Summary: God the Spirit provides the conviction necessary to receive the truth of the gospel of grace.
I have wondered (and maybe you have also) what it was like to see Jesus walk on the earth. It would have been thrilling to watch him multiply the bread, exciting to hear him teach, so comforting to feel his touch or experience his blessing of little children. Such was the case for the apostles. They lived with the bodily presence of the Christ! But now he says: “Good-bye.”
This troubles their heart. Their friend and Rabbi, the prophet whom they expected to redeem Israel, the Messiah they thought would ascend the throne – the one in whom they placed their hope was leaving. So, though they had seen God in human flesh, even touching him with their hands (as John will later say), they wonder and worry what will happen now.
The surprising answer (as we will hear) is: it will be better that he goes away. It is to our advantage that God incarnate ascend to the right hand of the God the Father. Let’s hear Jesus explain that, as we read John 16.4b-15.
[Read John 16.4b-15. Pray.]
The book of Acts narrates the advancement of the gospel after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Today I want to show you something amazing about the way the good news spreads. This truth is everywhere in Acts, but let me introduce it through the events in chapter 11.
Until this time, the apostles preached mainly to Jewish people. But God shows Peter that the Gospel is for non-Jews also, “Gentiles” (as most of us would have been called, since few of us are of Jewish descent). At the same time, God prepares a specific Gentile, Cornelius, a Roman centurion, to hear the message of grace.
Now, note what happens. To get Cornelius saved, God sends an angel to him. The angel stands in his house, but does NOT preach. Instead, he says, “Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household” (Acts 11.13-14). Did you notice something strange? An angel comes to Cornelius – an angel. And he comes to this Gentile. We are watching the beginning of the spread of the Gospel beyond the Jewish people – to every tribe and every nation, to every language and every people. The glory of Christ as the Savior all peoples, not Jews alone, turns on this event. Surely (I would think) this message ought to be delivered by an angel – and one is there! But then the angel insists that Peter come and preach the message of salvation. How significant is that?
Now if you know some of the background in Acts, you might observe that Peter was involved because God is doing something in his life also. Peter’s provincialism had to be broken by his witnessing God’s powerful salvation coming upon these Gentiles. So we might think: yes, Peter is brought in – even though an angel would have been an apt messenger for this sermon – Peter is brought in to teach him something. And if this were the only place where the message of salvation is delivered by a real, live, person, then we might think this account of little other significance.
But the book of Acts narrates the advancement of the gospel through human preaching and witnessing. In Acts 2, Peter preaches and thousands are saved. In Acts 3, Peter preaches and a lame beggar comes to know Christ. In Acts 4, the apostles give “their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” In Acts 5, the apostles perform signs and wonders, then speak in prison and the public square. In Acts 6, the deacon Stephen performs miracles and preaches Jesus as the Righteous One. In Acts 8, an angel gets Philip, so that Philip can explain the Gospel to the Ethiopian who is reading Isaiah. Even Paul, who, in order to be the special Apostle to the Gentiles saw Jesus after his ascension, even the great Apostle Paul, after being blinded on the road to Damascus, is not converted, healed, and baptized until after Ananias tells him of the Lord Jesus.
Here is my point: God spreads his good news through the faithful witness of his people. The most important story ever told, the words of eternal life, the good news of reconciliation between God and mankind, the Gospel which all of space and time and creation exists to bring about and broadcast – must be delivered by you and me.
Now Jesus is explaining that very fact to his disciples in John 16. And lest they grow discouraged or overwhelmed by the size of their task or the significance of the responsibility, Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will help in the work. Neither these apostles, nor you are left alone. Jesus will not be bodily beside you when you witness at work, or serve in mercy ministry, or engage in an evangelistic conversation over the backyard fence. But you will not be alone – the Helper comes and his ministry is profound. In fact, so great is his work that Jesus insists: “It is to your advantage that I go away.”