Today, we begin a new series on the works of the Holy Spirit in human history and how the Divine has operated in our world over the centuries.
The first way that God operates relates to the Old Testament where the Holy Spirit came upon an individual to temporarily equip and compel them to fulfil a God-given task (or tasks).
The second way God operates – most commonly seen in the New Testament – is where the Holy Spirit comes upon the person to permanently fill them with His Presence like a fluid” remaining within them throughout their lives unless curtailed by decisions that thwart His activity within them.
So, to be clear…
…when David implores God: ‘Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me,’ his understanding is that the Holy Spirit is resting upon him and not a permanent indwelling. After all, David fears God’s Spirit will be taken away.
Converesely, in Luke 14v26 where it is recorded that ‘the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and…remind you of everything I have said,’ this is understood as a permanent infilling because the Spirit is thereafter continually active in the person in as much as He is allowed.
Got it? Then we’re ready to explore the Old Testament and the works of God’s Holy Spirit…
‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.’ (Galatians 5v16-23) Continue reading Fruit of the Spirit – self control
‘Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?’ (Acts 2v5-7)
I don’t know about you but I sense the crowd’s bewilderment at what was happening. It’s one thing for everyone to be speaking the same language in your own province but to do it in a foreign country with a group of seemingly uneducated men speaking to you about the wonders and glory of God? Well, that’s another thing….
For the crowd, their amazement at being spoken to in their own language seems to have been quickly surpassed by incredulity as they realise the men are from Galilee – a place held with little regard by most from outside it and yet God’s Holy Spirit enters these ‘lowly’ people and instructs them to announce the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God.
However, God isn’t finished yet. Peter – a fisherman and disciple of Christ – steps forward with the other eleven and explains God’s plan of salvation to the visiting Jews. Finally, Peter finishes by explaining the need for the crowd to repent and be baptised and 3,000 visitors are saved as moist eyes give way to tears of repentance and the tag team of Holy Spirit and humanity rolls on…
‘When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.’ (Acts 2v1-4)Growing up in England in the mid-seventies, there wasn’t much television for a child on a Saturday with sports shows dominating both channels. While most of what was broadcast held little interest for me, there was something intriguing about the wresting bouts. In particular, the tag-team matches in which one weary wrestler – usually the one who had taken a right pasting at the hands of the opposition – would tag out and give way to the stronger wrestler to take over and save the day. (Maybe you see where I’m going with this?)
The crucified and resurrected Jesus appears to the disciples and instructs them to wait and pray for the promised Counsellor to come upon them- the Holy Spirit. Obediently, the disciples – buoyed by seeing Jesus in his resurrected state – wait and pray in anticipation, unsure of who they were praying for and what would happen. They didn’t have to wait too long because…
…on Pentecost Day – suddenly, unexpectedly, a wild wind fills the house where the fearful disciples had been praying. Everything breaks lose as the promised tag-team player arrives – God’s Holy Spirit falls on the disciples and they spill out from the house onto the streets, telling every person they meet about the good news of Christ crucified and resurrected. What’s more, they miraculously speak in languages they never knew they had and end up converting thousands of Jews (visiting from abroad) who will later return home, taking this message of salvation with them. A first wave of new converts who now carry the same Holy Spirit as the disciples. There can be no doubt. The Tag-team partner has arrived, ready to equip Christians to effect the work of Christ in the world!
‘”No one takes (my life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” The Jews who heard these words were again divided. Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?”
But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”’ (John 10v18-21)
Most people would agree that death is the inevitable consequence of having life in the first place – rather like the comic observation about how there are only two sure things in life – death and taxes. The moment that anything is born, it’s one second closer to it’s demise – such is the nature of life and death by old age, illness, accident, malevolence or whatever. We all die. So imagine the surprise of Jesus’ listeners when he claims:
‘No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.’
If someone said the same thing to us, we would think it improbable – not just the idea that you can sidestep illness, ageing and injury but rather, you have control over death itself in such a way that the grave can never hold you down. No wonder, those who heard Jesus’ pronouncement responded the way they did. After all, only the mad or demon-possessed would suggest such a thing.
For christians, Jesus is the only one who can make such a claim because he exists both inside and outside of time. Jesus was present at the beginning of Creation as Logos, speaking and directing God’s words in unison with the Divine Father as the Holy Spirit brooded over the waters and the Trinity went into action – see Genesis 1 and 1 John 1. However, unlike those that were quick to dismiss Jesus, there were others – more rational and open in their thinking – who on the evidence of the miracles they had experienced were ready to defend Jesus. Moreover, people who could see beyond the immediate to the potential of a different future where death would no longer have the last word.
