Audio Only (with the Old Testament Scripture Reading)
This morning, we are considering an unusually brief passage which, although at initial glance may appear rather dry or confusing or boring, it is nonetheless a passage we use to consider some of the most fundamental building blocks of our Christian faith. This passage might fall into a course on “Christianity 101”, if you will—and I reassure you this is not boring.
Remember where we’re at, here in John’s gospel. Just the very setting of what’s happening here in John 16 might help us feel the pressure or urgency that’s at work in Jesus’s words. Jesus is in the upper room with his disciples, and he’s giving his “upper room discourse” (or his “farewell discourse”) as many call it. These are Jesus’s final words to his disciples, on the very night in which he was betrayed, and John thinks these final words were worth writing down in detail for us. He dedicates all of chapters 13–16 in this gospel to detail for us what Jesus said on this night, in the upper room, wherein Jesus gave these final instructions to his disciples. This is crunch time. Every word is precious. Jesus is going to the cross in just a few hours’ time, and Jesus knows it, and he’s saying really important things for his disciples to know before he departs. No doubt, Jesus is warning them of upcoming trials and persecutions, but he’s also to giving them fundamental teachings which are still fundamental for us today in our Christian life and faith.
There’s something fundamental to our faith, here in our passage this morning. Look at verse 13. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you [you disciples] into all the truth”. That must have been encouraging to these disciples. I imagine the disciples had no idea what Jesus was talking about–but it must have been encouraging in some way. “I’m going away, but don’t worry, the Spirit will come and guide you into all the truth.” Then of course, the rest of verses 13–15 root all of that in the Trinity. God will guide you in the truths of Jesus, whom the Spirit will glorify when he guides you into all the truth. There’s some robust revelation and Trinity stuff going on, here. From the apostles’ perspective that evening, Jesus is telling them they won’t be without direction or provision or encouragement in truth. From our perspective, 2000 years later, what are we seeing? We’re seeing Jesus hinting at the story of how our New Testament Scriptures have landed into our laps. We’re seeing Jesus hint at the story of how we received the truths of Jesus which we confess as Christians. Do you believe the New Testament and all it teaches? Do you live by it, and would you die for it? Why is that, folks? Why are you so confident in the revelation of Jesus in our New Testaments? Our passage, this morning, helps us tease all that out—the origins of our New Testament.
It's like a good origins story. Our culture is obsessed with origins stories. “Give me the origin story of Spider man, and for whatever reason a man with sticky fingers will make more sense—I’ll have confidence that the story is more legit”. “Well, he got bit by a radio-active spider”. “Oh, that makes sense, I can have more confidence now that this story is coherent”. We love a good origins story. Some (obviously) are better and more compelling than others. The best—the truest origins stories—provide more coherence, more confidence, and more glory to a story. Here, we’re learning the origins of the truths we confess. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”
So, that’s what we’re going to tease out this morning. This is really unusual for me, personally, to sit on one or two verses for an entire sermon. We’re really only going to focus in on verses 12 and 13, there, and I think it’s worth it for us this morning. We’re going to tease out this whole idea—or yes, this story—of how Jesus revealed the truth of himself and his cross and his church to his disciples, and what that means for us today.
Part 1: The Trouble with Truth
Look at verse 12 with me. Jesus says to his disciples,
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
So, Jesus says “I still have many things”—and, by that I think he means “many more things”. He still has many things to say to them. Why can’t he say them? Well, given that this is his farewell address, perhaps we want to think, “ah! because he’s about to go die on the cross in a few hours’ time. He doesn’t have time”. That’s not the reason he gives them. What’s the reason? It’s “because you cannot bear them now”. The apostles couldn’t bear the things Jesus had still to say. What’s that mean?
Is there something wrong with the disciples? Are they too weak? Are the remaining truths just too terrible for them to bear—too burdensome for their already spooked souls that night? Keep in mind, Jesus just said a few verses prior that “there will come a time when people think they’re worshipping God when they kill you”. That’s a hard one to bear. Does Jesus have worse things to say to them?
