Part three answering listener questions from Tim about whether or not faithful Christians should expect to be healed by Jesus from all their diseases. This time we concentrate on the danger of filtering our faith through personal experience.
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Part two answering listener questions from Tim about whether or not faithful Christians should expect to be healed by Jesus from all their diseases. This time we concentrate on whether miracles should be a normal part of gospel preaching.
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The full audio version of our CT:LIVE Season 3 Finale Q&A! It’s a long one, but there’s lots of fun and answers to some awesome questions. Check Facebook for the contest winners.
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If you remember last week, we learned that regardless of what the multitudes of unbelievers in this world think, there really is objective truth and objective morality, and those things were written long, long ago by God Himself. And therefore, despite all of the dramatic changes of opinion which seek to envelop us, and all the forces pulling us towards compromise, there are many things that Christians will not change.
The world around us is redefining itself at a remarkable rate.
- A hundred years ago few homes had a telephone, now almost everyone has access to the wonders of the internet in their pockets.
- In 1915 only a handful of people graduated from high school, and only 1 in 10 doctors had a college education – today you almost need a bachelor’s degree to be hired to flip burgers.
- In 1915 you could get Marijuana and Heroin over the counter from your pharmacist.
In just one generation, we have seen radical changes in the way the world looks and sounds.
- Tattoos used to be reserved for sailors, and piercings for women’s earlobes.
- Children have all but stopped going to the park and riding their bikes all over the neighbourhood – although Pokémon Go seems to have changed that now!
- Television wouldn’t even show a husband and wife in the same bed.
- We didn’t hear the first uncensored swear word until 1999.
- It took until 1971 before the sound of a toilet flush was heard on TV! Now we have Netflix and Game of Thrones.
And that’s just a little scratch off the surface. In an even shorter time, we’ve seen seismic changes in how the world views human sexuality, marriage and family, contraception and abortion, pornography and prostitution, the role of government, multiculturalism, religion, and more. And we’re not merely talking about fads and fashions, but complete reversals on these issues. What was once considered immoral, illegal, disgusting and even dangerous, is now part of our everyday mainstream media and culture.
It was incredible to me (though perhaps it shouldn’t have been) to see a woman at the US Democratic National Convention stand in front of a group of thousands of people and be applauded for having her first child aborted, and encouraging others to do the same. Or to watch prostitutes stand on the steps of the Canadian Parliament and shout how proud they are of their “valuable work”. That’s an incredible change from only a few years ago.
Christians, every day, everywhere, even in our little context here in Beckwith and Carleton Place, are faced with a dramatically and rapidly changing world. We can’t avoid dealing with it.
Last week we talked about the danger and foolishness of dealing with it by setting your moral compass by the “rulers” or authorities of this ages who’s “wisdom” is “doomed to pass away”, but we are to pursue spiritually mature thinking by staying connected to God and His Word.
In the passage of scripture we were looking at, we are reminded that today’s worldly wisdom will not only “pass away”, but those coming up with these new ideas are usually wrong. The quintessential example of how wrong they got it was that when they saw Jesus Christ, instead of seeing the sinless Son of God, they murdered him.
The passage continues and reminds us that if we want to understand what God is doing, then we have to listen to Him, because his plans are often “secret and hidden”, beyond our ability to discern through our own human abilities. No matter how much we study, we will never be able to figure out what God is doing because, as Isaiah 55:9 says, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are [God’s] ways higher than [our] ways and [God’s] thoughts than [our] thoughts.”
God’s Plan is a Revealed Plan
But that doesn’t meant that God’s plan is impossible to learn, or His voice impossible to hear. We just can’t get there ourselves. We need help. Please open up to 1 Corinthians 2:9-12.
“But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.”
There’s an important word there that we need to make sure that we see; it’s the word “revealed”. God’s will is a revealed will. God’s plan is a revealed plan. What God has “prepared for those who love him” is “secret and hidden” for most people, but it can be found by those who have received the Spirit of God.
Remember the context. The Corinthian church has been acting like a bunch of immature, unspiritual, babies, and Paul says that as much as he’d like to teach them about “secret and hidden” things of God, he can’t because they’re too immature to listen.
The reason we have Children’s Church, or Sunday School, here is so that those who are unable to understand me – who don’t have the attention span, vocabulary, or maturity to be able to sit through a sermon – can be taught about Jesus at their own level. It’s important that we do that or the children will be both confused and frustrated, and we don’t want that. We speak to them at their level.
The Apostle Paul had spent a year and half teaching the Corinthians, and after he had left, they didn’t grow more mature in their faith, but instead reverted back to acting like spiritual babies. They could barely handle Children’s Church, and would never be able to understand a real, deep, mature Christian lesson.
But, Paul says, these things are absolutely available! Anyone can learn them – but they need to be pursuing spiritual maturity in order to do it. I want to spend next week giving more details about the Holy Spirit, but today we’ll suffice with this: the only way to “comprehend the thoughts of God” is to receive, accept and walk with “the Spirit of God”.
These truths must be “revealed”. We can’t figure them out on our own, no matter how hard we try. He does this through us reading scripture and when we are in prayer – but both require submission to the Holy Spirit for it to work.
