May 27

The Irreplaceable Holy Spirit-a sermon for Pentecost

(this sermon was first delivered on Pentecost Sunday 2015 at Headwaters Covenant Church; Helena, MT. © Chaplain Chris Haughee, all rights reserved)

We are going to start today by putting on our imagination hats! Working in children’s ministry as the chaplain at Intermountain, I am used to engaging the imagination in order to teach and to reach the children. As adults, our imagination gets stunted and that’s a shame. So, let’s reclaim a godly sense of imagination as we get started today looking into his Word. Ok?

Now, with your imaginations engaged… Have you ever thought to yourself how amazing it would have been to be present when Jesus walked the earth – just to be near him, to see his face, to hear his voice?

Or rather than go back in time, how about having Jesus here with us today?  How remarkable would that be?  We’d be bursting at the seams with enthusiasm and passion for ministry—right!?

What if I could promise you that next week, during the service, Jesus would make a bodily appearance and you could meet him face-to-face?  THEN, how many of us would get the courage to invite someone to church?

Okay, walk a little further with me on this fantasy… let’s say all this took place… next week the church is overflowing… hundreds of people are outside on the grass because the sanctuary is full.  Wow!  Wouldn’t that be great?  And, true to my word… Jesus arrives!

He takes the microphone and starts to speak, and when he speaks our hearts are filled.  We sense the peace and joy available in knowing him intimately.  He speaks for hours, and oddly enough, no one seems to think that is too long.  Towards the end, he sits on the steps here and our children rush up to sit on his lap.

He invites them to draw close, and a little boy gets up the courage to ask…

“Jesus, will you be here tomorrow?  Can you stay with us?”

The smile fades from Jesus’ face because he doesn’t want to disappoint the boy… he doesn’t want to disappoint us, but then he finally speaks:

“It’s better for you if I don’t… so I am going to leave.”

WHAT?  Does anyone believe that?  And, then Jesus explains:

Read John 16:6-15

Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief.  But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.  When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment:  in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.  But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.  He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you…”

Jesus is saying these words to us today, and we are going to try and dig in and take hold of just a small part of the mystery of this promise. The mystery? We can trust Jesus that we are in a better position TODAY than we would be if Jesus was physically here with us.  Let that sink in for a moment… my heart and mind can barely grasp it.

It’s true… my head knows that, but how often does it make a difference in my heart, my attitudes… my worship? Can I say that it matters to me that what Jesus said to his disciples is true… that it is better that I not have Jesus here physically but instead have the Spirit?

Holy Spirit 1Should it matter? I know how we feel about Jesus matters, but I am guessing we’d have a little less conviction about the Spirit. Further complicating things, if you’re like me, is the training you have received to have a low view of the Spirit…

I grew up in a church that seemed much more comfortable talking about and to God the Father, and Jesus the Son.  We had the big “F” Father, the big “S” Son, and the little “s” spirit. The Spirit is kind of like an add on, an afterthought.  You think I am exaggerating?  Think of how it would change things if we started messing with the order of the Trinity.  All three are equally God, right?  So, what if we started baptizing and praying in the name of the Holy Spirit, the Son, and the Father.  Instead of in Jesus’ name we started praying “in the Spirit’s name.”  Hmmm… that would be interesting.

We talk to our children about Jesus being in our hearts, but the Bible teaches us that the Holy Spirit indwells us. He is the Spirit of Jesus, and we often use the terms Jesus and the Spirit interchangeably in our relation to God, but because we often say Jesus when we mean the Spirit, we regulate the Spirit to the sidelines.

Again, when we are inviting people to become Christian, we usually ask them to receive Jesus, but most often, the Bible calls new believers to “believe in Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit.” I haven’t heard any altar calls or salvation prayers where people are invited to receive the Holy Spirit. The exception, of course, are the times I have fellowshipped with my brothers and sisters in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. But Jesus’ promise of the Spirit is not just for part of the Church, it’s for all of us!

Now, if we are going to buy into Jesus’ promise that we’re better off with the Spirit than we would be if he were here physically, we should start with some of the hurdles in front of us to believing in and living in the Spirit.
Let’s look at three reasons why we avoid the Spirit:

  1. Holy Spirit 2Fear – We can’t control the Spirit, and He made lead us into strange places. In Acts, on that Pentecost birthday of the Church, the Spirit appears as a fire… a rushing wind. Both mentioned as images of the spirit… both things to be afraid of more often than not. So, fear may be our reason… or, perhaps,
  2. Embarrassment – The Holy Spirit seems like something out of science fiction. Or, because the old translations use the word “Ghost” instead of Spirit, we picture an innocuous “Casper the friendly Ghost” figure. Or maybe we are embarrassed because talk of the Spirit is often associated with the Holy Rollers or TV preachers that always have their hand out. Any of these could be reasons to be embarrassed!  But maybe it’s not fear or embarrassment?  Maybe it’s…
  3. A lack of a (human) image: We can easily picture Jesus – he is a real Jewish man of flesh and blood, we have artists’ renditions of Him, and actors who play him. It is the same with the Father – we can picture a benevolent father, people have painted and drawn their idea of the Father, from the Sistine Chapel to the Simpsons cartoons… but the Spirit is harder to portray. How do you paint the wind? Jesus says “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) Without something concrete to focus on, it may just be easier to avoid the Spirit and think about Jesus or God the Father instead.Okay… we have looked at some obstacles to relating to the Spirit. These things might be why we have a hard time believing Jesus’ promise that having the Spirit is better than having him here with us.  Now, let’s move on to the “WHY” part of the equation…

