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The Promised Holy Spirit

Steve Whitlam (Senior Leader at ASHP) - 22 May 2017

The Holy Spirit and the Old Testament
All Saints Highams Park
Sunday 21st May 2017

John 3: 1-12
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[a]
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You[c] must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”[d]
“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?
Joel 2;28-29
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
In two weeks’ time the church worldwide celebrates Pentecost. Pentecost is the anniversary of when the first disciples received the infilling of the Holy Spirit and were empowered to go out and share the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in word and action. Today and next week, we will be preaching to prepare the church for Pentecost.
Some of you may think that we are having too much of an emphasis on the Holy Spirit. After all we have just completed a series on the fruit of the Spirit and in June we will be looking at the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Some people may be scared of the Holy Spirit, associating it with weird behaviour – of screaming and shouting and falling over. Some might think it is a new add-on to Christianity that began with the birth of the Pentecostal movement at Azusa Street in 1905. Others might think that the Holy Spirit is not for them and that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are for those super-holy special Christians.
There is a lot of confusion in Christendom about the Holy Spirit. However the apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:1, “I do not want you to be ignorant about the gifts of the Holy Spirit”. And that is the same attitude shared by the leadership team here who wants to see this congregation filled with the Holy Spirit and ministering in His power. After all Paul instructs us to “live by the Spirit” (Galatians 5v16) and to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5v18-21)  
This was important to Paul because it was important to Jesus. Jesus tells Nicodemus “you must be born again” and that “no-one can enter the Kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit” (John 3) Jesus tells his followers in John 14 that He will ask His father to send them the Holy Spirit to help them and to be with them forever.  And in Acts 1, he tells them to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the gift that Father God promised – that they will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus wants his followers to be baptised with the Holy Spirit, in fact Paul refers to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Jesus in Philippians 1.
So is the Holy Spirit just a New Testament thing – something that is post-Pentecost? I’m going show you this morning how the Holy Spirit was at work throughout the Old Testament. My hope and prayer is that this will not just be head knowledge but will awaken a desire for more of the Holy Spirit in your lives.
At first glance, it would appear that the Holy Spirit has only a minimal presence in the Old Testament. A computer search for the phrase “Holy Spirit” would only retrieve three references from the Old Testament and two of these are in Isaiah 63, with the other in Psalm 51. However it will were to search for “Spirit of God” or “Spirit of the Lord” or “The Spirit” we would find many more references scattered across the majority of the Old Testament books. In addition when the prophets deliver a message from God to the people of Israel the message may contain the phrase “My Spirit”. For instance Ezekiel 36v27 “I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Or in Haggai when God wanted to encourage the people to rebuild the temple, God said “My Spirit abides among you. Fear not”. Or as we read from Joel “I will pour out my Spirit on all people”.
We shouldn’t get hung up on how the Holy Spirit is referred to. Let me explain. To most of you, I am Steve. My birth certificate says my name is Steven which is also what my mum uses when she is angry with me. To Anna, I am Dad. To JJ, I am Daddy. I’ve had people at work call me Boss. And I won’t tell you what Jo used to call me when we were first dating. But whatever the name, I’m the same person. We benefit from having the teaching and doctrine of the New Testament to explain that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, part of the Trinity – one God, three persons. Father, Son and Holy Spirit.    
Now is a good time to quote from AW Tozer. He says “Spell this out in capital letters: THE HOLY SPIRIT IS A PERSON. He is not enthusiasm. He is not courage. He is not energy. He is not the personification of all good qualities, like Jack Frost is the personification of cold weather. Actually, the Holy Spirit is not the personification of anything...... He has individuality. He is one being and not another. He has will and intelligence. He has hearing. He has knowledge and sympathy and ability to love and see and think. He can hear, speak, desire, grieve and rejoice. He is a Person."
We encounter the Holy Spirit right at the beginning of the Bible in Genesis 1:2. “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said “let there be light” and there was light. “ At the moment of creation, God the Holy Spirit was hovering over these primordial waters creating light out of darkness and order out of chaos. He continues to do so today, brining order into chaotic lifestyles and shining light into the dark places of the world.
Old Testament believers were conscious of the Holy Spirit as the creator and sustainer of life. In Job 33:4 Elishu speaks for all faithful Jews when he says “The Spirit of God has made me and the breath of the Almighty gives me life”. In Psalm 104, the Psalmist is referring to all living creatures when he says in verse 30 “When you send your Spirit, they are created”.
Do you share this view? Do you see your conception in your mother’s womb as a sovereign act of creation by God’s Spirit who sustains your life and every breath you take? And if that is true for you and is true for all of humanity then surely it must shape how we treat every other person?
The Spirit is also vital in the creation of the “new life” – what is known in Christian terms as “regeneration”. When people accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, God brings them to new life instead of their previous state of separation from God where they were subject to the decay of death (Ephesians 2:4). If you have accepted Jesus, you are a new creation – you might not always feel it but that is the reality.
