The Presence of the Holy Spirit
Wind and Fire – Part 4
John 14:18; 16:7
On the night Jesus was arrested to be crucified, He met with His closest followers. He knows what kind of fear they’re going to face. He knows they’re going to be overwhelmed with uncertainty, so He wants to communicate to them. He wants to prepare them for this. He wants them to know that even though they may feel alone, they are absolutely not alone. Even though you may feel alone, you are absolutely not alone.
Here’s the way that Jesus puts it to them. In John 14 He says, “I will not leave you as orphans…” (v. 18).
If young children are left by themselves, they typically want to know a few things from mom and dad. Maybe it’s just for an evening, or maybe it’s for several nights. But they want to know, “Where are you going, and when are you coming back? And who’s going to watch over us while you’re gone? Who’s going to take care of us?” And this is the conversation that Jesus is having with His followers. “I’m going to be with the Father. I don’t know when I’m coming back. Nobody knows the day or the hour. But I will come back. I will come back. And while I’m gone you’re not going to be left by yourselves. In fact, there will be another who will come. And He will watch over you, and He will care for you, and He will help you right when you need it.” And this is where Jesus promises them the Holy Spirit.
Now from the disciples’ perspective I don’t know if this promise would have been especially comforting, because they’d become accustomed to being in the presence of Jesus Himself. So Jesus is leaving, and yes, the Holy Spirit is coming; but when you’re used to being with Jesus and His presence…I don’t know if that promise would have gone very far in making them feel better, right? Jesus was always there with them. So when they’re in the boat and the storm is overwhelming the boat, Jesus is there. His presence is in that boat, and He calms the storm. In His presence they’re protected. They’re cared for. When they’re hungry, along with a great crowd of people, Jesus provides…supernaturally…food for them. And in the presence of Jesus they had been provided for. In His presence they were courageous. In His presence they were comforted. But now Jesus is leaving…and the Holy Spirit is coming. And yet Jesus seems to almost understand that this promise is…it’s hard for them to receive it as being a good thing, because Jesus is leaving.
And so Jesus kind of doubles down on this in John 16, and here’s what He says to His followers, His disciples. He says, “But I tell you the truth: It is good for you (or it’s better for you) that I am going away. [Because] unless I go away, the Counselor (the Holy Spirit) will not come to you; but If I go, I will send him to you” (v. 8). Hey, it’s better for you guys if I go, because when I go, the Holy Spirit will come.
It’s better? It’s better? How is…? How is Jesus leaving and the Holy Spirit coming…how is that better? Here’s how? God in you is better than God with you. God’s presence inside of you is better than God’s presence beside you. And so He wants them to understand: “You’re not alone. You’ve not been left as orphans. And the Holy Spirit will come, and He will live in you.”
You see, sometimes, I think, we hear stories from the Old Testament…or we read stories of our heroes of faith…and we think, “You know, one day in heaven I’m going to ask them what that was like. I’m going to ask Moses and Deborah and Elijah, ‘What was it like to be in the presence of God the way you were in the presence of God on this Earth?’” And so in heaven one day I’ll say to Moses, “Moses, what was it like to meet God on the mountain?” And maybe Moses will say, “Well, I had to climb a mountain to meet Him. You tell me what it was like to walk the Earth and have Him live in you. What was that like?” And maybe we’ll say to Elijah, “Elijah, what was it like to defeat the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel? What was it like to be in the presence of God as that boy was raised from the dead?” Maybe Elijah will say, “Well, that boy got older, and he actually ended up dying again. So you tell me what it is like. What was it like to live with God’s power and strength in you?” And maybe Elijah would say, “There were times in my life where I was discouraged and I struggled with depression. What was it like…? In those seasons of life for you on Earth, what was it like to have God living in you, giving you His supernatural peace and strength to endure and to persevere? What was that like?” God’s presence inside you is better than God’s presence beside you.
And so in this series, we’ve been talking about the Holy Spirit. Our prayer has been that we wouldn’t just learn about Him but that we would personally encounter Him. And last week we talked a little bit about the power of the Holy Spirit, what the Spirit does for us. I want to continue that conversation this weekend as we talk about the presence of the Holy Spirit—what His presence does for us. This is not an exhaustive list, but I do want to address a few things.
So one thing that happens when we are in the presence of the Holy Spirit is He convicts us of sin.
This is the way Jesus puts it in John 16:8: “When he (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment….”
