I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. – Jn 16:12
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. – Jn 16:13
What is Truth?
An exasperated Pilate poses the question, “What is truth?” (Jn 18:38). He did so because Jesus said, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (Jn 18:37).
So what is this “truth”? And why did Jesus intimate that his disciples could not yet bear it?
The following list is not exhaustive. It is merely a cross-section of what Jesus means when he says that the truth is something that “you cannot now bear”.
The nakedness of truth
In the truth, there is nowhere to hide.
I had a conversation with an atheist, in which he listed the values and ideals with which he identifies. I dubbed it “The Atheist’s Creed”. It is more accurate to call it, “a humanist creed”:
I believe in the rule of law, and equal treatment under the law.
I believe in free will, free choice, moral culpability, and personal responsibility.
I believe in truth seeking and truth telling.
I believe in trust and trustworthiness.
I believe in fairness and reciprocity.
I believe in love, marriage, and fidelity.
I believe in family, friendship, and community.
I believe in honor, loyalty, and commitment to family, friends, and community members.
I believe in forgiveness when it is genuinely asked for or offered.
I believe in kindness, generosity, and charity, especially voluntary aid to others in need.
I believe in science as the best method ever devised for understanding how the world works.
I believe in reason and logic and rationality as cognitive tools for answering questions, solving problems, and devising solutions to life’s many problems and quandaries.
I believe in technological growth, cultural advancement, and moral progress..
I believe in the almost illimitable capacity of human creativity and inventiveness for our species to flourish into the far future on this planet and others.
This is a good list. These are good values (the ones concerning morality). However, nobody has ever managed to embody them all simultaneously. So while we are capable of imagining the most noble of characteristics (quite apart from any religious context), the exercise simply reflects back at us that we fail to live up to them! This is not something imposed on us by God, this is a set of values imagined by non-religious human beings…
In this world we are generally able to hide from the implications of this. We are able to be “respectable”, despite our failings, by creating a society which indulges and overlooks them for the sake of the community. But the Truth involves standing naked before the personification of the most noble and good human values, in their superlative form, and living right there without any possibility of respite or escape.
Is this “more than you can now bear”?
The grief of truth
When someone spends time among starving people and then returns home to observe gluttony and waste, they feel a kind of grief. When someone works with children being liberated from sexual slavery and then returns home to observe people indulging pornography addictions, they feel a kind of grief.
And when someone is born into the kingdom of God, the kingdom of justice, mercy, goodness, and above all of love, and then returns home to observe indifference, casual immorality, apathy, hatred and compromise, there is enormous grief.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate.”
– Matthew 23:37-38
Whenever we are made aware of great possibilities, it causes grief to see those possibilities flaunted. When we see how a person’s suffering could be relieved, but for whatever reason the relief is being withheld, it causes grief. How much more so when the cruel irony is that the person themselves is withholding the relief!
Therefore, the Truth comes with a very deep and abiding grief. It is grief for what might be, and what might have been. It is also grief for what has been, what is, and may continue to be. It is grief over the pain of the people, and the sheer waste of it all, because there is an alternative.
The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.
– Genesis 6:5-6
The Truth involves grief for God, and grief for all who know the truth.
Is this “more than you can now bear”?
The poverty of Truth
The stuff of truth consists not in this world, but in the kingdom of God. The treasure of that kingdom is giving, not receiving and hoarding. Therefore for the one living in the Truth, the money of this world is primarily for giving.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
– Luke 12:32-34
In fact, such wealth can make it difficult to attain the truth.
Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.
– Mark 4:18-19, (cf. Matt 13:29)
“it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
– Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, Luke 18:25
We store up treasures in one world or the other. A person cannot serve both wealth and God.
Is this “more than you can now bear”?
The Isolation of truth
By committing to the truth, you may be committing to something that people who are very precious to you are not willing to support. You may find dear friendships, and even family relationships, strained or even severed.
“For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
– Luke 12:52-53
The pursuit of truth can be lonely.
And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
– Matt 8:20, Luke 9:58
It includes an abandonment of all other truth claims, identifying only with this one.
“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
[The people agree]
“Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
– Joshua 24:14-15, 23
Is this “more than you can now bear”?
… and more
There is more, more and more! Jesus repeatedly told his followers that they would suffer loss, societally, emotionally, physically, monetarily, and they would even lose their personal sovereignty as they placed themselves completely under his Lordship.
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not forsake father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
– Luke 14:25-33
Is this “more than you can now bear”?
If Jesus’ followers could not bear it, how can we?
Jesus’ disciples repeatedly demonstrated that they were incapable of bearing discipleship. When Jesus said that this message was, “more than you can now bear”, it was at the end of their discipleship, as Jesus was heading for the Cross.
If Jesus’ followers, who had ministered with him for three years, and had seen all the miracles, could not bear these things… how should we be able to?
Jesus did not stop at “…more than you can now bear”. He went on:
But when he, the Spirit of Truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come…
– John 16:13
Ok, but how does that change anything? The Spirit of Truth will come and reveal what these things are, but we already know that they are too hard to bear! Is that any better? Knowing about the unbearable burden is not any better than not knowing about it…
But this is not only the “Spirit of Truth”. This is also the Paraclete, which is to say, “counsellor”, or “advocate”, or “support”. There is no single English word to translate it. This is “the Holy Spirit”!
Jesus said, “Amen, amen I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).
