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The Life of Jesus - Series 12: Episode 16

The work of the Holy Spirit

| Martin Charlesworth
John 15:26-16:15

As well as being an advocate, the Holy Spirit will testify to Jesus and work in unbelievers to change their lives.

As well as being an advocate, the Holy Spirit will testify to Jesus and work in unbelievers to change their lives.


Hello, welcome to Series 12 and Episode 16. We are talking about the work of the Holy Spirit. We are studying in John 15 and 16, and we are in the middle of the teaching of Jesus that is recorded in John during the Last Supper which takes place in the last week of the life of Jesus.

Introduction and Recap

Let us quickly rewind the clock and put everything firmly in context, as we do in every episode to help us understand the passage. Obviously, we are now in the last week of Jesus' life, which has been the subject of Series 11 and Series 12. If you have followed through both those series, you get a very full picture of everything that happened. The Gospel writers give a great deal of attention to every single event of the last week of Jesus' life, from the time when he entered Jerusalem in triumph, in the Triumphal Entry on the Sunday - that begins the week - all the way through to his resurrection the following Sunday. Such a week of incredible drama. The basic theme, at the centre of it, is the conflict between Jesus and the religious rulers, which was coming to a crisis and a conclusion. Jesus went into the Temple on Monday of that week, having made the Triumphal Entry, and confronted the religious establishment by confronting their trading activities, through their market stalls in the Temple which were making a huge amount of money for the priests and their associates but corrupting the religious life of the Temple. That was a very confrontational act. The following day the religious authorities were on the offensive when Jesus came back to the Temple. They tried to trip him up with lots of difficult questions. We have been through some of the details of that, in series 11, which led to Jesus leaving the Temple.

At the end of that day, or later in that day, he spent time with his disciples just outside the city on a place called the Mount of Olives, telling them about things he predicted and prophesied were going to happen in the future. The first thing was that the nation was in great threat of divine judgement if they continued in their stand, through their leaders, of resisting Jesus' claims to be the Messiah. Secondly Jesus also explained to them that he was going to be leaving the earth soon after his death and resurrection and coming back again in powerful glory in some future, unknown time.

The story moves on in the week, to the Wednesday, where Jesus is in Bethany at a meal hosted by Simon the Leper. He was anointed by Mary on that day and that was the moment when Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, decided he was going to betray Jesus - a fateful moment. It is a key part of the story because you can not really understand how this story fits together unless you see the central role of Judas Iscariot. You have Jesus on the one hand with the crowds, with his disciples - great popularity; and you have got the religious leaders looking on from their position of authority in the Temple, wanting to stop the Jesus movement, but not knowing how to do it. The way they wanted to do it was to arrest him secretly, or privately, out of the public gaze, and that was very difficult to do because they did not know what his personal movements were. Once Judas came to them, he could tell them where Jesus was and where Jesus was going to be. On that Wednesday, Judas went back into Jerusalem and had a discussion with the authorities and agreed that he would betray Jesus very shortly and they agreed to give him money. When that had happened, then the whole conflict was bound to come to a confrontation. Jesus was bound to be arrested at some point. In fact it happened very quickly. He spoke to them probably on the Wednesday, and here we are on the Thursday evening in the Last Supper and the betrayal of Jesus is going to take place straight after this event.

In the Last Supper discussions and episodes that we have had so far, we have told the story with a number of different interesting dimensions. This is a Passover meal that Jesus celebrated - a family meal, so to speak, with his disciples. I think he had done it before probably when he had been up in Jerusalem but we have no direct record of it. It was a tradition of the Jews that family units, or groups of people travelling together, would share the Passover meal - with the roast lamb, at the centre of it, bread and wine and various other foods. In the episodes that we have discussed the Last Supper, from Episode 9 onwards, we have told the story of the gathering together of the Last Supper, of Jesus taking the form of a servant and washing his disciples' feet, and Jesus instituting the Lord's Supper - that special commemoration of his death as a permanent feature of Church life - during the middle of this meal, and asking them to repeat the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine as a sign of remembering his death and its significance. Then Jesus taught about servant leadership. Judas finally left at that point of the meal, and this is the moment where he betrays Jesus very specifically because he knows where Jesus is, and he knows where Jesus is intending to go when he has finished the meal. That information he is passing on to the authorities so they can send out a party - soldiers and others - to arrest him. While that is going on, hidden and unseen; we can't see exactly what is going on in the story, but we know it is going on, Jesus focuses in the narrative as given in John's Gospel, on reassuring, comforting and strengthening the disciples at a time of great vulnerability. In John 14 and 15, we see some of those reassurances and some of those teachings that Jesus gave.

