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Sunday 15 May 2016, Pentecost Sunday: The inner witness and assurance

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.





Sunday teaching 10 February @ 10.30 – Gospel, 3 day and 3 year. Which will it be?

Teaching @ 10.30am service


1 Corinthians 15:1-11

15 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter,[b] and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Luke 5:1-11

The Calling of the First Disciples

5 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret,[a] with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down[b] the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Teaching. (Sunday 2 – the second service of the day)

The word “gospel” crops up in our first reading today. And then we had a gospel reading. That sounds odd doesn’t it? There are four “gospels” – the name we give to the first four books of the New Testament. And then there is “the gospel” proclaimed.

Gospel – means good news. In the original NT language it is euangelion  – a “good message” – from which we get the word “evangelism” (telling the story of the Gospel) and “Evangelical” which describes Christians who take this message seriously and preach about it.

And in a sense the Gospel is neatly summed up by Paul in the first reading this morning when he says:

15 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter,[b] and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

The gospel I preached to you (v15)

This gospel” (v16)

There were probably other gospels being propagated. And of course this isn’t “gospels” like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Thomas Peter and Judas – the written accounts of the story which you find in the bible and outside of it – he means here people’s teaching about the most important parts of the story of Good news.

In verse 2 Paul says people are SAVED by this Gospel – if they keep to it!

And then he gives the “first importance” things in verse 3:

Listen carefully:

  1. He died for our sins according to the Scriptures
  2. He was buried
  3. He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures
  4. And that he appeared to Peter and the 12 and then more than 500 at the same tome – then James, then to all the apostles – then to Paul himself (last of all – as to one abnormally born)

People describe this summary as the three day gospel – about the events of Easter, the death and resurrection of Jesus (who was crucified and raised up on the third day). And some people’s faith is fenced in by the three day Gospel.

Now I am not trying to underestimate its importance here. It is the heart of the faith. Without the death of Jesus and his resurrection on the third day there is no Gospel. Read the rest of 1 Corinthians 15 and you will see this clearly.

Our worship makes no sense either if Jesus was not raised from the dead. We worship him – we sing to him – we speak to him in prayer. It makes no sense if he is still dead. Then we are talking to a dead person.

You can see why evangelical Christians  (meaning gospel Christians) are less than thrilled with those Christians who say they are Christians but don’t believe in the resurrection.

What a lot of Christians focus on – more than the 3 day Gospel – is the 3 year gospel of the life and ministry of Jesus. And so do we of course. They focus on Jesus’ teachings – his lifestyle and example – his compassion for the poor and needy – his care of outcasts and sinners – his forgiveness and grace.

In our place we firmly believe in the resurrected Jesus – who ascended into heaven – and gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit through whom he is present with us. (Did He not say he would be with his followers always?). (Read 1 Corinthians 15:12-18 for Paul’s ongoing argument about this). And we seek to follow what Jesus taught in the three years of His ministry.

That theological debate aside, here’s a question. Which Gospel defines your life?

This is reflected in peoples’ prayers often. When people pray and all you ever hear is thanks that Jesus died for them – they are probably 3 day gospel people.

And it sounds as if we are not moving beyond this basic celebration of forgiveness of sins and the great promise that when we die we will go to heaven.

Okay I am overstating this – but for those who want to follow Jesus, they probably have a good question to ask: “What do we do in the meantime? Between believing in Jesus and dying and going to heaven?”

Great question. Three day gospel enthusiasts would say “give thanks, sing about your sins been forgiven a lot – and tell other people about it so they can believe it”. They would refer you to the reading today in which Jesus called his first followers (who were fishermen) and how he told them they would catch people in the future.

We call this “evangelism” – sharing the good news, telling people to believe in Jesus and follow him. Peter is told in the gospel reading today that he would be “catching people” rather than fish in the future.

The truth is we understand it but don’t do it well. Here’s the test – how many people have you brought to this faith in the last year? How many people have you “led to Christ”? – to use that term.

How many of your friends have taken the 3 day gospel story you have shared with them, and turned their lives around! They are fully committed followers of Jesus in your church?

It gets challenging doesn’t it?

