101.5: PROMISE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT – Christianity 101 SeriesLuke 24:44-49; Acts 1:1-5
May 13th, 2012
Pastor Sun Hee Kim
44 Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’
1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’
We’re continuing this morning in our series on Christianity 101, and I will be sharing with you today part one of a two-part message on the Holy Spirit. But before I get too deep in this message about this third person of the Trinity, I want to begin today by talking a little about the nature of our faith. I don’t know how often you actually sit and just think about what our faith really is and what it’s called to be and how we are called to live it out in this world. And I don’t know if you have ever considered the sheer complexity of our faith and how difficult it is sometimes to really grasp it all. And I wonder if you have ever paused to consider what our faith – this thing called Christianity – must look like to a world that has never stepped foot inside a church or opened up the Bible or heard of Jesus.
There’s this story that’s told in Mark chapter 9 – about a man who comes to Jesus and asks him to heal his son who had been possessed by a demon since childhood. Apparently, this son often went into fits of seizures and violent convulsions, putting his very life at risk. Not surprisingly, this man was desperate, and asks Jesus, “If you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” To which Jesus replies, “If you are able! All things can be done for the one who believes.” Then follows a line of Scripture that contains a confession that I think resonates with so many of us here today: “I believe; help my unbelief.”
This is my confession. When I look at our faith – Christianity and what it means to follow Jesus – there is so much that I want to believe. And, guess what, there is so much I have a hard time believing. That’s right. Even for a pastor, this thing called faith is not an easy deal. I wrestle with its complexity, because I know that there are so many wonderful and amazing and powerful things about faith on the one hand, but also that there are a lot of very difficult to understand things about faith on the other hand. And this is the case for both people outside the church as well as inside the church.
So, let me just name what I think is the obvious here: Christianity at its best is profound and practical, but for most people most of the time, it’s just simply weird.
There, I said it. Christianity is weird. I mean, have you ever considered how really, really weird our faith is? Consider some of these tenets and statements of our faith:
Let’s start with something real basic: The Bible says God created everything by just speaking things into existence. And the Bible says that took place in just six days. Weird, right? Seventh day, God just rested. Apparently all that speaking was tiring work. I know, I’m tired just after giving one sermon.
Or how about, that story in the Book of Numbers that talks about this guy by the name of Balaam who gets upset because his donkey refuses to do what he wants it to and starts beating it. And somehow, God gives the donkey the ability to speak, and it says to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” A talking donkey! Weird, right? But not apparently to Balaam. Without skipping a beat, he talks back to the donkey, “Well, now that you bring it up… it’s because you made a fool of me.” Anyone here who has a pet knows that an animal making a fool out of you is not a weird thing. Happens all the time. Your pet actually start speaking human words to you, on the other hand? Weird.
Or how about this. “We are saved by the blood of the Lamb.” If you have been in a Christian church for some time now, that might not seem so out of the ordinary. But if faith is new to you, you may be thinking – “Blood transfusion?” That’s just weird.
Let’s face it. There are many things in the Christian faith that seems pretty weird. But let me make an observation, or more like an assessment here:
Weirdness is caused by lack of depth and lack of understanding.
Ultimately, all of these things that I have mentioned and more seem weird because we just don’t know what they are really about – we simply don’t understand. And this is why our current series on Christianity 101 is so important. Kind of going back to the basics to make sure that we have not missed anything, that we have not taken anything for granted. Whether we are talking about the nature of God, or the identity of Jesus, or the inspiration of Scripture, or what it means to be saved, without proper study and deeper speculation, all these aspects of faith (though they may seem common) will ultimately remain just simply weird.
And the idea of the Holy Spirit is no different; very few people have a right and full grasp of it. It’s just something that we have come to accept over time. If not in its full understanding and entirety, at least in its vocabulary. In other words, we talk about the Holy Spirit, but we really don’t know fully what its about and perhaps even what we’re really saying when we do talk about it. And what has happened is that we have fallen into some misunderstandings/myths about the Holy Spirit. Let me just mention three myths that seem pretty prevalent (in my opinion):
One myth that many of us hold to about the Holy Spirit is that it’s only for Charismatics. We have this image of the Holy Spirit manifesting itself in Pentecostal worships where people are raising their hands and shouting, “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!”, and praying in tongue, and falling down all over the place, engaging in spiritual warfare, and we say, they have been filled with the Spirit. That’s for charismatics. Not for United Methodists. It’s kind of like the light bulb jokes I’ve heard. How many Methodists does it take to change a light bulb? At least fifteen. One to change the light bulb and three committees to approve the change and decide who brings the potato salad. How many Pentecostals does it take to change the light bulb? Ten. One to change the light bulb and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness. Hallelujah! They’re filled with the Spirit.
Actually, the Holy Spirit is not just a charismatic thing. It’s not just for Pentecostals. It’s every bit Methodist and Wesleyan as it is for any other church or denomination. No single group of Christians have a monopoly on the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit needs to be present and recognized in all churches.
Here’s the second myth that many of us hold to about the Holy Spirit. Kind of like the first myth: It’s only for some people. I think there is this grave misunderstanding that the Holy Spirit plays favorites. That the Holy Spirit rests on, or fills up, or works through those that are spiritually more mature or more elite. That the Holy Spirit is like a symbol of rank in the church or the Body of Christ. And so, many people feel that they are not as strong as or good as other Christians because they feel they have not experienced the Holy Spirit. Actually, it’s this very type of thinking that got the Corinthian church in trouble. They started using the Holy Spirit as a status symbol dividing those of the “in” spiritual crowd from those of the “out”. The Apostle Paul tells them, the Holy Spirit is not about that. It’s actually about unity and binding the members of the Body of Christ together. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is available for all.
