The Descending Spirit – Acts 1
As we gather this morning I think the key question is when is the new normal starting to feel like the normal? Who’s getting used to their masks-especially when going to the store to do your shopping? Make sure you grab your car keys, wallet, grocery list and mask. Now there’s some funny masks out there-or should I say make-shift masks-dog funnel, coughy filter, antivirus, onion mask, water cooler bottles! If you’re missing the conversations by the water cooler at work-this is taking it to a whole new level!
I was rather amused this week when I googled the question How long will we be wearing masks? And as I started typing the words-How long will…of course the suggested search phrases were How long will quarantine last, How long will social distancing last, how long will coronavirus last-but as I finished typing a few more words-How long will we be-it finished off the phrase with one of the top suggestions-How long will we be wearing masks? But the phrase right below it was How long will we be in heaven? And while certainly two very different questions-why do I feel like they both have the same answer-forever! But apparently more people are worried about how long they have to wear a mask than how long eternity lasts! Who would have thought that a mask was going to be the newest piece in our wardrobe? But now I’m seeing all sorts of ads for stylish masks-whether sports team masks with your favorite team’s logo or I’ve seen ads for Star Wars masks-here’s the Stormtrooper mask-but I really want the Darth Vader mask! But how many people have you think you’ve recognized at the store-but aren’t completely sure it’s them with the mask on? Whether it’s somebody from work or somebody from church-you’re like I think I know them. I think that’s their eyes and their hair. So do you have this awkwardly muted conversation from behind your mask? That’s the hardest part-Hi, how are you doing? How’s the shopping going? The big question is this summer if when things reopen-whether it’s going to a baseball game or going to the movies or even out to eat at a restaurant-do we all have to sit there with a straw going into our mask or pull it out to get our spoonful of ice cream in or to wedge a piece of pizza under? How does that work? What’s the interaction like sitting at a ball game with your words half muted? I’m always so glad to get back into the car or get home and pull my mask down-ahh, I can breathe and talk normally again! Because we’re all sort of in our own little world behind our masks. Don’t you feel that way? Conversations with people is really tough because masks create this sense of isolation and being alone-even when we’re out in public. Simply talking to the person next to you is challenging. But as we’re wrapping up our series on the importance of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension we’re going to talk about the conversation that can and ought to be the easiest to have-with or without masks on-and the most crucial.
So if you have your Bibles open them up to Acts 1. And this is the passage we began looking at last week which took place during the 40 days that Jesus appeared to the disciples following His resurrection. In fact, this is Day 40-so look at how the conversation goes-Acts 1:6-9. And that’s the ascension that we examined last week. Here’s Jesus giving His final words and instructions to the disciples and just as He finishes speaking, the next thing they know He’s being lifted up, rising into the sky, until He’s obscured by the clouds and gone. If you’ve ever had the dream that you’re flying, here’s Jesus doing it in reality. And the disciples sort of have their eyes wide open, scratching their heads in amazement, wondering what just happened-until 2 angels show up and confirm that Jesus has gone into heaven and will one day come back from heaven. So the main fact we established last week was that Jesus-the resurrected man-ascended into heaven. The ascension wasn’t the undoing of the incarnation, as if Jesus’ humanity just dissipated like a dandelion in the wind and His divine spirit went into Heaven. This was the physical, tangible, resurrected Jesus that went into Heaven, returning to God the Father’s side. And we discussed some of the important theological reasons for the ascension last week as they’re described by the 16th century Heidelberg Catechism. This was Q49. Those two reasons are the basis for our hope and peace. The first reason gives us peace know as Jesus is our Flawless Advocate in heaven constantly reminding the Father that we’re forgiven through Him. The second reason gives us hope because Jesus is our Actual Guarantee that since He is in heaven having been resurrected, so we will too one day as we believe in Him-and belong to Him by faith as part of His eternal family. I love how it says that our own flesh is in heaven now-we are that closely connected to Christ through our relationship with Him. That what happens to Him will happen to us. But there’s a third reason that Jesus’ ascension benefits us-and that’s what we want to zero in on this morning. Take a look at it-Q49. This is such an important truth that we want to unpack this morning. And it’s telling us that there’s Christ, in His resurrected body, sitting at God’s right hand-meanwhile what has He done for us on earth? Sent His Spirit to us. That’s precisely what He said to the disciples just before He ascended-did you catch it? Back to Acts 1:8. Jesus is making it very clear that while He’s ascending to the Father, someone else is coming.
