“See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated ‘God is with us.'” – Matthew 1:23 HCSB
It’s only three weeks away. Last week my family and I were listening to “Let it Snow” and other Christmas music while driving through a forty-degree-Celsius game reserve. For those of you who don’t use Celsius, I think that’s somewhere around hot-degrees-Fahrenheit. This is the time of year when everyone starts reading passages about God coming to earth, the incredible event theologians call the ‘Incarnation’. Usually at Reckless Abandon Ministries we do a series specially focused on Christmas, or the person of Jesus Christ. This year, we’re going to twist it up a little bit.
We’re still going to talk about God coming down to earth, but we’re going to be thinking about another person of the Three-Who-Is-One Godhead – the Holy Spirit. There are many things that Jesus did that the Holy Spirit does as well, and there are other roles that seem to be unique to the Spirit. We’ll be talking about some of both kinds of things. The goal? We want to grow in our walk with God, which in this life involves walking hand-in-hand with the Holy Spirit. And we want to invite you to join us as we are challenged to think and live radically different as we walk with the Spirit. We’re going to study so many aspects of the Holy Spirit together, and while we will barely be scratching the surface of the depths of God, I do hope you’ll keep coming back to read those scratches.
That said, I want to voice a question that I hope we can answer together: We celebrate this time that Jesus came down to earth, that God walked among His people. But we often find ourselves jealous of the people He physically walked with. He’s not here anymore. He’s waiting in Heaven with His Father. He can’t clear up confusing things for us by taking us aside and explaining them to us. And whether we say it out loud or not, we wonder ‘Wouldn’t it be better if Jesus were still physically on earth today?’ Wish Jesus was here to answer that question? Well, in a way, He did. Look at this passage from John where He is getting ready to leave His disciples:
“Now I am going to Him who sent me, yet none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” – John 16:5-7 (NIV84)
Did you catch that?! Jesus says it is good for us that He left. The most obvious reason is because Him leaving involved the cross – the cost of our redemption. But that’s not the reason Jesus gives. His disciples, just like us, were thinking ‘Wouldn’t it be better if You stayed?’ and their expectations of Him staying involved so much more than settling disputes and enjoying quality time – Jesus was going to set the world right. But He tells them “It is for your good that I am going away.” Why?
He says that when He leaves, He will send the Counsellor (we’ll look more at what that means next time). He’s talking about the Holy Spirit. And this would seem to be the point Jesus is getting at:
It is better for you to have God in you than to have Him walking next to you.
What do I mean? Jesus walked next to His disciples. He could teach them, guide them, give them counsel, empower them, strengthen their faith, be a witness to them about Who God is and what He was doing, pray for them and restore them (all things we’re going to look at by the way). But He was limited in His body to be in one place, ministering to one group of people at a time. And He was an external force, acting inwards. But the Holy Spirit, we’re told, lives inside of all believers:
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” – 1 Corinthians 3:16 (NIV84)
The Holy Spirit is an internal power working out. He moves in and starts changing us at the core, making us more like Jesus (see 2 Corinthians 3:16). He gives us hope (Romans 5:5). He helps us to understand Scripture (2 Peter 1:21), He strengthens us (Ephesians 3:16), testifies to our hearts about Jesus (1 John 5:6) and ourselves (Romans 8:16). Again, so many things that we will get to dive into together over the next month. Keep in mind this whole time that the Holy Spirit is doing this work from the inside out if you are a Christian, not from the outside in.
And that’s just what He does! When we start dwelling on Who He is – All-Powerful God, the Only One Who knows the mind of God the Father, the God Who is perfect peace and steadfast love and holy anger against sin – it starts changing our view of ourselves, and of the way we ought to live. Jesus did not die on the cross and leave us to ourselves as orphans (see John 14:18). Instead, just over a week after Jesus ascended into Heaven, the Holy Spirit came down into the disciples with an incredible power for a ministry that turned the world upside down. Where Jesus’ ministry had scarcely and barely taken him beyond the borders of His homeland, the apostles and newly-named ‘Christians’ took the good news about Jesus at least as far as India in the East and Spain in the West, and it is still spreading across the world to this day.
So what does it mean to us that God is not only with us, but is in fact in us? It means that there really is power for our hearts to change. It means that our battle against sin is not without motivation or strength (1 Corinthians 6:17-20, 2 Corinthians 16:14-16, Ephesians 3:16-21). It means that as we go out to find and call lost souls to faith and repentance, we are not going in our own strength (2 Corinthians 3:4-6). It means that every battle against our shame and our weakness is slowly but definitively overshadowed by hope (Romans 5:3-5). All this and so much more. Won’t you join us for the rest of this study? And won’t you please, please, please take a moment to thank Jesus for sending His Holy Spirit to live in you if you are a Christian, and just think about how great He is, and how that changes the way you see and carry out your life?