Howard Carter is a Presbyterian minister and church planter in Auckland New Zealand. In this blog he reflects on God, life, the scriptures, family, Church and church planting, film and media and other stuff. Join him as he reflects on the Journey.
We are starting a new series today looking at the book of 1
Corinthians, and I always find it hard to know how to start a new sermon
1 Corinthians is known as a hot potato book it deals with
some challenging issues that are just as hot for us today. Issues that cause
division and derision amongst Christians: Sexual ethics, thought I throw that
in first and catch your attention; how do we deal with different understanding
of what is and isn’t right in the church… financial ethics, how can rich and
poor get along in the kingdom of God, social ethics, just how do we interact
with the secular society around us; do we simply conform to our culture or how are
we to differentiate ourselves, what constitutes spiritual maturity? Is it about
spiritual gifts and wisdom or how we treat each other and how we act?Have we made it or are we just on the journey
with a long way to go.
At its core for
us in our multi-cultural pluralistic society is the question of how can a group
of people gathered from across a diverse range of cultures, socio-economic
groupings, theological understandings and backgrounds come together and be one
body in Christ? How can we live together with different understandings of life
and faith and different ethical standards, different styles and ways of doing
things, different living standards and expectations? How can we do this without
resorting to simply adhering to the lowest common denominator, or a strict
enforced uniformity, a cookie cutter Christianity.Because when we come to Christ we are called
to be the new people of God, we are called to be an expression of God’s love
and hope for all humanity by loving one another. We live in a city that is wrestling with some of these issues as well. WE are split between million dollar suburbs, and places where those who can't afford to live In Auckland struggle to keep going. We have white suburbs and brown suburbs and in the midst of that we need to be a Church where we can live together with justice and peace.
At its heart we
as the church are a spiritual creation, a spiritual being, but we are also a
human institution with all the faults and foibles. What makes the book of 1
Corinthians so useful to us today is that it is written to a church that is
wrestling with those same kinds of issues.
I may have
trouble starting sermon series, but the good thing is that Paul has no trouble
in starting his letter to the church at Corinth. So as a way of introduction to
this series we are going to look at Paul’s introduction to his letter. We had
it read out to us this morning, and in doing that we will start to explore what
was happening at the Church at Corinth and in Paul’s response to that what this
book has to say to us.
Paul has no
problem introducing his letter because he follows the basic formula of a letter
in his culture and time. It starts with five basic conventions; you may
recognise some of them because we still use them today.
Sender… who is the letter from
Recipient… who is the letter for
Thanksgiving… a kind word about the
person you are writing to
The body of the letter… getting down to
what you are writing about, what is the issue.
In the first four parts of this letter
Paul focuses on the Church as a spiritual being.
Paul identifies himself as the sender,
along with a member of the church in Corinth Sosthenes, and that he writing to
the church in Corinth. But in both instances he crafts those identities in
relationship to Christ.
The book of Acts tells us much of Paul's story. His conversion to being a follower of Christ, his call to take the
gospel to the gentiles, which is amazing as before his conversion Paul in his
own words is a Jew amongst the Jews a Pharisee among the Pharisees, but Christ
changes all that. We read of his mission trips, where he established churches
throughout Asia Minor and into Europe. In Acts 18 it tells us the story of Paul
coming to the city of Corinth and starting the church there.Paul will have to defend his apostleship to
the church later in this letter, he is writing as one who is called to proclaim
the gospel and establish communities of believers, a role that he has been
called to by Christ. Apostle means ‘One who is sent’.
The recipient is the church in Corinth.
Corinth is a very interesting city, it
sits on the isthmus in Greece. It was an important Greek city which had been
destroyed and then rebuilt by the Romans and was important for trade as it was accessible
by sea from both the east and the west. It was a cosmopolitan city, with people
from all over the Roman Empire. As a trade centre it was a place where people
came to make money, as a port city it had a reputation for promiscuity, which
was exacerbated by the temple there dedicated to Aphrodite and the temple
prostitution that went with it.It was
famous for its games which were second only to the Olympic Games in Athens, and
for its entertainments. Craig Bloomberg says it was like the New York, Los
Angeles and Los Vegas of the roman world all rolled into one. And as we look
further into the book we will see all these thing contribute to the troubles
that this church was having.
But for Paul the focus was the church of
God in Corinth. The word for Church Paul uses here is ekklesia which has the
meaning of being the body politic, a new people a new community. Paul’s
addressing of the Church in Corinth points to the fact that it’s the church
because of what Christ has done. We have been made right with God because of
Jesus Christ, Jesus is calling us to be holy, which the NIV translates as
saints, a people set aside for God. The church you and I as well as those
believers in Corinth are a people set aside for the glory of God. There were
problems in the church at Corinth, much of it stemming from a false sense of
pride in who they were as a church, they thought they had made it, and Paul
reminds them and us that we are who we are by the grace of God. He reminds them
and us that also that we are one with all those in every place who call on the
name of Jesus. There is no room for division and thinking ourselves better than
any other grouping of Believers.
to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” incorporates
the greeting from the two dominant cultures Paul is from the roman greeting of
grace and the Hebrew one of Peace, but he does not stop there he shows us that
for the new people of God, those two things grace, undeserved benevolence and
peace, shalom, wholeness and right relationships come from God through the
person of Jesus Christ and what he has done for us.
