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Archive for the ‘The Holy Spirit’ Category

I have been reading through Calvin’s Institutes along with the Reformation 21 “Blogging the Institutes” this year and found the following passage by Calvin (Book 1, Chapter 9) to be very thought-provoking…

“Those who, rejecting Scripture, imagine that they have some peculiar way of penetrating to God, are to be deemed not so much under the influence of error as madness. For certain giddy men have lately appeared, who, while they make a great display of the superiority of the Spirit, reject all reading of the Scriptures themselves, and deride the simplicity of those who only delight in what they call the dead and deadly letter…”

We see the same thing all the time today.  One needs only attend a few home Bible studies in most churches to encounter any number of people who staunchly affirm “God told me…” apart from the Word of God.  Calvin argues strenuously against this, stating that there is no ongoing and meaningful experience of the Spirit apart from the Word of God…

“…Hence it is easy to understand that we must give diligent heed both to the reading and hearing of Scripture, if we would obtain any benefit from the Spirit of God (just as Peter praises those who attentively study the doctrine of the prophets (2 Pet. 1:19), though it might have been thought to be superseded after the gospel light arose), and, on the contrary, that any spirit which passes by the wisdom of God’s Word, and suggests any other doctrine, is deservedly suspected of vanity and falsehood. Since Satan transforms himself into an angel of light, what authority can the Spirit have with us if he be not ascertained by an infallible mark?…”

Modern translation… Spend more time in the Word if you want to receive the benefits of the Holy Spirit.  Calvin goes on to elaborate his understanding of this topic…

“…For the Lord has so knit together the certainty of his word and his Spirit, that our minds are duly imbued with reverence for the word when the Spirit shining upon it enables us there to behold the face of God; and, on the other hand, we embrace the Spirit with no danger of delusion when we recognise him in his image, that is, in his word. Thus, indeed, it is. God did not produce his word before men for the sake of sudden display, intending to abolish it the moment the Spirit should arrive; but he employed the same Spirit, by whose agency he had administered the word, to complete his work by the efficacious confirmation of the word. In this way Christ explained to the two disciples (Luke 24:27), not that they were to reject the Scriptures and trust to their own wisdom, but that they were to understand the Scriptures. In like manner, when Paul says to the Thessalonians, “Quench not the Spirit,” he does not carry them aloft to empty speculation apart from the word; he immediately adds, “Despise not prophesying,” (1 Thess. 5:19, 20). By this, doubtless, he intimates that the light of the Spirit is quenched the moment prophesying fall into contempt. How is this answered by those swelling enthusiasts, in whose idea the only true illumination consists, in carelessly laying aside, and bidding adieu to the Word of God, while, with no less confidence than folly, they fasten upon any dreaming notion which may have casually sprung up in their minds? Surely a very different sobriety becomes the children of God. As they feel that without the Spirit of God they are utterly devoid of the light of truth, so they are not ignorant that the word is the instrument by which the illumination of the Spirit is dispensed. They know of no other Spirit than the one who dwelt and spake in the apostles—the Spirit by whose oracles they are daily invited to the hearing of the word.”

Commenting on this passage from the Institutes, Phil Ryken writes at the Reformation 21 blog,

“It is characteristic of Calvin’s theology in general and of his Institutes in particular to give strong affirmation to the person and work of the Holy Spirit.  Generally speaking, Calvin does not do this by treating the Third Person of the Trinity as a separate topic of doctrine, but by highlighting the Spirit’s work in connection to every other subject that he addresses.  Calvin makes such a connection here, in his teaching about the Word of God.  Because of their strong emphasis on the unique and indispensable authority of Scripture, the Reformers were sometimes accused of placing too much emphasis on the Bible, and thus of failing to heed Paul’s warning that “the letter kills,” whereas “the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6).  Yet Calvin rightly understood that the best way to let the Spirit do his life-giving work is to teach more Scripture, not less.  Remember that the Spirit gave us the Word to begin with, and that he is present in power whenever the Word is truly and faithfully preached.  The way to experience the Spirit’s work, therefore, is not through some experience apart from Scripture, but by hearing his voice in the reading and preaching of the Spirit’s very own Word” (emphasis mine.)

You can read the rest of Dr. Ryken’s comments and/or join the ongoing reading of the Institutes here (http://www.reformation21.org/calvin/2009/01/blog-16-193-1111.php .)

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The following is a sermon preached at Sunnyside Baptist Church on the morning of September 7, 2008.

Who do people say Jesus is?

Some think He was a good teacher?  Or a Prophet of God?  Or a legendary figure who is larger than life?

What does the world around us believe about Jesus?

More importantly… what do you believe about Jesus?

The answer to this question is of the utmost importance…

John 2:23-3:15 (ESV) – 23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. 1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

Our text here today picks up right on the heels of Jesus cleansing the temple in Jerusalem.   He was new on the religious scene in Jerusalem, performing miracles and standing up against the abuses which took place in the temple.  And this didn’t go unnoticed.  He drew a lot of attention from the people.

We are told here that when He was in Jerusalem during the Passover Feast… “many believed in His name when they saw the signs that He was doing”.

What signs is this referring to?  We don’t know for sure.  It could be the cleansing of the temple, which we saw last week was prophesied by both the prophet Malachi and Zechariah (Malachi 3:1-4, Zechariah 14:21), but we can’t know for sure.  None of the gospel writers tell us any of the signs which He did in Jerusalem prior to this.  But we are told here that He was continuously doing signs which declared to the world who He is.  And many believed in Him… but what did they believe about Him?

We are told here that when He was in Jerusalem during the Passover Feast… “many believed in His name when they saw the signs that He was doing”.

We don’t know for sure what “signs” John is referring to.  However, the Greek implies that He was continuously doing signs which declared to the world who He is.  And many believed in Him… but what did they believe about Him?

This is an important question, because notice that, although they believed in His name, He did not entrust Himself to them.  It is the same verb in verse 24 as in verse 23.  Literally “He didn’t believe Himself to them…”  In other words, although they believed something about Jesus… He didn’t believe in their belief.

This tells us something right off the bat about believing in Jesus, namely that it is important that we get it right.  What we believe about Him is important, because it is possible to “believe” in Jesus and yet not be saved.

The people described here believed in His name, but He did not entrust Himself to them.  Why not?  Because Jesus knew all people and He did not need anyone to tell Him what is inside of people, because He already knew.  He knew what was in their hearts even better than they did.  He knew exactly what they believed about Him and He knew that it was not a saving faith.

What did they believe about Him?

What is necessary for Jesus to entrust Himself to someone so that they might be saved?

We find the answer to these questions as we continue on into chapter 3

Most Bible translations begin verse 1 with the word “Now.”  It is the simple Greek conjunction δ… and it implies that what follows is connected to what precedes it.  In other words… what we see in John 3 is a continuation or explanation of what we have just seen in chapter 2:23-25.

