What does the Holy Spirit do? (Part 2).
Sunday 24th May. Sunday after Ascension
Acts 1:6-14, also John 17.
May the words of my mouth, meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight. O Lord our Rock and Redeemer.
Final words linger. It is quite natural for us to remember the last words we heard from someone. Or in a favourite series or book, the author or scriptwriter considers what words to leave the reader, viewer with.. We heard the last words of Jesus before his ascension.
Acts 1: ‘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.’’
When he also spoke about his departure, during the Last Supper he said: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you for ever – the Spirit of Truth. (John 14:15-17).
What does he do?
1.The word Jesus used is Parakletos. It means ‘the one who comes alongside’. How Jesus comes alongside the 2 disciples on the Road to Emmaus is a good image to have in mind. Different bible versions translate this word in different ways: Advocate, Encourager, Comforter, Counsellor, Helper. The Greek ‘one who comes alongside’ points to someone who encourages us, exhorts us.
When a small boat would be in trouble on the Meditterean Sea, they would send a big boat, to draw alongside it, to lead it to the safety of the harbor. That big ship, was called the Parakletos.
In the Summer 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Derek Redmond was part of the Great Britain team and expected to win a medal. He tore his hamstring as he ran in the 400m final. He fell to the ground in pain and it seemed that his race was over. But instead of giving up,
he was determined to finish his race, he got up and started limping to the finish line. Out of nowhere, someone burst through the security lines and ran onto the track, and put his arm around Derek. It was his father. His Dad came alongside him – to help him reach the finish line, to a standing ovation of 65000 people. The Holy Spirit in an even more profound way – comes alongside us – and helps us in every area of life. Hebrews: ‘since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses… let us run with perserverence the race marked out for us.’
It is striking. Jesus says Another Counsellor. It doesn’t mean Another One – ie a second Paraklete – the Greek is clear, it is another Paraclete of the same type. For Jesus to say this when he does – implies the disciples already have a Counsellor, a Paraklete, the one who is departing. Jesus ministry on earth he strengthened and helped his disciples. ‘Another Paraklete’ – the Holy Spirit – given to continue to perform this task of strengthening and helping us to finish the race.
2. What does he do? The Holy Spirit is part of God’s provision for the believer : ‘I will ask, the Father will give’ Jesus says. God provides prayer, he has provided the scriptures, he provides spiritual armour, and he provides the Spirit. The Holy Spirit has many functions – let’s remind ourselves – before we focus upon three.
He assures us (Eph 1:14), he convicts (John 16:8), he teaches (John 14:26), he reminds (14:26), he testifies of Jesus (John 15:26), he guides (John 16:13, Romans 8:14), he reveals (John 16:14, Luke 2:26),he glorifies Christ (John 16:14), he supplies power (Acts 1:8), he builds unity (1 Cor 12:12-end); he speaks through us (Acts 4:31), he speaks to us (John 16:13), he witnesses to our spirit (Romans 8:16), he helps (Romans 8:26), he intercedes for us (Romans 8:26), he gives spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:4-11), he brings renewal (Titus 3:5); confirming our salvation (Ephesians 1:13), producing in us, the likeness of Christ (Galatians 5:22)
Let’s focus more closely: He unites us; he gives gifts, he enables growth
3) Unity in the Family: We are part of a huge family – well over a 1 billion Christians. God’s desire is that there is unity in the Body.Jesus prayed the night before he died for the future unity of the Church. A prayer that is still being answered – we invited to be part of answer to that prayer. ‘May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them…’ Our unity is a witness to a troubled and divided world.
Paul reflects that heart of God: ‘Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – on Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.’ (Ephesians 4:3-6).
We have a unity because of our identity. ‘The Spirit testifies – witnesses (same word Jesus used before he ascends) – to our spirit that we are God’s children.’ You know you are a child; yet the Spirit tells that fellow Christian, you are also a child. We are all sons and daughters of God – whether you like them or not. ‘You have received the spirit of sonship and by him we cry ‘Abba Father’. You can call God your heavenly father by the Spirit. The Christians you meet with this week or the ones who have watched this service on line – they too, by the Spirit call God, Abba Father’. We are brothers and sisters in Christ.
We all have the Holy Spirit living within us – the Holy Spirit has come to live in each. Paul writes: For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (1 Cor 12:13). Not some of us, all given the Spirit.
The church is called the ‘Body of Christ’. There is ‘one body and one spirit’. The Spirit of God lives in every Christian regardless of colour, race, culture, background, even denomination. The Spirit of God is given to, lives within: Catholics and Protestants – Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, within Orthodox and Pentecostal. We are one body we have one Spirit.
What unites us is infinitely greater than what divides us. And the Spirit seeks to actively bring that unity that Jesus prayed for almost 2000 years ago. It is a tragedy that such disunity exists among Christians, instead of unity and diversity. I believe it is part of the heart of the Spirit to see Christians becoming united as Jesus prayed for. Unity begins with you are at now – how does the Spirit want to build that unity among Christians through you now – this year this pandemic season – where you are at.
4. Gifts for all the Children: The Holy Spirit brings gifts for all the children.
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues] 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
What you find is a list of spiritual gifts. Paul describes the church, being like a physical body. There is an essential interdependence.
So, Paul says in a body, the nose can’t say, ‘I’m more important than the eye.’ Similarly we need every different part of the body of Christ, we need all of the gifts. The Holy Spirit empowers each to serve others. God gives each person in the church at least one spiritual gift –he wants to use you to make a difference.
