“But now I am going to the one who sent me, and not one of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I told you this, grief has filled your hearts. 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.” (John 16:5-7)
The apostles are understandably grief-stricken when Jesus says He is leaving them. They cannot imagine that things could be better for them without Jesus. We understand (as they would later) that Jesus had to die and rise again to conquer sin and death, to save us from sin. But Jesus is also saying in this passage that it will be better for us when He is in Heaven because then the Holy Spirit will come to us. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one. The apostles were used to Jesus living with them. But beginning with Pentecost, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus will dwell within them. Think of the transformative impact that Pentecost had on the apostles. In the gospels we see them bicker with each other and cower in fear. They have an uncanny knack for saying the wrong thing. Yet Jesus knows the mission He has for them. He knows what they will become. When they receive the Holy Spirit, they are filled with the power of Christ, and they have the strength and wisdom to share the gospel and ultimately make disciples of all nations, just as Christ commanded.
“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. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:8-15)
The Father gives to the Son; the Son gives to the Spirit; the Spirit gives to us. And what the Spirit gives is the Truth. For the world, by which Jesus means those who do not accept Him, the Spirit comes to convict, to convict them of the sin of not believing in God’s only Son, to convict them of the injustice of killing God’s son, to convict them of following the ruler of this fallen world, Satan, and all his empty promises.
Since, through our sins, we all have a share in killing Jesus, the Holy Spirit convicts all of us by calling to mind our sins and turning our hearts towards repentance. Everything hinges on how we respond to this call. We can repent of our sins and turn to the Lord for forgiveness. Or we can be like the world, and harden our hearts, and choose to live by the lies of Satan rather than by the Spirit of Truth. For those who repent will be healed by the Spirit. Those who harden their hearts choose not to be healed.
Jesus tells His apostles again, “A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while later and you will see me.” (John 16:16) The apostles question what this can mean. As much as Jesus is trying to warn them, they are unprepared for the ordeal they are about to go through. Like the apostles, we will all face times in our lives where our pain and suffering can seem unbearable. But none of us will face the suffering that Jesus underwent for our sake on the Cross. And Jesus reminds us that suffering is not the end of the story for those who persevere. The analogy He uses, of a woman giving birth, is the most concrete way of explaining how our suffering will melt away when we experience the fullness of joy in His Kingdom:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy. When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world. So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” (John 16:20-22)
Jesus concludes His discourse to the apostles by saying, “Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to his own home and you will leave me alone. But I am not alone, because the Father is with me. I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)
Jesus is never alone. His communion with the Father and Holy Spirit is eternal. He invites us to share in that communion. And while we will not be spared trouble in this world, we can rest assured that all of our troubles in this world are passing, that the love of the Triune God is eternal, and by abiding in this love we will have peace. Even before His Passion and Resurrection, Jesus has conquered the world. There is no doubt in the story. The Son will lay down His life for the Father. The Father will raise up the Son, so that all who believe in Him may be raised up with Him.
Image: Transfiguration by Raphael (downloaded from Wikipedia Commons).