Here we meet a man named Nicodemus and we are told 3 distinct things about him: 

1)      We are told that he was Pharisee.  This was one of the strictest religious sects among the Jews.  They were diligent students of Scripture, although they entirely missed the point of the Law.  They held firmly to the belief that it was possible to keep the Law of Moses and, therefore, be saved.  In other words…like many people we encounter today… they thought it was possible to be “good enough” to earn their own way to heaven.

2)      On top of this, we are told that he was a “ruler of the Jews”, meaning that he was a member of the Sanhedrin council.  He was part of the ruling class in Israel.  This is slightly unusual for a Pharisee.  There were some Pharisees on the Sanhedrin council… men like Gamaliel (Acts 5:34)… but most of the rulers among the Jews were Sadducees, who were the more liberal theologians of their day.  Nicodemus was not just a religious man, he was an important man.

3)      In addition to this, in verse 10, Jesus calls him “the teacher of Israel.  Don’t miss the definite article there.  He is “the” teacher of Israel.  This implies that he was a well-known and highly respected Jewish theologian and Bible teacher of his day.

Nicodemus is an important individual in Jewish religious life coming to see Jesus with questions.  But notice how he comes to Jesus.  He comes to Him “by night.”

There has been a lot of ink spilled over the significance of this little phrase… “by night.”  What is John getting at here?

It could imply that Nicodemus was coming to Jesus in secret.  He didn’t want anyone to know he was visiting him.  Perhaps he was afraid of the consequences if someone found out that he had come to see Jesus.

It could be that Nicodemus was just seeking a private audience with Jesus.  After all, Jesus was constantly surrounded by people and… by coming at night… he could avoid the crowds and discuss theological matters with Jesus privately.

Or this could be symbolic.  When John speaks of “night” in his gospel… it is typically a metaphor for being in spiritual darkness.  Could it be that John is saying that Nicodemus is just like those who believed something about Jesus… but were not saved?  Is he saying that Nicodemus is still in darkness when he comes to Jesus?

It is hard to know for sure, although there is probably some truth in all of these interpretations.  However, it is clear that Nicodemus is still in the dark regarding who Jesus is, because notice how he addresses Jesus as “rabbi.”  This is pretty amazing in and of itself.  Nicodemus is one of the premier theologians and Bible scholars of his day, yet he addresses Jesus as a peer… calling Him a “Teacher come from God.”  In other words, he believes that Jesus is a prophet… a messenger of God… because there is no way a person could do the signs Jesus was doing unless He was from God.

This is the same reason given for the belief of those described in John 2:23-25.  They believed the signs Jesus was doing.  Nicodemus does as well.  Just like them, Nicodemus sees the signs and believes something about Jesus, but He isn’t believing rightly in Him.  He thought He was simply a good teacher… a prophet of God…

Isn’t that what most people today think about Jesus?

If you asked people on the street about who Jesus is… most people would say that He was a good teacher.  They might confess that He was a messenger from God, but not much more.

What a person believes about Jesus is of the utmost importance, because those who do not believe in Him as He truly is are not saved.

But notice here that something is necessary before a person can believe rightly in Jesus.  Something mysterious and miraculous must take place first.  Jesus tells this teacher of Israel that, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Unless there is a miraculous new birth which takes place… a person cannot “see” the kingdom of God.

What is the kingdom of God?  It is the full experience of the rule and reign of God.  It is to enter into His presence and experience the blessing of God for all eternity.  In John’s gospel it is pretty much the equivalent of eternal life.

Unless one is born again… he can’t even “see”… or begin to experience what those blessings are.

Nicodemus is confused by this, but he is not quite as dumb as he seems here.  He recognizes that Jesus is speaking figuratively, but he doesn’t quite get what Jesus is saying.  So in verse 5, Jesus describes this new birth in greater detail. 

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

There are different interpretations of this verse and I’m not going to bore you with all of them, but there are a couple of points which are quite clear here in the text about what Jesus is saying…

First of all, whatever being born of water and the Spirit is… it is the same thing as being born again, because the two phrases are in parallelism with one another.  This is important, because it tells us that Jesus is talking about a single rebirth here… not multiple births by water and then by the Spirit.

Secondly, this is something which Jesus thought Nicodemus should have understood.  We know this, because, in verse 10, Jesus rebukes Nicodemus for not getting His point.  This leads me to believe that Jesus is talking about something present in the Old Testament.  In fact, it seems that Jesus is speaking of the New Covenant promise which is recorded for us in Ezekiel 36:25-27

Ezekiel 36:25-27 (ESV) – 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

 In this passage, God promises to sprinkle clean water on His people and cleanse them from all their sin.  He also promises to give His people a new heart… a new inner man… and all this would take place when God would place His Spirit within us.  The result of this would be an entirely new creation… a person wholly dedicated to God.

This is what it means to be born again… to be transformed by God… to be recreated by the power of His Spirit in our lives so that we can be set apart to God forever.

Why is this necessary?  Because naturally… we are all inherently sinful and defiled…

Genesis 8:21 (ESV) – 21 …the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth…

Ecclesiastes 9:3 (ESV) – 3 …the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.

Romans 8:7 (ESV) – 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.

Ephesians 4:17-18 (ESV) – 17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.

Jesus is explicitly clear that there is nothing we can do to cause ourselves to be born again.  It is solely the work of the Holy Spirit… “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

There is a play on words here in the Greek.  The word translated “wind” is πνεμα in the Greek.  It can also be translated “spirit.”  Jesus is likening the work of the Spirit of God to the presence of wind.  We can’t see it… but we can feel it.  We don’t know where the wind comes from. We don’t know when it will come or when it will go away. 

This is how the Spirit works in causing people to be born again.  He is completely sovereign in this work.  He blows where He wishes… when He wishes… and how He wishes… and nothing that we do can change that.

But when He comes, He causes those who are in the night of unbelief to be born again, cleansing us from sin and creating within us a new heart… a new will to know and serve God.  He re-creates us, so that we can see and enter into a relationship with God in Jesus Christ.

This is the same thing which Paul is talking about in II Corinthians 4:3-6

2 Corinthians 4:3-6 (ESV) – 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Naturally… in the flesh… we are blind to the gospel and we cannot see the glory of God in Jesus Christ.  And the devil works over time keeping us that way.  It is only when God moves in creative power and causes His light to shine in our darkened hearts by His Holy Spirit that we can finally see Jesus for who He is and begin to believe rightly in Him in order to be saved.  Apart from this… no one can be saved.

Nicodemus doesn’t get this yet.  How can these things be?”

Jesus rather strongly rebukes him here.  It is as if He is saying, “How can you not understand this?”

These things are absolutely true… and Jesus assures Nicodemus of this.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you… (plural in the Greek… meaning Nicodemus and those like him)… you do not receive our testimony.” (verse 11.)

This is not speculation.  Jesus has seen this and knows this.  But “you”, Nicodemus, and those like you, do not receive this testimony.