You may say – I can’t, he wouldn’t want to use me. We can have such thoughts… but be encouraged by what we saw in Gideon Gideon, a man who lacked confidence, doubts, and facing huge challenges – if he is to be a leader… yet the Spirit is given. God doesn’t seem put off by who we think we are, but he sees who we really are and who we can be and equips by his Spirit…
We are a family of believers. There is great diversity in a human family. No two children are identical – all the parents out there, you know that – you bring them up in the same way, it is the same parents and yet, what a difference! Not even identical twins are alike – like in our own congregation. So it is with the Body of Christ. Every Christian is different, each has a different contribution, each a different gift – by the will of the Spirit – not by our good works or cleverness or spiritual DNA. When you read this chapter in Greek you notice how at the start, Paul uses the word – pneumatika – spiritual things – then in what we read he uses the words ‘charismata’ – gifts of grace. Grace – we get what we don’t deserve. So we are saved by grace – our redemption is by grace, but grace from God does not stop there to the believer: The Spirit’s presence within us is by grace – he chooses to come live in each one of us – a gift of the Trinity – and the spiritual gifts are by grace. Charismata.
Some of the gifts more obviously demonstrate the unusual, supernatural acts of God in the world – the gifts of speaking in tongues, or miracles, a word of knowledge (ie knowing something which only comes via the Spirit), prophecy.
‘In China, a Christian woman was in charge of security at a coal mine. The woman suddenly felt the Holy Spirit urging her to pull the alarm lever, even though there was no apparent reason to do so. Although everything seemed quiet and normal, she obeyed the prompting within her. The whole mine was evacuated as a result of the alarm sounding. But when all the men has assembled on the surface it seemed as if a huge mistake had been made. Just moments later, the ground beneath her feet shook and a large section of mine collapsed from an earthquake. Because of this sister in Christ’s sensitivity and willingness to obey God’s Holy Spirit, everyone’s lives has been saved. After recognizing that God had miraculously saved them from death, 400 of the miners surrendered their lives to Christ.’
But elsewhere Paul writes that gifts from the Spirit include gifts such as teaching, giving, serving, encouraging, leadership and mercy. There are natural gifts and supernatural gifts.
I am a football fan. Many of you watching are, and with no football are reducing to watching reruns of our clubs greatest moments! But it’s been said, the church can be like a football match. You have ‘22 people desperately in need of a rest being watched by 40,000 desperately in need of exercise!’
It is not how what or how many we have, it is using what we have.
The church only truly works – most effective, most efficient – in following in the footsteps of Jesus – when everyone is using their gifts, that everybody’s involved, because the Holy Spirit gives gifts to all the children. So all get to play, as a pastor once said.
5.A Growing Family.: the Holy Spirit makes the family of God grow.
Returning to Acts 1: Jesus says that when the Spirit comes ‘you will receive power; and you will be my witnesses’. In other words,
‘Other people will find out about me through what you do and what you say.’ We are invited to, speak the words, do the works and follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
Pope Francis said: We have the firm certainity that the Holy Spirit gives the Church His mighty breath, the courage to persevere, to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth.’ That is the vision, when Jesus is about to ascend he casts to his followers – ‘to the ends of the earth’.
Next Sunday, is Pentecost. Over the past weeks, we have heard parts of Peter’s speech which led to 3000 people become
Christians. To be honest, for some of us, the thought of talking about faith terrifies us. We want to be asked…
There was a young man. He was absolutely petrified of the thought of having to speak to his friends or his family about Jesus. And actually it stopped him becoming a Christian. He just thought it was such a horrible idea that he wasn’t going to become a Christian.
And he went to see a wise older Christian, and this man said to him, ‘Look,’ he said, ‘In your case God’s made an exception. You don’t have to tell anybody. It can just be a little private thing between you and God.’ He went, ‘Ooh, that’s good!’ So he went home and he went up to his bedroom and he knelt down by his bed and he gave his life to Jesus.
And the moment he did that, the Holy Spirit filled him, flooded his whole being. And he was just filled with an overflowing joy. And he rushed downstairs, and there in the kitchen were his family and five of his friends. And he said,
‘Do you know,’ – breathless with excitement – he said, ‘Do you know, it’s amazing – you can become a Christian and you don’t have to tell anybody!’
When the Spirit of God fills us, we may find it is not an effort to tell people – it’s an overflow, it’s us wanting to share about Jesus. But at times, we do not feel it is flowing out of us. But we want to be obedient. As someone said – the closing words in Matthew 28 are not the Great Advice, it is the Great Commission. The Spirit is there to give us the boldness, the words, the clarity as we seek to share. Jesus gives a direct commission given to all. Yet with that commission comes a gift with a promise. Jesus is to be the object of the witnessing. The gift and power of the Holy Spirit is promised. A plan given
– to the ends of the earth (to all who have not yet heard). So the Church, is a missionary church, who respond obediently to his commission, we witness to Jesus and proclaim the good news, we are guided and empowered by the same Spirit that directed and supported Jesus ministry.
Last year, I was very struck when I met with some Persecuted Christians. In their testimonies they told about how they wanted to witness, yet so often were afraid, or did not know the words. And they would cry out to God – sharing how weak or afraid they felt talking to that person or that situation. And the Spirit helped them witness
The Spirit can give us the words to speak. He can give us the power to do the works of Jesus. And he can give us the help to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.
And the Church begins to grow.
Every Christian has the Holy Spirit living within them. Paul writes: ‘If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, that person does not belong to Christ.’
The Spirit unites us with our brothers and sisters, he gives each member of the family different gifts and abilities. And he enables the family to grow in size – so we can do the words and works of the Son and run well and finish well our race of faith.
May we pray…
As you pour out your Holy Spirit afresh upon us, the members of your Body, help us to recognize all the gifts you are giving, and the ways you seek to work by your Spirit,
Teach us to use the gifts with humility as well as love, help us to always be open to how your Spirit seeks to work in us, through us, around us. For the glory of your name. Amen.
If you would like to see the story of Derek Redmond, see below.