Paul then goes on to give thanks for the
church at Corinth. It’s interesting as he is going to be dealing with some dire
issues within the church which seem to stem from a spiritual pride and sense
within the community that they have made it and are full of wisdom that Paul
would thank God for those very things.
But Paul gives thanks for the fact that
all those things come from Christ. It is Christ who has called the church in
the past. It is Christ who has given the church every spiritual gift to enable
them to live and witness to him in the present and it is Christ who can be
trusted to bring that work to completion in the future. They and we cannot take
credit for any of that because it is Christ who has done it. It is Christ who
is doing it in our midst and it is Christ who will finish the work he has
started within us. The Corinthians thought they had made it but Paul points out
no it’s Christ.
I shared on what this passage has to say
for Christian leaders at the parish council on Wednesday.I pointed out the key role that prayer has
for Christian leaders, to pray for the Church. To give thanks for what God is
doing in our midst. I also pointed out it is good to remember that when we come
into conflict with people, and Paul is about to butt heads with the church at
Corinth, thatthe person or people we
are in conflict with are loved by Christ and called by Christ to be his people
with us, and that Christ is at work in them, and us, to bring us to maturity. Also
that giving thanks for the positives we see is a good place to start as it
focuses us on Christ’s work in those people. These apply to all Christian
relationships not just leadership.
So now as Paul moves to the body of his
letter, we see that he moves to deal with the brokenness and faults and foibles
in the church. He had received a report from Chloe’s people about the
squabbling in the church and about divisions that were based on the various
Christian leaders. Paul, Apollo, who had come to Corinth after Paul and was
known as a great orator, and Cephas or Peter, and while we have no record him visiting
Corinth he has a lot of influence mainly amongst the more Jewish Christian
circles., Corinth valued wisdom and as a trade centre would be a place where many
people would come with new ideas and philosophies and share them in the market
place, and people would become disciples of these various people and argue
between themselves which one was best. Paul sees this happening in the Church…
it’s almost like Christian Idol.
There are those that don’t want to get
involved in this and simply say I’m of Jesus, and while I would want to say
Amen to that. There is a sense here that they are doing that not out of a
humble admission of being one in Christ, but as an assertion of their spiritual
pride. Paul’s answer is well is Christ divided is there a Christ faction within
the body of Christ?
In our own time and place there are many
things that cause division and derision in the body of Christ. We all have come
to Christ through different me and God has used different people to bring his
word to us. We come from different traditions, denominations. People often ask
me well why the Presbyterian Church and my short answer is well it’s a matter
of European history and geography.Over
the past few decades the church has been going through what has been called
culture wars and worship styles and music has been a source of division and
derision. Formal religion verses informal worship. How we interpret the
scriptures is a huge one, a rift between liberal and conservative
understandings. The influence of this leader and that movement, and I could go
on.Underlying that just maybe the same
need for maturity that Corinth had, the same human tendency to have pride in
the way we do things and how we’ve got there.
Paul then begins to teach the church at
Corinth about unity in Christ, and we are going to look at that over the next
few weeks. But at the end of our reading today Paul begins to focus us back on
what is the centre of our faith, the core of our unity. The cross of Jesus
Christ, Christ crucified. It is easy to get caught up in all these other things
but at the heart of who we are and how we are called to live is Christ and the
cross. It is God’s loving sacrifice and servant hood. It is grace and invitation.
It is mercy and forgiveness.
Over the past month at St Peter's Presbyterian Church I've been preaching a series of messages on the Holy Spirit.
There is, I believe, a lot of teaching on the Holy Spirit that is not helpful, and they come in two extremes... seeing the Holy Spirit as being the forgotten member of the trinity, and all the things that the Spirit did in the scriptures as being for way back then... not for now. There is an over emphasis on the manifestations of the Spirit and an associating the Spirit with a certain style of worship and type of Church. Both these extremes can hinder people from understanding the role the Spirit plays in the life of the believer and the fact that by the Spirit God comes and dwells within and enables and empowers every believer to live and witness to Christ.
So in this series I wanted to go back to the source and look at what Jesus had to say about the Spirit and how those first disciples received the Spirit, to help us understand who the Holy Spirit is and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Yes I come from a charismatic background and that is evident in the messages I preached. At the heart of the passages I preached on in what's known as Jesus farewell discourse I rediscovered the wonderful word Paraclete (paracletos). A word that literally means the one who comes alongside. The amazing reality that Jesus chose to think of himself and the Holy Spirit as the one who came alongside us. We often use the word 'advocate to translate it but in Greek thought it had more the idea of a trusted friend who came alongside to give sound legal advise rather than the paid professional or the court appointed official. one of the things that I really found helpful in understanding the word Paraclete was the idea of 'Mission Dei' that the Spirit is at work in the world and our role as Christians is to see where the Spirit is moving and what the Spirit is doing and go and join Him there. The Paraclete comes alongside us and calls us to come alongside Him to witness to Christ in word and deed, in sacrificial service and in power.