This is what Jesus was talking about when he said to Nicodemus “you must be born again” – born of water and of the Spirit. When Nicodemus was bewildered, Jesus responded “Are you a teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand this” (John 3:10). In other words Jesus wasn’t teaching or requiring anything new. 
Let me explain this by quoting from the book of Romans. Chapter 8 verses 7-9 read “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit if the Spirit of God really dwells in you.” Paul is saying that there are two types of people – those in the flesh and those in the Spirit. You cannot submit to God and please him whilst you are in the flesh, this can only be achieved if you have the Spirit of God in you. In other words, without the Holy Spirit, you cannot please God.
The Bible lists a number of Old Testament characters who please God – people like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Rahab (Hebrews 11). If the Bible is true and consistent, then these individuals could only please God because they were filled with the Holy Spirit. And we have verses to back up the fact that people were filled with the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. For instance in Numbers 27:18 where the Lord says to Moses “Take Joshua, the son of Nun, in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand upon him”.
Or earlier in Numbers 14;24 which says of Caleb “My servant Caleb, because he has a different Spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into this land”.
Or Exodus 31 where God says “I have chosen Belazel son of Uri, the son of Hur of the tribe of Judah and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and all kinds of skill – to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze”.  
Or Micah who says in Micah 3:8 “I am filled with power with the Spirit of the Lord”
Nicodemus should have known that all these people were filled with the Holy Spirit. Those who put their faith and trust in God will receive the Holy Spirit. It was the case in the Old Testament and it is the same for us today – Peter says in Acts “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” You can’t get much clearer than that. Do you want to please God? You can only do it with the Holy Spirit. 
However there is one big difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament
In the Old Testament, some people were filled with the Spirit but it also came upon selected individuals for specific tasks. For instance we read in Judges 6:34 “Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Gideon and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him”.
Or Samson in Judges 14:19  “The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of everything and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle”.
Or Saul in 1 Samuel  10:10 “the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him and he joined in their prophesying”
Or David in 1 Samuel 16:13 “So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David”. 
Or Ezekiel in Ezekiel 11:5 “Then the Spirit of the Lord came on me and told me to say”.
We see the Spirit come upon many of the Judges in the book of that same name but also on Zechariah (2 Chronicles 24:20), Balaam (Numbers 24:2), Joseph (Genesis 41:38), Isaiah (Isaiah 61:1).
However the presence of the Spirit in these cases was not permanent and departed from some of the individuals we mentioned. For instance when Saul disobeyed God, the Spirit left him (1 Samuel 16;14). Similarly it says in Judges 16:20 that the Lord had left Samson when he slept with Delilah and as a result he lost his strength and was captured by the Philistines.
The good news is that we are living in the New Testament, post-Jesus, post-Pentecost reality. The New Testament teaches that when we put our faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to live in us (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). This is a permanent arrangement, what the apostle Paul calls “the guarantee of our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:13-14) and applies to all believers. The spiritual gifts that we all receive are irrevocable (Romans 11:29).
So why did the Holy Spirit come upon these Old Testament individuals. It was for works of service – not dissimilar to the New Testament where Paul teaches that the Spiritual Gifts are for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7), to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13) and to build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12).
These works include:
  • Teaching the people of Israel – in Nehemiah 9. Ezra gives thanks to God “Thou gave thy good Spirit to instruct them.” Teaching Christian truth is also a New Testament spiritual gift.
  • Leadership – the Spirit inspired the Judges to lead the people of Israel especially in battle e.g. Othniel in Judges 3 or Jephthah in Judges 11. Leadership is also identified in the New Testament as a spiritual gift.
  • Craftsmanship and artistic ability – we already mentioned Bezalel who was filled with the Spirit so he could craft the building of the Tabernacle to God’s design and glory. Today the Holy Spirit can anoint the work of an artist or musician so that their work exalts God. Any musician can play hymns or worship songs but a Spirit-filled musician will take the congregation into an encounter with God.
  • Denouncing evil and declaring righteousness – Micah 3:8 says “As for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin”. How we need men and women filled with the Spirit to speak out and expose evils in our society.
  • Victory over fear – when God wanted to encourage the people to rebuild the temple, he said “Work for I am with you. My Spirit abides among you. Fear not. (Haggai 2:5)
  • Extraordinary feats of power – we’ve already mentioned the supernatural strength that Samson was able to manifest when the Spirit came upon him.
  • The ability to interpret God’s revelation in dreams. After Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream about the coming famine, Pharaoh says “Can we find such a man as this in whom is the Spirit of God.”  The prophet Joel prophesised of a time when God’s Spirit will be poured out on all people and that old men will dream dreams and young men will see visions” (Joel 2:28) Have you ever had a dream that you thought was from the Lord?
  • Finally the Holy Spirit gave Old Testament believers a gift of prophecy. Ezekiel and Isaiah are full of Spirit-filled prophecies. When the Spirit came upon Saul in 1 Samuel 10, he joined a company of prophets and joined in their prophesying. In Numbers 11:25, Moses gathers with the seventy elders. The Lord came down and took some of the Spirit and put it on the seventy elders and they prophesised. But then they prophesised no more supporting my earlier point that the Spirit’s anointing in the Old Testament was often temporary.

