4 – On one occasion, while He was eating with them, He gave them this command:Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift My Father promised, which you have heard Me speak about.
5 – For John baptized you with water, but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
8 – But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Have you ever stopped to consider how wonderfully powerful AIR is? For example: it is common, every day AIR that makes it possible for huge planes carrying hundreds of people and tons of cargo to cruise at 30,000 feet above sea level. That same AIR in pressurized ballast tanks is what enables huge nuclear submarines to travel to tremendous depths in the world’s oceans and then resurface when and where they want to.
Given enough velocity, AIR becomes a devastating wind that can throw cars around as if they were toys and level huge buildings. I once saw the path a tornado took through a mighty forest. It was about a hundred feet wide and it was as if a giant saw had cut thousands of huge trees clean in half…all at the same level about 20 feet above the ground.
Did you realize that if you CONTAIN AIR in a network of hoses and valves and put it under enough pressure, it can bring not only our autos but massive commercial buses and tractor-trailers to a screeching halt? AIR used in this way will even stop a locomotive pulling dozens of cars fully loaded. If it’s pushed through the right tools AIR will break thick concrete. AIR is what makes it possible for lug wrenches to loosen or tighten the lug nuts on your car’s wheels. AIR can lift unbelievable amounts of weight. Referring to this fact the manager of a granite quarry in North Carolina once said,
We supplied the granite for the municipal building in New York City. We can lift an acre of solid granite ten feet thick to almost any height we desire for the purpose of moving it. [With the power of air] we can do this as easily as I can lift a piece of paper.
Think about it. All that incredible power in common, every day AIR! You can’t feel it. You can’t see it or smell it-that is unless you live in L.A. You can’t hold it in your hands, but AIR keeps you and me alive every minute. I mean, if we were to seal the doors of this sanctuary and pump all the AIR out, in five minutes, you and I would become brain damaged. We can’t live without AIR. Yet when we fly, apply our brakes, or watch a mechanic work on our car, we think nothing of it. Amazing stuff, AIR! Gives a whole new meaning to shooting the breeze doesn’t it?
I’ve used a lot of air to tell you all this to help you realize that just because something is INVISIBLE does NOT mean it is unimportant or weak. It think grasping this principle goes a long way to helping us understand the gift of Christmas that I want us to unwrap this morning….The Gift of the Holy Spirit.
By the way one of the most common words used in Scripture to represent the Holy Spirit is the word for AIR. In the Old Testament it is the Hebrew word, ruach. In the New Testament it is the Greek word pneuma from which we get our English word, pneumatic. And today I want us to understand that even though the third Person of the Trinity…the Holy Spirit…is INVISIBLE. He is certainly NOT impotent. In fact, He is just as vital to the life of a Christian as is AIR itself.
Now, even though truths like these are taught throughout the Bible. I mean, even though God’s Word has a great deal to say about the gift of the Holy Spirit…it is still a subject about which many of us remain ignorant. Most Christians have a clear picture of God the Father. His power and grace are quite clear to them. AND, they have high clarity of understanding when it comes to God the Son but their understanding of the Holy Spirit is vague and fuzzy at best. In his classic little book, Know What You Believe, the late Paul Little wrote, Of the three Persons of the Godhead-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-the Holy Spirit seems to be the least known and understood today. Yet, He is most vitally and intimately involved in our initial conversion and birth into the family of God, as well as in the ongoing development of our Christian lives. Knowledge of an intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit brings us power, joy, and hope. When we neglect Him, through ignorance or indifference, we insure spiritual poverty.
Now, why is it that so many Christians know so little about this Gift of God that Jesus promised in Acts chapter 1? Well, I think there are many reasons.
- First off, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND and many people these days avoid anything that is difficult.
- We have raised a generation of people who favor the easy way. They avoid complex truths. We are like college or high school students who prefer to buy the CLIFF NOTES for a classic work rather than wading our way through the book itself.