Anyway here is an index and link to those messages and my prayer is always when I preach that people may grow in their understanding of the Word of God and encounter Jesus, by the Spirit, in way that will bring life and transformation. Feel free to use these in anyway you find useful. If you comment or have questions I am open to feedback and happy to respond.
Originally this was going to be a six week series but sadly I ended up in hospital and so there is no message on John 16:12-15 The Spirit of Truth...
Let me wish you all a Happy Birthday and can I say that none
of you look a day over two thousand years old. Why am I wishing you Happy
Birthday? Welltoday is Pentecost
Sunday, it is the day when we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit in power
on those first disciples fifty days after Passover and Jesus death and
resurrection. It has been called the birthday celebration of the Church. At its
core the church is a spiritual being, yes it’s very human institution with all
its foibles and faults. But it is also that we are God’s spirited people called
to live in a new way, and it came into being with the coming of the Holy
Luke’s account of Pentecost is in three sections, the first
is a narrative of what happened, of the coming of the Holy Spirit, which
focuses on the physical signs that accompanied this event. The second is
Peter’s speech, in which Peter explains to the crowd what is happening and why
, he does that it terms of God’s promise from the Hebrew scriptures, in
particular the prophecy we had read out from Joel chapter 2 and also focuses on
what God has done through the life, passion, resurrection and ascension of
Jesus. It marks the beginning of the Church being witnesses to Jesus alongside
the Holy Spirit. The last section of the narrative tells of the impact of the
Spirit’s presence on those first believers. Today we are going to focus on the
first and last section of Acts Chapter 2, the coming of the Spirit and what a
spirit filled community looks like. It’s not that the middle section isn’t
important and we’ll look at it in passing,but we’ve focused a lot on what’s in there in this series already.
Out of all the Gospel writers Luke would fit best into our
modern day setting. Hollywood would love him because he has written a sequel to
his account of Jesus life and mission. In his introduction to what we call
Acts, Luke tells his intended audience that in his first book he had written
all that Jesus had begun to do and we are to see what is going to happen in the
life of the church now as being what Jesus continues to do through his
disciples by the Holy Spirit. Both the gospel and Acts, give an account of the
Holy Spirit coming and enabling the ministry and mission of Jesus to happen. In
the gospel, in Luke chapter 3, the Holy Spirit comes on Jesus at his baptism,
That coming is accompanied by physical manifestations, a dove and a voice from
heaven saying ‘this is my son in whom I am pleased’. Luke chapter four then
starts by saying ‘Jesus filled with the Holy Spirit’ and we get an account of
the beginning of his mission. In Acts we see the Holy Spirit again descend on
the disciples all gathered together in one place, its accompanied by signs, a
noise like a wind, tongues of fire alighting on each of the believers gathered
there andthose believers speaking in
the different languages of the known world. And we are told that the believers
are filled with the Holy Spirit. They then begin their ministry and mission.
Pentecost is a festival to celebrate the wheat harvest, but
had also had religious significance placed with it as celebrating the giving of
the law to Moses on Mt Sinai. In Israel’s thinking At Passover they celebrated
God’s saving acts in bring Israel out of Egypt and with the coming of the law
we have Israel being constituted as God’s people. So with Jesus death and
resurrection being God’s saving action for us over sin and death with the
coming of the spirit we have God constituting his new people,A people that would be draw together from all
the different people of the world.
Fire and wind are symbols from the Old testament of
theophany, times when God shows up in power: Like the fiery pillar at night with the people
of Israel as they came out of Egypt and travelled through the wilderness. Like Elijah
and the prophets of Baal Mt Camel, with the fire from heaven. Like Elijah encountering God at Mt Sinai, after
being depressed and feeling so alone encounters God in a violent storm and then
the reality of God in a small still voice.
The difference here with the fire is that in the Old
Testament it is God’s presence with his people corporately and in Acts the fire
lights on each individual believer. In the Old testament God was present with
his people and specific leaders were said to be filled with the Holy Spirit to
achieve specific tasks; like making the tabernacle, prophecy, but now every
believe is filled and baptised by the Spirit. AS peter will say it is for you
and your children and your children’s children.
The other difference in the Pentecost story is the
phenomenon of speaking in different languages, and this is the one that Luke
focuses on. We are told that the as the spirit filled the believers they were
enabled to speak in languages they had not learned.That those who had come to Jerusalem from
round the whole of the known world, were amazed because they heard these
Galileans, thought of as uneducated local yokels, speaking in their native
languages. In the scriptures such manifestations of the Spirit are called signs
and the disciples speaking in these different languages is a sign of the
universality of the Gospel, the scope of the mission Jesus was calling this new
people to of being witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of
Speaking in tongues
is mentioned as a gift of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12 and like in the
church in Corinth it is a rather controversial gift. Some say this was a one
off experience for the church, others have said that you have not received the
Holy Spirit unless you speak in tongues. Both of which, I believe are wrong. AS
you read through the New Testament you see that there are many times when it
talks of God sending his spirit to fill people and it is not always accompanied
by speaking in tongues. God gives the gifts that you and I need for the setting
we find ourselves in.It’s more correct
to say that being filled with the Holy Spirit enables us to witness to Christ
and to speak God’s words and tongues is a specific manifestation of that.
