Sermon transcript, 24 May 2015, Pentecost Sunday

The Person and power of the Holy Spirit by Fr. Dana

Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:24-35, I Corinthians 12:4-13, John 20:19-23


Pentecost is a significant time in the history of the Church: the Holy Spirit was not on the earth before that day: something happened, something new.

What is the Holy Spirit? If you were raised on Star Wars, it’s not “the force”, although the Holy Spirit can be with you. However unlike the force the Holy Spirit cannot be controlled; there is no training programme for you to go through to control the Holy Spirit (to control “the force”). The Holy Spirit also does not have a “dark side”; the Holy Spirit is all light, all good, because He is good. In fact, the question I asked – “What is the Holy Spirit?” – is a trick question, because the Holy Spirit is not a “what” – the Holy Spirit is a “Who”: He is a Person.

Who is the Holy Spirit?

The Nicene Creed has a section each for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the section on the Holy Spirit, this is what it says:

“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life…” Read Genesis 2:7. The Holy Spirit is the Lord and the Giver of Life: He brings life; He causes life. Two years ago when Edye and I visited St. Stephens’ for the first time in this decade, we heard the reading about the dry bones (Ezekiel 37:4-10). The army, though it was miraculously restored with bone, muscle and sinew, was not alive until the breath came. Is there a breath to which it can be said, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain”? I’m not aware of a breath out there that inhabits the four corners of the earth. So who was this breath that came and breathed into the dead army? This breath was the Holy Spirit, who came and breathed life into this army; and that is what he does to us: He is the Lord and Giver of life.

The next line of the Nicene Creed says, “…who proceeds from the Father…” The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, when the disciples were gathered, because God the Father sent Him, at Jesus’ request: “I will ask the Father and He will send you…” (John 14:16). Jesus only did what He saw that the Father was doing, so He knew that this was God’s plan, and He asked the Father, and the Father did it. Also read John 14:26. Jesus did this because He knew that the disciples could not accomplish in their own power all that they were called to do: they didn’t have a chance; and so He said, “I will ask the Father and He will send you the Helper.”

The next line of the Creed: “…who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified…” Here is proof: the Holy Spirit is not a force; the Holy Spirit is God. The Holy Spirit is worshipped, just as God the Father is worshipped, and just as Jesus the Son is worshipped. When He met the women and they fell down and worshipped Him (Matthew 28:9), He did not tell them, “Don’t do that: I’m a human” – He accepted their worship: He is God. The Holy Spirit is also God.

“…who has spoken through the Prophets.” We could be here for quite a while looking at all the examples where the Holy Spirit spoke through the Prophets; but we won’t – we’ll just look at one. The children of Israel have been wandering through the desert, eating manna – the food of angels – and whining that they don’t have any meat. And so God had Moses gather seventy elders around him, and… Read Numbers 11:25. In fact, the Spirit was so powerful that although two of them remained in the camp, when the Holy Spirit fell on the sixty-eight, He also fell on the two in the camp. He came on these seventy men, regardless of where they were, and they all prophesied [Numbers 11:26-27]. The Holy Spirit speaks through the prophets.

“The power of the Highest will overshadow you”

The section of the Creed about Jesus Christ also talks about the Holy Spirit: it says that He “…was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man…” Jesus was conceived in the Virgin Mary because of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit did not become a physical person and have sex with Mary so that Jesus was conceived – the Holy Spirit came upon her. When the angel came to Mary, He said this: read Luke 1:31, 34-35. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you…” This is why we call Mary the Mother of God, and Joseph her husband – not the Father of Jesus, because He wasn’t. The Holy Spirit came upon her, and she conceived Jesus. Notice how similar these words to Mary are to the words Jesus speaks to His disciples regarding the coming Pentecost (Acts 1:8). That’s what happened at Pentecost: the Holy Spirit came uponthe disciples. Tongues of fire settled on them (Acts 2:3), but the Holy Spirit didn’t stop above their head: He went inside them, into their hearts, into their spirits.

…that all might be saved

And strange things started happening. One of them, the most obvious, was that they started speaking in other languages. They weren’t what we would classically call “speaking in tongues” – it went far beyond that. If I speak in tongues, I speak in a language that I don’t know, and you hear me speaking in that language. That’s not what happened here: each person hearing the disciples heard in their own native language every person that was speaking (Acts 2:6-11). Being drunk would not explain this! All eleven of them were speaking, and all however many hundreds of people who were there heard all eleven speaking in their own language. It’s as if I am speaking one thing, and every one of you is from a different country, and every one of you hears it in your own language: it wasn’t what I was speaking – it was what happened between what I said and what you heard. That defies the laws of physics: I can’t make a sound or speak a word that one person hears as a totally different word than someone else does. This was amazing; this was the Holy Spirit.