Here’s a great example:
In Matthew 16:13-17 it says,
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’”
A bunch of people had put their heads together and came up with some great theories about who Jesus was, and it was based on a lot of study. Herod and his experts thought that Jesus was John the Baptist come back to life and that rumour spread far and wide. Others thought that Jesus was like one of the prophets of old brought back to life. Elijah had great power, and so did Jesus. Jeremiah had great wisdom, and so did Jesus, so perhaps it was him. But, as good as these guesses were, they were all wrong.
When Jesus turned to ask His group of disciples who they thought He was, it was the bold Simon Peter who spoke up.
“He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”
Do you see that? Jesus says, “Peter, you got the right answer, but it wasn’t you who came up with it. It was God who gave that to you. You wouldn’t have come up with that yourself!”
And we know that because within about 6 verses, Peter takes Jesus aside to tell him that He’s never going to be killed or raised from the dead, and Jesus says,
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:23)
Oh, Peter! When you were listening to God you were right on, but when you started to set your mind on the things of man – the worries you had for your friend, the plans you think you have in your mind, the ways you think Jesus should work, the belief that all suffering is bad – you started working for Satan and hindering the work of God!
Over and over in his letters, the Apostle Paul reminds his readers that everything from his conversion to Christianity to the sermons he preached were not His idea, but came because Jesus acted first. He knew the Old Testament better than anyone and hated Jesus. And yet Jesus save Him and taught him the truth. Jesus shone light in the dark places so Paul could see things that his great, human wisdom and learning, could never reveal. (Gal 1:12, 16; Eph 3:3, 5)
This is something we absolutely need to understand, and is something that I’ve been talking around for a number of weeks. Our human senses, knowledge, and understanding are not enough to figure out what God is doing in our lives, our family, or this world. His truths are revealed to spiritual people in a spiritual way. It is through the pursuit of God’s Spirit, by walking with God, that we are able to discern the secrets and mysteries of His plan.
But most of us still really, really want to believe our human wisdom is enough, which is why we spend more time thinking, talking and reading than praying and meditating. We believe that our abilities are enough to comprehend the mind of God. We think that with enough thought or study or effort, we’ll be able to figure it all out and/or save ourselves without having to trouble God.
When we are presented with a problem, we tend to trust our senses, our feelings, our knowledge, and our understanding. We seek out human experts, human wisdom and human answers for questions that can only be spiritually discerned.
- We are presented with suffering, fear, sadness, and pain, and we want to know why it’s happening and what to do about it. Immediately our minds fly into “human wisdom” mode and we start to try to figure it out. How can we fix this? How can we defeat this? Where does this come from? What do the experts say? How do I feel about it? If I think enough about it, and work hard enough, then I’m sure I’ll figure it all out and be able to make a plan that fixes everything for myself and everyone else.
- Or, maybe we’re presented with fighting, disagreement, and hard-hearts. We want people to either agree with us or all get along, and what do we do? We have imaginary arguments and see if we can outwit them before they even speak. We try to find ways to make everyone happy. We build walls and fences to protect ourselves.
We are surrounded by so-called experts who are full to the brim with answers and worldly wisdom to solve our problems – but most are only digging deeper graves for themselves and their followers.
Notice that the Bible here talks about two different spirits: the “spirit of the world” and “the Spirit who is from God”. Notice also that one is lower-case and the other is capitalized.
There are two ways of confronting these difficult issues, two different spirits we can choose between to trust: one is the “spirit of the world” the other is “the Spirt who comes from God.” You can see these as two different sources of power, or two different God’s we can worship, almost; two different places to find hope and peace.
The “spirit of the world” draws its strength from multiple sources. It draws strength from the wisdom of the world and this age, supposed rulers and experts of today and yesterday. These are the humanists and philosophers who have tried to riddle out human existence without the need for God. And coupled with that it also draws strength from the demonic realm. Remember, it was Satan who first offered Adam and Eve the opportunity to be like God, knowing good and evil. It was a temptation towards human knowledge, human power, worldly wisdom, that didn’t require God. It’s the same temptation we have today when we try to solve our issues or understand this world without God’s help.
The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, comes from God. He is God. He knows the mind of God the Father, and is fully God Himself.
This is not a new message, but one that has been preached for millennia. When you are faced with something in this world, you have two choices: human wisdom coupled with demonic influence, or dependence on the Holy Spirit of God. The question is, which will you choose?
Our Hiding Place
I’ll talk more specifically about what the Holy Spirit offers next week, but for now I want you to consider how you are reacting to what’s going on around you.
The world is rapidly changing – how are you seeking to discern truth from lies, good from evil, positive changes from negative ones? Are you trying to use human wisdom, or are you on your knees before God, reading His word, and asking the Holy Spirit to reveal his truth to you and give you discernment to understand it?
Many of you are in difficult places, struggling with areas of suffering. How are you reacting to it? Are you trying to figure it out yourself? Depending on worldly experts and worldly wisdom? Are you leaning on your friends, spouse, family, and everyone else, in hopes they will give you strength – but not leaning on God? Do your struggles drive you to Jesus and His promise to give you the Holy Spirit to help you “understand the things freely given us by God”, or do your struggles drive you away from Him.