I have no problem believing that the gift of tongues is for
the church today because my experience of that is kid if like the Pentecost
I first encountered it in a very Presbyterian way, At the
Presbyterian church I grew up in, we had one of our elders say at the end of a
worship time. I believe God wants me to give a message in tongues, which he
gave. Another elder on the other side of the church them gave what you might
call a prophetic message or a word of encouragement in English. The minister
asked if the elder who had spoken in tongues though that was the interpretation.
Then the wife of another elder stood up and said that she had been a teacher in
Tonga for many years and although the language wasn’t Tongan she understood
some of the words in the message in tongues, and they appeared where she would
expect them to in the translations.
In my own experience at a healing meeting I was asked by a
man to pray for him, he was going into hospital to have an operation on his
veracious veins. I didn’t know what to pray so I asked if he minded if I prayed
for him in tongues. He said that was fine and so I did. When I finished he
turned to me and said ‘ Do you know what you’ve just done’. I was a bit worried
as he was Maori and maybe I’d just done something culturally inappropriate. So
is aid with trepidation “no”. Well You just prayed for me in fluent Maori and I
understood every word you just said. I don’t speak Maori by the way. So I
thought I’d better ask him what I had said and he replied, just in case it was
simply a new recipe for watercress and pork bones. He told me I had been giving
praise to God and praying against powers and principalities. I don’t know id
the man was healed or not, but isn’t it God to want to speak to someone who was
concerned and worried about an operation
in his own mother language, letting him know that God was in control.
It happens occasionally, one time I was praying for a Cook
Island man and again I didn’t know what to prayer for him only that God wanted
me to pray for him in tongues, so I did. Afterwards he told me he didn’t know his
own language that much but had understood enough to hear God say ‘I know you by
name”. He went on to tell me that he was studying theology and where he was
studying he felt he was being forced into the mould of being a beige Pakeha (Maori
name for people of European ethnicity) and his Cook Island culture was being
ignored. The thing that really irked him was the way that people butchered his
name, so it was liberating and healing to here God say “I know you by name”.
It is easy to miss amidst the physical manifestations in the
Pentecost narrative the central and important truth that the Holy Spirit came
and dwelt on all who believed. We don’t always need the special affects the
reality is that God gives his spirit to his people. It tells us that all who
were gathered there were filled with the spirit. And as Peter explains it was a
result of God’s desire to dwell with his people. A sign of the new age that
Jesus life, death and resurrection has heralded.
It has been interesting that with the renewal of the
charismatic and Pentecostal movement there has been a growing interest and
emphasis on the manifestations of the spirit whereas Acts finishes its account
of Pentecost with the manifesto of the Spirit, how the Spirit presence impacted
the lives of that first church and what I feel we can see as the marks of a
genuine moving of the Holy Spirit today.
Firstly it results in a renewal of worship. It tells us that
the disciples were full of joy and giving thanks to God. It tells us that there
was a heightened sense of awe and wonder at what God was doing.
Secondly there was genuine repentance. In response to peter’s
sermon the crowd asked ‘what must we do to be saved’, they turned to God. It
shouldn’t come as a surprise that this is a response to the movement of the
Holy Spirit as Jesus had said one of the roles of the Spirit was to convict the
world of their need for God.
There was a growing desire to learn more form the word of
God. The first church devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles.Again this is a response to the movement and
presence of the Spirit of truth.
The spirit was preforming signs and wonders in and through
the worshipping community.
There was a desire for Christian unity and love.The believers meet regularly and practised
hospitality. They focused on breaking bread together. They held everything in
There was a heightened concern for the poor which resulted
in compassionate action.The believers
sold what they had and gave the money to those in need.
There was an increased emphasis on prayer.
There was an emphasis on evangelism, proclaiming the good
news about Jesus and demonstrating that through how they lived. God was adding
to their number daily those who were being saved.
It’s easy to think of these things as something extra
ordinary. And any revival or new move of the spirit should be tested by seeing
these things reproduced in the body of believers. But essentially they are the
hallmarks of being God’s Spirit filled people all the time. As we’ll see as we
move on to look at the church in Corinth the church is always dealing with the
reality of being a very human institution as well. But it is also why to see
our vision of being an authentic vibrant sustainable community, growing as
followers of Jesus and inspiring others to join us on the journey” that we need
to open our lives up more and more to the filling, presence and power of the
Holy Spirit in our lives individually, all those who believe and corporately.
This Sunday is Pentecost and over the past month I've been preaching a series entitled Holy Spirit Come, which will culminate this Sunday. AS a call to worship I will be using some of the bible passages that we have used in our series working through Jesus teaching on the Holy Spirit in John's gospel. It is trying to draw people into worship for the day focusing on what we have been looking at and a journey through the scriptures.
Holy Spirit Come
God says I will pour out my spirit on all People
Holy Spirit Come
"how much more will the Father Give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him"
Holy Spirit Come
" and I will ask the Father and he will give you another advocate and he will help you and be with you forever."
Holy Spirit Come
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit Comes on you;
and you will be my witnesses
and in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth"
I will also be using James K Baxter's 'Holy Spirit Song" as a prayer in the service, this is a very new Zealand home-grown resource.
