Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 23 March (#237)
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This morning, I will preach about a Bible passage which – so far – I have avoided because I don’t understand its meaning. What do you make of the following Bible verses?
John 16:8-11: And when He [the Holy Spirit] has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
The logic of these verses escapes me. How can the Holy Spirit convict people of sin by pointing out to them their unbelief? Have you ever met anyone that said: “I must be a bad person because I don’t believe in Jesus”? Have you tried this method on anyone: “Neighbour, I go to church and believe but you don’t which must mean that you are a sinner”? A Christian may understand that unbelief is a sin – (the chief sin for Luther) – (a Christian dishonours God by not trusting his promises) – but how can the unbelief of someone that is not sure about Jesus be the evidence for that person that they are wrong about God?
Usually – in our understanding – the Holy Spirit first convicts a person about their sin – first there comes an awareness of brokenness – then, the person turns to Jesus for forgiveness. Accordingly, one of the most respected teachers writes in his commentary on the passage:
D.A. Carson: Jesus and His Friends, Authentic Media 2010, p164: Because the people of the world do not believe in Jesus, they do not accept his teaching, believe his claims, or adopt his assessment of them. They do not turn to him for salvation; they do not even discern their need of him. Therefore, the Holy Spirit comes and [first] convicts them of their sin. If he did not do so, there is no way that any person who is part of the world could ever break free from the chains of the world and turn to Jesus.
This is what we are used to except this is not what the Bible passage says. The Holy Spirit does not first convict people of their sin and then deal with faith in Jesus. It’s the other way round. First people get confronted with Jesus and their unbelief in him which convicts them of their sin. How does this work?
Exit Slide 2
The other Bible verses are not any easier. How is anyone convicted and convinced of Jesus’ brand of righteousness because he is no longer there – nowhere to be seen? (Apparently, he went to his Father that is supposed to be God in heaven.) Can you say to anyone: “I am a Christian and what I uphold as righteousness is true because Jesus is not in church – he’s not there”? Would that convince anyone?
Then, how does the Holy Spirit convict people of judgement by pointing out to them that the ruler of this world – meaning Satan – is judged? When and where and how is Satan judged already and how does this become visible to the unbeliever? What precisely is meant to be evidence?
Do you agree that this is difficult? At least, we are not on our own. Even scholars struggle and one of them writes with beautiful understatement: “Commentators have not found the detailed exposition of 16:8-11 easy” (Raymond Brown).
Yet – on the other hand – there is nothing difficult in what Jesus is saying. If you stay within the logic of his thinking and his reality and what is written in the Bible – the book of John – then his words are not complicated. Our problem – the crux of our confusion – has to do with the current state of the church – the wide gap between what Jesus said would happen and what we actually have – the current state of our experience.
In this church, I am not preaching anything new but we need to hear it again to stir up fresh hunger – fresh desire – to have more in God. How can you come to a place where unbelief – not being with Jesus – is clearly the wrong option and convicts you of something being wrong with you? (How can an experience of Jesus convict you of sin?) Easy!
Heidi Baker: Birthing the Miraculous, Lake Mary: Charisma House 2014, p43-45: Before the Mozambique floods we used to lead people to the Lord a few at a time. Now they come in swarms. Often almost whole villages receive Jesus overnight. I remember one village where there was not a single Christian. As I prepared to speak there for the first time, I remembered the Ezekiel passage above. I believed with all my heart that through the love of the Father, we were going to bring living water to the village that day.
Normally night brings pitch darkness to the villages, but we had brought a generator. The spiritual atmosphere of that particular village felt unusually grim, but we had brought our own children from our children’s center, and they are very hard to depress. We set up lights and a speaker system. The children spoke, sang, and played the drums in a long stretch of exuberant worship. I also spoke. When I was done, I said, “Bring me the blind and the deaf!”
There were no deaf people – that’s a rarity in our part of Africa. But soon someone came to me and told me that they did know a blind man who was also paralyzed. He was in his hut because he could not get there.
