Jesus said it, so it’s true—and the obedient disciple in me accepts it. But hasn’t always understood it. What is it about the Master’s departure that is expedient for his followers? Perhaps that’s why he reinforces the concept by assuring us that it’s true—because he knew we’d have difficulty with it at times. I sure have!
Surely this Christian walk would be much enhanced by having a walking, talking, flesh-and-blood Jesus around us for encouragement, teaching and exhortation. For us, “expedient for you” often does battle with “where are you, Lord?” In short, deep down, we’d really like to see, hear and touch him.
But the truth is, we do have his live, literal presence with us: his live, non-bodily presence—the one he calls “the Comforter”—the Holy Spirit—the one who not only walks alongside, living with us, but who also lives—literally—within us. Both with us and within us.
Many people have a mental image of the kind-hearted Son pleading each case before a stern-faced, reluctant Judge impatient for the chance to pass sentence.
Our desire for Jesus’ literal presence has been granted—his way, which is better than our way by about as much as heaven is over earth (Isaiah 55:9). He has not left us bereft, like orphans. Despite his physical absence, he is nonetheless with us continuously, as he promised he would be, in the person of the parakletos, “the Comforter”—the non-bodily, yet literal presence of the Father and the Son who “come” to us and make their “home” with us (John 14:23).
So, what makes all this “expedient” for us? What’s going on that makes this the optimum arrangement?
Intercession! Our merciful and faithful High Priest, personally experienced in the full range of human feelings, intercedes—having reconciled us with God. The Captain of our Salvation completes his glorious work in partnership—as one—with the Comforter.
At the right hand of the Father, he mediates in an intercessory role known to many as “justification”—the means by which we have been forgiven of our sins, our record clear, his own righteousness attributed to us.
What does it mean that Jesus “ever” (perpetual—at all times) intercedes for us? Many people unwittingly default to a mental image of the kind-hearted Son pleading each and every case before a stern-faced, reluctant Judge sitting with his arms folded and foot tapping impatiently, salivating at the chance to pass sentence. “Father, forgive him … ”, “Father, forgive her … ”, “Father, forgive … ”, in an endless litany of anxious appeal, our lives forever tenuously in the balance. This grossly distorts the reality of God.
The Christ who said “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32), is not busy trying to change the Father’s mind about us. He knows the Father’s heart, even if we don’t yet.
It was the Father who sent his Son into the world, not to condemn it, but to save it—precisely because he loved it so much (John 3:16-17). The Father isn’t reluctant, stern or cruel. He and the Son and the Spirit are eternally one, and that means they are eternally one in their love for and faithfulness to us (John 14:20).
Jesus’ intercession for us is not a torrent of impassioned pleas. It’s implicit in his very presence at the right hand of the Father: our humanity is redeemed and glorified in him. He is our perfect substitute and representative. His being there is the fullness and wholeness of his intercession for us and the Father’s acceptance of us on his behalf. The price of our salvation has already been paid, once for all time (Hebrews 9:26).
Our redeemed humanity now sits in the very presence of God in the person of Jesus Christ, who in his life, death, resurrection and ascension has included us in himself as the beloved children of the Father. And all this is because of God’s “great love for us,” because he is “rich in mercy,” and that’s how he felt about us even when we “were dead in transgressions” (Ephesians 2:4-7).
But there’s still a “meantime,” isn’t there? Forgiven, redeemed and included though we are, we still sin. So difficult, while still in the flesh, to live a life day-to-day, “down here,” that is completely in tune with what is already true of us “up there,” isn’t it?
A grim reality …
Except for the presence of the parakletos: the “Comforter alongside,” the invisible presence of Jesus Christ here on earth, where we really need him!
Concurrent with Jesus’ intercession of “justification” in heaven, we have the Holy Spirit’s intercession of “rectification” here on earth: with us and within us (John 14:17). The work of the Comforter is directed toward the same result: the complete fulfillment of our salvation. You might say that the Comforter helps us live life in the light of Christ’s saving achievement.
What’s going on in the Father’s presence is a done deal. As Jesus completed his earthly work, he said: “It is finished” (John 19:30). That’s what he meant. What’s going on “down here” is a life of faith and hope, bridging the huge gap between what we still are in the flesh and the fullness of the done deal in heaven. What’s already true in heaven is the source and reason for our resilience and endurance to fight the good fight, finish the race, keep the faith and receive the crown. And bringing all this together is parakletos, “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus Christ from the dead,” the one who lives in us and through whom the Father “will also give life” to our “mortal bodies” (Romans 8:11).
There’s an interesting contrast between the way the ancient Israelite high priests did their work of intercession for the people and the way the book of Hebrews describes Jesus’ finished work on our behalf. The ancient high priests did their work standing. “But,” Hebrews 10:11-12 tells us, “when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.”
He sat down because his all-encompassing and eternal priestly work was done. “It is finished.” What remains now is the life of faith. And parakletos has it covered. He’s called “the Helper” in some Bible translations. But we need to understand something: The Holy Spirit is not the “tiger in our tank.” He doesn’t somehow supercharge our own efforts to walk this walk. He’s not a tool we use. The fact is, he uses us. He guides us into truth (John 14:26), and one with the Father and the Son, works with our conscience and ethical values, leads our thinking, brings our minds, intellects and hearts into line with God. Through the Spirit, Jesus even redeems and heals our weak and limited prayers, offering them to the Father as his own on our behalf and in our stead (Romans 8:26).
So the Father’s answer to the Son’s prayers in the Spirit on our behalf is always “yes.” Not necessarily “yes” to exactly what we had in mind when we asked in weakness—but rather, “yes” to our prayers as they are redeemed and transformed by him through the Spirit.
And our part in all this?
Trust! Believe! Appreciate! Give thanks! In the love and grace of God be led and strengthened by the Comforter!
Just as Jesus said, it was expedient that he go away that we might never be alone.
Kerry Gubb, 2012