Two episodes ago, we saw that he began to teach about the Holy Spirit. That was tremendously important. There had been teaching before about the Father and the Son: how Jesus revealed the Father; Jesus was going to the Father; and how the disciples would go to the Father in heaven. Then Jesus begins to explain that the Holy Spirit is going to be sent from the Father and the Son and given to the disciples. The person of the Holy Spirit is going to come and live in them permanently and powerfully, so that they can carry out their mission and ministry. Then we saw the metaphor of the vine and the branches, where Jesus discussed how God the Father was going to shape their lives and that was the subject of our last episode. We are returning to the question of the work of the Holy Spirit. Let me read a couple of opening verses and comment on them, before we read the main passage - John 15: 26 - 16: 1,

‘“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father - the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father - he will testify about me. And you also must testify for you have been with me from the beginning.”’

John 15:26-27, NIV

Jesus Reassures the Vulnerable Disciples

That is the major theme. We are going to come back to that in a moment. But the next statement is important for context -

‘All this I have told you so that you will not fall away’.

John 16:1, NIV

Here comes a vital clue as to what Jesus is doing because this is a very long discourse or teaching here in John 14, 15 and 16, leading to Jesus' prayer in John 17. It is a very long part of Scripture and John takes great care to recount this for us. We can begin to see what Jesus is doing. He is stabilising very vulnerable disciples. They don't really know what is going on. They are with Jesus but he is saying he is not going to be with them much longer; there has been prophecy of his death; there have been rumours of what the authorities might do; Judas has been a bit of a dark horse - he has been coming and going, and suddenly he disappeared for no apparent reason after Jesus had said some challenging words to him; and Jesus had said to Peter and the other Apostles that there's a spiritual dimension going on - Satan and the powers of darkness want to disperse them and to neutralise the power of the disciples. All these things are happening here in the upper room. The minds and the emotions of the disciples are vulnerable. John 14: 1, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.You believe in God; believe also in me.’ Jesus alludes to it there and he is going to allude to it again in 16: 6. ‘“You are filled with grief because of the things I have said to you.”’

It is a vulnerable time and Jesus wants to ensure that his disciples don't scatter when he is arrested, tried and executed. He wants them to remain in the city and to remain for the resurrection. He has promised that he will rise again from the dead but that was a hard thing for them to really believe and understand. They always struggled to understand how that could possibly come about.

Let's continue and read this passage. We will continue from verse 2 - 15,

‘“They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Rather, you're filled with grief because I have said these things. But very truly I tell you it is for your good that I'm going away. Unless I go away the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I'm going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgement, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. 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 16:2-15, NIV

The Role of Holy Spirit

This teaching is about the Holy Spirit and we have some more details about the topic that Jesus began to explain two episodes ago in the second half of John 14. We come back to the title of the Spirit, John 16: 7 ‘the advocate’ which is also given in John 15: 26, and earlier in the previous passage that we mentioned. Two episodes ago, I explained that this Greek word which is translated ‘advocate’ in the New International Version, has a wide range of meanings - three principal meanings that are helpful to us: the Holy Spirit is a helper, so he literally comes and strengthens us in our walk of faith; he helps us when we are weak, or in need of guidance; and he is there with us. Secondly, he is an encourager, so the Holy Spirit points things out to us, brings to our attention things that will encourage us, give us context, give us perspective on the things that we are facing in life. Thirdly, this advocate, this Holy Spirit, could be described as a mediator. That is a word very similar in English to ‘advocate’ connecting us to the Father and the Son, connecting us to God in heaven, speaking on our behalf, helping us to pray to God the Father in a meaningful sense. This is a very powerful statement: he is the advocate. When the advocate comes, it says in John 15: 26 - and also we have got again the title the ‘Spirit of truth’ which we have seen in the earlier passage in John 14, John 16: 13. ‘But when he, the spirit of truth, comes he will guide you into all truth’. He reveals truth to us which is incredibly important.