That was perfect. I borrowed a flashlight and set out with my prayer team of children to the man’s hut. When we arrived, we met the blind man. He was wrapped up in a sheet covered in bright blue cartoon Smurfs! I have always wondered how he got that Smurf sheet or if anyone in the village even knew what Smurfs were. I suppose it did not matter to him at the time.
We sat around him, prayed for him, and hugged him. He stayed blind. Then he said he had a headache. We prayed for his headache, and that went away, but he still could not see.
I asked him if he wanted to know Jesus. He and his whole family were ready to surrender their lives to Jesus, he told me. I remember thinking, “He does not even see, but he still wants Jesus. That is wonderful faith.” The man and his whole family met Jesus that night.
Before I left his hut, I told him, “When you see tomorrow, please send me a runner back to Pemba with the news.”
Pemba, where I live, is many hours away from this village. That night I was surely not thinking like a normal person would. I was immersed in God’s presence, so I thought and spoke differently than a person in the natural world would. That was a good thing too, because the rest of the evening was incredibly challenging. A few of the villagers began to stone us and our children. The visitors we had brought along with us locked themselves in my Land Rover. They said they were interceding for us.
One of our young girls ignored the rocks and asked for the blind to come and be healed. Some of the friendlier villagers brought one more blind man to us. She and I prayed, and that man received his sight instantly. The man had held to another faith moments before being healed, but at once he yelled, “Hallelujah,” grabbed the nearest microphone, and began speaking about Jesus to the crowd. He said, “The One they are talking about is real. I was blind and now I can see!”
After that many people in the village received Jesus.
All this happened on a Thursday night. By Sunday no runners had come to Pemba with the news that the first blind man could see. I was a little bit confused about this. I fully expected him to be healed.
On Monday I was talking with a friend, a man who happens to be an influential businessman in Pemba. This friend practises another religion. We were parked in his car on our Glory Base when a stranger suddenly came up to the truck and tapped on the window. My friend was a bit suspicious and wanted me to ask the stranger what he was doing. It is not always safe to talk to strangers in Pemba.
I did not know what this was about, but I rolled down my window to ask. As soon as I lowered the window, the stranger said, “I am the runner!” Then another one came up beside him, blurting, “He can see! And he can walk too. He is on his land, farming!”
My business friend asked me to pray for him then and there. He took my hand and laid it on his own eyes. Whatever I had, he wanted.
Sometimes God will allow you to wait and wonder why he is not doing something exactly when you thought he would. Sometimes God is only asking you to wait until Monday. He knows what he is doing. Because the runners arrived at the precise time, my friend from another faith was convinced that he needed to experience Jesus …
It’s not difficult to become a Christian, when you experience Jesus healing the blind. It’s not difficult for the Holy Spirit to convict you of sin – convict you of being on the wrong side of God – when, in Jesus’ name, runners come with the news of healing and restored life. Jesus is real and wonderful and you need to belong to him. [Can you immediately appreciate how this kind of convicting people of sin is far more positive than scolding people for their broken lives and moral corruption? This is bringing light into darkness rather than berating the darkness for being dark.]
It is an experience of Jesus that will change your life and this experience comes through the Spirit of God which works power in his name. Jesus himself – while he was on earth – operated through the Spirit of God and then he promised his disciples that they – after his death on a cross, resurrection and return to the Father in heaven – would do the same in the same fullness of power:
John 1:32-33: And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’
John 3:34-35: For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.
John 16:7-11: Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. / John 14:12: Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.
John 15:26-27: But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.
People experience Jesus through us by the power of the Holy Spirit and this convicts them of sin and – surprisingly – this is fun because any Saviour that heals the blind and gets people out of wheel-chairs is good news. Jesus woos people with love – John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Maybe now we can make sense of the other two propositions in John 16:8-11:
… the Holy Spirit will convict the world … 1) of righteousness, because I go to my Father and you see me now more; 2) of judgement because the ruler of this world is judged.
Jesus always claimed that he had come from the Father in heaven. He was the Son of God who had always been with the Father and he would return to him after his life on earth – this time where he would live as a man – a human being – in obedience to the Father – only doing his will on earth. At his return to the Father in heaven, he would send the Holy Spirit on his people. He would no longer be seen on earth because he would be back in heaven and – from there – send the Holy Spirit.