Do you see what Jesus is getting at here?  It doesn’t matter that they believe Jesus is a good teacher… or a prophet from God.  That isn’t enough.  They must receive to themselves the full testimony about who Jesus is… and that is only possible if God first does a work of re-creation in them.

This is foundational to the Christian life.  If a person doesn’t get this… which Jesus calls “earthly things” in verse 12… then they will never be able to understand “heavenly things”… which is what Jesus seems to be describing in verses 13-15

Notice in verse 13, Jesus calls Himself “the Son of Man” and He states that He has descended from heaven.  Jesus seems to be equating Himself with the Son of Man described by Daniel in Daniel 7:13-14

Daniel 7:13-14 (ESV) – 13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

It is hard to imagine that Nicodemus didn’t get what Jesus was driving at here.  They have just been talking about the kingdom of God and then Jesus describes Himself as the Son of Man… the One who receives the kingdom of God in heaven.

The tough part for Nicodemus to understand would have been how Jesus could be the Son of Man, since the Son of Man is described as being divine…

1)      He rides on the clouds which in the Old Testament are referred to as being God’s “chariot” (Psalm 104:3.)

2)      He approaches the throne of God… fully worthy in and of Himself to be crowned as King of kings and Lord of lords…

Jesus… standing before Nicodemus… veiled in human flesh… is claiming to be God Himself… descended from heaven.  And if that wasn’t startling enough, He says that He descended in order to be “lifted up.”

When Jesus speaks of being “lifted up” in John’s gospel, it is always a reference to the crucifixion (Jn 3:14, 8:28, 12:32, 12:34.)  And John 12:34 makes it clear that this imagery was understood by the people as referring to death.

Do you see how amazing these “heavenly things” are?  The Son of God… has left His heavenly abode… and is willingly giving up His life on a cross on behalf of sinful people like us.  That is amazing!!!  No wonder if a person doesn’t believe in earthly things… like the work of the Spirit of God to bring new life to dead sinners… then how could a person believe such an amazing thing?

But no matter how hard it is to believe this, it is of the utmost importance, because whoever believes in Him will have eternal life.

Jesus gives us a powerful illustration here of what it means to believe in Him by referring back to Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness in Numbers 21:4-9

In this passage, God punished the Israelites in the wilderness for their sin by sending fiery serpents among them.  They bit the people and many died.  This is a picture of God’s justice and holiness and His hatred against sin.

But God also demonstrated His grace to them.  He provided a way of salvation for them.  He had Moses make a bronze serpent and put it up on a pole and those who would look upon it in faith would be saved.  Not that there was anything magical in the serpent itself… God was the One saving them… but they had to “see” it… they had to look upon the serpent lifted up and have faith in the God who had given them this sign of His grace.

Jesus says that those who look upon Him as the Son of Man… very God of very God… who died upon the cross for our sin… and believe in Him alone… they will be saved forevermore.  They will enter into the kingdom of God and enjoy eternal life in the presence of God.

Notice that this offer of salvation is held forth to all… “whoever believes in Him may have eternal life”…

But only those who “see” Him as He truly is will believe in Him as He truly is… and this is impossible apart from the sovereign work of God by His Spirit in causing us to be born again.

Did Nicodemus experience this new birth?  Did the Spirit of God blow upon Him and open His eyes to see the Son of Man lifted up for his sin?  We don’t know for sure… but we do see Nicodemus two more times in the gospel of John…

1)      In John 7:45-52… he sticks up for Jesus in a meeting of the Sanhedrin Council…

2)      And more importantly… in John 19:38-40… he and Joseph of Arimathea take the body of the crucified Son of Man and bury Him after He had been lifted up…

Did Nicodemus trust in Jesus to save him from his sin?  We don’t know for sure… but more importantly… have you trusted in Jesus Christ to save you from your sin?

What do you believe about Jesus?

Do you believe that He was simply a good teacher?  A prophet from God?  A legendary figure who is larger than life?  Or do you believe that He is the Son of God who left heaven to die for your sins upon the cross?

Have you been born again?  Has the Spirit of God blown across your heart and made you a new creation in Christ Jesus?

If you are not trusting in Jesus Christ to save you, then I urge you to do so.  Call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.  Confess your sin and turn away from your sin and plead with God to save you based on the work of Jesus Christ.  Do this and be saved for, apart from Him, you can never enter into the kingdom of God and receive the gift of eternal life.

 

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2 Corinthians 4:3-6 (ESV) – 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Romans 10:17 (ESV) – 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

“…two things are necessary for saving faith to emerge. One is to use our perception and our mind to hear and see and understand and validate a testimony to the truth of Christ.  The other ist that we must apprehend and embrace the spiritual beauty and worth of Christ through the illumination of the Holy Spirit.  Without this compelling spiritual taste of Christ’s captivating excellence, a person’s conviction about a testimony may be no more than the devil’s useless assurance that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  He ‘believes’ it, but he does not apprehend it as beautiful and precious and wonderfully suited to accomplish good and holy purposes.  He assents in one way, but not with a hearty, or, as the Puritans say, ‘cordial’ assent.  He does not taste Christ as compellingly attractive.  He ‘faith’ is dead because it is not animated by the essential thing: spiritual apprehension of spiritual beauty” (John Piper, “Future Grace”, page 202.)

 

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The following is a sermon preached at Maranatha Baptist Church on the morning of June 22, 2008.

Who do people say Jesus is?

Some think He was a good teacher?  Or a Prophet of God?  Or a legendary figure who is larger than life?

What does the world around us believe about Jesus?

More importantly… what do you believe about Jesus?

The answer to this question is of the utmost importance…

John 2:23-3:15 (ESV) – 23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. 1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

Our text here today picks up early in Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Jesus was new on the religious scene in Jerusalem.  He was performing miracles and standing up against the abuses which took place in the temple and he drew a lot of attention from the people.

We are told here that when He was in Jerusalem during the Passover Feast… “many believed in His name when they saw the signs that He was doing”.

We don’t know for sure what “signs” John is referring to.  However, the Greek implies that He was continuously doing signs which declared to the world who He is.  And many believed in Him… but what did they believe about Him?

This is an important question, because notice that, although they believed in His name, He did not entrust Himself to them.  It is the same verb in verse 24 as in verse 23.  Literally “He didn’t believe Himself to them…”  In other words, although they believed something about Jesus… He didn’t believe in their belief.

This tells us something right off the bat about believing in Jesus, namely that it is important that we get it right.  What we believe about Him is important, because it is possible to “believe” in Jesus and yet not be saved.

The people described here believed in His name, but He did not entrust Himself to them.  Why not?  Because Jesus knew all people and He did not need anyone to tell Him what is inside of people, because He already knew.  He knew what was in their hearts even better than they did.  He knew exactly what they believed about Him and He knew that it was not a saving faith.

What did they believe about Him?

What is necessary for Jesus to entrust Himself to someone so that they might be saved?

We find the answer to these questions as we continue on into chapter 3

Most Bible translations begin verse 1 with the word “Now.”  It is the simple Greek conjunction δ… and it implies that what follows is connected to what precedes it.  In other words… what we see in John 3 is a continuation or explanation of what we have just seen in chapter 2:23-25.

