God Gives… The Holy Spirit

God Gives… The Holy Spirit

John 14:15-31; Acts 2:1-13

The Holy Spirit is the most abused, neglected, and misunderstood person in the Church today.  He is abused as a means to sensationalize charlatans through the manufacturing of miracles for their own personal gain.  The Holy Spirit is neglected in many of our evangelical churches in exchange for programs and projects as the means for church growth and personal transformation because we believe that we are more than capable of accomplishing the mission Jesus gave his Church through our own strength, talents, and ingenuity.  Francis Chan, in his book, Forgotten God, makes the following observation:

If I were Satan and my ultimate goal was to thwart God’s kingdom and purposes, one of my main strategies would be to get churchgoers to ignore the Holy Spirit.  The degree to which this has happened (and I would argue that it is a prolific disease in the body of Christ) is directly connected to the dissatisfaction most of us feel with and in the church.  We understand something very important is missing.  The feeling is so strong that some have turned away from the church and God’s Word completely.

I believe that this missing something is actually a missing Someone—namely, the Holy Spirit.  Without Him, people operate in their own strength and only accomplish human-size results.  The world is not moved by love or actions that are of human creation.  And the church is not empowered to live differently from any other gathering of people without the Holy Spirit.  But when believers live in the power of the Spirit, the evidence in their lives is supernatural.  The church cannot help but be different, and the world cannot help but notice.[1]

In the Upper Room, hours before God gave his Son to be crucified for our sins, Jesus made the following promise to His discouraged and frightened followers:

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. 

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.  Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me.  Because I live, you also will live…. These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:15-19, 25-26)

So, who is the Helper Jesus promised to his followers?  He was promised, he is a person, and he is the Christian’s saving of power. 

The Holy Spirit was Promised

Jesus’ promise of the Helper was not the first time the Holy Spirit was promised.  Jesus’ statement just before he promised that a Helper would be sent to His followers served to remind his disciples of the history of Israelites.  Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  The two things Israel failed to do time and time again was to love God and keep his commandments.

Throughout the Old Testament, God promised a day when he would do a new work within and among His people.  After Moses led Israel out of the bondage of slavery from Egypt, God spoke to the nation through Moses:Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod. 19:5-6).  Israel’s answer was in the affirmative: “All that the LORD has spoken we will do” (v. 8).  However, time and time again they proved that all that the LORD had commanded they, with great regularity, did not do.  Their problem was they could not live up to their commitment to obey God, because their problem was the same problem as ours: the human heart is wicked (Jer. 17:9).  We have a spiritual heart problem.

We have a heart problem that must be fixed if anyone is going to be able to love and obey God.   The first time Israel was promised with detail how God would fix their heart problem is found in Deuteronomy: “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (30:6).  What we need is someone to fix our heart problem, and this is why the apostle Paul wrote to a bunch of legalistic Christians in the epistle to the Galatians what purpose the Old Testament Law served: “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.  So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:23-24).  In other words, the point of the Law was to point us to our need of a Savior to deal with our sin; Jesus was born to not just die for our sins, but to fix our heart problem. 

Over time, God revealed with greater detail how he would accomplish the heart circumcision of His people.  In Isaiah 44:3, he promised: “I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.”  In Ezekiel 36:26-27 we are told that when he poured out his Spirit, his people would experience the following: “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 statues and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezek. 36:26-27).  God would fulfill his promise to fix the sin problem of His people by giving them his Spirit to enable them to love and obey him.  This is God’s New Covenant promise. 

The prophet Joel spoke of the day when God’s people would receive His Spirit for the first time in a new way: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit” (Joel 2:28–29). 

The Helper is a Person

The Helper that Jesus promised is not a force or a mystical power; he is a person.  The Holy Spirit was with the Father and the Son at Creation: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:1-2).  When God created all things, He did so as a Trinity.  Wayne Grudem described the work of the Holy Spirit in his book on Systematic Theology this way: “From the very beginning of creation we have an indication that the Holy Spirit’s work is to complete and sustain what God the Father has planned and what God the Son has begun…” (p. 634).  This is also true with your salvation; God the Father planned your salvation before creation, Jesus made your salvation possible, and now the Holy Spirit sustains the salvation you now benefit from…  all of it by and through the grace of God. 

So, who is the Holy Spirit?  He is attributed with characteristics only God can be attributed with.  In Psalm 139:7, He is described as being omnipresent (all places at the same time).  In 1 Corinthians 2:10-11, He is described as being all knowing.  In Job 33:4 and Psalm 104:30, the Holy Spirit creates.  In Matthew 12:31-32, Jesus warned of the possibility of blaspheming the Holy Spirit as an unforgivable sin.  The Holy Spirit is God and is the reason why he is listed right along with God the Father and God the Son with the baptism of every Christian (Matt. 28:19; see also 1 Cor. 12:13; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Peter 1:1-2).  Jesus told his disciples hours before his crucification: “I am going to him who sent me…. Because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.  Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:5, 6-7). 

God is Triune which means that he is one God in three persons comprised of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  God in his generosity sent his Son to redeem and pardon sinners.  Jesus generously laid down his life for your sins to bring you to God (1 Pet. 3:18), and gifted you the Holy Spirit by sending him to keep, sustain, and empower you for the mission Christ’s Church is now sent into the world to do. 

The Holy Spirit is Our Saving Power

Jesus was crucified for sinners during Passover as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  He was buried for three days in a tomb, and then he conquered death by rising from the grave.  After Jesus’ resurrection and just before His ascension, he instructed His disciples, “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:4-5).  Jesus then explained, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will by my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (1:8).

