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All the Way Home

“I have told you these things so that you won’t fall away… Yes, I’m telling you these things now, so that when they happen, you will remember I warned you. I didn’t tell you earlier because I was going to be with you for a while longer.” — John 16:1, 4

When a star player retires, an effective CEO is replaced, or a long-serving pastor dies, the team, the business, or the church faces a potentially critical period of adjustment. Unless the hole in leadership is filled as carefully and promptly as possible, there’s always the possibility that the organization or institution will lose momentum and its members lose heart.

Jesus was well aware of this possibility when He talked to His disciples about His imminent departure. He said, “I have told you these things so that you won’t fall away” (John 16:1). But that did not mean a change in His plans, for Jesus reiterated, “Now I am going away to the one who sent me” (16:5). In short, He told them that, though He was going away, there must be no falling away!

There was a distinct possibility that the leaderless disciples would get into serious trouble in their faith. Jesus had given careful thought to the transition His disciples would undergo, and He made sure He prepared them for a successful transition. “You will be expelled from the synagogues,” Jesus warned them (16:2).

Such a situation would be no big deal for modern people who, on the rare occasions they might be excommunicated, either stop going to church, or go to another, or even start their own! But the prospect of excommunication from the synagogue was a very real threat to first-century disciples. It meant social ostracism, family isolation, and the possibility of closed doors to employment. But there were even more serious possibilities. Hostilities could conceivably intensify to the point where, as Jesus predicted, “Those who kill you will think they are doing God a service” (16:2).

Jesus explained that His leaving was advantageous to them because it opened the door to a whole new dimension of spiritual experience. He promised them, “It is actually best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Counselor won’t come. If I do go away, he will come because I will send him to you” (16:7). He was referring to the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit not only would provide comfort and counsel for them in their pain and confusion, but He also would guarantee continuity. Jesus promised, “He will not be presenting his own ideas… He will bring me glory by revealing to you whatever he receives from me” (16:13-14). The disciples need not fear that they would be leaderless, defenseless, or powerless. Neither should they be concerned that the cause to which they were committed would be rudderless. The Holy Spirit would be their guide, their leader, and their power.

Why, then, the change? And where was the advantage in Jesus going? Precisely in this: when the Holy Spirit came, instead of Jesus walking alongside them, they enjoyed the Spirit living within them and working powerfully through them. It was not only a transition—it was a transformation, too.

What could be more exciting and exhilarating for the modern-day disciple than to know that the Christ who walked the shores of Galilee now, through the Spirit, walks with him and resides in him on his way to the office!

For further study: John 16:1-15