No Orphans in God’s Family!

No Orphans in God’s Family!

As we’ve mentioned in the Adult Ed class on the Holy Spirit—to which you’re all invited, by the way!—chapters 14–16 in the Gospel of John provide us with the most sustained teaching on the third member of the Trinity. But in these chapters we learn not only about the person of the Holy Spirit but also of the relationship that exists between him, the Father, and the Son, one God in three persons. And in our passage this morning, we are provided a glimpse into this wonderful, loving, mysterious God who knows and loves us and desires that for us to know and love him in return.

In John 14 Jesus is letting his inner circle of disciples know what is about to transpire in the days and weeks ahead. And part of what he is disclosing to them is not only how much unity and love exist between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit but also how those whom this one God knows and loves can be ushered into that divine relationship.

Jesus begins with a simple statement in verse 15: “If you love me, keep my commands.” Now at first blush this seems like an odd juxtaposition—what does loving someone have to do with obeying them? Shouldn’t a loving relationship be one in which each party, out of a feeling of affection for the other, voluntarily love them however they see fit? Jesus’ statement almost makes it seem as though love is conditional—if we love him, we will—we must?—keep his commands. But to view his statement this way is to grab hold of the wrong end of the stick. What Jesus is doing is indicating what we already know to be true, namely, that our actions are often indicators of our feelings or attitudes. As Eliza Doolittle belts out in My Fair Lady: “Sing me no song, read me no rhyme, Don’t waste my time, show me! Don’t talk of June, don’t talk of Fall, Don’t talk at all! Show me!” Eliza’s words express what, upon reflection, is true for us all—namely that the measure of love isn’t only words, but also actions. We want love not only to be spoken but also displayed. If we love someone, if we care about someone, we should want to do what pleases them.

And the wonderful thing about doing what Jesus commands is that because he also loves us, he only commands what is for our good. So to do what he commands should be a joy because by doing so we fulfill what he designed us for in the first place and so can find our life’s true meaning. And as we continue to see, if we’re looking for a short-hand summary of what Jesus commands, we need look no further than the summary of the law and the prophets he provides, as recorded in various Gospels and other New Testament letters, namely: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[1] This is our purpose in life. Brothers and sisters, because we were created for love, as we live loving lives—loving God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and loving those around us—we will find the purpose for which God made us in the first place.

And the entry-point into loving God is to love Jesus because he came as God in the flesh and, in doing so, enabled us to see what God is like in a form we can understand. Though we all have a spirit or soul which we know but cannot see—and therefore have some sense of loving God who is spirit—our spirit comes packaged in a body which we both know and see. And in his eternal wisdom, God knew we might need help in knowing and loving him whom we can’t see so he condescended to us and took on a human body that we might better comprehend what he is like. As Jesus replied to Philip, just a few verses earlier in John 14:9, when asked to show him the Father, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Again, part of what Jesus is doing in this entire chapter is teaching his disciples the oneness of God in three Persons and how we can gain knowledge of this Triune God by first turning to Jesus.

So if we love Jesus, the evidence of this is that we are keeping his commands—that we are seeking to do, to the best of our ability, what he lived and taught, namely to love him and to love those whom he’s placed in our lives. But to know Jesus is also to know the Father and the Holy Spirit. In verse 16 Jesus goes on to say that if we love him and keep his commands, he’s going to do something for us: He will ask the Father and the Father will give us another advocate[2] to help us and be with us forever.

Now an advocate—also translated as Helper—is a legal term that carries the idea of “counsel for the defense.” An advocate will plead the cause of another but this begs the question: Why do we need someone to plead our cause? I think there are at least two answers. One is that knowing God’s desire and expectations for us, we also know how short we often fall of his holiness. Who among us is able to love God with our all our being or sacrifice to please our neighbor as we sacrifice to please ourselves? So because we ever fall short of God’s ideal and design for us this side of heaven, how wonderful to know that God himself is our advocate, that God himself is pleading our case. John also reflects upon this truth in his epistle[3] as he states: “19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” Brothers and sisters, we need to remember that God is on our side! He knows our predicament, our failings and shortcomings , and he is greater than our condemning, self-recriminating hearts.

But I think a second reason we need an advocate is because we have an enemy, the prince of this world mentioned later in our passage, who, as stated in Revelation 12:10, accuses believers before God day and night. So we need an advocate to remind us that the reason we can stand holy—as saints—before God’s throne isn’t because of anything we’ve done, but only because of what God in Christ has done. It is because of his obedience and willingness to take on the penalty of our sins, become a curse for us, and give us his righteousness that we can be called holy in God’s sight.

