God the Holy Spirit
2008-08-31 (pm) John 16.5-16 God the Holy Spirit
What comes to mind when you think of the Holy Spirit? Do you think about spiritual gifts? Do you think about charismatic, jumping around, dancing, being slain in the Spirit, the laughing people at the Toronto Airport Church.
Do you think of spiritual warefare, of angels and demons, and the great spiritual battle going on beyond what we can see with our eyes?
Do thoughts of the Holy Spirit comfort you? Do they frighten you? Do you think of the Holy Spirit in the same sense as the Narnians thought of Aslan in the children’s books by C.S. Lewis, you know when they said of Aslan, “He’s not a TAME Lion.” The Holy Spirit isn’t a tame spirit, he does what he wants.
Do you know much about the Holy Spirit? The doctrine of the Holy Spirit does not get much attention in Reformed churches. Also, the Holy Spirit is given very little specific attention in the Heidelberg Catechism, just one Lord’s Day, and then four more Lord’s Days that explain the Holy Spirit’s work in greater detail.
Even this Lord’s Day is limited to just one Q&A, and only part of that speaks about the person of the Holy Spirit. Most of the Lord’s Day is devoted to how the Holy Spirit benefits us.
And this is right. This is not to say that the Holy Spirit is inferior in any way to the Father or the Son, but that the person of the Holy Spirit functions, relates, and works in a specific way that, to our eyes might seem to be inferior, hopefully it will be shown otherwise.
The Holy Spirit fulfills the promise Christ made to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he was betrayed. The Father, through the Holy Spirit, made Jesus utterly aware of what was going to happen that night. Jesus had already warned the disciples what would happen. They were distraught, sorrowful and already feeling the pain of missing their friend and incredible teacher.
But Jesus makes it clear that unless he departed, unless he suffered, was crucified, died, was buried, was risen and ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit would not come. Jesus wanted them to know that having the Holy Spirit was of much greater benefit than simply having Jesus with them without the cross.
For, in order to go to the Father and send the Spirit, Jesus had to face the cross. At the cross, Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sin. He propitiated the Father’s anger that was directed at us because of sin, and imparted to us, gave to us his very own perfect righteousness. And it is because of that righteousness, that the Holy Spirit could come. And the Holy Spirit came not only upon one here and upon one there, the Spirit came upon many! That first Pentecost, 3000 people converted to Christ!
It is important for us to note that Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the helper. Do you think of the Holy Spirit as the helper in our lives? If you only think of the Holy Spirit as some vague force, or unknowable spirit, what good is that? We need to know that the Holy Spirit is our helper.
Now, we know that the Holy Spirit was with Jesus and he helped Jesus. If we were to turn to the book of Mark, at the very beginning we have the announcement of Jesus’ arrival, we have John the Baptist preparing the way by preaching repentance, confession and forgiveness of sin. Jesus also came and was baptised. There at his baptism, as Jesus was coming out of the water, God the Father said, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased.” And the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus as a dove.
And immediately after his baptism, that same Spirit, the Spirit Jesus says is our helper, the Holy Spirit who helped him, the Holy Spirit, cast Jesus into the wilderness where he fasted and was tempted for 40 days. Not only did the Spirit immediately send Jesus into the wilderness, the Holy Spirit helped Jesus suffer through the wilderness and the temptations Satan threw at him.
So, the Holy Spirit is our helper too! But we must not be surprised when temptations come our way, or when we have to travel through wilderness experiences. For these are presented to us by the Holy Spirit in order to strengthen us, and to prepare us for the future. And that same Spirit who leads us and guides us, who might even cast us into these wilderness experiences is the one who helps us and strengthens us.
Jesus suffering in the wilderness prepared him for the cross. Christ’s suffering and death on the cross was necessary in order for us to receive righteousness, and it was necessary for sending the Holy Spirit.
The disciples would learn very quickly that Jesus was right, that His departure would be of greater benefit than if he’d stayed. Though I am sure that they missed having Jesus with them face to face, they most assuredly realised that Jesus was completely true to his word. Having the Holy Spirit was of much greater value than having had a pre-cross Christ.
Furthermore, the disciples also would have discovered the value of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the perfect person for Christ’s ongoing ministry. The disciple’s greatest need, our greatest need isn’t a gigantic teddy bear. Life is too harsh, Satan too worthy an adversary for that. Jesus doesn’t pretend the bad stuff isn’t there. Sure, he’s conquered it, and we never have to fear it, but still, we have to face it. And what we need is a helper, someone who will give us the courage and strength to do God’s will, to do God’s will boldly and to live for truth amid all sorts of temptations and trials.
Nor is the Holy Spirit’s work limited to the church! The Holy Spirit works in the world, bringing people into our lives. You see, this is the most amazing thing. God chose us to work with the Holy Spirit, not only in the process of sanctification in our own lives, but also in the lives of others. The Holy Spirit works to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgement. And he conscripts us into participating in His ministry.
Doesn’t it strike you as amazing when people in the church, not necessarily our church, but when Christians say, we don’t need to talk about sin anymore, we need to focus on something more positive?
