July 29, 2001
THE SPIRIT AND THE POLYWOGS
Robert B. Ives, Ph.D., Pastor
The Grantham Church
When I was in 4th grade we lived in a house near a little creek. It never flowed very fast and there were still areas beneath a bank that jutted out into the stream where I could find polywogs. Polywogs are immature frogs. They are a lot like us. We are polywog Christians. Someday well grow up to be frogs.
Some incentive, Calvin, of Calvin and Hobbes, might say. Someone sent me a cartoon not too long ago. Two frogs are sitting on adjacent lily pads. One says to the other. Our relation is going nowhere. If you kiss me, Ill turn into a handsome prince.
Thats rather like the situation the disciples are in at John 16 where Jesus gives his final instructions to them before he is arrested and crucified. The disciples are still polywog followers of Jesus. In our own lives, we want most to be handsome princes, or beautiful princesses, but right now we are on the whole more like polywogs.
The whole problem is set forth in verse 7, It is for your good that I am going away. And the disciples complain, What, youre leaving us as polywogs? To compound the problem, Jesus adds, in verse 12, I have much more to say to you than you can bear now. And the reason is, they were still polywogs. They cant take frog stuff.
What is the problem? Jesus says in verse 1, All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. The word this in that sentence means all that Jesus has been saying since chapter 13. The big problem for Christian frogs is not death, the big problem Jesus sees is apostasy. That was the problem with the Jews throughout their history. There is no reason to think it will not be a problem for Christians. What does apostasy mean? It means forsaking Jesus and the body of Christ to follow some odd theological idea. John will speak about this in his first letter, 1 John 2:19, They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us....
The most dangerous oppression we will probably face as Christians is not going to be from the secular society, but from zealots of some cult with its roots in the church. The Council of Nicea in 325 AD was called to deal with the Arian heresy, a heresy which claimed that Jesus was not truly God and Arius had a large number of followers. The Council of Chalcedon was convened in 451 AD to deal with the Eutychian heresy, a heresy that claimed Jesus was not fully human. The Muslims are a Christian heresy, founded by a man who was dismayed by the lack of spirituality among the monks in a monastery where he worked, so he founded a religion in which Jesus was not God, but only a prophet and this man, Mohammed, saw himself as a prophet superior to Jesus. Jehovahs Witnesses and Mormons are also cults with their roots in the church..
Jesus prepared his followers against apostasy. He says two things to them in chapter 16: 1) I will send a Helper for you, who is the Holy Spirit, verse 7. 2) The Father is going to keep on loving you, verse 27.
1. I will send a Helper for you, the Holy Spirit. In chapters 14, 15 and 16, Jesus speaks about what the Holy Spirit will do for them. Having the Holy Spirit in us is something like bringing your mother along on dates. The Holy Spirit speaks to us about what we ought do; but he always speaks in line with Jesus words as they are in the Bible.
Jesus tells us two things about the Spirit. He talks about the effect of the Spirit on the world, in verses 5-11; and, in verses12-15, he talks about what the Spirit will do for his disciples.
Now the Spirit comes into believers, not to people of the world. Verse 7 says, I will send (the Spirit) to you, meaning the disciples. But then Jesus immediately talks of what the Spirit will convict the world about. I take this to mean that as these disciples witness to Jesus, the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of the people of the world the disciples are witnessing to. How else can we explain the change that comes into peoples lives as the result of our witness?
The word Jesus uses in verse 8 probably means what the New International Version translates it as,convict. The Holy Spirit convicts people of the world. Then look in verses 8-10 at what the Spirit does as we witness. As we speak about Jesus and his salvation, the Holy Spirit convicts that person, first of all, that he/she is personally guilty of sin. The work of God is to believe in the One he has sent, who is his Son, Jesus, according to John 6:29. So the Spirit convicts people that rejecting Jesus is the most basic sin.
The Spirit also convicts people about righteousness because all the righteousness of humans is like a filthy rag. There is plenty of religious righteousness in the world. Think of how the Pharisees and the Jews rigorously kept the Sabbath, how even some of the Sanhedrin believed on Jesus, but they were afraid to profess their faith because they didnt want to be excommunicated from the synagogue. But think today of all the people in Christian churches who think merely going to church on Sunday makes them righteous. All it does is make them religious. Thats what the Spirit convicts people about that they have been religious but not righteous.
The Spirit further convicts people about judgment. The belief of many people is that they are good enough. They need to hear Jim Kennedys question, when you appear before God and he asks you, why should I let you into my heaven? What do you say? You say, if youre honest, that you feel convicted that you are going to be judged because you really arent worthy.
Thats what the Holy Spirit does in the people of the world when you bear your witness to Jesus. He convicts people.