Lord, Holy Spirit,
You blow like the wind in a thousand paddocks,
Inside and outside the fences,
You blow where you wish to blow.
Lord, Holy Spirit,
You are the sun who shines on the little plant,
You warm him gently, you give him life,
You raise him up to become a tree with many leaves.
Lord, Holy Spirit,
You are the mother eagle with her young,
Holding them in peace under your feathers.
On the highest mountain you have built your nest,
Above the valley, above the storms of the world,
Where no hunter ever comes.
Lord, Holy Spirit,
You are the bright cloud in whom we hide,
In whom we know already that the battle has been won.
You bring us to our Brother Jesus
To rest our heads upon his shoulder.
Lord, Holy Spirit,
You are the kind fire who does not cease to burn,
Consuming us with flames of love and peace,
Driving us out like sparks to set the world on fire.
Lord, Holy Spirit,
In the love of friends you are building a new house,
Heaven is with us when you are with us.
You are singing your songs in the hearts of the poor
Guide us, wound us, heal us. Bring us to the Father
– James K. Baxter, ‘Song to the Holy Spirit’, in Collected Poems (ed. John Edward Weir;
For the past month, with a break last week due to my face
exploding on me, (which sounds dramatic
I know, but it’s better than saying because of a nick while shaving or an
ingrown hair resulted in an infected boil that landed me in hospital ) we’ve
been working our way through Jesus teaching on the Holy Spirit in John’s
gospel. We’ve been focusing on what’s known as the farewell discourse, Jesus
teaching on the night he was betrayed at that last supper with his disciples.
In which he prepares them for his death and resurrection and life and mission
after Jesus returns to his Father. The teaching on the Holy Spirit revolves
around the word ‘paraclete’, the friend who comes alongside to give trusted
We’ve been looking at it for two reasons. Firstly, for many
people lack of emphasis and good teaching on the Holy Spirit or an over
emphasis of the Spirit and associating it with a particular worship and church
style have meant that we don’t experience the fullness of what the Holy Spirit
has for us.
Secondly and most importantly, AS a church we have a vision…
“we are called to be an authentic, vibrant, sustainable community, growing as
followers of Jesus and inspiring others to join us on that journey” and while
we can work to make that a reality it is in reality as we allow the Holy Spirit
to work alongside us and we work alongside the Holy Spirit that we will see
that be a reality. My hope is that we may be renewed as we open ourselves up in
new ways to the Holy Spirit.
This week and next week we are moving on to look at how the disciples
received Jesus promise of another paraclete like himself, how they received the
Holy Spirit. I want to do this as a way of looking at how we can know more of
the spirit’s presence and power in our lives.
In the readings from John and acts this morning, you can see
that the various gospel accounts differ as to how the disciples received the
Holy Spirit. John has Jesus breathing on his disciples on the night of his
resurrection whereas in Luke’s account Jesus tells them to wait in Jerusalem
and they will receive power. This has led to various interpretations from
various scholars. I found Leon Morris’ comment on this matter very helpful he
says… “it is false to the New Testament and Christian experience to say that
there is one gift of the Holy Spirit. Rather the Spirit is constantly
manifesting himself in new ways.” The two accounts are consistent in tying the
coming of the Holy Spirit to Jesus promise and being part of Jesus call on his
disciples to mission. We are going to focus this week on the John Narrative and
next week on the Luke narrative.
John’s narrative is a post resurrection encounter between
Jesus and ten of his disciples. It is on the evening of that first day, that
resurrection Sunday. The disciples are gathered together in a room with the
doors locked. The disciples are afraid, they are concerned about what the
religious authorities will do to them. Jesus appears amidst them. We are not told how
he does it but we are to understand that no locked door is a barrier to the
risen Jesus. Jesus show them his hands and his side. Luke’s account of this
appearance says it because the disciples thought he was a ghost, but in John’s
account we are not told why he did it except that the disciples are now overjoyed
because it is Jesus and he is alive. Just as with Thomas in the next section of
this narrative they realise that shows that Jesus is who he said he was.
When John tells us this was on the that first day, it could
easily simply be giving us the time of Jesus appearance, but as we saw at
Easter with Jesus encounter with Mary, on the first day in the garden, that
this is infused with meaning that is helpful for us in understanding Jesus
breathing on the disciples and saying receive the Holy Spirit. You remember we
talked about the creation thread that flows through John’s gospel.It starts with Jesus eternal existence with
God and his part in the creation of the world and with the resurrection there
is the sense of a new creation happening> here again in this passage we see
that parallel happening. In the creation narrative God forms the human out of
the earth and does what?... He breathes life into the clay form. Our life comes
from the very breath of God.Here now on
the first day Jesus again breaths on humanity and imparts new life not just
physical life, but life that comes from the very presence of God by the Holy
All through John’s gospel the life that Jesus brings to us
is equated with the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist, says that Jesus is the one
who will baptise not with water but with the Holy Spirit. In that amazing
dialogue with Nicodemus Jesus says that we must be born again, not that we go
back into our mother’s womb, but that we must be born of the water and the spirit.