It is the immature believer that runs from God during times of confusion, fear, and struggle. It is the mature believer that runs towards Him for help. Over and over in scripture God is called a “strong tower”, a “refuge”, a “fortress”, a “rock”, a “shield”, a “stronghold” (Prov 18:10, Ps 18:2, 61:3, 2 Samuel 22:3) Over and over, God is called our “hiding place” (Psalm 17:8, 27:5, 32:7, 119:114). The place where we run to and hide when things get tough. Jesus is called the “Saviour” because He saves us!
The world says that your pains are meant to make you stronger so you can handle more things. No! Our changing world, personal struggles, and pains are meant to drive us to Him so He can be our strength and our defender. God gives them us to show us our weakness so we can learn that we need God to handle everything!
What is stopping you from running to Him?
What is keeping you from crying out to your deliverer?
What keeps you from putting aside the wisdom of the world and leaning heavily on the Spirit of God?
What keeps you from confessing your problems to your Christian brothers and sisters and asking them to call out to God with you?
Is it your pride? You want to come up with your own answers? You want to be the one who saves yourself? You want to impress everyone, including God, with how strong and independent you are? Don’t be foolish. That’s the human path of destruction.
Is it your false humility? You think you are too far gone for God’s notice? You think that your prayers are too simple? You think that you need to do something good before God will listen? Then you don’t understand the Good news of the Gospel! To God, you were dead and dumb and His enemy – and He came to save you anyway. He knows the thoughts of your heart, and knows exactly how you feel – because Jesus has felt the same way. And there is nothing you need to do to be worthy of God’s attention – because He’s a good Father who wants nothing more than to have you come to Him.
It actually grieves His heart when you think that you are either too good or too bad for Him to help. It grieves His heart when you refuse to come.
The Prodigal Son
Remember the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). The son looked at the father and said, “I wish you were dead. Give me my inheritance and I’ll pretend you are. I’m going to go live like the world. I’m going to listen to the world. I’m going to act like I’m not even one of your children. I’m going to take all the blessings you give me, and spend them only on my own selfish desires. Get out of my life, Father… I know better than you!”
And it says that after hitting rock bottom, the son got so sick of what the world was offering that he wanted to go home. But he thought he was unworthy. He wanted to come back and as a lowly servant. Like many people here, he figured his father would be angry because of how they have lived, or because of the neglect of his soul, or because he had made himself unclean, so he thought, maybe he could just scrub pots in the kitchen.
The moment his life changed was the moment he decided, “I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to Him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.’”. So he went home, with a three sentence speech planned, hoping to grovel for some grace.
But how was he greeted? His Father was looking for Him. As soon as the son was in sight, his Father ran out to him, and before the son could even get his little speech out, the Father was yelling at the servants to dress him, clean him, restore him, equip him, celebrate him! He was thrilled beyond belief to have his child with him again!
That’s the kind of God we have! He is the shepherd who leaves the 99 to go searching for the lost one and rejoices when they are found. He is the woman who tears apart the house looking for the one coin she has lost, even though she still has 9. He is the God who is jealous for His people and loves it when they come to Him. And promises, that when we do, He will help us understand what is going on, why it’s happening, and where we can find comfort.
Before the word is on our tongue, He is there, restoring, cleaning, helping, comforting, and embracing us. He’s not angry – He’s thrilled you are there! The Spirit of God has been waiting for you to open up to Him.
We like doing things ourselves, right? I think almost everyone here today takes pride in the skill and abilities they have, what they can accomplish, and how, for the most part, they don’t really need anyone’s help to get by. Sure – as I said last week – some of us are willing to admit our weaknesses and need for God for spiritual things, but when it comes to practical things – like home repair, cooking a meal, fixing a car, building a shed, manipulating a computer, or making clothes – we’re still pretty fond of the fact that we don’t need anyone’s help to do it.
I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Being a do-it-yourselfer is good. Actually, in scripture, God praises the one who learns skills and then applies them with diligence. It’s not only those who know the Bible and practice spiritual disciplines that get kudos, but God also shows His pleasure with those who work hard at growing their business, playing music, build, manufacture, teach, explore, or make art. During the building of the Tabernacle in Exodus 35, God called on all people who knew to spin yarn and linen, work metal, grow plans and herbs, carve wood, and more.
There were a couple of men in particular that God blessed to be able to do all kinds of practical things. It says,
“Then Moses said to the people of Israel, ‘See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of workman or skilled designer.” (Exo 35:24-29)
Sometimes Christians look at men and women who know lots about the Bible, or write, or are able to preach, or teach Sunday school and assume that’s what God wants all believers to try to live up to – but it’s not true. God needed a lot of skilled workers to build His temple and serve His people, and Bezalel and Oholiab were specially gifted by God to be craftsmen. And it’s the same in today’s church. We need all kinds of people in this world, this community, and this church.
If they would have said, “Since I’m just good at doing artistic stuff and am not a priest or a lawyer or a holy man, then I can’t work for God.”, they would have been disobeying God. All the time that these men spent alone in their sheds, planning, carving, pounding, moulding, and polishing – and apprenticing others how to do the same – brought glory to God and helped the worship of the entire nation of Israel.
And the priests would be sinning if they were to look at them and say, “I can’t believe you’re wasting your time banging metal together and weaving strings! You shouldn’t be an artist or hunter or shepherd or politician or soldier – you should quit all that and start doing important things!”. That would go against what God built and asked them to do.