In our reading we heard Peter talk about the prophecy in Joel (Acts 2:16-21). This is not an audio-visual spectacle to make people’s hearts flutter. The goal is to save lives, to rescue the perishing: that’s why the Holy Spirit came.

Our second reading talks about the gifts, the various manifestations, of the Spirit. It talks about diversity, but then says, “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all” (I Corinthians 12:7). If He gives you or me a gift, we could go around saying, “Look at this gift that I’ve got – it’s bigger than your gift.” It’s not – it’s for the profit of all. Later on it says, one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” (I Corinthians 12:11). That’s what it means to be the Body of Christ. We each have different gifts: we don’t all need to be an eye or an ear or a hand; I think I’m probably a left knee-cap! All the parts are important, and they all have to work together for the body to function properly. And the Holy Spirit is the Master of all this: He causes us all to work together to fulfil the commands of the Head – and the Head of the Body is Christ. We together are a Body – not a club or an organization where we have roles: I’m the Secretary and somebody else is the Vice-President – no, we’re a Body: we’re an organic, living Body, and we work together to fulfil the direction of the Head. The love of Christ flows through the veins of the Body: it nourishes us, it fills us; and the Holy Spirit lives in us to make that real and to manifest it in the outside world, that all might be saved.

The key to authority

Then we hear in the Gospel that the disciples are shut in this small room, quivering because of what just happened and what they think could happen. They were afraid of the Jews who had just put Jesus to death, along with the Romans. Jesus came in (He didn’t bother unlocking the door) and gave them peace; and He gave them the Holy Spirit; and with the Holy Spirit came authority. (John 20:19-22) They had authority because they were under authority: they were there because He had called them as disciples. They didn’t know what to do – they didn’t receive any specific instructions when Jesus died – but they came together because they were a body; and He gave them authority. The reason they have authority is because they are under authority. You remember the Roman army captain: the centurion came and asked that his servant be healed (Matthew 8:5-9).

Why don’t we see more evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit in our day? It’s not that the Holy Spirit was really powerful on the first day and over time He dissipated – like the smoke of our incense: it’s really powerful if you’re close to the thurible, but the further away you are the weaker it is, and pretty soon it disappears, and now I can get very close to it and wouldn’t smell much. Is it not possible that our cultures – the world’s culture – have got us to the point where we really want to use power for our own benefit? There are even ministries that will teach you how to use the Holy Spirit to get what you want; that’s not what the Holy Spirit came for. In fact, when we step out from under God’s authority to go our own way, we lose His authority. It’s not something that once I’ve got it I can go anywhere I want and do anything I want – we only have authority if we’re under authority.

The power of living with God in control

One of the places where we have recently seen the power of the Holy Spirit was in a bunch of guys dressed in orange jumpsuits kneeling on the edge of the ocean with men in black behind them with swords, and the men in orange are praising Jesus. That’s power! Power doesn’t have to be rising up and slaying the enemy. The power God gives could do that – He did that with Moses and Elijah – but sometimes He chooses to do something else: sometimes He makes us witnesses in intense trial, even in death. Read about the saints in the first few centuries of the Church: there are some amazing things. People were fried on griddles, like a sausage in a frying-pan, and they did not renounce the Lord. That’s power; and that’s witness, because the people around were affected by what they saw. People today are affected by seeing those men in orange – and that doesn’t mean that only men do that; women do too; it just hasn’t made it to YouTube.

“The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.” He may indeed want us to prosper, even as individuals; He may want you to have a really good job. But if He does, it’s not just for you – it’s for your family, for His Church… He wants good things, but it works together for good, not just for me.

So the key to seeing the Holy Spirit move in power is not, “God, You need to send Him again because He’s got worn out down here” – the problem is in us. Have you ever heard the saying, “God is my Co-Pilot?” It means “I’m flying, and He’s sitting over here telling me what to do.” Wrong picture: God is not my Co-Pilot. God is my Pilot. He knows where we’re going, and He knows the best way to get there. When you receive the Holy Spirit, God becomes your Pilot. He makes the decisions, and our responsibility is to become like Jesus: to see what He’s doing – to see what the Father is doing – and go with it. If the Father is taking you to a new job that’s better, go with it. If God is saying, “You’re right where I want you to be; stay there, and I’ll tell you when it’s time”, we need to enter into that with joy, not grumble and then say, “OK – is it done yet? Now can I change?” It means being patient. This is a perfect relationship; and I guarantee that if you do that, your life will be amazing. I don’t mean they’ll make a movie out of it – I mean you’ll say, “I’ve never lived like this before: it’s incredible. What it’s doing in my heart is amazing.” It’s good, but it’s scary, because you have to give up control.

