MORNING MESSAGE – John Cline
Readings: John 7:37-39;12:31
Reader: Keith Harcus
We have already seen three reasons why Jesus came to earth on that initial Christmas Day. First, to bring salvation. What does the Bible teach about salvation? Ask this question of most people, and they will respond with their understanding of the New Testament’s teaching on salvation. One can search for hours and find little written about salvation in the Old Testament. Salvation was merely a hope and a prayer until Jesus came. That was his first reason for coming to earth.
Have you ever been in a dark place without light? It is disconcerting, even frightening. The second reason Jesus came to earth was to bring light into this world and to the dark places within it, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Jesus revealed who he is – “I am the light of the world” – at the Feast of Tabernacles, which was the second largest of the seven annual festivals of Judaism. At that feast were two foci: on water – which we will look at in just a bit – and light. Erected in the Courtyard of the Women portion of the Temple in Judaism during the Feast of Tabernacles were four seventy-foot tall lampstands. Each of those had a bowl at the tops which was filled with oil. Priests would climb ladders to the bowl at the top of each lampstand and light the wicks, which had been made from worn-out clothing of the priests collected throughout the year. The light from those lit lamps was so bright that every courtyard in Jerusalem shone. In front of each of the four lampstands, pilgrims and priests danced and sang during the Feast of Tabernacles, celebrating the light of the Shekinah glory of God, as well as the coming “Great Light” of the Isaiah 9 prophecy, a prophecy which revealed that the Messiah would be entering into our darkened world. Jesus intentionally chose the Feast of Tabernacles to reveal he was the “light of the world” who had come to shine into the dark places in our lives and world. That was his second reason for coming to earth on that initial Christmas Day.
Have you ever been in a discussion about what God is like? Is God mean and vindictive, or loving and patient? The third reason Jesus came to earth, we saw, was to reveal that God is the heavenly Father of all who believe. He is not vindictive or unpredictable or unknowable, but is loving, just, protective, forgiving, patient, and the heavenly Father of whom believers are His children. Now, to today’s sermon:
The fourth reason Jesus came to earth was to make the Holy Spirit available to everyone.
The significance of this fourth reason for Jesus’ coming is difficult for us to comprehend because we have become spoiled by having God’s continual presence in our lives. We have fallen complacent about this fourth reason of Jesus coming to earth, that of bringing the Holy Spirit to all to live permanently inside us. To Jewish people – and, indeed, to everyone else on earth – God was a distant deity who one hoped – or, maybe feared – would come to earth someday. Now, in Old Testament times, God would send to earth His presence, the Holy Spirit, but only on a temporary basis, for short periods of time. The Holy Spirit was sent not to everyone but on a temporary basis to certain prophets, judges, or kings. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit having come upon them in power, a prophet could then prophecy, a judge could then lead his people to military victory, and a king could then rule with wisdom and confidence. But, once the special task was over, the Spirit would leave the person and return to God. That fact explains why, in Psalm 51, we read the pleading to God from the poet, King David:
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. (Psalm 51:11)
David knew that he had no chance at leading his nation with wisdom or into successful military excursions if God’s Spirit – who represented God’s power – was not with him. To not have God’s presence in his life was David’s greatest fear. But, two centuries after David penned his plea, the prophet Joel gave the Israelite people hope with the words God had said to him for them:
“And in the last days, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:28,29)
Oh, to be alive on that day; that’s what Jewish people longed for; to live in the time when God’s Spirit would be on all people. That would not only be a historical first, but it would also be a game-changer for all people. Jesus came to make sure this happened, bringing the Holy Spirit to all, on a permanent basis. Now, in the narratives about the birth of Jesus, the role of the Holy Spirit is everywhere seen. Mary, a teenager and the mother-to-be of the Messiah, after she had learned she was about to have a baby, in response to her question, “How can this be since I am a virgin?” had the answer given to her by Gabriel:
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)
Eight days after Jesus’ birth, when his parents Mary and Joseph took him to the Temple to be circumcised, Simeon, a prophet met them.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God. (Luke 2:25-28)
The Holy Spirit in one’s life is so desirable and meaningful! Going back to the announcement of Jesus’ impending birth, Mary went to visit her older cousin Elizabeth who was also miraculously pregnant. The baby inside Elizabeth was John the Baptist, the individual God had ordained would be the Messiah’s forerunner and who would prepare people’s hearts and souls to meet God’s Son, the Messiah. We read when Mary came to Elizabeth’s house and called out a greeting, John kicked:
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:41)
Thirty years later, when John the Baptist was doing his ministry of preparing people’s hearts to meet the Messiah, and he was ministering in the Jordan River area, baptizing people in that river – with people’s baptisms being symbolic of their needed spiritual cleansing – we read that John the Baptist explained to them what was happening.