At best we try to invite them to a programme or church event and let it happen there. Like Alpha or a healing service or just a Sunday service. We want them to meet Jesus in one of those contexts. (And on the day we get our friends to church there is always the danger that the preacher has a bad day!)

And we also work hard at our witness – or we should to at least – that our lives match up to what we believe and people see our grace and kindness – our poor but valiant attempt at reflecting the life and example of Jesus at work and play. (It’s the ‘practice what you preach’ motto that is often behind this).

The three year gospel.

The 3 year Gospel – the story of Jesus’ teaching – is extremely important.

Matthew 28 records his great commission to the disciples (which we still apply to the whole church). Read his words again:

Mat 28:18  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Mat 28:19  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
Mat 28:20  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

“… and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Jesus seldom spoke of the church and did not teach a lot about his death and resurrection. When he did speak of it he was warning his disciples and preparing them for what was to come (as in John 14:1-6) or comforting his friends (as in John 11:25-26).

In most of his teaching – Jesus was a bearer of the good news of the Kingdom and a man who lived out Kingdom life. When Jesus proclaimed Good News it was usually about the Kingdom of God. Many of his parables are about the Kingdom.

The Kingdom he announced was that God was King – that His Kingdom was close – that people could become part of this Kingdom as they followed Jesus.

He healed the sick and cast out evil spirits – signs of the coming of the Kingdom in power against the darkness of the kingdom and power of the Evil One.

He taught them about the character of God – His love and goodness – His compassion and kindness and patience. That the King in the Kingdom was a Father.

And He modelled the Kingdom by reaching out to the people at the bottom of the pile. Compassion, touching the untouchables, time spent with sinners, were all the signs of the Kingdom breaking into the world of the lost, the lost he came to seek and save that I referred to last week. (Luke 19:10)

And when they asked Him to teach them to pray, He said this:

Mat 6:9  “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
Mat 6:10  your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The truth is – if Jesus says to you “follow me” it’s much more than just believing the good news of what he did at Easter. That’s the beginning and the foundation.  We see this in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in the 1st verse we read today:

15 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.

On which you have taken your stand” is more than an academic stand – it’s like a foundation on which everything else is built.

The words of Jesus are in fact the foundation as well. Remember this story: The man who built his house on the rock, and the one built on sand? It ends with this:

Mat 7:24  “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.

It’s a long journey in the same direction lining our lives up with the way he intended us to live.

It’s about, in Jesus words, Seeking first His Kingdom and His righteousness.

Mat 6:33  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

The message of believing the 3 day events of the Gospel is central – but the three year gospel – the teaching on the Kingdom and the way our lives change is not negotiable.

Because we realise that what we lived for before becoming Christians changes – we live not for ourselves but for others.

I was at a one day conference on leadership in the church last week. And the speaker said this of our generation here in New Zealand. There are three things that inspire the modern kiwi:

  • A bach
  • Comfort
  • Security
  • I would have added FISHING for some people I know.

We are offering a way of living that can inspire people in a much more radical way.

Following Jesus – making fishers of men – enlarging the team of followers who are committed to the preaching of the good news and the transformation of this world – bringing the will of God on earth as it is in heaven – is a far more exciting thing.

In addition to introducing people to Jesus – who models his own life entirely on others and ultimately dies for the most horrible people (including us) – getting them to follow him is an adventure beyond any other.

We had home group this week and started our study on “Rivers of Justice” which is a about God’s call on us to be lined up with his heart for Justice and righteousness in the world now.

I’d like us to listen to Jim Wallis as an example of this. We used this as an introduction to our theme for home group this week. Take it out of the American context and apply it to our city.

Watch the first nine minutes of this to get a sense of what he is saying – at least watch to the story of Mary Glover at the food kitchen!

That sounds pretty radical and exciting to me!

It’s the natural consequence of following Jesus – it changes what we live for. It’s not just about the poor. It’s about all those who are the “least of” Jesus’ brothers and sisters.

The Gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus and the Gospel of the Kingdom (together with the call to discipleship – to follow Jesus) leads us to a different set of priorities in life. It changes us!

It changes communities!

And the followers of Jesus who followed him to focus on people changed the world – no doubt about it!

And we are part of that team!

The 3 day gospel about the life and death and resurrection of Jesus – and the 3 year Gospel of the life and teaching and example of Jesus – transform lives.