June 9, 2019 Don’t Be Afraid of the Holy Ghost
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
By definition, Christians believe in a Triune God, identified by Jesus as Father/Son/&Holy Spirit. We used to say ‘Holy Ghost’. Not long ago, I read a short article where the author found that some believers were afraid of the Holy Spirit; some were nervous, confused, hesitant, or uncertain of who this third person of the Trinity is, and what the Spirit does. Yet, nothing about the Day of Pentecost was to be fearful; it was to be a reassuring marvel. Jesus referred to the Holy Ghost as the Counselor, the Comforter.
I suppose a part of our old nature will always rightly fear all 3 persons of God; but we don’t celebrate fear, we celebrate our dear Savior descending, serving, and then ascending, and fulfilling His promise of sending the ‘power from on high.’— those were His words. The 3,000 believers on the first Pentecost didn’t fear what they were witnessing, and neither should we.
People have always feared what they don’t know, or can’t see. In the church, we tend to know a lot about the Son; and Jesus told us that if we know Him we also know the Father. But not so much about the Holy Spirit. In Acts 19, Paul came to Ephesus to a small group of isolated believers-in-Jesus and he asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
He asked them, ‘into what were you baptized?’ ‘into John’s baptism’, they said. Paul then explained to them that John’s was only a baptism of repentance, so that they would be prepared to meet the Messiah Jesus. At that they were baptized into Jesus & received the Holy Ghost.
I think it’s the name that concerns us. “Ghost” or “Spirit” is too suggestive of something eerie & spooky, like those ‘ghost hunter’ shows on TV, suggesting invisible powers beyond our control. There are also too many world ‘religions’, including the dark & satanic ones, who use this fear to manipulate & control their followers by weird signs, strange tongues, even fake miracles & black magic. This would include the bizarre behaviors of charismatic Christians, who go way beyond the Bible’s teaching about who the Holy Spirit is, and what He does. And pretty soon we can’t tell the difference in what is influencing them to scream, faint, laugh, babble or bark like a dog == is it holy or evil, the Spirit or demons?
*And how is all that weird strangeness any kind of solid witness to Christ, who is to be the center of all? It is not godly or safe to go beyond the Scripture.
Fear of the Holy Spirit might remind you of Halloween. As an adult, *did you ever dress up as a ghost to answer the door to give out candy? *How many times did the smaller children scream, or cry & run away because they expected to see a person, not a large ghost? It’s one of those inner human spiritual instincts; ghosts are to be avoided. Our renewed, baptized inner-Christian instinct needs some re-training, because the Holy Spirit is not just any Spirit who would force us to be under mindless control, or do embarrassing things. The Spirit of God is /helpful, /holy, /gracious, /kind, /merciful, /teaching, /comforting, /and always only good.
It is right for the Church to mainly focus on Jesus – the Son of God, and be comforted by our Heavenly Father. But we must also be mindful & thankful of the Holy Spirit, even tho He does not want our focus, and even tho He still largely remains a bit mysterious. Still, the 3rd person of the Trinity is highly significant in our lives of inner faith, and the outer bearing the fruit-of-faith in our earthly lives. The Spirit is just as powerful in His working now as at that first Pentecost; altho His focus is working thru ‘means’; thru the Church in Word & Sacrament, and thru the Church as God’s people living out the faith in Christ in a fallen world.
If we look at who the Holy Spirit really is, and what He does for us, we will respect & honor Him, but not be afraid. So, on that first Pentecost, “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.” (Acts 2:4–6).
So, the disciples, when they were filled with the Spirit, were not babbling incoherently. They were speaking sensibly in recognizable languages. The Holy Spirit did not cause them to lose control, or to hop around, or learn some secret language of the angels. God is the God of order, not chaos. So the Holy Ghost filled them with faith in the one heaven-sent Savior, with courage, conviction, & joy for the purpose of the gospel, not for weirdness. The Spirit empowered these formerly timid men to stand up and speak, not about the Spirit, or any spiritual gifts or power they have; they talked to the crowds about Jesus ===
…to announce that the Nazarene, whom the people had either ignored or participated in condemning & killing, that Jesus -with power- rose from the dead. He used the cross and died to forgive them, that they could have eternal life. 3,000 heard, believed, & were baptized with the one & only baptism there is; not a baptism into the Holy Spirit, but a baptism of the HSp into Jesus.
