************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 53 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 6, 2011
Q & A 53
"I Believe in the Holy Spirit"
I Our Uneasiness with the Holy Spirit
A Most churches of a Reformed persuasion tend to get a bit edgy and uncomfortable with the third person of the Holy Trinity. I can think of a couple of different reasons for this.
First, most of the bizarre fads within the church have been associated with the Spirit and have given Him a bad name. In the hills of Tennessee, for instance, there is a group of Christians who – supposedly in the power of the Spirit – worship God with live and deadly rattle snakes wrapped around their necks. This reminds me of what Ruth and I saw on vacation last week. For one dollar we could take the picture of a dreadlocked Rastafarian with a boa constrictor wrapped around his neck. Our guide told us this is how he makes a living. Weird. Then there are those Pentecostals who make rather extravagant claims in the name of the Holy Spirit. If you, for instance, have not talked in tongues or have not healed someone you have a second-rate faith and are a second-rate Christian.
Second, the Spirit make us uncomfortable because it is hard for us to understand exactly who or what He is. The Nicene Creed – which we are reciting tonight – says "He proceeds from the Father and the Son." Most Christians do not have a clue what this means or if this is important. The Father we can understand – because we all have and see earthly fathers. The Son we can understand – because this earth is filled with sons and brothers . But how can we possible understand the Spirit? What exactly is a Spirit?
Third, our problem with the Spirit has been aggravated by the scientific, empirical, rationalistic age in which we live. For today the whole idea of spirits is sadly out of place. We don't get diseases from evil spirits anymore; instead, we blame germs and viruses and parts that wear out. Sophisticated people don't have evil spirits cast out anymore; instead, they hire psychologists and psychiatrists, receive therapy, and enter rehab. And we don't account for things like flying plates, ghosts, black magic, and unexplained mysteries by pointing to the world of spirits anymore; we believe there has to be a scientific explanation for all the phenomena in the world.
B When we turn to the Bible we see a totally different perspective on reality. The Apostle Paul can speak of rulers, authorities, the powers of this dark world, and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12). The Apostle John speaks of light and darkness. Jesus cast our demons and contended with evil spirits and even Satan himself. It becomes clear from the Biblical record that there is such things as spirits. A denial of this leads one to deny the existence of Satan, the Holy Spirit, and even God Himself for, don't forget, God is Spirit (Jn 4:24).
The existence of the Holy Spirit is so important and so crucial that the Apostles' Creed devotes a whole line to Him. Which means the Spirit's existence is part of the Gospel as well as one of the articles of true Christian faith.
II The Holy Spirit and Our Creation
A With the church of all ages we say, "I believe in the Holy Spirit."
Well, what do you believe concerning the Holy Spirit? According to the Catechism, "he, as well as the Father and the Son is eternal God." The Catechism affirms here the teaching of the Trinity – that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
B What exactly does this lofty truth mean as far as the Spirit is concerned? Or, to put it even more directly, what exactly does this lofty truth mean for you and me? What do we really confess when we say the Spirit is true and eternal God? To understand the Spirit more clearly we have to look at the original languages. The Greek word for Spirit literally means "wind" or "breath." This word indicates that – like the wind or breath – the Spirit is in constant motion, always moving. More specifically, it indicates a movement of God toward man. The Holy Spirit is God coming into man. And, this is the Spirit's specialty.
On our cruise last week I noticed all sorts of specialties. There were the stewards who looked after our room, the cooks and waiters who looked after our food, the sailors and engineers who controlled the ship, a cruise director who made sure everyone was having a fun time, a purser who made sure we paid our bill, a doctor who tended to medical problems, entertainers who played and sang and danced,
electricians and carpenters and painters and cleaning crews. The Holy Spirit is also a specialist. His specialty is to bind together, to connect, to make ties of love and fellowship between man and God.
We see this work of the Spirit – binding God to man – already at Creation. Genesis 1 begins with an earth that was formless and empty, dark and watery. We would hardly expect to find the binding, fellowshipping, loving Holy Spirit on such a cold and barren planet. But there He is! We are told, "The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters" (Gen 1:2).