God has given skills to some people that others will never have – because He decided they should have them to use them for His glory and the good of humanity. Many of Jesus parables aren’t based in the spiritual realm but in the practical side of life. He tells stories about farming, banking, housekeeping, construction, wine-making, baking, fishing, management, and law – and we never get a hint of Jesus disparaging or minimizing any of these occupations. It is the priest and the religious expert who get blasted by Jesus, not the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker.
Working in The Spirit’s Power
Why am I telling you this? Well, first, it’s important, but I also think it relates to our passage in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. Let’s read it and then I’ll riddle it out for you:
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”
The simple message today is that there are some things in this life that God offers to partner with us on and some things that He is required to do all by Himself.
If you remember Paul’s story you will recall that Paul was a skilled guy with some of the best training the ancient world had to offer. Before he ever knew Jesus, his name was Saul, and he was already a formidable intellect, an unmatched student, and a force to reckoned with. He spoke multiple languages, had memorized huge quantities of not only scripture but also secular teachings, and was one of the most skilled lawyers in the world. He was a powerful speaker and no one could match his devotion or his resolve. He had the ferocity of a shark, the skill of a fox, the wisdom of an owl, the memory of an elephant, and the determination of a pit-bull. People feared getting on the wrong side of Saul.
When Jesus turned Saul’s world upside down, he became Paul the missionary. And did Paul still use his great powers for the sake of spreading the gospel? Sometimes, yes. He gave unparalleled speeches before great worldly counsels, brought wisdom and insight to the apostles, and figured out more theology than almost anyone ever. Even the Apostle Peter said that some things in Paul’s writings are so complicated that they require a great deal of study and effort to understand (2 Peter 3:16). He was a true genius.
And yet, if you remember the story of Corinth, when Paul came into town the first time, he wasn’t he mighty man of God we might think he was. No, he was a man at the end of his rope. Saul the powerful persecutor had become Paul the broken and persecuted. He was alone, exhausted, rejected, afraid, and perhaps even ready to quit being a missionary altogether. But God had met him in a special way, had strengthened Him, encouraged him, and told him to keep preaching.
Paul’s message to the Corinthians wouldn’t be like his message to the Athenians or the Jews, or anyone else. Instead of turning all his mental and intellectual powers towards convincing people about the truths of Jesus’ claims to be Lord, God and Saviour, he decided to keep things very simple and leave the convincing up to God.
When Paul came into Corinth, he had only been an active, traveling missionary for about 4 years, but he had learned some valuable lessons during that time. One main thing he learned was that he needed to speak to people in a way they understood. He tells the Corinthians later that
“I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law… that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law… that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” (1 Cor 9:19-23)
Paul learned the importance of contextualizing his message to his audience. Which was one reason he made the decision not to “proclaim to [the Corinthians] the testimony of God with lofty speech and wisdom”. As we’ve said before, that would have been a distraction to them.
But he had learned another lesson too: that the success of his work wasn’t dependent on his intelligence or abilities but on God’s blessing. His missionary journey had broken him down, and as he taught the Corinthians, he didn’t sound like one of the greatest teachers in the world – instead, he was weak, fearful, and even trembling. He didn’t use a lot of arguments and illustrations and human wisdom (what he calls “plausible words of wisdom”), which would have impressed them, but instead, he abandoned all of that and “decided to know nothing among [them] except Jesus Christ and him crucified”.
He didn’t talk about the idols in town and draw illustrations from them. He didn’t give them history lessons or impress them with poetry and quotes from great philosophers – which he certainly could have, and that’s how the most popular teachers spoke. Instead, he kept it simple: Jesus of Nazareth is God incarnate, and the only way of salvation. He lived a perfect life, died at the hands of sinners, and rose again to conquer death, hell and sin, and offers forgiveness to anyone who would turn from their sins, and believe that He is their Lord, God and only Savior.
I’m sure there were many discussions and many challenges, but instead of trying to impress them with his great knowledge, win them with powerful arguments, twist them in circles with his intellect, he simply talked about Jesus Christ who died on the cross to save sinners.
He left the persuasion up to the Spirit of God. If God wanted the Corinthians to become Christians… if God wanted to plant a church in this pagan town… if God wanted to turn people in this crazily sinful city into disciples of Jesus… then God would have to do it.
Paul would be obedient and preach – but He wouldn’t try to do anything else. Not only was he was too tired and broken, but he had learned that if he tried to do it in his own strength, it would blow up in his face – especially in Corinth, the seedbed of Satanic influence. If he used his own strength, then maybe they would become disciples of Paul – but not Jesus. He wanted their “faith” to “rest not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” And so he left the persuasion of souls up to God, by leaving any demonstration of power up to the Holy Spirit.
Working With God
And so, I say again: The message today is that there are some things in this life that God offers to partner with us on and some things that He needs to do all by Himself.
God doesn’t need us to do anything. He is perfectly capable of doing whatever He wants, but sometimes He prefers to accomplish His will through His people, so He invites us to work with Him. He gives us skills, abilities, gifts, time, energy and opportunity – and then says, “Ok, go do the thing I just set up. I’ll go with you to make sure it works.”