It amazes me that some churches, some Christians are not comfortable calling sin, sin. Not so long ago I was in a conversation where a person expressed reluctance to define homosexuality as sinful! Some churches have concluded that as long as they are in a committed relationship, then it is okay, that God’s honouring of the commitment is greater than his wrath against homosexuality. That is, they might say, if there is such a thing as a sin of homosexuality today.
What’s then becomes the criteria for defining anything? Do we simply say, if the intentions are pure, is it okay to seal, cheat and lie? That’s what some churches end up saying to homosexual couples, if the intentions are pure, then it is pure. Do we need to remind people that the road to hell is paved with good intentions?
May be we do! But then again, we’re not allowed to talk about hell either.
God’s standard is truth. And God will never violate his truth, nor will he change it. And because the Holy Spirit is our helper, we ought always to be able to come to agreement on what truth is! It is not as thought we can really get away with saying, “Well, we just interpret the truth differently.” As our helper, our guide, our leader, the Holy Spirit will always, always, always agree with scripture. If we’re listening to the Holy Spirit, we’ll interpret the scriptures correctly. But if we’re listening to ourselves, or to false spirits, we’ll interpret it wrong.
At times, in moments like these, Paul uses strong words. “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned” (Galatians 1.8)! This is serious stuff! We must remain faithful to the truth!
When the Holy Spirit works in the life of a non-believer there is only one of two results. Either that person will come to faith, and will be born again, or that person will harden his heart toward the gospel, and go to everlasting punishment.
The Holy Spirit bares all sin. For some, the Holy Spirit’s work will awaken them to a consciousness of guilt, which will lead to repentance. Those whom the Holy Spirit moves, will express genuine sorrow and that will produce in them a passionate desire to flee to the Saviour for shelter and pardon.
There have been many true conversions and there will continue to be many true conversions. But it is not all fairy tales and apple pie. Not everyone who is confronted by the Holy Spirit will convert. Many will rebel. They will attack.
The persecution against the church has been going on for centuries. It will continue. Persecution happens precisely because of what we’re told by Jesus. People do not believe in him, and they will not like to be told that they are sinning in their unbelief!
The church participates in the work of the Holy Spirit by preaching the Word, the gospel. This is what convicts men of their sin. The Gospel is this: humanity sinned by falling short of the glory of God. That is to say, we exchanged perfect glory for false glory. Instead of remaining desiring God, we desired what Satan had to offer. Because of this treachery, our relationship with God went from good to bad. In order to restore us to a right and good relationship with God, Jesus Christ came, took on human flesh, lived, died, rose again and ascended to heaven. In this act of total obedience, Jesus Christ merited righteousness for all who believe.
All we have to do to be righteous, to have our sins forgiven, is to believe that Jesus took away all our sin, and that he freely, graciously gives us His own righteousness. In this we confess, repent, and strive to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and love our neighbours as ourselves. In doing this, we will experience true joy.
But in order for other people to come to know Jesus, we have to teach them. We have to preach to them. We need to tell them what sin is, and we have to tell them how they may seek refuge in Christ Jesus.
This preaching of the word is the most important thing we can do. It is our greatest weapon against darkness. When Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted by Satan, yes, the Holy Spirit strengthened him, but He also gave him the Truth revealed in God’s Word. Jesus quoted Deuteronomy to the devil. Jesus preached the Word, and the devil fled.
In order to preach the Word we need to know the Word. In order to know the Word, we have to value the Word. Preaching is my number one job. Believe it. That was Paul’s instructions to Timothy. Preach the Word. In season and out of season, preach the Word. My ministry here will be most effective if I am preaching God’s Word. Make no mistake, visiting and administrating and program running are important, but the most important job is to preach the Word. When, Lord Willing, I am installed in this church sometime after the Fall Classis Meeting in 2009, I will be installed as a Minister of the Word.
Jesus tells us to preach the word. In preaching, the truth is made known. The Holy Spirit leads the church through preaching. The Holy Spirit works in my heart, in your hearts, in the hearts of those we talk by telling the truth! The Holy Spirit works in the hearts of our non-believing friends, and uses us to speak the words that they need to hear.
The Holy Spirit speaks and informs and enlightens us on all aspects of God’s Word, not just the stuff we like, even Lamentations. The Holy Spirit is perfectly in harmony with the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is glorified and glorifies the Son and the Father by being absolutely faithful to the whole truth. So, once again, it is important to note that no true teaching will be contrary to the scriptures. The Holy Spirit will not give a false answer. It is impossible.
The Spirit will glorify Christ by teaching the depths of the wisdom of God to us. As our minds are opened by the Holy Spirit, to discern the truth, we will more and more appreciate the glory and honour of Jesus, desiring him more and more. The Holy Spirit will glorify the work of the Son, and will enlarge upon it. The Holy Spirit will enlarge upon whatever Christ has done, is doing and will do for the church.
So is the Holy Spirit frightening? Is the Holy Spirit all about gifts and tongue speaking? As we will see in the weeks to come, those things are part of the working of the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin, who proclaims righteousness and who testifies to God’s justice. Amen.