As a child, I lived before the Marvel Universe. As a matter of fact, I lived before Superhero movies and after superhero TV shows. My childhood was a childhood of superhero comics. And for the most part, I wasn’t a Marvel fan; I was a DC fan.
I grew up with Superman and Batman. With the Flash and the Green Lantern. As I got a little older, my interest shifted a little more to the Marvel side of things with Spiderman and the Fantastic Four.
But for better or worse, by the time I was thirteen, I had moved away from comic books and spent my time in novels. And I know the cool kids don’t read comic books now instead they read graphic novels. To quote Shakespeare "A rose by any other name . . ."
In 1978 I was reintroduced to Superheroes with the Superman Movie and in 1989 Batman came to life on the big screen, and for the rest of my life the Man of Steel will always look like Christopher Reeve and the Caped Crusader will look like Michael Keaton. Don’t judge me.
In the last ten years or so Angela and I began to immerse ourselves in the Marvel Universe, for better or worse.
And one thing I’ve discovered about the geeky kids, no matter their age is they love to discuss the attributes of their favourite superheroes.
When I was a kid, the question was: Who was better, Superman or Batman?
Superman had super strength and x-ray vision. He was faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and he could fly.
And be that as it may, my thought was that Batman was way cooler because he didn’t have superpowers, Unless you consider obscene amounts of money and good looks superpowers, he just had cool stuff, like the bat mobile and the utility belt.
And at this point you’re probably thinking I’ve wandered off the trail and into the woods with all this talk about comic books and superheroes?
This week we are beginning our series on the Holy Spirit, and through the rest of January and February, the preaching team will be looking at the attributes of the Third Person of the Trinity.
Now you’re even more confused, because you’re wondering what in the world superheroes have to do with the Holy Spirit? Stay with me.
Often when you hear Christians talk about the Trinity, you will hear them comparing the attributes of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit, and who is the most powerful. Christian geeks as opposed to comic geeks.
It’s almost, “Who’s your favourite member of the Trinity?” And if that is a reality, if we can in fact have a favourite member of the Trinity, then for many people the Holy Spirit ends up placing third.
And probably, pastors need to take part of the responsibility, or the blame, depending on how you want to word it. The reason is the lack of preaching on the Holy Spirit. And I’m to blame as much as any preacher.
Too often we know the Holy Spirit, with a head knowledge. We know him intellectually through songs and hymns and the occasional sermon. But he isn’t someone we consciously relate to in our everyday lives.
It’s very similar to knowing all about a celebrity, without actually having met them.
Oh, we know the Holy Spirit exists intellectually. And we know that the Holy Spirit is a part of the Trinity, intellectually, but because we don’t know what the bible teaches about Him, it’s easy to ignore Him relationally.
This morning, I’d like to introduce you to the Holy Spirit, and we will start with the scripture that was read earlier.
Genesis 1:2 The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.
Sot the first thing we discover is The Holy Spirit was Present at the World’s Creation
Here, at the very beginning of the story, we are first introduced to the Spirit. In the story of creation, we see the Spirit as a partner in all that was happening.
Creation was actually the work of the Trinity; you will remember the words from John 1:1–4 In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.
So, when we think of the creation process, we often default to God the Father, and sometimes we will remember John’s words and understand that Jesus, the Son, also had a part in what was happening in the creation of the Universe. But let’s not forget that it was God in his entirety, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who created all things.
And understand that when we talk about creation, we are talking about creating something from nothing.
It’s not like when we create something fancy for dinner. You know, when we take a variety of ingredients and combine them to make something different.
And it’s not like building a house where you start with all the different materials that will be needed.
Sometimes we speak in awe at the birth of a child and think of it as a woman and a man creating a new life.
But in each of those illustrations, they start with something.
The Hebrew word used in the Creation account; is bara and it is unique. This word was not used to describe the process of making something from something. Instead this was the process of creating everything from nothing.
It’s like the story of the scientist who finally figured out the secret of creating life and so he challenged God to a man making contest. God agreed and told the scientist he could go first.
