This Inexhaustible Christ

May 20, 2018 by

Sermon for May 20 by Garry Blinch

John 15:26-16:15

Introduction

 The scriptures before us today speak of the work of God’s Spirit, especially in bringing forth life from that which was dead.

Ezekiel and Acts show us reversals- death cannot stop God’s purposes from being fulfilled. We need Holy Spirit to become all God intended in the face of impossible odds. In the vision in Ezekiel Israel is raised, resurrected to live, to inhabit the land, to fulfill her purpose. In Acts, Jesus was raised, and a new people raised with him to love and to conquer the world with love. God will not let death have the last word or be the last word.

Ezekiel’s “Valley of Dry Bones” is well-known. This vision relates to a time in Israel’s history known as the Babylonian Exile. The armies of Babylon forced Jerusalem to surrender and deported the Judean king and many Judean leaders to Babylon (2 Kings 24:10-16). Ten years later, after Jerusalem  rebelled again, the Babylonians completely destroyed Jerusalem and its temple and deported a second wave of Judean leaders. Ezekiel was in the first wave of the deported. For those forced to live in Babylon, the future seemed to hold only despair- friends and communities and their way of life having been crushed beyond restoration.

In the vision given to Ezekiel, God announced the divine intention to resurrect Israel. God’s Spirit would come upon the people; though lifeless as dried out bones, they would stand again as one nation to be witness to the glory of God.

Similarly, when the Christ finally arrives, he is not accepted by his own people, and is himself crushed. The rulers of this world were confident that his troublesome teaching and his motley band of followers could not trouble them again. But, by the resurrection and by the Spirit at Pentecost, One person, as lifeless as could be, was raised to empower many people from every nation to be witnesses to the glory of God.

In John chapters 14-17, Jesus gives his last communication, his last discourse to the disciples.  Because his death is imminent he takes great care to prepare his disciples for the worst- because the worst is actually coming. (it’s not a situation of ‘prepare for the worst and hope for the best!)

A significant part of this is for them to know that they will not be alone; “another helper”, a Paraclete or Comforter, “one who comes along side” will come and reside in each of them permanently. Five times in this final communication to his disciples Jesus references the coming and work of the Holy Spirit.

I want to focus in on just a couple of things:

First, verses 12 & 13; Jesus said:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

It is clear that the disciples have much, much more to learn. As a good teacher, Jesus didn’t overwhelm them in the few short years they had together. Soon, the Spirit would take up residence within them and carry on the task of teaching.

The disciples launched out after Pentecost, not knowing what they would experience or what exactly God would ask of them except in the broad terms Jesus laid out. The main point being, ‘the Spirit will be with you to show you in the moment’.

Life in the Spirit is a learning journey. The disciples only had OT scriptures- that is, what they had in their heads and hearts; they weren’t carrying a leather-bound book under their arms as they went. They didn’t a book to turn to figure out what to do in new situations. They had to rely on the Spirit. Jesus said,

“it is to your advantage that I go away”. If he had not, they would have turned to him in every situation for guidance, or confirmation, or some input or other. They were forced to ‘grow up’, take on personal responsibility as each learned to hear the Spirit in his or her own heart.

They break with traditions, they eat meat formerly forbidden, they consort with Gentiles, they baptize Gentiles upon whom the Spirit has fallen, they defy authorities- all in opposition to the commonly accepted interpretation of scripture at that time.

There is no New Testament, they are following the leading of God’s Spirit.

Some modern churches state that they are a “New Testament church”. Really? So, you don’t carry bibles, you rely on public reading and remembering the scriptures- actually, just the OT scriptures unless you are reading a few of the letters. And you rely on the Spirit to guide you in situations that are new and evolving. That might be great!

Of course, this is not what is meant. From the get-go there is the assumption that the phrase “NT Church” carries with it a well-defined and broadly accepted values and practices and beliefs- which it does not.

