The Father, Son, and Who? – Dan Teefey
Sermon text: John 16:5-15
Today we begin 4 weeks dealing with several of the questions that you put in the sermon suggestion box over the past several weeks. There is no way we can get to all of the questions, but where possible I have combined the topics to cover most of them in one of these 4 sermons. The reality is that some of the questions or suggested topics are so large that it would be impossible to address them adequately in 30 minutes, so for the next 4 weeks each sermon will be 3 hours long. Just kidding. We simply won’t be able to get into the deep details of some of the topics, but I keep all the suggestions and hopefully we will use them as a basis for choosing sermon series and Discovery Hour classes in the future.
This week we are going to discuss the Holy Spirit. There were several questions in the suggestion box concerning the Holy Spirit and then Dave Timmerman’s small group stuffed the box full of questions about the Trinity. No big deal, in 30 minutes or so I am going to rehash 2,000 years of discussion.
What we are really going to do today is take a look at a passage in the Gospel of John and seek to understand the Holy Spirit and its role in the Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Lets read our text. John 16:5-15.
If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that talking about the Holy Spirit weirds us out quite a bit. It is easier to speak of God our Father who created the world and hangs out up above watching over us . . . or of Jesus, this guy that actually came to earth and walked and talked to us. But the Holy Spirit is just a little strange. It is the Holy Spirit that makes us look a little crazy . . . like we are listening to voices or something.
Despite our unrest in speaking about the Holy Spirit, our culture has developed a fascination with what it likes to refer to as “spirituality.” No specifics are ever named regarding what that means . . . but the implication is that there is something more at work than simply the physical world. It is “cool” these days to say that you are a “spiritual” person . . . but when asked what that means . . . you usually get a whole host of things from incense to Dr. Oz to aliens in the cosmos.
This week I did a simple search of news on the internet to see what people were saying about spirituality. I found several articles immediately.
First, Jon Gosselin, the dad from Jon and Kate Plus 8, admitted that he got "carried away by the challenge of fame" and is consulting with a Rabbi to "reconnect with [his] deeper, more spiritual, more altruistic self."
Another article discussed the new Michael Jackson tribute, "This Is It." A fan was fighting back tears when she said of the show, "that was the most phenomenal thing I've seen in ages . . . it was everything his fans wanted and more, a real spiritual experience. You could feel his love."
A third article was research based and stated that "a new University of Chicago survey has revealed that religious institutions may be waning in the U.S, but private religious practices like prayer are actually on the rise. The study’s author said that those twin trends suggest a growing number of people are “spiritual but not religious.”
"Daily prayer rose from 52 percent in the 1989-90 survey to 59 percent in the most recent survey. Belief in the afterlife also went up modestly, from 69 percent in 1973 to 73 percent in most recent surveys."
So, although we are uncomfortable discussing the Holy Spirit and are not sure what role it plays in our lives as Christians . . . our culture and the world is oddly fascinated with a deeper, more spiritual understanding of their lives. The world is praying more . . . but they don’t know what they are praying to . . . they are seeking the spiritual more, but have no idea what that means.
There are a lot of negative aspects to a post-modern secular world, but one of the benefits is a skepticism of purely scientific or physical explanations for everything and an openness to “spirituality,” even if it is anything goes. Marjorie Thompson writes in her book, Soul Feast, “There is a hunger abroad in our time, haunting lives and hearts. Like an empty stomach aching beneath the sleek coat of a seemingly well-fed creature, it reveals that something is missing from the diet of our rational, secular and affluent culture. Both within and beyond traditional faith communities, a hunger for spiritual depth and integrity is gaining momentum.”
I want to begin this morning by talking about the Trinity in general before we focus in on the Holy Spirit.
Traditionally, theologians have described the Trinity as three persons in one Godhead. God exists as 3 persons, but one being. This is not 3 separate and distinct beings with just the same purpose, but they are one God existing in 3 different distinctions. The members of the Trinity are said to be co-equal and co-eternal, one in essence, nature, power, action and will. Each, the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are uncreated and all three are eternal with no beginning.
Historically everyone has failed to fully explain the mystery of the Trinity. So when words were not sufficient, artists have taken stabs at describing the Trinity through art. One of the most famous depictions of the Trinity is a painting by a Russian named Andrei Rublev in 1410. The painting is technically based upon Genesis 18:1-8, which is the story of the hospitality of Abraham who was visited by three wanderers or angels. But the painting is also understood as a wonderful depiction of the Trinity. The idea is not that this is an image of the Trinity, but that it points to understanding the Trinity deeper. (PIC) (http://www.wellsprings.org.uk/rublevs_icon/rublev.htm)
The painting itself can be enclosed in a circle and each of the three faces is exactly the same. Each of the characters wears a blue garment which is the color representing the heavens, but each also wears something else that speaks of their unique identity.