It’s like when your three year old wants to help you build something. You buy the pieces, do the planning, make the measurements, organize the equipment, and figure out the best time to do it – and they hold the flashlight, pound in the final nail, or get to paint a little part of it. And then later, they can tell all their friends, “See that thing over there? I built that!” Are they right? Of course not. But what does mom or dad say? “Great job! What a big help you were! Do you want to do something else together?”
I think God is like that sometimes. He does 99.99% of the work, and then says, “Ok, now, I’ll do this last part with you. Go build this thing. Finish this up. Talk to that person. Draw that picture. Make that meal. Give them that book. Fix that thing.” And it takes a bunch of our energy and effort and time, but we finally finish, and then, when something incredible happens as a result, we sit back and think, “Wow, see that over there? I did that!” Are we right? No, of course not. But what does God say? “Great job! What a big help you were! Do you want to do something else together?”
I think it’s like that when we partner with God. Christians who walk with God a long time start to realize this and more and more turn the glory back to God. They realize that it wasn’t them that did anything, but God working through them. They may have partnered with God in obedience, but it was really God who gets the glory.
That’s similar to what Paul was doing. He knew that he was supposed to preach and teach. It was his job and he was using the skillset God gave him. Just like Bezalel and Oholiab were good at arts and crafts, so Paul was good at talking. He was called and built for that purpose, and would be disobeying God if He didn’t do his job.
But He knew that whatever happened, it was God’s show. He knew that the more he depended on his own abilities and strengths, the less God would shine through Him. The more they saw of Paul, the less they would see of Jesus. And so he resolved, especially in his weakened state, to show as little of Paul, and as much of Jesus, as possible.
Things Only God Can Do
We have to realize, as Paul did, that there is nothing of eternal we can do without God, and there are a lot of things that are completely outside of our control. And, if we want God to act (to demonstrate His Spirit and His power), then we need to stop trying to do it for Him.
It would be like the three year old taking the pencil out of the adult’s hands and saying, “I’ll plan out this project.” Or taking the skill-saw away and saying, “Stand back, dad, I’ll cut this wood.” Or saying, “Get out of the kitchen. I’ll figure out how to make Thanksgiving dinner myself! Last year you made something I didn’t like, so this year I’m going to do the whole thing on my own.”
That’d be crazy, right? A toddler can’t do that. They’d get hurt, hurt someone else, ruin the project, and likely burn down the whole house. “Here, let me wash that phone for you.
“Here, use this wrench to cut that wood.” “Here, let me decorate that car for you.” A child absolutely needs to depend on the adult to get the job done right and safely.
It’s the same with us. There are things that we simply cannot do, that require a demonstration of the Spirit, and a movement of the power of God. And if we try to do them, we just mess it up! There are a lot of things that I could list, but consider these for a moment:
As much as we want to argue and convince people that we are right, we cannot change people’s hearts – only God can do that. Faith is a gift from God, not a skill we can teach. The Gospel and all its implications can be defended and explained, but it takes God changing a heart before it will be embraced.
Or pride. We cannot kill the pride within us – only God can. We can pretend to be humble, but even then we start to get prideful about how humble we are! Only God can truly humble us.
We cannot remove fear from ourselves. We can do all manner of worldly things to try to control fear or even ignore it – but we cannot remove it. Only God’s perfect love can drive out fear.
We cannot stop worrying, and we cannot take away anyone else’s worry. We can give someone money, but we can’t remove worry from their hearts. We put someone in a safe place, assure them of their security, but nothing but a miracle from God can remove their worry.
We cannot generate love for someone, or make ourselves be able to truly forgive someone. We can chose to perform loving actions, and choose to forgive, but only God can ignite a love within us so strong that it overcomes our own hatred, bitterness or selfishness.
We cannot learn to hate our sin – that requires a miracle from God. We will make excuses for our sin, say how much we need it, explain it away, or bury it in a dark place so only we can see it. Even if it makes us sick, destroys our family, hurts our body, and destroys our minds, we can’t make ourselves hate it so much that we want to be free of it. Only God can do that. Only the power of the Holy Spirit can show us how hateful sin is. Unless God does that, we – and anyone we are praying for – will stay in their sin.
Let me give you two quick applications:
First, in all you do, partner with God. Sure, we can work with our hands, serve our family, fix something, and do a million other things without even thinking about God – and the unbelieving world does that all the time – but we can also do those things in partnership with God, which makes them an act worship and gives them everlasting value. That’s why scripture says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…” (Col 3:23), “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10:31) “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col 3:17) When you acknowledge the presence and the partnership of God in whatever task, it will bring a new meaning to all you do.
Second, and more importantly, realize that you are also utterly dependent on God for everything in your life. Don’t live as a “religious Christian” for spiritual things, but a “practical atheist” the rest of the time. You will not be able to see a demonstration of the Spirit’s power if you are trying to do everything yourself and fix all your own problems. You are designed to need God, therefore stop being too foolish or prideful to ask.
It’s not your job to hold it all together, to be strong for everyone, to fight the good fight alone, or pull up your own socks. The more you exercise your control, the less you are giving to God. The more you work in your own strength, the less you will get from God. The more you try to figure it out in your own wisdom, the less wisdom you will get from God. If you’re trying to calm the storm, then you’ll never turn to Jesus who can do it for you. If you’re trying to make everyone safe and secure, you’re refusing the help of the one who can actually protect you. If you’re trying to plan your future without talking to God, you are performing a hopeless task.