Folks, the reason they can’t bear what Jesus has to say to them isn’t because it’s a burden of bad news. Rather, it’s a burden of good news that’s quite frankly too good and too manifold or multi-faceted for them to bear at that point. There’s simply too many good things he has to say to them, and they’re not ready for it yet. Literally, these disciples are still not understanding virtually anything Jesus is saying to them at this point. Even on this last night, during this farewell discourse as Jesus is speaking about him going to the cross and teaching about them needing to love one another and die for one another—the disciples are still bickering with one another about who is the greatest. They’re still rejecting the idea that Jesus is going away—they’re not listening to him. At best, they’re getting spooked by the scary things he’s saying.
I once heard a minister point out that when Jesus speaks metaphorically, the disciples have a way of taking him literally—and, when he’s speaking literally, the disciples have a way of taking him metaphorically. When Jesus washed Peter’s feet earlier at during this farewell discourse in John 13, Jesus said to Peter “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Remember how Peter responded to Jesus’s metaphor? “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Peter took Jesus’s words about his spiritual washing a bit too literally. But then, of course, when Jesus starts speaking literally, the disciples take it metaphorically. “No, I really am going away, and I’m gong to die and in three days I’ll be raised up”. What do they say? “What does he mean, ‘I’m going away’?”.
What hope is there for these stubborn disciples, folks? Just think—these were the men who eventually wrote the Scriptures which we are committed to live and die by. At least here, the scriptures are not presenting them as brilliant, illumined minds. They’re confused, unable to bear anything Jesus is saying to them. ““I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” If you’re reading the story, just about anyone would say “yep, that sounds about right. They can’t bear just about anything Jesus says to them, really…”.
What changed? How did these men become the apostles who would write parts of the New Testament and move the kingdom of Christ from Jerusalem to the the ends of the world?
It seems like God might be writing a story. Again, as the rest of our passage teases out—God the Father, in the person of the Son, through the agent of the Holy Spirit is writing a story of him revealing amazing truth to bull-headed disciples who could never dream this stuff up. This is all coming from God, folks. This is the sort of story we see all over the Bible wherein God takes nobodies and uses them as his vessels for his truth and grace and glory. When we turn to Acts, it is these men who baffle the authorities with their wisdom it’s these men who turn the world upside down with what they have to say to the world. But of course, only a few months prior to all that beginning, they were in an upper-room saying “Lord wash my whole body too!”. Folks, this is the sort of story God loves to write. He really gets the glory in these kinds of stories. “I took that bunch of misfits, and look what I did with them!”
So, at this point, you might say that we have the trouble with truth in this story. If you’re looking for an outline, that’s point one. We have the trouble with truth—they can’t bear the truth because they’re really troubled, egg-headed, selfish disciples at this point. The only way we overcome this trouble is if God acts.
Part 2: The Transformative Power of the Truth
Keep reading as this story moves along to perhaps resolve this trouble. Verse 12 again, but then going into verse 13—
“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…
So, that moves things along for us—it gives us an insight to the story that’s to come. These slow-to-understand disciples who can’t bear much of anything that Jesus is saying in this upper room will be able to understand when the Spirit of truth comes—ironically, also in “the upper room” at Pentecost. The Spirit will “guide you into all the truth”.
Now, we need to understand that Jesus is talking specifically to his disciples here. It is true that the Spirit guides us, today, into the truth—but Jesus has a much narrower focus and application in mind in these verses as he’s speaking to his disciples. Jesus is promising a unique ministry of the Spirit to his disciples who would become his apostles. The word “disciple” means “learning one”, or “student”. The word “apostle” means “sent one”—sent out to a particular mission. These men have been Jesus’s disciples for 3 years, learning from him and getting prepared for something they knew nothing about. Yet, that will all change “when the Spirit of truth comes”, as “he will guide you into all the truth”—that is, the “into all the truth” which Jesus will give them, and send them out with as his apostles. They’d proclaim the truth, they’d live by it, they’d die for it—and yes, the Spirit would move them to write it all down for you and me today. Folks, we’re talking about “all the truth” which Christ gave his apostles as a foundation for our faith. There’s a reason why Paul calls the apostles “the foundation” of the church, with Christ himself being a the cornerstone (Ephesians 2). They lay the teaching of Christ down for us, as the Spirit gave them the truth. It’s why the church has always regarded herself as an “apostolic” church—built upon the foundation of the apostles.
