Series > Worshiping the Spirit
Zach Pummill // March 17, 2019
scripture Passage // John 14:15–27 (ESV)
“ 15 If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me.
25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
I'm a huge Johnny Cash fan, and I've always thought that his conversion story is really powerful. He had lived a hard life. He experienced a lot of hurt and trauma as a child from an accidental death from his brother's tragic death. And then he also had a hard life just from living with a difficult father as their family dealt with that tragedy. And despite all of the fame and all of this success and the adoration that he'd received in his career, it wasn't enough. He was an alcoholic. He was addicted to pills. His life was just a mess.
And in 1967, he hit rock bottom, and he was so low that he decided to end it all. He was going to go into a vast network of caves in Alabama. He was going to go back as far as you could possibly go so that no one would ever find him. And so he got there, he got his flashlight out and he started walking, and he walked into this cave for three hours, and then all of a sudden the batteries on his flashlight went out and he was in complete darkness. And so he laid down and he said, "This is where it's going to happen. This is it. I'm done."
The darkness in that cave matched the darkness that he felt inside of him. And he said he laid there thinking about his life, all the hurt, the trauma, what a mess he was, what failure he was. And he just thinking about God. And then he said, out of nowhere, he just had this most profound sense of God's love, this deep sense of peace that just washed over him. And he felt God say to him, "Johnny, your life's not your own, nor is your death. You belong to me." And he said that out of that he had this new hope to live. Out of this experience of love, he thought, "I want to stay alive, I want to live."
And then he realized, he's in pitch black three hours into a cave with no flashlight. And so he said the only way he could get out was he had to stop in the darkness, put his hands down and feel the wall. And then he would allow himself to pause and think about the air that was moving through the cave that would gently move over his face. And he knew that it was moving from one entrance to an exit or one way or another, and if he followed that, it would lead him out.
And so he spent hours in the dark, stopping and feeling that gentle breeze go across his face and eventually he got out. He got out and he sobered up, and got his life in order. He said that later on he realized that all those words he'd written years before took on a new meaning, "Because you're mine, I walk the line."
I've always thought that that story is a really a beautiful picture of how the Spirit operates in our lives. It's a beautiful picture of what happens in our conversion, that the love of God comes to all of us, offers this new life in all of our brokenness, in all of our shame and guilt gives us new purpose. Yet here we are, still stuck in the same darkness of this world. We're still stuck with the same challenges, the same addictions, the same struggles as we had before, the same desires for affirmation, but new life is available to the ones that learn how to go through life by pausing and stopping and feeling the gentle breeze of the Spirit as it guides them to new life.
This week we are beginning a new sermon series on the Holy Spirit. And over the next 11 weeks we are going to be looking at the Holy Spirit and what he does in our lives.
Now, if the Holy Spirit's strange to you, you're in good company. It's a very common sentiment about the Holy Spirit. But at the same time, you'll find the Holy Spirit in the first chapter of the Bible, you'll find the Holy Spirit in the last chapter of the Bible. He's from start to finish. And so it's ironic that the spirit can be so prevalent and yet so mysterious to us at the same time. And so our goal in this series is to understand who God is and understand more of who God is by understanding who is God, the Holy Spirit, and how does he operate in our lives.
Today, as we begin, we're starting with John 14. John 14 is a part of what's called the Farewell Discourse, because this is Jesus saying goodbye to his disciples the night before he died. We should probably set the stage a little bit, and realize that context that Jesus is saying goodbye because goodbyes are hard, and this goodbye would have been especially hard. Melissa knows that every year when I come home from India, I'm usually quiet for a couple of days.
I love seeing her and Asher and being united with them, but I'm really sad because there's a part of me that's sad from having to say goodbye to the G Brothers, from saying goodbye to Smriti, from saying goodbye to the Rajah kids, but also saying goodbye to the team, because we spent 24/7 together for 11 days, and you have this incredible connection as you go to these amazing experiences, you connect with each person in a different way and you become a family and then you get to the airport and you go your separate ways and you say goodbye.
And that's always hard for me. I wish the party could go on forever, but we have to say goodbye. In light of that, I can't really imagine how the disciples would have felt in this moment. They spent 24/7, three years walking with Jesus, seeing all that they saw, experiencing all that they did and here Jesus is saying he's going to leave them, but not only that, the disappointment that that would have brought to them, because here they're thinking this entire time and even in the other gospels you can see them arguing about this, is that they're expecting Jesus to come, defeat the Roman Empire, take over the entire world and set up an earthly kingdom.