There’s a great line in a song from Casting Crowns that says, “I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held.” That’s a great line and an important truth. It’s not your job to hold on by your own power – what you need to do is acknowledge that in order to see God’s power at work in your life, you need remember that you just need to be held by Him.
In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” (Luke 1:5-25 ESV)
This story occurs months before Jesus was born, but is an important part of the story because it tells of the birth of the precursor, the forerunner, the last great Prophet of Jesus—the one who would come in the spirit of Elijah and preach repentence, paving the way for the Kingdom of God to be revealed in Christ.
Today I want to focus on one verse in this narrative – but it’s a great story, and we need context, so we should read the whole thing.
Because of his lack of faith, Zechariah was struck mute for months, but when he finally was able to speak, I’m sure he had a lot to say. He likely told the story of what happened in the temple, how foolish he was to argue with Gabriel, and what had been promised and commanded regarding Johns future and lifestyle. Verse 64 says that his first words were a blessing of God, and then it records a few verses later, a prophetic song he sang in praise to God.
Let’s read that together by skipping down to verse 57:
Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.
And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel. (Luke 1:57-80 ESV)
Notice that this song and prophecy wasn’t generated by Zechariah, but by God. It says, “Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied…”. The Holy Spirit filled Him and gave Him words of praise and promise.
Before that, when his wife Elizabeth received a visit from Mary, it says “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’” (Luke 1:41-42)
During the promise that Zechariah received about his son John’s future ministry it says, “…for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” (Luke 1:15)
In Acts 2:4, at Pentecost, on the day of the birth of the Christian church, it says that all the Christians who were gathered in the room in Jerusalem “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance…” and then went out and proclaimed the message of salvation through Jesus Christ in the native languages of the people that were gathered there that day.
When the first round of persecution started against the Christians, Peter and John were arrested and brought before a very dangerous group of people – the rulers, elders, scribes, the high priest and more – and questioned about their motives and allegiances. It says that after they asked their first question, Peter was “filled with the Holy Spirit” before he had uttered a word (Acts 4:8).
After that the church began to be worried about retribution from the authorities, and prayed for boldness and divine assistance. It says, “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31)
After Saul, the murderous enemy of the church, was confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus, and sat blind and alone until a Christian named Ananias came and laid his hands on Him, called him “brother”, and prayed that he might regain his sight and “be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9:17).
Later, that same man, Saul, who would be called the Apostle Paul, would bring it right back around to where we started – to a similar prophecy given about John the Baptist, but about us, and now phrasing it as a command instead of a promise, saying, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” (Eph 5:18-19)
God Inspires His People
Paul’s command to the Ephesians was written as a series of contrasts. Let me read the whole thing. It says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit…” (Eph 5:15-18) Do you see the contrasts? Wise and unwise. Using time and evil days, foolishness and understanding, wine and Spirit.
Paul’s concern was that the Ephesian church was going to all the wrong places to get the what they need to survive in this world. He wanted them to find their source of wisdom, understanding, strength, joy and peace in God, through the filling of the Holy Spirit, not through wine or anything else.
This is a common problem, isn’t it? Going to the wrong places for our strength and comfort. Not believing that God is sufficient for our needs, and then putting our faith in something else.
It was Zechariah’s problem as he looked into the face of Gabriel and implied that there was no force that could make his wife pregnant – she was barren and too old. They’d tried and failed. “Gabriel, don’t you know that a biological issue is too strong for even God to handle?”
It was Saul’s problem as he put his faith in the Law of Moses’, and His own spiritual strength and fervour’s ability to gain him salvation. He felt His strength, passion and religious obedience was enough to impress God and make him worthy of heaven.
It was the Ephesian church’s problem as some of them resorted to drinking and orgies in order to gain strength, feel joy, and… somehow… gain wisdom and knowledge of God as they mixed pagan worship practices with celebrating the Lord’s Table.
And it is our problem too.
The Holy Spirit as Motivator
In keeping with last week’s sermon, I’m going to make this a one point sermon again. Last week we said that God finds value in waiting, and therefore so should we. This week my singular point is that if we are to live as Christians in this troubled world, we must be filled by the Holy Spirit.
Saying that sounds very spiritual, and I’m sure everyone here would likely agree with me, but the way we live it out shows that we actually find it to be quite counter-intuitive. We’ve heard the phrase “God helps those who help themselves” so many times that we think it’s biblical (It’s not. Benjamin Franklin said it, apparently, maybe.) . It sounds right, doesn’t it? God wants us to pray, of course… but He then wants us to act, right? He wants faith and deeds, right? Faith and obedience are tied together, right?
True, yes. But we must realize that all of our faith, obedience, deeds, and even prayers, are meaningless, unless they are filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Just as before we are saved our good deeds are meaningless to God (Isaiah 64:6; Eph 2:1-5; Titus 3:5), so, after we are saved, are our deeds meaningless unless they are empowered by the Holy Spirit. God doesn’t want our good deeds, prayers, songs, or religious activity if it is empty of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit in Prayer
Consider Jesus’ words about prayer.
