It doesn’t seem very Christian, does it. “Be happy – I’m going.” We might breathe a sigh of relief when persecution comes to an end; we might even accept that it’s better for a Christian to die1, but to say that it’s better that Jesus is gone … that seems to be about as disrespectful as you’re likely to hear on the lips of a Christian. And yet, that’s exactly what Jesus said Himself.
It’s the night before He was due to die. The darkness has set in2, the tone is sombre, and Jesus has spent the last few minutes explaining that He is going to leave them to a lifetime of persecution and martyrdom. “Bleak” doesn’t cut it; this is surely the concession of defeat, the commander stepping into the battle that he knows he will lose…
And yet Jesus has remained positive throughout. And His dismissal of their sorrow is unequivocal:
But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away…
Really Jesus? An advantage?
Happily for us, He explained:
… for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.
Jesus’ departure is required for the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to come. And if we don’t understand why that is better, it’s because we don’t understand the Spirit’s great work.
The Spirit brings conviction
In verses 8-11, Jesus outlines the first of the three great advantages of the Spirit’s coming. He has come to bring conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgement.
And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
While Jesus was around, their unbelief and sinfulness was set in profound contrast to Jesus’ blazing holiness; since His departure, the Spirit has been convicting people:
- He shows people their sinful unbelief3
- He shows people how far removed they are from Jesus’ perfect model of righteousness4
- He enables them to see their coming judgement, glimpsed in the foretaste of judgement the devil experienced at the cross5
A cure for blindness
Blindness is one of the most horrendous and avoidable disabilities in the world6, evident to its sufferers as a massive impairment in ability to experience the world. Before he died, my grandfather suffered a considerable reduction in eyesight that reduced his ability to interact with the world – and he knew it. Imagine, instead, a world ravaged by blindness but whose population endured this disability without knowing – blindsight.
This is tragic when seen medically, but the Bible’s verdict is that this is the universal experience. Blind to a world in rebellion against God, blind to the standard required, or our shortfall, or its consequences. We are blind to sin, righteousness and judgement.
And so, amongst His many blessings, the coming of the Spirit means the cure for spiritual blindness. He has brought conviction regarding sin, and righteousness, and judgement. The Spirit is the herald to a blind world of its devastating condition; He is the One who brings sight.
What hope would we have if we didn’t see our need of the forgiveness God is offering? What hope would we have if we didn’t know the depths of our sin and its consequences? What hope would we have of persuading other people of Jesus’ glorious offer of life, if it weren’t for the Spirit’s work of conviction in our hearts?
Jesus says it is to our advantage that He has gone away. And I know even from my own experience how true a saying this is.