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The Last Supper and the everlasting comfort for believers

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THE truthfulness of the New Testament is an essential lesson from the Prayer Book Gospel reading for today, Whitsunday, when the Church celebrates God’s gift of his Holy Spirit to empower Christian believers down the ages and across the nations.

The passage comes from chapter 14 of John’s Gospel, which records Jesus’s Farewell Discourse to his disciples, on the night that he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot. During Jesus’s Last Supper with them, as related in John 13, Judas had gone out into the night to inform the chief priests of the Lord’s whereabouts so that they could send a squad of soldiers to arrest him out of public view.

In his final words to his disciples, Jesus took care to prepare them for his physical departure from them. His death on the Cross and subsequent resurrection and ascension into heaven would bring great changes and challenges for these frightened and bewildered men and they needed to be prepared for these.

But Jesus would never be parted from his followers spiritually because after his resurrection and ascension his Father God was going to pour out his Holy Spirit to transform the disciples. This happened on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem in around AD 30, as recorded in the New Testament book of the Acts of the Apostles, from which the Prayer Book Epistle reading for today is taken. 

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you’ (John 14v16-18 – King James Version).

This ‘another Comforter’ whom the God the Father was going to send would resume the spiritual strengthening and encouraging role that God the Son did for his disciples when he was with them physically. The Holy Spirit is the personal indwelling Spirit through whom Jesus would come alongside his disciples. The Spirit would enable them to fulfil their commission to take the Lord’s true gospel message to the world, a world living in rebellion against God and desperately in need of the salvation from sin and death and judgment which Christ would achieve through his death on the Cross. 

It is also important to take on board that the Holy Spirit is ‘even the Spirit of truth’ who would enable Jesus’s disciples to remember his teachings and instructions so that these could be recorded truthfully and faithfully for posterity in the New Testament. Later on in John 14, Jesus declared: ‘These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you.But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you’ (John 14v25-26).

The 11 men who originally heard Jesus’s words here either wrote the New Testament scriptures themselves or their truthful recollections as inspired by the Holy Spirit informed other writers such as Luke, the author of one of the four Gospels and of the Acts of the Apostles.

Acts records that the risen Christ commissioned Paul, another major New Testament writer not present at his Farewell Discourse, to be his Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul’s message accorded with that of the original Apostles. He wrote in his first letter to the church in 1st Century Corinth: ‘Whether it were I or they (the Jerusalem leaders), so we preach, and so ye believed’ (1 Corinthians 15v11).

It is surely contradictory for revisionists in the 21st Century Church of England to claim that they believe in the Holy Spirit and yet to assert that the New Testament’s teaching on, for example, sexual morality has been superseded by alleged human progress. If the New Testament writers recorded at best culturally-bound irrelevancies or at worst downright lies, then logically they could not have been inspired by the Spirit of eternal truth.

Today’s Collect highlights the Holy Spirit’s vital role in enabling Christian believers to understand the message of the Holy Scriptures and to apply Jesus’s instructions to the spiritual and moral challenges of their daily lives:

‘God, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by the sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit; Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end.’

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Julian Mann
Julian Mann
Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in Heysham, Lancashire.

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