And folks, this isn’t just some philosophical bantering. This is world-shattering truth, we’re talking about. Truth that awakens spurns stubborn disciples to courageous action as apostles; truth that awakens the dead and transforms the world. Here’s your second point for this morning—the truth Jesus gave his disciples, through the Spirit’s power, truly was transformative. It transformed these men, from being deeply troubled in their heart and mind, to being bold and effective in every sense of the term. The Spirit led them in all of this.
One of my favorite statements in Acts is when people in Thessalonica (literally, which is across the Mediterranean sea from Jerusalem) took the Christians to the Roman authorities and said “These men… have turned the world upside down… saying that there is another king, [named] Jesus!”. Oh, yes. That’s the truth we’re talking about. There’s another Savior and King in town—and he transforms people, and cities, and nations, and worlds. He turns the world upside down through his Spirit of truth—and it all began with these knuckle-headed disciples who became world-transforming apostles.
Jesus promised it. “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.” Oh, if these disciples only knew. At that moment, they wanted a chair. They wanted a chair next to Jesus who they thought would overthrow Rome as a political savior. You know what they got? They got the truth of eternal life, the truth of victory over death, the truth of forgiveness and grace and power. This is the stuff that turns the world upside down and makes men and women dangerous.
I mean really. Think about the transformative work that this truth with Jesus promised had on these disciples and on the world. What transformative truth are we talking about?
Let’s widen our lens, for a moment, as we consider Jesus’s words in this farewell discourse. Our passage in John 16:12 isn’t the first time Jesus brought up the Spirit in this teaching in the upper room. Turn back to chapter 14, and look at verse 25. This is gold, folks, and it really serves well as a verse to complement our passage, as Jesus said these things in the same night, in the same room, in the same teaching. As his disciples are all spooked and concerned earlier that night as Jesus spoke about going away from them, he says—
25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
So, that sounds familiar to our passage. In our passage, we read “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” Here, we read “the Holy Spirit… will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
But, don’t miss what Jesus says next in chapter 14. He’s going to elaborate on all this for us, there in verse 27—
27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid…
What’s Jesus referring to there? “Peace I leave with you”—I’m leaving you peace. What peace? It’s a very personal peace, you know. It’s a person. Jesus is going to leave the person of the Holy Spirit, and he won’t just teach you as the Spirit of truth. No, the truths he teaches you will have an effect upon you. The Spirit, as he teaches you, will be peace within you. The Spirit will encourage with truth, he will strengthen and guide and work joy into us with truth.
Just think of the examples in Acts. Anyone remember how Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian church in Acts 6 and 7, was described? I think it was intentional. When we first meet Stephen in Acts 6, we learn that he was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit”. He had the truth in him as the Spirit impressed these things upon his heart. What did that do? It made him brave, strong, courageous, at peace even as he was being stoned. In fact—just like Jesus—he prayed for God’s mercy upon his enemies as they were murdering him. Just as Jesus said “Lord forgive them, for they know not what they are doing”, Stephen—filled with the peace-instilling Spirit of Christ—said with his last breath “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” That’s amazing. “Peace I leave with you”, Jesus says as he promises the Spirit of truth to his disciples.
Let this be a reminder to us, folks. For the Christian, truth and peace must coincide, and they coincide through the Spirit. It’s a shame when Christian homes or Christian hearts are filled with Christian truth, and there’s no Christian peace. Those are great opportunities to pray fervently for the Spirit. To prayerfully think over the Scriptures, and ask the Spirit to apply all the truth to our hearts. I’m reminded of what Paul says to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:7. “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything”. So, “Think”—why? “Because the Lord will give you understanding”. What if he doesn’t? It’s just head knowledge. “What if he does give understanding?” It’ll transform you from the inside out. Prayerfully read your Bibles, folks, and be convicted and guided and encouraged in Jesus by the Spirit.
So, we considered the trouble the disciples had with Jesus’s truth and teaching. Then we’ve considered the transformative truth which Jesus promised them, as that truth comes through the Spirit.
Part 3: The Totality of Truth
Now, let’s back up and ask the crucial question we haven’t asked yet. What truth is the Spirit teaching, to have such an effect on people?
