From Orphans to Heirs (John 14:15-21)

I can kind of empathise a little with John Wesley, the 18th Century Anglican cleric, theologian, and evangelist, who founded the Methodist movement within the Church of England. When they locked him out of churches, denying him a pulpit because of his biblical theology, he preached in the open air instead, in cemeteries, fields and marketplaces. Given the vagaries of English weather, I am grateful for the opportunity to continue to expound the Scriptures each week as well. In my case, through the marvel of the internet. Ironically, I am now reaching many more people than before my suspension, especially since being appointed Chaplain to the former Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem. My Zionist critics, however, continue to try and isolate me by intimidating others. Although we never publicised details of our local church family, my critics found out and targeted the leaders and members. To avoid embarrassment to them, we withdrew our membership. So, at the moment we are technically spiritual orphans.

Today’s Gospel reading is therefore poignant when Jesus says “I will not leave you as orphans.” (John 14:18). The Church of England may have abandoned me but Jesus hasn’t. In our gospel reading from John 14 Jesus makes three promises.

Jesus promises he will not leave us as orphans. 
Jesus promises that the Father will send us His Spirit.
Jesus promises that God the Father and God the Son will be at home with us also.

1. The Promise of Himself 

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” John 14:18-20)

With great insight, Michael K Marsh observes,

I will not leave you orphaned.” At some point we all want or even need to hear these words. They speak directly to some of our greatest fears and challenges; abandonment and isolation, loneliness, vulnerability. They remind us that we are not destined to walk this earth without an identity or direction. We do not stand alone. To be sure there are seasons of life, moments, when the transitions, changes, and tragedies can leave us feeling as orphans. Whether spoken or unspoken the questions begin. What will I do now? Where do I go? What happens next? Who will love, nurture, and guide me? Who stands on my side? What will become of me? Those are the orphan’s questions. Those are the questions I imagine running through the heads and hearts of the disciples into gospel. It is the last supper. Disciples have been fed, feet have been washed, the betrayer has left. It is night, dark, and Jesus announces he is leaving. The one for whom they left everything now says he is leaving. “We do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” “Show us the Father.” More orphan questions.

“Anyone who has ever loved and lost – a spouse, a child, a friend, security, hope – knows the orphan’s questions. We fear becoming orphaned. That fear points to the deeper reality that by ourselves we are not enough. It is not, however, because we are deficient. It is rather because we were never intended or created to be self-sufficient.”[i]

The disciples were wondering how they are going to make it without him. Jesus knows they won’t. So, Jesus promises, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” 

But if Jesus was about to leave them, to be crucified, be raised from the dead and then ascend to heaven, how would he come to them? We believe that one day Jesus will return personally, but that is not what he promises here. The first promise is that Jesus will not leave us as orphans. 

2. The Promise of the Holy Spirit.

“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 forever— 17 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. (John 14:15-17)

Jesus says, verse 16, he will ask the Father to send another Advocate. The Holy Spirit. The word is “parakleetos” in Greek which is difficult to translate into English hence some translations describe him as the Counsellor, Comforter, or Helper. The word is a combination of ‘para’ meaning beside and ‘kaleoo’ meaning ‘I call’. So literally, ‘one called alongside to help’. It was sometimes used as a legal term for a defence lawyer, an advocate. The word “another” is also significant. ‘allos’, means another of the same kind (that is a person just like Jesus). “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Advocate…”  

Jesus then says, “But you know himfor he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:17). Notice the present and future tense here. The Holy Spirit was already with them just as he had guided God’s people through their wanderings in the Old Testament. But after Jesus was crucified, raised from the dead and ascended to heaven, God the Father would send the Holy Spirit not just to be with them but to be in them. To fill them, to indwell them. This happened at the first Pentecost.

In his letter to Titus, Paul brings the cross and Pentecost together.

“But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7).

washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” are not two separate events but one and the same. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin, brings us to new birth, baptises us and raises us to new life, never to leave us. No longer orphans but heirs. 