The Father is seated on the left side clasping a staff demonstrating authority over heaven and earth. Behind the Father is a house, speaking of the place being prepared for us.
The Son, Jesus, is in the center. Two fingers are on the table representing Jesus being both God and human. His brown robe speaks of the earth and His humanity, while the gold stripe speaks of his kingship. Behind the Son is a tree, through which Adam and Eve sinned and upon which Jesus died to forgive our sins.
The Spirit is seated on the right. The green robe represents new life. Behind the Spirit is a mountain remembering where people often encountered God in the Bible. “Mountain top” experiences where we have felt close to God and filled with the Spirit.
The figures are not closed to each other though, they are open facing us the viewer. They are drawing us into their relationship.
Again, this painting is an inadequate representation, but it does help point towards a mysterious truth in the same way that the shamrock does. Legend has it that Saint Patrick convinced the Irish of the validity of the Trinity by showing a shamrock, which was 3 distinct petals, but one substance.
So, what about the Holy Spirit?
Traditionally, we have understood God as creator and Jesus as God come to reconcile the world to himself, but if we just stopped there we might just be speaking of events in the past that have little to do with our lives here and now.
Martin Luther made this point, he said, “of what help is it to you that God is God, if he is not God to you?” John Calvin made the same point, “as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us.”
Understanding the Holy Spirit helps us to see that God is not just “over us” in God or “for us” in Jesus, but “in us” in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is really God with us right now.
Look at the John 16 text.
In this passage, Jesus is speaking to his disciples about the time when he will be gone. Jesus is going to be crucified, then resurrect and then ascend to heaven. He will soon not be with the disciples any longer. Jesus says that he is returning to the one that sent him.
This would seem like abandonment . . . that Jesus is leaving the disciples high and dry, but Jesus continues by saying that it is good that he is leaving, because when he goes, “the Counselor” will come.
The Spirit will do two primary things. First, the Spirit will, “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”
Second, “the Spirit of Truth” will “guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.”
This text helps us to see that the Spirit serves to primary functions: to reveal truth in such a way that it convicts the world of guilt . . . and to guide believers more and more into the truth. The Spirit is truth . . . and truth convicts those that deny it and its guides those that desire to follow it.
While Jesus was on earth he taught and showed the disciples many things, but when Jesus left earth the Holy Spirit continued to work through believers to help them to understand and remember what Jesus said and did . . . to know God’s will. The Holy Spirit is the present power that works through Jesus’ words and deeds to transform our hearts today.
The Spirit has worked in this way through Scripture. In the Old Testament, the Spirit fulfills many roles: the Spirit is the creative breath of God giving life to all creatures; the Spirit gives intelligence and skill; the Spirit offers assurance of the forgiveness of sins, gives courage to the downtrodden; brings new life out of death; restores hope; and promotes justice.
In the New Testament, the work of the Spirit is re-presenting Christ. The Spirit brings Christ into the present. Christ is not merely a memory of someone long gone or someone who may arrive in the future – he is present to us here and now in the power of the Spirit.
It is the Holy Spirit that gives us life and vitality. Ruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek are the biblical words designating the Spirit of God. Both involve reference to “wind” or “breath” or “storm.” The ruach of God in Hebrew is God’s life-giving breath in Genesis. We are not just touched by the breath of God, but we are filled up by it . . . we are blown up like a balloon by God’s wind. The Holy Spirit is God in action, “stirring things up,” invading our human existence with new possibilities of creative, spirited living.
One scholar says, “Jesus brings the truth, and makes it present through his coming into the world; the Spirit opens up this truth and creates the entrance into it for believers.”
The Holy Spirit’s work in our lives is a continuous process. It is not a one and done type of deal, though. We must work tirelessly to be filled with the Spirit. The reality is that we tend to like to fill our lives with other things than the Spirit. Being continually filled with the Holy Spirit is an ongoing effort to say to ourselves less me and more God. Less what do I want, and more what does God want.
