Readings: Romans 8:12-17; Acts 2: 1-4; & 14-21; John 14:23-27
How do you stop yourself on a day like this from trying to present a super bowl kind of grand sermon? The temptation is there – as some see this as the birthday of the church. It certainly was a key day launching the movement.
Others hope for a revival through the Spirit on this day. Some churches have services every day of the week leading up to this day.
The truth is some stay away on Pentecost Sunday – because they are terrified of the label “Pentecostal” and all its connotations. Which is odd really – as the word comes from the Greek word for 50. The real name of the day was the feast of weeks (7 times 7 weeks = 49 – then comes the 50th day). We are only afraid of the number 50 during our 49th year really. As we “age”.
This year I have decided to keep it very simple. A bit like Tuesday’s message and story – which was simply that I like spending time with my children. Quality time. So does God.
The story today is simple.
I heard it from Tim Keller. He heard it from the great Welsh preacher David Martin Lloyd- Jones. Lloyd-Jones heard it from a 17th century preacher named Thomas Goodwin. It’s got to be a good story. It’s been around a lot longer than the stories and gossip you can hear from your friends.
But first a brief overview of the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s role we know it is at least fourfold – 1. conviction of sin; 2. conversion; 3. assurance, and 4.sanctification. That should be normal – and revival is really the normal becoming more normal. We all need this renewed life.
It has been said that the average Christian is neither happy or sad. Kind of flat sometimes. That’s why preachers pray for revival. Revival’s story is encouraging for pastors and church leaders, because when revival comes (as suggested by Tim Keller) – sleepy Christians wake up, nominal Christians get converted and liven up, and hard to reach people (non-believers) show up – because they see the change in the sleepy and nominal Christians.
The key verse I want to focus on is this one: Romans 8:16 – The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. We are looking at the third role of the Holy Spirit – assurance. It’s the assurance that we get and need.
And so to the story. This is an account of Thomas Goodwin’s story to illustrate this – about what he saw one day. (Thomas Goodwin – 5 October 1600 – 23 February 1680):
A father and son were walking down the street together. They were clearly father and son and affectionate. But at one point the father picks up the son and hugs him and kisses him and loves him and says “I love you” and the son says to the father “I love you too”. In 17th century English I guess. And the Father puts the son down. You can’t live all your whole life in your father’s arms. On they walk.
Lloyd-Jones says this: Objectively the Father and son were legally father and son. When the boy was in his father’s arms he wasn’t legally more of a son. But he was experiencing the Father’s love – he was experiencing his sonship.
Look at Romans 8:16 again. You know it’s true objectively that you are a son or child of God. But when the Spirit bears witness with your spirit you really experience it. That’s what brings sleepy Christians awake. And nominal Christians come alive too – they get converted – they know it’s real and begin to talk about it. It’s the work of the spirit that brings that assurance of sonship – and the inheritance that goes with it by our adoption.
Churches grow when that happens – because the spiritual growth of the sleepy and nominal Christians means they share their story with enthusiasm and hard to reach people see the results – the change in peoples’ lives as they live out their new Kingdom inheritance as sons – and the gospel is shared. It starts with that inner assurance. Spirit (God’s Spirit) and spirit(our spirit) together in us.
Fanny Crosby’s hymn: Blessed assurance Jesus is mine is about this. That inner certainty and conviction empowers and energises us because it is grounded in love.
Read Romans 5:5 again:
Rom 5:5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
- That’s the work of the Holy Spirit.
- That’s how Jesus keeps his promise to be with us always. Through the Spirit.
- And there is a boldness – which is evidenced in Acts 2 and spoken of in Acts 1:8.A passion.
They got up and told the story. They travelled across the known world to share it.
They had come to follow Jesus. They came to understand sin, their need of a Saviour and got converted, and received this assurance all from the same Holy Spirit. The sonship is key. They knew they were sons – Jesus taught them to pray “Abba Father”. But when they really felt it – for real – they became unstoppable and brave. And their embryonic faith grew.
If you have your bible open at Romans 8:16 look at the verse before:
Rom 8:15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
Martin Lloyd Jones puts it like this:
“A little child has confidence. He does not analyze it… he knows that ‘Abba’ is his father. Grown-ups may be standing back at a distance and being very formal; but the little child comes running in, rushes right in, and holds on to his father’s legs. He has a right that no-one else has…”
Makes sense does it not? Didn’t Jesus talk about receiving the Kingdom of God like a little child? (Mark 10:14-15).
We don’t want to just hold on to his legs though. Hanging on is good for times in our life when our faith is clingy and desperate. The transformation of us to be more like Jesus is described by Paul like this: And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthian 3:18)
We used to sing a song based on this verse – “from glory to glory he’s changing me.” From the KJV. (All those songs were from the King James Bible!)
Well is He? Changing you?
