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 advice.
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 Spirit within.
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’s theatrical metaphor of the work of the Holy Spirit was when the spirit takes centre stage it 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.