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others… when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. ” (Matthew 6:5-7)
If our prayers are merely repetitive, empty words, they are not only fruitless, but they are not heard by God, and stand as a condemnation to us. If we speak them in our own strength, or worse, mindlessly repeat phrases as part of a religious ritual, then we are showing that we are not in a relationship with God, and the Holy Spirit is not motivating our words and actions.
That’s why the promise of Romans 8:26-27 is there:
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
Just as we cannot pray unless Jesus is our mediator between us and God (Psalm 66:18; John 9:31; James 1:6-7; 1 Tim 2:5) so prayer cannot exist outside the presence of the Holy Spirit. God does not hear spiritually empty prayers. He doesn’t want special words – and sometimes doesn’t even want any words – instead he wants us to be in communion and communication with Him through the person of Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit in Works
1 John 4:8 says that “God is Love”.
And in John 15:9 Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.”
And we know that one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives is “love” (Gal 5:22).
Therefore, if God is love, Jesus demonstrates love, and the Holy Spirit gives us love to share, then consider that when Paul talks about Love in 1 Corinthians 13, that he is talking about a life devoid of the Spirit of God.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love* , I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
(*couldn’t we read that, the presence of God the Holy Spirit within us?)
There is nothing of value we can do for or with God, if it is not done through the power of the Holy Spirit. No one does any favours for God. God works through those people that open themselves to His guidance and strength. And as long as you are working on your own plans, in your own strength, for your own reasons – no matter how good your motives are – you gain nothing if they are not done through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit in Worship
Consider that the Holy Spirit of God is the motivating force that convicts people of sin and brings them to repentance. John 16:8 says, “The Spirit will come and show the people of this world the truth about sin and God’s justice and the judgment.” And Paul is continuously telling the churches to seek the Holy Spirit so they can remain united together (Eph 4:3).
So, when God’s people are living in sin and refusing to forgiven one another, they are actively grieving the Holy Spirit of God, and purposefully distancing themselves from Him. This means that whatever activity they are involved in: worship, discipleship, evangelism, service, preaching, prayer, bible reading… or getting married, raising children, working a job, making daily decisions, giving gifts, planning for the future, dealing with their financial issues, battling an addiction, visiting a friend, or anything else… it is separate from God.
How can I say this? Look at what Jesus says in Matthew 5,
“So if you are about to place your gift on the altar and remember that someone is angry with you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. Make peace with that person, then come back and offer your gift to God.” (Matt 5:23-24)
Why would Jesus tell people to walk away from the act of worship to make things right with another person? Isn’t worshipping God more important than working through some relational problems?
Here’s the thing: If you are not at peace with someone, and there is bitterness, unforgiveness, greed, or malice in your heart, then you cannot worship God! Anything you would have done in that room would have been rejected. Your gift would have been meaningless. You may sing songs, read the bible, learn something, write a cheque to the church, and get a tingly feeling from being around nice people – but God will not have been in it because our refusal to deal with your sin.
Remember Zechariah’s song! The Holy Spirit will always point to Jesus. Even as he was thanking God for His Son John, all the first words were of praise to God for Jesus the Christ, and all the words spoken about John were focused on Him being the forerunner of Jesus! It is the Spirit of God that motivates our worship, not we ourselves. God wants His Holy Spirit to rule our lives so fully that everything we do is motivated by Him, because only then can we live the life-style of worship that honours and glorifies Him best.
Grieving and Quenching
The terms that the Bible uses for what happens when we let sin and self rule our lives and faith, are “grieving and quenching the spirit”. (Eph 4:30; 1 Thess 5:19)
I need to clarify something though: The presence of the Holy Spirit is a gift to believers. (John 14:15-31) His presence is a promise, given to us by Jesus, that He would be with us always. All believers, without exception, are given the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit. There are no conditions placed on this gift, and there is nothing we can do to lose Him. Once you put your faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes to reside in your heart. That means you start to hate sin instead of make excuses for it, your conscience is more sensitive, you have a greater spiritual awareness, and your hard heart begins to soften as you learn to prefer the things of God to the things of this world.
The presence of the Holy Spirit is like a down-payment, a verification, that you are a Christian and that you will be with Him forever in Heaven.
Now, I’m not talking about that. What we’re talking about today is “being filled” with the Holy Spirit. One can be a Christian, and have the presence of God with them, but also be grieving and quenching the Holy Spirit.
Admittedly, this isn’t a great illustration, but it’s sort of like being married. You are committed to one another until death – but there are times when you hurt one another, refuse to listen, refuse to love, refuse to care. That harms the people involved and creates barriers between them. That’s what it means to grieve and quench the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t leave you… instead… He backs off because you told Him to get lost because you prefer sin.
The Old Testament often equates this to “adultery” (Hosea). When we sin, we’re basically choosing to get love, joy, hope, and peace from someone other than God. We are saying that we are in charge and He isn’t. We’re saying that we don’t trust Him to do it right, so we’ll do it ourselves. We’re saying that we believe ourselves to be wiser and smarter than him. And we’re saying that He can’t satisfy our deepest desires, so we need to find something else that is better than him. That’s sin. And that grieves and quenches the Holy Spirit.
When we allow that to happen, because of our love for sin, idols and self, we do not experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives. Instead of having a free exchange of power, wisdom and peace coming from the Holy Spirit, making us fruitful for God, we step away from Him and seek someone or something else.