The top 2 reasons Why Having the Spirit is Better…

1. Universality VS Particularity

Let’s go back to my initial illustration and story about Jesus coming to visit us next week.  Imagine if you happened to be out of town on vacation that week… how disappointing would that be? Major bummer, right?!?

It’s a fact: when Jesus was with us, he limited his presence in time and space to one person. If you missed that person, too bad for you! This was a very real issue in Jesus’ earthly ministry. As a man, God limited his ability to touch and heal and speak and pray over people… Jesus did what he could, but he got tired—exhausted even. He got to the point of avoiding going into towns, withdrawing to the countryside, almost hiding from the crowds that would inevitably gather when Jesus stayed put too long. Knowing his limitations, Jesus entrusted as much of his ministry to his disciples as possible… sending them out two by two to the towns ahead of him, preparing the people for Jesus’ arrival. But, even in the sending of the 70, Jesus was able to broaden his reach 35-fold. Not bad, but not great… and hardly the way to effect any lasting change.

But the Holy Spirit is not limited in time and space; He is available for anyone who will receive Him—any time, anywhere.

Jesus calls him the counselor, which is our translation of the Greek word, “Paraclete.”  If you break down the word, it signifies the meaning “called to one’s side.”

The word could have these meanings
(1) a legal advocate, or counsel for defense, – corresponding to our word “advocate,” “counsel,” or “attorney.”
(2) an intercessor,
(3) a helper, generally.

When the Spirit came at Pentecost, Peter explained what was going on by quoting from the prophet Joel.
This is what Joel 2:28-29 says:

“And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”

In the Garden of Eden, God breathed the spirit into man and woman and then related to mankind in complete intimacy – he walked with them,

throughout the Old Testament, he related to people through the leaders and prophets of the nation of Israel,

In the Gospel… God came to live among us as a human being, and everyone who met Jesus experienced God face to face,

but since Pentecost, all those who believe in Jesus are given God to live WITHIN them, and the Church is given God to live among us by his Holy Spirit! WOW!

It amazes me that we make such a big deal over Christmas (and we should) but we nearly forget this Sunday… Pentecost, the day God poured out his Spirit on the Church. We need to celebrate Pentecost – this receiving of the One that Jesus said would be better than having him with us!

You see… Christmas was Jesus’ birthday… but today we celebrate OUR birthday as a church! So, the first advantage is the universality of the Spirit. Jesus was eager to give us God’s presence in this way, but he also knew that we would need

  1. Empowerment
    Jesus says in John 16: 8-11 regarding the Spirit…

“When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment:  in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”

Verses 9-11 explain verse 8, and make it a little less harsh sounding – the ultimate sin is to not believe in Jesus, but the Spirit will convict people of this sin of unbelief, drawing them into relationship with Jesus, and into the righteousness that only Jesus can give us—this is GOOD news. In this light, even judgment becomes good news, because it is an outworking of the judgment of the devil that has already occurred at the cross.

The Spirit is good because he draws us into belief in Christ, into his righteousness.

Jeremiah promises the Spirit in this way:

“ ‘This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,’ declares the LORD .
‘I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD ,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the LORD .
‘For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.’” (Jeremiah 31: 33-34)

Ezekiel promises the Spirit in this way:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

Nicky Gumbel, of the Alpha Program, has this great illustration of what the Spirit does for us in this work of empowerment. When we go out hiking for a day, we bring our lunch on our back in a backpack. The lunch weighs us down, but as the morning moves on, we stop and eat our lunch. The food turns from being a weight on our back to fuel in our belly. By giving us the Holy Spirit, God’s law goes from being a weight on our back to being fuel in our very being – so that we not only know God and his ways, but we want to do them too!

Paul says it this way in Philippians 2:13,

“for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

How do I do what it is I am supposed to do? Let GOD do it through me, waiting on the Spirit rather than rushing to action! First the Spirit will work on my will—the decision to think according to God’s counsel—and then empower me to act… to actually carry out God’s will through my words and deeds.

Jesus is God. He could have done whatever he wanted to in regards to establishing the Church. He could have remained physically on earth and done a great deal of good. But, Jesus said, “It is better for you that I go away.”

But, Jesus didn’t leave us empty-handed. Far from it, we are better off. The Holy Spirit is ours through faith in Jesus!

Do you want God with you today? Do you want the experience of his presence and his power? Believe in Jesus for the removal of all you’ve done wrong, and receive the Holy Spirit as your advocate, your counselor, your comforter, your friend. God with you: God within you.