I recently read Nathaniel Philbrick’s epic narrative of the founding of America, entitled: Mayflower. Philbrick’s award winning story of “our story” is sometimes a tale of simple survival of a sojourning people. Did you know that the survival of the founders of America often depended on whether they had fresh fruit or not? To have fruit meant that they could combat scurvy, which could destroy the entire community, and did, in fact, jeopardize the whole planting of a new country. Nothing, therefore, was more welcoming than the sight of a ship pulling into Plymouth harbor with a load of Spanish oranges! Through this simple gift, the death grip of malnourishment would be replaced by life and health. Brittle bones would become strong. Feeble constitutions would be fortified. Disoriented minds would become directed. Blurred vision would be improved to brightened vision.
We need strong, sturdy, focused, visionary Christians in the Twenty-first century. For the voyage we are all making together into this century, sailing, as we are, into the uncharted seas of a Post Christian West, an emerging Christian global South and East, and a Middle East erupting into who knows what, is going to call for a Church to stand firm, speak boldly and live humbly with the message entrusted to us, the very Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are to leave our places of refuge and learn that the Lord is our refuge, as we go about laying foundations of Biblical truth in this new world we find ourselves in. Yet, and I ask this not as a critic but as a concerned fellow passenger on his ship, are there are signs of scurvy among some in Western Christianity? Are there are signs that some are weakened in their faith? Are some, malnourished and eager to devour whatever is before them, poison or not, seeking to devour the latest theological fad? Are others forgetting the faith once delivered unto the saints? Universalism appears like a break out of disease on this part of the Body. Naturalism and denial of super-naturalism appears on yet another part of the Body. In times of malnourishment in the camp, some may seem to lack clear thinking about simple issues of Biblical truth. Others lose their vision for a “city on a hill” and fall prey to hopelessness. All of these diseases are the “mumps and measles of the soul” as Dr. J.I. Packer put it.
My heart and prayer for you is that you will not be among those that I see in the world today, sojourners of faith who have lost their way, beggars for the scraps of rotten meat when the Good Ship is ever before them in the Bay. I desire, with your leaders here, that you arrive safely into the harbor of ministry and service where Christ is leading you; that you journey deeper into the wilderness places of the Twenty First Century and bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth. I pray that that no matter how challenging the call you face, you will be strong, focused, and have the vision of the Lord as you serve His Church as a pastor or missionary, a counselor or a teacher.
To accomplish these things you will need power from on high. You will need the Holy Spirit.
“But I thought that only Pentecostals talked of such things…” says one. “No,” says the right- minded believer,” for we must remember that John Calvin was called “the Doctor of the Holy Spirit.'” Indeed, we must remember that to inquire into and plead for the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives today is to join the Reformers, the Puritans, and more importantly, the disciples of Jesus Himself in opening our lives to His abiding presence. All of us from the various regions of Christendom gather to wait upon this power from on high to fill us, send us, use us, and guide us.
“I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Those are simple and unadorned words of faith in the Apostle’s Creed; words that will be worked out further in the Nicene Creed as the One who “proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified.” The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is a faith for living; for every believer here needs the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to fulfill our calling.
As our Savior faced Calvary, according to St. John in chapter 14, He began to teach on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. He did not do so as if in a classroom to interested or disinterested students, but to friends who were going to go through hard times without Him. We speak much of the Holy Spirit in difficult times. For what we need in such times He gives.
This gift is available to you today: you who are weary, who are seeking God’s will for your life, who are seeking strength for the journey. You come, and bring your children, and get your supply of grace in the teaching of the Holy Spirit. For with this passage, the good ship of Biblical truth comes to needy disciples.
There are “three crates” of vitamin packed Biblical fruit that I want to offer you from this text that give health and vision to malnourished saints, if that be you (or if not, then we sup together on the life giving Word that keeps us in good health). Let us consider and consume the dynamic doctrine of the Holy Spirit in John 14.15-21 and verses 25-28.
