Power to Testify

Power to Testify

 Well, I thought I could let John go but I just couldn’t so I’ve spent another week learning from him who learned from and has passed along to us what he received from Jesus. Appropriately enough this Pentecost Sunday what John is specifically passing along in this morning’s passage is Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit whom he would send after he ascended to heaven. Now the timing of both Jesus and the Spirit’s being sent to earth is according to Old Testament prophecies concerning them and the book of Acts records the fulfillment of Joel’s prophesy that God’s Spirit would be poured out upon all of his people.[1] So not only Jesus but also the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Trinity, was promised by God as a means of completing God’s plan of redemption, of enabling those who had been estranged from him to know and love and follow Christ.

Now the word “Pentecost” means “fifty” and it’s often referred to as the birth of the church. But before Pentecost became a Christian holiday, it had been a Jewish holiday that celebrated the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai fifty days after the Exodus. And the Jewish people celebrated Pentecost fifty days after Passover. This celebration is why Jews from surrounding nations were gathered in Jerusalem that first Pentecost Sunday.[2] And the Holy Spirit first fell upon God’s people, believing Jews. But what is extraordinary is that at Pentecost the definition of God’s people was extended to include not only believing Jews, but also Samaritans[3] who were often looked down upon by believing Jews for being of mixed religious lineage and, most astonishing of all, God’s people was extended to include even the Gentiles or non-Jews as represented by Cornelius, the Roman centurion, and his family.[4] As the LORD made evident thousands of years earlier in his promise to Abram from whom he first created a people, the Jewish nation for himself, his plan had ever been that all nations would one day be blessed through Abraham.[5] And with the sending of God’s Holy Spirit on Pentecost we find the fulfillment of that blessing made manifest in a powerful way.

Now as we noted last week, after Jesus had risen from death and appeared to his disciples and many others over a period of forty days, he gave his disciples some important instructions. First, the Great Commission from Matthew 28 records some of Jesus’ last words as he told them, “18 All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” and then went on to command them, “19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” But then he added “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Now how is this possible? If Jesus was about to leave them and ascend to his Father, how could he be with his disciples always, even to the very end of the age?

The answer lies, second, in Jesus’ final words just prior to his ascension. Included in the things he told his disciples are this command, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”[6] And before Jesus ascended he provided his disciples this assurance “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”[7] So in these his final words before ascending to heaven Jesus promised his disciples that in a few days they would receive the Holy Spirit. I can’t even begin to imagine what his disciples must have made of this, especially after they saw him ascend in the clouds as he left them. How would the Holy Spirit come? Would they know it once he came given that he was a Spirit? Would they be able to see him? Feel him? Experience him? Well they didn’t have long to wait for a mere ten days after Jesus ascended to heaven the 120 disciples[8] who had gathered in the upper room to wait and pray did indeed receive Christ’s Holy Spirit[9] as recorded in the second chapter of Acts. And, again, this giving of the Holy Spirit on the fiftieth day after Easter is what we celebrate today, Pentecost Sunday.

But what we have recorded in our morning’s passage is the “before” Pentecost. Instead of repentance and the subsequent joy in Christ and each other that resulted after Pentecost,[10] we have here Jesus’ disciples feeling sorrow and bewilderment. It’s difficult to know what might have been going through the minds of John and the other disciples as Jesus told them what was to come. They had left all that they had in order to follow him. They had spent years learning from him, listening to his teaching, watching how he interacted with and treated others, observing his miracles, wondering at his words and deeds. They had known and loved and been loved by Jesus deeply and profoundly and would no doubt have been delighted to continue to learn from him for the remainder of their earthly lives. For what could be better than having Jesus as a close friend?

Yet after teaching his disciples about the importance of abiding in him as a branch abides in the vine to which it’s attached at the beginning of John 15,[11] and then going on to warn them that as the world had hated him, it would also hate them,[12] Jesus changed course and started telling them about the Advocate who was to come. As stated in verse 26, “ When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me.” Jesus is using legal language and applying it to the Holy Spirit to indicate how he will help and come to the defense of those who belong to Christ. When he had earlier begun teaching his disciples about the Holy Spirit, he introduced this concept of advocacy in saying: “15 If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”[13] So the Holy Spirit is another advocate, that is, an advocate like Jesus himself, a defender of those who belong to him. Advocate is how John described Jesus in his first epistle: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.”[14] So we see the close association between Jesus and the Holy Spirit, another advocate even as Jesus was their advocate, who would be with them forever by indwelling them. This Spirit of truth would be the means of Jesus coming to his disciples once he departed. By his Spirit, he could guarantee that he would never leave or forsake them but instead would be with them until the end of the age. Isn’t it awesome to know that God is on our side? That he will defend us, come to our aid, help us and comfort us?