One more story to make this point stick. Tim Keller tells it – about his early years in ministry when he was more idealistic in counselling:
He was counselling a 15-year-old girl who was discouraged and depressed. The conversation went something like this;
You’re a Christian? Many blessings? Yes. So you’re still depressed? Yes. The girl says:
“Yes – I know that Jesus loves me and I know he saved me and I know I will get to heaven. But what good is all that when not a single boy at school will even look at you. In other words – “I’m in 9th grade and not a single boy will ask me out.”
He says this – the great preacher Jonathan Edwards would say – “she had the opinion that God loved her but she had no real knowledge that God loved her.”
Why? Because the love of boys was more real to her heart than the love of God – or she wouldn’t have been that depressed. Edwards would say she needed to be shown the love of God in such a way that it began to get real to her heart and balance out how popular she was or wasn’t.
That’s assurance. Young people today need that real assurance through the reality of the Holy Spirit. We all need it – older ones too 🙂 Continually. I bet the boy liked being embraced again and again by his 17th century father over time.
That’s why Paul talks about being (continually) filled with the spirit. It’s not that the Spirit is like petrol and we run out. It’s that we need to be saturated in his love – because we are like a hardened sponge – or can become like one.
Eph 5:17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.
Eph 5:18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
Eph 5:19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,
Eph 5:20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We need more and more pouring out as in Romans 5:5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
May you know His presence, power and love again today. Or even for the first time. Open your hearts.
Reading: John 3: 7-15
I love to read about Nicodemus. He comes to Jesus at night – possibly because of privacy or secrecy (Jesus was a controversial person in the ruling Jewish Council) – possibly because he was a prayerful student who studied late at night – who knows really?
I also love the details about Jesus’ burial – in John 19:38 – Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. John 19:39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. So good to see that Nicodemus does become a disciple!
The idea that you can be born again is perplexing to him. But Jesus is clear: 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.”
When Nicodemus says: 9 ‘How can this be?’ – Jesus is more direct: 10 ‘You are Israel’s teacher,’ said Jesus, ‘and do you not understand these things?
So are you? Born again? Jesus says – You should not be surprised at my saying this!
It’s very clear that the Christian life is about a new beginning. Two things are very clear from today’s reading:
- It’s a work of the Holy Spirit – a spiritual rebirth!
- It involves the cross!
1. It’s a work of the Holy Spirit – a spiritual rebirth! We are born of the Holy Spirit – listen again to Jesus:
7 You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’
The word for spirit and wind are the same in both bible languages. In the NT it is pneuma – here are various English words that come from this. The point is – you can’t actually see the wind, but you can see its effect. So too the Holy Spirit.
We don’t talk about the Holy Spirit enough. It is through the Holy Spirit that we receive assurance of faith (Rom 8:16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.) We experience the love of God through the Spirit: Romans 5:5 – because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. We are told to be “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18 – Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,) which is about on ongoing relationship with God who is spirit (John 4:24 – God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” ) and who empowers us with his transforming presence.
And it all begins with the spiritual rebirth – we are to be born again (from above) and born of the spirit – a touch and regeneration by the spirit – a bringing to life of our spirits so that we begin to experience the things that are in a different realm – the realm of the spirit. That realm – using another word for realm – is the Kingdom of God.
The Christian life is a spiritual life!
2. The Christian life also involves the cross – there is no escaping Easter here!
John also records these words of Jesus: 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’
This spiritual life – being born again by the spirit – also involves our being saved from a life of sin and death and being launched into a life in the spirit.
This is also referred to as “eternal life” and it is found in Jesus (verse 15 – “that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him”).
The reference to Moses is interesting here. The Israelites were in trouble – condemned to die because of their sin – which interestingly was not the breaking of the 10 commandments directly, but GRUMBLING. Listen to the account from Numbers 21:
Num 21:4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; Num 21:5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
Num 21:6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. Num 21:7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
Num 21:8 The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” Num 21:9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.
Grumbling against God and against God’s leaders gets people into trouble! They looked to the bronze serpent – and they were saved from death!
The parallel is clear. The bronze snake was lifted up – just as Moses lifted that symbol up in the wilderness, so to the Son of Man was to be lifted up “15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
They confessed their sin and asked for prayer – and Moses prayed for them. “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. ” (Numbers 21:7.) We too look to the cross – and confess our sin! Well we should.
And of course this story is told to Nicodemus as a warning. One commentator, James Philip, puts it like this:
This was surely one element in Nicodemus’ situation: his was a willing blindness. He did not want to see the truth about the necessity for rebirth, because seeing it would have been at that point much too costly a thing for him. He resisted the truth because his heart was in rebellion against God, as much as the Israelites were. (James Philip was the minister of the Holyrood Abbey Church in Edinburgh, Scotland. He died in 2009. A great pastor-teacher)
That’s a warning to us when we say “oh we don’t need to be born again! We don’t need this Holy Spirit business. We’re just fine!
We need to really seek this fullness of life – the new birth – the fullness of the Spirit – a full understanding of what eternal life is – with our eyes firmly fixed on the cross.