I’ve been on a conference this week, and on one of the days we did a Bible study on part of the first chapter of John’s gospel. It describes the time just before Jesus started his public ministry, a time when his cousin John was out in the desert outside Jerusalem, preaching and baptising. He’s drawing quite a crowd and so the religious leaders come out to see what’s going on, and they ask him who he is. His answers are quite interesting. To begin with they are all negative – I’m not the Messiah, I’m not Elijah, I’m not The Prophet. Before he starts talking about what he’s come to do, he makes sure that they know who he’s not.
This morning is Pentecost, and so we’re celebrating the gift and power of the Holy Spirit. Reflecting on John the Baptist’s example, I thought that it might be quite interesting to start off with what the Holy Spirit is not.
Does anybody know what this might be? This is the Holy Spigot. This is my first example of what the Holy Spirit is not – the Holy Spirit is not the Holy Spigot. Now, it is true that we do use metaphors and illustrations connected with water to talk about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is like living water, that refreshes us, revives us, keeps us alive. But. A spigot or tap can be switched on and off as we like. Want some more water, turn on tap. Want it to stop, turn off tap. This does not apply at all to Holy Spirit. When we become Christians, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our lives. We can ask for more of an awareness of this, and for a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but this is not in our control. The Holy Spirit is an independent person, not a thing to be turned on and off by us.
What about this, any guesses as to what this is? This is a parakeet. The Holy Spirit is beautiful and may sing with us, but the Holy Spirit is not a parakeet. Anybody guess what the Holy Spirit is in contrast to a parakeet? The Holy Spirit is sometimes called a paraclete. This is an uncommon word in English, in fact I am only aware of it being used in Christian teaching. It is the same word as is used in the original Greek writings of the new testament. It comes from two greek words put together – “para” which means “beside” or “alongside” and “kalein” which means “to call” so a paraclete is someone who is called to be alongside. As such it has different shades of meaning which include the idea of the Holy Spirit being a comforter or consoler.
When we are in distress, or difficulty, or pain, the Holy Spirit comes alongside us to comfort us and console us.
What about this – what’s this? This is an avocado. Now, we know that the Holy Spirit grows good fruit in us – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control but the Holy Spirit is not a fruit, not even an avocado, however delicious they may be. Any guesses as to what the Holy Spirit is in contrast? The Holy Spirit is an advocate. Actually, this links back to the previous word.
One of the most common uses of the word paraclete in Greek is to describe the person who comes alongside a defendant in a court case, a legal advocate. Someone who speaks in court on someone else’s behalf, who makes the case, who supports, who gives witness. It’s this description of the Holy Spirit that we’re going to focus a bit on this morning. The Holy Spirit as advocate.
We heard quite a bit about this in our reading this morning from John’s account of Jesus’ life, but I’d like to go back a couple of chapters to begin our exploration of this. In John 14:16, we hear Jesus start teaching his friends and followers about the Holy Spirit, and Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as “another advocate”
Which, for me, prompts the question – if the Holy Spirit is “another” advocate, who was the first one? We could just assume that the answer to this question is Jesus, as he’s the one speaking, but I think that we can do a bit better than that. What is the name that Jesus is given before his birth, that we often talk about at Christmas? Immanuel. What does that mean? God with us. Now, this isn’t quite the same as advocate, but for me, it has that hint of God coming alongside, abiding with us, being on our side, that adds some weight to the identification of Jesus as our advocate. This weight is added to by what John writes later in his life, in his first letter, “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One”. So, it seems to me that we can say with some confidence that Jesus came as an advocate, and continues that work in heaven now, just as the Holy Spirit is the advocate who comes alongside us now.
So, we have this idea that the Holy Spirit’s identification as Advocate does not split the Holy Spirit from the other persons of the Trinity. It’s not the case that the Holy Spirit is on our side, over and against the Father and Jesus, but that the Holy Spirit’s ministry as Advocate is consistent with the work of the whole Trinity, and it is a personal and present now aspect of that whole aspect of God’s work in creation and amongst God’s people.
Having got that idea in place, If we’re thinking of the Holy Spirit as our advocate here and now, then that implies that there is a courtroom for the Holy Spirit to be our advocate in. Actually I think that there are a couple, and I’d like us to spend a couple of minutes thinking about them.
The first one I’d like us to think about is the courtroom of our own hearts. In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul describes the way in which our thoughts sometimes accuse us and sometimes defend us. I wonder if you recognise this description of your own thoughts. Sometimes I’ll look back at a situation – a conversation I’ve had, or something I’ve done, and think that I didn’t do very well there and I’ll beat myself up, or I’ll sit and thing of all the reasons that I was in the right.
Sometimes this is all fine – I’ll be right that I was wrong, and I’ll need to repent, do what I can do put it right, say sorry, resolve not to be like that again. Or, I’ll be correct that I was right in what I did or said, it was the best decision, and I can go on with a clear conscience and in peace.
At other times, though, it’s not fine. Sometimes I will be wrong to beat myself up. Feelings of guilt or shame continue to plague me even though I didn’t do anything wrong, or I did sin, but I’ve repented and been forgiven. At times like this having an outside counsel, someone with perfect perspective, to come alongside us and reassure us is so valuable. The Holy Spirit, as advocate, comes and encourages us, reassures us of our forgiveness, witnesses to our spirits that God loves us and does not reject us.
However, there are also times in which we have prepared all our defences, but actually we were in the wrong. A really good advocate knows when to advise their client to plead guilty. Conviction of sin is part of the work of the Holy Spirit. We see this being done on the day of Pentecost, as Peter preaches, the Holy Spirit is working in the hearts of those who hear him, and they cry out – what shall we do to be saved. The Holy Spirit does this work when we first come to faith in Jesus, and continues to do it throughout our Christian life, helping us to become more holy. This can be painful, but having our sin pointed our to us by the Holy Spirit is the first step in us being freed from it.
The second courtroom is the courtroom of the world. We know that we are witnesses to our friends and neighbours, our families, our work colleagues, our schoolmates. When people look at us and hear us, they form an opinion of what Christians are like. They judge Jesus on the basis of our words and actions. We don’t have a choice about this, it is just what happens. The only thing that we have a choice about is what kind of witnesses are we going to be. What do people think about Jesus when they look at us? I find that to be quite a scary responsibility. But, we are not on our own in this. We have an advocate, the Holy Spirit, who helps us to act and to speak well. The Holy Spirit is our witness coach. Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit teaching his followers what to say, guiding them into truth, speaking through them. We see this at work on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is poured out, and the disciples flood out into the street, praising God. Some people misunderstand, but then Peter speaks up. Peter, the one who had fled, who had denied even knowing Jesus, who had spent the last three years getting the wrong end of the stick, who had gone back to fishing for fish because he didn’t know what else to do. This Peter, stood up, full of the Holy Spirit and preached in a way that led to three thousand people coming to faith that day. This is the difference that having the Holy Spirit coming alongside can make to the strength of witness.
The Holy Spirit, as advocate, is here with us now. When we invite the Holy Spirit to come, or say that we welcome the Holy Spirit, it is a way of us acknowledging that presence, and saying that we welcome it and are open to what the Holy Spirit wants to do in and among us. For some of us that may be to release from shame and guilt, for some of us it may be to put a finger on something that needs sorting out, for some it will be a new strength and courage to be faithful and effective witnesses.