It can be so easy to fall into a mindset of viewing God as a “gotcha’ God” who is ever waiting to catch us when mess up. But that isn’t at all how Scripture describes God. Scripture describes God as being on our side. He is our Helper. He is our Advocate. He declares us “not guilty” before all the world not because of what we have done but because of what God in Jesus Christ has done for us. The author of Hebrews[4] reminds us that: “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Jesus knows what it’s like to be human. He knows what it’s like to experience temptation. He knows how difficult and painful life can be. And his response to our fallen condition as humans is to extend his mercy and grace in order to help us in our time of need.

But why does Jesus say in John 14 that he will send “another” advocate?[5] It’s because though he is our first advocate Jesus knew that being fully human he would not live forever on earth with his disciples because the whole reason for his coming was that he might provide eternal life by means of his death and resurrection. And he is promising here that once he does die, rise, and ascend to heaven, he is going to send them another advocate who will remain with them forever, the Spirit of truth. As is the case with Jesus, the Holy Spirit is characterized by truth, in bringing people to the truth about God, in bringing people to the truth about himself.

In verse 17 Jesus goes on to note that the Holy Spirit will not be accepted by everyone—by the world—but only by those who see and know him. And then Jesus says something extraordinary to his disciples in verse 17: “But you know him, for he lives with you.” Do you see what he’s saying? Because he is one with the Spirit, even as he is one with the Father, to know Jesus is to know not only the Father, as Jesus told Philip, but also the Spirit because Jesus is one with both Father and Spirit. Even as Jesus is speaking with his disciples, the Spirit is living with them through him. But not only that, it gets better. This very Spirit, his Spirit, will be in his disciples once he sends him. In verse 18 Jesus elaborates that he will not leave his disciples as orphans but he will come to them. And though he did indeed come to them in his post-resurrection appearances and will come again finally at the end of the ages, I think that here he is also indicating that the means by which he will come and dwell in them forever is by the Holy Spirit—his Spirit—which he will send to them. The eternal presence of the Spirit in the lives of his followers is the reason why they will not be left as orphans.

I think this is one of the most profound teachings and realities recorded in Scripture. That because we have the Spirit of Christ, we are never alone for through him, we are ever in the presence of and in fellowship with the Triune God who first made us in his image. I remember a conversation I had with my brother shortly after my mother died, four years after our father had passed away. He looked at me sadly and said, “I guess we’re orphans now.” Now though not technically true—we had had our parents for our entire childhood and a good part of our adult lives—I know others who have felt this way upon losing their parents. Yet though we ought never diminish or deny the reality and pain of loss, as believers in Christ we can also know that our Father in heaven through Christ and his eternally indwelling Spirit will never leave us or forsake us[6] but in fact makes his home, his dwelling, in us. So though we may feel ourselves to be orphans this side of heaven, the reality is that because of what God has done in Christ, we are never alone for he has given us himself.

Returning to our passage, though soon, again, the world will no longer see Jesus (19), his disciples will. And because he lives, they, too, will live for the life of the Christian is ever and always tied to and dependent upon the life of Christ. And Christ has given us his very life, eternal life. And “on that day”—in other words on the day of the resurrection—his disciples will realize that Jesus is in the Father—and that they, his disciples, are in Jesus—and that he is in them. Again, by means of Jesus, his followers are drawn into the eternal life of the triune God. And the evidence that we are one with Jesus and God, he repeats in verse 21, is that we keep his commands as an expression of our love for him. Those who keep his commands are the ones who will be loved by his Father and by Jesus himself and to whom he will show himself for the love of the Father simply cannot be separated from the love of the Son.

Upon Jesus saying all of this one of his disciples, named Judas (but not the Judas; not Judas Iscariot), asks in verse 22: “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” Jesus replies that anyone who loves him will obey his teaching. In other words, the point here isn’t so much that he isn’t going to show himself to the world but that even though he has shown himself to the world, the world is unable to accept him because it neither sees or knows him—in other words, the world hasn’t accepted that he is who he says he is, God the Son sent by God the Father, for their salvation. When speaking about the world’s lack of receptivity to him, Jesus never says that he won’t show himself to the world, but merely indicates that only those who know and love him will be able to see him, to believe in him by faith. And, again, he reiterates that the evidence, or indication, that someone does know and love Jesus is that they will obey his teaching. And those who do will not only be loved by his Father, but both he and the Father will come to them and make their home with them—a truth he first asserts in verses 2–3 when he states he goes to prepare a place for them. Conversely, verse 24, those who do not love Jesus, will not obey his teaching. This follows, doesn’t it? Why would they obey someone whom they don’t believe? And, as we saw Jesus say time and again a few weeks ago in our study of the closing verses of John 10, here he reminds his disciples here that these words are not his own, but belong to the Father who sent him.