John 6:37-41: All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
At this the Jews there began to grumble about him …
John 7:33-39: Jesus said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me. You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.”
The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? What did he mean when he said, ‘You will look for me, but you will not find me,’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?”
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
[Note how Jesus was careful to foretell his departure and link it with the coming of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the coming of the Holy Spirit later validated and confirmed his message about his departure and return to the Father. Cf. John 16:7-11: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” See also John 16:16-30.]
John 8:14-30: Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”
Then they asked him, “Where is your father?”
“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come.
Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.”
This made the Jews ask, “Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘Where I go, you cannot come’?”
But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.”
“Who are you?” they asked.
“Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,” Jesus replied. “I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.”
They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” Even as he spoke, many believed in him.
John 10:36-38: … Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.
Jesus always claimed that he had come from the Father in heaven and would return to him and – from there – send the Holy Spirit on his people. Thus – in John 16:10 – the cues of Jesus returning to the Father and no longer being seen by the disciples made complete sense and were nothing new. And this is what happened: As Jesus returned to the Father in heaven – was seen no more on earth – the Holy Spirit did come and – through signs and wonders – operating through the disciples – convicted people of righteousness – Jesus’ claim that he was only ever doing the will of the Father (even going to the extreme of dying for love). [Everything happened as he had said.] The life that he lived was righteous and any opposition to him was unrighteous.
Finally, the Holy Spirit would also convict people of judgement because the ruler of the world is judged. Jesus had always claimed that his opponents had Satan, as their Father. Therefore, when they judged him to die on a cross, they were doing the will of Satan as the ruler of this world. But the cross did not turn out to be Jesus’ judgement – (condemnation) – but his glory – his sacrifice of supreme love which became the source of forgiveness and keeps drawing people to him. After three days, Jesus rose from the dead – vindicated and powerful.
As the disciples became filled with the Holy Spirit and were preaching with signs and wonders, Jesus’ opponents could see that they had been wrong and that their judgements had been contradicted. The shame of the cross – killing the Son of God who was without sin – became a judgement of themselves and Satan, their Father. God pronounced his verdict on what happened and turned the cross into a source of blessing which would rob Satan of his accusing power through forgiveness:
John 8:43-47: Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.
John 12:31-33: “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. / John 8:25-29: “Who are you?” they asked. “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,” Jesus replied. “I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.”
They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”
John 14:28-31: You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.
I summarize our understanding of John 16:8-11 so far:
1. The Holy Spirit convicts people of sin because he confronts them with an experience of Jesus in whom they do not believe but who heals the blind and performs miracles through the Spirit-filled disciples.
2. The Holy Spirit convicts people of righteousness because he confronts them with the outcome of Jesus’ obedient and exemplary life: Jesus did return to the Father (therefore is seen no more) and the disciples did receive the Holy Spirit.
3. The Holy Spirit convicts people of judgement because he confronts them with the cross which did not judge Jesus but themselves and their ruler, Satan. They were wrong and, by turning the cross into a source of blessing, God turned the tables and pronounced judgement on Satan because, through the cross and its offer of forgiveness, he had lost his power to accuse people of sin. The Holy Spirit makes people experience the truth of this message because the disciples do everything in the name of Jesus and him crucified.
Exit Slide 6
The Holy Spirit is compelling in his convicting work. In Mozambique, whole villages are being saved in one evening. It’s hard to resist Jesus when the blind see and the deaf hear but it happens – more frequently than I would have ever imagined. Why would anyone resist Jesus when the evidence is so compelling and wonderful? This doesn’t make sense; therefore Jesus himself – in the same conversation where he explained the Holy Spirit and his work of conviction – warned them:
John 16:1-4: All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you.
John 16:32: A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone … [Despite experiencing Jesus all of the time, the disciples also abandoned him. It seems unthinkable to walk away from the Spirit-filled Jesus but it is also our experience.]