Here we meet a man named Nicodemus and we are told 3 distinct things about him: 

1)      We are told that he was Pharisee.  This was one of the strictest religious sects among the Jews.  They were diligent students of Scripture, although they entirely missed the point of the Law.  They held firmly to the belief that it was possible to keep the Law of Moses and, therefore, be saved.  In other words…like many people we encounter today… they thought it was possible to be “good enough” to earn their own way to heaven.

2)      On top of this, we are told that he was a “ruler of the Jews”, meaning that he was a member of the Sanhedrin council.  He was part of the ruling class in Israel.  This is slightly unusual for a Pharisee.  There were some Pharisees on the Sanhedrin council… men like Gamaliel (Acts 5:34)… but most of the rulers among the Jews were Sadducees, who were the more liberal theologians of their day.  Nicodemus was not just a religious man, he was an important man.

3)      In addition to this, in verse 10, Jesus calls him “the teacher of Israel.  Don’t miss the definite article there.  He is “the” teacher of Israel.  This implies that he was a well-known and highly respected Jewish theologian and Bible teacher of his day.

Nicodemus is an important individual in Jewish religious life coming to see Jesus with questions.  But notice how he comes to Jesus.  He comes to Him “by night.”

There has been a lot of ink spilled over the significance of this little phrase… “by night.”  What is John getting at here?

It could imply that Nicodemus was coming to Jesus in secret.  He didn’t want anyone to know he was visiting him.  Perhaps he was afraid of the consequences if someone found out that he had come to see Jesus.

It could be that Nicodemus was just seeking a private audience with Jesus.  After all, Jesus was constantly surrounded by people and… by coming at night… he could avoid the crowds and discuss theological matters with Jesus privately.

Or this could be symbolic.  When John speaks of “night” in his gospel… it is typically a metaphor for being in spiritual darkness.  Could it be that John is saying that Nicodemus is just like those who believed something about Jesus… but were not saved?  Is he saying that Nicodemus is still in darkness when he comes to Jesus?

It is hard to know for sure, although there is probably some truth in all of these interpretations.  However, it is clear that Nicodemus is still in the dark regarding who Jesus is, because notice how he addresses Jesus as “rabbi.”  This is pretty amazing in and of itself.  Nicodemus is one of the premier theologians and Bible scholars of his day, yet he addresses Jesus as a peer… calling Him a “Teacher come from God.”  In other words, he believes that Jesus is a prophet… a messenger of God… because there is no way a person could do the signs Jesus was doing unless He was from God.

This is the same reason given for the belief of those described in John 2:23-25.  They believed the signs Jesus was doing.  Nicodemus does as well.  Just like them, Nicodemus sees the signs and believes something about Jesus, but He isn’t believing rightly in Him.  He thought He was simply a good teacher… a prophet of God…

Isn’t that what most people today think about Jesus?

If you asked people on the street about who Jesus is… most people would say that He was a good teacher.  They might confess that He was a messenger from God, but not much more.

What a person believes about Jesus is of the utmost importance, because those who do not believe in Him as He truly is are not saved.

But notice here that something is necessary before a person can believe rightly in Jesus.  Something mysterious and miraculous must take place first.  Jesus tells this teacher of Israel that, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Unless there is a miraculous new birth which takes place… a person cannot “see” the kingdom of God.

What is the kingdom of God?  It is the full experience of the rule and reign of God.  It is to enter into His presence and experience the blessing of God for all eternity.  In John’s gospel it is pretty much the equivalent of eternal life.

Unless one is born again… he can’t even “see”… or begin to experience what those blessings are.

Nicodemus is confused by this, but he is not quite as dumb as he seems here.  He recognizes that Jesus is speaking figuratively, but he doesn’t quite get what Jesus is saying.  So in verse 5, Jesus describes this new birth in greater detail. 

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

There are different interpretations of this verse and I’m not going to bore you with all of them, but there are a couple of points which are quite clear here in the text about what Jesus is saying…

First of all, whatever being born of water and the Spirit is… it is the same thing as being born again, because the two phrases are in parallelism with one another.  This is important, because it tells us that Jesus is talking about a single rebirth here… not multiple births by water and then by the Spirit.

Secondly, this is something which Jesus thought Nicodemus should have understood.  We know this, because, in verse 10, Jesus rebukes Nicodemus for not getting His point.  This leads me to believe that Jesus is talking about something present in the Old Testament.  In fact, it seems that Jesus is speaking of the New Covenant promise which is recorded for us in Ezekiel 36:25-27

Ezekiel 36:25-27 (ESV) – 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

 In this passage, God promises to sprinkle clean water on His people and cleanse them from all their sin.  He also promises to give His people a new heart… a new inner man… and all this would take place when God would place His Spirit within us.  The result of this would be an entirely new creation… a person wholly dedicated to God.

This is what it means to be born again… to be transformed by God… to be recreated by the power of His Spirit in our lives so that we can be set apart to God forever.

Why is this necessary?  Because naturally… we are all inherently sinful and defiled…

Genesis 8:21 (ESV) – 21 …the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth…

Ecclesiastes 9:3 (ESV) – 3 …the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.

Romans 8:7 (ESV) – 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.

Ephesians 4:17-18 (ESV) – 17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.

Jesus is explicitly clear that there is nothing we can do to cause ourselves to be born again.  It is solely the work of the Holy Spirit… “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

There is a play on words here in the Greek.  The word translated “wind” is πνεμα in the Greek.  It can also be translated “spirit.”  Jesus is likening the work of the Spirit of God to the presence of wind.  We can’t see it… but we can feel it.  We don’t know where the wind comes from. We don’t know when it will come or when it will go away. 

This is how the Spirit works in causing people to be born again.  He is completely sovereign in this work.  He blows where He wishes… when He wishes… and how He wishes… and nothing that we do can change that.

But when He comes, He causes those who are in the night of unbelief to be born again, cleansing us from sin and creating within us a new heart… a new will to know and serve God.  He re-creates us, so that we can see and enter into a relationship with God in Jesus Christ.

This is the same thing which Paul is talking about in II Corinthians 4:3-6

2 Corinthians 4:3-6 (ESV) – 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Naturally… in the flesh… we are blind to the gospel and we cannot see the glory of God in Jesus Christ.  And the devil works over time keeping us that way.  It is only when God moves in creative power and causes His light to shine in our darkened hearts by His Holy Spirit that we can finally see Jesus for who He is and begin to believe rightly in Him in order to be saved.  Apart from this… no one can be saved.

Nicodemus doesn’t get this yet.  How can these things be?”

Jesus rather strongly rebukes him here.  It is as if He is saying, “How can you not understand this?”

These things are absolutely true… and Jesus assures Nicodemus of this.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you… (plural in the Greek… meaning Nicodemus and those like him)… you do not receive our testimony.” (verse 11.)