And then Jesus says, "I have to leave you. I have to go." And so how confused and devastated did they have to feel in John 14. And so in light of that, how does Jesus comfort them in knowing that he has to leave them? And if you consider the farewell discourse as a whole, when Jesus talks about himself leaving, he talks about it in a way that says it's better if he leaves them than if he stays. And so how so? How could that possibly be true? This whole passage centers on what Jesus says in verse 15, and he's going to say this twice more in this passage.
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. If you love me, you will keep my word. If you love me you will keep my commands." Now, we can treat that as just a nice generic if then statement for what it means to be a Christian, but there's more to it than that. We need to see it in the context that Jesus is leaving them and what those words mean because when is it the hardest to love Jesus and obey his commands? It's when life doesn't go your way and circumstances turn out completely the opposite of how you wanted them to go. That's when it's hard.
And so Jesus is saying, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments," which means that when he leaves, his departure is going to challenge them to a greater obedience. Their devotion is going to be purified. It's going to challenge them in their love for him because now they got to wrestle with the whole new set of questions. In light of things turning out differently, "Why am I here? Was I hear it all along and on my best behavior around Jesus just because I thought I could be on the ground floor of a new empire? Are his words really truly life to me?" Were they only here because of what they thought they'd get out of it? Was their obedience simply circumstantial?
Jesus, his departure was a reality check for them. Why are they really following him? Will they continue to live in a way that allows his words to define their life? Might we challenge ourselves with that same question. Why are you following Jesus? Why do you love him? Are you endeavoring to obey him and the way that he talks about? And usually it's whenever life doesn't go our way, that our answers to those questions really become exposed, because it's in those moments that really challenges whether or not we really believe are his words life to us, even though life didn't turn out how we wanted or are we just obedient whenever it's convenient? Is our devotion circumstantial?
When Jesus talks about obedience, as you survey your own obedience in your life, we've got to remember he's not talking about least common denominator obedience. He's not just having a checklist, or he really cares about is just, I haven't cheated on my spouse, haven't seen anybody in my business. I pay my taxes. I try to raise my kids to be good people and I try to be a nice person. Well, that's great if you're wanting to know how to be a good citizen, but in terms of obedience and following Jesus, he's talking about something more.
He's talking about following the pattern for life that he has set. And so when Jesus talks about obedience and as you consider what obedience that you've offered to him, he would ask questions like, "Do you love your spouse and your children and one another in the same exact way that I have loved you? Do you lay down your life one for another in the way that I have laid my life down for you? Do you wash the feet of your enemies in the same way that I washed the feet of Judas who betrayed me?
And we really need to consider that. We need to consider our motivations for following Jesus. Do we really love him? Do we obey his commands? Because in this passage, Jesus says that there is incredible promises for the one that does endeavor to love him and obey his commands. And all of those promises and blessings and gifts are fully bound up in the gift of the Holy Spirit. And so what does the Holy Spirit bring to the table? We'll consider two questions. What is the role of the Spirit and what is the result of this Spirit? What's the role and the result?
The first part of understanding the role of the Spirit is to recognize that it's completely rooted in the ministry of Jesus. We see part of it he says that, "The Lord will send the Spirit of truth," and earlier in this passage, Jesus says he is the Truth. Then we see in verse 16, he says that when he leaves, “the Father will send another Helper”, not a Helper, but another Helper. That word in Greek for Helper is Paraclete. And so the Father will send another Paraclete, but elsewhere, Jesus is called a Paraclete in 1 John chapter 2.
Jesus is saying, "In the same way that the Father has sent me, when I am gone, he's going to send you another. One who is like me, one who does what I do, one who will be there for you in the same way that I was when I was with you here on the earth." But then he goes a little bit further in terms of what the spirit does. He says in verse 18 he says, "I won't leave you as orphans. I will come to you." Jesus is saying that what's going to happen when the spirit comes? Is that you're going to have to learn to see life differently because now Jesus will be present with them, but it will be through the power of the Spirit.
Quite simply, the role of the Spirit is to continue the ministry and the presence of Jesus on the earth. The Spirit ensures that Jesus is no less present now than he was when he walked the earth.
That should really challenge us in the ways that we consider obedience and the ways that we consider following Jesus, because how easy is it at any point in your walk of faith to have things in the back of your mind that excuses from these to say, "Wouldn't be a lot easier to be obedient to Jesus if I could follow him around 24/7 like the disciples did?" Or we can say, "If I had seen all of the miracles and signs and wonders that everybody saw, well, obedience wouldn't be that hard. I just remember that when life got hard and obedience would come easy." But that is not even remotely true. And to believe that is to believe a complete lie, because a few hours after Jesus says these words in John 14, all of those disciples that walked with him 24/7 for three years, they're all going to abandon him and leave him for dead. And then you have all of the people the next day, the countless people that saw him perform all those signs and wonders, they're going to call him a blasphemer and they're going to say, "Crucify him. We want his murder. He deserves to die."
