The Ministry of the Spirit | John 16:7-15
Brian Hedges | October 10, 2021
Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles this morning to John 16.
Let me ask you a question: Wouldn’t you love to have been one of the twelve disciples, to have seen Jesus in the flesh? Have you ever thought how sweet it would have been to walk with him, to talk with him for three years, to hear him teach, to sit on the grassy mountainside as he taught the Sermon on the Mount, to sit down with him at a Passover meal, to see him feed the thousands or calm the storms or vanquish demons or raise the dead? Do you ever just think, I wish I could have lived then instead of now?
I suppose that all of us might at some point in our Christian lives think something like that. But did you know that we actually have something better than the disciples had?
Listen to what Jesus said in John 16:7. He said to his disciples, “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.”
Jesus says it is to our advantage that he goes away, so that he can send us the Helper, who is the Holy Spirit. This morning I want us to think about why that is true. Why is it true that to have the Holy Spirit is even better than having Jesus in the flesh? Because that’s what Jesus said. Jesus said it’s better; it’s to our advantage.
There is something about the ministry of the Holy Spirit that is so unique, so beautiful, and so powerful that Jesus says, “It’s better to have this [the Holy Spirit] than to have that [face to face interaction with Jesus prior to his death and resurrection.”
Now unfortunately, I think sometimes we’re guilty of neglecting the work and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has been called the forgotten member of the Trinity, because we spend a lot of time talking about God the Father, we spend a lot of time talking about Jesus the Son, but not as much, perhaps (especially in some traditions), talking about the Holy Spirit. But this morning, the whole passage we’re looking at is about the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and I want to read this passage, and then we’re going to see three things that the Spirit does in relationship to three different groups. We’re going to be reading John 16:7-15.
“‘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. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.’”
This is God’s word.
I want you to see the threefold work of the Holy Spirit, the work of the Spirit in relationship to the world, in relationship to the disciples (or we might say the church or us), and in relationship to Jesus himself.
1. The Spirit’s Work in Relationship to the World
First of all, the Spirit’s work in relationship to the world. It’s really verses 8-11, which we looked at briefly last week, but I want us to dig in a little deeper. When he comes, when the Spirit comes, he will “convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment.”
As I’ve noted several times in this series, the word that Jesus uses for the Holy Spirit here, the word Helper or Paraclete, it’s a word that carries legal connotations, the idea of a prosecuting attorney or an advocate in court. I think that suggests an image that maybe will help us understand how the Spirit works in relationship to the world, convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment.
Any of you enjoy courtroom drama? Have you ever watched a show like Law & Order or a courtroom drama type movie, like Witness for the Prosecution or Twelve Angry Men, or whatever? There are lots of wonderful stories that take place in that setting.
I enjoy a great courtroom drama, and the most interesting to me are when a case is being built for the exposure and the prosecution and conviction of someone who is presumed guilty of a crime, but towards the end of the film there is this sudden twist, and the person that you thought was guilty is actually innocent, and the prosecuting attorney, doing his job, shows that the person you actually thought was innocent turns out to be guilty.
I think that’s the dynamic here. Jesus says that when the Spirit comes he’s going to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and it was a great reversal in the perspective on who Jesus is and was. As I said last week, I think the real fulfillment of this, or the initial fulfillment of this, was on the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit was given to the church.
Just remember the context here. It takes place in Jerusalem, just a few weeks after Jesus had been crucified, and when Jesus was crucified he was considered to be a sinner. He was treated as a criminal. He was treated as if he were unrighteous, unjust, and crucified on a criminal’s cross. It was as if he was being judged by God. That was the perspective of those who crucified him.
But then Jesus is raised from the dead, he is exalted, he ascends to the Father, and the Spirit is given to the church. When Peter preaches on the Day of Pentecost, there is a reversal in perspective, as Peter preaches the exalted, crucified Lord, and the very people who crucified him are cut to the heart, and they finally see who Jesus is.
