By Craig Condon
In the passage we heard from John’s Gospel, Jesus addressed His disciples. They heard His words while He was with them, and they were with him from the beginning of His ministry. Jesus’ speech took place on the night before He was crucified. The disciples were so concerned about their own future that they weren’t the least bit curious about Jesus’ immediate future. Jesus knew about their concern and encouraged them with a wonderful truth. The Holy Spirit would be far superior to Jesus because the Spirit could be everywhere at once, whereas Jesus could only be in one place at a time. The disciples and all future believers would always be in communion with God.
The Spirit continues to guide us and the church today. Our circumstances change daily thanks to new technologies and politics, but the Holy Spirit is ready to help us relate God’s truth to new situations. In every new circumstance, the same Holy Spirit guides us to re-learn old, faithful truths and to apply those old truths in new and faithful ways.
Jesus’ abrupt mentioning of the Holy Spirit had a purpose. The Spirit’s role in the life of a believer is to provide courage in the face of persecution. In addition, suffering often brings doubt. The Holy Spirit will testify to the truth of Jesus within believers and through believers to those who persecute them and others who witness the persecution.
Jesus knew the disciples would not understand what He said in this passage. They did not understand why He was going to die. At the appropriate time, they would remember His words and understand why they were being persecuted.
One day the apostles would need to communicate their experiences of Jesus, both while He was alive and after His resurrection. For this overwhelming task, they would need help. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would testify through the oral and written testimony of the apostles. The New Testament is no random compilation of thoughts but a carefully composed set of documents superintended by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ death would remind the disciples of everything He taught them. The Holy Spirit would remind them of His teachings-teachings the disciples would apply as they fulfilled their part of God’s plan for salvation. In tough times, remembering the things that Jesus warned of will keep believers from stumbling.
Jesus warned the disciples that they would face trials and persecution, but He didn’t tell them about the nature and sources of their trials. He didn’t clearly tell them that the Holy Spirit would come and give them comfort. He didn’t have to do these things because He was with them and would teach them these things gradually. He also didn’t tell them these things because He would go before them and suffer the same trials they would face later. Also, He taught them what the Holy Spirit would be and do after His ascension.
During Jesus’ earthly ministry, the Holy Spirit did not dwell in His followers but selectively empowered them for specific acts of ministry. At the moment of Christ’s ascension, the Father sent the Holy Spirit to serve as a constant presence, comforter and counselor for His people. The Holy Spirit couldn’t come and do his part of God’s plan for salvation until Jesus completed His part of the plan and left the earth. The Holy Spirit is under the authority of Jesus and will only reveal the truth that is in Him.
Most of us understand sin to be about behaviour, but the Holy Spirit knows sin is really about unbelief. Sometimes the most difficult thing to accept is that we’ve been wrong all along. That’s because we have a natural tendency to defend our decisions at all cost. But when the time comes, and we’re confronted with the truth, accepting it can be so hard. That’s why it’s so hard for people to accept Christ as their Saviour. Doing so would mean that everything they have believed in up to now is wrong. We have to be humble enough to admit what’s true when we’re faced with it, even if it means we’re wrong. It’s better to be late to the truth than to live a lie!
The Holy Spirit not only convicts believers but guides them into all truth and points them to Christ, glorifying Him. His witness can be trusted. He will apply God’s truth to man’s own minds and convince them that they are sinners. If we are convicted of sin and receive the Holy Spirit, our natural tendency will be to accept Christ as our Saviour. The Holy Spirit will show us our need for Jesus and reveal the loveliness of His character and the fitness of His work to our wants.
The Holy Spirit will guide us. He will not control us. We keep our ability to choose to follow His leading. We are always responsible for our words and actions. He will help us determine what is true and what is not, what is wise and what is foolish, what is best and what is simply okay. He will guide us through the details of everyday life. He will give us the discernment we need to make both big and small decisions. When we accept Christ, God seals us with the Holy Spirit. When the devil tries to snatch us from God, the seal of the Holy Spirit turns him away. He bought us with Jesus’ death and resurrection. He owns and protects us. The Father takes all things that are the Son’s-wisdom and truth for all His people-and pours them out through the Holy Spirit that Jesus may be glorified. Here we see the eternal living intimacy with God through His ministry.
The power of the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to achieve God’s purpose for our lives. He gives us abundant joy. He prepares us for everlasting life unhampered by sin. He wants us to use His power for His kingdom. He will equip us with the Holy Spirit to guide our steps as we accomplish the tasks God calls us to do. That power will elude us as long as we are deceived and mesmerized by worldly power. (Pause)
The world we live in is full of sin. All of us have been preyed on by the devil. He lied to Adam and Eve. He has seduced us and influenced us. We think that by lying, fighting and seeking more power and money that we can be happier. We think this because we have been lied to by the world, the flesh and the devil. The apostle Paul says that these lies are opposed to the Holy Spirit.
It seems that lying, or stretching the truth, has become a national pastime, thanks in part to Donald Trump. We lie about everything from our age to our resume to our mother-in-law’s cooking. God hates all sin-including lying. He hates sin because He is a truthful God, a transformed God. When we lie, we are acting contrary to His character. God will never prompt us to lie or sin. The Holy Spirit will always lead us to tell the truth, but only if we follow Jesus.
The problem is not that the Spirit has stopped moving, but more likely that we have stopped listening for it, even for just a bit. How do we get better at listening to the Spirit? Scripture gives us some clear lessons on how to start:
1. We need space. We have to find the time to listen to God, and we have to get rid of everything that keeps us from listening to God, and that includes material goods.
2. We need community. We need to have fellowship with fellow believers, and that includes worshipping with them.
3. We need to get out. We have to get out and share the Gospel with the world.
So how does the Holy Spirit guide us? He does it through our reading of the Bible, deep impressions or nudges from our consciences, and other people who are under the Holy Spirit. The latter item can only be done by worshipping with other believers through attending church and Bible studies. When God’s Word tells us that our lives are not as they should be and that we need to change, that’s the Holy Spirit intervening for our sakes.
It’s inevitable that one day we, like the disciples, will face persecution for our faith. We have to prepare ourselves and Jesus tells us how:
1. Rely on the Holy Spirit to supply wisdom, ability and courage.
2. Faithfully proclaim divine truth and stand firm.
3. Don’t get trapped by evil.
4. Remember that persecution and the rise of evil are inevitable.
The power that fell on the disciples on the Day of Pentecost is at work in and among us all the time, even if we aren’t aware of it. It gives us the power to perform acts of kindness, witness to others and give faithful service both within the church and in the community.
Are we willing to let the Spirit do His work? Are we open to His power to convict us of our own sinfulness and show us our need for a Saviour? We need the Spirit to help us understand the eternal hole we’ve dug for ourselves. We need to see our need for righteousness for life itself. We need to understand that Jesus came to deal with it all, to face the judgment of God in our place, to execute justice and mercy for our own good. Thank God that He sent a helper, because we have made a mess of the things that matter the most in our lives.
Craig Condon, Lay Minister, Anglican Parish of South Queens, Liverpool, NS Canada. He regularly blogs on this and other sermons at http://www.sermonsfrommyheart.wordpress.com. He can be reached by email at email@example.com