Look again at our verse again in chapter 16. Jesus says in verse 13,
John 16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…
What truth are we talking about? He will guide you into “all the truth”. Do you hear that? It’s no wonder they couldn’t bear the “many more things” Jesus had to say. It wasn’t simply because they were dull and bull-headed in their minds, and they needed the Spirit. Folks, Jesus is promising his disciples that one day they would be recipients of all the truth.
That sounds pretty comprehensive, doesn’t it? That sounds a bit intimidating. The Spirit of truth will guide them into “all the truth”. We’re talking about “all the truth” which would uphold all Christians for all time through all trials and tribulations.
Truth, you know, like Romans 5:8, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He died “for us”—meaning, “in our place”. That’s a profound truth.
Or you could think of 2 Corinthians 5:8, “for our sake [God] made [Jesus], who knew no sin, to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
That’s Spirit-wrought truth through the apostles, folks. This man Jesus who was crucified and risen actually accomplished something through his life and death. “You’re forgiven! You’re sins are gone!” But yes, more than that—this man’s perfect life of righteousness wasn’t just for him alone. “He who knew no sin became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God.” You wear his righteousness before God, by faith, Christian. You’re not only forgiven of sins, you’re secured in his righteousness which defies death and is entirely acceptable before God’s holy presence.
That’s truth the disciples didn’t understand in yet in our passage—and it’s glorious truth. It’s freeing. You’re forgiven and accepted, now go be thankful and worship and enjoy your God as you were made to do.
Think of how freeing that must have been for these Jewish disciples who only knew the Jewish law and customs their whole lives. Paul gives us a very personal insight into that freedom when he talks of all his righteousness and law-keeping as a Jew. He speaks of it as slavery. In Philippians, he says “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes form the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God by faith, that I may know [Christ] and the power of his resurrection…”.
This stuff drove a zealous man to renounce all of his credentials as a Jew. “That was all foolish. Rubbish. I don’t want my righteousness, I want Jesus’s because that’s the only righteousness that will stand in glory, and the Spirit says that by faith, it’s mine, and by faith, it brings me to Jesus.”
That sacrifice for forgiveness, and that life of righteousness offered—it’s freeing. It’s empowering—you’re free to die, Christian. You’re free to suffer. You’re secure in God. Go, forgive one another as God has forgiven you at the cross. Be in fellowship with God and one another. Go, serve the king knowing that God has already defeated your worst enemies, and he accepts your work through Jesus.
It's an amazing statement, there in verse 13. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…” We’re talking about “all the truth” God would have for his apostles—and the whole church after them—that they might be steadfast and strong and mature in the faith for Jesus. This is “all the truth” which God would have for us to manifest the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. God gave the Spirit to these men, that they might learn and proclaim all of that, and write it down for us in the Scriptures.
I mean, really. Here’s the question for you. Do you believe that the Scriptures are sufficient for these things? Do you believe that the truth which the Spirit gave the apostles is sufficient for your wisdom, your direction in life, your happiness and contentment and joy and forgiveness and freedom? That’s where this is really bearing down on us, this morning, folks.
I’d venture to say it’s more than enough—it’s exhaustive, folks. How many of you can say you understand all the nuances of grace and revelation and truth that the New Testament reveals to us about Jesus and our salvation? I hope that none of you can say that. The Bible, folks, is so rich. We can’t begin to exhaust the way it describes God’s wisdom and glory and grace, especially as it all culminates in Jesus. It makes wise the simple, and it humbles the proud. It’s so profound, and it blows my mind to think of the work God did through the apostles in revealing to them “all the truth” in the way he did. The more you dig, the more you’ll marvel and be thankful in Jesus. It’s just that simple.
So we’ve considered the disciples’ trouble with the truth, and the transformative power of the truth, and this last point, you might say, relates to the totality of truth. We have all the truth God would have for us, in total, as we’ve received it from the apostles’ teaching in Scripture. It’s sufficient, and I commend you to commit yourselves to it as though it were life or death, every day.
Wrapping Up: The Story of Truth
But folks, there’s one more point I want to make. We aren’t talking about truth in platitudes. We’re talking about a story, here. Think about it. How did the Spirit do it? How did the Spirit work all of that truth into them?