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in
their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John
answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:15,16)
Baptizing people who needed spiritual cleansing; that John was used to. However, he was stunned when Jesus came asking to be baptized. John protested and said that if either of the two of them needed baptizing, it would be him, John. Jesus insisted, explaining that he needed to be baptized as part of his mission in coming, to bring cleansing to all humans. He would be acting as their representative proxy in baptism. John reluctantly gave in and baptized Jesus.
Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’” (John 1:32,33)
Later, Jesus would be the one baptizing with “the Holy Spirit and fire”, bringing God’s righteousness, forgiveness and purification to people, John explained. So, talking to his disciples, he said this about Jesus:
“For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.” (John 3:34,35)
The Spirit was upon Jesus “without limit” and God the Father had placed “everything in his hands”. John could see it. One year after Jesus’ baptism, we read that a Feast of Tabernacles would be where Jesus would reveal who he was/is. Again, the Feast of Tabernacles had two foci: water and light. With the light focus, Jesus revealed, “I am the light of the world” but also at that festival he revealed in the water focus something significant about the Holy Spirit. During the first seven days of the eight-day festival a procession of priests, to the accompaniment of other priests and choirs singing and musical instruments playing, would wind their way from the Temple down to the Pool of Siloam. There a priest would fill a golden flask with water and then all the priests, joined by the gathered pilgrims, would wind their way back to the Temple. At the Temple, upon the altar where animal sacrifices for sin would daily take place, the water would be poured out, with the water representing God’s cleansing of people’s sins. The Pool of Siloam – from where the water had been retrieved – received its water from the Gihon Spring, a water source of flowing water located in the valley below Jerusalem. Being flowing water as it was, the Gihon Spring and thus the Pool of Siloam was considered to be “living water” and only “living water” was suitable for ritual purification. God alone was the provider of “living water” through a spring or creek or river or rain. Sitting water such as in a slough or a pool was not considered to be “living water”. On the final day of the festival when the water ceremony was not performed, Jesus, seizing the opportunity of that open moment, made the following revelation:
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:37-39)
This “living water”, the Holy Spirit, would flow from Jesus – who was God on earth – to his followers, and give sustenance, refreshment, and life. As the apostle John’s Gospel notes, though, the time for the giving of the Holy Spirit had not yet occurred. That would later happen, once Jesus had been glorified in heaven, an act that would come after his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. After that glorifying of Jesus in heaven, he would then send his Holy Spirit to his followers, so they would not be Fatherless, spiritual orphans in this world. Jesus would go up and the Holy Spirit would come down. Jesus explained to his followers how that process would come about:
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:16-18)
The Spirit would come not simply to ensure God’s presence with humans at all times – as wonderful and important as that is – but also to reveal certain spiritual truths as we will now hear.
