The Promise of Comfort
Jesus’ Farewell Sermon
When my children were in their final preparations to start college, my wife and I would frequently find ourselves reminding them of life skills that we felt were essential to their success and safety. These included such things as “Travel in groups at night,” “Study hard,” “Let your light shine,” and of course, “Don’t forget to call.” Because we loved them, we used every moment we had to prepare them for the “big world” they were about to experience.
Just before his crucifixion Jesus knew he was leaving his disciples. He also knew the experiences and difficulties they would soon encounter. His understanding of Jehovah’s plan gave him the perspective that “time was of the essence.” Jesus’ words were never frivolous or valueless; every word was especially well chosen. As had been demonstrated so many times before, Jesus’ perfect mastery of the spoken word allowed him to convey in a few words what others could not say as well using many more words.
Having completed a final supper with those closest to him just hours before his capture, Jesus offered some closing words to his disciples. Their perspective was so different from his. They did not understand the complexities of the hours, days, and years to follow. Their hope was that Jesus as Messiah would deliver their nation from the Roman yoke and fulfill, at that time, the promises handed down from generation to generation. Their hearts and minds did not anticipate nor grasp the impending events of the next twenty-four hours, let alone how those events would fulfill every detail of God’s plan.
Having dismissed Judas to the task of his betrayal, Jesus taught those who remained by instructing them of the urgent need to love one another: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34, 35).
He gave them a message of comfort. That message was not only to those who heard it at that time, but also for all who would be his followers during the Gospel age, including us: “Let not your heart be troubled: believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1).
If we have to do some new task, something unfamiliar, it is much easier if someone we trust tells us what to expect in the difficult moments. Jesus does this with his disciples much as a parent might say, “I’m going to the store, but I will return in late afternoon; if you need anything, call this number for help.”
Jesus was leaving his disciples for a time, but they did not expect it, even though he told them explicitly. Thomas even said, “Lord, we know not whither thou goest; how know we the way?” (John 14:5). The conversations that transpired between Thomas and then Phillip and our Lord suggest that these close followers still did not understand what was about to happen. It’s as though Phillip said, “Yes, yes … but show us the Father.” Jesus answered, “Have I been so long time with you, and dost thou not know me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; how sayest thou, Show us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I say unto you I speak not from myself: but the Father abiding in me doeth his works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake.” (John 14:9-11).
Jesus outlined what he would, in a matter of hours, take before his heavenly Father in prayer. In John chapter fourteen he expressed the unified relationship he had with his Father and how he hoped for that same relationship between him and his followers, and them and God. In a later chapter he petitioned Jehovah along this very line: “That they all may be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us: that the world may believe that thou didst send me” (John 17:21).
He reiterated that he would leave this earth and counseled the disciples to forge ahead in their mission, his mission, his Father’s mission. His words contain the thought that James would later capture in the phrase, “faith without works is dead.” Jesus tried to impress upon his disciples that their belief, if genuine and sincere, would change their behavior: “If a man love me, he will keep my word: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23).
Jesus told them these things to prepare us for unknown experiences in uncertain times, so we would understand when the unexpected happened. He also taught of a wonderful help that would come for their support, the holy spirit: “The Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you” (John 14:26, ASV).
The holy spirit is beyond our ability to fully comprehend; yet we are able to witness its power and effect. Throughout human history, there have been phenomena which at the time appear unexplainable. But eventually our understanding sharpens and we come to know more about the cause that produced the effect. We have the promise of super-natural help. This help is not something eerie and mysterious, but rather it is real and miraculous.
While God has revealed many things to us, including so many details of his plan, there are things we do not understand, including the nature of the holy spirit. Yet, it is incredible that we are able to discern its power and influence in our spiritual lives. Its effect is indeed a miracle.
Jesus comforted his disciples during the three and one-half years of his earthly ministry. As Pastor Russell observed: “The holy spirit would be another Comforter, but the comfort would be of the same kind. Indeed, our word ‘comfort’ does not properly represent the thought of the text, which rather is, to strengthen, to sustain. The holy spirit would not be merely a consoler of woes, a soother of fears, in the sense of our word comfort, but it would quicken their understandings, strengthen their zeal, and energize them for doing and enduring such things as divine providence might permit to come upon them for their correction in righteousness, and in order to make them ‘meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.’ ” (Reprints, p. 2455).
Let the full appreciation of this promise come into our hearts and minds. The Creator of the universe has promised his holy spirit, his power and influence, to us! This is truly a remarkable thought.
The holy spirit working through us should manifest at least three things:
1. Foster peace as Jesus said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you” (John 14:27).
2. Prompt an understanding of Scripture, of God’s character, and of his plan as never before.
3. Provoke us to works beyond our imagination, and to achieve tasks that would normally be beyond our capability.
Let us never doubt Jesus’ promise: “If ye shall ask anything in my name, that will I do” (John 14:14). If Jesus, the son of God, asks his heavenly Father on our behalf, we know for a certainty it will be fulfilled.
We all try to live as Christlike as we can: we pray, we study, we meet together, and we witness. We work hard to live as Jesus did, righteously and sacrificially. Yet sometimes we fail to allow the holy spirit to work in us. Instead we tend toward self-reliance, struggling to handle our consecrations with our own power, strength, and understanding. How limiting that is. We have this promise of the power of the holy spirit. What support this comforter will provide to those who sincerely seek to use its help to do God’s will.
At this memorial season let us cherish and claim the promises of our Lord. As Jehovah’s plan continues to unfold, let us rejoice in every detail of its fulfillment. Let us rely heavily on the holy spirit; God sent it to be our comforter. Let us knit ourselves closer to our fellow brethren, because they are walking in the same path as we are.
At this season, and throughout the year, may we call upon the name of the Lord, asking for a greater measure of the holy spirit, and resting in the faith that we are stronger and spiritually wiser as we move boldly ahead in the work our heavenly Father has set before us.