Your faith in your obedience to Jesus are not a product of his physical proximity to you. And oftentimes we say those things because it can be an excuse for our lack of obedience in a part of our life that's really hard to follow what he commands or we say that whenever obedience is really hard and it doesn't give us the outcome that we want or the blessing that we feel that we deserve. So if we went further, the role of the spirit is to continue the ministry and presence of Jesus and what does that mean for us?
Well, think of it this way. It means that you wouldn't feel any differently about your faith if Jesus were sitting right next to you. If Jesus just walked in the room and showed up live and in the flesh, you wouldn't feel any different, and he wouldn't be doing any more or any less than what the spirit is doing now. And so all of a sudden you wouldn't magically love Jesus more because he was physically here. You wouldn't magically just start loving your spouse, loving your children in the way that he has loved you just because he showed up and you had dinner with him. It doesn't mean that you're automatically going to be more obedient.
It doesn't mean that you're automatically just going to radically feel more convicted about the things in your life that need to change. Why? Because Jesus has already at work in you. The work of the Spirit is the work of Christ and the work of Christ is the work of the Spirit. And Jesus would go so far as to say, "Everything I do is by the work of the Spirit," and so the Spirit has already begun in his ministry and then when he gives us the spirit, it's the same as the ministry of Christ because their work is one and the same.
How often is it to think that they have different agendas? Like a family business that argues back and forth as to what the goal should be. Like, “Holy Spirit you should really convict them more. Like I'm a little dissatisfied with their life right now.” Or we think that Jesus is worried about obedience and the Spirit is worried about people getting up and running up and down the aisles in a worship service. The work of the Spirit is the work of Christ, which puts us to a question, how has the Spirit been at work in your life? What areas do you feel convicted about in your marriage, your children, your parenting, your relationships, the ways that you seek security, the ways that you seek comfort?
All of those are the moments that the Spirit is bringing Christ to you. He's bringing him close and asking you, "Are you willing to love me and do what I command?" And it's important that we start off our series with recognizing the role of the Spirit because we're not going to get very far in our faith if we think that the Spirit that's given to us is doing something less than what Jesus would be doing if he was here. Jesus is at work in your life because he has given you the Spirit and it's doing the same thing that he would be doing, which in the end just brings us down to the question, are we willing to follow him? Are we willing to obey his commands and respond to the ways that he is at work?
Our second question is what is the result of the Spirit? If the Spirit continues the ministry and presence of Christ then really what is the result? And we see in verses 18 to 21 it really centers on this idea of family and orphanhood. In verses 18 and 19, Jesus says, "I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you, yet a little while in the world will see me no more, but you will see me because I live, you also will live." And so Jesus is saying that when he's gone, they will still see Jesus, but they're going to have to learn to see him in a different way. It's going to be through the Spirit. It's going to be through the eyes of faith that they will see him.
Additionally to that, Jesus goes on and he adds to it and he says that they will come to know something completely new. What is it? Verses 20 and 21, "In that day, you will know that I am in my father and you and me and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me and he who loves me will be loved by my father and I will love him and reveal myself to him." Now, at that point, you might've felt that and I the way you do now, like what on earth is Jesus talking about? This I and you, you and me and the Father and all of that?
Well, the disciples felt the same way because remember, they're thinking Jesus going to establish his earthly kingdom and now all of a sudden he's talking about revealing himself on the power of the Spirit, which is why we get to Judas' question, not Judas Iscariot, but a different Judas. Judas is confused and he says, "Okay, if you're leaving, then how are you going to reveal yourself again? Like how does this work? You're going and now all of a sudden we're supposed to see you in the spirit and all of that."
How did Jesus answer this question? He responds with the same thing in verse 23. Once again, “If you love me, you will keep my word." And then he says, "My Father will love you and we will come to you and make our home with you." Now right there, what greater result of the Spirit, what greater gift could you possibly receive than that? That God would come to you and make his home with you. And so Jesus is saying that by virtue of the Spirit, they will come to know a new, deep and profound intimacy with the entire Godhead. By virtue of their relationship with Jesus, they will come to know God as their Father and his love for them.
And so of course we think, "Well, who doesn't want to know more of that? How do you tap into that? How do you get more of that? How do you access it?" Well, Jesus says, he's already told us, "If you love me, keep my commands, then you will know the love of the father and we will make our home with you." Now, right there, I'll admit, I usually like those words to go in the opposite direction. Like, "Jesus, you and the Father, show your love to me in a really powerful way, prove to me that it's worth it. And then I'll be obedient and I'll get my life together, and then I know that I will be able to follow your commands. It should be easy."