    Moses would go on to say “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them”. What do you think about that? It’s echoed in 1 Corinthians 14 when Paul encourages his readers to “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.”

    Joel also prophesised. One of his prophecies was of the Day of the Lord. Let me read this prophecy to you. “And afterwards I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days”.  Doesn’t that sound exciting.
The Old Testament might seem as if God’s Spirit only came upon special super-spiritual people, legendary figures like David, Gideon. Ezekiel, Isaiah, Joseph, Moses. And to some extent that was the case. But we are now living in the period that Joel prophesised about, what Isaiah and Ezekiel longed to see and for which Moses’ hope can be realised.
On the first Pentecost, Jesus fulfilled what he had promised and sent his Holy Spirit. Peter explained it in his first sermon stating that what was being experienced was what Joel had prophesied. A promise of the Holy Spirit for all that believe and trust in Jesus Christ, a promise for all believers – male and female, young and old – this gift is for you.
And that remains today – the Holy Spirit is available for all of us here.
The author John Piper uses the analogy of the Aswan High Dam which was built on the River Nile by the Egyptian government in 1970 after 23 years of construction. This hydroelectric dam is 375ft tall and 11,000 feet wide. During this long period, the River Nile wasn’t completely stopped, it still carried on flowing past even as the reservoir was being filled. The people downstream depended on it – they drank it, washed in it, watered their crops with it, turned their mill wheels with it, sailed on it and wrote songs about it. It was their life.  But on the day when the reservoir poured through the turbines, a power was unleashed that gave electricity to all of Egypt – ten billion killowatts of power bringing light and energy.
Pentecost is like the opening of the Aswan Dam. Before it, the river of God’s spirit blessed the people of Israel and was their very life. But after Pentecost, the power of the Spirit poured out to light the wider world. None of the previous benefits were lost but so much more power was available for all of God’s people. If we look at the experiences of the Old Testament heroes who enjoyed power and privileges when God’s Spirit was just a trickle, how much more should we enjoy and expect under the turbines of Pentecost? 
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Thank you to everyone who attended the meeting in the church on Tuesday 2nd October and for sharing their views. It was good to hear so many people were keen to give their support to the church as it seeks to find a viable option for the continued provision of community meeting space and a place to worship.

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