The first container of fresh, life giving Biblical truth I find in this Word is this:
I. The Holy Spirit is a Gift
Jesus promised His disciples that as they faced the challenges of following Him, and keeping His commandments, they would received a gift. “He,” speaking of the Father, “will give you…” Later Jesus Himself will say to be the One who sends the Spirit. “But if I go, I will send Him to you.” So the Confession and the Creeds are exactly Scriptural when they proclaim “He proceeds from the Father and the Son…” He is the gift of God to you. He is so much of a gift to you that Jesus in chapter sixteen says “I tell you the truth; it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go I will send Him to you.
And what does this Gift of the Spirit sent to you by Father and Son bring to beleaguered believers?
The Holy Spirit is the gift of presence.
For we read in John 14.16 that the Holy Spirit (the Paraclete, the Advocate, the Counselor; all of these expressions of His Person are embedded in that one word) will “be with you forever.” This is the promise given to Joshua as he went to claim the land promised to Israel. This is the promise given to all of the Church in the Great Commission by Jesus. This is the promise given to disciples who would soon be scattered at the crucifixion of Christ. The Holy Spirit would be there. And so He is with you.
I teach at the US Army Chaplain Center and School. There is a concept that we teach new chaplains called ” the ministry of presence.” By that phrase, it means that the chaplain will be there with the soldiers or sailors or Marines and airmen as they work on engines, go on night patrols, or jump out of planes, or even charge the enemy with fixed bayonets. Why? Because the chaplain represents God. His presence means that one who is close to God is now close to you.
This is an imitation, however faltering, of the ministry of presence of the Holy Spirit. Wherever you are, right now, He is there. And the amazing promise in this passage is that He will be with you forever. The ministry of the Third Person of the Trinity will not end with the last soul saved. Throughout eternity He will have a ministry of dwelling in us. It is as if our eternal life will be, as in this life, empowered by the Comforter who never leaves us. For cosmic orphans, for restless seekers, for desperate disciples, this is good news.
The Holy Spirit is the gift of position.
Let me stay with this idea for a moment: “I will not leave you as orphans.” To a child like myself who was an orphan, to hear that I was not an orphan before God became a declaration of hope. But the ministry of the Holy Spirit is more than just a theoretical position. He is actually with you. The Spirit of God dwells in His people. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit, the Bible says. He really lives in us. And when we get that truth, we can turn to Him and lean on Him, speak through Him to our Lord, and live a life of a son.
One of the things I have noticed is that we in the Reformed faith sometimes practically deny that we believe in the Holy Spirit by trusting in our intellect and our position. The older I grow the more I see that the life of discipleship is a life of intuitive response by asking the Holy Spirit to come and give me the guidance I need. The backdrop of this includes calls to churches, decisions that must be made, and responses that must be given. If I pause and go to the Lord, He sends His Spirit to show me the way.
I am not an orphan any longer. I have a Father. I have His Spirit in me.
I pray that our seminary will be a place not only of intellectual growth in the Scriptures, but spiritual growth in walking in the Holy Spirit. I ask God that He anoint our professors. I pray God that will empower our students and families to be His witnesses here and now, not just in a day when you leave. Oh to God that revival would begin in the classrooms and the chapels of this seminary! May God send out soldiers of Christ who are catapulted out into the ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit to bring His healing to the lost and the broken!
We see a third way that the Holy Spirit is a gift in this passage:
The Holy Spirit is the gift of peace.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (14.27).
The disciples were headed into chaos as Christ would go to the cross. But they were also head for Pentecost. Pentecost brought not only power to living which would catapult the Kingdom of God through throughout the world and throughout time. And wherever we have gone we have had war, pestilence, opposition, and persecution. Eleven of the Twelve disciples of Jesus would be martyred. Yet the story of the Church has been one of peace in the midst of opposition.
I have a friend who just resigned from his church. He felt the Church was so divided that it would be better for another shepherd to come. He is hurting now. I have been in prayer recently for him. I am praying for peace. I have known such storms. And I have known His peace all the more in those places.
Maybe there is someone here today who needs His peace. Christ’s gift to us all is a gift of peace.
There are many other things that could be said of the Holy Spirit. He is truth. He is power. He comes to us and with the Father and Son makes His home in our lives (23).
All of the words speak to a God who is love, a God who will never leave us nor forsake us.
He is the gift we all need to receive today.