And this wasn’t the first time Jesus said it to the disciples. Earlier in John, Jesus communicated it on their last night together before He went to the Cross-John 16:5-7. And isn’t this the question we always wrestle with? Why is it to our advantage that Jesus goes? Isn’t it better if He stays? Isn’t to my advantage that He stay put right here in my life where I need Him most to help me? I’ve certainly asked those things before-and yet who is Jesus sending? The Helper-the very thing I’m asking for! And the way Jesus referred to the Helper is essential-I will send him to you. The Helper is not some nebulous force that was descending on the disciples like a mist or fog that settles in on a cloudy morning. The Helper isn’t something that surrounds us or engulfs us or covers us. I realize tomorrow is a national holiday-May the 4th. So May the 4th be with you! Watch a Star Wars movie-we’ll be watching the newest one at our house-Rise of Skywalker. But the Helper Jesus is talking about isn’t like the The Force that allows Jedi’s to levitate things or confuse Stormtroopers with mind tricks. While The Force is an impersonal power and energy field that Obi Wan tells Luke binds the galaxy together, the Helper is a person that Jesus sends to us. And listen to how truly personal He is-this is from earlier in John 14:16-17. And that statement right there answers our question as to why it is to our advantage that Jesus goes away and the Holy Spirit comes-it’s because He comes to dwell right with us, literally right within us. When you hear the phrase that someone’s asked Jesus into their life, that they’ve asked Jesus into their heart-this is who that’s referring to. The ascended Jesus, the resurrected Jesus is in heaven, but His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, has now come to enter and dwell in the hearts of all who believe in Him. Multiple times the Holy Spirit is literally referred to as the Spirit of Christ. Look at Rom 8:9-11 NIV. The Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit is living within in if you’ve trusted in Christ and belong to Him. Look at Gal 4:6 NIV. And I love how Trinitarian these verses are-we see every member of the Trinity at work. We belong to God the Father as His children, it is His Son who saves us-who was resurrected and ascended into Heaven, and it is now the Spirit of His Son, the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit are all one, yet they are all distinct. And Jesus made this really clear-back to John 14:16-17. The 3rd member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, will dwell with you and in you when you trust in Christ. Wile the ascended Jesus is in heaven at God’s right hand serving as our advocate and preparing an eternal home for us, so His Spirit, the Holy Spirit is within us right now-guiding and directing us. So here’s Pt1:The Holy Spirit: our inner companion for everything we face in life now.
That’s why it’s to our advantage He’s here within us. There’s never a moment He’s not with us. Think back to Jesus’ time on earth. In order to do something, He had to physically be there. Remember Mary and Martha urging and pleading for Jesus to come heal their sick brother Lazarus-and they were initially disappointed because Jesus didn’t get there on time. Now eventually He did arrive and raised Lazarus from the dead in glorious fashion-but it was based on His power being physically present at the tomb. Or remember Jesus and the disciples on the boat-all of a sudden the wind and the waves whip up, the storm at sea is going crazy, it’s raging all around them and they think they’re goners-so in order to get Jesus’ help they have to go wake Him up as He’s sleeping soundly on a pillow, having the nap of a lifetime. Now Jesus wasn’t too far away-He’s right on the boat-but it’s the same principle-His stilling of the storm was based on His power being physically present with them in the moment. Jesus can only be with one group of people at one time-that’s what being a physical person means. But what Jesus is saying about the Holy Spirit is that He is within every believer in every location at all times. And that is a remarkable advantage and blessing. You don’t have to go and call for the Lord and then wait 3 days for Him to show up like Mary and Martha-He is with you right now. You don’t have to go and wake the Lord up from sleep when the storms are raging in your life-He’s immediately able to help you! Because of the indwelling Holy Spirit you are never alone, never without help. Look at Ps 139:7-10. And that’s because He lives within you, His Spirit dwells in your heart. Yes, you will have trials and storms. God never promised you wouldn’t, but because of His Spirit you’re never alone. You may have struggles and valleys and hit some deep ruts in life-maybe that’s where you’re at right now, but you’re never alone because His Spirit dwells within you.
And how does the Holy Spirit help us? Look at what Jesus goes on to say-John 16:13-14. Jesus is saying that the Holy Spirit will take His words, His teaching and declare it us; that the Holy Spirit is the best communicator and explainer around. Think about your best teacher in school-it was probably somebody who could take hard, complicated topics and make them clear and understandable. That teacher helped you really grasp the subject matter-whether it was math or science or history. That’s the Holy Spirit. He takes God’s Word and communicates it to our hearts so we can grasp its meaning; so we can understand it and be transformed by it. It’s when you pick up your Bible and say-Lord, speak to my heart today-let Me hear what you’re saying to Me. And then the Spirit goes to work and does exactly that. How many times have you read a verse or done your devotions or listened to a sermon and thought that’s precisely what I needed to hear. That’s the Holy Spirit working within you letting God’s Word impact your heart. I like what the famous English preacher Charles Spurgeon said in a sermon from 1891-The Holy Spirit helps us to understand the words of Christ. If we will study the teaching of the Savior, it must be with the Holy Spirit as the light to guide us, He will show us what Christ meant by the words He uttered. We shall not lose ourselves in the Savior’s verbiage, but we shall get at the inner meaning of Christ’s mind, and be instructed therein, for the Lord Jesus says,“He shall receive of mine, and show it unto you.” A sermon of Christ, even a single word of Christ, set in the light of the Holy Spirit, shines like a diamond, nay, like a fixed star, with light that is never dim. Happy are the men and women who read the words of Christ in the light shed upon them by the Holy Spirit! I love how he says that-God’s Word shines like a star in our hearts that’s never dim when it’s illuminated by the Holy Spirit. And that’s from a sermon of Spurgeon’s entitled-The Holy Spirit Glorifying Christ. Which is what Jesus is saying in this verse-He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. So the Holy Spirit is glorifying Christ by illuminating our hearts with the words of Christ-so that our hearts are directed to Christ and the glorious inheritance we have in Him. Listen to how it says this in Eph 1:13-14 NIV. The reality of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives guarantees a whole lot more to come!
