Updated: Jul 11, 2021
"Nevertheless, I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” - John 16:7
Imagine a scenario where you need an edge. You need to win, succeed or accomplish the seemingly impossible. In sports, the team with the best players, strategy or history of success is said to have the advantage. In warfare, the nation with the most sophisticated technology, weaponry, and disciplined military is said to have the advantage. The saying, "You are fighting an uphill battle," implies those on the higher ground are winning.
Jesus is preparing for his departure. And in the midst of what seems like the darkest hour, he tells his disciples that it's better for him to leave. How could this possibly be so?
About twenty years ago after recommitting my life to Christ, I developed a close friendship with a man named Trevor from my local church. We would get together weekly to talk, pray, have breakfast and fellowship around the things of God. These were wonderful, sweet times. Then one day after many months of this friendship, he tells me, "Zac, my wife and I are leaving. We are moving to Uganda to be missionaries." Shock would have been an understatement. "Wait a minute... you can't just leave like this! You didn't discuss this with me. What about our friendship and times together?" Although I was crushed and disappointed, deep down I sensed this was God's plan. Trevor was following God's call, and unfortunately for me, that was far away.
Have you ever felt all alone? I have and can empathize with how the disciples must have felt. Why would Jesus leave them when they needed him most?
THE IMPOSSIBLE TASK
Jesus' time had come. The cross and the final battle lay before him. He said to his disciples, "As the Father sent me, so I send you." They were being thrust into the fray of a world that was against them where they would be like lambs in the midst of wolves! Surely they didn't stand a chance. If Jesus was leaving, how could they possibly survive?
“We know that we are of God and that the whole world is under the sway of the wicked one.” 1 John 5:19
“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me before it hated you.” John 15:18-19
Let's consider what the Church is up against.
First you have the devil. The Word of God describes him as the prince of the power of the air. (Eph. 2:2) What travels on the airwaves? The media. The majority of popular songs, movies, websites, news organizations and the like are promoting an anti-God, self indulgent, fear based, lawless worldview where anything goes except the law of God. Sexual immorality is portrayed like it's supposed to be normal. Greed, violence, witchcraft, and vain philosophies find their audience across the world via media. The fear of God, his righteousness and functional, non-hypocritical Christians are never shown in mainstream media. Why is this? Because Satan controls the airwaves. The devil is also described as the father of lies, the deceiver, the great dragon, the lord of the flies, the adversary, the accuser of the brethren and more. The apostle Peter reminds us that the devil prowls about like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Pet. 5:8) We are instructed to "resist him, standing firm in the faith."
In addition to the devil, we have the flesh. This is also referred to in Scripture as the "sinful nature." It's the thing that Satan capitalized on in the garden of Eden. That desire in humanity to want to defy God's laws, question his authority, do it our way, try to exalt ourselves and the like. Sin is selfishness and a failure to trust God and acknowledge him as God. The apostle John reminds us that the "lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life comes not from the Father but from the world." (1 John 2:16) The Christian life is one of freedom from the control of the flesh. This is why we must die with Christ in baptism and be born again. Nevertheless, this nature wants to try to re-emerge if we give it even an inch. Sanctification is a daily and ongoing process of dying to self, taking up our cross, and becoming more and more like Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Next, there is the resistance of human governments that are under the control of the devil. Communistic, socialistic, oppressive dictatorships, (and even democracies) that try to stifle the freedom to worship, seek and obey God are all enemies of the Church and her mission. During the early days of the Church, many Christians were killed and persecuted by governments opposed to the gospel. Sadly in America, a nation founded on the Word of God, we are seeing a rising tide of ungodly laws and intimidation against the true Church.
As if the devil, the flesh, and governments weren't enough, we also have distraction. This subtle strategy of the wicked one seeks to use things like entertainment, the pursuit of comfort, wealth, education and status to lure us away from our true mission. Many of these things are not necessarily sinful in and of themselves, but they can easily become idols and suck away one of our most precious resources... time. These distractions wrap their tentacles around hearts and minds until very little attention is given to the things of God. The burdens and cares of this world result in spiritual infertility.
In light of all this opposition, how could it be better for Jesus to go?
"And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples... so they all ate and were filled. Now those who had eaten the loaves were about five thousand men." Mark 6:41, 42, 44
"And as they were eating, Jesus took bread blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, 'Take, eat, this is my body.'" Matt. 26:26
These two verses illustrate a revelatory principle. When Jesus was on planet earth, he was one man. He could only be in one place at one time. So many people wanted to see and touch Jesus but never got the chance. What was the solution? His body must be broken and distributed. His body is the bread of life and through the breaking, multiplication happens. Jesus said, "Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it produces much grain." John 12:24
Jesus' plan was always the Holy Spirit. Jesus gave himself on the cross to purge sin so that we might have access to receive the Holy Spirit. As the disciples partook of the bread, Jesus' life was now transferred into them. He would be multiplied on the earth through his Church! This is why we are called the Body of Christ.
It is via the Holy Spirit that Jesus' words are fulfilled, "I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you." John 14:18
If we are to carry out this impossible task of discipling the world, we must put on the nature of Christ and be endued with power from on high. This power is the person of the Holy Spirit.
All the miracles in the Bible from the creation of the universe to the raising of the dead were all done by the Spirit of God. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit came on only a few select men. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit has been given to the entire Church!
The Holy Spirit is called: the Helper, the Advocate, the Counselor, the Comforter, the Encourager. And He will never leave nor forsake us.
David writes in Psalm 139,
"Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend into heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me."
In 2017, I had the opportunity to go to Kenya and Uganda to preach the gospel. During my time in Uganda, I reconnected with my old friend Trevor after almost two decades! The work that God is doing in and through his family is truly amazing. They have built a number of missionary bases in and around the country. His main base in Kampala manufactures clean water filters to give out to local villagers, teaches sustainable farming practices, teaches building construction and more. They are involved in church planting and evangelistic crusades in the nation. They also regularly host missions teams and hold pastor retreats for saints from around the world. Wow! What I didn't understand at the time, God knew that it was better for Trevor to go than to stay!
In the same way when Jesus was telling his disciples that he must go away, it was because something better was coming. Someone who would be essential for their success. The Word of God describes the work of the Holy Spirit in great detail in John chapters 14-16. Some of his operations include: abiding with us forever, showing us the future, teaching us all things, reminding us of all that Jesus taught, the working of miracles, convicting the world of sin, and testifying of and glorifying Jesus!
Don't let the negative news and godless voices in society cause you to believe the Church is going to fail. The Bible declares that we have the advantage in this fight! With the Spirit of God living in us, nothing is impossible.
“You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4
Friend, have you received the Holy Spirit?
Advantage: any state, circumstance, opportunity, or means specially favorable to success, interest, or any desired end. A position of superiority.