Before He ascended, he again promised, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (Acts 1:8), and when the Holy Spirit was poured out soon afterwards, Peter explained what was happening:
“God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.”
– Acts 2:32-33
From that time on, the disciples could bear all of those things Jesus had talked about.
The followers entered that relationship with God in which, although they are naked before him, they stand before him in a new life, which is “powered” by God’s own Spirit, rather than by the natural order of things. This life is “of God”, and can therefore be completely exposed to the goodness of God.
Jude expresses this in his benediction: “Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing” – Jude 1:24
The antidote to grief is hope. Hope produces joy, even as we are still grieving. Equipped by the Good News and the Holy Spirit, the disciples no longer had to see the world in terms simply of grief. They now could see the world as having received a ray of hope! The fact that there is enormous suffering is no longer the final word on the matter. Now, there is hope for sinners, and for the whole of humanity, and therefore also great joy!
Jesus talked about what the kingdom of God is like in these terms:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
– Matthew 5:3-4
Upon the receipt of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were able to comprehend their richness in the kingdom of God, and the meaninglessness of wealth in this world. Suddenly, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” (Acts 2:44-45).
Instead of focussing on all that they had given up (“Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!” – Luke 18:28), they suddenly saw possessions is a whole new way:
No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
– Acts 4:32-34
Whereas many had indeed left loved ones behind, the believers suddenly now found themselves members of the most open and sharing community imaginable. The very early church described all believers as their brothers and sisters, and were very deeply connected in their faith communities.
All the believers were one in heart and mind.
– Acts 4:32
… and the other matters
Jesus’ warnings about counting the cost (Luke 14:25-33) were now to be recast. They had made it! They had received the promised Spirit. In terms of Luke 14, the “tower” was built / The “war” was won. The future was to be all about “what comes next”.
Jesus had not only said, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you“, but importantly also, “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth“. That was “what comes next”.
By my Spirit
The plans of God are realised by his Holy Spirit: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty (Zech 4:6). That is why Jesus said, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13), because the coming of this spirit is the solution to the problem.
This Spirit which was poured out on the church is:
- The “spirit of leadership” – Joshua 27:18
- “a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire” – Isaiah 4:4
- “The Spirit of wisdom and of understanding” – Isaiah 11:2
- “The Spirit of counsel and of might” – Isaiah 11:2
- “The Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD” – Isaiah 11:2
- “a spirit of justice” – Isaiah 28:6
- “a spirit of grace and supplication” – Zechariah 12:10
- “the Spirit of your Father” – Matthew 10:20
- “the Spirit of Truth” – John 14:17, 15:26, 16:13; 1 John 4:6
- “the Spirit of Jesus” – Acts 16:7
- “The spirit of holiness” – Romans 1:4
- “the Spirit of Christ” – Romans 8:9, 1 Peter 1:11
- “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead” – Romans 8:11
- “the Spirit who is from God” – 1 Corinthians 2:12
- “the Spirit of our God” – 1 Corinthians 6:11
- “the spirit of the living God” – 2 Corinthians 3:3
- the “spirit of faith” – 2 Corinthians 4:13
- “the Spirit of [God’s] son” – Galatians 4:6
- “the Spirit of wisdom” – Ephesians 1:17
- “the Spirit of Jesus Christ” – Philippians 1:19
- the “Spirit of power, of love, and of a sound mind” – 2 Timothy 1:7
- “the eternal Spirit” – Hebrews 9:14
- “the Spirit of grace” – Hebrews 10:29
- “the Spirit of glory” – 1 Peter 4:14
- “the Spirit of prophesy” – Revelation 19:10
This is the “Holy Spirit” (96 times), the “Spirit of God” (25 times), and the “Spirit of the Lord” (24 times). This Spirit, (appropriately referred to as God Himself), has been “poured out” into the Church (this is just one of many descriptive verbs, along with “given”, “indwell”, and “quicken”, etc.).
Because of this, we can bear the Truth.
And so what, actually, is this “Truth”?
“Truth” is the world through God’s eyes.
To see only parts of this will inevitably cause grief and despair, but to see the world and also see the “God of hope” (Romans 15:13) in proper context with the world, is to be liberated from grief. To properly perceive humanity, the world, and God, in correct relation to one another is “Truth”, and it is possible only through “the Spirit of Truth”.
That’s because until we receive the spirit of truth, we cannot even comprehend the truth. This is another way of saying, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3), and therefore:
Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’
– John 3:5-7
So… where do I get this Spirit?
There are two main ways to answer this question:
First, the Spirit is given to the church, which is the body of Christ. Those connected to the body are connected to the Holy Spirit. You can join the church through faith in Jesus Christ as saviour and Lord, and consequently through Baptism into Christ.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
– Romans 6:3-5
And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
– Galatians 3:29
you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ
– Romans 8:15-17
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
– 1 Corinthians 3:16
Second, the Spirit is given to those who ask. Jesus said:
So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who seeks finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
– Luke 11:9-13
So if you want the truth, join a church, get Baptised, and importantly, ask, seek, and knock, on the gates of heaven in prayer, until you also receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then, as Jesus said, “you shall know the truth, and the Truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
Is this “complete”? Or should I add one more thought…
What I’m really trying to say is that, whereas we can’t “bear” the Truth, God comes among and within us, and bears it for us and with us. So the Truth is manifested and made real in “God with us” (which is “Emmanuel”, which is “Jesus Christ”…)
>Frown< No wonder the Boss resorted to parables!