Here is that new life being breathed into the disciples. The Christian life is
new and eternal because it is life that comes from the very presence in our
lives of the breath of God the Holy Spirit. When we come to believe in Jesus
Christ as our Lord and Saviour, God imparts his life to us by the Spirit.
The second thing that I draw your attention to in this
passage is the greeting that Jesus brings his disciples. “Peace be with you”…
It is on one level just the typical Jewish greeting of that time… Shalom.But in the narrative Jesus says it twice and
so we are to pick up that there is something important going on here.The word shalom, peace does not mean simply
calmness or a lack of conflict, but rather for the Hebrews it had the meaning
of right relationship, wholeness. Peace is having the right relationship with
God, with each other, both those who we belong with and those outside that
sphere,with the created order and with
our possessions.AS Jesus had taught
about the Paraclete he had told his disciples that he would leave his peace
with them, not like the world gives. Here Jesus is imparting that peace to his
disciples. He has just died on the cross and taken all the things that would
stop us from knowing God and his love fully in our lives to the grave and been
raised to life again. He has enabled us to have that right relationship with
God again, so God can come and dwell with and with us by the Holy Spirit. We
receive the spirit because of the peace that Jesus had made for us.We receive the Holy Spirit because God
desires to dwell with his people.
Jesus presence and peace may not be stopped by a locked door
but it does not allow us to remain locked up in our fear rather it calls us out
into the world. Jesus calls his disciples who have received his peace to be
part of what he has come to do in the world. Just as the father has sent me he
says so I am sending you… The disciples are called to continue the work that
Jesus had done, they called to go and share the love God has for the world. Luke
calls it to be my witnesses, but John expresses it more in terms of a ministry
of reconciliation that just as we have been forgive so we are to go and spread
that forgiveness and wholeness that is found in Christ with others.
I had the privilege of hearing my good friend Malcolm Gordon
speak yesterday at a presbytery Youth training event I helped organise and
Malcolm was sharing about all that we do comes out of a response to all that
God has done for us. He said that it was what he called a cycle of gratitude,
we are forgiven and loved and made whole because of what Jesus had done for us
and out of gratitude for that we share it with others. The Holy Spirit, the
paraclete, the one who comes alongside us enables us and empowers us to do
that. Again it is the graciousness of God that the Spirit invites us to come
alongside what the Spirit is doing in the world.
My son James is involved in the Auckland grammar, Epsom
grammar combined production of “Jesus Christ super star” You won’t see him
singing or dancing on stage, he’s not even playing in the band. What he’s doing
is a great illustration of what you and I are called to do . James is a follow
spot operator. He allows us to see Jesus on the stage by following him with a
spot light. Paul Metzger’stheatrical
metaphor of the work of the Holy Spirit was when the spirit takes centre
stageit does it to keep the spot light
on Jesus, you and I are invited to be on the follow spot.
How do we receive the Holy Spirit?
Firstly, it is a gracious gift of God. Out of the goodness
and love of God, God has chosen to dwell with and within us and give us new
life through his Spirit. We are invited to share in intimate fellowship with
the God who loves us. Jesus has made that possible.
Secondly, we receive the Holy Spirit, because of what God
has done for us. It is a gracious gift.We do not earn it it is not for the spiritual elite, the holy rollers.
In fact it is because we know that we are spiritually poor, remember from the
beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel. Blessed are the poor
of Spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Thirdly, we receive the Holy Spirit because God knows how to
give good gifts to his children. In the ask seek knock passage that we had read
from Luke 11, it tells us that if we know how to give good gifts to our
children then how much more will the Father who is righteous give the Holy Spirit to those who ask.
The Holy Spirit is at work in us drawing us to know God’s
love and our need for God. When we turn to Jesus and accept his love, the
Spirit comes and dwells in us and makes us new, gives us new eternal life, and
as we ask for the Spirit the father sends the Spirit more and more to be with
us. As Jesus sends us out into the world he sends the Spirit to give us the
power to witness to the reality of the risen Jesus.
People have often asked the question when do we receive the
Holy Spirit, at salvation or is it a second experience. People often point to
the experience of John Wesley, who although he’d been a Christian all his life,
found his heart strangely warmed as an example of this second sort of
experience. With the rediscovery of presence and power of the Holy Spirit in
the charismatic and Pentecostal movement there was a move to see people be
prayed for to be baptised in the Spirit. Sadly it has the effect of sort of
making those who hadn’t had that sort of experience seem like second class
citizens in the kingdom of God. I by the way came into a new experience of
God’s presence in my life and received the gist of tongues when I group of
friends prayed for me a few months after I’d become a Christian.I want to finish today by saying that the
spirit lives within and gives new life to all believers, and as we are willing
to open ourselves more and more to the Spirit of God the spirit we find
ourselves more and more aware of the spirit’s presence and filling in our
lives. When we ask for more of the spirits presence in our life, again becuas
eit is the gift of a gracious and loving God, God sends his spirit In new ways.
Maybe we don’t experience the fullness of the spirit because we don’t ask.
AS a church “We are called to be a vibrant, authentic,
sustainable community, growing as followers of Christ, and inspiring others to
join us on that journey” and it is as we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us,
make us more like Christ, and witness to Christ alongside us that we will see
that become more and more who we are.