To all outward appearances, when Jesus was crucified it seemed that he was the sinner, right? But when he is exalted to the right hand of God, the Spirit vindicated his claims, showing that the real sin was the world’s unbelief. He convicts the world of sin because they believe not in him.
Then he says the Spirit convicts the world of righteousness because Jesus goes to the Father, “and you will see me no more.” Now, what does that mean, he convicts them of righteousness? Well, there are different interpretations of this, but this is what I think makes the most sense to me. Those who killed Jesus claimed to be in the right themselves, but they were condemning the truly righteous one. But in the resurrection of Jesus the Spirit vindicated Jesus as the Son of God. He was declared to be the Son of God in power by the Spirit through the resurrection, Paul says in Romans 1. Or in 1 Timothy 3:16 we read these words: “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness. He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit,” and the word “vindicated” is the verbal form of this word “righteousness” here in John 16. He was vindicated, or shown to be in the right, by the Spirit, “seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” He went to the Father.
You see, in the exaltation of Christ, Jesus was vindicated. He was shown to be the righteous one; he was justified publicly. And the Spirit is the one who convicts the world of this, when the Spirit comes in power with the proclamation of the gospel; and then concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. You see that Jesus was judged by men and crucified.
The paradox of the cross is that through the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the god of this world, the ruler of this world, Satan, was actually the one who was judged and defeated and disarmed.
Paul says in Colossians 2:15, speaking about Jesus on the cross, says that he “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them in him.”
You see the reversal? Do you see that in this cosmic courtroom drama, though Jesus appeared to all to be the one who was guilty when he was crucified, he was actually vindicated, his claims were justified, and he was shown to be the Lord of glory? The Spirit is the one who convinces people of that. The Spirit is the one who convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. He is the witness for the prosecution.
I think this is important for us in our own evangelistic witness today, and here’s how I think we should apply it. We should have great confidence in talking about Jesus as we trust in the silent work of the Spirit to bring people to Jesus. We should share about Jesus. How do we do that? We share the things about Jesus that are beautiful to us, that are wonderful to us, the things that we are most passionate about.
You know, we actually do this in everyday life, don’t we? We do this all the time. You hear a wonderful song and what do you want to do? You want to play it for someone else, so that they hear it. You see a great movie and you’re talking about it at the water cooler at work, right? “I just saw this wonderful movie.”
Listen, all you have to do is do that with Jesus! When Jesus has worked in your heart and in your life and he’s changed something, tell people what he’s done! When Jesus is speaking to you through his word and you’re learning new things that are exciting you and thrilling your heart, share that with someone else. When you are seeing the Spirit of Christ working in the church, in the community, changing lives, share that with others and invite them to come in. You can do that without having to manipulate or do anything; all you’re doing is pointing people to Jesus, and the Spirit is the one who brings the conviction, the Spirit is the one who works and who draws people to Jesus Christ.
Brad shared with me this week an illustration that I thought was really helpful. It’s a way for us to gauge what we think the Spirit is doing when we share Christ with others. Just think of a traffic light: red light, yellow light, green light. When you’re sharing the gospel with others and you feel like there is a complete resistance, pushback, no openness to the gospel, that’s a red light. Maybe it means that the Spirit has not yet drawn this person to Christ. What do you do? Well, you step back; you don’t push the issue, you just pray. You pray and you ask for the Spirit to work, and then you try again, maybe a few months later.
Or maybe you’re talking to someone and they’re open, but they’re really cautious, they’re hesitant, but maybe they ask a follow-up question or they seem interested in what you’re saying. What do you do? You gently keep pointing them to Christ, praying all the while that the Spirit will work.
Then sometimes—we’ve probably all had this experience—you sense there is a green light. Here’s a person who is ripe, they are ready for harvest, they are ready to hear about Jesus. What do you do? You make the gospel as clear as you can, you pray for them, you take the next step. Maybe you give them something to follow up, give them a Bible or give them a book or invite them to church, give them one of these invite cards that we have to invite people to come to Redeemer Church. We share the gospel, we share Jesus, and all the while we are trusting that the Spirit is the one who brings this conviction.