But all of this is no doubt clearer to us who are living post-Pentecost. For Jesus’ disciples living prior to his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, these teachings had to have been difficult for them to comprehend. How would Jesus send them the Advocate? And who, exactly, was he? As Scripturally faithful Jewish men, Jesus’ disciples had come to understand that given Jesus’ oneness with the Father, his being God and thereby doing the things only God could do, didn’t violate the Shema, the foundation of Jewish belief about God: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”[15] But Jesus was now adding to this oneness by telling them about the third Person of the Trinity, the Advocate, the Spirit of truth, who was to come from the Father and testify about him. This couldn’t have been easy for the disciples to grasp—not that it’s easy for us to grasp either!

Nonetheless, as the Spirit would testify about Jesus, he told them in verse 27, “And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” We have here a prelude to the later Great Commission, don’t we? For even before his crucifixion Jesus was bringing home to his disciples the importance of testifying concerning him. Of all people, these who had been with Jesus so intimately from the beginning would be best qualified to tell others about him. This call to bear witness to him also helps us understand the warnings Jesus gave them in chapter 15 about how the world would hate them and reiterated here, in verses 1–4 of chapter 16: “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.” Being a disciple and bearing witness to Jesus Christ is not for the faint of heart. There may be a price to pay for bearing such witness. And so Jesus warned them of what was to come.

Though I’ve commented upon it before, I find it extraordinary that anyone would have ever wanted to harm Jesus or have him executed. Though as we know his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection were all according to our Triune God’s foreknowledge and plan of redemption for his creation, it boggles the mind to think that people wanted him dead when you consider how Jesus lived his life—telling others about God and his kingdom; healing those who were sick; casting out demons from those who were possessed; loving those whom others hated and looked down upon; caring for those who were in need; standing up to injustice and abuse; forgiving those who had done wrong; exhorting all to love God and each other with all that was in them. It would be one thing if Jesus had been a violent or irrational or unkind man—but he wasn’t. He was all we could hope for in a human being; and he was all we could hope for in our God. And for bearing witness to the salvation Jesus offers, his disciples were promised the same fate as he.

Be that as it may, Jesus went on to tell his disciples starting at the end of verse 4, “I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things.” Though Jesus ever knew how all of this would end he had held off saying anything until his time to die was advancing. And how strange his words must have sounded, “but now I am going to him who sent me.” This simply isn’t a statement they would have expected to hear or been able to make sense of. And as if acknowledging their inability to process all of this, Jesus noted how the disciples weren’t even bothering to ask where he was going but instead were filled with grief. This part actually makes sense. Whether due to his returning to his Father or otherwise leaving, that his disciples were upset completely makes sense. Of course they were filled with grief! Of course their sorrow was deep. Had they not loved Jesus, they could have stopped following him at any time. But they hadn’t. They had stayed with him. They had come to love him. They wanted to keep being with him. Why, oh why, did he have to leave? What was the point in it all? All of this would make sense after he rose from the death but at this time this simply couldn’t have sounded like a good plan. Leaving is never better than staying when we’re dealing with someone we know and love.

Jesus again tried to explain why his leaving was not only good but also necessary in verse 7: “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” Again, though Jesus had provided some teaching about the Holy Spirit, this Advocate who was to come, it’s unlikely that his disciples would have understood the significance of what he had said. How could his coming—especially if it required Jesus leaving—be for their good? Yet from Jesus’ perspective this was clearly needed. Why? He provides the answer starting in verse 8. It’s because “When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:” We have listed here some of work the third member of the Godhead does. As the Spirit of truth, he works to shed that truth to those with whom he comes in contact. Once Jesus ascended to the Father and sent the Spirit to continue his work on earth, three specific tasks are noted, all of which are a means of proving, or in some translations “convicting,” “the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.”