At the end of John’s gospel the author says this,

“…there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (21:25)

So, the question that struck me was, how much more did the disciples learn by the Spirit that the rest of the NT does not and could not contain!

The exciting thought is that each generation has new challenges and new situations to face, and instead of circling the wagons to maintain everything the same we have opportunity to be NT Christians, seeking the Spirit to guide us as to how to respond. I truly believe in bible, otherwise I wouldn’t stand up here and preach. But I am no longer among those who believe that there is a corresponding bible verse for every situation and new experience we will encounter. In believing this a person is forced to twist bible verses to make them fit and make them divine directives, some of which are passages that are not easily translated into English.

We have the scriptures not as an anchor so much as a lighthouse. Life is a sea, and it is easy to get lost at sea. There are no fixed points. The lighthouse is a fixed point, guiding the sailor to harbor and warning of rocks and shallows. But the sailor will not stay in port, but venture back out time and again, because life on the ocean is an adventure. The scriptures are a fixed point but not such as to keep us in one safe place. There are those who, when they come to Christ, want nothing more than to tend to the light and stay safe in the harbor, clinging to the lighthouse. The sea terrifies, but Jesus keeps saying- not just leave the safety of the shore- but, get out of the boat! Learning to walk in the Spirit happens as we experience the unexpected and inexplicable in our encounters with humanity.

“The sea grows always greater, nobody can paint it”, declared Tintoretto. This is an apt description of our life with Christ, if we pursue him as a painter does their art. There is no getting to the end of him; he is always greater. “Range lies behind range, and peak towers above peak. What one mind grasps of him…is a mere segment, woefully inadequate compared to the whole fullness to be gained through him. It takes all the saints, pooling  their experiences of him, all throwing in what each of them has seen from their particular and limited angle to provide us an inkling of what Christ is and what there is for us in him.” [1]

As the Spirit-led disciple is going on and going ever deeper into the inexhaustible Christ, the world is being convicted by that same Spirit.

Convicted of sin, because Christ and his love are rejected. A tourist was being guided through the National museum of Bargello in Florence. Coming through the gallery of famous paintings he remarked that he didn’t think very much of what he was seeing. The guide in response declared, “Sir, these pictures are not on trial; you are.’ So, to be offered Jesus Christ and turn indifferently away, to see no beauty in him that we should desire him, to be irritated and offended by him, is the sin of sins, the most damaging revelation of what we ourselves are; the clearest of all evidences of our need for the Saviour whom we can so summarily reject.”[2]

Convicted of righteousness because in the resurrection Christ is fully exonerated of any wrong, all teaching validated through his return to the Father. And convicted of the triumph of righteousness over evil; evil will not have the last word.

Convicted of judgment. The crucifixion is the grand reversal. Ray has told us how Jesus and Pilate’s roles get reversed as the questioning and trial unfolds. And so, in the end it is not Christ who is condemned but those who do the condemning. Every insult heaped on him enhances his majesty. As the leaders exult in their power to wreak their malice and vengeance on him they only succeed in revealing their own futility and smallness.

Conclusion

The coming of the Spirit, and Jesus’ introduction of the Spirit, lets us know that He has handed us on to… “the unending end of an endless eternity.  New astonishments will keep breaking in on us in Jesus Christ”[3].

He did not hand us on to a set of rules or commandments, as in the older testament, as the people of Israel. He did not hand us on to a book, so that we might memorize it with the intent of doing everything ‘just right’. We are living branches attached to a living Vine; that which enlivens us and causes us to bear fruit by God’s Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the ‘sap’, if you will, that flows from Jesus through our ‘spiritual veins’ to transform us and the world around us.

Just as life continues to evolve, as we are building on a foundation of apostles and prophets for newer understandings of God, so we will ever grow in knowledge and understanding of our infinite Savior, Jesus Christ.

……………………………the best is yet to come!

 

[1] The Interpreter’s Bible, Abingdon Press; p.730

[2] Ibid., p. 732

[3] Ibid., p. 732

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