When a person trusts in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, the Holy Spirit comes to indwell them. He helps them to become more and more like Jesus and continue his work. In the preceding verses Jesus says,

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:12-14)

This is why I always end my prayers, “in the name of Jesus”. Why is this important? Because what was true of the disciples is also true of us. Without the Holy Spirit to strengthen us, to encourage us, lead us, guide us and indwell us. without Him we too will not make it. No one can live a godly life without the help of the Holy Spirit. In his catechism, Martin Luther put it like this:

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith, even as He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith….” 

Jesus makes three promises in these verses. First, Jesus promises he will not leave us as orphans. Second, Jesus promises that the Father will send us His Spirit to indwell us. 

The promise of the Son. The promise of the Holy Spirit.

3. The Promise of the Father

Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them… Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14:21, 23)

Surely this promise must be one of the greatest and most profound in the whole Bible. Jesus promises that if we obey his teaching, God the Father and God the Son will make their home with us. In the Old Testament, the Shekinah glory of God was unapproachable, dwelling first in the tabernacle and then in the Temple. Only one person on one day of the year could enter the Holy of holies to make sacrifice for God’s people. But because of the cross, because Christ atoned for our sins but dying on the cross in our place, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit will make their home with us.

God the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit – our Creator, our Saviour and our Advocate each have a special interest in your growth, your health, your welfare and above all your future. They want to be with you on earth because they want you to be with them in heaven. When we obey God’s word and fulfil our mission, God comes to us and amazing things happen:

Barriers are broken,
Enemies are reconciled,
Disease is cured,
Addiction is conquered,
Hope is established,
People are blessed,
Communities are formed,
Unity is established,
and Church happens.
When God sends the Holy Spirit…
Discouraged people cheer up,
Dishonest people clean up,
Sour people sweeten up,
Gossipers shut up,
Conflicted people make up,
Sleeping people wake up,
Lukewarm people, fire up,
But most of all, 
the Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of all the world, is lifted up…

Let me quote Michael Marsh once more,

“Keeping the commandments is our access to Jesus’ promise that we will not be left orphaned. Keeping the commandments does not make Jesus present to us. It makes us present to the already ongoing reality of Jesus’ presence. The commandments do not earn us Jesus’ love they reveal our love for him, a love that originates in his abiding love and presence within us. Every time we expand the boundaries of our love we push back the orphanages of this world creating space within us where the Father and Jesus make their home. “I will not leave you orphaned.” Over and over, day after day, regardless of what is happening in our lives that is Jesus’ promise. We have not been abandoned. Do not abandon yourselves or others to the orphanages of this world. Love with all that you are and that you have even as the Father and Jesus love us with all that they are and that they have.”

So how about you? Are you feeling like an orphan today? In our Gospel reading, Jesus promises to be with us in the same way he was with the disciples, except that we cannot see him. He lives with us by His Holy Spirit. Although we cannot see him, we can see the effects of his presence in changed lives. As we express our love and thankfulness by obeying him, we can have an increasing assurance that he is with us, guiding, leading, comforting, transforming us to become like Jesus Christ, and fulfil our mission. 

Throughout this short passage and the three great promises Jesus makes, is a repetition. The repetition of the word love. If we treasure his Word and obey it, then the Father, Son and Holy Spirit will share their love with us, make their home in us and reveal themselves to others through us. 

Beside the Bible, the other book that has probably helped me the most to understand my identity as a child of God, is Jim Packer’s classic, Knowing God.  I’ll let Jim have the last word:

“Do I, as a Christian, understand myself? Do I know my own real identity? My own real destiny? I am a child of God. God is my Father; heaven is my home; every day is one day nearer. My Saviour is my brother; every Christian is my brother too. Say it over and over to yourself first thing in the morning, last thing at night, as you wait for the bus, any time when your mind is free, and ask that you may be enabled to live as one who knows it is all utterly and completely true. For this is the Christian’s secret of — a happy life? — yes, certainly, but we have something both higher and profounder to say. This is the Christian’s secret of a Christian life, and of a God-honouring life… May this secret become fully yours, and fully mine.” (Knowing God, pp.258-260)

Recommended Reading

J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Hodder)
Bruce Milne: The Message of John – The Bible Speaks Today (IVP)
St Helen, Bishopsgate: John’s Gospel – Read, Mark, Learn ((Zondervan)
Rick Warren: What on earth am I here for? (Zondervan)
Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary