Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sermon: John 14:15-17 I Believe in the Holy Spirit

I wonder what you think of when you hear of the Holy Spirit. We have declared that we believe in the Holy Spirit, but that might just be about all we know or think of him. For many, there could be something mysterious, even spooky about the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit.

That may be even more so when you look around at some other churches which almost seem to have gone overboard on the Holy Spirit, perhaps neglecting the Father and the Son as they focus on speaking in tongues and experiences and feeling the Spirit move.

So who is the Holy Spirit? What does he do? And why does it matter for us? The first thing it’s important to say is that the Holy Spirit is personal, a ‘he’ rather than an ‘it’, and the Holy Spirit is God. In just the same way as the Father is God and the Son is God, so the Spirit is God - all together the one God, the Holy Trinity.
Dove mosaic
Right back at the start of the Bible, we find the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters (Gen 1:2). The Spirit is connected to life, to creation. If you were to follow through the Old Testament, you’ll find the Spirit empowering certain individuals for certain tasks. Bezalel is ‘filled with the Spirit of God’ in Exodus 35 to build the ark of the covenant after Israel comes out of Egypt. King David is empowered for kingship. The prophets ‘spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’ (2 Peter 1:21). But it’s still just particular people for particular purposes.

Yet the sense of anticipation is rising. We heard it from our first reading, where Joel declares: ‘Then afterwards I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy’ etc... (Joel 2:28). When Jerusalem is destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, Ezekiel the prophet is with the exiles in Babylon. He too points forward to a new day: ‘I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you... 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). In the very next chapter, Ezekiel tells us of the vision of the valley of bones. It’s a picture of Israel: dead, dry, without hope. As Ezekiel declares God’s word the bones come back together, flesh comes on them, and finally breath comes in them - there is new hope for the people of God with God’s breath - God’s Spirit - giving them life.

These are the promises, yet nothing seems to happen for a long time, until 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) And the night before Jesus died, he spends time with his disciples, preparing them for what will come after, when Jesus is no longer on earth.

Last week, if you remember, we thought about Jesus being in heaven, not being physically present with the disciples or with us. We thought about how it would be nice to have Jesus with us - but the way in which Jesus describes the Holy Spirit from our reading shows that what we have is so much better than Jesus standing here with us. Look at John 14:16, at the bottom of p 105. The Spirit is ‘another Advocate, to be with you forever.’ That word advocate is someone who stands beside - if you were up in court, you would have an advocate, someone who was with you, speaking for you. Other versions translate is as another helper. Did you notice - it’s another helper, another advocate - the Spirit continues to do what Jesus did for the disciples.

He is the presence of Jesus with them, he helps them come to faith (1 Cor 12:3), pray (Rom 8), grow in the likeness of the Lord Jesus (Eph 3:16), as well as convicting the world of sin. The Holy Spirit is given to us to bring us to faith, and keep us in faith, by dwelling inside us. What was promised in the Old Testament is now, through Jesus, given to us in the new covenant. Every Christian has the Holy Spirit, who helps them live for Jesus.

It’s not just the super-spiritual Christians, not just the keen Christians who have the Spirit. You might look at some people as if they’re a Premier League Man United type spiritual experience, while you’re just a ‘Dromore Amateurs’ kind of Christian. Every Christian has the Holy Spirit - without any need for special experiences, extra baptisms in the Spirit, or speaking in tongues or whatever.

The Holy Spirit helps us to live for Jesus, because he helps us to become like Jesus. In verse 17, there’s another name for the Spirit - the Spirit of truth. The Spirit is God, and as such cannot lie, so therefore he is the Spirit of truth - he witnesses to the truth, speaks the truth, indeed is the truth. Yet there are many in the church who are seeking to hijack the Holy Spirit and claim his sanction for things which are manifestly untrue. Worse still, they use Jesus’ words to justify it: ‘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...’ (John 16:12-13). There are those who argue that the Spirit is continuing to lead us into all truth, new truth, so that we should accept homosexual marriage and ordination in the church. Is that really what Jesus is saying here?

Remember where Jesus is, and who he is speaking to. He’s in the upper room with the disciples. The disciples were slow at catching on what Jesus was saying - think of all the times they misunderstand when Jesus says he is the Messiah. But the next day, Jesus will be crucified, will rise from the dead on Easter Sunday, be ascended into heaven, and then on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is given to the first disciples - it’s these first disciples the Spirit leads into all truth, so that they can understand Jesus’ death and what it all means. The Spirit helps them proclaim the gospel, the good news as they preach across the world, as they write the gospels and the pastoral letters to churches and individuals.

As the Spirit guided the disciples into all the truth they completed the writing of the New Testament, what Jude calls ‘the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.’ What Scripture says is what the Spirit says - and the Spirit of truth will not lie, will not contradict himself twenty centuries later. That’s why we must be careful to stand for truth as the Church of Ireland faces crisis. Will we listen to the Spirit in his word, or will we listen to the spirit of the age, what culture and godless society deems acceptable?

The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, is given to Christians to help us live for Jesus. He helps us live for Jesus by transforming us to become more like Jesus. As you know, we recently moved house. At the start, there were boxes everywhere, the painted walls were bare, the new carpets were fluffy. Over time, the rectory has been reflecting our personality - the furniture, the pictures on the wall. It’s the very same thing the Spirit does to a new Christian - things might be a mess, dark and dingy, but he brings us to faith, and continues to change us to reflect his personality, transforming us through the word of Christ to be more like Jesus. It is his desire for every Christian, and for every person. Are you listening to the Holy Spirit today?

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 30th October 2011.

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