In fulfilment of what God had promised, Jesus, the perfect Messiah, came and took our place on the cross. By faith in him our sin is satisfactorily punished through his atoning sacrifice, and we gain the Law-fulfilling righteousness of the sinless life he lived. As Paul put it, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) On the third day Jesus triumphantly rose from the grave, conquering death, proving true all he said, and embodying the resurrection hope that every believer now has in him. And after spending some further time with his disciples, he ascended into Heaven and is currently seated at the right hand of the Father. But now what?
How was Jesus’ departure after the resurrection good news for his disciples then, and how is it good news for us? His disciples, and most of Jews at the time, thought that when the Messiah came he would bring freedom from outside oppression (Acts 1:6). And Jesus did bring freedom, freedom from bondage to sin and the domain of darkness (Ephesians 2), freedom from eternal condemnation (Romans 8), and freedom from the fear of death itself knowing that believers now have an abiding hope in their own promised resurrection. But before Jesus died he told his disciples something fascinating: “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. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” (John 16:7-8) Apparently, as amazing as it would be for Jesus to have resurrected and stayed on earth, it was actually better for his disciples then and it is better for us now that we have the Holy Spirit.
What are just a few of the benefits to the fact that the Holy Spirit has been sent and Jesus has departed? Here are five:
Faith apart from seeing the resurrected Christ is still possible, and is better. When Thomas doubted Jesus’ resurrection until he saw Jesus for himself, Jesus told him “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) So Jesus’ departure provides the opportunity for unique blessing for all who believe in him apart from sight.
Every born-again believer in Christ personally receives the Holy Spirit, and when they do, the Holy Spirit remains with them both personally and forever. (John 14:15-17)
Believers (empowered by the Holy Spirit) will do greater works than the works Jesus had done, because Jesus had returned to the Father. (John 14:12-14) It is interesting that Jesus gives his return to the Father as the basis or reason for why his disciples would be able to do more than the works he had done in his earthly ministry.
The ministry of reconciliation is entrusted to us, who are empowered by the Holy Spirit. We aren’t just bystanders, we have a God given role in the way God draws people to Himself. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
Although Jesus is God the Son, he did not act bodily out of his omnipresence during his earthly ministry. That is a complicated way of saying that when Jesus was bodily in Jerusalem he was not bodily elsewhere, even if as God the Son he was. Jesus is uniquely fully man and fully God, and as fully man he ministered predominantly wherever he was geographically (though he could choose to have done otherwise). The Holy Spirit, by contrast, is currently indwelling believers across the globe and is working powerfully in them and through them all. Believers in Peru have no less access to the Holy Spirit than those in Costa Rica, because the Spirit is equally accessible no matter the location.
Now that we have celebrated the fact that Jesus is no longer dead but has resurrected, let us also celebrate that he has returned to the right hand of the Father in Heaven and has sent the Holy Spirit. And Jesus will bodily come back once more, and at that time the story of redemption closes. So until that day, let us keep in step with the Spirit and pray that the Spirit would open hearts to hear and be redeemed by the great news of the gospel.