You see, it’s really simple. Our job is to share Jesus in word and deed. Listen, even in your life, when you’re not speaking, your life, in a sense, preaches about Jesus. If you are bearing the fruit of the Spirit, you’re walking in the Spirit, you’re being an example, that can open the door later to actually share the gospel in word with them. But it’s the Spirit who brings the conviction, the conversion, the real transformation. That will free you up to share your faith with others, because you’re not a salesman trying to close the deal, you are witness bearing testimony about what Jesus has done for you, and the Spirit is the one who brings the transformation into people’s lives. The Spirit’s work in relationship to the world.
2. The Spirit’s Work in Relationship to the Disciples
Secondly, we also see the Spirit’s work in relationship to the disciples, and we see this in verses 12 and 13. Jesus says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” They were not at a point of understanding yet because they didn’t fully understand what Jesus had come to do. They would understand more after his death, burial, and resurrection. He says in verse 13, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
Jesus here calls the Spirit the Spirit of truth, and he’s promising that when the Spirit of truth comes he’s going to bring to their remembrance the very things that Jesus has taught them. He’s going to declare the things of Christ to them. Whatever he hears, he will speak. He’s going to lead them into the truth.
I think this has an initial fulfillment that we have to understand, and then it has an ongoing implication. The initial fulfillment of this was when the Spirit was given to the church in great power on the Day of Pentecost, and the Spirit filling the disciples and the apostles to proclaim the gospel, and bringing to their mind and memory all the things that they had experienced with Jesus, which then got written down in the New Testament. So the apostles and their associates, what did they do? They wrote the Gospels, they wrote the epistles and the book of Acts. The apostles and their associates.
They gave us the words and the life and the teaching of Jesus. How did they do it? They did it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and therefore this book is the word of God, because it is given by the direct ministry of the Spirit of God. It’s what we call inspiration. The Spirit of God breathed out the Scriptures through these men, leading them to write down the very things that Jesus said and did. That’s the initial fulfillment. That is how the Spirit leads the church into truth, is he gave them the Scriptures.
But then, secondarily, these passages also point us to the Spirit’s ongoing work of what we might call illumination, where the Spirit not only gives the content of Scripture, but the Spirit is the one who opens our minds and our hearts so that the Scriptures begin to make sense to us and become real in our hearts and experience. This is what we call illumination.
Paul in Ephesians 1 prays for this. He prays that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you might know the hope to which he has called you.” The Spirit opens the eyes of the heart. The Spirit is the one who does this.
You might say that our condition is that of a blind man in a dark cave, and in order to escape the cave he needs two things. He needs light; there has to be light in the cave so that he can see the way out. But he also needs the faculty of sight; he needs to be able to actually see. The Spirit does both of those things. Through the Scriptures the Spirit gives light, and through his regenerating, illuminating work in our hearts, opening the eyes of our hearts, he gives us sight, so that we can see what it is that Jesus has done. The Spirit is the one who gives us that mind and that heart to receive the things of God.
Now, if that’s true, once again, I think it suggests a couple of applications. Here’s the first: to know the mind of the Spirit, study the Scriptures. If you want to know what the things of God are and you want the work of the Spirit in your heart and in your life, go to the Spirit-taught word of God, the Spirit-inspired word of God. Listen, the Spirit will never, ever lead you contrary to the written word of God. He never will. This is his word, and he does not contradict himself. The Spirit will lead you as you study the Scriptures.
You might say, “Well, how do you do that? I don’t really know how to study the Bible.” Maybe you’ve never read the Bible. You come to church and you hear the Bible read, but you’ve never really read the Bible for yourself. Maybe you haven’t had that experience that our dear brother shared with us this morning, of how it was the word of God and reading Scripture that led him into a deep relationship with Christ. How does that happen in your life?