But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”’
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. (John 10v11-13)
I took this photo four years ago. It was at the start of the 100 year commoration of the First World War and a ceramic red poppy was placed in the moat area around the Tower of London to represent each life lost during that conflict. A truly poignant pictorial representation of all the lives lost.
On the day I attended, the approximate count of poppies placed was somewhere in the region of 800,000 with more to be added. Can you imagine it? Eight hundred thousand people dead? Each one with parents, siblings, spouse and friends, all left to grieve their violent passing. A terrible tragedy affecting millions upon millions of people. (Even worse, the war to end all wars did not do as predicted with 45 wars more wars since that time).
So what has all of this to do with Jesus as the good shepherd?
Well, the Christian belief is that Jesus has won a battle that makes people free from the shackles of death, decay and darkness. Long before young men and women were cut down in the prime of life, Jesus came to earth to die and be resurrected, determined that the wolf should not have the final victory over humanity. Hence, Jesus’ response to the dying thief on the cross who petitions him to show favour after he dies. Jesus’ reply answers the ageless question of what exists after death:
“Truly I tell you: today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23v47)
‘Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”‘ (John 10v7-10)
I love the imagery being used here by Jesus – ‘I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.’
In the 1st Century, Jesus’ listeners would have been all too aware of the dangers facing sheep. Corralled into their pen for the night, the sheep would be dependant on the shepherd to sit in the gateway and ensure no animal or person came in to steal them. Hence, Jesus words: ‘whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.’
But what of his statement that ‘All who have come before me are thieves and robbers?’ Well, by occupation, Jesus was a carpenter not a shepherd so he is describing the spiritual role he is about to fulfil as carer for those who will place their faith in him. People who believe that in death they will pass through a cross-shaped gate to be with him for eternity. Which begs the question: what is it that the people are being saved from?
Jesus says:“All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them…(and) the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy (but) I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”
In short, thieves and robbers bring nothing to the table. They exist to steal and destroy and do this by distracting people away from Jesus who provides the opportunity for eternal life to all. At the time, Jesus was often speaking against religious leaders who opposed his message though today it could just as likely be an institutional practice or system that reduces humanity to anything less than their full spiritual potential Today, praise God that the full potential of God lives within you as you trust Jesus for the route ahead.
John 10v8-11 recounts this exchange:
(Peter ) “You shall never wash my feet.”
(Jesus) “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
(Peter) “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
(Jesus ) “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
While all of the other disciples were happy for Jesus to wash their feet , Peter refuses. Although it is not clear why he does this, his over-the-top counter response to Jesus seconds later in which he instructs him to wash his head and hands as well, says something of how Peter was open to correction and ready to change his perspective in an instant.
One possible explanation for Peter’s initial refusal to be washed may have come from his understanding of who Jesus was and his mission. While all of the disciples struggled to grasp Jesus’ teaching and what he was telling them about himself, Peter was the first to recognise him as the Christ. Moreover, Peter was also present at the transfiguration and it is likely he thought it unworthy of Jesus to degrade himself in this way by washing feet.
Of course, what Jesus was actually demonstrating in the washing of the disciples’ feet was that just as they had been washed and served by someone greater than themselves, so they too should serve others in the same way. Living examples of the change being wrought in people’s hearts and lives through God’s incoming Kingdom. A change that will in turn affect and challenge societal norms.
And what of the disciples in this- did they take this lesson to heart?
Well yes! In Acts 6, the disciples are later called upon to intervene to deal with a problem with the distribution of food to the widows. In the wake of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus’ discipoles – Apostles as they were now called – could have made a case that others others should intervene. After all, their calling was to go out and telling them the good news of Jesus. Instead – for a season – they put into practice what Jesus had shown them and served the widows in the way a leader in the Kingdom of Christ should do. Something God calls each of us to aspire to.
‘One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”’ (Luke 23v39-43)
Actually, I’m not at all sure what this is? At first glance it looks like a graveyard and yet the ornate crosses that tower over it like skyscrapers -each vying to be tallest- seem strangely incongruous as markers for a place from which the christian soul has already departed?
Of course, in parts of the world, many Christians believe that the souls of the dead are gathered by God once a year during the celebration of All Saints Day. As a result, All Hallow’s Eve – the day and evening before – are often used by families to tidy up and paint graves to make them more presentable to God so that their deceased relative or friend has a better chance of being taken up to heaven this time round.
To my mind, the only problem with this type of thinking is that it suggests Christ’s atonement is somehow lacking as it requires the relatives of the deceased person to perform acts on their behalf to ensure that they do not remain in a state of purgotary forever- quite at odds with that which Jesus tells the dying criminal about the Kingdom of God: Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”’
(It really couldn’t be any clearer).