Jesus was walking with his disciples from the walled area of Jerusalem down into the Kidron valley. Shortly they would cross the Kidron valley and ascend to the Garden of Gethsemane. In less than 24 hours the Lord would be hung on a cross to die. There is now an urgency to encourage the disciples and prepare them for this difficult period. Would they listen? Would they be ready for the dark days that lay ahead?
- Help in trouble
Jesus wanted the disciples to understand the impact on them of the Jews’ rejection of the Messiah. As they walked in the darkness towards Gethsemane Jesus talked to the disciples to strengthen their resolve: there was a real danger that they would fall away when Jesus was crucified. But not only that, there would be real persecution: they would be put out of the synagogues and their enemies would be so deluded that they would think that killing Jesus’ followers would be a service to God! This is indeed what subsequently happened. Believers were ejected from the synagogues and it is believed that most if not all of the eleven disciples were martyred. Jesus indicated that this would happen because the perpetrators would know neither the Father nor Jesus. Don’t we see something rather similar beginning to happen in our day too? We have been very much blessed by the work of previous Christians in this country who have influenced the values of our society and nation for the good. But this is changing. There is a growing intolerance of Christian values.
Jesus would be going away. The disciples would be on their own and they needed to be ready. Jesus said, ‘I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them.’ Jesus was sensitive enough to realise that the disciples were upset at the thought of his departure. The disciples needed to absorb some very difficult new information very quickly: they went from arguing about their senior roles in the kingdom to learning about how they would be disqualified from any participation in the synagogues and may even lose their lives, and they would no longer be with the Saviour! They were so absorbed with their own troubles that they had given little thought to what was about to happen to Jesus himself (v6)!
What Jesus said next must have come as a bit of a surprise: ‘But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away.’ How could this be so? Because, when Jesus went, then ‘the advocate’ would come to the disciples. Jesus had already spoken about the coming Holy Spirit, now he gives more information and it is rather important! Here’s what he said ‘When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.’ This sounds like a pretty negative thing, but I believe that this is both a wonderful and important role. The word translated ‘prove’ is elegchien in the original Greek. It means to rebuke, to shame, to convict, to examine. One Greek expert translated it thus: ‘to show someone his sin and to summon him to repentance.’ The word used for ‘world’ in the Greek was kosmos which has been taken to mean the world or universe as an ordered system, but has additional meaning as ‘the inhabitants of the earth,’ ‘worldly affairs and possessions’ and ‘the ungodly.’ This convicting work of the Holy Spirit is in many ways a continuation of the work of Jesus himself. Right throughout Jesus’ ministry his work was characterised by convicting people of their sin: the Pharisees, the rich young ruler and the disciples themselves all experienced this feature of Jesus’ work. When he departed, this work would continue through the Holy Spirit. Jesus expanded on this work by saying firstly that the world would be convicted of sin, the sin in question being unbelief. Failure to believe in Jesus is a sin. Secondly, they would be convicted about righteousness because Jesus was going to the Father. Whilst Jesus was still around, he was an example of true righteousness and because of that he can go to the Father. But when Jesus is gone, the Holy Spirit became the one who would speak of righteousness. Finally, the work of the Holy Spirit would involve conviction concerning judgment. There really is a judgment to come; Jesus has defeated sin and Satan. The Holy Spirit will convict men concerning this coming judgment. Don’t you think that we ought to pray and act in a way that is consistent with this convicting work of the Holy Spirit? The wonderful thing is that God is at work in the hearts of men and women. Perhaps you have family members who don’t believe in Jesus, we ought to pray that the Spirit will convict of sin, righteousness and judgment: that he will ‘show people their sin and to summon them to repentance.’ Moreover, as Paul and the apostles reasoned, convinced, persuaded and gave evidence about Jesus, they worked in synchrony with the Holy Spirit. It seems that this work is not all left to the Holy Spirit; we have a part to play too as instruments in his hands. There is a tendency for us to assume that ‘God is sovereign’ and he will take care of everything, we are merely actors playing out a pre-written part. This is not the case – read the bible and you will find that it is because men and women act in concert with the Holy Spirit’s work that people are rescued from sin. When Paul and Barnabas preached at the synagogue in Iconium, Luke records, ‘they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed.’ Likewise, Apollos ‘vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.’ And when Paul was in Athens ‘every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.’ The old hymn said ‘There’s a work for Jesus none but you can do!’ – how true! Sadly, however there are those who hear but reject the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. Back in Iconium again, ‘But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.’ (Acts 14).
