THE PROMISED PARACLETE
6th Sun. of Easter
15"If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17the 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[a] in you. 18I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
The plot of a famous operetta called The Pirates of Penzance revolves around the pirates’ claim to be orphans. As they’re about to be hauled to prison for their many misdeeds, a woman steps up to defend them. She claims that they have all actually come from England’s class of nobles and implies that, having been abandoned as children and gone astray through no fault of their own, they should be granted clemency. And with that, the pirates are forgiven and immediately released!
Jesus gave His disciples this promise in the Scripture Text from John chapter 14: “I will not leave you as orphans…” The chapter gives a number of consoling promises from Jesus on the night before His crucifixion. He told the disciples that He would be going away, but that He would return to take them to the place He would prepare for them. Here He also gives His sure and certain promise that He will definitely NOT abandon them altogether in the meantime, however.
The Lord’s words there give a deep sense of security and highly meaningful promise for all Christian people! - To truly lose one’s family, as happens to so many war orphans abroad for example, is no joking matter. It’s hard enough for so many children in our own country to be raised by only a single parent.
As Jesus teaches us, apart from Him we can do nothing. We are ever-needy for His presence and help. Jesus therefore gives another special word in the Text, promising to pray to the Heavenly Father to send another Companion, the Holy Spirit, to be with them forever. The word is “Paraclete,” and it has several important shades of meaning for us to understand. This promised Paraclete is our Counselor, Comforter and Helper.
Some Bibles simply use the word “Paraclete” itself without defining it. Many Bibles settle on the word “Counselor,” though, because of its connection with other passages. Isaiah, for example, prophesied that the Messiah would be known as “Wonderful Counselor.” St. John’s First Epistle states that:
“ If anyone sins, we have a ‘Paraclete’ with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One.” “Counselor” would be an appropriate term there, but in this case not in the sense of a psychological advisor. The word that Bibles often use there in its place is therefore “Advocate”: “..We have an ‘Advocate’ with the Father…” in our constant sin-guilt.
Today we still use the term “legal counselor” for someone who speaks in court in defense of alleged wrongdoers. An accused person is advised to remain silent and let the defense attorney be his advocate and representative. - Jesus does exactly that for us at the Judgment Seat of God! He pleads the innocent Blood He shed in dying on the Cross for yours and my sin. He takes the Father’s attention away from our sin and presents the payment made for our sin by His own sacrificial death. And His resurrection assures us that He already won our acquittal. The official verdict of “Not Guilty” ever stands for us in the Court of God!
Jesus Himself is that kind of “Counselor” for us, our continual Legal Defender before God (just as He begged for His persecutors’ forgiveness from the Cross), but He promised another such Counselor with the sending of His Holy Spirit. The assurance we’re given, then, is that we have two Divine Persons who are sympathetic and unmatched in their ability as our Advocates at Heaven’s Holy Throne!
Satan-the-accuser is forever hurling charges against us, though. He busily works to tie up our consciences, rub our noses in our sin, and make us feel defeated and depressed. He wants to make us feel too bad and lowly to even approach God’s Throne of Grace, so we might hide and try to keep our sins secret from God. Satan loves for our hearts to doubt and start questioning.
Will God still love and want to be with me if He really knows me? If He knew all my actions and insensitive words and secret thoughts -- sometimes selfish, sometimes nasty and hateful, sometimes self-justifying, sometimes lustful, sometimes complaining and self-pitying? Could He really still love and care about me?
Head to head against Satan’s intrusions stands the Holy Spirit, our “Comforter,” though! That’s another very appropriate definition for “Paraclete.” He comforts our nagging hearts and minds with the Word of the Gospel, reminding us that we are the baptized children of God. That Jesus Christ did die and rise again, making perfect satisfaction for our sins! That the bread and wine of Holy Communion personally convey to us the very Body and Blood “given and shed” for our sins!
“Comfort” is directly related to the word “Fortress.” - Imagine the arms of Jesus, no longer stretched wide on the Cross, but enveloping you in His loving strength and protection, holding out all that might seek to hurt, accuse or condemn you. You are the lamb He gently lifts away from snagging thorns or snapping animals, the chick He gathers in as a mother hen shelters her brood under her wing.
Even in the earthly loss of a loved one, the Holy Spirit comforts us with the hope of resurrection, a hope that’s certain because of Christ’s own resurrection. In any sorrows that touch our lives, the Beatitudes Jesus gave in His Sermon on the Mount give the Spirit’s soothing solace: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be --- ‘paracleted’ --- COMFORTED!”
The third definition for the word “Paraclete” mentioned earlier is “Helper,” as a Guide and Companion right alongside of us, which is probably the most literal translation.
As a young boy I was involved in an organization called “Indian Guides.” Each boy’s father was expected to accompany his son for all the meetings, campouts and gatherings, guiding and helping with any projects and crafts and assignments. (There my own Dad and I learned the custom of shaking hands at bedtime each night, saying to each other, “Pals forever.”)
The Holy Spirit guides us into God’s Truth. He calls Scripture promises to our remembrance when we’re down and need encouragement. And He’s an ever-present Helper and Guide especially concerning prayer!
Parenting is an area in which we who guide need guidance ourselves. Sometimes we’re at a loss and don’t even know what to pray as we seek guidance. When we lack adequate words, we’re emotionally drained and spiritually faltering, Scripture assures us that this wonderful “Paraclete” is at work doing it for us – interceding on our behalf. He does teach and give us words to pray and what to pray about, but also does it with us and even for us! At our every point of need He’s there to address it.
And the Holy Spirit finally is who enables us to love the Lord and keep His Commandments, as the Text suggests. We would have no faith in Christ, no love for God or incentive to obey His teaching were it not for the gift of the Spirit. As Luther taught: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or (even) come to Him…” It’s the Holy Spirit, the “Paraclete’s” help that calls us by the Gospel and enlightens us with His gifts. Every one of the truly good works we may ever do is credited to Him. (I’m convinced of the truth of some words in a song about that: “What do I have that You did not give to me? What mysteries are clear to me that You did not explain?”)
Our love for Jesus is far from perfect, and the necessity of His Cross proves it. His love for us is perfect, though, and His own abandonment at the Cross in our place proves it! HE was left desolate, forsaken, “orphaned” (if you will), as He suffered the punishment we justly deserve. Yet, instead of holding it against us, He gives us added gifts! With the forgiveness of sins and hope of eternal life He gives us the “PARACLETE”: our Counselor and Legal Defender at God’s Throne, our Comforter and Fortress, and our Helper in every aspect of our lives.