Now this is a reference to the Holy Spirit convicting us of sin and helping us realize our need for a Savior. Last week we saw that no one confesses that Jesus is Lord out of their own power. That only happens by the Holy Spirit, meaning that anyone who makes a decision to follow Jesus doesn’t get credit for it. Anyone who makes a decision to confess Jesus as Lord or to be baptized into Christ…anyone who makes that decision is only able to make that decision because the Holy Spirit has been at work in that person’s life. So that when we celebrate those decisions what we’re celebrating is not that person’s decision as much as we’re celebrating the work the Holy Spirit has done to bring them to a place where they can even realize their need to make a decision like that. Do you see the difference? It’s about what the Holy Spirit has done for us. It’s about what Jesus has done for us. We celebrate that when we gather together. We celebrate the freedom that we have found in Christ.
And so the Holy Spirit is the One who convicts us. He’s the One who calls us. And then when you become a follower of Jesus, He continues to convict. He continues to make you aware of some areas of your life that need attention.
Have you ever been in the presence of someone and just…just their presence makes you aware of some things that maybe you should have been aware of, but you weren’t? So for me, my mind goes to being in college. And I’d go to a movie theatre with maybe some friends, and we’d see a movie. It was pretty good in the theatre. And then a couple of months later we would go rent that movie at Blockbuster Video. If you don’t know what Blockbuster is, ask your parents about that. But we’d go rent this movie at Blockbuster, and we’d bring it back home to watch it. And my parents would sometimes watch the movie with us, and my mom’s presence in that room changes the way that I watch the movie that I enjoyed in the theatre, right? Like, suddenly I’m noticing things that I didn’t notice. She’s not saying anything. She doesn’t have to. And so in the theatre I didn’t notice some of the language, but now my mom is over here and I’m like, “Sorry, Mom. Sorry. I don’t remember that. Sorry, Mom. I didn’t…I don’t…Maybe this is a different version that we’re watching. Sorry, Mom.” And you know, just her presence… And there would be some scene that didn’t seem very inappropriate in the theatre, but now sitting next to my mom it’s wildly inappropriate. And I’m fast-forwarding. “Sorry, Mom. Let me fast-forward through this. I’ll get through it.” Right? Why? It just…her presence in the room makes me aware of some things that perhaps I should have been aware of but I wasn’t…but now I am because I realize she’s right there next to me.
So it is with the Holy Spirit, only much more so. When we really understand the holiness of God and we understand the reality of the Spirit’s presence in our lives, suddenly we become conscious of some things in our lives that maybe need some attention. And some of what we used to rationalize and minimize and justify we recognize now, “It’s…it’s a big deal.” And some of the things we used to laugh at as entertainment we now recognize as being offensive to God, and some of the things that we said were no big deal we realize…the Holy Spirit shows us it’s such a big deal actually that Jesus died for those things. And the Holy Spirit draws our attention, opens our eyes, softens our hearts so that we align our lives with God.
In 1 Corinthians 6:19—Paul says,“Don’t you realize? [Do you not know] that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price”(vv. 19-20, NLT).
And if you’re a follower of Jesus your life has been bought with the blood of Christ. You don’t belong to yourself. It’s not really about what you want. It’s not really about your will. That now you’ve surrendered your life over to Him. And you’ve been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you, and when you recognize that—the reality of His presence—there’s no greater accountability. Like, I have a couple of Christian brothers that I’m accountable to that will ask me some difficult questions. But in my mind, in my experience, there’s no more powerful accountability for me than just to realize the constant presence of the Holy Spirit. This understanding that, “Oh, He sees what I see. He hears what I’m listening to. He’s a witness to the words I speak.” So that when I speak words in anger, I don’t just owe the person I speak them to an apology; I need to tell the Holy Spirit I’m sorry because He was offended as well.
The verse we looked at in week one is Ephesians 4:30. It says, “And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live…” (NLT).
The Holy Spirit can be saddened by the way we live. Why? Because He loves us and He cares for us. If He didn’t love us, if He didn’t care for us, then it wouldn’t work this way. But many of us know that the people who love us and care for us, the people we love and care for the most are the people we’re most vulnerable towards. They have the most potential to hurt us. And so the Holy Spirit, you know, if He were an acquaintance, we might annoy Him. If He were a business partner, we might be able to insult Him. If He were a distant family member, we might be able to offend Him. If he were a stranger, we might be able to aggravate Him. But He loves us, and so the way we live can make Him sad. The way we put it in week one was: It’s one thing to break a rule; it’s another thing to break a heart. He convicts us of sin.
The presence of the Holy Spirit, secondly, confirms our salvation.
And so this balance is really important. That the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin but is not using fear and guilt as a way to show us what needs attention. Because the Holy Spirit is constantly affirming our relationship with God the Father, affirming the fact that we are His sons and daughters if we are in Christ, affirming the fact that not every time we sin our relationship with God is not somehow in danger. The Bible says in Romans 8:16…it says, “The Sprit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” And the more aware you are of the Holy Spirit’s presence then the more confident you are of your salvation, of your relationship with God.
In Ephesians 1:13, Paul explains that the Holy Spirit is a seal. That He is a deposit on a full inheritance that we will one day receive in heaven. That He is a guarantee. The Holy Spirit is a guarantee of a promise that will ultimately be complete one day in heaven. So here’s how Paul writes it in Ephesians 1:13:“When you believed…”So when you became a follower of Jesus “you were marked in Christ with a seal.” The seal is “the promise of the Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession,” until Jesus comes for those who God has chosen—“to the praise of His glory” (vv. 13-14).
And so Paul says, “The Holy Spirit is a deposit.” He’s a guarantee that there is more to come, an inheritance that will one day be complete and fulfilled. That the Holy Spirit is a seal. In those days a seal signified ownership. A seal guaranteed protection. And so if you’re a Christian, then the Holy Spirit protects, the Holy Spirit is a promise, a seal. That we have this promise that will be one day ultimately fulfilled.
The Holy Spirit’s presence, thirdly, comforts us in our troubles.
In John 14:16 Jesus says,“I will ask the Father and He will give you another….” The King James says, “…Comforter to be with you forever”(KJV/NIV).
The Bible speaks of comfort this way: as a peace that passes understanding. It’s a peace that can’t be explained. It really has to be experienced to be understood.
Some of you understand exactly what “peace that passes understanding” means, and others of you don’t. Maybe you’ve seen someone have this in their life and it became more real to you. Like, you watched someone go through something and you think to yourself, “If I had to go through what they’re going through, I don’t know how I would deal with that. I don’t know if I could. If I had to deal with that kind of loss, if I had to deal with that depth of betrayal, if I had to deal with that kind of injustice—I just don’t know…I just don’t know that I could deal with that.” And yet you see someone who follows Jesus walk through it, and there’s a peace about them. What is that? What you’re witnessing there is the presence of the Holy Spirit. He comforts. A peace that passes understanding…
The word Jesus uses to tell us about the Holy Spirit’s presence, to describe Him, that the King James Version translates as “Comforter” is the word “Paraclete.” Literally it just means “to draw up alongside.” Jesus wants the disciples to know…and He wants you to know, too…you’re not left as orphans. You’re not alone. There is One who draws up alongside. And so when you find yourself standing in front of a casket, the Holy Spirit draws up alongside. And when you find yourself signing divorce papers and you just don’t know how it happened or you can’t believe that it’s happened, you’re not alone. The Holy Spirit has drawn up alongside. When you unexpectedly are facing unemployment and it feels very alone, the Holy Spirit has drawn up alongside. When your loved one is battling cancer and they’re in pain, and weak, and you hurt for them and feel at a loss as to what to do, you’re not alone. The Holy Spirit draws up alongside. The presence of the Holy Spirit gives us a comfort and a peace that we can’t put into words. God is not just with you; God is in you. And He doesn’t just show up randomly or come and go as He pleases; He is with you always.
So in this series—we’ve called it “Wind and Fire”—we’ve talked quite a bit about the wind language in Scripture that teaches us about the Holy Spirit. But fire is also used to describe the Holy Sprit’s presence. That’s true in the Old Testament and the New. It’s kind of the physical and visible manifestation of God’s presence to His people. And fire is a powerful force, right? Fire can be a light in the darkness. It can show you where to go when the path is dark. And fire can be a comfort on a cold night and fire can protect and keep predators away. If you watch a survivalist reality show, you know the first thing a survivalist does…what he or she does…is they try to make fire.
There’s fire language, though, that’s also used to describe our impact on the Holy Spirit. I don’t understand how all this works, because I believe that nothing can thwart the plans of God. That God’s will is accomplished. But I also know that God in His sovereignty seems to allow some space for us to impact how the Holy Spirit works. I don’t quite understand all that. But the Bible says in 1 Thessalonians chapter 5…it says, “Do not quench the Spirit”(v. 19, NIV). Wait. I can do…? I can do that? Yeah. Another translation puts it this way: “Do not extinguish the Spirit”(BSB). One more version says, “Do not put out the Holy Spirit’s fire” (ISV).That there is something about the way we live that can stifle the work that the Holy Spirit is trying to accomplish.
And so as we wrap up this series, my challenge to you would be to identify what that is. I think for a lot of us it’s just living kind of this distant and distracted life. We said in week one that everything…when it comes to the Holy Spirit…everything hinges on understanding the relational dynamic involved. And like any relationship, if you’re distant and distracted it’s not going to work very well. He requires attention and intentionality. And so the challenge, I think, for a lot of us is really that simple. It’s to say, “Hey, some of the time that I’m carving out for my, you know, however many pseudo-friends on social media…I’m going to…I’m going to give that to the Holy Spirit. And the last thing I do when I fall asleep at night or the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning isn’t going to be, you know, staring at a screen. But I’m going to connect with the Holy Spirit. I’m going to ask God to fill me with the Holy Spirit.” And we receive the Holy Spirit. We receive Him.