One reason why people can resist miracles is that they are only a sign which points in the right direction. New eyesight – new bones or eardrums – are not yet explaining much about Jesus. You can be healed and go home without listening to any preaching of salvation. This is a general principle of God: If you want to understand more of him, you need to respond to the pointers on the way. God is not cheap. He only reveals his heart to those that are hungry and honour him. [Matthew 7:6: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs …”]
[For this reason, God also likes to offend our notions of religion, propriety and decency. Will we humble ourselves and seek him in the midst of weakness and foolishness (e.g.: Acts 2 and the disciples’ “drunkenness”, a wining and dining Jesus, a Saviour from Galilee, the cross, etc)? See also 1 Corinthians.]
This applies to everyone – believers and unbelievers. The Holy Spirit convicts unbelievers of sin, righteousness and judgement – the basic teachings on salvation – but he is also the Spirit of truth for believers – Christians – and Jesus demonstrated in the same conversation how progressive clarity comes with engagement – the pursuit of more truth:
John 16:12-31: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.
A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.”
Then some of His disciples said among themselves, “What is this that He says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’?” They said therefore, “What is this that He says, ‘A little while’? We do not know what He is saying.”
Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, “Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’? Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.
“And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God. I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.”
His disciples said to Him, “See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech! Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God.”
Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe?
[John 15:14-15: You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.]
Jesus said something to the disciples that was not spoken plainly but was more of a riddle – a mystery: “A little while, and you will not see me; and again a little while, and you will see me, because I go to the Father.” What did this mean? [In hindsight, we could probably guess that the saying refers to Jesus’ imminent crucifixion where the disciples would see him no more and then the resurrection soon after where the disciples would see Jesus again on the way to the Father.] The disciples wanted to know; therefore debated among themselves and resolved to ask Jesus some more questions.
And he responded to their quest. He first made them pay attention to every one of his words because he gave them a “word of knowledge” – he performed the small miracle of telling them that he knew what they wanted to ask him. Then, he launched into some more teaching and – finally – spelled out some – not all – of the facts: “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father” (John 16:28). The disciples were satisfied and explained why: “See, now you are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech! Now we are sure that you know all things, and have no need that anyone should question you. By this we believe that you came forth from God” (John 16:30). The longer the disciples engaged with Jesus in conversation – the longer they talked – the hungrier they were – the clearer Jesus’ words became. Figures of speech gave way to plain speech and increased faith.
See also John 6:24-71: Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”
“Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)
In the conversation, Jesus promised the disciples that – with the Holy Spirit – the same dynamic would remain: Revelation would become clearer: “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me, and have believed that I came forth from God.” (John 16:25-27).
Another reason why not everything is clear from in the beginning – (in addition to testing our hunger for him) – is that we cannot handle too much truth all at once. Jesus said: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth; for he will not speak on His own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak; and he will tell you things to come.” (John 16:12-13).
When I experienced people falling under the power of the Holy Spirit for the first time, I needed God to explain this phenomenon from the Bible which he did by surprising me with the content of 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. However, it was only later that he expanded on the meaning of this passage and made it the foundation for the Jesus Tent outreach and I have the suspicion that there is still more revelation to come from the same Bible verses (e.g.: the meaning of coming “in weakness and fear, and with much trembling”). For me, revelation had to be progressive and needed to be pursued over a longer span of time because I could not have handled more information before I was ready:
On the 1st January 2003, we had a worship service with a Lutheran guest-preacher (Gemechis Desta Buba) where two thirds of the congregation were falling to the floor under the power of the Holy Spirit. This was new to me and the congregation. At home, I said to God: “You have to show me this in the Bible. I have to know that this is you.” Then, God showed me 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 which was a favourite passage for Lutherans like me because it magnified the cross of Jesus (1 Corinthians 2:1-5: “ ... I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified ... ”) but – for the first time – I actually picked up on what these verses were also saying: “ ... My message and my preaching were not wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” I was stunned – embarrassed – that the meaning of these verses never registered with me before – (the logic of these verses is not complicated) – but I also relaxed. If – by the design of God – the preaching of Jesus and him crucified comes with demonstrations of the Spirit’s power, it is okay for people to fall to the ground as one such demonstration.
