Spirit is God’s beautiful gift of grace

By Rev Dr Noel Due

Hear the word of the Lord as recorded in John’s gospel: Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (Jn. 16:7 ESV) As you […]

Hear the word of the Lord as recorded in John’s gospel: Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (Jn. 16:7 ESV)

As you will recall, Jesus spoke these words in the context of his last Passover meal with his disciples. Before long, he would be betrayed, tortured and crucified; although, had you been there, you would not have known that. That was all still to come.

Can you take your imagination into the upper room that night?

Can you imagine yourself, reclining around the low tables on the night of this special Passover feast?

Jesus is doing and saying some very unusual things.

Not only has Jesus taken off his outer clothes, wrapped a towel around his waist, washed your feet and those of all your friends; but he is also transforming the Passover meal itself.

To outward eyes it looks like a normal Passover feast, but in his words and actions, Jesus is transforming it into something else.

He speaks about his body and his blood.

He speaks about bread and wine as his body and his blood.

He speaks about a new covenant, the forgiveness of sins, and remembering him. He speaks about going away and you not being able to follow.

He speaks about deep and troubling things: death and betrayal.

There’s a sombre mood, and a tone to his voice you’ve not heard before.

And there’s a strange conversation with one of your friends. It is deeply mysterious.

You don’t understand it, but it troubles you deeply. And, even more strangely, after that conversation your friend, who is called Judas, goes out of the room, into the night.

Has he gone to get extra supplies? Or arrange some accommodation? He is the treasurer after all. But why now? It’s troublingly bizarre.

And in the context of all this—among all of the strange and perplexing things—Jesus is saying a LOT about the Holy Spirit.

You don’t realise it yet, but this is the last night you and Jesus will be together, at least in the way you have been for the last three years or so.

Over that time you have spent almost every waking moment in Jesus’ company.

You have eaten with him, travelled with him, slept under the same roof and walked countless miles as he preached in villages up and down the country.

You have heard his teaching, seen his wonderful works of healing and demonic deliverance. You have shared in some of that power too, from time to time, as he gave you authority to cast out demons and heal diseases on a special ministry trip.

But he has never said as much about the Spirit as he is saying tonight.

If you were take the few pages that make up the Sermon on the Mount, you’d find there more references to God the Father than the whole of the Old Testament.

And in these few pages, from John 13-17, you find more direct teaching about the Holy Spirit than the entire Old Testament.

And this makes sense, because only Jesus fully knows the Father and the Spirit. And his purpose is to bring you into relationship with them, as he was and as he is.

Yet, linger on this point: If you had the chance to see Jesus face to face; to hear his voice and to look in his eyes; to feel the weight of his hand upon your shoulder and the deep joy of his laugh, would you value that above all else?

I think if you were to ask 100 Christians if they had to choose between having that experience of Jesus’ physical presence, and Jesus’ absence replaced by the Spirit, probably 99 of them would say “I’d like his physical presence every time.”

Yet, Jesus sees it differently.

He says, quite deliberately and explicitly: “it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (Jn. 16:7 ESV)

In other words, Jesus regards the Spirit is the best gift he can give.

Jesus regards it as better for us to have the Spirit than his own continued physical presence.

And, by extension, it is better for the world that the Church has the Spirit.

But more of that soon.

From Jesus’ point of view, coming face to face with the Spirit is not an optional extra.

Without the Holy Spirit we would have nothing and be going nowhere. Indeed, we wouldn’t even exist. If God were to withdraw his Spirit the whole creation would cease to be. Without the Spirit there would be no hope and no future; not just for you, or for your church, but for the world.

And without the Spirit you couldn’t be a Christian.

In his comment on the third article of the Apostles’ Creed Martin Luther puts it this way:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it united with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church he daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day he will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.

That’s pretty comprehensive. It is probably the most comprehensive catechetical statement on the Spirit to come out of the Reformation.

One of the consequences of this statement is that there is no effective mission without the Spirit.

