On the evening we call Maundy Thursday, Jesus gathered his eleven disciples around a table, perhaps like your dining room table with all the extension leaves inserted. Judas had left. Jesus had a long meandering discussion with those who remained about what was going to happen.
Our church has celebrated the Christian Passover several times on Holy Week. Last time it was led by an Israeli member of Jews for Jesus. The Jewish Passover seder format calls for drinking four cups of wine. The third is the cup of redemption, which is when we assume Jesus consecrated the wine and bread to be his blood and body. I noticed last time that after those four cups I was feeling rather mellow. Imagine that as the mood of those twelve gathered around the table.
Jesus told them, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—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. I will not leave you as orphans” (John 14:16)
The key term in Greek is paraklete, rendered as “Counselor” above but properly translated as “advocate,” like a lawyer who stands beside you and presents your case. In his first letter, John uses that word to describe Jesus as our advocate before the Father. So in that one word paraklete, we have the job description for Jesus and for the Spirit. In his letters, Paul linked them six times as the Spirit of Christ.
A few verses later in John 14, Jesus teaches that “The Advocate paraklete], the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” The most used symbol for the Spirit is the dove that came down from heaven and sat on Jesus’ shoulder at his baptism. I envision the Spirit as sitting on my shoulder whispering godly thoughts into my ear. If you are going to accept the spirit dimension in your worldview, you need also to envision the Enemy sitting on the other shoulder.
I go about my day hearing whispers of the Spirit in one ear and the Enemy whispering into the other. This makes for interesting discussions in my head as the day unfolds. I try to “keep in step” with the Spirit, as Paul encourages in his Galatians discourse on the fruit of the Spirit.
Probably the most helpful part of Jesus’ discussion with his followers is his promise, “I will not leave you as orphans.” That is a revolutionary truth for classic Protestant theology that basically ignores the Third Person of the Trinity. Calvinists emphasize the First Person, the Father. Lutherans emphasize the Second Person, the Son. The Third Person just does not fit into their understanding of the triune God active today.
Classic preaching expands on our duty as Christians and gives strong encouragement to become more Christ-like. But it usually leaves us on our own to get from where we are to where God would like us to be. It leaves us as orphans.
Jesus’ promise to send his Spirit to change us is what I call the additional good news, the forgotten Gospel. It is truly revolutionary for traditional Protestants. Paul tells us about the fruit the Spirit works, that is, the product of the Spirit’s work in our individual lives. The Spirit grows within us more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Is there anybody who does not want more of those qualities?
The main Good News is that by grace we have eternal salvation when we accept the Second Person who advocates our case before the First Person. The additional Good News is that we are not on our own to become more Christlike. The First and Second Persons send the Third Person, the Spirit, to change our human spirit, our motivations. This almost-forgotten Gospel is that freely by grace the Spirit comes to help us grow closer to God and to experience more love, joy, and peace and the other qualities that make our lives more abundant.
We are saved by grace to live by grace—joyfully.
Does this reading of the functions of the God-in-Three-Persons seem fresh to you?