- A second reason we know so little about the Holy Spirit is due to the fact that it is placed THIRD in the Trinity-Father, first; Son, second; and Holy Spirit, last.Because of this ranking many people unwittingly relegate the Holy Spirit to a place of unimportance, assuming that anything that is third must not be all that vital.
- Another reason we neglect the Holy Spirit is because there is a tendency to refer to the third Person of the Trinity as an it. Many believers think of the Holy Spirit as a non-person or as nothing more than an impersonal influence. And we’ll talk more about dispelling this misconception in a moment. But the main reason I think a study of the Holy Spirit is avoided by so many believers is due to…
- …the emotional excesses of many who embrace false teachings about the Holy Spirit.Over the years so many churches and denominations and para-church ministries have warped the Bible’s teachings about the Holy Spirit. They have taught untruths like the one that says that when a Christian is under the influence of the Holy Spirit he or she is out of control. In recent years we’ve seen supposed movements of the Holy Spirit in which Christians barked like dogs or laughed uncontrollably. People who have spread false teachings like this have given the Holy Spirit a bad rep, so to speak and have caused many sincere believers to steer clear of the third Person of the Trinity all together.
Well, in order to unwrap this Christmas gift we will have to correct these misconceptions and I think the best place to begin is by asking ourselves what….or rather WHO is the Holy Spirit. I phrase it this way because the FIRST THING we must understand is that the Bible teaches that…
1. …the Holy Spirit is not an it ….but a PERSON.
I mean, not only did Jesus ALWAYS refer to the Holy Spirit as a He and not an it but numerous texts in the Bible show that the Holy Spirit DOES things only a person would do. For example, Acts 8:20 says that, He SPEAKS. In this text, the Holy Spirit, …told Phillip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’ Because Philip obeyed the commands of the PERSON of the Holy Spirit that day, a man with great influence in the Ethiopian government became a Christian and was baptized. Several passages of Scripture say that the Holy Spirit DOES THE WORK OF A PERSON. He testifies, comforts, reproves, helps, guides, and enables. A good example of this is Romans 8:26, where it says that the Holy Spirit, …helps our infirmities and makes intercession for us. Another is I Corinthians 12:11 which says that the Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts, …to each one, just as He [the Spirit] determines. (I Corinthians 12:11).
The Bible also teaches that the Holy Spirit can be QUENCHED or stifled. In other words you can say to the Holy Spirit…as you would to any person, Be quiet…stop talking to me. Think about it. Have any of you ever done that? Have you ever said, Now, Lord…I don’t’ want to hear anything more about tithing. Quit telling me I should! or Lord…stop telling me I need to teach that Sunday School Class. Stop telling me to go help that person. Get off my case when it comes to witnessing to that guy in the cubical next to mine. If you’ve ever done this then you have quenched the Holy Spirit, something you would not do to an it.
So, the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force that we would call on like a genie in a bottle. He is a person….THE person of God. Dr. Torrey says, One of the most fruitful sources of error and unwholesome enthusiasm and fanaticism is the thinking of the Holy Spirit as an ‘it’…an influence, and not a person. If you think of the Holy Spirit as a mere influence or power, then your thought will be, ‘How can I get hold of the Holy Spirit and use it?’ But if you think of Him in the Biblical way…as a Person of divine majesty and glory, your though will be ‘How can the Holy Spirit get hold of me and use me? Furthermore, if you think of the Holy Spirit merely as an influence of power that you are to get hold of and use, your thought will be, ‘How can I get more of the Holy Spirit?’ But if you think of Him in the Biblical way, as a person, your thought will be, ‘How can the Holy Spirit get more of me?’
And this leads to the second thing we must understand if we want to understand this particular Christmas gift from our Heavenly Father…
2. …for, the Holy Spirit is not a SUBSTITUTE for God…He is God Himself.
I say this because the Bible teaches over and over that the Holy Spirit possesses attributes that belong only to God. For example Hebrews 9:14 says that the Holy Spirit is ETERNAL. Psalm 139:7 says, Where can I flee from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? which tells us that the Holy Spirit is OMNIPRESENT.
