In his book ‘Third Person’, John Peters starts by saying, ‘It’s difficult to talk about God in an adequate way,’ especially when we consider God as Spirit – the third person of the Holy Trinity – (“He” not “it”). God is Spirit, as Jesus tells us (John 4.24), but the Spirit is invisible and it’s hard to describe someone you can’t see! This is why the bible uses all these wonderful images for the Holy Spirit: fire, water, the dove, anointing oil, wind, light and the first fruits of the harvest. Our new preaching series, in the lead up to Pentecost when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on the very first Christians, will explore each of these biblical images for the Holy Spirit. We are seeking both to understand and to experience more of the Holy Spirit.
As the dove (the Spirit of adoption), the Holy Spirit comes to fill us with the Father’s love, to enable us to cry “Abba, Father” and to “testify to our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8.15-16) just as he did for Jesus at his Baptism when he made the words of the Father audible: “You are my son, whom I love, and with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3.22).
As wind, he is the breath of God. He is the presence and power of God in the beginning at the dawn of creation (Genesis 1.2) and in every creative moment throughout history. He is God’s life, giving us new life. We sing, “It’s your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise” in the wonderful song ‘Great are you Lord’ by All Sons and Daughters. The Spirit is literally our spiritual oxygen so that we can live the Christian life. We need to breath in the Holy Spirit every moment, or as St Paul says, we can only “live by the Spirit” (Galatians 5.16). He is the wind, the power that drives the Christian life. Just as wind drives turbines and spinnakers, so the Holy Spirit gives us power to live for God and to do the works of God, for miracles, for evangelism and for holiness. Indeed, we can do nothing without the Holy Spirit. This is true even for Jesus; surely in one of his most remarkable statements he said “I can do nothing on my own” (John 5.30). John Peters observes the pattern:
Jesus does nothing until the Holy Spirit comes upon him at his baptism.
His ministry is then empowered and directed by the Holy Spirit.
The apostles do nothing until the Holy Spirit comes upon them on the day of Pentecost.
Their ministry is then empowered and directed by the Holy Spirit.
“Without the Spirit of God, we can do nothing. We are as ships without wind. We are useless.” (Charles Spurgeon)
The Holy Spirit is our living water. Like empty vessels we need to be filled with the Spirit, and to go on being filled again and again (Ephesians 5.18). And when we are filled, we are completely satisfied in him: Jesus said, “whoever drinks the water I give them will never be thirsty again”. And even more, the water (the Holy Spirit) that only Jesus can give us, “will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4.14), and even more: “rivers of living water will flow from within them” (John 7.38). It is impossible to follow Jesus without the Holy Spirit. If we feel dry or empty, we need the Living Water, the river of life within us. He is the pure water that washes us clean from the inside, he makes us feel and experience that all guilt and shame is gone from our lives.
The Holy Spirit is the light that reveals the truth about ourselves (he convicts us of sin and our need for God (John 16.8), and makes God’s truth, the bible, come alive for us. He is the oil that anoints us (sets us apart) for God’s service (Isaiah 61.1-3). He gives each of us our unique gifts and calling (1 Corinthians 12&14). He equips us and gives us all that we need to bear fruit in the Kingdom of God. He is the fire, who came at Pentecost, to “fire-up” the church to become fearless missionaries. Courageous people who are ready to proclaim the Kingdom, even in the face of danger and opposition, just like Jesus, and demonstrate the Kingdom of heaven here on earth, through signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit, just like Jesus. Jesus said, “You will do the works I have been doing, indeed you will do even greater works than these” (John 14.12). In his classic book Come Holy Spirit, David Pytches puts it simply like this: “I have become convinced that signs and wonders are a proper element in the ministry of all the people of God.”
It is my prayer that over the next few weeks, in the midst of the global pandemic of Covid-19, when the world desperately needs a church that is fired-up, empowered and overflowing with the Father’s love, that through this series we will become a church filled afresh with the Holy Spirit.
Oh breath of God, if ever we needed you ‘tis now.