The first disciples: From Jesus to the Spirit

It’s an interesting change in religious experience for people to shift to God living within after sharing his person in their company. Even with all our historical knowledge and documented witnesses—innumerable testimonies of the Spirit’s influence and interventions—we too obsess over Jesus’ return and fail to recognize the mind-blowing nature of God’s already constant and intimate presence.

Image by Suvajit Roy

Wait for the Kingdom with the Spirit's help

By John Pearring
1Timothy 6:13-16
Luke 8:4-15

Like many of the Gospel records, Luke’s rendition of the parable of the sower appears to ignore the Holy Spirit. The third person of the Holy Trinity seems missing in the first three gospel authors, unlike the Gospel of John. Add the Holy Spirit into the seed-sower story, for instance (which we must do in reading scripture with the “whole counsel” of God), and the recovery of sickly growth, promptings to stay on the path, and comfort under the siege of evil changes the trajectory of the parable’s message.

The presumption of Luke, which I’ll call an “induction” of the Holy Spirit’s presence, assumes “rich soil” is the welcoming nurture and protection of the indwelled person of God. The first gospel writers crafted their texts while a wild new force drove them. They understood the Spirit through Jesus and with the Father, which is correct. Yet, imagine the impact of Jesus’ Ascension. With a nod to some future return, the early disciples operated at a loss, with a hole in their hearts. Even as the Father filled them with faith, the Eucharist transformed them, and the Spirit lived in their templed bodies. They hit a hard speed bump, yearning for their brother and king.

It’s an interesting change in religious experience for people to shift to God living within after sharing his person in their company. Even with all our historical knowledge and documented witnesses—innumerable testimonies of the Spirit’s influence and interventions—we too obsess over Jesus’ return and fail to recognize the mind-blowing nature of God’s already constant and intimate presence.

Several times in the Gospel of John, Jesus explained he would send an Advocate when he leaves. I count five verses; a running theme where Jesus continually sets up his eventual exit. He’s going away, but leaving someone else in his stead; someone, in fact, who will testify who Jesus is to everyone who will accept him. This someone will be “better” for them.

Jesus prepares his followers to welcome the seed of faith. “And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe.” That was earlier in John 14:29. This preface is important. We need to remember that Jesus wants to tell us stuff that we need to know later. This assurance from Jesus is vital.

John’s gospel follows decades after the first three. Mark mentions only one time where Jesus applies an allegorical reference to himself as the bridegroom leaving and the bride, the church, having to fast while he is gone. Matthew notes the same reference, then adds the consequence of Christian life—followers being scourged for being believers. Luke repeats both Mark and Matthew and adds his new reference. Jesus said, “I have observed Satan falling from the sky,” in chapter 10, verse 18.

While there is little direct mention of the impact of the Holy Spirit in the first three Gospels, John, however, has the advantage of three decades of experience with the Advocate. He has seen the followers persecuted, and he remembers more of what Jesus said to them those many years earlier about Satan falling. John is quite specific on important details about this Advocate, and we need to remember these as revelatory facts, new information for us to build our faith:

“I will send him to you,” Jesus said, referring to the Advocate; Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit. Jesus was sent by the Father. “I am going to the one who sent me . . .” Jesus’ exit from time and space, our life here, is advantageous for us. “It is better for you that I go” (Jn 16:5-7). 

Next, the Advocate’s arrival brings “proof” about sin, righteousness, and judgment.

“But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes he will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation: sin, because they do not believe in me; righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me; condemnation, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now” (Jn 16:8–11).

The three proofs of sin/righteousness/judgment are fascinating.

The Advocate convicts the world. Odd statement. But look closer. The Holy Spirit enlightens believers who now see that the world's sin has been and will continue to be a refusal to believe in Jesus. This basic tenet of our faith is, in fact, the root sin of all time. What does sin prove? Well, we are believers. Look through the lens of a Christ follower. Think about the results of ignoring who Jesus is. Read the paper. Watch TV. Scan the Internet. Sin proves that ignoring Jesus is a fatal mistake.

Although Jesus was charged guilty and died in disgrace, in reality, his righteousness triumphed. Jesus returned to his Father, and the world, including believers, will no longer see Jesus, until the end of the age. A significant group of witnesses watched Jesus return to the Father. He hasn’t been seen since (not counting Paul and other apparitions recognized by the Church). That’s proof that we still live in the age of waiting, and that righteousness is yet to come.

Most dramatically, and without pause in his words, Jesus emphasizes his role in condemnation. Jesus allowed evil to take his life, to expose the absurdity of a world that follows someone other than Jesus. The ruler of this world, Satan, has been condemned through Jesus’ death. The imagery in other verses states bluntly that Satan was thrown out of heaven. Until that time, Satan enjoyed a position in the court of God. The condemnation is repeated in scripture, prophesied in the Old Testament, and confirmed in Jesus’ teachings. Further, evil’s damnation is emphasized in many of the NT letters. 

What does this prove? The Holy Spirit’s presence proves that Satan has lost his power. The Holy Spirit now roams freely in the followers of Christ, transforming the most heinous sinners into penitent believers. All folks whose faith exists among rocky, thorny, or dry soil can be redeemed by turning to God.

We also have heard quite often, but most of us hope we will skip this part, that “when our hour has come,” we will be expelled from the synagogue, and even will be killed by those who think they are offering worship to God by doing so. There are several levels of killing—ruined reputations, financial ruin, ruinous divisions among our families and friends, and so on. And finally, a seemingly total ruin by our death. When our hour has come, we are killed off. 

We will die, but because of Jesus, we will live. The apostles were fairly easily convicted for being Christians and subsequently killed. Can the same be said of us? Would we be convicted for being Christians?

Peter asked back in John 13:36, “Master, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, though you will follow later.” In John 16:5, Jesus tells them he is going to the Father, and he charges that they do not ask where he is going. Why? Because they are filled with grief.

I am very much like this, asking God all the time to help, to assist, to step in and fix things. When he answers, I am filled with joy. And, then, in no time, I am saddened because he has gone. We want his loving presence always. The hard truth comes in the very next verse. “I have more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.” He knows that grief follows our joy and excitement. He warns us not to despair.

We need the Advocate to reset us, over and over, as we grow in our faith. I know the times of long periods of grief, and sadness in my heart, rather than joy. The Holy Spirit convicts us. The proof of our sin haunts us rather than sets us free, and the devil reminds us of our weakness. Remember, the Spirit prods us. We are forgiven and made new. 

Jesus’ righteousness in the face of death fills us with dreaded guilt as we wonder if we stand up as his friends. But remember, Jesus promises us life to the fullest. The condemnation of Satan feels personal, similarly condemning us, but we have been redeemed.

Without the Spirit, we will cave into those despondent feelings. Practice the pattern of grief that calls upon the Spirit of Truth. Eventually, he will shrink our moments of grief from walls into speed bumps. We may be slowed down, but we will roll right over them.

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