Sunday, 29 March 2020

Spirit Testifies - John 16:1 - 15

Recall from last week that in these chapters Jesus is preparing the disciples for what lies ahead. In this season of lockdown our personal discipleship is vital - ensuring we carve out time to know God's presence (the discipline of OFF) and finding novel ways to do discipleship with each other ('share the walk').

At the beginning of the year we talked as a church about a '100 Year Vision'. It may be tempting to think that this lockdown might stall such a vision, but in fact because the fundamentals of this vision are personal discipleship and one-to-one sharing, it is ideally placed to actually benefit from our current scenario. The lockdown forces us to 'go personal' - so whilst one-to-one sharing does need us to quickly work out how to do that by phone/video, our passing on of faith can still happen. And it starts locally through sharing with our neighbours as we check up on them.

In this season I want to urge us all to make our primary prayer one for a spiritual awakening across the nation - literally pray that eyes are opened!

In John 16 verses 8 to 11 Jesus unpacks the testimony of the Spirit. At this point remember the context for most of his hearers - they were Jewish people who had several hundred years waiting for God to send the Messiah: the one who would put things right and finally end their sense of exile. The question for them is: would the people recognise Him and put their trust in Him when they say Him?

Jesus says the Spirit will convict with regards to 'sin', 'righteousness' and 'judgement'. First 'sin': sin here means not accepting, trusting and being embraced by Jesus as the Messiah. Note here it is not the typical 'doing bad things'. Those things do matter, but the more fundamental problem is not believing and basing your life on Jesus. After the death and resurrection of Jesus would the people believe that He was in fact sent by God? It is the Spirit who will convict people of their unbelief.

The Spirit will convict with regards to 'righteousness'. Here this doesn't simply mean 'right living' (as it does elsewhere), but rather that God did in fact send Jesus as the way/truth/life, and God will stand by Him. This is because the leaders and people will think they are doing God a favour by having Jesus executed. But the resurrection will be God effectively saying 'You were wrong, jesus was right'. This is known as 'vindication' - God vindicates Jesus. We all know the feeling of being wrongly accused (or even punished) for something we didn't do. When the true facts later come to light, we then feel 'vindicated'. The Spirit will convince people that God's way in Jesus was right all along.

Finally with regards to 'judgement', with the qualification 'because the prince of this world stands condemned'. The cross of Jesus is a massive power encounter. Instead of Jesus being the one condemned, it is in fact the devil and all evil that is condemned. The Spirit convicts people that Jesus is in the right, evil is condemned, and therefore the power of evil can no longer hold people.

So when we say to our neighbour (perhaps when checking up on them): "I'm quietly trusting in Jesus", what we mean is that Jesus is the one sent by God to restore all things - God's way in Him is right, the power of evil set against him is condemned and cannot stand!

But remember that only the Spirit will actually convince or convict people of this. Your clever words or arguments will not succeed. The biggest mistake in evangelism is to be disappointed that you didn't convince anyone. Well guess what, you never will convince anyone ... but the Spirit can! For sure we want our words to be logical and persuasive, but we are speaking into a head/heart/spirit thing which requires the work of the Spirit.

Jesus promised that the Spirit will testify, and do that through us. Jesus has unpacked that, but lets now dig even more into the Jewish context of the time. Remember that God had called this people to trust Him, base their lives on Him, and be His witness to the world. Sadly they put their trust in all kinds of other things ahead of God. Eventually God let the people be taken into exile - literally marched off to Babylon. But this was only for a season. They were able to return to their own land, and yet things were still not right. They never commanded their own land, instead overrun by foreign powers leading up to the Romans being in control in the time of Jesus. This is known technically as a 'theological exile' - they are in their own land but things not as they should be.

But they did have promises - promises that God would send a Messiah, His sent one, to restore all things. So let us understand exile as a time of opportunity for peoople to see God bring His restoration.

Now thing about our lockdown: currently it is like the whole of society is in exile! We are living in our own land, yet we can't live in our land so to speak. Yet just as with the Jewish people, this exile is surely also a place of opportunity to see and welcome the one whom God sends: Jesus. That is why I call us to pray for a spiritual awakening.

Let us look for the opportunity in this crucial time for our nation. It starts with us: our personal discipleship, our willingness to share that. And also through our 3rd habit: Ever closer to Jesus - that is an attitude whereby you want to finish today being closer to Jesus than you were yesterday. More in tune with His purposes, more understanding of the plan of God and His desire. Better discerning of His way, being clearer on how His way is right.

The closer we are to Jesus, the better the Spirit can ooze His testimony through us to others. Through all that, make your primary prayer one for spiritual awakening.

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