Several years ago when my grandson James was three years old, I had taken him to a park in Pella, Iowa to play. And near the playground there were some bushes that, like…I don’t know what they were called, but they attracted butterflies. So there were always butterflies around these bushes, and he saw them and began trying to catch a butterfly. And I watched him, and you know, he’s putting tons of effort and energy into grabbing a butterfly—just lots of, you know, frantic movements and trying to…trying to grab it. Arms are flailing trying to grab it, but he couldn’t do it. As I watched him, I had just finished reading this book on spiritual disciplines and spiritual formation. And one of the things the author had talked about was, you know, “It doesn’t work to try to seize certain…what we would call ‘fruit of the Spirit.’” Some of you, I’m sure, understand this. That the more you try to grab a hold of it, the more elusive it becomes. And joy can be like that. If you try really hard to be joyful, it can be a little discouraging. If you’ve ever tried to seize patience… Like, “I’m going to be patient!” That is pretty exasperating. If you’ve ever tried to seize peace and you just…“I’m going to grab a hold of peace.” That’s very stressful, generally speaking. So there are some things…the more you try to grab a hold of it and seize it, the more elusive it ends up being.
So I call my grandson over and I say, “Look, try a different strategy. Go sit in the grass and just be as still as you can.” Now that, for him, was a lot more work. It’s a lot more work to just sit and be still as a way to catch a butterfly. But just sit and be still. And so we both sit in the grass. He is still—at least as still as a three year old boy can be. And after a couple of minutes, sure enough, a little butterfly lands on his knee, right? Now, of course, he grabs it and…! But other than that it was a really beautiful picture.
Someone said this about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not seized; He is received. Okay. That means that you’ve got to be still. It means you’ve got to have some margin. You receive the wind. You put yourself in a place where you can connect. That you can grow in an understanding of His presence. That the secret to experiencing the presence of the Holy Spirit is not that you get more and more of the Holy Spirit; it’s that the Holy Spirit gets more and more of you. That’s how that works.
The other thing I would say is that for many of us what stifles the Holy Spirit’s work is unbelief and unresponsiveness. So my challenge for us as a church would be that we regularly pray to God and we say, “God, would You help me believe the promise that You have made to me, as a follower of Jesus, that the Holy Spirit is a gift that You’ve given? Would You help me believe that?” And then when the Holy Spirit leads, when the Holy Spirit guides or prompts, then you respond. And the more you respond, the more aware you become of His presence.
In Acts chapter 7 we read about Stephen, and just before Stephen is stoned he talks to the religious leaders who are getting ready to stone him. In verse 51 he says, “You are prideful and you are a stiff-necked people. You constantly…you always resist the Holy Spirit.” Stephen says, “Look, you don’t see it, but God is trying to do something in you and through you. God is at work to bring about His kingdom. You could be a part of it. But you’re prideful and you’re stiff-necked, and you’re tied up in your religious ways and you’re tied up by your traditions. And as a result, you are resisting the Holy Spirit’s work in your life.” And they stone him.
Hebrews chapter 3 says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…”(vv. 7-8).
You want to know how to quench the Holy Spirit? It is that you hear His voice and you don’t respond. Every time you say to the Holy Spirit, “I hear you but maybe later,” your heart gets a little harder. And the longer you wait to respond and the more often you resist, the harder your heart becomes. But the more quickly you respond and the more often you respond, the softer your heart becomes.
Some of you, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Because you have sat in this very room and you have sensed the Holy Spirit calling you and leading you to make a decision, maybe to be a follower of Jesus or to be baptized into Him, to step over a line in some spiritual way, and you’ve put it off and put it off. And at some point…you don’t really feel it anymore. But He’s still calling. He’s still leading. And you start responding and you’ll become more aware of His presence.
My prayer is, as a church, that we would never…we would never stifle the Holy Spirit’s…we would never put out the Holy Spirit’s fire. May we never bind the Holy Spirit with organizational red tape. And may we never restrict the Holy Spirit to the boundaries of our comfort zone. And may we never tie up the Holy Spirit with our traditions. May we never limit the Holy Spirit to our personal preferences. May we never squelch the Holy Spirit with our secret sin. May we never stifle the Holy Spirit with our self-help approach. May we never inhibit the Holy Spirit with our inhibitions in worship. May we never constrain the Holy Spirit by the constraints that we call planning. May we never confine the Holy Spirit to a building that we call a church. May the wind blow and may the fire burn in me and in you and in First Christian Church. Amen?
Can we just end the series this way? Would you just repeat after me? “Holy Spirit, you are welcome here. Holy Spirit, you are welcome here. Holy Spirit, you are welcome here.” May it be so.
First Church of Christ
June 14, 2020