God gave me the explanation that I needed and we moved on with growing in our faith – exploring many issues such as prayer, forgiving each other and discipleship but also the Holy Spirit. We took baby steps in finding out about the Holy Spirit. (For instance, the gift of speaking in tongues was a rather new experience.) As this continued, the focus began to turn more intentionally towards mission and reaching the lost and – in report after report – I stressed the importance of seeking more of the Holy Spirit for mission work. I kept quoting 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 and tied these verses to the summary of Paul’s mission work in the Bible which he gives in Romans 15:18-19: “… I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading people [original: the Gentiles] to obey God by what I have said and done – by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit …”
At first, I took these Bible references as an encouragement to seek more of the Holy Spirit in terms of general empowerment (e.g.: more prophetic discernment, warfare worship, gift of tongues) but – over the last few years – the conviction grew to use 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (and Romans 15:18-19) in its most immediate sense and simply copy what Paul did himself, that is: preach Jesus and him crucified and then wait for God to confirm the message with demonstrations of power through the Holy Spirit. Maybe we can do mission work in Toowoomba in the same way that was common in the Bible.
At Living Grace, we had previous conferences and seminars where the preaching was followed with demonstrations of the Spirit’s power but it happened mainly among Christians (even though we have had a trickle of converts). This was great but many of us were longing to take the message and the Spirit out to those that are lost. Earlier in the year, we took our first tentative steps with the Saturday meetings which we named “Encounter the Supernatural” (4-8pm – two sessions and dinner in between) but the Jesus Tent meetings (in one of the most public squares of our region – Queens Park) were the first time that we invited the city to encounter God – experience him – not through wise and persuasive words – not through a plausible presentation of the Christian worldview – but a demonstration of his power which confirms the simple witness to Jesus and him crucified.
Another example where Jesus begins by talking in riddles but then everything becomes clear is also from the story of the first Jesus Tent:
On 20th March 2012, I approached the Toowoomba Regional Council with a request to book Queens Park for a few days in October but I could not get anyone to look at the application and give me some sort of preliminary approval which I thought that I needed early to have enough time for building a collaborative team among a good number of churches. (In general, churches need plenty of time for joining a new initiative.) After a few weeks of not getting a response from the Council, I paused and reconsidered what was happening. Maybe it was God who was not opening the door. Even though we thought that we had heard from him and were excited about stepping out, I backed off and our leadership agreed to walk away from the project. Finally, on 16th May 2012, I received a notice that someone from the Council was going to view the application the next day and, after a further two and a half weeks, I suddenly received a park approval letter but – at this time – I was no longer excited. The letter came too late. No emotions stirred in me.
On 10th July 2012, we had a board meeting. I had prepared Genesis 18:1-21 as the opening devotion. The Bible story was about God visiting Abraham and Sarah and renewing his promise of a son and heir. By this time, Abraham and Sarah were past child-bearing age and they seemed to have made peace with their barrenness. Sarah laughed at the suggestion (prophetic word) that she would have a baby at their advanced age. According to her, it was too late but it was okay. The pain had subsided – the grieving was done – there was acceptance of not being with child – and she laughed freely (as did Abraham previously). Yet, this was the time when God confirmed the old promise of a son and resurrected hope. At our leadership meeting, I also wanted to make the point that the long time of waiting for an heir and countless descendants – a big nation that would bless all other nations – prepared Abraham to be indeed a father of nations because something had formed in him that made him intercede for the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah despite God’s plans to destroy them (Genesis 18:16-33).
As we began our meeting, I asked one of our members (Vicki) to read the opening verses of Genesis 18 but she could not get past the first verse and the phrase “he [Abraham] was sitting in the entrance to his tent”. Whenever she came to these words, the Holy Spirit would overpower her so that she could not continue reading. What was going on?
We had our meeting and at the end of the meeting – as an item of information, not discussion – I told the board that the park approval had come but was no longer relevant. Even so, Vicki said that she had “heard” the word “tent” throughout the meeting. She did not understand what significance this should have but together we began to connect the dots. God was bringing the tent outreach back on the agenda. The Holy Spirit drew attention to the tent in the Bible story – God meeting Abraham there – when he moved on Vicki in her reading of the Bible verse. Then, he became specific in giving her the word “tent” throughout the meeting. It seemed like God made us share Abraham and Sarah’s experience of receiving back an old promise. When we had walked away from our hopes and dealt with our grief, God renewed his commitment and gave us back the tent. It may have been a roller-coaster of emotions but, as the time of waiting prepared Abraham for his role, so the time of waiting built fortitude in us. Finally, God impressed on us that he is always good. Years may pass before his promises come true but he is wise and can be trusted.