This can happen, as I said, by our actions, but also by our thoughts. Holding onto hatred, bitterness and fear quenches the Spirit. Preferring food, drink or a chemical to His presence quenches the Spirit. Believing ourselves to be so wise and spiritual that we have no need to talk to God grieves the Holy Spirit. Breaking the commandments grieves the spirit.
How to Be Filled
So how can we be filled with the Holy Spirit? The answer – and this may surprise you – is not to pray more. That whole list of people I gave before: Elizabeth, Zechariah, Peter, Paul, the first Christian missionaries, didn’t pray for a filling of Holy Spirit and then receive it. Instead, they were obeying God. “Sin hinders the filling of the Holy Spirit, and obedience to God is how the filling of the Holy Spirit is maintained.” (http://www.gotquestions.org/Spirit-filled.html)
The Christians were in prayer and asking for God’s help. Zechariah had just obeyed God by giving John the name God had commanded and by worshipping Him when he regained his power of speech. Elizabeth had just accepted young, outcast Mary in to her home. Saul had just repented of his sin and humbled himself before Ananias. Peter had willingly walked into a place where he would be persecuted for Jesus’ name.
The filling of the Holy Spirit doesn’t come as we ask for it, it is available to all Christians at all times – it happens as we seek to live out our Christian walk in obedience to God.
And so, the application this week is fairly straightforward. If you want to be filled with the Holy Spirit of God and experience the benefits of a soft conscience, courageous witness, wisdom beyond your abilities, strength in the midst of struggle, patience to endure, supernatural love, unbound joy, uncompromised discernment, meaningful worship, a passion for God’s Word, newfound humility, evangelistic opportunities, and abundant hope in the person and work of Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour – then I ask you to evaluate your obedience to God this week.
- When God convicts you of sin, do you kill it in your heart and then smash the idol that caused you to stumble? Or do you make an excuse and then let the idol stand?
- Some of you have heard hundreds of sermons about reading your bible and praying every day. Are you?
- God has told some of you to do some very specific things. Have you done them?
- God has commanded you to stop doing some things. Have you stopped?
If you want to be filled with the Holy Spirit and have a brand-new relationship with Jesus Christ, then it starts with your obedience to Him.
I thank God that He keeps taking me back every time I quench His spirit. Remember that if you are a Christian, there is nothing you can do to lose your salvation. All you must do is ask for forgiveness and strength, and He’ll give it to you. If you are not a Christian, then I encourage you to turn your life over to Him today. Ask God for forgiveness of your sins, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and then start walking in step with the Spirit who will be with you forever.
May I close with a dire warning? If you don’t care whether you have the Holy Spirit inside of you or not…. if you don’t care about knowing Jesus more… if you don’t care if you are more obedient to Him today than yesterday… if it doesn’t really matter to you that you are redeemed from Hell by the shedding of His precious blood… then I ask you to question whether you are even a Christian.
Yes, we stumble. Yes, we fail. Yes, we let God down all the time and keep ebbing and flowing toward and away from His Spirit… but a Christian feels the desire to get closer. We desire to put down sin. We desire to experience the presence of Jesus. We hope for more filling of the Holy Spirit. We want to worship the one who loved us so much He would trade His Son for us. We want to honour the one who paid our ransom with His life.
If you don’t care about what I’m saying right now, and think you are a Christian, I ask you to think again. Have you quenched the Spirit so thoroughly that you can’t even feel the sting of conviction anymore? That is a terrible place to be.
You are the life-giving God.
and give us the energy to call upon Your name,
for our minds are not enough to understand,
our thoughts are wayward
and we are easily distracted.
We love the world too much
and within our heart is still the struggle with unbelief and doubt.
It is only by Your Holy Spirit that our many weaknesses
can become strengths.
We approach You as our Father
and our Friend.
You are our portion forever,
the person from whom we get exceeding joy,
and from You comes the strength of our hearts.
We believe in You as the God of nature,
the God of all things,
the great Creator,
the one who set everything in motion,
the one who sustains the universe,
the one who controls providence,
and the one who sent Jesus to be our Saviour from Sin.
Inside each one of us today is a voice that makes us feel too guilty to come before You,
or too proud
to call upon Your name
– but today we choose to praise You
because of the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,
that we are able to be reconciled to You
because of Him.
May the truth that is in Him
illuminate in us all that is dark,
firmly establish in us all that is wavering,
still within us all of the storms of our hearts,
accomplish in us and through us all of the good plans that You have set before us,
and glorify in us the name of Jesus Christ.
Some of us are passing through a vale of tears,
through a difficult, almost impossible time
– but we choose to thank You
and bless You
for opening the gate to glory at the end of it.
Help us to realise that in You is something better than what we see before us,
help us keep heaven and eternity with You ever in our mind.
Prepare us for the journey You still have for us to walk.
Uphold our steps by Your word.
Keep us from any sin that would dominate us.
Teach us that if we put ourselves first,
then we are not walking towards Jesus.
Teach us that if we are trying to save ourselves,
then he cannot be our Redeemer.
Help us see the kinds of idols we are setting in our hearts
so we may have a better relationship with You.
Give us a strong faith that accepts Jesus as our Redemer
and Lord and our God over all.
In Jesus name we pray, Amen.
(Inspired by “Truth in Jesus” from “The Valley of Vision“)