that the Spirit would perfectly take His place, comforting and strengthening them just as He had always done.
In these chapters we read of four ways in which The Lord Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would sustain His apostles.
i. By Radiating the Person of Jesus
The Comforter reveals the identity of Jesus; He points to His person and illuminates Him. There is no other chapter which gives us the closeness of the union between God the Son and God the Father as John 14 does. “Believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me” (v.11). Philip had said, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough”, to which Jesus replied, “Have I been so long time with you, and do you not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father.” So Jesus was explaining to the apostles who He really was. And this is the ministry of the Holy Spirit, to impress upon us the reality and the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We cannot be strong in our Christian lives if we do not know who the real Jesus is. He is the Son of God incarnate, saying to us, “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me”. This is not what we read in books about “The myth of God incarnate” — far from it. The Holy Spirit bring strength and vigour into us by radiating the person of the glorious Son of God so that we have an inward knowledge of Him.
ii. By Mediating the Presence of Jesus
The Lord Jesus said, “I will not leave you bereft even though I go to the Father. I will come to you” (14:18). I will not forsake nor forget you. Later on He said, “I will manifest myself to you. If a man loves me, he will keep my commandments and my Father will love him and we will come and make our home with him” (v.23). Here are words which speak to us of the intimate indwelling presence of the Lord Jesus and also of God the Father, made possible by the comforting Spirit of God. Our bodies will be His temple.
Remember that after the children of Israel had sinned, God said to Moses, “I will send an angel before thee … for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people” (Exodus 33:2-3), but Moses could not bear this and argued that he did not want just an angel, but the Lord Himself: “If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence”. We would say the same, for our strengthening comfort is provided by the Holy [46/47]Spirit who mediates to us the very presence of Christ. Just as Daniel’s three friends were unharmed in the fiery furnace because of the fourth person there, the Son of God Himself, so we are sustained and delivered in every fiery trial by the same all-conquering Lord, though in our case He is not only with us but He is in us.
I think of an African Christian coming back one day to find that his home had been razed to the ground and burned so that all he possessed had been turned into cinders, and being able to turn to his enemies who belonged to a different tribe and say to them, “You can burn me out of my house but you cannot burn Jesus out of my heart!” That is what it means to have the presence of the living Christ in our hearts by the work of the Comforter, turning our frailty into His divine strength.
iii. By Substantiating the Promise of Jesus
The way in which the Holy Spirit strengthens us is by bringing the Word of God to us. “The words that I speak to you I speak not from myself; but the Father abiding in me does his works” (v.10). The chapter begins with the glorious promise of our future inheritance: “I go to prepare a place for you”. That is the promise of heaven. By and large the Christian Church is scared stiff of talking about heaven in these days. Naturally the secular and humanist world loathes the idea, and indeed it has no hope for the future. Christians tend to feel embarrassed but we should not apologise about heaven. When we do so it is not because we are trying to contract out of our responsibilities here on earth but because we have something beyond this life. “We are marching to Zion, the glorious city of God.”
Let no-one dissuade you of this, that God has a prepared place for a prepared people. The Spirit witnesses to this promise and so mobilises and strengthens our will for the present as our hearts are warmed by the prospect of the future. One night my wife and I came back quite late and as we came through the front door we were amazed to hear the distinctive sound of our electric carving knife. We wondered what our daughter must be doing and if she had been roasting a joint at that time of night. When we went into the kitchen there was no joint. There wasn’t any food at all. The truth was that she could not get the dog to come in from the garden, so she plugged in the carving knife, and in a jiffy he ran in, expecting food. Maybe he was disappointed, but the Lord’s promises never disappoint.
“Why is it”, we ask “that in these days so often the Lord’s people have lost their appetite for the Word of God? Is it because they have too much sweets and crisps instead of nourishing food?” It is sad that so often other things have come into the churches and crowded out the Word of God. There should be no famine of the Word of God, for we have it in its completion and perfection. And if there is a famine, it is often in this matter of listening to the Word of God, as there was in the days of the prophet Amos. The Comforter does His work of strengthening us by means of the Word of the Lord.
iv. By Fellowship with the People of Christ
The words of these chapters were not spoken just to individuals but to apostles in the Upper Room where there was a kind of church in miniature. It may be possible to have religion with “what a man does with his solitariness”, but that is not Christianity. The Spirit’s work is to strengthen us as we meet with others under the government of the Word of God. In fact we ourselves have a ministry to strengthen each other as the Holy Spirit strengthens us. The Church is a social fellowship of God’s people gathered in the name of Christ and round His Word.
John Bunyan writes that “Fellowship among believers is like the several shrubs in a garden, each with the dew of heaven upon them. The which being gently shaken by the wind, they let fall their dew at each other’s roots and become nourishers of each other and joint nourishers together.” This is a lovely picture of the Comforter’s work in our fellowship with other believers. This is what God intends, that with the dew of heaven upon us by the Holy Spirit we may become joint nourishers the one of the other.
So often the love of God reaches us through one of His people. We are told that Jonathan strengthened the heart of David and encouraged him in the Lord. And we read that as Paul approached Rome, brethren from the city came out to meet him and that when Paul saw them, he “thanked God, and took courage” (Acts 28:15). As we live together in the fellowship of the Spirit, we shall find that we stimulate one another. The King will comfort His soldiers. [47/48]