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Order Of Worship (Liturgy)Psalm 135:1-3
Readings: Acts 5:1-11, John 15:26-16:15
Text: Lord's Day 20
Beloved congregation of Christ our Lord,
Lies, lies, lies. Everywhere around us are lies. Chances are people have told some lies about you and me. Maybe you and I have also told lies about other people. Lies are a fact of life in a sinful world. Where there are sinful people, you’ll usually find lies. And if there are not outright lies, then people twist the truth, tell white lies or exaggerate. In popular culture, in government and in media, we see this in the phenomenon known as spin. Spin obscures the truth or manipulates it to be what we want it to be. It’s gotten to a point where for many people truth is no longer considered an objective reality. Truth is a subjective, personal matter. You have your truth and I have mine. The world tells us that there is no true truth. So, whether it’s outright or white lies, twisting the facts, or exaggeration, the bottom line is that there are many different ways of lying and our culture doesn’t have much of a problem with it and even encourages it.
But we should have a problem with it. After all, where do lies come from? The Lord Jesus answered that in John 8:44 when he said that when the devil lies, “he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Right in the beginning, the devil lied to Adam and Eve: “you shall not surely die!” They believed his lie and sought to become gods unto themselves. Shaking off the law of God like it was some dirty shirt, they believed themselves to be free of what God wanted. Like the devil, they became liars. The lie was introduced into the world by Satan, but mankind eagerly took it over after the fall.
Of course, the opposite of a lie is the truth. Where does the truth come from? We find in Isaiah 65:16 and other places that God is the God of truth. In John 14:6, the Lord Jesus said that he is the way, the truth and the life. God is where the truth comes from – the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In John 15:26, the Lord Jesus calls the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of truth.” This morning we want to look closer at him and his work. In the Heidelberg Catechism we confess that he is, together with the Father and the Son, true and eternal God. So we’ll use that as our theme and we’ll explore how the Bible teaches us that the Holy Spirit is one person of the triune God of truth. We’ll also see how the Bible teaches us the comfort of knowing that the Holy Spirit is the God of truth.
According to a recent survey, 61% of American Christians believe that the Holy Spirit is a symbol of God’s presence or power, but not a living entity, not a person. 61% -- now those are American Christians, but the number is probably not much different for Canadians. And this is reflected in the way many people speak about the Holy Spirit. Many people refer to the Holy Spirit by saying “it,” instead of “he.” In most cases, people don’t mean to do this and they probably don’t think about it. But the result is that when you hear some Christians speak about the Holy Spirit, you might get the impression that they are Jehovah’s Witnesses rather than orthodox confessional Christians.
Contrary to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the way many Christians speak, the Holy Spirit is not an “it,” but a “he.” He is one person of the Triune God, not an impersonal force. This is not a minor point. What is at stake here is the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Is he God or not?
With all the historic creeds, the Catechism affirms that he is. “He is, together with the Father and the Son, true and eternal God.” Notice that the Catechism uses the pronoun “he,” not “it.” So, in our speaking about the Holy Spirit, let’s always be careful to follow the language of our confessions – and we do that because the language of the confessions is based on the language of Scripture.
We can see that the Holy Spirit is a divine person very clearly in the passage we read from Acts 5. Ananias and Sapphira were members of the early apostolic church. At the end of Acts 4, we read about how the believers in the early church would sell off some of their houses and possessions and then give the money to the church so that the needy could be supported. With that background in mind, we get introduced to Ananias and Sapphira.
They were also wealthy people and they sold a piece of property. They did so with the intent that they too would give the proceeds to the church. However, they did this motivated by pride. They desired the praise of men. Furthermore, they thought that God would not notice that they had kept some of the money back for themselves. They weren’t obligated to give the whole amount. However, they made it look as if they were giving the whole amount. This is the classic example of keeping up appearances. A classic true story of pride, idolatry and deception. Here we see the lie at work in the early church. Did God really say that you had to tell the whole story? Would God really see if we kept some of it back for ourselves? As they say, it was déjà vu all over again.
Notice the role of Satan here. The adversary (Satan means “adversary”) filled the heart of Ananias to lie. The father of lies was hard at work trying to destroy the church. If only he could get the people in the church to be driven by their desire to look good to other people! If only he could get their pride to lead them to lie to one another! And to lie to the Holy Spirit.
Really, when they lied, they lied not to men, but to the Holy Spirit who filled the church. They lied to the Spirit of Truth. Peter says it directly in verse 3: you have lied to the Holy Spirit. Let’s stop there for a moment. Think about that: can you really lie to an impersonal force? Can you lie to the wind or to gravity? Of course not! Lying involves communication and communication always involves persons. So, we can conclude just from this that the Holy Spirit is a person, a “he” and not an “it.” And then in verse 4, he adds, “you have not lied to men but to God.” We conclude from this that the Holy Spirit is God. If we put those two things together, the Holy Spirit is God and he is a person. The Spirit of truth is true and eternal God.
But of course that’s taught clearly elsewhere in Scripture as well. We could think of Ephesians 4:30, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Can you grieve an impersonal force? Can you make the wind sad or make gravity sad? Obviously not. But you can do those things to the Holy Spirit -- that’s because he is a person.