To help us understand who the Holy Spirit is and what he
does in ourmidst we are working our way
through Jesus teaching about the Holy Spirit in John’s gospel. Specifically in
Jesus farewell discourse…at that last supper… on the night he was betrayed.
Where Jesus was preparing his disciples for what was to come; his death,
resurrection and their on-going journey as followers of and witnesses to Jesus.
Jesus teaching about the Spirit, in this discourse, revolves round the Greek
word Paracletos,one who comes alongside to offer legal
advice, which in the NIV is translated advocate.
Last week we started looking at the work of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said that the Paraclete would teach us all things and bring to mind allthat Jesus had said. This week we are going to continue looking at the work of
the Holy Spirit, as Jesus tells us that the Paraclete
was sent to testify about him. To use the theatrical metaphor, the Spirit takes
centre stage to make sure the spotlight remains on Jesus.
The portion of the
discourse that we had read out to us today is unique in Jesus teaching about
the Paraclete, because it talks not of the spirits work in the lives of
believers but in the world. In keeping with the legal context of the Paraclete it says in the world the
Spirit is called to testify about Christ and because of what Christ has done to
convict the world about sin, righteousness and judgment. Sadly much Teaching
about the Holy Spirit has been inward looking what the Spirit does in me and us
but we must realise that the spirit cals us to look outward and to share what
we have found in Christ with the world around us.
In between last
week’s reading in John 14 and this weeks… Jesus had told the disciples that hewas the true vine and that they would find life as they remained in him, and
had gone on to prepare them for what was to come by talking about the fact that
because the world hated him the world would also hate the disciples, that they
would suffer persecution… and it is in that context that he again speaks of the
coming of the paraclete.
In Verse 26 in a very
Trinitarian formula Jesus says when the Paraclete comes it will testify about
me. It is a verse that has been at the
heart of a historical controversy around the Nicene Creed, centred on how does
the trinity actually work…is it a hierarchy… how dos each member fit in? Does the Spirit proceed from the Father and
the Son or just the Father?While I
don’t want to trivialise that Leon Morris is quick to point out that “this
passage relates to the Work of the Holy Spirit. Not the eternal mutual
relationships of the person of the Holy Spirit” and that it shows that ‘the
spirit is connected in the most intimate way with the Father and the Son’ and
the sending of the Spirit concerns them all.’
I love one of the
words that the early church used to describe the trinity, perichoresis, which is a circle dance… that rather than a hierarchy
the trinity are in perfect step with each other. in his book generous orthodoxy Brian McLaren says
‘the trinity was an eternal dance of the father, Son and Spirit sharing mutual
love, honour, happiness, joy and respect and God’s act of creation is inviting
more and more beings into that eternal dance of joy’.
So how does the Holy Spirit testify to Jesus?
The key thing here is that the Holy Spirit does not do this
on his own. Remember the Paraclete is one who comes alongside, so Jesus says
here in verse 27 that the apostles also are called to testify to Christ because
they were there right at the beginning. The Spirit alongside the apostle’s
witness to the same Christ, they witness to the same salvation.Later the commission goes out to all who
believe to witness to the hope they have found in Jesus.
The second thing is that while the Apostles and we witness
to Christ it is the Spirit who alone can bring home into the hearts of human
beings the significance of who Christ is and what he has done for us. Jesus
goes on in this passage to say it the Spirit that convicts the world about sin;
it is the spirit that shows people the truth about righteousness and judgment.
It is the Spirit that reveals our need for God and how Christ is able to fulfil
I don’t know about you, but I can’t help reading and hearing
the words sin, righteousness and judgement without seeing at least partially
through the lens of fire and brimstone preaching which can distort things… but we need to see the Holy Spirit as the
Spirit of truth and as teacher of truth. That the spirit is not Dr Guilt Trip
trying to make us feel bad nor is he Dr Phil and making us feel Ok about
ourselves rather as Paul Metzger puts it, ‘the
Spirit as counsellor (legal not therapeutic) convicts us of our unbelief and
autonomy- not to demean us or push us away, but to draw us close to Jesus in
whom we find meaning and purpose and life.”
The Spirit brings us to a right understanding of Sin,
righteousness and judgment. The two most common wrong approaches to sin and
brokenness are first to deny it… in 1 John 1 it says that if we do this we call
God a liar and the truth is not in us. The second is to be trapped by it… that
we feel condemned.The Spirit does not
condemn us… In Romans 9 Paul joyful tells us that there is now no condemnation
for those who are in Christ Jesus…nor does the Spirit simply help us get in
touch with our inner self and accept our failings… it turns us to Jesus who can
bring new life. Again I like the way Paul Metzger puts it... In Jesus I find my
eternal destiny and in whom I find redemption from both self-condemnation and
So how does the Spirit testify to Jesus?
As we saw last week in a special role the Spirit came
alongside the Apostles and those close to them and inspired them to write the
Gospels and Epistles and other material we have in the scriptures. These give us
what we know about Jesus life and ministry and allow us to have insight into
what it means to be the new people of God.The spirit also witnesses to Christ through enabling us to interpret and
apply Jesus words.