This is not speculation.  Jesus has seen this and knows this.  But “you”, Nicodemus, and those like you, do not receive this testimony.

Do you see what Jesus is getting at here?  It doesn’t matter that they believe Jesus is a good teacher… or a prophet from God.  That isn’t enough.  They must receive to themselves the full testimony about who Jesus is… and that is only possible if God first does a work of re-creation in them.

This is foundational to the Christian life.  If a person doesn’t get this… which Jesus calls “earthly things” in verse 12… then they will never be able to understand “heavenly things”… which is what Jesus seems to be describing in verses 13-15

Notice in verse 13, Jesus calls Himself “the Son of Man” and He states that He has descended from heaven.  Jesus seems to be equating Himself with the Son of Man described by Daniel in Daniel 7:13-14

Daniel 7:13-14 (ESV) – 13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

It is hard to imagine that Nicodemus didn’t get what Jesus was driving at here.  They have just been talking about the kingdom of God and then Jesus describes Himself as the Son of Man… the One who receives the kingdom of God in heaven.

The tough part for Nicodemus to understand would have been how Jesus could be the Son of Man, since the Son of Man is described as being divine…

1)      He rides on the clouds which in the Old Testament are referred to as being God’s “chariot” (Psalm 104:3.)

2)      He approaches the throne of God… fully worthy in and of Himself to be crowned as King of kings and Lord of lords…

Jesus… standing before Nicodemus… veiled in human flesh… is claiming to be God Himself… descended from heaven.  And if that wasn’t startling enough, He says that He descended in order to be “lifted up.”

When Jesus speaks of being “lifted up” in John’s gospel, it is always a reference to the crucifixion (Jn 3:14, 8:28, 12:32, 12:34.)  And John 12:34 makes it clear that this imagery was understood by the people as referring to death.

Do you see how amazing these “heavenly things” are?  The Son of God… has left His heavenly abode… and is willingly giving up His life on a cross on behalf of sinful people like us.  That is amazing!!!  No wonder if a person doesn’t believe in earthly things… like the work of the Spirit of God to bring new life to dead sinners… then how could a person believe such an amazing thing?

But no matter how hard it is to believe this, it is of the utmost importance, because whoever believes in Him will have eternal life.

Jesus gives us a powerful illustration here of what it means to believe in Him by referring back to Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness in Numbers 21:4-9

In this passage, God punished the Israelites in the wilderness for their sin by sending fiery serpents among them.  They bit the people and many died.  This is a picture of God’s justice and holiness and His hatred against sin.

But God also demonstrated His grace to them.  He provided a way of salvation for them.  He had Moses make a bronze serpent and put it up on a pole and those who would look upon it in faith would be saved.  Not that there was anything magical in the serpent itself… God was the One saving them… but they had to “see” it… they had to look upon the serpent lifted up and have faith in the God who had given them this sign of His grace.

Jesus says that those who look upon Him as the Son of Man… very God of very God… who died upon the cross for our sin… and believe in Him alone… they will be saved forevermore.  They will enter into the kingdom of God and enjoy eternal life in the presence of God.

Notice that this offer of salvation is held forth to all… “whoever believes in Him may have eternal life”…

But only those who “see” Him as He truly is will believe in Him as He truly is… and this is impossible apart from the sovereign work of God by His Spirit in causing us to be born again.

Did Nicodemus experience this new birth?  Did the Spirit of God blow upon Him and open His eyes to see the Son of Man lifted up for his sin?  We don’t know for sure… but we do see Nicodemus two more times in the gospel of John…

1)      In John 7:45-52… he sticks up for Jesus in a meeting of the Sanhedrin Council…

2)      And more importantly… in John 19:38-40… he and Joseph of Arimathea take the body of the crucified Son of Man and bury Him after He had been lifted up…

Did Nicodemus trust in Jesus to save him from his sin?  We don’t know for sure… but more importantly… have you trusted in Jesus Christ to save you from your sin?

What do you believe about Jesus?

Do you believe that He was simply a good teacher?  A prophet from God?  A legendary figure who is larger than life?  Or do you believe that He is the Son of God who left heaven to die for your sins upon the cross?

Have you been born again?  Has the Spirit of God blown across your heart and made you a new creation in Christ Jesus?

If you are not trusting in Jesus Christ to save you, then I urge you to do so.  Call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.  Confess your sin and turn away from your sin and plead with God to save you based on the work of Jesus Christ.  Do this and be saved for, apart from Him, you can never enter into the kingdom of God and receive the gift of eternal life.

 

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John 14:12 (ESV) – 12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.

“…we take up our privilege as proclaimers of the gospel, not because we are more intelligent or creative than the world, nor because our powers of rhetorical and logistical techniques are greater than those of other religious spokesmen.  None of these powers will ever serve to win one person to Jesus Christ.  We must never forget that the Christian Church always advances from a position of human weakness, not human strength… Instead, we step out to accomplish the greater works because the Spirit of God, on the merits of our Savior’s death, has been given to us.  According to His own good pleasure He will be pleased to take our feeble and flawed presentations of the gospel and fill them with His irresistible power, consequently overcoming the hearts of sinful people that, otherwise speaking, will prove to be impenetrable.  This is the vitality of the Spirit.  Any future in ministry worth having is dependent upon our understanding and embracing of this gift of Jesus Christ to us” (“Spirit Empowered Preaching”, by Arturo G. Azurdia III, page 27.)

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This is Part 2 of a two-part sermon series on Acts 9:31

The Church in the United States seems to be lacking in the blessings of God.  Yes… we are wealthy and somewhat politically influential.  We have fairly large numbers in our evangelical denominations nationwide.  A large percentage of Americans identify themselves as Christians.  We own a lot of property. We have big buildings.  But we don’t seem to be blessed by God.

Look around… we lack unity.  Christians in this country are more divided today than probably ever before.  We are consumers by culture.  That means that we want what we want, when we want it, and how we want it.  This goes hand in hand with our innate sinfulness and selfishness.  We tend to think we know better than anyone else and we think that we should get our way.  And if anyone stands in our way, we just take our toys and go play somewhere else.

The church in America lacks the blessing of unity… a blessing which only God can give us…

Look around… we lack peace.  No… we don’t have people trying to throw us in prison and kill us, but most Christians today lack a sense of well-being which comes from resting in the Almighty God. 

We have peace with the sovereign God of the universe through Jesus Christ, His Son.  Not a sparrow dies apart from the will of God.  He numbers the very hairs on our head (Lk 12:6-7).  And He loves us enough that He sent His Son to die on the cross for our sin…

Romans 8:32 (ESV) – 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Why do we lack peace? 

We lack strength.  It never ceases to frighten me how easily Christians are led astray.  We are tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine.  Christians all around us in this country are buying hook, line and sinker into self-help, pop psychology and things like “the law of attraction.”  So-called Christian churches all around us are wavering in the understanding of God and the gospel.  Fewer and fewer Christians are willing to stand up and say that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and no one… no matter how nice they are… no matter how smart they are… no matter how “spiritual” they are… no one comes to the Father but by Him.  Apart from the repenting of our sins and trusting in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the cross… there is no salvation (Jn 14:6.)  Yet we see Christians all around us refusing to acknowledge the reality of hell. We see Christians all around us embracing Islam and Judaism and Eastern religions as simply different expressions of the same faith and equally salvific.

