We're working our way through the clauses and ideas of the Apostles' Creed in these evening services and tonight we begin the third and last paragraph. The first paragraph covered the creating work of the Father, the second the rescuing work of the Son and now we come to the recreating work of the Spirit, by whom we are made new in Christ Jesus. Over final three weeks of this series we'll cover the new community: the church, the new relationship: forgiveness, the new future: resurrection and everlasting life. But tonight we start all that with the Spirit himself: I believe in the Holy Spirit.
A couple of weeks ago Dave Hewer helped us think about Jesus' ascension, when he returned to heaven, leaving his disciples behind in Acts 1. You can catch up with that sermon on our website. And the next thing to happen after the ascension was Pentecost, the arrival of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. In tonight's passage, John 16.1-15, Jesus points forward to Pentecost. It's Thursday night in Passover week, and we find Jesus in the upper room talking and praying with his disciples and sharing the Passover meal. Just a couple of hours later Jesus will be betrayed by Judas at Gethsemane, put through sham trials throughout the night and executed the next day, Good Friday.
He knows he's about to leave them so what's going on here is a briefing to help them through the coming times of confusion. They don't realise it yet, but he's going to die the next day and then on Sunday morning he's going to rise from the dead. After that they'll see him and talk with him but they won't always be with him or know where he is. And time will be short; just under six weeks will separate his resurrection and ascension. He wants to prepare them for their life and purpose after his departure. It's going to be a dangerous and confusing time and Jesus doesn't want them to go astray. And a central part of what he has to say is that he'll be sending a substitute, another Counsellor, the Holy Spirit. But who is the Spirit? What will he do? What part will he play?
The big idea for tonight is this: The aim of the Holy Spirit is to have praise and glory come to Jesus. We could preach a whole series on the Holy Spirit but this is the big idea from tonight's passage and it's universally true, so whenever we're looking at the work of the Spirit in other parts of the bible, so it's always the right framework for our understanding. The aim of the Holy Spirit is to have praise and glory come to Jesus. I've got three points:
1) The Spirit came to continue Jesus' ministry in the world
2) The Spirit came to guide the apostles into truth
3) The Spirit continues Jesus' ministry in his people
1) The Spirit came to continue Jesus' ministry in the world
5"Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?' 6Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. 7But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.
The disciples are filled with grief because Jesus is going to leave them. He's going to leave them, first by dying the next day, and then by ascending into heaven six weeks later. What they can't grasp yet, and how could they, is v7: 'It is for your good that I am going away.' I think there are two reasons why it's for their good that he leaves:
Firstly, Jesus' departure by his death, resurrection and ascension is the climax of his mission on earth, God's initiative to rescue rebellious, God-hating sinners to be his restored, perfected people. It's for their good that he goes to complete his mission.
Secondly, when he leaves, he'll send a replacement, a representative, an agent: the Counsellor, who in 14.26 we learned is the Holy Spirit. This is for their good because at that point Jesus will be in a physical, resurrected body, but the Spirit will be able to act in all people, all over the world. The Spirit of Jesus is going to let loose the presence of Jesus.
Now, who is the Holy Spirit? Holy means set apart, distinct, and in this case divine. The Holy Spirit is a distinct person of the Trinity. In the Old Testament we find him
- creating (both 'capital C' Creation and human creativity),
- inspiring God's messengers, the prophets,
- equipping God's servants, like the judges and the kings,
- generating godliness in individuals and communities;
lots of powerful and important things. This same Spirit is going to be sent by Jesus to replace Jesus, to be present and active in the world instead of Jesus. It's hugely exciting; what will he do when he comes? Look at V8:
8When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: [That's the summary and then Jesus breaks it up into its three parts, giving a reason for each:] 9in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
The Spirit came to convict the world of guilt. That doesn't mean that he pronounces us to be guilty, but that he persuades us that we are guilty. Don't hear me wrong: we are guilty. By default every one of us lives in God's world while ignoring God's right to rule us and be worshipped by us. We're like tenants who live it up in a nice house but refuse to pay the rent and set the dog loose on the landlord. We're guilty before God for the way we've treated him, and each other and his world. But there's a big difference between being found guilty and knowing guilt. That's what the Spirit does. He persuades people of their guilt.
Most people always want to shake off guilt because it's so unpleasant. But guilt is like a stain that just won't shift; we can't fully remove it. We scrub away with buckets of warm, soapy affirmation. You're a good person. You can't change who you are. You shouldn't be sorry for who you are. Such and such wasn't your fault. But guilt is important. It helps to seek forgiveness. That's the way the Spirit convicts. He convicts in order to bring people to Jesus, the only one who can provide forgiveness. Let's look at the three areas of conviction. Look at v8:
8When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me;
Jesus' message is that people have a choice between life and condemnation, life and God's wrath. Listen to these famous verses from John 3:
16"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.