Are you familiar with CS Lewis’ The Narnia Chronicles, especially The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? When the children come into Narnia and meet the beavers and find out about Aslan, Lucy asks, “Who is Aslan?” Mrs. Beaver replies, “‘I tell you, he is the King of the wood, and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.’ ‘Ooh!’ said Susan. ‘I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel quite nervous about meeting a lion.’ ‘That you will, dearie, and no mistake,’ said Mrs Beaver; ‘if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.’” (Aslan is a metaphor for Jesus.) “‘Then he isn’t safe?’ said Lucy. ‘Safe?’ said Mr Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.’” (Ch. 8)

If you live with God in control, it’s not safe, but it’s good: it’s incredible. The results aren’t guaranteed. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to live long and prosper. Remember Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego: King Nebuchadnezzar built a huge image, 90 feet high, and said everybody had to worship the idol; and these three men refused to do that (Daniel 3:1-7, 12). So they were brought to King Nebuchadnezzar, and he spoke to them. (Daniel 3:14-15) Do I follow the Lord or not? This is pretty scary. What did they say? Daniel 3:16-18. “We believe He’s coming through; we believe He’s going to rescue us; but if we’re wrong it doesn’t matter: we’re still following You.” Just like the guys in the orange jumpsuits: “All I’ve got to do is say the word, and your head will stay attached to your body.” “Sorry. Actually, I’m not sorry: I’m not going to follow you – I’m going to follow Him.” They heated up the fire, tossed them in – and they’re walking around in there! (Daniel 3:24-25). That was the Lord. And so they came out and Nebuchadnezzar made a decree: “Don’t say anything bad about the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, because if He doesn’t kill you, I will.” It changed his heart. That’s the power of the Holy Spirit.

That’s the power that we see in Thomas. Jesus gets word that Lazarus has died and says, “Let’s go to Jerusalem”; and the disciples say, “Are you crazy? They were just trying to kill you. Why would you go back there?”; and Thomas says – “Doubting Thomas”: “I ain’t going to believe unless you prove it” – Thomas said, “Let’s go with Jesus, so we can die with Him.” (John 11:7-8, 15-16) “I don’t want Him to die alone” – He didn’t say the last part, but that’s what he meant: “If He’s going, I’m going.”

That’s what we’re called to do. That’s the kind of Holy Spirit power we’re called to have: the power to tear down idols – if that’s what God’s called us to do; power to confront the culture, if that’s what God’s called us to do; power to die on a beach somewhere, if that’s what God’s called us to do; power to declare the truth in love, even though people will misunderstand it, twist our words and hate us for it: we’re called to do what is right.

The power to build a better church

We’re here not to build a better life, but to build a better church – and I don’t mean a better church than has ever existed before. I’m just saying that we’re here to build the kind of church God wants, that He built early on and has built many times throughout history: not a church that is angry at the world, the flesh and the devil – although it’s ok to be angry at the devil – but a church that will go into the world and show – not just say, but demonstrate – the love of Christ. And we have to do that first with each other: if we can’t love each other – whom we’ve seen – we can’t love strangers on the outside.

…a church that comes against the sins of the flesh and defeats them, not by passing laws but by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony. That doesn’t mean we don’t try to pass righteous laws: we want bad things to be illegal and good things to be legal; but that’s not going to save us. What will save us is what we do regardless of what the law says. If the law says that evil is good, we have to do the good; and if we are put in jail for it, “Sorry, o King, but we’re choosing Him.”

… a church that stands unflinchingly against the devil and that is so obedient to the will of God, whatever it is, that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. The gates of hell are not an offensive weapon: the devil is not coming against you swinging a gate. Jesus said “On this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18) because the church is storming the gates of hell: the church is on offense, not defence; the Church is not hiding in a room wondering when the Jews will come, knock on the door and take us away – although they may do that: it won’t be the Jews this time… but we won’t be hiding in a small room just waiting. We are offense – not offensive. (Yes, there are groups that claim to be the Church that make a point of being obnoxious to people; I don’t think they have saved any souls. They may feel good inside if they have spoken a piece of the truth, but they haven’t done the work of the Lord.)

To have a church like this sounds really great in theory, but I’m neither worthy nor able to lead a church like that. I guarantee I can’t do it. That’s why He sent the Holy Spirit. He can do it; He is worthy; He is able and – even better – He is willing. He’s looking for people to say “Yes”: that’s all it takes; not for our glory, but for His glory.

So what do we do? It’s called reckless abandon. Go for it! That’s what He’s called us to do. Then we will see the power of the Holy Spirit at work; whether it’s in lack or prosperity, life or death, whatever it is, we will see the Holy Spirit work; we will see men and women and children saved; we will see amazing things happen, whether the culture changes or not. We just need to say “Yes”.