The Importance of Ascension

Jesus points out in verse 7 that he will need to ascend to heaven before the Spirit comes. ‘It is for your good that I'm going away unless I go away the advocate will not come to you, but if I go I will send him to you.’ Again, we mentioned two episodes ago, when looking at the second half of John 14, that the coming of the Spirit is closely connected with the departure of Jesus. The departure of Jesus is not just his death; it is actually his final departure from the earth, after a period of resurrection, as we will study in our final series, Series 14. We will study the resurrection appearances that took place over a number of weeks. Quite a lot of appearances are recorded on the first day, the day of resurrection, Easter Sunday. Then a number of appearances over a period of time, which amounts to approximately six weeks, or forty days, and Luke describes this in Acts 1. After the resurrection, there is a very specific moment when Jesus departs permanently from this earth. This can easily be underestimated in its significance. It is described very clearly in  Acts 1: 9:

‘After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.’

Acts 1:9, NIV

The cloud is a representation of the glory of God which often appears like a cloud to human eyes.

‘They were looking intently up into the skies as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white’ - that's angels - ‘stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky ? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’

Acts 1:10-11, NIV

The ascension is a very definitive moment. It's described very specifically at the beginning of the book of Acts. It is the very last event in the life of Jesus, the very last event that we will study in our story but Jesus sees the significance of it here - if he doesn't go away, the Advocate will not be sent. Jesus needs to go away before the Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son to the disciples. The ascension is needed. The Spirit will be sent by Jesus from the Father, as is stated very clearly in the book of Acts. We looked at this verse before, but I will just repeat it once again, from Acts 2: 33

‘Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.’

Acts 2:33, NIV

It is tremendously important to get into the minds of the disciples the fact that Jesus going from them, is not the end of the world. It is not the end of the story. It is not a catastrophe. He is educating them at this point, hoping to encourage them.

Holy Spirit Testifies About Jesus

Going back to the first verse of our passage, a very important verse - Chapter 15: 26, ‘He will testify about me’ speaking of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will testify about me. Here is one of the primary characteristics of the Holy Spirit of God. Remember, we described two episodes ago, very clearly, the fact that the Holy Spirit is a person not a force, not to be seen as impersonal, not to be seen as a physical power like electricity. He is a person; he is God in person, working through human beings, living in those people who are believers, and empowering them to live a supernatural life, and revealing to them things about Jesus, testifying about Jesus, both his past -his earthly life - and what he is doing in the present through the Church, and what he will do in the future.

John 16: 8 - 11 turns our attention to the work of the Holy Spirit in unbelievers. This a very important passage; it is a different focus,

‘When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong;about sin, righteousness and judgement: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I'm going to the Father where you can see me no longer, and about judgement, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.’

John 16:8-11, NIV

The Holy Spirit is going to prove unbelievers to be in the wrong. What does this actually mean? It is very likely that the primary meaning of this is that the Holy Spirit is going to work in many unbelievers in such a way as to convince them that they need to change their mind about Jesus. In other words, this is probably a reference to the conversion or salvation process by which people fundamentally change their minds - change their mind about sin, the significance of sin. The Holy Spirit makes us very aware that we are sinners. In other words, we have done wrong things, thought wrong things in our lives, and we have guilt all over us, or within us - shame. The Holy Spirit is the one who convinces us fundamentally that there is a real need to deal with things that are wrong in our lives. That is the work of the Holy Spirit; no-one else can do that. The Holy Spirit will convince people about righteousness. Righteousness here is a reference to the Gospel and God's right way of dealing with humanity, and how he puts humanity right with him. The Holy Spirit will convince people about their need of change, and the reality of sin. He will convince people about the way of change - the way of righteousness. He will also convince people about judgment - that without salvation, we stand to be judged. This is almost certainly a reference to the power of the Holy Spirit to change people's way of thinking fundamentally, and to bring a conversion or salvation process.

