The Person of the Spirit (Pete Hillman)
NT reading Acts 2:14-21
Gospel reading Luke 4:14-21
Jesus' ministry begins
The passage for our New Testament reading this morning is the well known and dramatic commencement of Jesus' public ministry. It is immediately preceded by the temptation in the wilderness, which is really about Jesus coming to terms with his own identity and demonstrating perfectly his submission to his Father's will. After facing and passing these tests he returns to Galilee and arrives with a bang! If Jesus was looking for a quiet start he could have picked another method because this is not the entrance of a shy, quiet, retiring individual. No, this is the action of a man on a mission setting out his stall for all to see. There's no mistaking what is going on here, this is an aggressive strike against enemy territory and a thinly veiled claim to be the personal fulfilment of the Messianic prophecies. He couldn't have made it any clearer if he had written it in 10ft high letters and stuck it on a hillside.
But it's important to note that he carries out this dramatic announcement after people have already begun to notice that there is something very different about this man. Something awe inspiring about him, a depth to him not found in anyone else.
The power of the Spirit
Notice the opening lines of the passage “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit”. The difference in him, Luke is quick to point out, is that now he is accompanied not just by a depth of character which accompanied him even as a boy (remember the story of Jesus in the temple and phrases such as him growing in favour with God and men). No there is more here now. Yes he has integrity and is an admirable and learned man but now he returns with Power and this is due to the indwelling presence of the Spirit. The result of this power is that news spreads like wildfire that something is going on here and the reaction of everyone (except those in his home town) is that “everyone praised him”.
Now we all know the stories of the miracles performed by Jesus and the amazing things he did but for me what constantly strikes me about the gospels is the way in which, as a person, Jesus towers above all the other characters that appear. You may say that this is pretty obvious as he is the hero of the story or that the gospel writers were bound to write it this way. Both of these things are true but there is more to it than that. There is a depth to Jesus, a sense in which he transcends all that is going on around him whilst also being intimately involved in the events which suggests to me that this human being, by being filled with the power of the Spirit, has become more than the sum of his parts. There is a completeness about him which comes not just because of his divinity but rather because of the presence of the Spirit. And this is the important thing which we mis-read unless we are careful. The transcendence of the character of Jesus, it seems to me, is not because of some innate divinity carried in his DNA but rather because of this turning point described by Luke and the other gospel writers. They want to tell us that this power, this something extra which we can't quite put our finger on is the indwelling of the Spirit.
So why is this so important a point for us to grasp. Well, the reason is the promises of Jesus to his disciples both then and now. At the very end of Luke we hear these words of Jesus “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:49 And of course in Acts Luke then goes on to describe what happens on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit comes upon those gathered in the upper room. He begins by echoing the words of the end of his gospel “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” Acts 1:8 Then, of course, we have the dramatic events of Pentecost relayed to us where the nervous ill-educated misfits that Jesus called as friends are filled with the Spirit and completely transformed into eloquent, powerful orators filled with passion and power.
And this pattern of being filled with the Spirit continues throughout the accounts of those first mad few years where the whole Kingdom project explodes from Jerusalem spilling out into the rest of the known world and beyond. Time after time new believers repent, are baptised and filled with the Spirit (though the order of those events is sometimes not quite as neat and tidy as we would like but that's another sermon for another day). But the point is this. For believers to be filled with the Spirit is not an optional extra for the premier league players of the Christian faith but rather it is an expectation for all believers and something which we as 21st Century believers are invited to step into.
The person of the Holy Spirit
So what has gone so terribly wrong with the church in our time that we see so little evidence of the power of the Spirit? However we paint a picture of the church in our nation at this time, and sometimes I think that we paint too gloomy a picture to be honest, we have also to admit that the church we see around us bears little resemblance to that of the 1st century which almost seems to crackle with the power at work in these groups of believers. Now I am not advocating that we must try to somehow “get back to how things were”, I believe that to be a naive over simplification of things. But what I am suggesting is that we have somehow along the way lost a sense of the empowering presence of the Spirit in our own lives and in our corporate life together. How often does a person walk into one of our gatherings either here, at Legacy or in one of the many other gather places of Christians in the UK and say “Surely God is among you”. But to take us here as an example, if we as Christians know and believe all of this stuff that I have reminded us of this morning what else is wrong? If our basic grasp of the principles taught in scripture about the Spirit are right then what is wrong?
Well quite simply I think that what we do so often is take him for granted and forget that when we talk about the Spirit we are not talking about a substance but rather a person. When we speak of the Trinity we say, and sing, “God in three persons, blessed Trinity!” But do we really take on board what it means to speak of the Spirit as a person? We could get into all the theology of personhood here but I don't propose to. I simply want to ask you, what difference does it make to your understanding of being filled with the Spirit if, instead of thinking of Him as a stuff with which we are filled, we think of Him as a person with whom we have a personal relationship? Let me put it like this. A glass can have more or less water in it and the amount is determined by the person pouring the water or indeed by the size of the glass. In that sense we feel we have a level of control over the substance because our experience as human beings is that we can control substances pretty easily. Controlling individuals with personalities on the other hand is a whole other thing!
