I must confess that I love watching legal dramas. There’s something about the intense atmosphere of a courtroom that draws you in. Something too about how truth is disclosed (or avoided), how arguments are massaged and presented, and ultimately, whether justice is served. Although many such dramas nowadays focus large amounts of time away from the courtroom – the preparations, the police interviews with witnesses, the personal lives of the protagonists – the key moment remains that time when the barrister (or advocate, to use another name for the role) gets to her or his feet, rustles their papers and addresses the witness. This is the moment when those of us watching at home sit forward on our chairs and draw a sharp intake of breath…
People need advocates. They need them in the justice system; but there are also other times when we might need them: to fight our corner, to defend those who can’t defend themselves. One of our good friends in London used to attend bankruptcy hearings with those being pursued for debt repayments, and his expert advocacy rescued dozens from destitution. An advocate is the sort of friend we need: full of energy, wise advice, and above all committed to us and our wellbeing.
There are lots of images for the Holy Spirit in the Bible, of which the most popular we have largely covered over the last few weeks: wind, fire, and water. The dove is also well-known, as shown at Jesus’ baptism or (by implication) in the famous story of Noah. But this passage gives us another unique image, and one which is particularly important because it is given by Jesus himself. How does Jesus describe the Holy Spirit? Here, as our Divine Advocate – in fact he’s so keen we absorb it that he tells his disciples twice – v16 and then again in v26.
Sometimes this word is translated ‘helper’ but that’s a bit cosy, the word is a little more dynamic than that. In the original Greek it’s parakletos, which is where traditional churches get the name ‘Paraklete’ to describe the Holy Spirit. (An old minister friend of mine grew up thinking that the priest kept saying ‘parakeet’ and spent his time as a child in church looking for a parrot flying round the building!) It literally means ‘one who comes alongside’.
Hence the modern translation of Advocate. The force of the meaning is of just the sort of good advocate we have described: energetic, wise and committed to us. And, uniquely, this Advocate does not just walk alongside us, but actually dwells in us (v17, repeated in v20). The Spirit’s heart speaks directly to ours, if I may put it like that. It is Jesus himself with us by his Spirit: loving us (v21), empowering us (v23) and teaching us all things (v26).
We often talk in church about whether we’re committed to Jesus. But this passage reminds us that the more important truth is that Jesus is intensely, eternally, absolutely committed to us. Just let that sink in for a while… What a thought to kickstart our day! Amen, hallelujah!