You wonder what the Spirit was doing there? Well, He did what He is best at. He was tying the earth to God's special, loving concern. God, you see, wanted our planet to be the scene of a special and wonderful relationship – a love relationship between the Father and His children. That's why the world was made through the Spirit. It was the Spirit's job to bind and connect God and man to each other. It was the Spirit's job to lay ties of love and fellowship between man and God.
The Spirit set out immediately to do this task; it made the earth suitable for its special destiny; it ordered and beautified the earth. Remember how the Psalmist puts this?
(Ps 104:30) When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.The Spirit gave to nature a voice – a voice with which to praise its Maker. He wrote the name and glory of God in creation. He made creation fit to be bound and united to God.
But the most tender concern of the Holy Spirit was manifested in the creation of man. On the sixth day God created man and we read that God breathed into man's nostrils the breath of life. That breath of life was and is the Spirit. God made man through the Spirit. Remember how Job sings of this?
(Job 33:4) The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.The Spirit established ties of love between God and man. He made man into a covenant being. He put the image of God into man and He formed man to be a child of God. The Spirit enabled man to recognize God as His Father and to walk and talk with His God.
But that was not the end of the blessed work of the Holy Spirit at creation. He continued to bind more precious ties. It was the Spirit Who bound Adam and Eve to each other as husband and wife. It was the Spirit Who bound man and creation together so that man became the lord of creation with dominion over the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea.
C You can well imagine how the fall into sin must have grieved the Spirit. Sin goes violently against the nature of the Spirit. Sin wrecks the work of the Spirit. Sin breaks every relationship of love forged by the Spirit. Sin cuts man loose from his God and his fellowman. We see that, don't we, when we see Adam and Eve hiding from God among the trees of the Garden. Sin broke the bond the Holy Spirit made between husband and wife when they played the blame game and pointed the finger at each other. Sin broke the bond the Holy Spirit made between brothers when we see Cain killing Abel.
Sin isolates whereas the Spirit weaves ties of love. Sin drives people apart whereas the Spirit brings people together before the face of God. Sin brings frustration whereas the Spirit gives purpose to man's daily tasks. Sin breaks the bonds of love that the Spirit creates.
D Our age is a time of extreme loneliness. Many people resort to dating services and single bars in order to find companionship. I read last week that one third of all couples now meet through online sites like eHarmony and Match.com. And, on the plane last week I saw an advertisement for a dating service geared towards the executive who is too busy to find love. Countless elderly pine away in nursing homes today with never a visitor. Man, through the Spirit, was created to have fellowship with God and his fellowman. But sin has changed all that. Man now is a lonely drifter.
Psychologists tell us that the number one need people have is to love and be loved, to feel wanted and needed, to belong to someone.
During the Viet Nam war American soldiers found a little boy hidden under a pile of leaves. His eyes were wide with fear. Why? Not because he was scared of the soldiers. But because his father and mother were dead and he no longer belonged to anyone. The soldiers adopted the little fellow and from then on he clung to them.Ever since the fall, man – like the little boy – has tried to love and be loved again. He has built enormous cities, he has tried communes, he has created secret societies, he joins clubs and plays sports, all in his search for love and community. But none of these have worked to give man the fellowship and community he needs and wants.
III The Holy Spirit and Our ReCreation
A For a mankind that is lonely and suffering from broken relationships there is Good News: the Holy Spirit has never given up on its great purpose of weaving and forging ties of love and fellowship between God and man and among men.
When we turn to the pages of the New Testament we see there that the Holy Spirit was involved not only in our creation but also in our re-Creation. It is the Holy Spirit Who makes it possible for man to repent and to respond to God the way he should.