Why are we so weak? Why is the American church so prone to error?  Because God is withholding the blessing of strength from us.  We are not being built up by Him.  We are weak.

Why do we see so few people being saved?

Studies show that Christianity is not on the decline in the world at large… just in the West.  Why is that so?  Why do we see so few conversions here? 

Even within the church, we are decreasing.  We aren’t even holding on to those who are being born into the household of faith.  Depending on your statistics… 75-88% of young people raised in Baptist homes fall away from the faith by the age of 19 (see Glen Schultz of a group called Kingdom Education and the Southern Baptist Council on Family Life.)  We are decreasing inside the church, not just in terms of people outside coming to faith in Jesus Christ.

Why do we see so few people being saved?

God is withholding these blessings from us…

This is not the way it has always been.  It was not the way it was in the early church.  In the book of Acts we see God at work in a powerful way, heaping blessing upon blessing on His people. 

God is sovereign in every aspect of salvation.  He is the Creator of new life.  He is the Giver of repentance and faith.  He is the Savior of sinful men and women.

God is sovereign Bringer of revival.  He stirs up His people when and where and how He sees fit.  God cannot be manipulated into giving out His blessings by anyone… anytime… and in any way.

Yet when we look at the early church described in the book of Acts, we see a body of believers that was committed to their God.  They knew Him… personally… intimately… powerfully… and they walked in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of His Holy Spirit… and God heaped blessing after blessing upon them.

What can we learn from them?

What can we learn about the blessings of God… and the people He expects us to be?

Acts 9:31 (ESV) – 31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

In this text we see a blessed church.  The text here describes the blessing of God in four very distinct ways:

1)      They were united.  They were achurch”… singular.  I know the KJV reads “churches”… plural… but the best Greek manuscripts are all singular.  They were a church.  Despite the fact that they were spread out over great distance. Despite the fact that they had cultural and ethnic differences.  Despite their different social and economic statuses, they were one church.  They were united. 

2)      They were experiencing peace in the midst of persecution.  Remember… they didn’t live in peaceful days.  They were being actively persecuted on all sides.  Some of them were being dragged off to prison and some were even being killed.  Yet they had an ongoing sense of peace… a well-being… a “wholeness” or “completeness” which defied their natural surroundings.  They were at rest in God, trusting in Him and relying upon Him despite their earthly circumstances.  They were at peace…

3)      They were “being built up”… they were growing stronger.  The picture here is of a physical structure being built from the foundation up.  They were growing stronger… sturdier… little by little.  Despite the efforts of the world to shake them, their foundation stood firm and they stood firm. God was blessing them with greater and greater strength…

4)      They were “multiplying”… they were increasing in number… literally “they were becoming a multitude.”  They were growing numerically at a rate which eclipses anything that we have ever seen in redemptive history.  On the day of Pentecost, 3,000 souls were saved (Acts 2:41.)  Shortly thereafter the number of the men in the church in Jerusalem came to be about 5,000 (Acts 4:4.)  Day by day, God was adding to their number, so that they were increasing in number constantly.

God was at work in this early church in unique and powerful way.  We should not forget this.  God is sovereign in bestowing His blessings.  He is doing this according to His good pleasure. 

But He is not doing this independent of them.  The Greek is explicit.  Although “having peace” is an active verb in the Greek… “being built up” and “multiplying” are both passive verbs.  That means they are not the ones causing themselves this to happen.  It is happening to them.  Yet at the same time that these blessing are being given to them, they are actively “walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.”

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at what it means to walk in the fear of the Lord, but what does it mean to walk “in the comfort of the Holy Spirit?”

What isthe comfort of the Holy Spirit”???

The word translated comfort is a very flexible word.  It is the Greek word παράκλησις (pronounced paraklesis) and it can be rendered a number of different ways. 

          It can be translated “comfort”… or “consolation”, emphasizing the lifting up of the downcast… picking up someone who has fallen down. 

          Similarly, it can be translated “encouragement”, referring to emboldening someone or motivating them to “keep on keeping on.” 

          It can refer to exhortation or urging someone or pleading with someone to engage in a certain activity. 

Literally it means “to come alongside” and provide whatever help is needed.  That is why in my translation I rendered it “the help of the Holy Spirit.  They were living their lives… continuously… in “the help of the Holy Spirit.”

But this leads us to a question… what is the “help” which the Holy Spirit provides the people of God?

To answer that question, I want us to turn back to John 14 where Jesus speaks of the help that the Holy Spirit would provide in the future…

John 14:12-18, 25-27 (ESV) – 12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you… 25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Now there is one other interesting thing about the term παράκλησις or “comfort” in Acts 9:31.  It is derived from the same root word as the term παράκλητος (pronounced parakletos), which Jesus uses here to describe the Holy Spirit.  It is a very flexible word… just like παράκλησις … and it has a wide range of meanings (Morris, John, NICNT, 662-666)  That is why some translations render it “the Comforter” (KJV) or “the Counselor” (NIV, HCSB) or “the Advocate” (NRSV)… or even “Friend” (MSG.)  But the NASB and the ESV both render it “the Helper”.. and I think that is probably the best translation to capture the full sense of this term.

So what help does the Helper provide?  What is this Helper like?

First… notice that Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “another Helper” (λλον παράκλητον), literally “another Helper of the same kind”.  This tells us a couple of things:

1)      It tells us that the Holy Spirit is a Person… a Divine Person… very God of very God… but a Person just as Jesus is a Person.

2)      This means that He would provide much the same function in their lives as Jesus had during His earthly ministry.

Notice verses 17 and 18

John 14:17-18 (ESV) – 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive (Him… that is the Holy Spirit), because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

 Notice how Jesus goes back and forth between talking about Himself and the Holy Spirit. 

1)      First, He is talking about the Holy Spirit being another Helper… one just like Him…

2)      Then… He is talking about how the world will not understand the Helper, because they don’t know Him or see Him, but Jesus’ followers know the Holy Spirit.  They know Him in a unique and intimate way, because He dwells with them and in them.

3)      Then Jesus says that He won’t leave them orphans, but that He… Jesus… will come to them.  Yet in context here, He isn’t talking about His coming.  He is talking about the coming of the Holy Spirit.  When Jesus says that He will come to them, He is saying that He and the Holy Spirit are so closely connected… so unified… that the Holy Spirit coming to the followers of Jesus is the same as Him coming to the and the Holy Spirit would be “in you”… plural… all of you.

Take a moment and ponder what Jesus is saying here.  The Spirit of God… who is a person… as much a person as Jesus is a person… will come to those who are Jesus’ followers and be in them… in all of them.  One Spirit… in many followers. 