Let me give you a suggestion. This would be a really easy way to go about it. Take the Gospel of Mark, the second book in the New Testament. It has 16 chapters; it’s the shortest of the four Gospels. Read one chapter a day for the next 16 days, and as you read, just ask some questions, and maybe even jot down your answers to these questions in a little notebook or in a journal. Ask the questions, “What is this passage teaching me about Jesus? What is this passage teaching me about myself? How does this change my life?” Just ask those three questions and write down the answers, and see how the Spirit of God works in you through the word of God.
The second application is to pray for the Spirit to enlighten your mind and your heart. Ask him to do this work. Pray, ask him, just like Paul says. He’s praying that the Father of glory will give the Spirit of wisdom and revelation to open the eyes of your heart, so that you will know the hope to which he has called you. Pray for that. Ask God. Pray this simple prayer: “Spirit of the living God, open my eyes to behold the goodness and the beauty of Jesus in your word.”
You really need both. You need that subjective work of the Holy Spirit in your heart, teaching you, helping you personally, and you need the objective, written revelation of God.
Let me give you an illustration that maybe will help a little bit. Some of you know that I really enjoy playing golf, and I’ve been playing for a number of years, but I’ve never been very good. Finally this year I decided, okay, if I’m going to play this sport, I want to figure it out. I want to learn how to play well. So I started reading books on golf. I read several, and I was reading Ben Hogan’s Modern Fundamentals of Golf, which some people say is the best book on golf ever written. I was reading that book, and it was so technical, I just couldn’t translate it into the actual movements in my body, to do what Ben Hogan was saying. I finally decided, “Okay, I just need to go get golf lessons.”
Listen, by the end of the first golf lesson I was hitting a six-iron longer and straighter than I ever have in my life. I went back a few weeks later and read Hogan again, and all of a sudden things started to click and make sense in my mind, because someone had shown me what the body movement felt like. “This is what the rotation feels like, this is how you move your shoulders, and this is how you turn your hips,” and so on. All of a sudden it made sense, because someone had helped me to see the application of these basic fundamentals of the game for me personally.
That’s what the Spirit does. You may read the Bible at one point in your life and it just doesn’t make sense to you, but then when the Spirit comes and he helps you, opens your eyes, all of a sudden it makes sense, and you can see, “This is what that was talking about all along.”
You need both. You need the objective, written word of God, as the Spirit teaches us through the Scriptures, and you need the personal, helping ministry—we might almost think of the Spirit as the coach who leads us to the application of the words of Jesus in our hearts and lives. This is the Spirit’s work in relationship to us as disciples.
3. The Spirit’s Work in Relationship to Jesus Himself
Finally, number three, we see the Spirit’s work in relationship to Jesus himself. Look at verses 14-15. Jesus says, “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mind and declare it to you. All that that Father has is mine; therefore I have said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
What is the Spirit’s work in relationship to Jesus? It’s very simple: it is to glorify Jesus. What does that mean? It means to honor him, it means to show him to be great as he is great, it is to lift up and exalt the name of Jesus. That’s what the Spirit does.
J.I. Packer calls this "the floodlight ministry" in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ. He says, “It is as if the Spirit stands behind us, throwing light over our shoulders on Jesus, who stands facing us. The Spirit’s message is never, ‘Look at me, listen to me, come to me, get to know me,’ but always, ‘Look at him and see his glory! Listen to him and taste his gift of joy and peace.’” The Spirit leads us to Christ, to glorify and to love and to honor Christ. That’s his mission. His mission is to bring glory to Jesus.
If that is so, it means that we should test everything by asking if it glorifies Christ. This is one way you can test the authenticity of the work of the Spirit in your own life, in a ministry, in a church, in an organization, in a movement. There are all kinds of things that happen in the world where people say, “The Spirit of God is really, really moving,” and sometimes it’s the Spirit, sometimes it’s not the Spirit. There’s something happening, but it’s not from the Holy Spirit.
Listen to what the apostle John said in 1 John 4. He said, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God. For many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.”