You may have experienced that, and you may recognise that something has happened in your life that has brought a fundamental transformation - it happened to me at about the age of 15 - such a radical awareness of these truths came home to me over a period of a few months that changed my life forever. Maybe this hasn't happened to you yet, or maybe you are going through the process as you are listening to this, because you are enquiring about Jesus and you are feeling that power working within you. Can I interpret this for you? This is the work of the Holy Spirit revealing your urgent need of salvation, the clear way of salvation through Jesus Christ, and the need to avoid God's judgement. You can carry along that path and find salvation, through trusting in Christ, turning away from the things that you have done wrong - John 16: 13;

‘But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all 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.’

John 16:13, NIV

This is amazing, bearing in mind this reference to the work of the Holy Spirit is specifically applied to the Apostles, the eleven disciples here - there will be twelve again very shortly as Judas commits suicide, and another man called Matthias joins the group. The Twelve are going to have a unique authority, a unique revelation, which is absolutely remarkable. He'll guide you into all the truth. We have already seen in John 14 some of the incredible work of the Holy Spirit, including bringing to their memory all the things that Jesus had said. He is going to lead them into all truth, so they are going to have enough revelation, or insight, to understand and remember all of the life of Jesus and his teaching, and also everything that God is doing through building the Church, so that they can write and teach - they write letters, and teach in the Early Church - the Apostles are going to be granted incredible insight and clarity and truthfulness because the Holy Spirit is going to be inspiring them in a unique way. This verse also implies the authority to write the books which now become scriptural books for us, including the Gospels written by Apostles or their authorised representatives.

Verses 14 - 15;

‘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 16:14-15, NIV

The Spirit acts in perfect harmony with the Father and the Son. Here we have a beautiful example of the trinitarian nature of God - the three persons in one God.


Some conclusions and reflections. All of this points towards the day of Pentecost when the Spirit will be poured out, as recorded vividly in Acts 2. You might want to read Acts 2 as a parallel passage. This passage also encourages us that, for unbelievers to come to Christ, there has to be an initial work of the Holy Spirit. We can't persuade people on our own, although we can play a key part in the process by preaching Christ, sharing our testimony, pointing people to Scripture, encouraging them to connect with the Church. The power of the Holy Spirit is the vital fundamental ingredient of the salvation of an individual. He is the one who convicts people about sin, righteousness and judgement according to verses 8 - 11 in this passage. That is a very important thing.

This passage also gives us confidence that the Scriptures we have before us, written by the Apostles and their associates, are in a special way inspired by the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit was given to the Apostles in a unique way, to guide them into all truth, so that they could pass it on to us. A final thought is that the Holy Spirit is our advocate, our helper, our comforter - the one who mediates between us and God. I want you to take encouragement from this, that the same Holy Spirit promised to the disciples on this occasion is also promised to every single person who believes in Jesus. He will be our leader and our guide; he will lead us towards Jesus Christ and everything that Jesus did, and everything that Jesus said in his earthly life and in his sacrificial death and in his resurrection. Thanks for joining us for this episode.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. Which aspect of the Holy Spirit's work do you need at this time? Pray and believe!
  • Discipleship
    1. When you reflect on your own 'conversion', how can you see the work of the Holy Spirit work in convicting and providing a way of righteousness to you, and giving you a view of judgement?
    2. When you are sharing your testimony with others what, or who, makes the difference?
  • Further Study
    Further Study
    1. Read Acts 1 and 2 to place the coming of the Holy Spirit in history - just as Jesus said he would come.
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