Famous Last Words 13-Your Advantage that I go

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This is now the fourth time that Jesus promises to send a “Helper” (paràkleteOne who kneels beside, one who supports, a defender, caretaker) to his followers. This repetition is more than the circular pattern of Jewish thought and oral tradition. This is Jesus “passing the baton” and establishing for all future followers the way in which humanity will relate to God, through the power of this Helper, the promised Holy Spirit. We’ve seen how Jesus has revealed that his disciples, through their belief in Christ, are now a part of the exact same relationship dynamic which Jesus shared with the Father. Now Jesus is explaining the purpose for this transition.

“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. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer;  concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:7-11)

I revealed in previous episodes that the Kósmos (world system) was clearly referring to the dominant institutional powers, namely that of Religion and State. These systems are the forces putting Jesus to death and within this context, they are clearly the subjects of this entire conversation recorded in this series. If you ask people familiar with the bible to interpret this passage, you’ll discover they run into difficulty and then explain it based upon their present, cultural understanding of the terms: sin, righteousness, and judgment. Unless these words are defined from the biblical context, the meaning is lost in the modern cultural context.

Jesus’ explains that the “helper” will èlégxo (reproach, rebuke, convict, point out wrongdoing) the kosmos (world systems) in three areas of distinction. This means that the arrival of the Holy Spirit will function to clearly show the wrongdoing and to rebuke the institutional powers of Religion and State in three areas:

  1. Sin
  2. Righteousness
  3. Judgment

1. Sin: The sin of the world here is the unbelief of the religiously over-affiliated. This is also true for Rome and the allegiance to its power, but Jesus is speaking primarily of religion. What he is saying is that Sin=Unbelief. Paul later uses the same definition for sin when he says “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23). Jesus performed miracles and worked wonders proving himself to be the promised Messiah of Jewish history. However, since his Kingdom was not a political, nor military over-taking of Rome which governed Israel, they could not accept his word. Furthermore, since Jesus did not work in step with the religious rule keeping, the religious mind could not believe that their messiah wouldn’t uphold the power structures of organized religion.

Thomas Merton would say: “Christ was put on the cross because he did not measure up to man’s conception of holiness…He was not holy enough…He was not holy in the right way…therefore He was not God at all.”

Therefore, the Holy Spirit will come and convict, or rebuke institutional religion for not believing and for obstructing belief for those who have waited for his Kingdom’s arrival. Let this statement soak in. Modern religion is still doing this today as each conceives of holiness in it’s own way, and institutes all the rules which will prove its followers to be valid or holy. The disciples did not do this. They were not being invited into growing a religion, nor creating one, but living in fidelity to the fact that the Christ, by way of the Holy Spirit is opening up a wide access point for all of humanity to know and access God.

2. Righteousness: The Spirit will not only help the disciples to convict or rebuke institutional power according to their unbelief, but also righteousness. Dikaiosúne (righteousness, to be put right with, religious observances, charity) is understood as living in fidelity or in a way that pleases God. It’s not just doing the right thing, it’s doing the right thing from the right motivation of the heart. The reason religion is condemned by Christ is “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” (Isaiah 29:13, Mark 7:6).

What Jesus is revealing here is that religion is not to be a trusted authority on how to live in fidelity to God’s kingdom. When Jesus says, “because I am going to the Father” (v10) he is implying that religion doesn’t go to the Father. The Holy Spirit will continue the work of Jesus by reproaching religion for not liberating people in God because that is what Jesus did constantly in his public ministry. His point is that not only does religion face the sin of unbelief, but it is also unrighteous in how if fails to lead people to God. It convinces people that religious observance (righteousness) is rule keeping or compliance, but the Spirit reveals that in righteousness people are motivated by the love of God, compassion toward sinners, mercy and justice.

“Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13, Hosea 6:6)

3. Judgement: The Greek term krísis (verdict, judgment, legal decision, justice) as you can see has many meanings. The essence of the word is the ability and authority to determine right from wrong and to establish what is true. Those with sound judgment are those who have the wisdom and skill to sort out the nuances of what is right, and to do justice according to the law of love. When Jesus says: “because the ruler of this world is judged” he is making a statement about the true authority of his Kingdom compared to the kingdoms of this world.

In Jesus’ temptation, Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world (Luke 4:5) because they were essentially his to give. As fallen humanity drifted from dependence upon God and became proud in themselves, the kingdoms of the world began to operate according to “worldly’ principals. Paul later calls them “Principalities and Powers” (Ephesians 6:12). However, the arrival of the Messiah (the Christ) means the arrival of a new Kingdom under a new Head with a very different set of rules. This was typified in ancient Judaism by living in fidelity to the Mosaic law. Since, over time, even Israel drifted so far from God that they could not recognize their own messiah, Jesus is making visible, not a new religion, but the true, lasting, eternal Kingdom, which has come down from Heaven, of which Christ is the King.

I have been showing how the Kosmos (institutional power) is the adversary (Satan) of this Kingdom and now, with the sending of the Helper, the Holy Spirit, people will now be able to judge and discern the difference. Jesus himself judged the system over and over again in his ministry, and now that judgment will ultimately be played out in the events of AD 70 with the destruction of the Temple. People are now free to find and follow God their Maker, in their own way, in the way of sincerity and purity of heart (true worshipers -John 4:23), instead of religious compliance, threat, fear and intimidation.

The Messiah freed all people from the bondage to religion and State.

This is why Jesus refrained from saying too much and left the disciples with this vital piece: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (v.13). The freedom of this cannot be understated. Instead of Jesus’ words being trapped into an exclusive religion, Jesus shows just how beneficial it is for all people that the Spirit guides all people into the Truth. This is not religion or the State guiding us into the Truth, but only the Spirit of God. This promised Helper turns out to be profoundly subversive to any institution seeking to rule over people.

The Spirit is here today… available… accessible to all people in all times in all places. Throughout human history we have seen people stand up to institutional power and when it happens it inspires everyone with the hope of freedom. That is the essence of Christ following, that is the essence of life by the Spirit. This is not anti-institutionalism for its own sake, it is merely fidelity to the authority of our Maker to define who we are and nothing else. Once we find our true name in God, every institution of the world is immediately subverted and loses it’s power over us. That is what it means to be saved, to be real, to be authentic.

Our world is desperate for this kind of freedom and it’s disoriented as to where we should turn to find it. May we all come to experience this kind of freedom.