Generally when we think of being filled with the Spirit . . . our mind quickly jumps to a charismatic understanding . . . someone is filled with the Spirit when they are speaking in tongues or something radical like that . . . but the truth is that the most common manifestation of the Spirit is a quietness of one’s soul . . . we experience a deep sense of peace of joy, perhaps a time of clarity or insight . . . or a deeper sense of understanding of present circumstances or future plans.
Even though the Spirit is generally manifested in the stillness of our hearts, the Spirit also manifests itself in the more dramatic ways too, such as speaking in tongues, falling down, laughing, crying, or feeling a power surge like electricity.
The Holy Spirit is the power and presence of God in action, continually urging us towards transformation.
So how do we get the Holy Spirit. Well, I already mentioned that as believers we have the Holy Spirit. So as simple as it sounds, we get the Holy Spirit by asking for it. We acknowledge that we are sinners, that we continually fall short . . . and that we need God’s forgiveness. That we understand that Jesus, who never sinned, gave up his life, taking upon himself the consequences of our sins. And that now we can be forgiven. When we acknowledge these truths and desire to have a relationship with God . . . we are given the Holy Spirit. The question then become not how do we get the Holy Spirit, but how do we become filled with the Holy Spirit that resides within us.
First, we must yield every area of our life to the control of the Holy Spirit. We empty ourselves of things in our lives that grieve God by confessing our sins and receive God’s cleansing and forgiveness. Then we give control over to God. Once again we must become less me oriented and more God oriented. We must be wholeheartedly given over to God. C.S. Lewis puts it this way, Christ says, “Give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.”
Once we begin turning our lives over into God’s control, the second step in being filled with the Holy Spirit is once again simply asking to be filled. It is God’s will to give the Holy Spirit to those that ask. It sounds so easy and simple but so few of us make the effort to simply ask.
When I was in Chicago, there was an after school youth program that used our church facilities and that we partnered with. The group’s spiritual director told me about an event that they had and something he did. They were trying to help the students listen for God amongst all the noise in their lives. When the students were in the gym and playing basketball and various other activities . . . the spiritual director announced over the noise that another staff member had $20 and if you wanted the money all you had to do was go ask him for the money. The director announced this 3 times, but no one went over to the staff member over 30 minutes or so. Some probably didn’t hear him make the announcement, others likely only heard bits and pieces, and others heard the whole thing, but simply chose not to ask. The spiritual director then gathered the students together for teaching and used what he had done to illustrate how we can miss God amongst all the noise in our lives . . . but I think it also illustrates how we miss out on the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives . . . because we simply don’t choose to receive from God what he wants to give us.
God promises us to fill us with the Holy Spirit if we ask . . . so ask.
The last thing we must do to be filled with the Holy Spirit is to expect that the Holy Spirit will fill us and expect great things. Expect that the Holy Spirit can and will do amazing things in you.
The Spirit is vital for us. It is through the Spirit that Jesus teaching and work is continued for us. And the Spirit is what always makes Jesus’ work current. It is the Spirit that takes the 2,000 year old Jewish carpenter and makes Him applicable to new and unprecedented situations.
Let me end with a warning. While many people don’t connect with the Spirit because they simply don’t know to ask . . . many others don’t fill up with the Spirit because they are too scared. The Holy Spirit is not something to mess around with. A Spirit-filled life will take you down paths that you never expected. If as John says earlier in his Gospel, the Spirit is like the wind that “blows where it wills” (John 3:8), we must expect and be open to the working of the Spirit in unexpected and often unwanted places. You will be convicted of sins that you would prefer to hide. You will be asked to do things that require sacrifice. You will be called to a life much larger than you thought possible.
One of the earliest Christian metaphors that has helped Christians grasp the nature of our relationship with the Holy Spirit is a sailboat. A sailboat cannot move by its own power but must rely on the force of wind, over which neither sailboat nor sailor has control. Still, a sailor can shift the position of the boat by making adjustments so that the sails catch the wind. Free will is like the sailor. Though it is sometimes a struggle, we can choose to hold the boat of our life steady into the wind of the Spirit. Then our efforts are supported and directed by grace. One caution though: Once we have opened our sails to that wind, we need to be prepared to go where the Spirit blows! The Spirit insists on transforming us at every level.
Migliore, Daniel L. Faith Seeking Understanding. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI, 2004.
Smith, D. Moody. “John 16:5-16.” Interpretation 33, no. 1, January 1979 (58-62).
Tan, Siang-Yang and Douglas Gregg. Disciplines of the Holy Spirit. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1997.
Thompson, Marjorie J. Soul Feast. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 1995.