The Holy Ghost is doing the same thing for US today. We are not afraid that if we don’t have strange experiences or feelings that we’re not good Christians == the faith is not about us. We don’t fear that the Spirit will cause us to weep uncontrollably, babble incoherently, or lose bodily control. Mere emotionalism isn’t the work of the Spirit. The Spirit won’t cause us to do something silly or obnoxious. The Spirit simply uses the Living Word to light up our soul;
to convert us to believe & trust in Jesus as our Savior from sin, death & hell. The Spirit fills us so that our life will reflect Jesus’ holy teaching, and the Spirit will help us tell others why we have such hope & peace. In the Holy Spirit, there is no fear.
Country singer, Ronnie Milsap, once sang a song titled, “What a Difference You’ve Made in My Life.” Amy Grant picked it up & sang it as a song of Christian faith – what a difference Jesus has made in my life. It could be a song about the Holy Spirit as well. It’s the Holy Ghost who brings us to faith in Jesus, and to an understanding of all that He’s done for us. Jesus has died for our sins, risen from the grave, and now lives & reigns eternally. He loves us, forgives us our sins, walks with us to guide us, and has prepared an eternal home for us in His heaven. But were it not for the work of the Spirit, which Jesus sent on Pentecost, no one would believe, be saved, or ever see heaven.
Thru St.Paul we’re told to ‘keep in step with the Spirit.’ If we ignore the Holy Spirit by staying away from God’s Word & Sacraments, there’s a harmful ripple effect. Without the Word & Jesus’ Church we unplug ourselves from His Spirit. Our faith will weaken, and we lose a desire to plug back in. Sometimes you’ll hear Christians complain that their church has changed, that people don’t come, and fewer have a desire to serve or even to walk with their Lord like they used to. But often, if you ask them what they are doing in their church, they’ll give you a bunch of excuses of why they can’t do what they used to. Their church may have changed, but so have they.
Thru neglect, Believers can quickly get out-of-step with the Holy Ghost – whose job it is to ‘call, enlighten, sanctify, & keep’ us in the one, true faith.
Luke is the writer of Acts; in later verses of ch 2, he describes the 4-fold work of the Spirit in the Church = in believers. First, the Spirit-filled church is dedicated to the study of God’s Word. Luke wrote, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” (2:42). These early Christians devoted themselves to the Biblical teaching; which is the Living & Spirit-filled Word about Jesus’ saving work, and the word about walking in Jesus’ ways. Even those who heard Jesus speak with their own ears (back then) were in danger of falling away; they were a learning and studying church. The Word is the Spirit’s chosen way to keep the people of God as God’s true people & NT church. Every Christian needs to read & ponder the Word = alone, but especially in the company of other Christians.
The second mark of the Spirit-filled church mentioned in Acts 2 is fellowship. This is not ‘coffee fellowship’; the Greek word is koinonia = what we have ‘in common.’ Jesus has given us what we must have in common, which is His one Spirit, one Word, one baptism, one faith. What we share in common is our faith in the one true & triune God. We have the same God as our Father, the same Jesus as our Savior, and the same Spirit as our Teacher & Comforter. Our common faith brings us together in mutual concern and care for one another.
The third mark of the Spirit’s presence is worship. The early believers were devoted “to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” That is, to the Lord’s Supper, and to the common historic worship; the OT worship as organized but fulfilled in Messiah. The Spirit-filled church is one that learns & rehearses the spirit-taught worship & prayers. In the OT the Jews gathered, sang together, listened to the teaching, and prayed the same prayers together.
The NT church did not throw that out, and do whatever they wanted; their worship was very much the same, but now transformed for the new covenant which had revealed the name of the Savior = Jesus. The Apostle’s worship was Word & Sacrament.
A final mark of the Spirit’s presence in that Acts 2 early church was outreach.
Vs.47 says, “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
Since God desires all people to be saved, we are commanded to be living in the world as those who reflect the Savior’s light. Jesus has a message of forgiveness & hope for all those we run into. The Spirit empowers us for this living witness. ….
….our lives, words & behaviors must not be different than Jesus’ Bible teaching; else we are not His Spirit-filled disciples.
Throughout this sermon, I’ve alternated between Holy Spirit and Holy Ghost. You & I don’t have to be afraid of the name. The Spirit of God is not a scary ‘ghost’ or apparition, and not ever about weird, outrageous, emotional or shocking things. The job of the Holy Ghost is to wake up our dead soul to believe in Jesus. That Spirit does not say ‘boo’ about anything except the eternal Truth of the Scripture. Scripture is how we test where the Spirit of Jesus is.
That Spirit is given to each of us in our Baptism so that we will hold our Savior’s things in common: the unchanging Apostolic doctrine = all of Jesus’ teaching; He keeps us in the gospel of forgiveness, of hope, of God-pleasing worship, and kindness to those around us. We pray for that Spirit to make us into that kind of a Christian, and that kind of a church.