So let’s begin with sin. If you were asked, “How is the world in the wrong about sin?,” how might you answer? For my part, I would note that our society no longer thinks in terms of sin. It doesn’t view itself as being accountable to live according to the ways of God who made us. If believed in at all, God is irrelevant to many. Or if not irrelevant, we tend to reverse what the Scriptures teach and instead create God in our image, assuming that our values are his values. But so often they’re not. Scripture teaches us that we have been created by God and for God. And because of the Fall, he needs to teach us how it is we are to live, holy as he is holy, putting our love for him above loving ourselves and putting our love for others at least on par with loving ourselves.[16]

Now if you’ve ever wondered what the worst sin is, it probably isn’t what you think. For in verse 9 the worst sin has been provided for us. Jesus states that the Advocate will prove the world to be wrong about sin “because people do not believe in me.” Surprising, isn’t it? The worst sin, the sin that the Holy Spirit has come to convict the world about, to prove the world wrong about, is that it doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ. This is the worst sin because unless we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, we have no way of receiving forgiveness for all of our sins, for all of the ways in which we have treated God and others poorly and neglectfully. Apart from Jesus we have no way of being reconciled to and coming to know our loving and heavenly Father.

The second thing the Advocate will “prove the world to be in the wrong about” is righteousness. As we’ve noted before, even many of those who believed Jesus to be the promised Messiah misunderstood him to be but an earthly political leader who would make right the religious and political abuses that existed in his day. But the righteousness Jesus brought was far greater. For us, the only way of being righteous before God isn’t by our good works or attempts, but by Christ’s good works and his subsequent death on the cross on our behalf. And his being raised from death and ascending to heaven both indicate that his sacrifice was accepted by God and his mission completed. So it was necessary that he leave, that he ascend to heaven, that he go “to the Father” where his disciples would “see [him] no longer” because having conquered sin, death, and Satan, he was able to take his proper place as King and rule not only earth but also heaven. And one of the means by which he would continue his rule on earth would be by the Advocate he would send.

As a lone person, Jesus could only reach so many people given the constraints of time and space, but by indwelling his people, his holy temple, by his Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ’s reach now extends to wherever his followers may be and wherever his followers may go. We are now the means of bringing his truth to the world. For by his Holy Spirit, God in Christ uses us, broken vessels though we may be,[17] to point others to Christ, proving to the world its need to believe in Christ and then living as Jesus did: caring for the needy, standing up to injustice, giving voice to the voiceless. The world was wrong to seek an earthly ruler for it wanted too little of Jesus. What we have in him is so much more. We have the Maker and Lord of heaven and earth reigning until he returns to make all things right and destroy all evil, to bring about his shalom, his peace. And until he does return, he desires to use us to teach and live out that shalom.

The last thing the Holy Spirit, the Advocate will prove the world to be wrong about is judgment. Too often when we think of God’s judgment, we assume he’s always angry with us. But though God’s wrath is real, his wrath is targeted at the devastating effects that sin causes in our lives, breaking our relationship with him—and each other—and nature, God’s created order. This is why we need saving for apart from Christ, we can’t keep ourselves from corrupting and destroying all that is holy and good. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”[18] And though we often note that the origin of sin occurred with Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God in the Garden—and this is certainly the case at the human level as their disobedience corrupted the nature of all humanity that followed—the initial source of sin was that ancient serpent,[19] the Devil and Satan, who lured our first parents from obeying their God and Maker. Yet even at the time of the Fall, the LORD God judged this serpent in foretelling of one who would crush his head.[20] With the coming of Christ and his subsequent sending of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, this judgment and prophecy was fulfilled. As Jesus looked forward to his crucifixion, he stated, “31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”[21] And similarly we’re told in our passage that that the Advocate proves the world to be wrong about judgment, verse 13, “because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” So God’s judgment falls properly and first and foremost on the one who made this world go awry in the first place.

For the time being, this teaching was enough for his disciples. As Jesus stated in verse 12, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.” But then he added an important reminder by way of encouraging them in verse 13, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” This is precisely what Jesus said about his relationship to his heavenly Father: “49 For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. 50 I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”[22] Now God being a God of truth, all three members of the Trinity exemplify truth. And the most important truth to which each bears witness is that in Jesus, eternal Christ, the Son of God, has come to offer salvation and eternal life to any and all who believe and receive him as their Savior and Lord.