The Holy Spirit does WORK that only God would do. He was involved in creation. Genesis 1:2 says, The Spirit of God moved upon the waters. He is involved in regeneration or the new birth we experience when we become Christians. This is what Jesus was teaching in John 3:8 where He said that every Christian is, …born of the Spirit.
But I think the text that most clearly teaches that the Holy Spirit is God is found in Acts 5 . Here we read of the time that Annanias and Saphira sold property and brought some of the proceeds and laid it at the feet of the Apostles. They lied, saying they were giving all of the funds from the sale to the church when in reality they were holding some back for their own selfish uses. When they did this Peter confronted them and asked, Why have you allowed Satan to fill your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit? You have not lied to men, but to God. (Acts 5:1-4 ) In this bold accusation Peter equated the Holy Spirit with God.
So the Holy Spirit is completely personal and completely God. He is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is as much God as is the Son or the Father is. He is distinct from God, yet essentially one with God. This is an important point for us to grasp, because any study of the Holy Spirit must be understood in the context of the oneness of God. God is ONE God…not three…not two..but ONE. As Deuteronomy 6:4 says, …The Lord our God is One Lord.
This is the way we must understand Jesus Christ. Jesus is not a second God nor just one third of God. He is the eternal God uniquely present in a truly human life. In Christ we encounter God Himself .not just an emissary from God. Jesus is not God’s secretary of state. No, in Jesus Christ, God is doing His own speaking. He is doing His own work. Jesus Christ IS GOD, .uniquely present in a truly human being.
And the same thing is true of the Holy Spirit. He too must be understood in the context of the oneness of God. The Holy Spirit, then is not a third God nor one third of God. The Holy Spirit is God Himself in His nearness and power, anywhere and anytime. This means-and please catch this-this means that the very divine presence incarnated in Jesus Christ is now present in His people. Herschel Ford said The simplest definition of the Holy Spirit I know is this: The Holy Spirit is God in the human heart. But, I think Adrian Rogers says it best when He describes the Holy Spirit as, …Christ in the Christian.
Now, Jesus taught us a great deal about the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and I’d like us to look at one of the first texts in which He did. I’m referring to John’s gospel. Turn to chapter 14 and let’s read verses 16 and 17 and then verse 7 of chapter 16.
16 – And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever
17 – -the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you.
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.
Let me give you a little background so we can fully understand Jesus’ teaching here. Our Lord said these words late one night towards the end of the first Holy Week. At the time Jesus and His disciples were in a second-story flat in Jerusalem. We refer to it as the upper room. There were eleven men with Him. Judas had already been dismissed. Now, try to put yourselves in the disciples’ shoes so you can understand how they felt when Jesus uttered these words. Three years earlier these guys were living nothing much more than a treadmill existence. They had no real purpose in life, no real passion. And then, one day their dull lives was interrupted by this Teacher from Nazareth and since then nothing was the same. For three years they were captivated by this Man, the words He said and the amazing things He did. They saw Him heal the blind and lame, calm the stormy sea, walk on water-even raise the dead!
Because of this they arranged their entire lives around one thing: BEING WITH JESUS. He gave their lives purpose and meaning. He filled the emptiness that had been in them all. But now, Jesus tells them He’s going to die, that He, their beloved Teacher would soon be gone. So, you can understand that when they realized that Jesus was serious about all this, they began to panic. They no doubt thought things like, I will never again hear that voice speaking about the Father’s love. I will never again see those hands perform another miracle! Well, when they panicked, Jesus lovingly comforted them by saying, Don’t worry…I won’t leave you as orphans. I’m going to send ANOTHER Helper….and He will be even more helpful to you than I am. He’ll be not just at your side…as I am…but within you.
Now, do you understand exactly what Jesus was saying here? Our Lord was trying to help His first disciples to realize that this Helper He would send would make their lives better than it was when He was with them in the flesh. I’m sure they didn’t believe Him when He said that, in the same way that children don’t believe their parents when they say that something unpleasant, is for their own good. But it WAS for their own good. It was to their advantage that Jesus leave so God could give the Holy Spirit to His people.
