Missionary John Hyde went to India a little over a hundred years ago. He felt a strong calling to the nation of India and began to spend hours in an attempt to learn the culture. Then the day came. It was in 1892 that he boarded a steamer in New York bound for the nation of India. On the ship, John received a telegram from a close family friend. He opened it hurriedly on the deck of the ship. The only words of the telegram were, "John Hyde, are you filled with the Holy Spirit?" John's response was one of frustration, anger. He crumpled the paper, put it into his pocket and went to bed. Unable to sleep, he tossed and turned all night. He arose from bed in the early morning hours, took the piece of paper and read it again. He thought, "The audacity of somebody to ask me that question, 'Am I filled with the Holy Spirit?' Here I am a missionary, sincere, dedicated, leaving my home and going to another country. How dare they ask me if I am filled with the Holy Spirit?" Wasn't he equipped for his call? After all he had received a B.A. degree, studied the language, was even on the way and was determined to pursue his destiny. Yes, he was on his way, but Hyde's spirit was challenged by the note. After much soul searching, he fell to his knees before the Father. "O God," he cried out, "the audacity of me thinking that I could pray or preach or witness or live or serve or do anything in my own strength and power. Fill me with your strength. Fill me with Your power." John Hyde became one of the great missionary statesmen of all time. Why? Because of the Spirit which enabled him to face the challenges of his life in the power of God. (From "Praying Hyde", Basil Miller, copyright 1943, Zondervan). A rather poignant story, I believe. And such is the case for anyone who is open to the call and leading of the Holy Spirit. He enables us to be God’s people…and we will see more of this here in this passage.
As we were discussing last week, believers are going to face persecution in this world (John 15:18-27), but God has given us the opportunity to overcome through the power of His Holy Spirit (16:1-15). For three years, Jesus has been with His disciples to protect them from attack, but now He is about to leave them. He has already shared this fact with them (13:33). These are His last hours with the disciples and so, He is trying to impress upon them matters of greatest importance. Jesus explains why it is important for them that He must return to the Father. The major reason is that the Holy Spirit might come to empower the church for life and witness. Also, as their ascended Savior, He would be able to intercede for His people in the heavenly places. How does the Holy Spirit encourage believers when they are facing the hatred and opposition of the world? It is primarily through the Word of God, but certainly not exclusively so. The Word is the sword of the Spirit that He uses to teach us and train us to be the people God has called us to be (Ephesians 1:16-17). The Spirit wields the sword in our lives. The Spirit also witnesses to us and through us during our times of persecution...as Paul shares with the Romans (8:16, 26-27), He helps us to know what to say, and helps us in our prayers. And through all of these things, He bears fruit in the lives of those who belong to Jesus (Galatians 5:22, et. al.).
In context of this passage, times of persecution have always been times for the church to be able to witness for the Lord. We must always be ready “to give an answer” when we are called into question or are attacked. Apart from the power of the Spirit of God, we cannot give a clear witness for Christ. It is important to note that the Spirit comes to the church and not to the world. He works in and through the church…at least He is supposed to do so. The Holy Spirit works in and through the people in whom He lives. And in this section, we see that the Spirit comes to reprove. “Reprove” means “to bring to light, to expose, to refute, to convict and convince”…which is quite a mouthful. It could also be translated, “pronounce a verdict.” The world may think that it is judging Christians, but it is Christians who are passing judgment on the world as they witness to Jesus Christ. In a sense…to use a court room illustration…believers are the witnesses, the Holy Spirit is the prosecuting attorney and the unsaved are the guilty prisoners. However, the purpose of this indictment is not to condemn, but to bring salvation. The Holy Spirit convicts the world of unbelief, in general, and it also convicts the sinner of the need for righteousness, who is Jesus Christ, in person. The Spirit reveals Jesus Christ in the lives of believers. It is important to note that we are not to be “the prosecuting attorney” in and of ourselves…we are not to be the judges…but, are to be receptacles whereby the Holy Spirit can convict and convince. So, the world cannot receive or see the Spirit of God, but they can see what He does as they observe the lives of believers. What the Holy Spirit convicts the lost sinner of…is judgment. When a lost sinner is truly under conviction, he will see the folly and evil of unbelief. He will confess that he does not measure up to the righteousness of Christ, and he will realize that he is under condemnation because he belongs to the world and the evil one (Ephesians 2:1-3). Jesus is the only one who can rescue him (as with any of us). There can be no conversion without conviction, and there can be no conviction apart from the Spirit of God who uses the Word of God and the witness of the child of God. When the Holy Spirit would come to the disciples, He would teach them and remind them of what Jesus had taught them. The Spirit would also guide them into all truth. And as we have seen, the Holy Spirit does the very same thing for all of us.
Susan Cosio, a chaplain at a medical center, writer, and mother of three, writes one of the best messages I have seen regarding the Holy Spirit and life, “I believe in a daily walk just to listen. I believe I have to remove myself from the voices that barrage me in order to find my true compass. This includes a daily walk just to listen. The guiding light of my life is the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. In our hectic, noisy world, I have to slow down or withdraw in order to hear it. Prayer, I have discovered, is less about what I say and more about what I hear. Discerning God’s voice is not so hard when I make time to listen closely. Sometimes I hear it as a sudden insight when I step back from a situation. Other times, it’s a deep sense of my priorities, or a conviction about something I should do or say. I often take a walk with a pencil and notepad in my pocket, and return with notes for a speech or a piece of writing. Later, someone tells me she was moved by the words I’d scribbled on that paper, and I know my prompting came from God. My pursuit of spiritual truth is not about religion as much as it is about relationship. I believe in a daily walk to listen because it is when I am close to God…and that is when I find my way. And I am most at peace when I tune out the voices of the world long enough to hear the still, small voice of God directing me. “Be still,” Psalm 46 reminds me, “and know that I am God.” [This I Believe: Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women, “A Daily Walk Just to Listen,” Susan Cosio, (New York: Henry Holt, 2006), 43-45] When we listen to the Lord and how He desires to work through the Holy Spirit, we are able to hear His voice, and this is the beginning of wisdom and growth. Submit yourself to His leading in order that God can grow you to be the person that He desires for you to be, and so that you can withstand the persecution that comes from the world.