But Jesus says that's not how it works. If you want to experience the Father's love, it's found in obedience. It's found in obeying the commands of Jesus. That when you begin to obey Jesus and follow his commands, the father moves towards you, and it's found in obedience, which means that if that's what you want to experience, then your experience of that love comes down to how you decide if you want to continue to live the way that you want to live or if we live the way that Jesus wants us to live and obey his commands.
And that gets us to the Spirit because Jesus says that it's the Spirit that helps them remember, helps us remember what Jesus has said. He said if we come to the Scriptures, we have to have the Spirit that guides us, that brings to remembrance everything that Jesus said. It's the Spirit that brings us to a full understanding of Jesus's words. Why? So that we might obey and experience that type of communion with God. How can we experience that if we aren't regularly reading the Scriptures?
If Jesus says, "If you love me, you will obey my commands," ff we don't know what those commands are, then look at what the cost is. Because if we're not following Jesus then his words are not defining our lives, something else is. And it better be producing something pretty good because Jesus says, "If you follow me, you will know the love of the Father,” and that's a pretty huge trade-off. Are we engaging the Scriptures as though they were life to us? Do we trust that that is Jesus talking to us? Do we trust that that will lead to a better way of navigating life?
The result of the Spirit is that through obedience he would facilitate this new relationship where you now are in the family of God, where God now makes his home in you and you know the love of God the Father. It's that the Spirit would desire to introduce you to the love of God the Father. And doesn't that sound sweet? We got there theologically, right? A nice little statement. But how does that actually work? Because we can stop there, pray, say amen and go home and nobody has a clue what that means.
Because these are deep realities, just to say that he would introduce you to the love of God the Father. Yet, Jesus seems to think that it's pretty life changing. And so what is the effect of knowing God as your Father? What is the effect? How does that change you? How would that shape you? How would knowing his love be new life? What does it mean to actually have divine parentage and to have the Spirit introduce you to his love? Well, I think the only way we can do that is to go the avenue of the only thing that we know. Is that we would consider it by considering or that we would look at it by asking what does it mean to have earthly parents?
What does it mean to be shaped and influenced by our parents? How do they influence who we are? I think it's no mystery to say that children influence their parents – sorry – that parents influence their children and vice versa. Or to say that, parents shape their children and vice versa – that children attach to parents, children respond to parents. That's why a couple of months ago I tried to hold Betty Allegretto, she stared at me wide eyed for about two seconds, sensed Stranger Danger and cried her head off. She wanted to go back to Ricky. Why? Children are attached to parents. I'm not Ricky. She has a relationship with Ricky that she doesn't have to me.
And there's a whole area of study that's devoted to trying to understand how this attachment process actually works. It's called Attachment Theory. Curt Thompson is a Christian neuroscientist that actually does a lot of work in this field, and he says that an infant's brain, if you monitor it, it's brain activity lights up a computer screen even when it's doing something as simple as looking its parent in the face. You saw it in your babies, they're just staring at you, taking it in, trying to understand what it is that's looking back at it and smiling.
And he said the activity is extraordinary. And he said they can actually see neural pathways created in their brain over time in response to their parents. And so they ask questions, little infant questions, like am I fed when I'm hungry? Am I consoled when I'm upset? How are they spoken to? How are they touched? How are they handled? And in response to that, these neural pathways get created, and he says that they learn to attach or not attach based on the reactions of their parents and the environments in which they're raised. And that through that attachment and that brain activity, they actually develop ways of navigating the world even at an incredibly young age.
And he said, it's actually so impactful that you can actually accurately predict how that child will navigate life when they get older based on how they choose to navigate life even as kids. And he actually uses a study where they took four different types of homes and they studied the kids. So they took kids that were raised in a stable home. Where their physical and emotional needs are met. There's healthy boundaries, they're disciplined, they're engaged by their parents, they're played with, and the environment was safe.
Now in distress, these kids would go to their parents, they would be consoled, and then they'd quickly get back to play and again, and they found that these kids could take correction well, they could work well with others, they learned to bounce back from adversity more quickly and if you looked at just their brain activity, it was essentially normal. It lit up in all the appropriate ways in response to the situations that it was in.
Then they looked at kids that were raised in what they considered to be emotionally unavailable homes. Where the parents were not responsive to the child's emotional state. It was just a mouth to feed. Well, when those children were in distress, they eventually saw that they would no longer go to their parents for comfort because they learned that their parents offer them no emotional support whatsoever and if you actually scan their brain, the part of their brain that processes emotion is just dark.