And this is STILL true-it is more advantageous for us to live now (in the era of the Spirit) than it would have been to live in the days when Jesus walked bodily on the earth.
Now, think about that for a moment. On the Bible’s authority, you and I…right here and now…are better off that the people who looked Jesus in the face and heard His voice. Why is this so? How does the Holy Spirit’s coming make things BETTER for us than it was for Peter and James and John and all the others prior to Jesus’ ascension? Well, the main reason this is so is because, thanks to the gift of the Holy Spirit…
1. …God is not only WITH us-He is IN us.
You see, when the Lord Jesus was on earth, He limited Himself to living in the physical body that was born on that first Christmas night. Because of this amazing descent, Jesus could be only in one place at a time. But through the gift of the Holy Spirit, He is with-or rather WITHIN each and every Christian, no matter where they are. He is now able to be WITHIN us… always — even to the end of the earth. (Matthew 28:20 )
So you see, He is not just near us as He was to His disciples as they walked side-by-side along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. JESUS is IN us. I read this week that our English word for Holy Ghost has its roots in an old Anglo-Saxon word from which we also get our word, guest. This should remind us that the Holy Spirit is indeed an ever present Holy Guest in the life of all believers, for the Holy Spirit comes to live inside each of us the moment we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior. Now, isn’t that remarkable!? No matter where you are, if you are a Christian, God is there IN you. And because of this He is always ready to help. You never wake Him up. He is never interrupted when you call for assistance. Morning, noon or night He is inside you, available to give you power, to give you guidance, to give you comfort.
In verse 18 of this text from John’s gospel, the word translated orphans was often used to speak of students or disciples who were orphans in the sense that for some reason they were deprived of the presence and teaching of their beloved master or rabbi. Well Jesus’ promise then was that His followers would never be like this. Thanks to the gift of the Holy Spirit, we would never be without our divine Teacher.
He goes with us everywhere we go, faces every experience we face, confronts every decision we confront and shows us the way to go. So Emerson hit the nail on the head when he said, What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies WITHIN us, for as I John 4:4 says, Greater is HE Who is IN YOU, than he who is in the world!
So, wouldn’t you agree then that we have the advantage over those disciples who were with Jesus when He was limited to the confines of an earthly body? We do, because God is not just WITH US but IN US and since this is true…
2. …we have instant access to all the POWER we need to do His work.
Jesus promised that when the Holy Spirit came we would receive POWER to be God’s representatives. And, the book of Acts records that is exactly what happened. A group of followers who had been hiding in fear behind locked doors received power to convict sin-hardened souls. They were given the power to speak in the languages of people from all over the world present in Jerusalem for Pentecost. Empowered by the Holy Spirit Peter preached and three thousand people gave their lives to Jesus. Think of it. Peter, who had been afraid to speak in Jesus’ defense a few weeks ago was given the power to preach boldly and without fear. And the Holy Spirit STILL empowers Christians to speak…just as confidently as Peter did.
Now, even in the Old Testament God’s Holy Spirit empowered His people. Judges 14:6 talks about Samson and says, The Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat. But in the Old Testament the Spirit was present like that in a life only sporadically. The power would come and go because God’s Spirit did not dwell in the hearts of men. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit God fulfilled His promise through Ezekiel when He said, I will give you a new heart and put a new Spirit IN you. 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)
So you see, in this way not only does God’s presence dwell in the heart of every believer, His EMPOWERING presence does. In the Holy Spirit, God chooses to be a power-sharing God. He cares enough about us to infuse us with His strength when we need it to live as He wants us to live. He enables us to say NO to temptation. He empowers us to do His will.
By the way Mary was one of the first to experience this power. Remember when she asked the angel How it could happen that she would give birth to the Son of God since she was a virgin?
In Luke 1:35 the angel answered, The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the POWER of the most High will overshadow you so the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.