And this is where the church Fathers got is so right. They were not only concerned with emphasising the divinity of Jesus and therefore his co-equality with the Father but they were also concerned to describe the personhood of the Spirit so that we did not fall into this trap of thinking of Him as an “it” that could be controlled and which we could have more or less of. When we begin to think of the Spirit as person we are forced to use pictures which speak of relationship and being transformed by our relationship to this other person. For example, in marriages we see time and time again people who are changed by their partnership with another. The two individuals are not just individuals but have become more than this. Indeed when long marriages come to an end through the death of one of the partners there is a sense in which more is now missing than just one of a pair or, to put it more positively that something of the person who has died still lives on in the one who remains because their marriage was more than just one person plus one person.
This is the kind of thing that is at the heart of the mystery that is meant by the indwelling of the Spirit. The Old Testament uses language to describe individuals being possessed by the Spirit. Elijah is “caught up in the power of the Spirit”, Saul is said to be “among the prophets” because of his ecstatic behaviour when filled with the Spirit. And this language makes us nervous doesn't it, let's be honest. We don't want to be out of control. We don't like the idea of people seeing us coming out of church gatherings and saying “These people are drunk and at nine o'clock in the morning as well!!!” But that is the reality of inviting the Spirit into our lives, of walking life's adventure with Him. He is a dangerous, terrible, dare I say mischievous travelling companion who wants to thrill us with the wonder of creation in which he plays a vital part. He wants to draw us into the love bond between the Father and the Son by transforming us into the very image of Jesus. He wants to overwhelm us and set our feet dancing in an undignified jig filled with the joy of the life which flows out of the intimacy at the heart of the Trinity. He wants to leave us breathless at the possibility that we, we ordinary flawed and sinful human beings, are called into such depths of love and friendship with the author of all life.
But he can and will only do this if we invite Him to have his way with us each and every moment of each and every day. Just like any other person if we are estranged to him we cannot hear his voice, if we walk apart from him we cannot experience his presence. His longing is to fill us so completely that he may share with us all that the Father longs to give us and together with us draw others into the dance of life which is shared with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for all eternity, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.
What was Jesus like?
The Character of God
How do we know what God is like?
The Authority of Scripture
How should we obey what the Bible teaches us?
The Wise Mans Tragedy
What can we learn from Solomon?
What can we learn from the mother of Jesus?
Cain and Abel
What can we learn from the first murderer?
Who is Aslan? Who is Jesus?
When the Fire Burns Low
How do we cope when we have grown tired of God's way?
Fix Your Eyes
How do we look for God?
Why should we look after the world God has given us?
How do we know who we are in God?
Lent - Pride, Doubt and Jealousy
What is the period of Lent all about?
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the House of God than dwell in the tents of the wicked...
How do get to have intimacy with God?
Can we feel the breath of God?
Hearing From God
How can I hear what God wants to say to me?
The Story We Find Ourselves In
The Bible tells the story of all creation - what is my part in that story?
What does Passover mean to us as Christians?
What does it mean to say that Jesus is alive?
What is the Fruit of the Holy Spirit?
Teaching for Christmas Eve...
What does it mean to have authority?
What can we do when it all seems like too much?
I Will Be With You
What does it mean to say "God is with us"?
What are angels, and what can we learn from what the Bible says about them?
A contemplative service for Pentecost
A creative/contemplative baptism service
How do we know what we should do?
A creative prayer/worship service
The Holy Spirit
Who is the Holy Spirit, and what does (s)he do?
A Relationship With Jesus
What does it mean to have a 'relationship' with the Son of God?
The Pilgrim's Progress
If we keep our eyes on the prize, what a journey it could be!
Heroes, Promises and Trust
How does our relationship with Jesus realy work?
A liturgy for masculine prayer
Living Life to the Full
How do we get the most out of life?
What is so speacial about the faith of Abraham?
The Presence of God
What does it mean to say God is present?
How Do I Know My Faith is Real?
We all wrestle with doubt, so how can we cope?
Who is Jesus?
...and what does he want from you?
To Act Justly Every Day...
What does the Lord your God require of you?
Sex and Self Image
Don't you know how beautiful you are?
Will you let Jesus be in charge?
Would you know him if he met you on the road?
The Person of the Holy Spirit
Who is the Holy Spirit, and what does (s)he do?
The Passion of the King
What does Jesus really want?
How can we really 'count it all joy'?
More Than Words
"... but words can never hurt me"?
The Armour of God
What tools does God give us to protect us from the Enemy?
The Heart of the Gospel
The Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near to you, therefore...
Do you really want to follow him?
How should I prepare to give a sermon?
The gift of healing comes from the Holy Spirit, but how does it work?
The People of God
What does it mean when we say that the Bible is the Word of God?
Jesus Part 2: The Deity of Christ
How can Jesus be God and Man at the same time?
Jesus Part 1: Who Do You Say I Am?
Who is Jesus, and why does He matter?
How do we resist?
What is holiness and how do we try to achieve it?
The Art of Spiritual Warfare
We're in a constant battle, so how do we try and prepare to fight?
Forgiveness Part Two: Forgiving Others
What is forgiveness and why do we need to forgive others?
Forgiveness Part One: Forgiven by God
Why does it seem so often that God is a million miles away?
Prayer Part Two: Receiving From God
Why does it seem so often that God is a million miles away?
Prayer Part One: The Lords Prayer
We look in detail at the Lords Prayer
It's one of the spiritual gifts, but what exactly is it, how does it happen?
Becoming a Christian
What is a Christian, how do you become one?
Basics of Christianity
Here we delve into the Nicene Creed