Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sermon: I Believe in the Holy Spirit - John 14,16

For many in the church today, it might seem as if the Holy Spirit is the forgotten person of the Trinity. We’re comfortable thinking about and talking about God the Father, and also God the Son, the Lord Jesus. We’re much less sure when it comes to the Spirit. Perhaps it’s because we used to speak of him as the Holy Ghost, which added to the mystery, the spookiness.

Of course, others have gone overboard on the Holy Spirit, so much focusing on him that they almost completely neglect or ignore the Father and the Son. For them it’s all about tongues and experiences and feeling the Spirit move.

Tonight we’re going to survey the Bible quickly, before focusing in on the two closely connected passages from John’s Gospel, as we seek to discover (or re-learn) who the Holy Spirit is, and what he does.

Firstly, it’s important to state that the Holy Spirit is God. He is God in the same way the Father is and the Son is - fully God, as together, they are God. It’s not that the Spirit is less than God or even a lesser God. So we find the first reference to the Holy Spirit in the second verse of the Bible - Genesis 1:2. ‘The spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.’ At creation, God the Holy Spirit is intimately involved, brooding over the waters. He is connected to life.

More than that, through the Old Testament, we find that the Spirit comes upon, or empowers, certain individuals for certain tasks. We saw that from 2 Peter where the prophets ‘spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’ (2 Pet 1:21) It’s also the case with Bezalel (Ex 35) who is ‘filled with the Spirit of God’ in order to build the ark of the covenant, and later King David, who is empowered for kingship. But it’s still just particular people, not every person.

Yet the sense of anticipation is rising, with Joel’s prophecy that ‘And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophesy etc...’ (Joel 2:28-29). It will come afterward - after the day of the Lord, and so God’s people are looking forward to this day, waiting for it. All the more so when Ezekiel ministers to the people at the time of the exile.

This morning we were reminded of how we can’t meet God’s law, we can’t do what pleases him by ourselves, and the city of Jerusalem was the Exhibit A of that. God’s city, the place he had chosen to dwell amongst his people, where he had established his temple, it all lies in ruins, because the people failed to keep to the covenant. They rebelled, disobeyed, and so the people go into exile. And when they’re sitting in Babylon, remembering home, they’re wondering - is there any hope for the future? Can things be different?

Here’s what God says through Ezekiel: ‘I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.’ (Ezek 36:25-27). As if that wasn’t enough, in the next chapter, he’s given a vision of the valley of bones. It’s a picture of Israel, dead, dry, without hope. The bones come together, flesh comes on them, and the breath comes in them - ‘And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land.’ (Exek 37:14).

They’re looking forward to this, but nothing happens for a long time. Then, at just the right time, the Spirit-filled Man appears on the scene. The Lord Jesus was ‘anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.’ (Acts 10:38). That brings us to our readings from tonight. In them, Jesus is in the upper room with his disciples. It’s a matter of hours before he is arrested and crucified, and he’s preparing the disciples for this time, and also afterwards.

So who is the Spirit, and what does he do? The two answers are really connected, and virtually the same - because the way Jesus speaks of the Spirit tells us who he is and what he does. He is the Spirit of Truth (14:17) - just as the Father and the Son, he is the truth, there is no falsehood, no lies from the Spirit. He is also ‘another Helper’. It’s not that he’s the first Helper - he is another Helper. So what Jesus has already been doing with the disciples, this is what the Spirit will do.

He is the presence of Jesus with them, he helps them to come to faith (1 Cor 12:3), pray (Rom 8), to grow in the likeness of the Lord Jesus (Eph 3:16), as well as convicting the world of sin. So you see, the Holy Spirit is given to us to bring us to faith, and keep us in faith, by dwelling with us and in us. What has been promised in the Old Testament is now, through Jesus, given to us in the New Covenant. Every Christian has the Holy Spirit, ever since Pentecost, when the Spirit came in power to help the first apostles declare and proclaim the good news in Jerusalem.

Sometimes people think that it’s only the spiritual Christians or the keen Christians who have the Spirit. It’s as if they’re in the Premier League of spiritual experience while I’m just a ‘Dromore Amateurs’ kind of Christian. You may have met someone who says that you need an extra baptism in the Spirit, or some particular experience, or speak in tongues or somesuch. That’s not what the Bible says. If you are a Christian, you have the Spirit living in you. It is possible to grieve the Spirit, but you have him nonetheless.

Now you might have noticed near the end of the second passage something that is bandied about fairly often, particularly in the controversies and debates at the present time. Jesus says: ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.’

So it is commonly argued that the Spirit is continuing to lead us into all truth and new truth, so we should accept homosexual ‘marriage’ and ordination in every instance, as the Spirit leads us on. Is this really what Jesus was saying?

Remember where Jesus is, and who he is speaking to. He’s in the upper room, with his disciples. It’s well known that the disciples were slow at catching on to what Jesus was teaching - just think of their inability to understand him as Messiah. Jesus will be crucified, and after forty days with them, will be ascended. The Holy Spirit is given to the first disciples to lead them into all truth, which they can better understand after Jesus is crucified and risen, as they’re helped by the Spirit.

As they are helped by the Spirit, they proclaim the apostolic message, as they preach across the world, as they write the gospels, and as they write those pastoral letters to churches and individuals. The Holy Spirit guiding the first disciples into all truth has been completed when the canon of the New Testament is finished - what Jude calls ‘the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.’ (Jude 3). What the Scripture says is what the Spirit is saying - the one who wrote the Old Testament by speaking through the prophets does the same through the apostles to give us the New Testament.

If this is what the Spirit has said (the Spirit of Truth, who illuminates the Scripture and helps us understand what it says), then he is not going to contradict himself now, twenty centuries later. What the Spirit has said, he continues to say. As an example, just think of the letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3, which Trevor preached recently in the mornings. In each of them, Jesus says ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

As most of you probably know by now, we’re shortly moving on. Come the middle of August, we’ll be moving into our new house. There’ll be boxes everywhere! But over time, we’ll be unpacking those boxes, cleaning up any messes, fixing any leaky taps, and making the rectory our own. It’ll reflect our personality and likes, in the furniture and decor, ornaments and pictures.

The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Christ, is also involved in renovations. He moves into our hearts when they are dark and dingy, with mess everywhere. He brings us to faith, and continues to change us to reflect his personality, transforming us through the word of Christ, to be people who are becoming more like Jesus. It is his desire for every Christian - and every person. Are you listening to the Holy Spirit today?

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 10th July 2011

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