What are the results of this?

Jesus tells us over in John 17:20-23

John 17:20-23 (ESV) – 20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

I in them.”  This can’t refer to Jesus Himself, because He has a physical body which is seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Mark 16:19, Acts 2:33, Acts 7:56, Rom 8:34, Eph 1:20-22, I Pet 3:22, Heb 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, and Rev 3:21.)  The “I” here must be the same “I” referred to in John 14:18.  It is the Holy Spirit… the “Other Helper”… the One like Jesus. 

And the results of the Holy Spirit being in them is unity… a supernatural unity which is compared to the unity of the Father and the Son.  Jesus says that through the presence of the Holy Spirit within them that they will be “perfectly one”

The early church described in Acts 9:31 was walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.  They were walking in the help of the Helper.  Day by day… they were living their lives in the full experience of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit and they were united as one church… one body.  Despite their differences, they were perfectly one.

This is nice.  Unity is a great blessing.  Our experience in life is much more enjoyable when we are experiencing unity with those around us.  But Jesus says here in John 17 that this unity is not simply for our benefit.  It is “so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

The point of this Spirit-empowered unity is not simply for our own welfare and enjoyment.  It is a witness to the world of the power of God.  It demonstrates to the world that something supernatural is happening here.  We are naturally divisive in our selfishness and pride.  We naturally divide with others because they don’t thank us for the cookies we brought.  But God overcomes that by the help of the Helper, uniting us to Himself and to one another in such a way that the gospel is shown to the world in all its power.

When we fight and bicker and can’t get along with each other… what does that say about the gospel?  What does that show the world?

The early church described in Acts 9:31 was united… they were one… but they didn’t do it their own strength.  It was the result of the help of the Helper which brought about this unity in them… a help in which they walked all the time.

But this isn’t the only help of the Helper.  Back in John 14; look at what else Jesus says the Holy Spirit would do…

John 14:18 (ESV) – 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

The KJV renders it “I will not leave you comfortless.” 

Jesus was speaking these words to His disciples on the night in which He would be betrayed.  His time with them on this earth was coming to end.  This very night… He would be delivered into the hands of sinful men and on the next day He would die upon the cross for the sins of His people.

His disciples knew that He was going away.  He made that very clear to them this night.  And they were afraid.  They were anxious.  Yet Jesus says, “Don’t be anxious.  Don’t be afraid.  I have protected you and provided for you and comforted you… and I won’t leave you comfortless.  I am going away and I won’t be here physically to protect you anymore… but I will not leave you orphans.  I will send you another Helper.”

John 14:27 (ESV) – 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Jesus promised to give them peace… wholeness… comfort in the midst of a harsh world.  In the next chapter, Jesus promises them that they will face persecution, just as He was facing persecution (Jn 15:18-20.)  But despite this, they would have peace… a peace which is unlike anything which the world can give… a peace which the world cannot even begin to understand.

Although the world in which we live still rages against God, Jesus Christ and His Church, we don’t face near the open hostility and persecution that the early church did.  It is growing.  The days of open persecution are coming, but right now, we still have relative safety and security.

Yet we still face difficulty and hardship. 

What do we trust in? 

Where do we go for comfort and peace when the road before us is difficult? 

Most of us go to the same sources of comfort and peace that the world runs to.  We go to earthly means of comfort and peace.  We run to our savings… our skills… our own strength.  These are all things that the world understands.  This is where the world goes for peace.  But this isn’t where we are to go for peace. 

This isn’t where the early church went for peace.  They walked in the comfort of the Holy Spirit and they experienced a peace which surpassed all understanding.  Their peace came from the help of the Helper.  It was a supernatural peace.  They enjoyed the presence of peace in their lives, even as the world around them was seeking to destroy them.

Where do we go for peace? 

What are we trusting in? 

Where does our help come from in times of anxiety and stress? 

The Holy Spirit within us is a constant reminder of the presence of God around us and in us.  Peace… a peace which passes all understanding… is one of the supernatural fruits of the presence of the Holy Spirit within us (Gal 2:22.)

Are we walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit and enjoying peace which passes all understanding?

The early church described in Acts 9:31 experienced a miraculous unity and peace which Jesus promised they would have when the Holy Spirit came.  And yet, this is still not all the help which the Helper would provide.

Just like Jesus, the Holy Spirit would teach them and build them up in the faith

Notice that Jesus calls Him “the Spirit of truth”.  That is not to say that He is truthful.  Of course He is truthful… He is God and God cannot lie…

Numbers 23:19 (ESV) – 19 God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

When Jesus speaks of Him as “the Spirit of truth” He is saying that He is the Bringer of truth… the Teacher of truth (Morris, John, NICNT, 650, also Art Azurdia, in a sermon entitled “The Vitality of the Spirit – Part 2.”) 

Jesus makes this explicitly clear in verse 26

John 14:26 (NASB95) – 26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.

 

And also… over in John 16:13…. Jesus says…

John 16:13 (NASB95) – 13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.

Notice that the Helper would teach them two things:

1)      Teach themall things” – whatever is necessary for the foundation of the early church.

2)      Bring to remembrance all that Jesus had said to them.

Remember… Jesus is speaking to His apostles here.  This specific promise isn’t intended for every believer.  This is a promise distinctly given to those who were with Jesus from the beginning… His apostles.

That isn’t to say that the Holy Spirit isn’t active in the lives of all believers leading us into an understanding of the inscripturated Word of God (see I Cor 2:11-12.)  But Jesus is promising something more than this here in John 14.  He is promising that the Holy Spirit will remind the apostles of all that He has taught them and lead them into new revelation which is necessary for the foundation of the New Testament Church. 

Although this particular promise is not directly for us, we still benefit from it, because the truth which the Spirit them into is recorded for us in the New Testament. 

The apostle Paul makes it clear that it is through the once-for-all work of the Holy Spirit in the apostles that the Church of all time is strengthened and built up…

Ephesians 2:18-22 (ESV) – 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

The picture here is of believers being joined together and built up as a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.  This temple, made up of believers, is built upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, who were led into all truth by the Holy Spirit, with Jesus Christ as the Chief Cornerstone.  He is at the center of everything.  Apart from Him, there is no salvation.  Apart from Him, there is no church.  Apart from Him and the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, which we have recorded for us in the New Testament, there is no strength to be found in the church.

The early church described in Acts 9:31 was “being built up”… it was growing stronger and sturdier… as the Helper was applying the truth laid down by the apostles and prophets to them and building them up into a single temple… a dwelling place for Him.

The picture here is of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God to build up and strengthen God’s people.

Are we centered upon Jesus?

Is the gospel at the center of our lives as Christians? 

Is the gospel at the center of our church? 

Are we grounded upon the truth laid down once for all by the Holy Spirit in the Word of God?  Is this the only rule of faith and practice? 

Do we rely upon the Holy Spirit to strengthen us by applying His Word to our lives as individuals?  As a church?