Jesus had more to tell the disciples: ‘I have much more to say to you, more than you can bear now.’ (v 12). This had been a lot for the disciples to absorb and Jesus wisely gives them time. There would be time in the precious 40 days leading up to Pentecost for Jesus to teach fully the disciples about this delay in the inauguration of the kingdom and the new agency that would be set up. Not only that, but the Spirit himself would ‘guide you into all the truth.’ Jesus had already told the disciples that the Holy Spirit would teach the disciples all things and would bring to their remembrance all that Jesus had said to them (John 14:26) – the gospels are exactly that! Furthermore the Holy Spirit would work with the disciples to bear witness of Jesus (john 15: 26-27), surely this refers to the work of the apostles in Acts. Perhaps this reference to the Holy Spirit guiding the disciples to all truth (v. 13) and to inform them of ‘what is yet to come’ refers to the epistles and Revelation. This all makes perfect sense! Much new revelation was to come and this would come from the Holy Spirit. Note that he will ‘speak what he hears,’ his message and the information he will convey are entirely consistent with Jesus; indeed the Holy Spirit will glorify Jesus himself.
- In a little while
The time for preparation and talking was almost over. Jesus and the disciples were now heading down towards the Kidron valley – there would be time for a short discussion, a prayer and then they would cross the valley and enter the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus now said, ‘in a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.’ I think Jesus often spoke a bit obliquely to encourage thinking minds! And if this was his intention, it had the desired effect! Some of the disciples with a degree of frustration said ‘‘What does he mean by saying, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,” and “Because I am going to the Father”?’ 18 They kept asking, ‘What does he mean by “a little while”? We don’t understand what he is saying.’
Jesus’ response to their questions was clear: ‘Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.’ It would be like a woman in labour – first great pain and difficulty but this is soon forgotten at the joy of the birth of a child. The disciples would experience grief but this would give way to joy when they see Jesus again. There would be a time when they could not ask Jesus any more questions but they could ask the Father for whatever they needed to accomplish what he wanted (v.33). John used two different Greek words for ‘ask’ – in Jesus’ absence they would not be able to ask questions of him but they would be able to ask the Father for their needs. Perhaps Jesus was emphasising that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all the truth and the Father would provide for their needs to carry out his will.
At this point, Jesus speaks with great clarity about what is about to happen: ‘I came from my Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.’ The response of the disciples indicated that they understood. Perhaps they were a bit overconfident but nonetheless they declared that they believed that Jesus came from God.
The disciples still had a lot to learn. Yes, they did indeed believe in Jesus, but their faith was about to be tested. ‘A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.’ The moment of this testing and scattering was just moments away. The disciples would run and hide. Peter would attempt to stick with Jesus but he would fail: Jesus would be without the disciples but he would not be without the Father.
Chapter 16 closes with a remarkable statement of Jesus. Satan was preparing for what he thought was a final assault on Jesus’ right to rule. He seemed to have figured that if he could turn the Jews from Jesus and kill him then he would rule the world without restraint or prospect of defeat. Here’s what Jesus said to his disciples: I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ Jesus had already told the disciples that they were in him and that he was in them. They needed to remain in him. This would not be a formula for an easy life – there will be trouble. Satan would oppose the disciples and would oppose the start of the new agency of the church. But the disciples could have peace? How? Note what Jesus said ‘in me you may have peace.’ They must remain in him. The world may be against them, but Jesus will soon demonstrate that he has overcome the world. I believe we can know this peace amidst trouble too if we remain in him.