Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Paraclete as Witness: The Work of the Holy Spirit in the World (John 15:26-16:11)... Holy Spirit Come (Part 3)

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 our  midst 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.

Two weeks ago, as we looked at Jesus promise that he wouldask the father to send another paraclete to be with and within us, we looked at who is the Holy Spirit, this Paraclete is and we saw that the Paraclete is the third person of the trinity.

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 that need.

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 self-commendation’. 

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 Spirit.

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 friends  and 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 after  an 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.

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