Apart from the help of the Helper there is no strength to be found in a church.  By His Word, He keeps us from being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine.

The help of the Helper brings unity… peace… strength… and yet this is not all that Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would do.                 He promised them that the Holy Spirit would empower them to proclaim the gospel.

John 14:12 (ESV) – 12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.

This is one of the most amazing statements in all the Upper Room Discourse.  Jesus says that they will do “greater works” than He did.  This doesn’t refer to miracles, because the apostles never did greater miracle than Jesus did.  They didn’t calm the storm with a word.  They never walked on the water.  They never raised to life a man who had been dead for 4 days.  No…they did mighty miracles…but nothing which compared to Jesus’ miracles (see Leon Morris, John, NICNT, 646, also Art Azurdia in a sermon entitled “The Vitality of the Spirit” – Part 2.) 

This doesn’t refer to miracles, so it must refer to something else.  I suggest to you that it refers to success in preaching the gospel.  Jesus never set foot out of Palestine, but through His followers the message of the gospel would go to the ends of the earth.  When Jesus ascended into heaven, He had 120 followers in Jerusalem.  But within 10 days there 3,000. 

The greater works which Jesus speaks of here is success in preaching the gospel wherever God might send them.

Jesus says that these greater works are only possible because He is going to the Father.  Over in John 16:7, Jesus says that it is to their benefit that He go away, because, when He goes away, then He will send the Holy Spirit to them.  Therefore these greater works seem to be the result of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon them.

This evangelistic success would come for a number of reasons…

John 15:26-27 (ESV) – 26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

Acts 1:8 (ESV) – 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

John 16:8-11 (ESV) – 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

 In John 15:26-27… we are told that the Holy Spirit would bear witness of Jesus.  He would glorify Jesus before the world and He would do it through God’s people. 

Jesus promised that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit had come upon them and then… and only then… they would be His witnesses… in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8.)

The Holy Spirit would convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.  The Spirit would impress upon those who lost and dead in the trespasses and sin the need of salvation in Jesus Christ alone.

Jesus promised that when the Spirit came that He would busy Himself with testifying of Jesus in the world and the results of this would be evangelistic success greater than that which was enjoyed by Jesus.

We see this clearly in the early church described in Acts 9:31.  They were multiplying… increasing in number constantly… because they were walking in the help of the Helper.

But notice in John 14:12, that this promise is not just to the apostles.  It is given to “whoever believes in Me.”  That means that the promise of “greater works” is to us as much as those in the 1st century.  This promise is for all those who are trusting in Jesus.  Yes… God is sovereign in when and how and who He will save.  But this promise is held out to us today by the sovereign God of the universe.

Do you want to be take part in doing the “greater works” described here? 

Do you want to be part of a body which is growing in unity and peace… growing in strength and in numbers?

Then we need to be walking in the help of the Helper… constantly… all the time…

So let’s recap what we have seen here…

God was at work in this early church in a mighty way… bringing about amazing results…

                                                            1)      Unity

                                                            2)      Peace

                                                            3)      Strength

                                                            4)      Numerical growth

All of this came about as they were walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, so why are we told that they were walking in the fear of the Lord?

What is the relationship between walking in the fear of the Lord and walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit?

I believe we see the answer here in John 14:15-16

John 14:15-16 (ESV) – 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,

Notice the word “and.”  It the Greek conjunction κγ (pronounced kagō) and it is emphatic in the Greek.  It demonstrates a strong connection between the giving of the Spirit and experiencing all His blessings with their love for Jesus and obedience His commands.  Lest you think I am making too much out of this, Bible scholars Leon Morris, William Hendriksen, and J.C. Ryle in their commentaries on this passage all note the emphatic nature of the connection here.  The pouring out of the Spirit upon them in power is connected to their love for Jesus and their obedience to His commands.

This doesn’t take away from the fact that the Holy Spirit is active in the life of every believer.  Apart from Him bringing new life to the sinner, no one could ever be “born again” (Jn 3:1-6.)  Everyone who is trusting in Jesus has been sealed with the Holy Spirit as a pledge of our inheritance in Christ (Eph 1:13-14.)  But the fullness of the blessings we see described here…unity…peace…being built up and strengthened…and performing the greater works… and growing numerically… these all seem to be connected with loving Jesus and obeying His commands, which I would say is the result of fearing the Lord.

Remember what it means to fear the Lord:

1)      To know God in His holiness…

2)      To recognize that He is always present…

3)      And to live our lives accordingly… in the presence of God in a manner pleasing to Him.

If we aren’t striving to live our lives in this way, then how can we expect to experience the help of the Helper???

Acts 9:31 (ESV) – 31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

These early Christians in Acts 9:31 walked in the fear of the Lord.  They lived their lives before Him in fear and trembling and God poured out His Spirit upon them and they walked in the help of the Helper.  As a result, the Church was unified.  It experiencing peace.  It was constantly growing stronger.  And multitudes were being added to the Lord.

Do you want to know why I think the church in the United States lacks the blessings of God?  I don’t think we walk in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

God is sovereign in who He saves and when He saves and how He saves… but God rarely pours out great blessings upon His people when we fail to walk in a manner worthy of the God who has called us into His kingdom and glory.

Are we walking in the fear of the Lord?

Are we walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit? 

Do we recognize that He is the source of all the blessings that are ours right now in this life?

Do we recognize that He is the One who gives unity?  We can’t manufacture it. Unity in the church is God-given and, when it comes, the world will know that the Father sent Jesus into the world.

Do we recognize that the Holy Spirit is the one who gives us peace?  Our hope is in God… not in ourselves or the things of this world.  And our hope does not disappoint because God’s love has been poured out within us by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom 5:5.)

What are we trusting in?  Who are we trusting in?

Do we recognize that it is the Holy Spirit who gives us strength?  He has laid the foundation for us in His Word and He is the One who applies His Word to our lives.

Are we grounded in His Word?  Do we study it diligently… joyfully… constantly?  Do we rely upon Him to teach us all things necessary for life and godliness?

Do we recognize that it is the Holy Spirit who gives numerical growth?  Growth in the church is not the result of the newest program or book or video.  It is the Holy Spirit who adds unbelievers to the Lord.  It is the Holy Spirit who quickens the dead sinner… opening their eyes to see the glory of the gospel in the face of Christ Jesus.  It is the Holy Spirit who gives repentance and faith to the lost soul in need of salvation.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit which applies the work of Jesus Christ to the sinner… apart from Him doing His work… we can do nothing.

But the promise is for us… whoever believes in Jesus will do greater works than Him through the help of His Helper.

Are we seeking His help?

Are we relying upon Him to do His work?

Do you want to see the greater works take place in our day and age?

God is sovereign in when and how and to whom He brings salvation, but we can rest assured that if we aren’t walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit,  then it is doubtful that we will see Him move in our time.

Are you walking in the fear of the Lord?

Are you walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit?

May we strive for this and may we plead with God for even a small measure of the blessings which we see present in the early church.

 

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