There's just no activity. They learned to actually do with it another way, which is why in their brain scan completely unrelated areas of the brain were lit up in distress. Why? Because they'd already learned to cope with how they felt through distraction, looking for something else to do. Then he said they looked at kids that were raised in an anxious environment, where things are fine one minute and then emotionally chaotic the next. The parents were available and then they were just gone because they were overwhelmed by their own emotions and situations.
And so in distress, these kids would go to their parents, but they couldn't be consoled. And if they were, it took a really long time to bring them to a place where they were calm and willing to go back to playing. And he said, if you looked at their brain, he said, the part that processes fear and anxiety was always on. It never turned off. It was always lit up because they learned that the world is unpredictable and something bad can happen at any moment. And then lastly, they looked at kids that were raised in unsafe, abusive homes.
In distress, these children wouldn't even acknowledge the presence of their parents. They would isolate themselves, they'd inflict self harm. They'd run from those that would try to help them and they would often just stare off into the distance in a zombie like trance. Thompson says that their brain activity actually makes no logical sense. It's just chaos, and they don't know how to relate to the world because they don't know how to process the situations they're in. They didn't know how to process emotions and they never had an opportunity to attach and to be guided into how to really live.
And all of these children were simply toddlers in this experiment. And here they'd already established patterns based on their parents influence of how they would engage and navigate the world. And Thompson says, "Remember, these kids grow up to be adults and as you watch them grow up, you find them do the same things but just in a more mature way. And so when they can't emotionally connect with anybody whatsoever, they pour themselves into long hours at work or they search for lost love and affection from anybody that would give it, or they learn to isolate themselves and avoid relationships because it feels safe." And that list goes on and on and on into infinity.
I don't say any of that because I want you to feel like you're a bad parent. I don't say any of that because I want you to bash your parents because that's not what Jesus is talking about. I would rather have you look inward and consider yourself for a second and say in distress, what does your brain scan look like? What turns on? What's non-existent? And out of that, how have you chosen to navigate the world and relationships?
If 95% of the time you go through life by simply saying, "Well, this is how I was raised," or "This is how I've always done it," or "This is how I think it's best," then you're missing out, because I think oftentimes we have to consider, how do you go about pursuing self-worth, comfort, identity, value and meaning. I think if we're honest, oftentimes, the way that we pursue those things is shaped by our experience of brokenness in this world, in the ways that we're hardwired, instead of the words of Jesus that offers us a better way of navigating the world.
The reason I ask that deeper question is because I know so many of you have a hard story. In John 14 and everything Jesus is saying in the entire work and ministry of the Spirit is not good news whatsoever. If knowing God and his love as my Father is less influential than my earthly parents, if the most influential thing in your life is the way that you were raised and the brokenness that you've experienced, then we should all go home, because if God does not offer us something better than we are simply wasting our time. And I know there's some of you were raised in good homes, praise God for that, but what about God the Father?
I know some of you were raised in homes that were so broken that you can't even put it into words. And so do we really believe in a gospel that doesn't have a better word to speak? That yes, we're broken in our souls and our hearts, but even in our bodies that we believe in something that can come and change us from every fiber of our being an offer as something new.
Because think about the way that Jesus talks about salvation, even in the book of John. He says, "How about you come and be born again? How about you come to the father like a child? How about you start over?" And so the role and the result of the Spirit is that it facilitates this new relationship where you have an opportunity to attach to a new heavenly Father and be willing to allow him to teach you how to really navigate the world and to really find healing and to find new purpose, new value, hope and identity, all the things that you desire, all the things that you crave at the bottom and core of your being.
And Jesus says, "All of that is available to you, but you have to be willing to follow me and obey my commands and be willing to learn a new way to navigate life." And in that is the invitation and the very question of the gospel – do you want to hang on to an old way of life or are you ready for a new one?
Lord Jesus, we recognize that we often come to you in circumstantial ways. We often pursue purpose and meaning apart from your words to us. We confess our sin this morning. We ask that your spirit would be at work on our hearts, drawing us to you. We ask that we would begin to recognize our brokenness, not as just some generic thing called sin, but that we lived in a broken world. We've experienced broken relationships. We've been hurt. And out of that, we arrogantly tried to go about life in ways that we think are best.
And yet you invite us to come like an infant and like a child until we learn how to go through life. We can't do this apart from your spirit, and we need you to strengthen us in that endeavor. So we come to your table this morning, asking for you to do just that. It's in the name of the father, son and Holy Spirit that we pray. And everybody said amen.