I think it’s telling that our verse, there in verse 13, says “[the Spirit of truth] will guide you into all the truth”. That’s important. That’s how the story unfolded, folks. The Spirit really and truly did guide the disciples into the truth. We are humans, folks. We are not made like computers, wherein we can just have an information dump into our brains and have it transform us from a bunch of bull-headed disciples to world-transforming apostles. That’s not how any story works, it’s not how humans work.
Folks, the Spirit really and truly did guide the early church and the apostles into all the truth. It really was a story, a process. Read Acts—it’s very clear that the apostles’ didn’t understand all the implications of Jesus’s death and resurrection right away. Yes, they quickly learned and understood how Jesus’s death and resurrection secures to our forgiveness and salvation. Sure, they understood that the only way to Jesus is through faith and repentance. We see that in Peter’s sermon early on at Pentecost. After preaching on Jesus’s resurrection, Peter concludes “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
They got that right early on. Although, we’re talking about the Spirit guiding the apostles’ into all the truth which God intended for them to know. Just think all the implications of the cross which the New Testament teases out. Think of all the glory and blessings which Jesus’s death and resurrection accomplished for you, and for his church.
When you read through Acts, it’s quite clear that the Spirit at times slowly guided the apostles and the early church into the truth of Christ, especially as it related to Jewish practices, and the gentile inclusion. It wasn’t until chapter 10 in Acts—chapter 10!—that Peter received a vision from the Spirit that taught Peter not to view the world through Jewish ceremonial “clean and unclean” laws any more. There’s no more “clean and unclean” things, insofar as the Jews regarded them. Either your clean in Christ, or your unclean outside of Christ. So, eat what you want—eat that bacon. And yes (this is important) the gentiles are no longer unclean simply by virtue of being a gentile. They’re unclean by virtue of being outside of Christ, just as a Jew might be unclean outside of Christ. This was huge, folks.
The gentiles no longer need to be circumcised—to “clean up” per Jewish customs—in order to be included into God’s people. Do you realize that it wasn’t until chapter 10 in Acts that the first full-blown gentile was converted in Acts? Before Acts 10, all the gentile converts were Jewish proselytes—they had already joined the Jewish people through circumcision. Now, in Acts 10, the Spirit himself leads Peter into a gentile’s house, calls Peter to preach Jesus to them, and they receive the Spirit without ever first cleaning up and joining God’s people through circumcision. That was a massive development, and apparently quite unexpected. Despite all that Jesus had said about his gospel being preached to the nations—despite all the Old Testament passages prophesying the same—the church still needed the Spirit to fully understand what Christ had accomplished. It’s amazing.
When Peter came back and reported to the apostles and the church what happened, I love what he says. Peter says “If then God gave the same gift [of the Holy Spirit] to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” I love that. Peter couldn’t argue with it. As the gentiles were speaking in tongues and praising God in the Spirit, Peter witnessed the Spirit’s visible confirmation that Jesus intends to save the gentiles. We read next in Acts, “when [the church] heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘then to the gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life’”. Again, that’s Acts 10 and 11—not Acts 2 or 3. The Spirit slowly guided the church into these things, and you can keep reading of that process throughout all of Acts as the church wrestled with these things. In the end, though, the Spirit prevailed and guided the church, through the apostles, into all the truth Jesus would have for us.
It's a reminder that God is patient with us, isn’t it? He was so patient with the disciples, and their stubbornness of heart during his earthly ministry. Oh, it’s painful to read in the gospels. But this is a reminder that Jesus is intentional with us. He’s patient with us. He calls us to faith and repentance and maturity according to his timing and his plan. It’s like what Paul said in Philippians 1, that “he who began a good work in you will carry it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”.
Therefore, Love your Bible
So, brothers and sisters, this is how God landed the Scriptures into our laps. He sent Jesus to die for our sins, and accomplish our salvation. He prepared his disciples—and boy, they had many troubles just like you and I do. Without the Spirit, they were stubborn, and in much trouble. Yet the Spirit came and transformed them. The Spirit came with the totality of truth, and as God always does, he patiently guided them into all of that truth for their growth and maturity and perseverance unto glory. May God likewise grant us his Spirit of understanding and joy, and a love for our Bibles as we study his truth together.