And that’s the other Pt2:The Holy Spirit: our initial installment for everything else to come. I don’t now about you but when I think of that word installment, or as the verse said, deposit. It makes me think of when I was young and opened up my first bank account. Does everybody remember their first bank account? In the summers I worked and saved up my money mostly for college-so in order to open up my account I had to put in my initial deposit-which wasn’t much-but I remember thinking that this first deposit, although small, was the beginning of much more to come in life as I saved up and worked hard and made money. Well I can’t say that there’s much in there now-but in Christ, the Holy Spirit is that initial deposit, He is that initial installment that does guarantee much more to come for all of eternity as He points us to our inheritance in Christ. If you’ve believed in Jesus to save you-then the indwelling, abiding, inner presence of the Holy Spirit tells you beyond a shadow of a doubt that you belong to Christ, you are His, and He has so much in store for you. And He wants to lift your eyes up from this world below which is full of death and disease and despair-and direct your eyes to that glorious inheritance above. Back to Q49. Are you doing that? Are you letting the Spirit make the goal of your life the things above where Christ-our ascended Savior is?
Hopefully a lot of you have been able to be active and get some exercise and fitness in during this time of quarantine and pandemic. And of course I love to get out there and go for a run-and no matter how long I’ve been running in life, the one bad habit that alway gets me is looking down. It just naturally happens. So many times during a run I catch myself looking down at the ground and my feet. Or maybe if you’re on a bike or a treadmill or a Peleton you’re looking down at your feet running or pedaling-although that Peleton has that awesome screen to look at! But it does us no good to look down at our feet, to look down at the ground-in fact it slows down our pace. We have to look ahead to where we’re going, we have to look up at what’s coming and see our destination. And that’s what the Holy Spirit does. He says-Stop staring at your feet and look up! Quit getting bogged down with this world. Quit making this world your treasure. This world doesn’t have to be your goal or your endgame. Literally, this world will end-and maybe sooner than later! Instead, you were made for the things above where Christ is sitting at God’s right hand! The indwelling Holy Spirit is given to you as an installment, as a guarantee to remind you over and over of this amazing truth! Take a look at one last verse-which is what the Heidelberg Catechism is referencing-Col 3:1-4. This is telling you that if you’ve trusted in Christ then your future is intimately entwined and bound up with Christ! That you belong above where Christ currently is, far more than you belong below, down here. That your life down here is done-it says you’ve died-which means that your old self has died just as Jesus died on the cross-and now your actual life-who you are and who you will be for all eternity is identified with Christ. Look at what it says-v. 4. Let those words sink deep into your soul-which is precisely what the Holy Spirit is there to do. He’s with you, dwelling within you, in order to let the truth of these verses impact your soul, to illuminate and transform you heart so that you will be someone who is seeking and looking and longing for the things above-because that’s now who you are and that’s where you belong! Will you let the Holy Spirit do that?
I think there’s no better time than at this reset we’re living in. I’ve heard a lot of people use that phrase-this is a reset. Time to reset our priorities, time to reset our schedules and habits and the things we care about. Life has slowed down-at least for a moment-this is an opportunity to let your heart be reset by the Holy Spirit. To stop setting your mind on things below, and focus in on the things above where Christ is as Colossians is saying. Will you let yourself be reset? I don’t know about you-but when it comes to our phones or computers or really about anything else-when it’s not working right and there’s not a good reason, it’s stalled out or not responding or not doing what its supposed to do-what do you say-let me reset it, restore it to the original settings. A good solid reset usually does it. And it’s the same with our hearts! They’re often not working right, we’re stalled out with the things of earth and stuck and not doing what we’re supposed to be doing-we need that reset from the Holy Spirit. To restore our hearts to the way God originally created them. And a reset like that begins with remembering the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf.