Monday, May 18, 2015

The Promise of the Holy Spirit (the Holy Spirit in the Old testament through the lens of Joel 2:28-32)... The promised Holy Spirit (Part 1)

Next week in the church calendar it’s Pentecost. Pentecost is the greek name for the Jewish festival of weeks. That is a Jewish harvest thanksgiving festival that happens 50 days after Passover, which also celebrates in Jewish thinking the giving of the law to Moses at Sinai. Passover celebrates God’s saving them from Egypt and Pentecost is a celebration of what was to make them unique as God’s people, the law.  In the Christian tradition we remember the events of the first Pentecost, after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which is recorded in Acts 2… where we are told that the Holy Spirit came upon all the believers who were gathered together.  Jesus had told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received power when the Holy Spirit came upon them and they would be Jesus witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and even to the ends of the earth, that was fulfilled at Pentecost. At Easter we see God’s salvation in Christ and at Pentecost we remember what makes us unique as God’s people, the Holy Spirit.  It is seen as the birthday of the Church, of becoming God’s spirited people, commissioned and empowered to be and bring the Good news of Jesus Christ to the world.  

For a lot of people the Holy Spirit is something they wrestle with understanding.
 For many it was seen as a new thing...That it came to the fore with the rise of the charismatic movement and Pentecostal churches and it’s become associated with the weird and the wonderful: Associated with strange manifestations. With the emphasis on the gift of tongues that came with this many Christians were made to feel like the Sneeches on the beaches in that famous Dr Suess book, either they had it like having stars upon thars and are in or they didn’t and those that don’t are made to feel like second class citizens of the kingdom of God.

Equally, many have been taught that the Holy Spirit was Old and out dated, and the gifts that are mentioned in scripture were for then and there. The Holy Spirit was there to get things going, like jump starting a car, and once it got running, well it wasn’t needed anymore.  The Holy Spirit is often then relegated to a ‘and we believe in ‘the Holy Spirit’ tacked on to the end of a confession of faith rather than the Holy Spirit being the means by which we experience and know the reality of Christ in our lives and are empowered to live for Christ and witness to the hope we have found in Christ.

Over the next three weeks I want to take us through a series looking at the Holy Spirit. I’ve called it the Promised Holy Spirit… I want to explore ‘the promise of the Holy Spirit, looking at the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. Then look at ‘The One who promised to send the Spirit’: Looking at the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ.  Then finally ‘The promise fulfilled: the Holy Spirit coming upon the Church. It’s going to be a bit of a quick overview but my hope is that we will gain a greater and clearer understanding of who the Holy Spirit is and that we may experience the Promised Spirit’s presence and power in our lives individually and as a fellowship, a church corporately.

In Acts Chapter 2 after the Spirit comes upon those first believers with signs like tongues of fire and speaking in tongues, Peter gets up and speaks to the crowd explaining to them what is happening and in that sermon he tells the people that this is the fulfilment of the passage we had read out to us today from Joel chapter 2 . A promise that God would pour out his spirit on all flesh, and that is a good place for us to start our exploration of the Promised Holy Spirit.

The passage in Joel comes after an oracle Joel had made about God’s punishment of Israel. Then we have a series of three oracles about God restoration of his people which finishes with the passage we had read to us.

The passage starts “and afterwards” instead of being a telling forth of God’s Promise of relief and reconstruction it points to a greater promise that God would ‘pour his Spirit on all people’. It is about restoring and creating a new relationship with his people, dwelling with and within them by his Spirit.

It is a promise of a new thing and to understand this we have to look at what is in actual fact the new thing that is being promised.

Firstly, is it the Holy Spirit that is the new thing? IS this a fresh new understanding of God?

The answer to that question is No. In the New Testament, Christians had come to understand God in terms of the trinity, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, that God had revealed God’s self to us as three in one. When we look at the Old Testament we see that the Holy Spirit is there and active from woe to Go.

The Spirit is there at creation, Genesis 1:2 says that the spirit brooded over the waters when God had made the heavens and the earth. The Spirit is present and active in creation. The word brooding is useful because the Hebrew word for Spirit is ‘Ruach’ which is feminine.  Often we are tempted to think of the Holy Spirit as an it, some sort of cosmic force… and that is because the Greek word for spirit is neuter it does not have gender.  
The Spirit is mentioned in the last book in the Hebrew cannon as well 2 Chronicles. The Jews have the same cannon as we do for the Hebrew Scriptures but they arrange them in a different way... All the way through The holy Spirit is in the back ground achieving God’s purposes all the way through the story of God’s people. This activity of the spirit is summed up well in  Zechariah 4:6  where the prophet says to Zerubbabel the civil governor of Jerusalem at the time of the rebuilding of the temple that it would not ‘be achieved by power or might, but my spirit says the Lord.’

Is it a new thing that God would pour his spirit on a person?  No. In the Hebrew Scriptures we see that God fills people with his Holy Spirit for special purposes at particular times.