The third and last myth that I want to address about the Holy Spirit is this understanding or belief that it is only a New Testament thing. A lot of times, when people think about the Holy Spirit, they equate it to the day of Pentecost. That not only was that the birth of the Christian church, but that it was also the birth of the Holy Spirit. That on this day, the Holy Spirit made its grand debut world premiere appearance for the very first time.
Those that accept this myth also believe that there are three eras in spiritual history. The era of “God the Father” where God is present in creation and in the history of Israel. The era of “Jesus the Son” where God is incarnate in this man from Nazareth and these miracles are performed and these teachings take place. And finally, the era of the “Holy Spirit” which begins on Pentecost and remains in the existence of the Christian church.
But the truth is that the Holy Spirit is not something that’s just found in the New Testament. It’s not something that just appears on the day of Pentecost.
IN THE BEGINNING…
In fact, upon a deeper look and a fuller study of the Holy Spirit, we will see that the Holy Spirit has always been around. The Bible proclaims the presence and the work of the Holy Spirit from Genesis to Revelation. Flip through the pages of Scripture, both Old and New Testament – whatever version or translation you want to use – and you will see the Holy Spirit just all over the place.
And it is important to note this so we understand that the Holy Spirit was not an afterthought. It wasn’t like God suddenly coming to the realization that, “Uh oh, my son has been crucified, and I can’t leave the disciples to simply fend for themselves. I better do something. I better give something. Hmmm, what could I do? Oh, how about I create the Holy Spirit and provide that as something that would help them?” Obviously, this was not the case. The Holy Spirit is not an afterthought or something offered reactively in light of the void left by Jesus’ death. The Holy Spirit was present and was the plan from the beginning of creation.
Specifically, when we look deeper into Scripture, we see that the Holy Spirit was/is (first of all) part of the creative work of God. In Genesis 1:1-2, we read: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” That word we see as “wind” in this passage is the word, ruach, in the original Hebrew, and it can mean, wind or breath, but also Spirit. In other words, the Bible says right off the bat that the Holy Spirit was present in the work of creation. Later on in chapter one of Genesis, there is this interesting verse where it reads, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image…” Did you hear that? The plurality of the pronouns, “us” and “our”. Another piece of evidence that the Holy Spirit was present since the beginning and certainly that the Holy Spirit is present in the pages of the Old Testament.
We also see in Scripture, that the Holy Spirit was/is (secondly) part of the saving work of Jesus. It’s actually amazing how much the Holy Spirit is connected to the person and ministry of Jesus. Consider these verses: Luke 1:35 – Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of Him. Matthew 4:1 – Jesus was led by the Spirit. Matthew 3:13-17 – Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit at His baptism. Hebrews 9:14 – Jesus offered himself up as a sacrifice through the Spirit. Romans 1:4 – Jesus was raised from the dead by the power of the Spirit. And this list of passages could go on and on. It’s almost as if there was nothing that Jesus did that was apart from the Holy Spirit. Clearly, the Holy Spirit was part of the saving work of Jesus.
Which leads us to our final understanding of what we see the Holy Spirit was or is about as we discover in Scripture. The Holy Spirit was and is part of the living work of believers. Jesus demonstrated it in his life and ministry, and when he was getting ready to leave the disciples physically, he offered them the promise of the very Spirit that was present and active in his life and ministry. This is what we read earlier in that passage in Luke:
48 You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’
And here are the words from the passage in Acts:
4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’
Jesus promises this very presence of the Holy Spirit to his followers. And it’s really interesting how this Holy Spirit is spoken of by Jesus. In the original Greek, the word that we translate Holy Spirit is the word “paraclete”. The word paraclete, literally means “one who is called alongside of”. And the word paraclete is also referred to in the English translation as Comforter, Counselor, Advocate. It’s this person that walks with us, encourages us, strengthens us, guides us, and intercedes for us. Jesus tells the disciples, this Holy Spirit – this paraclete – I’m going to make available to you, so that you will never ever be alone. The presence of the Holy Spirit will forever be the evidence of how much God loves you, Jesus says. How much I love you. And it will be available to you. You just need to know that, recognize that, and claim that. And there’s nothing weird about that.
So, how do we experience more of this Holy Spirit in our lives? How do we go from approaching the Holy Spirit as this weird thing to something that we can really tap into? Kind of get hardwired and connected to?
Well, in order to tap into the power of the Holy Spirit or experience what I call “wired Christianity” (rather than weird Christianity), we need to:
One, simply be aware of the promise. Understand that the Holy Spirit is not an afterthought nor something accidental. It’s very intentional and very available to us. And in fact, it’s promised to us. So we need to be aware of that.
Two, learn more about the presence. With anything in faith, we can only use what we know. And so next week, we learn more about the Holy Spirit, and in particular, how we can experience its power in our lives. But the key here is learning and knowing. Make this your commitment, especially in this series as we go through Christianity 101, not just to take faith for granted but to learn, really learn.
And last, keep your eye open to the prompting. Just look around, and begin to see things with ready eyes. Look for God working around you, and when you see something that is extraordinary, praise God for that, and tell yourself that it’s the Holy Spirit at work. And let that work remind you that God loves you, and that God is wanting to clothe you with power from on high. More on that next week. For now, let’s just experience this gift of the Spirit together, as we continue to worship and as we pray right now. Amen?