Tending our spiritual life

John 14:8-17, 25-27; Acts 2.1-21, 9 Jun 19

Over the last weeks we have seen that before his imminent arrest and crucifixion, Jesus prepared his disciples for their post-Easter mission. He instructed them, prayed for them and comforted them.

Do not let your hearts be troubled’(14:1), he said, “There will be blessings arising from my departure.” And a most important blessing is the gift of the Holy Spirit to dwell within the Christian, the availability of whom is dependent upon Jesus’ return to heaven. ‘Unless I go away’, he said, ‘the Counsellor will not come to you.’

In Acts, Chapter 2 we have the account of the fulfilment of Jesus’ promise when the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus’ followers in an audible and visible way, and so became available to all followers since. The occasion when this happened was when the disciples were gathered together for the Jewish Feast of Pentecost. ‘Pentecost’ means ‘fiftieth’. This feast was traditionally celebrated as one of three harvest festivals 50 days after the Passover; and also became the time when the Jews observed the anniversary of the giving of the law at Mt Sinaia, 50 days after the Exodus. And so, the disciples had gathered together for Pentecost, and it was now 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection.

In Acts Chap 2 we read, ‘suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind’ and ‘divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them’. ‘All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit ...’ (Acts 2:2-4)

Now, this does not mean that the Holy Spirit did not exist before this special day of Pentecost. There are numerous references to the Holy Spirit coming upon people for particular purposes recorded in the Old Testament. And in Genesis 1:2 we are told that the Spirit of God existed at the time of creation and had a role in creation. The difference is that, whilst in Old Testament times the Holy Spirit seemed to come upon people only to enable a special purpose – after the Day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit became available for all Christians at all times through an indwelling of the Holy Spirit within the Christian.

Now, why was it necessary for the Holy Spirit to come?

The word that Jesus used for the Holy Spirit (paraklētos) can be translated counsellor, helper, comforter, or advocate. In addition, Jesus indicated in verse 26 of John Chap 14 that the Holy Spirit’s role is to teach us and to remind us of all that Jesus taught while on earth. And in verse 16, if we read carefully, we see that Jesus said, ‘I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate (or helper) to be with you for ever’. So, in fact the Holy Spirit’s role is the same as the role that Jesus had fulfilled among his followers up to this point.

In the Gospel passage for today we are told six specific blessings that we receive when we receive the indwelling Holy Spirit:

1. The Spirit gives us power for the mission that Jesus has passed onto us (vv. 12-14). This mission is to ‘go and make disciples’ i.e. to tell others about the love that God has for them and the salvation that is available through Jesus Christ.

2. The Spirit will unite us with the risen Jesus in a new intimacy of communion (vv.17-21). Jesus comes to us through the Holy Spirit. In a sense that is nothing less than a mystery to us, the Holy Spirit is the life breath of Jesus as he indicated later in John 20:22 when the risen Jesus breathed on the disciples and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’

3. The Spirit unites us with God the Father, who makes his home with us (v.23). Through the Holy Spirit the abyss between us and God is bridged. The prophecy in the Old Testament Book of Exodus that God will dwell among us and be our God is fulfilled (Ex 19:4-6, etc). So, Jesus is saying that the triune God – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us. We see here an expression of the Trinity.

4. The Spirit supports us in our loving obedience to the teachings of Jesus (vv. 21-24). Without the Holy Spirit, we struggle to live in the way that Jesus desires and, as the ancient Israelites discovered, we cannot come anywhere near to God’s standard of holiness. It is through the indwelling Holy Spirit that the promise of the prophets concerning the new covenant that Jesus introduced is fulfilled as ‘The Law’ is written on our hearts.

5. The Spirit teaches us the truth (v.26). The Holy Spirit first gave to the early New Testament writers a special insight and recollection concerning the words and work of Jesus, which has been passed down to the church. He further aids us in our understanding of the scriptures. I personally recall how, before giving my life to Jesus, I used to struggle to understand many passages in the bible; but with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit I finally began to understand.

6. The Spirit gives us Jesus’ own peace – his supernatural peace that we can have through having a living relationship with the risen Jesus and a growing surrender of our lives to Jesus’ gracious and loving rule as our Lord.

However the question that we need to ask ourselves is this: “Are the blessings of the indwelling Holy Spirit a reality that I experience in my life?”

If not, then we might need to further ask ourselves whether we have truly surrendered our life to Jesus and asked him to come into our life as our Saviour and Lord; and if we have, whether we may be somehow inhibiting the Holy Spirit from working in our life.

As I was reflecting on the best way to explain this, I was prompted by an article in the latest NRMA magazine on a road trip, that featured a colourful display of Autumn leaves, to think of an analogy with a garden. One of the things that I miss from living in the Blue Mountains is the season of Autumn and the beautiful autumn colours in the leaves of the trees. The Japanese Maples that we had in our garden in Hazelbrook would now have turned brilliant red, the Giant Liquid Amber leaves would be multi-coloured, and the Ball Cyprus down the back would be a rich gold.

Autumn is also the time when the Camellias flower and the bulbs in the garden and the lawn would be coming up. Linda’s pruning of the Camellias the season before always resulted in an abundance of flowers, and her constant tending of the garden, pulling out the weeds, watering and fertilising the soil, ensured that we received the maximum joy from it.

In the same way, if we tend our spiritual life through regular feeding from the Word of God, watering of our spirit through regular prayer, and pulling the weeds of un-repented sin, the benefits available through the Holy Spirit will flourish in our lives.

However, sometimes we become neglectful – we fail to fertilise with the nourishment of the Word of God, we fail to pull the weeds of un-repented sin, and we fail to water through prayer. Our relationship with God becomes like the neglected block of land that existed across the gully from Linda’s garden. In this block, the kikuyu was rampant – it grew long and thick, choking out other plants, and the blackberry briar threatened to take over.

And yet, there was a secret hidden beneath the rubbish of neglect. Every year some bright yellow daffodils found their way through the overgrown kikuyu to bring joy and delight to those who came across them.

So, to receive the blessings and joys of having the Holy Spirit in our life, we need to be tending our ‘spiritual garden’.

But, we can be encouraged that, just like the daffodils in the neglected block across the gully, even when we don’t tend to our spiritual life, if we have invited Jesus into our lives, the Holy Spirit is still there waiting to flower through the litter with the delights of giving and forgiving. Amen.

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