The first people to be said to be filled with the spirit in the scriptures is  in Exodus 31 where Moses is told that God has filled Bezalel and Oholiab with his spirit and given them  the knowledge and the skills they needed to oversee the building of the tabernacle, the place where God would dwell with his people.  It was given to empower various people for leadership tasks. In judges we see Othniel in Judges 3:10, Gideon who was known for his timidity is empowered to blow a trumpet which routs the Middenite army in Judges 6:34, Peter in the New testament denies Jesus three times on the night of his betrayal but filled with the spirit in Acts 2 Peter stands up and addresses a crowd of well over 3000 and boldly proclaims this Jesus whom was crucified, God raised to life again. Back to Judges  Jepthah in Judges 11:29. Samson Judges 14:6. Saul Israel’s first king in 1 Samuel 10. David in 1 Samuel 16:34. We see it with the Prophets as well. The written prophets like Ezekiel, who says of his vision being given by the Spirit of God. And the prophets recorded in scripture, 2 Chronicles 20:14 tells us the spirit came upon Jahaziel and he prophesised. He is the last person in mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures as filled by the holy Spirit…This is not an exhaustive list by any means. There are also scriptures that look to the messiah being filled with God’s spirit like the passage from Isaiah quoted in Luke 4, which was our new testament reading today, where Jesus told the people gathered had been fulfilled in their presence.

Is the way God was going to reveal himself to his people the new thing? NO

All the way through the Hebrew Scriptures we see God reveal himself to people through dreams, visions and in words of prophecy. The three ways listed in Joel 2. God desire is that his people know him and one of the things that scripture says differentiates God from the idols and false God’s is that God is alive and God speak with and too and through his people.
Never taking people over, or possessing them, if you read the stories of people in the Hebrew scriptures they are people just like us who are not just obedient robots, this being filled with the spirit isn’t just a flick the switch and they are perfect, we started our service with Psalm 51 where David realizes he has sinned greatly and needs to come back to God. These people like us needed to keep their focus on God and his grace.

Is the scale of what God is going to do… YES. The amazing new thing promised in Joel 2 is that God would pour out his spirit on all flesh, on all those who call on the name of the Lord and are saved.  This is the new thing that God is Promising. It is not just for the select few for select tasks but for everyone. Joel makes that very clear by the way he is careful to use inclusive language.

 There was no gender barrier…Your sons and your daughters will prophesy, it is for both men and women.  Your old men will dream dreams and your young men see visions, age is not a barrier. By the way the Hebrews words used here are masculine, but they are used to differentiate age not gender, to hold this exclusively to men, as some do does not fit because the clauses on either side of it that are inclusive of men and women. We see then that socio economic class is no barrier either, it is to be given to free and salve, in Jewish society slaves were either foreigners, or Israelites who could were in debt and so sold themselves in to a period of servitude.  Here it is symbolic of both poor and rich.

The amazing new thing that God was doing that Peter says happened at Acts 2 is that the spirit was poured out on all God’s people, on all gathered there, on all who believed. As the gospel spread to the Samaritans and the Gentiles  and wider and wider the thing that shows the apostles this is what God is doing is the way each of these new groups is filled with the Spirit. The second part of the passage we had read out in Joel points towards a redeemer coming to Zion and Jerusalem, and all who call on him will be saved. The passage points us to Christ it links the fulfilment of this Promise as Peter does in the person of Jesus Christ, in his death and resurrection. It looks to a new day and a new way of being in relationship with God. Other scriptures in the Hebrew Scriptures point to this in terms of the Holy Spirit’s coming . In Ezekiel 36:26 God promises to give his people a clean and new heart and to put a right spirit within them. Zechariah 12:10 speaks of God pouring out his spirit on the house of David and also on who inhabit Jerusalem, again a promise that God would dwell with his people.

I want to apply this to us today simply by saying one thing… The Holy Spirit is for all who believe in Jesus Christ.

When it comes to the Holy Spirit we can still have that Old Testament thinking. That the Holy Spirit is like some optional extra, like leather upholstery and a body kit on a car. We can still think that it is just for those special few. We often express our thinking in the way we speak, that person is really gifted, or they are a charismatic leader, which acknowledges yes a gift from God but in a way that set that aside from the rest of us. The reality is that this promise as Peter says to his listeners at Pentecost that this gift is for you and your children and your children’s children, and those far off. It is for all who come to believe in Jesus Christ. It is the power that we need to experience Jesus presence with us, to be enabled to follow Christ and to witness in our lives and words to the hope we have. To serve and to love… Through the Hebrew Scriptures the Spirit fills people to enable them to serve and this does not change, as one commentator  describes Christian Spirituality “ we are being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others”  God dwells in each of us, is with each of us leading and guiding, teaching and revealing God’s self to us, enabling and empowering. It is what he promised to do and God keeps his promises. We can ask God to fill us afresh with his spirit and he will do it.

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