“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father — he will testify about me.” (John 15:26)
“But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (John 16:7-15)
I read about a pastor who was doing chaplaincy work in a large hospital in Spokane, Washington. He was given the assignment of visiting a patient he had never before met. By mistake, he went into the wrong hospital room. A very old lady lay in the hospital bed. She didn’t respond in any way when he asked her to confirm her identity as well as other questions. The pastor recalled, “She just glared at me, her lips shut tight in a straight line. Eventually, I realized I had come into the wrong room and apologetically left.” He continued with his chaplaincy rounds but then received a note stating, much to his surprise, that the lady wanted him back in her room. So, he went back in, but before he went in he was informed that the lady could not speak. So, he devised a bunch of “yes” or “no” questions for her to nod or shake her head to. When he asked if she wanted to be saved, she nodded her head in assent, “yes”. He prayed with her a prayer for her salvation and because it was such a special and significant moment, he told her that he would return later, following the completion of his rounds. However, before he could do so, a few hours later, he received a second note saying that she had died. He writes, “I didn’t go into the wrong room, after all. This lady took advantage of the meeting without delay; otherwise, a day later, she would be gone. Where salvation is involved, we should expect the Holy Spirit to also be involved.”
In John’s Gospel book, we have read that the Holy Spirit: 1. Testifies about Jesus; 2. Teaches about sin; 3. Shows what righteousness is all about; 4. Judges the devil and his works; 5. Makes known all that Jesus would have us know; and, now we will read, that He, 6. Brings about salvation:
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So, it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)
When we say the phrase, “God moves in mysterious ways”, it is really the Holy Spirit at work that we are referring to. Now, as we go through the entire Gospel of John, we will read about the crucifixion of Jesus, his resurrection, and, finally, his ascension into heaven. I tell you that because this next passage we will read describes a scene that happened after Jesus’ resurrection – but before his ascension into heaven. It was thus before the time of his glorification which was the necessary timeline, we heard earlier, before the Holy Spirit would be sent into the lives of his believers. Jesus would go up and the Holy Spirit, his replacement, would come down.
To understand what you about to hear, you must know that what Jesus does and says is known as a “proleptic”, which dictionaries define as “the representation of assumption of a future act or development as if presently existing or accomplished.” Throughout historic Christianity, these verses have been understood as being proleptic in nature. By way of illustration of what a proleptic is, say your child is going to be involved in an important event in two weeks time. But you have less than 24 hours to live. If on your last night before death you were to say to your child, “Receive my blessing as you do that,” your child would understand you were not talking about a blessing for that very moment, but that your blessing was intended for the event happening in two weeks’ time. But you need to say the blessing now because you’ll be in heaven when the event occurs. So, in one of his resurrection appearances to his apostles,
Again, Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:21-23)
Think this through and you will see that his speech was proleptic. Jesus would not be able to “breathe” on them after he had ascended to heaven, so he needed to do that beforehand. Thus, the words, “Receive the Holy Spirit” did not mean, “Receive the Holy Spirit right now” but, “Receive the Holy Spirit on that assured future date when I go to heaven, am glorified, and will send the Holy Spirit to you in my place.” Later, before Jesus ascended to heaven he further clarified,
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
By that point, because of the resurrection, the followers of Jesus had gained understanding and courage, but they were amazed by what then happened to them. It was the Feast of Pentecost. Jerusalem was filled with tens of thousand of pilgrims. The apostles went there and,
Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:2-4)
The gathered pilgrims looked on in great surprise and wonder.
Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.’” (Acts 2:12-18)
Peter had been talking about the long-awaited coming of the Holy Spirit but he tied in that event with a message about Jesus, saying:
Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. (Acts 2:33)
Thus, the fourth reason Jesus came to earth on that first Christmas Day: to make the Holy Spirit available to everyone. We will conclude with one last passage. Again, we find Peter explaining about Jesus to people who needed to understand why Jesus had come. Peter said:
“You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached — how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:37,38)
Well, there’s a little hint in those verses of the fifth reason Jesus came to earth on that first Christmas Day, but we will save that final reason for the next time I preach. In the meantime, I wish a Merry Christmas and the Lord’s blessings on each of you. Let’s pray…