But the Spirit does something in believers as well. For the disciples, Jesus says in verse 12, I have a lot more to say to you, but you cant bear it now. When the Spirit comes he will deepen the sense people have of Jesus and the Father by helping us to bear the implications of all that Jesus says. What that means is, the Spirit will unfold for us who Jesus is and what he has said. Verse 14, He will take what is mine and make it known to you. The disciples couldnt bear that now because they were just about wiped out emotionally and they werent understanding very well.
I dont think, as Donald Carson of Trinity Seminary does - who is right so often I feel uncomfortable disagreeing with him - that these words of verses 12-15 about the Spirit guiding people into all truth were spoken mainly to the apostles who had heard what Jesus said. We also hear what Jesus says as we read the New Testament; and it is the New Testament which the Spirit takes and unfolds to us and as he does, we see Jesus more clearly, so were always saying as we read the Bible, Oh, thats what he meant.
2. The second thing Jesus does to guard his followers against apostasy is to tells us that after he ascends to heaven, the Father is not going to stop loving us. We are loved people. He is going to keep on loving us, verse 27. That, as much as anything, will bring us joy for our lives even as we live under cultural and worldly pressures. In verse 20 Jesus portrays the effect of his crucifixion on two groups. The world will rejoice, but the disciples will grieve. Then Jesus adds, but your grief will turn to joy. What begins the joy is Jesus resurrection from the dead. But there are two further things that bring continuing joy to believers in Jesus.
A. Verse 23. The first one is, we no longer need to ask Jesus questions. The disciples were like a lot of two year olds always asking, Why? But they didnt always understand the answers Jesus gave them and they had to ask the same questions over again. Now we too have questions. We have lots of questions. But the answers to the questions the disciples have been asking in chapters 13-16 become clear once Jesus is raised from the dead. The questions were all about where he was going and why they couldnt follow him. But they will soon have the Helper when they have questions, just as Jesus promises them. So that John can say in 1 John 2:20, You have the anointing from the Holy One (that is, the Holy Spirit) and all of you know the truth. There is henceforth a sense of the rightness of things that all believers recognize, and the Spirit brings that in us.
Still, there are some questions that will not be answered. In chapter 21, Peter asks Jesus about John, and he receives the same answer that Shasta receives from Aslan in The Horse and His Boy, when he asks, What about Aravis? And Aslan says, you only need to know your own story. Thats what Jesus says to Peter in John 21. Jesus says that to us at times. And yet we find joy as the Holy Spirit answers questions we have about the teachings of Jesus.
B. The second thing that brings joy to believers is in verses 23-24, from now on the disciples will be doing ministry as Jesus friends who can ask freely in prayer in Jesus name. We also are friends of Jesus. So in this new intimacy - never before seen in the world, even with Abraham and Moses - there will be two-way communication in our prayers. But we have to listen. I remember one of the times I had Bruce Thieleman preach in the church here. He read the Scriptures before the sermon and then said, let us pray and he didnt say anything. After about a minute he said, Amen. He was listening.
In our relation to Jesus, unless we listen, we wont get any insights into Jesus and what he wants us to do. This is a theme - to cite an example from popular literature - that Louis LAmour brings to numbers of his stories. One of the Sacketts, for example, drifts into the saloon in town to get the news. Their father had told them, You want to listen to get the lie of the land. Dont go doing all the talking or you dont learn things that you need to know; thats what Tell Sackett or one of the others would say. We need to listen also. Jesus and the Father love us, but that doesnt mean there arent hard times, there arent clashes with our wills. Just like in marriage and we need to listen.
Now what is the conclusion of all this?
On October 23, 1942 the battle of El Alamain was fought in the Egyptian desert some 80 miles west of Alexandria. The German general, Rommel, had moved his tank brigades toward Egypt. British troops and tanks under General Montgomery opposed him and stopped the German advance at that battle of El Alamain before Rommel could get the oil the Germans had stored there. After that battle the tide of the war in North Africa changed. Rommel was recalled to Germany. Some years after the end of the war three cemeteries were erected in El Alamain. The British cemetery has marble or granite crosses to mark the burial place of each soldier and on those crosses are carved inscriptions. The Italian cemetery seems to be filled with flowers, and plastic trinkets decorating graves. The Germans built a large black monument, with the names of all the German soldiers killed there carved into the stone.
Paul Jamison said that in the early 1950s he walked through the British cemetery and he noticed there one stone cross on which was carved these words: To all the world he was a soldier/ To me he was all the world.
Some mother or wife had those words carved into her sons or her husbands gravestone. And those words tell us how Jesus can bring joy to us. To him we are important. He died for us because we are important, small and inconsequential though we may seem to the world. To Jesus we were important enough that he was willing to obey the Father and die in our place. And then ensure our joy by remaining with us and sending the Spirit to live within us. God still loves us, you and me. And that ought to bring us joy.