B As you know, when man sinned he put a gap between himself and God. Since it is the nature of the Spirit to bridge gaps God, of course, turned to fallen man in the Spirit. It was the Spirit Who wove the intricate pattern of salvation in Christ. With patience and wisdom the Spirit prepared for the coming of Christ through many generations. It was the Spirit Who led Abraham to the Promised Land. It was the Spirit Who inspired the prophets to proclaim the coming of the Messiah. It was the Spirit who led the Israelites to repentance and faith. And finally, the Spirit performed the greatest miracle of all: He overshadowed Mary, a virgin, and conceived the Messiah within her.
All of Christ's ministry and work was done in the power of the Spirit. The Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove when he was baptized by John. Christ claimed the authority of the Spirit in His teachings and miracles.
C This same Spirit, says the Catechism, "has been given to me personally." The Holy Spirit lives in me! This means I am God's temple. Why has He been given to us? To unite us once more, through the blood of the Lamb, with God. The Spirit so binds us to God that I "share in Christ and all his blessings."
When someone dies there is appointed an administrator or executor of the estate – someone who looks after things like paying the bills and the taxes, distributing the assets, giving to charity, and so on. When Jesus left earth to ascend into heaven the Holy Spirit became the administrator of His estate – dispensing the blessings of Christ. He allows us to share in everything Christ has and in everything Christ has done. The Spirit, in other words, binds us to Christ. Because of the Spirit, Christ's victory over sin and death and the grave becomes our victory over sin and death and the grave. Because of the Spirit, Christ's glory becomes our glory. Because of the Spirit, Christ's throne becomes our throne.
He does all this "by true faith."
D What blessings? What are the blessings of Christ in which the Spirit makes us share?
First, we can point to new life, to rebirth, to regeneration, to being born-again. The corridors of time are filled with sinners; none of them on their own can come to the cross of Christ. So, through the years the Spirit has led stubborn sinners to the cross, there to be forgiven and washed clean from their sins. No one but the Spirit can change a heart. It is only by the power of the Spirit that anyone can make or confess the statement, "Jesus is Lord."
I ask you, my brothers and sisters, are you certain of your own salvation? Are you sure your heart has been cleansed? Are you positive you are born-again? It is the Spirit Who enables us to say "Yes" to these questions. Remember the confession of Q & A 1 of the Catechism? "Because I belong to Him, Christ by His Holy Spirit assures me of eternal life ..." Christ does it no other way. This is part of our only comfort in life and in death.
This means the assurance of salvation does not lie in our own efforts, or our works, or our experiences and groanings and cries and tears. The only ground of certainty we have is the testimony of the Spirit in our hearts that we are children of God and have been washed and cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. Go to the Spirit with all your doubts and fears about your salvation. Go to Him and gain confidence that, by grace through faith, you have been forgiven.
This, then, is the first blessing of the Spirit: He leads us to Christ and salvation so that, as our Bible reading puts it, "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Acts 2:21).
Second, it is the Spirit Who sanctifies us and makes us more and more like Christ. It is the Spirit Who helps us get rid of the old man of sin. Once the Spirit has led a sinner to salvation He begins the long and arduous task of restoring that person to perfection in Christ. He draws us closer and closer to Christ.
Third, it is the Spirit Who helps us to pray. He brings our prayers to heaven and makes them acceptable to God.
Fourth, the Spirit offers us comfort.
Fifth, the Spirit equips us for all sorts of service and good works. Our Bible reading this evening mentions dreams and visions and prophecy. Paul can mention gifts like teaching, wisdom, prophecy, administration, and so on.
Sixth, and last (though this list is not exhaustive and there are many other things we can mention), it is the Spirit who preserves us in the faith. It is the Spirit Who keeps us forever in the loving arms of Jesus. It is because of the Spirit that we know nothing in all of creation can ever separate us from the love of God towards us in Christ Jesus.
Ever since the Fall, our song and our prayer has been:
Nearer, still nearer, close to Thy heart,This, my brothers and sisters, is the glorious work of the Spirit.
Draw me my Savior – so precious Thou art!
Fold me, O fold me close to Thy breast.
Shelter me safe in that haven of rest.
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