Jesus said that they will know you are my disciples if you
have… love one another as I have loved you. The reading that we had from
Galatians 5 today gives a list of the Christ like characteristics or fruit that
grows within us individually and as a community as we walk with the Spirit. The
Spirit enables us to reflect Christ like love through the fruit of the Holy
The Spirit empowers us to be bold. In a few weeks it will be
Pentecost and we are going to be looking at what happened on that first
Pentecost after Christ, where Luke records the coming of the Holy Spirit in
power on the disciples. One of the things it did was giving them boldness to
proclaim what they knew about Jesus. Up to this point they’d either run away or
confined their activity to an upper room now they stood in front of a crowd of
well over three thousand.
The Spirit also calls us alongside what he is doing in the
world to speak up and bring justice and Christ’s love into places of darkness
and sorrow.An example of this is a
young nun travelling by train through
India and hearing the voice of Christ, by the spirit, asking her if she will
dedicate herself to caring for the poorest of the poor, the resulting mission
and ministry we know is that of mother Theresa and the sisters of mercy. There
are many other examples of this.
The spirit also gives gifts like the list in Romans 12 and 1
Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 that empower us to witness to Christ. My good
friend Jim Wallace talks of going to a party one night and meeting a man who
said he had no need for Christ, his life was all wonderful, and Jim felt the
Spirit prompt him to ask the man why he slept with a gun under his pillow… it
was a word of knowledge… the man turned pale and wondered how Jim knew and
started talking about what was really going on in his life and later became a
follower of Christ.
In John’s gospel miracles are called signs and wonders, they
witness to who Jesus is, and it is the Holy Spirit that descended on Jesus at
his baptism that enabled him to do these things, it’s the same spirit that dwells
with and within us.And while Jesus
saying you will do the same things I have done, meant sacrificial love it also
meant signs and wonders.
I often bump into the most amazing people in the car park
here and this week I bumped into an Indian lady who was bringing her grandson
to play group, which wasn’t on because of the school holidays. She began
telling me about being a Christian and sharing her faith with her Hindu
friendsand she said that that witness
took the form of asking them questions and teaching them the basics about
Jesus, you can imagine the Spirit being part of that because the Spirit is the
one who reveals all things. She also told me that for many Hindu people their
faith in Jesus came as they called out to him in times of need and he miraculously answers,
then they became followers.
In our own life we have experienced God's miraculous healing. My wife Kris and I met at Bible College out at Henderson. Kris was suffering from acute asthma and living in the damp environment out west it kept getting worse. She was thinking she would have to go back home to Tauranga. We were just friends at that stage and went along one Sunday night to a meeting at the local Presbyterian Church where a little Old Presbyterian Lady from the states was speaking... Delores Winders. At the end of her message she called people up to be prayed for, She then said that she believed God wanted to heal someone there tonight of asthma. Kris didn't respond. a little while later she said it again and said the person was seated on the side of the church we were sitting on. Kris thought it was great that God wanted to heal someone of asthma, but didn't connect it to her. A third time Delores said God wanted to heal someone of asthma and they were sitting down the back over there, and pointed to where we were sitting. Kris decided that maybe God was wanting to help her so she went forward... Delores prayed Kris hasn't had asthma since that time.
Lastly, the way the Spirit witnesses to Jesus with us is by
his abiding presence. We often see that as a promise and a call to stay in a comfortable religious buffer zone but Jesus promise of his continual presence at the end of
Matthew’s gospel is linked to the call to go and make disciples of all nations.
Whether we are aware of that or not, the spirit takes what we say and do and
can use it to turn the spotlight on Jesus. Let me just finish with an extreme
example form my own life.
WE used to run an outreach coffee bar up in Titirangi on a
Friday night.. One night these two guys walked into the café bar and said they
believed that Christianity was false… they used a rather diferent word of
course… and they could prove it… They said that they would just start abusing
us and eventually we’d be just like anyone else get mad and kick them out. Now I’m not always the most
patient person, but I said Ok guys give it your best shot, over the next hour or
so they called us names and ranted about all that was bad about Christianity.
As they kept going, I sensed more and more the presence and the peace of God
with us. I began smiling. It was rather a profound experience… It started to
affect the two guys as well because afteran hour they stopped and sadly they swore and said man there is
something real about this Christianity stuff let’s get out of here. I don’t
know what happened to them after that but we can only trust that the spirit was
moving in their lives.
That’s possibly a bit of an extreme case, but when I share
my faith with non-Christian’s I know that the spirit is involved and I am
alongside the Spirit as it does it work of witnessing to Christ. The Paraclete
is called to witness to Christ and does that as it comes alongside us and we
come alongside the Spirit.
Howard Carter is a Presbyterian Minister in his early fifties. He is the minister at St Peter's Presbyterian Church Ellerslie Mt Wellington. A congregaion that is wanting to face the challange of being Christ's body in a twenty first century, multi-cultural, multi-generational, suburban environment. "it's challanging", says Howard, "I feel totally inadiquate, but rely on Jesus, who is able to be strong in my weakness".
Yes he's married to Kris and has four children. So he'sboth blessed and busy.
Howard posts the messages he preaches on Sundays (the long posts with heaps of images), the occasional reflection, prayers he writes for services (when he's in a liturgical mood) and movie review.