Fifty days after Passover, came another important festival God instructed His people to observe known as the Feast of Weeks, also known as Pentecost (Lev. 23:15-16); it was a time of giving thanks and presenting offerings for the summer wheat harvest in Israel. This was the time God chose to fulfill His promise of Ezekiel 36 and Jesus’ promise of a Helper:

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1–4)

On the day of Pentecost God did something wonderful and amazing on a day the Hebrews traditionally observed to celebrate the summer harvest.  No longer would the Spirit of God dwell in a single temple but in individual Christ-followers as His new Temple.  St. Augustine once said, “The heart of the believer is not too small for him, though the temple of Solomon was.”[2] 

Fifty days after Jesus’ death, for the first time in human history, the God who led the Hebrews by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night in the wilderness for forty years made his dwelling place in His people.  The God who parted the Red Sea and drowned Pharaoh and his army with the blast of His nostrils (Exod. 15:8) now makes His dwelling place in His people.  What God instructed Israel to do from Mount Sinai, he empowered his people to do on Pentecost after Jesus’ sacrifice was complete and he sat down at the right hand of the Father.

When this happened on Pentecost for the first time with Peter and the disciples, thousands of people were in Jerusalem to celebrate from many different nations who spoke many different languages.  This is why after the Holy Spirit rested upon the disciples they spoke in the tongues (languages) of the people groups gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost.  So, we read in Acts 2:12-13, “And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’  But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’”  Peter then explained that what the people were witnessing was not a bunch of drunken Jesus hippies, but what Joel and the prophets spoke of long ago.  Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, preached a sermon that three thousand people responded to by deciding to follow Jesus as the Messiah and were then baptized that day. 

On the day of Pentecost, the Spirit of God began to reap a harvest of souls through the proclamation of the Gospel and the power of His Spirit that continues today through his Church.  Why does this matter?  What changes when we receive the Holy Spirit as followers of Jesus Christ?

We are Baptized and Indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13)

The moment you believe in Jesus Christ, you are baptized by the Holy Spirit.  This is not a mystical event where you feel something strange, but it is a supernatural event where upon your belief in Jesus Christ, you experience what Deuteronomy 30:6 and Ezekiel 36 spoke of, which is a circumcision of the heart.  The supernatural phenomenon that happens with the baptism of the Holy Spirit is that you are now able to respond to God in love and faith in a way you were unable to previously.  

We are Sealed in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:1-11)

The Bible states, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it…” (Eph. 1:13-14).  To be sealed in the Holy Spirit simply means that I am secure in Jesus Christ and now I belong to God as His child and the only One who has the authority to remove the Holy Spirit from me is God who promises to never leave me nor forsake me.  When you were baptized in the Holy Spirit, you received God’s guarantee of better things to come.

We are Empowered by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18)

The empowerment of the Holy Spirit comes through His gifting individual Christians as members of the universal Church.  Every Christian has been given certain gifts as seen in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 to accomplish His kingdom purposes.  Our sensitivity to the the leading of the Spirit and our being empowered to accomplish great things through the power of the Spirit is dependent on our intimacy with God.  It is not that we get more of the Spirit when we read our Bibles and pursue holiness, but that the Spirit gets more of us as we seek Him.  The power of the Holy Spirit working through us becomes more obvious and intense as we strive to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:13-21).

Conclusion

Listen, the same Holy Spirit that baptized Peter, the apostles, and every other Christ-follower fifty days after Jesus ascended into heaven is the same Holy Spirit who has baptized and empowers every Christ-follower today!  The same God who planned creation, is our Heavenly Father who planed your salvation eons ago.  The same God who began a new work with creation on the first day, is Jesus the Messiah who took on flesh and lived the life you never could live, died the death you and I deserved, and rose on the third day.  Jesus died on the sixth day of the Jewish work week, was in the tomb during the Jewish Sabbath, and rose on the first day of the work week to mark the new work that he has begun in history! 

The same Spirit who hovered over the surface of the deep and continues to sustain what the Father planned and the Son began, is the Holy Spirit who sustains and empowers you.  The Helper given to every follower of Jesus by the Father and the Son is the same Holy Spirit who empowered the Church in the first century.  When the Holy Spirit came upon Peter and the rest of the disciples in Jerusalem, Peter preached a sermon through the power of the Holy Spirit that resulted in 3,000 people giving their lives to Jesus.  The Holy Spirit moved through those new Christians in such a way that we are told: “They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…” (Acts. 2:42).  Because of how the Holy Spirit sustained these first century Christians and inspired how they came together, we learn that, “awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed were together and had all things in common… And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all people.  And the Lord added to their number day by day those were being saved” (Acts. 2:42-47).

That is not all that happened the days following Pentecost!  The Church, through the power of the Holy Spirit, saw demons cast out, lives transformed, prison doors and chains broken loose, and the world that they understood and knew…  turned upside down. Missionaries were sent into the world, entire communities were saved and baptized, and even when faced with impossible odds…  the Holy Spirit saw to it that the Church continued to press forward into the mission Jesus called her into. 

The same Holy Spirit who turned the Roman Empire upside down through the first century Church is the same Holy Spirit who wants to use you to turn your world upside down!  I know that this is true because of the promise Jesus made to you and to me: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).

Christmas is not only the good news that Jesus was born, it is the good news that God in his infinite generosity is committed to the work that he planned to do in you long before you were born, the work that Jesus was born to make possible, and the work that the Holy Spirit is committed to sustaining until it is complete.  If you are wondering why there is a disconnect between what you read in Acts versus what you see happing in your life, know that the issue is not that Jesus did not give you enough of the Holy Spirit, but how much of your life that the Holy Spirit has. 


[1] Francis Chan. Forgotten God, (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook; 2009), pp. 15-7.

[2] Kelly M. Kapic. God So Loved, He gave (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; 2010), p. 99.