By Stephen W. Hiemstra
It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed (Deuteronomy 31:8 ESV).
One of the simplest and most profound lessons that I learned in seminary was called a ministry of presence. It is a humble, silent ministry: be there.
When my sister, Diane, passed away, I traveled to Philadelphia to attend the funeral at her home church. Other than family, I knew almost no one. Yet, I remember the comfort of being with a crowd of some 350 perfect strangers. Their gift to me was a ministry of presence. Words still cannot express my appreciation.
Jesus promises to never leave us orphans (v 18). In this context, an orphan is a disciple whose teacher has died. Jesus’ comment–But the Helper, the Holy Spirit (paraclete), whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (v 26)—speaks directly to his presence with us. Paraclete actually means: one who appears in another’s behalf, mediator, intercessor, helper (BDAG 5591).
When Jesus appears to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, he is actually modeling the role assumed by the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:14-35). The paraclete is a powerful helper (v 27) who teaches us (v 26) and who grants us effective prayer (v 13) and peace (v 27)1. Other than Job 16:2, John is the only biblical author who speaks of the Holy Spirit using this word.
So Jesus says that we will not be alone, but he also says that our ultimate home is in heaven (vv 2-3). The word, house, has several nuances. It can mean a physical dwelling, a temple, a family, or a dynasty. In 2 Samuel 7:7-16, a play on the word, house, is used by the Prophet Nathan to describe God’s covenant with King David. When the Apostle Paul says that our—citizenship is in heaven—he is building on this same idea (Philippians 3:20). Ours is a heavenly house, a heavenly family, and a heavenly destination.
Jesus [also] said to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (v 6). This statement reminds us of Deuteronomy 31:8 where God’s Shekinah cloud is pictured going before us. The word, truth, used here is interesting. Both Jesus and the Holy Spirit (v 17) are described with this same word. In Hebrew, the word truth (אֱמֶת) is spelled with three letters (alef, mem, tav)—the first, middle, and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet1.
What greater comfort could we have than to know that our savior is divine, is the alpha and the omega (all truth), and has final authority over life and death?
Gary M. Burge. 2000. The NIV Application Commentary: John. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, pages 390-413.