In some ways we can think of the Holy Spirit as the personal envoy of God. He is the Person of the Godhead who carries Jesus and the Father to the world.

Elsewhere, Jesus identifies the Spirit as “another Helper”.

The word for “another” means, “another of the same type”.

In other words, the Spirit would be for us, what Jesus was for the disciples.

The Spirit would another like Jesus: teaching, leading, guiding, and drawing others into the Kingdom of God. The Spirit would be another like Jesus: of the same character, doing the same things, for the same reasons.

The Spirit is not a substitute for Jesus—as a sort of consolation prize to make up for Jesus’ absence. The Spirit is the Person through whom Jesus and the Father make themselves present to us, and through whom they speak to the world.

There is also this:

Jesus says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 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.” (Jn. 14:16-17 ESV)

This contains a description and a promise.

The description was this: the disciples had seen the work of the Spirit through Jesus.

Because the Spirit dwelt in Jesus fully, without hindrance, the disciples had had the Spirit “with them”.

In and through Jesus, they had seen the Spirit at work.

But the promise is this: that same Spirit would be in them.

No longer just with them, but in them. Not just in them, but in us.

As Jesus said to the woman by the well in John 4: “The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (Jn. 4:14 NRS)

So it truly is to our advantage that Jesus went away, so that he could send the Spirit to be in us.

Had he not gone, we would not have the indwelling presence of God.

We would be like God’s Old Testament people, having the Spirit with us (thought anointed prophets, priests and kings), but we would not personally have the Spirit in us.

We would not have the Spirit to write God’s teaching on our hearts.

We would have no love for God our Father springing from within us, and couldn’t call him “Abba, Dearest Father”.

We wouldn’t know that Jesus was Lord, and we certainly wouldn’t love and trust him.

We would not share in the life of God, receive his gifts, nor bear his fruit.

And we could not say to the world “Come”.

That is a one of the most important aspects of the Spirit’s work in and through us.

That is why it is better for the world that Jesus went away so that he could send the Spirit.

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. (Rev. 22:17 NIB)

It is through the Spirit that God reaches the world.

The Spirit teaches us to invite the world to come; to come and drink, freely and without cost; to taste and see that the Lord is good.

The Spirit God is bringing others into the Kingdom, and those who come in invite yet others.

We—the Church in the power of the Spirit—say “Come”. And those who hear also say “Come”.

It is an ever expanding, multiplying community of faith.

If Jesus were still only physically present in one spot that couldn’t happen.

If we only had the Spirit with us, and not in us, it couldn’t happen.

It is through the Spirit that God “calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole church on earth”.

So, the Spirit is God’s beautiful gift of grace through whom he is blessing the nations by bringing them to faith in his Son.

Wherever the Spirit is at work these things follow:

He increases our love for God our Father and gives us a desire to do his will.

He increases our love for Jesus, and teaches us that there is no other mediator between God and man.

He draws us to the cross so that we know for a certainty God loves us and has forgiven us.

He gives us a love for God’s word and teaches us to pray.

He gives us love for one another and the world around us; a love we could never find in ourselves.

And he leads us out in God’s mission to bless the nations.

Yes, you will experience these things only imperfectly. No Christian, and no Christian community, is fully filled with the Spirit at all times. We are prone to quench or grieve the Spirit, and still liable to walk by the Flesh instead.

But even in the imperfection, the witness of the Spirit is plain.

That’s the miracle. That the Spirit has given us love for God our Father. That he has united us with Jesus. That he has poured the love of God into our hearts. That the Spirit bears witness with our spirits that indeed, we are the children of God.

None of these things could happen if Jesus had not gone away.

So, I invite you to join with me in giving thanks to God for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

I invite you to fully receive and participate in the Spirit’s life, because through him we come more fully to know the Father and the Son.

And I invite you into the adventure of the Spirit’s mission to the world.

The Spirit and the Bride say “Come!”

And we, who hear, say “Come!”

Amen.

 

This sermon was shared by Rev Dr Noel Due of the LCA on Reformation Sunday in Singapore.

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