Formations 06.09.2019: “I Will Send the Spirit”

Broken glass negative shows the
Rodez Cathedral in France

John 14:15-27

In the 1992 song “Anthem,” Leonard Cohen offered these now classic words: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” The insight comes lyrically through the acknowledgment of liminal spaces—birdsong in the morning or peacetime between war.

These settings aren’t far from the scene we find the disciples in this week. Jesus, on the last night of his life, speaks to them about life without their lord. From that boundary, Jesus offers these words about the Advocate, or Holy Spirit.

There are, in this passage, several places that could occupy our attention. What is the relationship between love, commandment keeping, and the receipt of the Advocate? What marks the differences between the disciples and the rest of the world in their recognition of the Spirit of truth? How is God’s peace distinct from the world’s peace?

These are fine questions; in fact, Judas asks a similar one in verse 22. But I don’t know how to begin answering them, and Jesus’ answers don’t clarify these things, at least in my imagination. Instead, the intermediate landscape holds my attention because it parallels a state we all know well—uncertainty.

In the way that the disciples would have to go on without Jesus, the same challenge confronts people still. How do you continue after the loss of a loved one? How do you make a new home after violence or poverty forces you to leave the one you’ve known? Jesus says that we need an advocate. Better yet, he says we’ll find an advocate.

Finally, Cohen’s words allow us to hear Jesus in a new light. While his words direct the disciples to await an advocate, Cohen reminds us that this waiting cracks us too. As these cracks may allow us to see the Advocate, they likewise allow us to be advocates too.

Discussion

• What formative experiences of in-betweenness most parallel the situation the disciples face?

• What kinds of light have you found in these unknown places? How have these places informed your relationship with others facing similar experiences?

• Who in our community faces uncertain times? How can we advocate for them in these experiences?

Reference Shelf

The Advocate

Outside the NT, paraclete is used with the sense of a “mediator,” a “counselor” or “comforter,” or one who pleads for someone else as a helper. The idea expressed in the word is sometimes said to originate in Gnostic beliefs in heavenly messengers or “helpers,” but the primary source of the NT idea is probably the frequent OT pattern of humans or angels acting as advocates for others before God (Abraham: Gen 18:22-23; Moses: Exod 32:11 et al.; Samuel: 1 Sam 7:8 et al.; Job 33:23; Zech 1:12 et al.). In intertestamental writings, this advocacy is extended to the Spirit of God, who acts before God’s judgment seat to defend believers and condemn sinners.

While continuing these earlier patterns, the Johannine paraclete transforms them by relating this advocate to Jesus Christ. When Jesus is no longer physically present, the paraclete will bear witness to Christ and to the father, judging the world and declaring “the things that are to come” (John 15:26; 16:15). The paraclete thus combines functions of prophet, teacher, and judge with that of sustaining the community of faith by dwelling in its members as the spirit of God (John 14:16-20).

David W. Rutledge, “Advocate/Paraclete,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 13.

The Disciples

The large thought unit, 13:31–14:31, deals with the question: what is the position of Jesus’ disciples? The answer has two foci. (1) The position of his disciples is derived from the prior activity of Jesus. As relates to the disciples’ existence in this life, Jesus reveals the Father and empowers for ministry. As relates to disciples’ hope for the future, Jesus prepares a place with the Father and will take the disciples to himself at the parousia. (2) The position of the disciples derived from the prior activity of Jesus sets them apart as different from the world. As regards their behavior, unlike the world, disciples obey the word/commands of Jesus. As regards their religious experience, unlike the world, disciples are promised resurrection experiences, the gift of the Spirit of prophecy, and the indwelling presence of Jesus and the Father. The thought unit concludes with yet another point. (3) The prediction of Christ’s imminent departure is matched by his promises for the disciples’ future, a fact that ought to bring consolation to the disciples.

There is no indication that eschatology is the issue in this thought unit (i.e., revising the traditional futurist eschatology of the church into a realized eschatology). There is no evidence that the struggle with the Jews is uppermost in the Evangelist’s mind (i.e., exclusion from the synagogue). What is of concern here is the status of disciples after Jesus’ departure, i.e., in relation to Jesus and in relation to the world (Bruce Woll, Johannine Christianity in Conflict: Authority, Rank, and Succession in the First Farewell Discourse [Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1981]). This is precisely the focal point of the argument against the progressives/secessionists of 2 and 1 John. The Fourth Gospel continues the struggle of the epistles, at least in this thought unit.

Charles H. Talbert, Reading John: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Fourth Gospel and the Johannine Epistles, Reading the New Testament (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005), 216–17.

William Scruggs is a graduate of Mercer University. His favorite pastimes are adding music to his listening list, TV shows to his viewing list, and books to his reading list. When he isn’t pretending to check items off these lists, he spends time with friends and plays music. He is excited for the opportunity to continue exploring the rivers of Middle Georgia and to stay in Macon as an associate editor at Smyth & Helwys.

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