Such did Jesus state about the Spirit of truth in verse 14: “He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.” If the apostle John testified to the truth of who Jesus is after having know him but a few years, how much more does the Holy Spirit who has ever known and been one with Christ from eternity? And notice the lavish generosity that exists among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as indicated in verse 15. For as the Holy Spirit receives and makes known all that Christ Jesus gives, so, too, “All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

So what, exactly, does the Holy Spirit make known to us? To what end has he been sent to those who have believed and received Jesus Christ? The teaching John has recorded from Jesus in this passage provides us with a simple, yet powerful, answer: The Holy Spirit has been sent that we might have power to testify to the truth of Jesus Christ. This isn’t power in the abstract nor is it truth in the abstract. It’s power to testify about the truth of Jesus Christ.

We see this at the beginning of our passage from John 15:26–27: As the Spirit testifies about Jesus, so too, his disciples are called to testify. So our testimony is to be in sync with that of Christ’s Spirit. And this passage provides us with at least three things we need the Spirit’s truth and power to help us testify about:

First, to prove the world to be in the wrong about sin because the world doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ. Brothers and sisters, you and I are called to bear witness in word and deed that those around us might believe in Christ;

The second thing we need the Spirit’s help to testify about is to prove the world is wrong about righteousness for Scripture teaches that Jesus is the eternal Christ who is even now ruling as King at the Father’s right hand even if we can’t see him;

And the third thing we need the Spirit’s help to testify about is to prove the world is wrong about judgment for though evil continues to touch our lives, as exemplified this week in the shootings at the high school in Santa Fe, the prince of this world stands already condemned by Christ’s death and resurrection. And, we, too, are called by his Spirit to stand against all evil and injustice.

Again, as promised by Jesus just prior to his ascending to heaven, the Holy Spirit’s coming provides power to testify to the truth of who he is. The original disciples testified in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. And so we are called to testify in Ipswich and Beverly and Boxford and S. Hamilton and Haverhill and wherever else we may find ourselves. For Christ Jesus who has been given all authority in heaven and earth has commanded us to go and make disciples in his name, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded. And as we do, we can carry the assurance that Christ is our Advocate; and the Holy Spirit is our Advocate; and our heavenly Father is for us. For we must ever remember that our gracious and loving Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is always on our side. As Paul reminds us,

“If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.[23]

And all of God’s people said, “Amen!”

Let us pray.


(Sermon One in Christ’s Spirit Preached on 05/15/16, Acts 2:1–21; 04-24–16 Eternal Life Even to Gentiles Acts 11:1–18; sa; 06/04/17 God’s Love Applied, Acts 2:1–21) (Colossians 2:11–12)

Acts 10:41: 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.


[1] Joel 2:28–29: 28 “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

[2] Acts 2:9–11:Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

[3] Acts 8:14: When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria.

[4] Acts 10:44–46: 44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

[5] Genesis 12:1–3: 12 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

[6] Acts 1:4b–5. John the Baptist had prophesied the very same in his ministry: Matthew 3:11: “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.; Luke 3:16: John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

[7] Acts 1:8.

[8] Acts 1:15:  In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty).

[9] Acts 2:1–4: 2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.; See God’s Love Applied preached on Pentecost Sunday last year, June 4, 2017, Acts 2:1–21.

[10] The response to Peter’s sermon and explanation of what had just taken place is recorded in Acts 2:41–47: 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

[11] John 15:1–17.

[12] John 15:18–25.

[13] John 14:15–18.

[14] 1 John 2:1. See sermon preached on April 8, 2018, Fellowship with the Father, Son—and Each Other.

[15] Deuteronomy 6:4.

[16] Matthew 22:34–40:34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:5: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” and Leviticus 19:18: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

[17] 2 Corinthians 4:7: But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

[18] John 3:17. See also John 12:47: 47 “If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.

[19] Revelation 12:9: The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.; Revelation 20:2: He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.

[20] Genesis 3:14–15: 14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

[21] John 12:31–32.

[22] John 12:49–50. See also John 5:19: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.; John 8:28–29: 28 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. 29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”

[23] Romans 8:31–39.

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