On Sunday 9 October 2012, we were to commence five days of prayer and fasting for the tent outreach. During the service – (after the sermon and some prayer ministry) – Vicki “heard” from God these words: “Utter in his presence.” I asked her how she had heard God’s voice. Was it a voice inside of her or was it audible to her ears? She thought that it was so clear that she must have heard the words with her ears. She did not know what they meant. When we talked in the evening, I first thought that God may have said: “Usher in his presence.” This would have been a more plausible English sentence but Vicki is very precise when she is listening to God.
After Vicki had heard about uttering in God’s presence – a few minutes later – she felt compelled to speak out loud – (with authority): “The Lord is good; his love endures forever.” As she was speaking, the words came to her. (I remember that in the service I was sitting on the other side of the building and did not know that the loud voice belonged to Vicki. My thoughts were: “I hope that this is not another weird person.”) Then, Vicki shared how she felt a cool wind blowing in that side of the building even though the doors were closed and the day was quite warm. The cool wind came from God and – later – others also testified that they had felt the breeze.
We closed the worship service – spoke the blessing and sang our last song – but no one left their seats. Everyone was quiet. I did not know what to do when Kirsty came up and asked for permission to have the microphone. She began to repent with tears. She was heart-broken. She confessed how she was not ready for the fasting and prayer. She was not ready for the tent outreach. She had known about the call to put up a Jesus Tent but left everything to the last minute and did not prepare herself. Kirsty ended up lying on the carpet – sobbing. I knew that she had prayed the prayer of the church because only a minority of our members had so far engaged in the spiritual battle over the Jesus Tent.
On reflection, everything made sense. Vicki did utter in the presence of God when she spoke the words: “The Lord is good; his love endures forever.” The scenario came straight out of the Bible. When God’s people were in trouble, they cried out to him and he answered them – saying: “The battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chronicles 20:15). As the worshippers went ahead of the army – proclaiming: “Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever” (2 Chronicles 20:21), God set ambushes against the people’s enemies and defeated them. As the worshippers uttered in his presence, the Lord fought the battle – not the people. The same was happening among us and God further confirmed this interpretation by the song that he had given Marty in the season leading up to the tent. The chorus also featured the words: “The Lord is good; his mercy endures forever.”
Why did God speak in riddles? It’s not that he did not want us to get the message. He wanted to test our resolve – how much we actually wanted to hear from him and do his will. God wants to be pursued. There is also something that forms in us in the pursuit – the character and passion and maturity (imagining and exploring the outcome) needed to do the work.
Proverbs 25:2: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.”
Bill Johnson: People wonder why God doesn’t always speak in more open terms—audibly, with visible signs. The Bible indicates that God receives more glory when He conceals, rather than making things obvious. It is more glorious for Him to hide, and have us seek. In the introduction to the parable of the seed and the sower we find that Jesus did not merely use parables as illustrations, but at times to conceal truth so that only the hungry would understand (see Matthew 13:11,18-23). It is the mercy of God to withhold revelation for those who have no hunger for truth, because the chances are they won’t obey it when they hear it. Revelation always brings responsibility. By keeping revelation from those without hunger, God protects them from certain failure to carry the responsibility it would lay on them. Yet, He doesn’t conceal from us; He conceals for us!
But there’s another part to this equation—“it’s the glory of kings to search out a matter” (Proverbs 25:2). We are kings and priests to our God (see Rev. 1:6). Our royal identity never shines brighter than when we pursue hidden things with the confidence that we have legal access to such things. Mysteries are our inheritance. Our role in ruling and reigning with Christ, comes to the forefront when we seek Him for answers to the dilemmas of the world. It is important to note, ruling from God’s perspective means “to be the servant of all.” Too many have embraced wrong theology and have used it as an excuse to pursue ruling over others in the way Jesus warned against. Our strong suit has been, and always will be, serving.
Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not be granted” (Matt. 13:11 NASB). We, as believers, have legal access to the realm of God’s mysteries. The hidden things are placed in waiting for the believer to discover. They are ours by inheritance.
Now I come back to the Holy Spirit’s convicting work and a Bible test case how he can be resisted and rejected despite good evidence. If you don’t want to be open to Jesus, not even the healing of blindness can heal your blind eyes:
John 9:1-41: As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
His neighbours and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”
“How then were your eyes opened?” they asked. He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.” “Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said.
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”
Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.
Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man replied, “He is a prophet.”
They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”
“We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”
The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.
Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
[John 3:1-2: Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” / John 10:25: Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me.” / John 10:37-39: Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp. / John 12:9-11: Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him. / John 15:22-25: If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’]
[John 3:19-21: This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.]
Jesus healed a blind man for the express purpose “that the works of God might be displayed in him”. However – from the beginning – the miracle and its implications (the identity of Jesus) were contested. Neighbours were not quite sure whether the healed man was the blind man that they knew or a look-alike. When the healed man insisted that he was indeed the one that had been blind, they questioned how this could have been possible. (It’s like some doctors not wanting to know patients that have had miracle cures because it’s not possible according to modern medicine.)
Then, the healed man was brought to the religious leaders but they denied that Jesus could be a man of God because the healing took place on a Sabbath, a day of rest according to the command of God. However, their opposition was not unanimous. (“How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?”) At a loss, they asked the healed man for his opinion and he thought that Jesus was a prophet (which was correct but not the full truth).
Then, the people and their leaders went back to questioning the identity of the healed man and queried his parents about his alleged former blindness. The parents deferred to their son because they were intimidated by the hostile questioning and the threat of expulsion if anyone was to conclude that Jesus was the Christ. (The leaders’ minds were made up before the investigation.)
The healed man was summoned a second time and, instead of questioning him, they charged him with the claim that they knew that Jesus was a sinner. They encouraged him to be religious and give glory to God by denouncing Jesus. However, the man again witnessed to his healing but then refused to explain again how exactly it happened. They did not listen before and he (mischievously) asked them whether they wanted to hear the story again so that they could also become Jesus’ disciples. This led to angry insults.
The healed man became bold and challenged the leaders’ judgement because they did not know where Jesus came from and – yet – if Jesus had not come from God, he could have done nothing. The leaders’ became offended at the healed man’s speech. They did not want to be lectured by someone that they judged to be sinful because of his (former) blindness. They threw him out.
Then, Jesus looked up the healed man again and led him to faith in himself.
Jesus healed the blind man but did not immediately reveal his identity as the Son of God and did not immediately explain that believing in him would save the healed man and the other people. The miracle pointed in the right direction but then it was up to every person how to respond. Either be open and become hungry for more or close yourself off and resist God. The miracle of healing a blind man is a very powerful pointer – (so you would think) – but it could be resisted which makes us pause for reflection. Have we ever resisted clear miraculous evidence of Jesus and his will? The religious leaders (that should have known better) gave in to denial (the identity of the healed man), turned against Jesus because of their traditions (no healings on a Sabbath) and – finally – attacked the messenger (the healed man) rather than deal with Jesus directly. The healed man – on the other hand – remained open despite the hostile environment. He welcomed the healing and embraced the healer until Jesus led him to faith. The healed man ended up with an even greater healing when he worshipped Jesus.
Our understanding of God – his miracles and sayings – is progressive. There is always more to come as we pursue God. However, I come back to the beginning.
John 16:8-11: And when He [the Holy Spirit] has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin because they do not believe in Jesus. How does this work again? You may not believe but Jesus comes to you in an experience. (It happens in this church.) Then, how can an experience of Jesus convict you of sin? Easy! Never mind that not all understanding of God will come at once and just watch any notions of resistance in you. It’s not difficult to become a Christian, when you experience Jesus healing the blind. It’s not difficult for the Holy Spirit to convict you of sin – convict you of being on the wrong side of God – when, in Jesus’ name, runners come with the news of healing and restored life. Jesus is real and wonderful and you need to belong to him. Amen.