A “second crate” of nourishing fruit in this passage is this:
II. The Holy Spirit is God
This is essential. The Holy Spirit is not a lesser power. He is not a thing. He is a Person. He spoken of as such and to receive Him as God is necessary to follow this Triune God. He spoken of as coming, here, from Jesus, and in chapter sixteen from the Father. He is named by Jesus in the Great Commission. He is named with the Father and Son in the benedictions. He is the Spirit, the Ruah of God, that moved across the void and created the earth. His divinity is seen as Jesus declares that He could not be blasphemed. To do so would bring about the unpardonable sin. To resist Him today unto death is to blaspheme His activity in your life. For through Him we are wooed to Christ and to repentance and faith. Our hearts are hardened when we turn away from Him for He is God.
He is called the Spirit of holiness that raised Jesus from the dead and who will raise believers from the dead:
“If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Rom. 8:11 KJV).
The power of this is, again, that God is with us. He is not impersonal. He is not distant. He is here. Yet we can quench His power and presence. How? Through our neglect of His Word. He attends the reading and preaching of His Word. Through our neglect of Prayer. For in Prayer, our hearts are open to Him, to receive His divine presence in our lives. Through our sinful neglect of presenting our souls to Him daily as our Lord.
I used to have a friend who began each day with a quiet prayer to his Redeemer, “Oh Lord, where would Thy Spirit lead me today?” This retired fellow offered that prayer and then went out and shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with anyone the Lord led into his path. Dr. D. James Kennedy once told me that this man had led more people to Christ than anyone he had ever known. Why? The old Christian gentleman opened His life to God the Spirit and was led by the Spirit to fulfill God’s purposes in the world.
He is the God who convicts the world of sin. He calls us to see our true state. He is the God who convicts the world of righteousness. He opens our hearts to receive the resurrected and living Christ. He is the God of judgement, for the Holy Spirit reveals in His Word the death of death in the death of Christ. He reveals, in short, the Gospel, to everyone who would be saved. You cannot be saved without the power of the Holy Spirit.
He is the God who guides. He guides the believer to God’s will. He guards the believer from error, He guarantees the glorious power that raised Jesus from the dead will raise you.
So the Holy Spirit has a ministry to bring in the elect and to build up the elect. The Holy Spirit is God.
You too will be led as you pray that prayer. Spirit of the living God fall fresh on me.
The “final crate” load of rich nutrients from John 14 is this: The Holy Spirit is not only a Gift, not only God, but:
III. The Holy Spirit is a Giver
In this passage, we see that the Holy Spirit gives truth. He gives you the Word as a Teacher of the truth (17, 26). The Holy Spirit is the giver of sacred memory. Yes, He not only is creating the sacred encounter, introducing you to Jesus, but He brings Him to your hime. He gives you recall of Jesus in your life and His teachings (26). I love this truth. I love that the Holy Spirit reminds us of Christ in us. And this is how I want to conclude this.
When I teach pastoral theology, as I am doing now, I tell our students that the power of your ministry is always to remember the sacred encounter that you had with Jesus. Who is the One who causes you to remember in the hard times of ministry and life?
I once was a prodigal son. I went far from the things of God, to my everlasting shame. While I was in the world, my Aunt Eva who adopted me as her son, never stopped praying for me. She was always there, even when I was in the hog pen of life. I remember when I felt that I had lost all, I came to her and lay my head on her lap, as I had done so often as a child, and I wept. She stroked my hair and she told me to take my pain to Christ, to remember how He had kept me through many trials.
Quietly but intentionally Aunt Eva guided me back to Jesus.
That is the ministry of the Holy Spirit to the disciples in their hardest times. That is the ministry to ministers in their hardest times today. That is the ministry of the Holy Spirit to every disciple who comes to lay her head upon the Lord. He receives us. But He always quietly calls us to remember Jesus.
Today, for just a moment, let us go the Lord, ask for the power of His Spirit to remember how He first brought us to Jesus: through our parents, a coach, a pastor, or maybe a book. But somewhere we had that sacred encounter. We had those first days when we walked with Him, when He taught us, and when we wanted to devour His Word. Let us remember. And let us worship Jesus. And when we do we are bound to declare that this is not the work of our own. This is God at work within us. This is the Spirit of Truth. Then, as we worship Christ in our hearts, we are bound to declare,
“I believe in the Holy Spirit.”