You know, you and I tend to limit God’s work in our lives by not allowing Him to empower us. This caused the late Dr. A. W. Tozer to say, If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. Let me ask you a question, What are you doing that you could not do apart from the power of God? What sin are you seeking to overcome? What challenging area are you seeking to grow in? What difficult person are you trying to love? What risky ministry are you willing to take on? What are you doing that you couldn’t do apart from the power of God’s Spirit? Remember, the very power that raised Jesus from the Dead is available to us as Christians through the Holy Spirit of God. If you are a Christian, God…all-powerful God is living inside your being. His limitless capabilities are resident within you, to enable you to accomplish truly God-sized tasks. And because God is IN us…not only do we have access to His power…
3. …we also have all the GUIDANCE we need as we travel down the roads of life.
And we do need guidance. In a world as confusing as ours we need Someone who can tell us where to go and what to do. Perhaps this is why counseling is such big business these days. Everyone knows that life is filled with challenges and difficult decisions so they’ll pay almost any amount of money for expert guidance. Did you know that psychiatrists in our area can get $130 per hour for their counsel? Even here in Montgomery County Maryland where people are supposedly highly educated, there are individuals who will pay palmists and fortune tellers $165 per hour for their guidance. Financial adviser make a good living here-charging up to $200 per hour advising people what to do with their money. So, there is a great deal of demand for the guidance that counselors provide these days. But you know, no matter how good they are, most professional counselors only specialize in ONE area of human need. Some are trained to deal with family issues; others know a lot about anger management; still others expertise is in the unique needs of adolescents. Some have studied and know how to help people deal with their addictions. So the guidance human counselors can provide is very limited at best. Plus you have to go to their office during their office hours to get their help.
NOT SO WITH THE SPIRIT OF GOD!
Not only is He available at all hours of the day or night…he is more than qualified to counsel or guide us in EVERY area of life. As Isaiah proclaimed, The Lord of hosts…is WONDERFUL in counsel…and EXCELLENT in guidance. (Isaiah 28:29 ) If you ask Him, He will tell you where to go and what to say and what to do.
Years ago the throne of Russia was occupied by two young boys. The co-czars were very young, yet daily they dealt with decisions that affected the lives of millions of Russians. The people marveled at their judgment, not knowing that behind the throne, hidden by a curtain, was the Princess Sophia. She was secretly supplying the answers for her brothers.
Well, in the same way people marveled at the apostles because they did not know that within the apostles was the Holy Spirit supplying the knowledge the wisdom, the power. This is a truly wonderful aspect of this gift because as a finite being, I have to use indirect means to guide your thoughts. I must express ideas in words so you can hear them or read them. I need to give them some physical form in order to communicate with you. But God does not. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit God can directly guide our thoughts without the aid of intervening sounds or images.
This kind of communication reminds me of those little ear pieces that TV news anchors and reporters wear when they are on the air. These devices makes it possible for the director to tell them when a commercial break is coming and to inform them of breaking news developments. Well, through the Holy Spirit God’s voice can be in our ears if we are wise enough to listen. And through that still, small voice He guides us and counsels us in so many ways. He tells us HOW TO PRAY. Romans 8:26 says, We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. He, the Author of the Bible, helps us to understand its teachings. This is what Jesus was saying in John 16:13 when He said, When He, the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. In this way God’s Spirit helps us to understand the deeper truths of Scripture, while, as I Corinthians 2:14 says, The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come God, for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
This morning, let me ask you. Would you like to have this built in Counselor. Would you like to have this inner and inexhaustible power source? Would you like to have God not just with you but IN you? Well, then you must first unwrap another Christmas gift from God. You must accept His Son, Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior for when you do you will also receive the Gift of His Spirit. This was the main point of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost that day. He said, Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38 )
And, if you already have this Gift, listen to God’s voice right now so you will hear how He is guiding you to respond to this morning’s worship. Perhaps He is leading you to some ministry or to share your faith with a friend or co-worker. He may be telling you that you need to become a part of our church family. However He leads, let Him have His way in your life. Acknowledge Him as Lord through your response to His leading. If this involves a public decision then I invite you to come forward as we stand and sing now and share it with me.