And from the end of that chapter:
36Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him.
Jesus' message in John 3 is the Spirit's work until Jesus returns: not to condemn people because of their guilt, but to convict people of the reality of their guilt. The Spirit works to reveal people's sinfulness to them, so that they might look for forgiveness and find it by believing in Jesus. Secondly, V10:
[The Spirit will convict the world] 10in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer;
Here are some more verses from John 3:
19This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.
The deeds of the world are evil and so Jesus' coming was like light shining into darkness. The contrast between what the world does and what God requires is like night and day. The Spirit comes to convict the world of what is right, what is godly, because Jesus is no longer present to do that; he's gone to the Father. Thirdly, V11:
11and [the Spirit will convict the world] in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
'The prince of this world' is a term for the devil, Satan. He's the ultimate rebel against God, but he's defeated. Jesus' perfect life and sacrifice on the cross paid for sin, defeated sin. Then his resurrection defeated death and set into irreversible motion a countdown to his return to judge the living and the dead. Satan's fate is sealed, and all who rebel with him, all who side with him against God will share his judgment. So the Holy Spirit seeks to persuade people of the danger of judgment, so that they'll see their need of Jesus, who was judged on the cross in the place of those who come to him.
The message we're getting in these verses is that the Spirit came to continue Jesus' ministry in the world. And although this talk of conviction might not sound that positive initially, this is grace in action. It's massive undeserved kindness on God's scale. The Son is going to be with the Father so they send the Spirit to continue the mission. Jesus' departure wasn't the closing of the window of grace for the world. It's not like the Father called the Son into the throne room for pre-Christmas pep-talk and said, "Look, Son, you'll have two, max. three years of ministry before you go to the cross. It's not long but just save as many people as you can." No, the Son and Spirit are in a kind of tag-team. The Son's work on earth finished with his ascension, so he tagged the Spirit, so to speak, and now the Spirit is here, carrying on that work.
Because people don't believe in Jesus, because what they do sets them against God, and because God will one day judge, the Holy Spirit continues Jesus' rescue mission, convicting people of the danger they are in and pointing them towards the rescuer, Jesus. Massive kindness; grace in action.
Maybe you've come to church this evening and spent the evening gazing up at the four spotlights hanging above the stage. Maybe you've thought to yourself, "Hmm, those look like parabolic aluminized reflector lamps, probably about 500W apiece, medium flood, maybe CP88 or thereabouts. Hmm, one of them always seems to be blown – I wonder if they're not on a dimmer switch?" If you've done that tonight, which is unlikely, then you'll have completely missed the point of why we're here. There's something more important going on. Those lights are there to help you see what happens on the stage – reading, praying and preaching. That's what they're there for.
The Spirit's like a spotlight, trained on Jesus, pointing us towards him. That's why, for example, the songs we've sung tonight that feature the Spirit are predominantly about Jesus, and about the cross where he died and the people he is saving, the church. The Spirit is always shining on Jesus.
So the first thing the Spirit does is continue Jesus' ministry in the world. The second thing this passage tells us about the Spirit is this:
2) The Spirit came to guide the apostles into truth
12"I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.
Now at the time of this conversation, these men were still disciples, followers. But as they witness the events of Easter weekend and as the Spirit comes on them at Pentecost they will become apostles, messengers, witnesses. And Jesus is speaking to them here and not to us. The bible has lots to say about the Spirit's work in all Christians, but that's not here. Here we need to say, "The Spirit has done this work in the apostles, so how do we relate to them?"
We relate to them by the New Testament. These disciples-come-apostles would either write or oversee the writing of the whole New Testament. The written New Testament is the means for people all over the world for the following two thousand years and counting to come to know and trust Jesus, to receive life from him and bring glory to him. How could Jesus have left that to chance? How could he have 'hoped for the best' in their recollection and understanding? He didn't. He sent his agent, his representative, his ultimate biographer, no less than the Spirit of truth, to ensure that the New Testament is exactly right and true and good in every detail. The New Testament was at first and still is today exactly the record and teaching about himself that Jesus designed it to be. Let's read again from v13:
13But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he 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. 14He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.
The Spirit of truth didn't make up stuff about Jesus. It's not like we have to strip back the persona that he and the apostles invented to somehow get at the 'real' Jesus. The Spirit had no artistic licence when he first came and inspired the apostles to preach Jesus to the crowds inActs 2. He had no licence in the writing of the New Testament. This is the testimony of Jesus about himself. It's the testimony of the Father about the Son. And who better to do this job than the administrative arm of the Trinity, eternally pre-existent as both one God and three persons in perfect relationship. Who better to make the truth about Jesus known?