Jesus says that he is telling his disciples all of this while he still with them. But, verse 26, “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in [his] name, will teach [them] all things and will remind [them] of everything” he has said to them. So whereas in verse 18 Jesus told his disciples he wouldn’t leave them as orphans but that he himself would come to them, here—as he did in verse 16—he states that the means by which he will be with them is by the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in Jesus’ name. Are you seeing the unity and oneness between Father, Son, and Spirit? Though three persons, God is three persons acting as one in purpose. And part of his purpose is to unite us to himself by means of the Spirit.

This Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will be the means of Jesus coming to them, and whom the Father will send, will teach these disciples all things and remind them of everything Jesus has said to them—this is a key reason why we have the New Testament books today. Because the Spirit reminded them of Jesus’ words and so we have them recorded for us today. And this is why Jesus can leave his peace with his followers even though he himself will be leaving them, at least physically. Nonetheless his disciples can rest assured that by his Spirit, Jesus will never leave or forsake them—so their hearts need not be troubled, neither need they be afraid.

Now in case they’ve missed the point in everything he’s been saying to them, Jesus reminds them in verse 28 of what he said in verses 18–19. There he said that though he is leaving them, he is not leaving them as orphans but will come back to them. And here he is again reminding them that though he is going away, he is also coming back to them. And if they loved him—which they obviously do—they would be glad that he is going to the Father who is greater than he. The Father is greater in the sense that Jesus was sent by him. And because Jesus knows what lies his ahead—namely, his flogging, crucifixion, and resurrection—he wants to make sure his disciples understand all of this now, before it happens, “so that when it does happen [they] will believe.” As we’ve noted before, Jesus’ death and resurrection confirm the truth of all of his teaching, that what he has taught them will indeed come to pass.

He ends with an unusual statement in verses 30–31: “30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” Now “the prince of this world” is Satan but why say he is coming? Because he is coming in the person of Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus. But since we know that God created even the angels who fell, Satan being the highest among them, it would follow that because Jesus is God in the flesh, that Satan, ultimately, would have no power over him. The truth of the matter is that everything that is about to transpire is in keeping with God’s eternal plan of salvation.

From eternity, our eternal and loving God knew what it would take to conquer sin, and death, and the devil.

From eternity, our eternal and loving God purposed to come in human form in the person of Jesus that he might receive the penalty for our sin and we might receive his eternal life and so be able to know and love him both now and forever.

Brothers and sisters, as we come to our Lord’s table this morning, let us thank and praise him that because of our heavenly Father’s love for us—and sacrifice of his Son for us—and giving of his Holy Spirit to us, we are not orphans but will have both him and each as our family, as our family not only now but forevermore.

Let us pray.


[1] Luke 10:27; Mark 12:31–33; Matthew 22:37–40; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8. Sa. Matthew 5:43–44; 19:19.

[2] NIV study Bible note: “’Helper’ or ‘Advocate.’ It is a legal term, but with a broader meaning than ‘counsel for the defense.’…. It referred to any person who helped someone in trouble with the law. The Spirit will always stand by Christ’s people.” Greek online Bible: παράκλητος,n  1) summoned, called to one’s side, esp. called to one’s aid  1a) one who pleads another’s cause before a judge, a pleader,  counsel for defense, legal assistant, an advocate  1b) one who pleads another’s cause with one, an intercessor  1b1) of Christ in his exaltation at God’s right hand, pleading  with God the Father for the pardon of our sins  1c) in the widest sense, a helper, succourer, aider, assistant  1c1) of the Holy Spirit destined to take the place of Christ  with the apostles (after his ascension to the Father), to  lead them to a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth, and  give them divine strength needed to enable them to undergo  trials and persecutions on behalf of the divine kingdom ]

[3] I John 3:19–24.

[4] Hebrews 4:14–16: 14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

[5] See Romans 8:26–27 where Paul states that the Holy Spirit ““helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

[6] Hebrews 13:5b quoting Deuteronomy 31:6.

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