“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.”
This post is inspired by a guy I know named Chuck Bomar. He wrote a book called Better Off Without Jesus. I hope you’ll pick up a copy and read it for yourself.
Wishing Jesus Was There, Physically
Our last three posts have been about suffering. I wonder if there was ever a time when you were suffering so intensely you wished Jesus would just show up physically and tell you what to do. I’ve experienced a few times in my life like that.
When I was in the prime of life I had a long list of blessings to be thankful for. My marriage was doing well. My family was doing well. Professionally I was a part of the leadership in my organization, and doing well. My wife and I were just starting up our vacation rental business, it was going well. We were building a 4,000 sq ft home overlooking the beautiful Rogue Valley. And physically I was doing well. I was a high energy guy who worked from early morning until late at night. And, in my not so humble opinion, I thought, spiritually I was doing well also.
Then something happened that changed everything.
I was in Portland for a college class I needed for my Fire Administration degree. My family and I had just enjoyed a nice dinner and we were leaving our hotel to walk over to the Lloyd Center Mall right across the street. As soon as I hit the cold January air, it felt as though someone had removed all the oxygen from the atmosphere. I honestly thought that I had somehow walked into an invisible cloud of hazardous chemical gas. The only problem with my theory was, I was the only one in our group who couldn’t breath.
Next thing you know I’m in the hospital for a double by-pass operation. I can’t tell you how many people told me, I was the last person on earth they thought would need open heart surgery.
Suddenly, I was no longer that high energy guy. Gone was the capability to work from early morning until late at night. The capacity of my flesh was reduced dramatically. But I continued to try to live my life the way I always had: teaching a men’s leadership Bible study once a week, leading a church home group twice a month, serving as an elder at church, I was writing my book, I finished up school to get my degree, I took a promotion at work. As you might imagine, things didn’t go so well. I began to struggle with depression, partly from the heart medication, partly from the changes in my body, and partly because I wasn’t adjusting to life after taking such a physical hit.
Many times I laid face down on the floor crying out to God, wishing with everything I had that he would show up, physically present, to help me and to comfort me.
Have you ever felt like that before?
The Physical Jesus
In the verse just before today’s passage, Jesus says his disciples’ hearts were filled with sorrow. That’s probably not too surprising because for the previous two chapters, Jesus shared with them how he had to leave them.
Jesus’ disciples experienced Jesus in the physical. He was there, in the flesh, to comfort them, to answer their questions and clear up their confusion, to lead them, to provide a living example for them, to guide them. Wow. What must that have been like?
And now he’s going to be taken away from them.
Put in this context it’s hard to see why they would be better off without Jesus. Yet Jesus said it would be so.
So why are we better off without Jesus’ physical presence? Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, but also, as he usually referred to himself, he is the Son of Man. So he was real flesh and blood. He sweat, he worked a job, he ate, he slept, he even took naps.
And he was limited in this chosen form because he could only be in one place at one time.
In today’s text, we see that if Jesus doesn’t leave, the Holy Spirit can’t come. So it was only by leaving he could send the Holy Spirit. And by sending the Holy Spirit Jesus’ followers everywhere could receive from God simultaneously. Because the Holy Spirit isn’t limited by the space-time continuum in the same way God in the flesh is limited.
Jesus Just For Me
So during that time when I wanted Jesus to be physically present with me, I have to confess I didn’t like it that he couldn’t be there, in the flesh, physically present, one on one, with me. There’s a certainty about having someone with you, physically present, that’s comforting. The Holy Spirit seems so much more abstract. Experiencing the Holy Spirit requires that I pray and read scripture and seek out a community of people who love Jesus with everything they have. Those are the ways we tap into the Holy Spirit’s comfort, and leading, and guidance. When I was suffering intensely, I was mainly concerned about me, and, to be honest, a part of me wanted Jesus physically there for myself, without concern for the greater group of Jesus followers who would be impacted.
I’m conditioned to think that way by the individualistic Western culture in which I live, and so are you. While it’s part of the human condition everywhere, in the West in particular, each of us concerns ourselves with ourselves. It’s about my success in my career, and my family, and my decisions, and my pursuits, and even success in my hobbies. In the West, most people believe they can’t afford to be focused on serving others and loving people, the way Jesus instructs us to, because “I just have too many things going on in my life.”
Hearing From The Holy Spirit
Our culture ingrains this in us. Yet focus on myself is exactly what hinders my hearing from the Holy Spirit Jesus sent to me. It’s similar to when I’m a poor listener. I’m a poor listener when, while the other person is talking, I’m thinking about what I’m going to say next. I’m more concerned with what I have to say than I am with really listening to what the other person has to say. When we’re more concerned with our own interests instead of God’s, we create a barrier to receiving from the Holy Spirit.
Our culture fosters a desire for us to receive Jesus as someone to help us with our own interests. We’re conditioned to seek him as an addition to our individual lives, goals, plans, and visions. We think we need to invite Jesus to join us in our pursuits. But, as we’ll learn in the next few verses, that’s not the purpose of the Holy Spirit. So we shouldn’t be surprised when we don’t hear from him when we approach God, seeking His help with our thing.
The Holy Spirit is given, not so God can join us in our own pursuits, but so we can join God in His pursuits.
Understanding this difference is absolutely essential if you want to hear from the Holy Spirit.
And if you want to understand why you’re better off without the physical presence of Jesus.
Chuck Bomar, Better Off Without Jesus, Baker Books, 2012