Back in June I went to a seminar in Newcastle with the Christian songwriter, Stuart Townend. Afterwards we happened to leave the building at the same time and he asked if I would point him in the direction of the nearest Debenhams, which I did of course. So, Stuart Townend has met me, but if you asked him about me, if you asked him what I'm like, I doubt he'd even know who you were asking about. He might guess and say that I was the 7-foot tall basketball-playing violinist. But he'd be wrong. If you asked my parents, who've known me longer than anyone, and they'll tell you that I'm only 6 feet tall, I gave up playing the violin when I was 7 and I haven't played basketball since I broke a finger playing about 12 years ago. And my parents know a lot more about me than a couple of facts and figures. Who better to guide the apostles into truth about Jesus than the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus?
So let's ask ourselves some honest questions about our relationship to the apostles:
Do we trust the reliability of the gospels, the biographies of Jesus written by them or from their testimony? Do we believe the accounts?
Do we acknowledge the authority of the epistles, the New Testament letters of theology and instruction, written by these apostles? When we come to parts that are hard to grasp, do we work at understanding? When we come to parts that are hard to accept, do we work at submitting?
Do we read the New Testament, and the whole bible, knowing and remembering and applying the fact that it is God-breathed, God-spirited, written by the Spirit of truth, the Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit himself? That should give us massive confidence and reverence as we read it.
The Spirit came to guide the apostles into truth. Lastly,
3) The Spirit continues Jesus' ministry in his people
There's a lot to say on the Spirit's work in all Christians and John 16 has very little to say about it. But we are here, we are in John 16. We're not easy to spot, but we are here. We're in v8. We are… 'the world'. Look at v8:
8When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment…
If you're a follower of Jesus, that is entirely down to the Spirit's work of convicting the world: He has persuaded you of your sinful rebellion against God. He has shown you the perfection God requires because he himself is perfect, he is righteous. He has alerted you to the fact of coming judgment, when all will give account to the living God, and those who sin is not paid for by Jesus will pay for it themselves. If you are a follower of Jesus, that's entirely down to the Spirit's work of convicting the world, and also his work of guiding the apostles, the messengers, including John, whose words we are reading now, into the truth about Jesus. That truth, written down for us and made alive in us by the Spirit, who guides us into that same truth as we read and understand it, that is what brought us to Jesus.
If you're not a follower of Jesus, I wonder why you're here. I don't mean that rudely; what I mean is, I wonder if you're here because the Spirit is starting that work in you, convicting you, persuading you of your need for forgiveness and new life in Jesus. That's what he's doing in people all over the world, all the time. Why not ask God to have his Spirit bring you understanding and clarity about sin and righteousness and judgment? Is sin real? Am Isinful? Is God real? Is the Bible right about God, about his character? Is judgment real? Where do I stand? It's the Spirit's role to bring clarity and conviction about these things. Take a copy of The Case for Christ and read about Jesus. That's who the Spirit is pointing you towards.
Our big idea tonight is this: The aim of the Holy Spirit is to have praise and glory come to Jesus. That starts with bringing people to him, illuminating him like a spotlight, turning God's rebels into God's people, God enemies into God's children. And as we read the rest of the New Testament with this big idea to guide us, we find the Spirit doing all sorts of things to have praise and glory come to Jesus. Here's a very brief tour of some of the more obvious passages, which you can read up on later.
In Romans 8 the Spirit gives us life in Christ and makes us children of God. God the Father becomes God our Father. Then the Spirit helps us to relate to our new Father. We don't know what we should pray for, but the Spirit talks to the Father on our behalf.
In Ephesians 1, believers are sealed in Christ by the Spirit. He's the deposit that guarantees the full and final salvation that will come as we enter into God's presence forever. He indwells us. He makes his home in us. He's the down-payment of the presence of God.
In Ephesians 2 we find that God doesn't just dwell in his people individually but corporately too. We are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. What a glorious fact about the local church, about HTG.
Along those lines, in 1 Corinthians 12 the Spirit gives spiritual gifts to God's people, capacities to serve Christ and to benefit one another in the church, which is the body of Christ, carrying out through his people Jesus' ongoing ministry in his people.
In Galatians 5 he turns us away from gratifying our dying sinful nature and instead produces in us the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – characteristics of Jesus.
In other words, the Holy Spirit is there at every stage of salvation, putting the gospel of Jesus into effect, working for the success of the gospel and therefore for the glory of Jesus. He's the one who's at work in us to make all of this a reality, to recreate us, as we thought at the beginning. What a joy and a privilege it is to be able to say, 'I believe in the Holy Spirit.'