Why the Spirit Inside You is Better than Jesus Beside You1
Let me be clear right from the start. I stole the title for today’s article from the sub-title to J. D. Greear’s book, Jesus Continued: Why the Spirit Inside You is Better than Jesus Beside You. It’s an excellent book that I recommend you read. Even if you don’t get around to reading it, I suspect that the sub-title will surely capture your attention. Is it really true that having the Holy Spirit live inside us forever is actually better than walking and talking in the physical presence of Jesus at our side? Continue reading . . .
Let me be clear right from the start. I stole the title for today’s article from the sub-title to J. D. Greear’s book, Jesus Continued: Why the Spirit Inside You is Better than Jesus Beside You. It’s an excellent book that I recommend you read. Even if you don’t get around to reading it, I suspect that the sub-title will surely capture your attention. Is it really true that having the Holy Spirit live inside us forever is actually better than walking and talking in the physical presence of Jesus at our side?
Something similar to this is found in 1 Peter 1:8. There Peter says that you and I can love Jesus and believe in Jesus and rejoice in Jesus even though we do not “see” Jesus.
Peter and the other apostles and hundreds of men and women who were contemporaries of Jesus and lived in Palestine when he did, had the incredible privilege of seeing the Son of God incarnate. They were eye witnesses of the God-man Christ Jesus. We are not.
But Peter wants you to understand that this doesn’t put you at a disadvantage to him or the others who were physically alive when Jesus walked the earth. As great and glorious as it would have been to see Jesus, the fact that we didn’t does not mean that our faith and love and joy in him are any less genuine or less fervent or less passionate or less pleasing to God. Of course, the day is coming when we will see him perfectly and forever, but at least for now, we are in the same position as were those to whom Peter wrote his letter.
In fact, let me go even further and say something that may strike you as outrageous when you first hear it. I first heard it from a sermon that John Piper preached. I thought he was nuts when he said it, but on deeper reflection, I think he’s right.
“The gospels,” said Piper, by which he means the written record of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, “the gospels, are better than being there!”
Let’s not forget that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who were alive when Jesus walked the earth saw him with their physical eyes and yet never truly “saw” him in the most meaningful sense of that term. The “sight” that you and I have been given of the glory of God as revealed in Jesus is immeasurably greater than the physical sight of those who lived in the first century. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:6 that “the God who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” This is a spiritual perceiving, a very real and life-changing, heart-warming revelation of the glory and splendor and beauty of Jesus that many who saw him with their physical eyes never experienced. But you and I do.
How do we gain this “sight”? We gain it from the Holy Spirit speaking to us through the Word of God. When you and I read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we can see the fullness of the revelation of God in Christ. The people who lived when Jesus walked the earth only had momentary, brief encounters with him. They might have heard him speak briefly as he passed through their villages. They might have watched a short snippet, as it were, of his ministry to the poor and sick. And I’m sure it was wonderful. But we have the panorama of God’s revelation of Christ in the four gospels. We see and know far more of him through this written record than they could ever have known. Here’s how Piper put it:
“The gospels are better than being there. You are taken into the inner circle of the apostolic band where you never could have gone. You go with him through Gethsemane and the trial and the crucifixion and the resurrection and the meetings after the resurrection. You hear whole sermons and long discourses—not in isolated snatches on hillsides but in rich God-inspired contexts that take you deeper than you ever could have gone as a perplexed peasant in Galilee. You see the whole range of his character and power which nobody on earth saw as fully as you can now see in the gospels: you see his freedom from anxiety with no place to lay his head, his courage in the face of opposition, his unanswerable wisdom, his honoring women, his tenderness with children, his compassion toward lepers, his meekness in suffering, his patience with Peter, his tears over Jerusalem, his blessing those who cursed him, his heart for the nations, his love for the glory of God, his simplicity and devotion, his power to still storms and heal the sick and multiply bread and cast out demons.
Though you do not now see him, yet in another sense you do see him far better than thousands who saw him face to face. You see the glory of God shining in this man's face at every turn in the gospels. And because you see him with the eyes of the heart, you love him and trust him and rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory. This is true Christianity.”
Now, whether or not you agree with Piper isn’t important. What’s important is to realize that your historical distance from Jesus in the first century is no impediment or obstacle to your loving him and trusting him and enjoying him. That’s the important thing to remember! And in John 16:7 Jesus himself says that it is actually better or to our benefit that he not be physically present with us or otherwise the Holy Spirit could not be sent to indwell and empower us:
“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).
Now, let’s be clear about what Jesus means when he says that in order for the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to come he, Jesus, first has to leave. The words “go away” in v. 7 do not simply refer to the physical departure of Jesus when he ascended into heaven to the right hand of the Father. He is talking specifically about his impending death. His going away is primarily a reference to his arrest, his trial, his crucifixion, his resurrection, all of which is then consummated by his ascension into heaven.
In other words, the reason why the Holy Spirit can’t come until Jesus “goes away” isn’t because there is some logical objection or physical obstacle why they can’t both be present on earth at the same time. No. The reason is that according to God’s promise the blessing of the Spirit’s indwelling presence in our lives is dependent on Christ making full and final atonement for our sin. It is only after and because our guilt has been taken away and the judgment we deserved has been endured by Jesus that the promise of the Spirit’s coming to indwell and empower us can occur.
Therefore, it is greatly to our “advantage” that Christ “go away” because in doing so he will suffer for our sins, propitiate or satisfy the wrath of God against us, and in doing so reconcile us to the Father. All this is necessary before he can send the Spirit to take up his residence in our hearts.
To be continued . . .