The scientist bent over and picked up a handful of dirt. To which God said, “Oh no, you have to make your own dirt.”
The bible starts with these words, Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God . . .
And while we might not be able to understand or comprehend the concept of there being nothing at one time and then everything being created out of that nothing. That is more a reflection of our limited understanding and not of the nature of God and the universe.
And perhaps you’re thinking, “I can’t get my head around that, so I can’t believe it.” But the concept of God’s pre-existence and His creating the universe from nothing requires no more faith than believing that it all just happened from nothing.
On Christianity.com we read, “While the details might cause some glossy eyes and distracted minds, it is significant to note that the Bible includes the only cosmology that records the origin of the space-time-matter continuum in both ancient paganism and modern naturalism.”
There was nothing, and then there was everything.
And while there is no detailed explanation of the Spirit’s part in the creation process, the word hovering conveys the idea of a bird sitting in a nest, hovering, and brooding over her eggs, and then caring for her chicks and their new lives.
We see the same word used later in the book of Deuteronomy to describe God’s care and love for the people of Israel.
Deuteronomy 32:11 Like an eagle that rouses her chicks and hovers over her young, so He spread his wings to take them up and carried them safely on his pinions.
Throughout the New Testament, the Spirit is referred to as our Helper. How awesome is it that our help comes from the one who set the universe into motion?
But the Holy Spirit wasn’t just responsible for the creation of the universe, listen to the words of Job in Job 33:4 For the Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
Did you catch that? If the Spirit of God made Job, and the breath of the Almighty gave Job life, then the same applies to each one of us.
The one who created the universe created you. The next time you are thinking that you aren’t good enough, or smart enough, or pretty enough, remember it was the Spirit who made you and gave you life. The same spirit who was responsible for the milky way and the Northern Lights, and giraffes.
That’s like having the architect who designed the Sydney Opera house build your garden shed.
But the Holy Spirit wasn’t just present for the creation of the Universe. Now let’s go from the beginning of the Old Testament story to the beginning of the New Testament story.
Luke 1:34–35 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.”
The Holy Spirit Was Present at Christ’s Conception
We’ve just come out of the Christmas season, so we are all familiar with the story.
The angel Gabriel appears to a young lady by the name of Mary to inform her that God has great plans for her. Let’s pick up the story in Luke 1:30–33 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favour with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
And Mary’s response is found in the scripture that was read earlier. “Not going to happen,” she said, “It takes two to tango, and I haven’t even been to the dance.”
Mary’s question was: How? And Gabriel’s answer was that the Holy Spirit would come upon you and the power of the Most High would overshadow you.
The word that is translated overshadow almost conveys a sense of hovering.
Again, within the laws of nature, this act of creation involves two people. A woman and a man, and once again, the Holy Spirit steps outside of natural laws to do what was inconceivable. And that word means exactly what I think it means.
And I’ve preached enough on the Virgin birth that I don’t need to rehash all of the reasons why it was necessary.
The mystery of the Incarnation is that while Jesus was on earth, he was 100% God and 100% human. Mary provided the human part, and the Holy Spirit provided the God part.
And they were both necessary. Jesus could not have existed in his incarnation without a Mary and without the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes, when we think of the Holy Spirit, we focus on the Day of Pentecost when he empowered the church. Some folks would point to this as the Spirit’s greatest work and accomplishment. And that certainly was a pivotal point in the life of the early church.
A different take on that is given by Pope John Paul II when he wrote, “The conception and birth of Jesus Christ are in fact the greatest work accomplished by the Holy Spirit in the history of creation and salvation…”
You see, without the incarnation of Jesus. Without His virgin birth, his sinless life, his sacrificial death, and his resurrection, there would have been no church.
And without the Holy Spirit, there would have been no incarnation of Jesus.
And that leads us to Jesus’ words in John 3:5–6 Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.
The Holy Spirit Was Present at our Conversion
We talk about surrendering our lives to Jesus or asking Jesus for forgiveness and accepting his grace. And all those things are true, but they are also all dependent on the Holy Spirit.
It is the Holy Spirit who brings us to the point of us knowing and understanding our need for salvation.
When Jesus promised the Apostles the presence of the Holy Spirit, in John chapter 16 this is what he said, John 16:8 And when he (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.
Did you catch who the Holy Spirit would convict of their sins? The world. Not the church, not the family of God, not believers. The world.
And we can probably list all the sins that we think the Holy Spirit should convict the world of. This and this, and let’s not forget that.
But let’s keep reading the words of Jesus, John 16:9 The world’s sin is that it . . . And if I let you, you could fill in the blank with your favourite sin. What it is that the world does that you perceive is an affront to God’s righteousness?
Listen to how Jesus fills in the blank, John 16:9 The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me.
Jesus didn't say the world’s “sins”, plural he said the world’s “sin” singular. Not many sins, but one sin.
And Jesus didn’t say the world’s sin is sexual immorality, either homosexual or heterosexual, or drug use, or pornography, or we could go on and on.
Jesus didn’t say the world would be judged because of their abuse and violence toward others, or their lack of honesty or compassion. He said the Holy Spirit would convict the world of the sin, singular, of not believing in him.
That’s not to say that the other things aren’t sinful behaviour. They are sinful behaviour, for the believer and the Spirit reveals to us, as believers, what is expected of us and how we are expected to live as followers of Jesus.
Christ reminds us in John 16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.
And Paul tells the early church in Galatians 5:16–17 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.
But what brings us to the point of becoming believers, is when we are convicted as unbelievers by the Holy Spirit about our sin of not believing.
It was Charles Spurgeon who said, “A sinner can no more repent and believe without the Holy Spirit's aid than he can create a world.”
Paul would write and tell Titus the same thing in Titus 3:5 He (Jesus) saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.
So, where are we at? The Holy Spirit was Present at the World’s Creation, The Holy Spirit Was Present at Christ’s Conception and The Holy Spirit Was Present at our Conversion. And we think that pretty well sums it up, but wait, there’s more.
Revelation 1:10 It was the Lord’s Day, and I was worshiping in the Spirit. Suddenly, I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet blast.
Not only was the Holy Spirit present at the beginning of the world, but The Holy Spirit will also be Present at the World’s Conclusion
Throughout the Revelation, we see the presence of the Spirit, from the first chapter right through to the last chapter.
When the time comes when God decrees that this world is done, the Spirit will be there to usher out the old and welcome the new.
And through the end of the story, we see the Holy Spirit doing what the Holy Spirit has always done. Revealing the truth, convicting and comforting and inviting people to know Jesus.
The question isn’t whether the Holy Spirit knows you; he does. The question is whether you know the Holy Spirit.
Have you invited the Holy Spirit to be a part of your life? Do you let him guide you and direct you? Do you listen to him when he points you toward the truth of God and away from the lies of the world?
We want a Spirit who comforts us and gives us gifts and makes us a better person, but the Holy Spirit wants to do more than that. Will you open your hearts to the Spirit and to his truth and direction? Will you allow him to guide you into a deeper more intimate Christian experience? It will be an adventure.
Robert Kruschwitz is Director of The Centre for Christian Ethics and Professor of Philosophy at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. And Doctor Kruschwitz wrote this about the Holy Spirit, “The wild goose, in addition to the dove, is a Celtic Christian symbol for the Holy Spirit. Sometimes God’s Spirit hovers comfortingly like a dove. But the Spirit also surprises us and disturbs our plans. Like a wild and unpredictable goose, the Holy Spirit sweeps in unexpected, astonishing directions.”
Over the next two months, the Preaching team will delve deeper into the personality and attributes of the Holy Spirit, and that will help you understand the spirit more intellectually.
But it will only be your personal decision that will help you have a relationship with the Spirit. For some of you, before that can happen, you need to listen to his prompting about accepting the grace and forgiveness that only Christ can offer.