I am constantly convicted and encouraged by Jesus’ words to the disciples in John 16. As He is teaching about the Holy Spirit, He says that soon, He will go and the Spirit will come to them. Then He says this:
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.
What does this mean?
It means that it was better for the disciples to have the Holy Spirit in them than to have Jesus with them in the flesh. That’s what “to your advantage” means. The disciples were gaining more than they were losing by Jesus leaving.
At first, this makes no sense. I mean, how could anything be better than having Jesus walk beside them, teaching training and leading the disciples every step of the way? How could the invisible, spiritual presence of God be better than the visible, physical presence of God?
As I have thought about this, I think the answer is clear:
Jesus is Emmanuel, God with the disciples. He leads them, teaches them, guides them, shepherds them, lives, eats, and fellowships with them. These are all great and wonderful things.
But the Holy Spirit is God in the disciples. He empowers them. Enlightens them. Gives them spiritual gifts. Grows spiritual fruit in them. In short, He transforms the disciples into the image of Jesus. That’s what Paul means in 2 Corinthians 3 when he says:
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image (the image of Jesus) from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
So Jesus is right when He says that it’s to their advantage the He go, for if He doesn’t go, the Spirit won’t come, and if the Spirit doesn’t come, the disciples won’t be changed.
And any short survey of the book of Acts as opposed to the Gospels will make this truth evident. The disciples of Jesus are miraculously transformed into bold proclaimers of the Gospel by the power of the Spirit.
And this Spirit, God in our hearts, is the One who comes to abide in each person who trusts in Jesus. He leads us into all truth, and He unites us together with Christ. He seals us for eternity and empowers us to carry out the good works that God has called us to do.
We need to learn to trust more and more in the power of the Spirit, and that starts with understanding that walking in the Spirit is better than walking with Jesus in the flesh. The Spirit is the only parting gift in history that was better than the Giver simply staying put. He is the greatest parting gift ever. And His power transforms and molds and shapes us into the image of Christ until that day when we meet Jesus face to face, and we will finally be just like Him.