If you want to test the reality, the authenticity of a work of God, you ask these questions: Does this honor Christ? Is this Christlike? Is this the truth about Christ? Does this accord with what the Scriptures say about Christ? Is this leading me to love Christ more?
Even in your own life, if you want to really press into spiritual growth and know that the Holy Spirit is working in your life, the best way to do that is to focus on Jesus, and it’s as you get to know Jesus and you love Jesus and you worship Jesus and you’re growing to be more and more like Jesus and he becomes precious to your soul, that’s when you can know the Spirit has done that. The Spirit is the one who does that, because he’s leading us to Christ, and he’s leading us to glorify and to honor Christ.
That means, secondly, that we should look often to the person and the work of Jesus Christ. Robert Murray M’Cheyne, that great Scottish preacher said, “For every one look at self, take ten looks at Christ.” Look at Christ, don’t look at yourself. Don’t think so much about yourself, even your feelings and your emotions; look at Christ. Look to him.
Whatever you’re going through, whatever need you find in your life, look to Christ! He is the all-sufficient source of all spiritual blessings. They’re all given in Christ. Do you need forgiveness for sins you committed this last week? Go to Christ; he is the high priest who has shed his blood for the forgiveness of your sins. Do you need guidance in your life? Look to Jesus Christ, who is the wisdom of God, and who speaks to us the truth of God as our prophet, and seek him. Ask him for wisdom.
Do you need strength for the trials that you’re facing in your life right now this week? Look to Jesus, your mighty King, and he will give you strength.
Do you feel discouraged, depressed, overcome with grief or temptation or trial? Look to the incarnate Christ, who has experienced all the same temptations that you have, and who sympathizes with you in your weaknesses. Look to Christ! He will sustain you through every trial, he will give you endurance through temptation, he will cleanse your conscience by fresh application of the gospel to your heart and to your life. When you’ve blown it, you can be received again into his loving arms because of his work, and listen, it’s the Spirit all along who is quietly working behind the scenes to make that real to your heart and to your life.
To have the ministry of the Holy Spirit is a wonderful gift. Those who have experienced that, those who know that, know how precious this gift is. The Spirit is the one who’s working in the world to convince people that Jesus is the Christ. The Spirit is the one who works in our own hearts, in our own lives to lead us to understand the truth about Jesus. And the Spirit is the one who is constantly seeking to glorify Jesus, taking the things of Christ and declaring it to us.
Let me ask you this morning, have you experienced the ministry of the Holy Spirit in your heart, in your life? Do you long for that? Do you want more of that? Can I invite you as a church, Redeemer Church, for us to pray for this? This is the gift that God gives to the church. Because of what Jesus did in his death, burial, and resurrection, he gives the promise of the Holy Spirit. That gift was given supremely on the Day of Pentecost, but we continue to experience fresh and renewed outpourings of the Spirit, so we seek him, and as we ask him for that grace, let’s do that together as a church. Let’s pray that the Spirit would be given in full measure to us, that we may experience all of this ministry, this work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, in our lives, empowering our witness and bringing glory to King Jesus. Let’s pray together.
Spirit of the living God, we ask you today to fill our hearts and to open the eyes of our hearts to see the glory of Jesus. We thank you that you have done that in some measure, that you have made the word, the gospel, real to us, and we pray that you would continue to do that. We thank you that you have been given as our helper, as our teacher, as our friend, our advocate, our comforter, and that whatever we’re going through that we can be confident that you are with us, that you are taking the resources of the gospel, you are taking the things of Christ, and as a great storehouse of riches you are constantly drawing on all that Jesus has done to apply it personally to our own hearts and lives. Give us open hearts to receive that ministry; help us to know that you are with us. May Jesus Christ be glorified.
As we come to the Lord’s table this morning, may the table be for us a feast that points us to Christ, that visually and tangibly makes the gospel real to our hearts, and that seals in our hearts the assurance of what Christ has done for us. We pray, Holy Spirit, that you would work through these elements and through what they represent. Draw near to us, we pray in Jesus’ name, amen.