And then think of those well-known words of 2 Corinthians 13:14, words that we sometimes hear as the benediction at the end of our worship services, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” There the Holy Spirit is placed on the same level as God the Son and God the Father. With the other persons, he is given divine honour. The same is true in Matthew 28:19 where Christ commands his church to baptize in the name of the Triune God. From all this it should be clear that the Catechism is faithfully summarizing Scripture when it says that the Spirit is a person (“he”) and true and eternal God.
Now where does this truth bring us? This isn’t a little tidbit of Bible trivia. This is a truth which changes lives.
We find out how by listening to the Lord Jesus in John 15 and 16. Of all the gospels, we read the most about the Holy Spirit in John. And in John, one of the Lord’s favourite ways of referring to the Holy Spirit is by calling him the Counselor. A few moments ago, we sang Hymn 38. In verse 3 of that hymn, we sang,
The Spirit, knowing all our needs,
Perfects our prayers and interecedes
As Paraclete before God’s throne;
Our cause he makes his very own.
In the third line we find that strange word “Paraclete.” That’s not a normal English word that we use every day. In fact, it’s a word derived from Greek, from the word parakletos. This is the word translated by the NIV as Counselor in John 15 and 16 and elsewhere in John. That’s certainly a legitimate way to translate that word. We could equally translate parakletos as Helper or Comforter. Counselor, helper, comforter – the Holy Spirit is all those things.
Now in verse 26 the Lord Jesus says that he will send this Counselor or Comforter from the Father. This is a reference to what happened at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Church. The Lord Jesus kept his promise and the Holy Spirit came to live with, in and among God’s people. He did that for a purpose and the most important part of that purpose is there at the end of verse 26, “he will testify about me.” The Holy Spirit will counsel, comfort and help God’s people by pointing them to Christ and by uniting them to Christ.
Isn’t that also what we find in the second part of QA 53? The Holy Spirit is given to us so that we share in Christ and all his benefits. That we would be comforted and helped.
The next question we need to ask is how this all happens. How does the Holy Spirit testify to us about the Lord Jesus? The Lord Jesus himself answers that in John 16:13, “But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all 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.” This refers to the special work of the Holy Spirit in establishing the early New Testament church. He gave the truth about Jesus Christ to the apostles. Moreover, he inspired the writers of the New Testament to give us the truth about Christ in God’s Word.
2 Peter 1:20-21, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit filled men to write God’s own Word. Since we know that God is the God of truth and since we know the Spirit is the Spirit of truth, we can be comforted knowing that the Bible gives us the truth and not the lie. True truth! Something that’s objectively true for every one. So, we can know that all of God’s promises are firm and reliable. We can trust everything that God says in his Word. His word is truly a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. As we read in Psalm 111, “All his precepts are trustworthy.”
We can also be comforted, counseled and encouraged when we again tie this back into the Spirit’s testimony about Jesus. The Holy Spirit gave us the Scriptures and the Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation, are about Christ. Moses was one of those prophets mentioned by Peter who was carried along and inspired by the Holy Spirit. In John 5:46, the Lord Jesus himself said that Moses wrote about him. A few verses earlier in John 5:39, the Lord Jesus said about the Old Testament, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.” The Lord Jesus said that the entire Old Testament speaks about him. It becomes even more clear when you read Luke 24. There the Saviour encountered two disciples on the road to Emmaus. As he talked with them, he began to explain the Old Testament. Then in verse 27, we read, “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” All the evidence in the New Testament says that the apostles and early church read the Old Testament the same way. In Acts 10:43, we hear Peter saying that all the prophets testify about Christ and the forgiveness of sins through him. Elsewhere in the New Testament, the apostles and other writers take the Old Testament and show how it all points to Christ in some way.
And so when we read the Scriptures for ourselves today, we have to take the same approach. Scripture is about Christ. Christ said it, and his apostles, inspired by the Spirit of Truth, said it as well. The Holy Spirit who inspired the entire Bible testifies about Jesus in the Bible. Now in some passages, it’s easy to understand how it speaks of Christ. For instance, Psalm 110 is one of the most quoted Psalms in the New Testament. There are more than 20 quotations and allusions. The Holy Spirit himself shows us how to read and sing Psalm 110 with our eyes on Christ. The same is true for many other passages, especially for many of the Psalms. With other Old Testament passages, we’re challenged and we have to do some work and we have to think about it, using the pattern set for us by Christ himself and his Spirit speaking through the New Testament writers.
Take for instance, Psalm 7, one of the more difficult psalms. How can we read and sing that Psalm having our eyes fixed on Jesus? That’s an important question that we should all struggle with. There’s no doubt about it: that Psalm challenges us! It speaks of God’s anger and his preparing instruments of death for the wicked. Nonetheless, rest assured, it does point us to Christ. Christ himself said that it did. That Psalm testifies to God’s grace and mercy for his people, that grace and mercy which was fulfilled in Christ. That Psalm also reveals Christ as the divine warrior who will destroy his enemies. When we read the Bible and when we sing any of the Psalms that come from the Bible, we should always do that thinking about Christ – for the Spirit of truth who inspired those words testifies about Jesus.
The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to us. This person, who is true and eternal God, lives with us individually as believers and corporately as a church. Through the faith he creates with the Word he inspired, he unites us to Christ and makes us share in all his benefits. With him, we are led to the objective truth of God, the true truth as it is in Christ, and so we are truly rich and we can be truly comforted and thankful.
Let us pray:
O God the Holy Spirit, Spirit of Truth,
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service. Thank-you.
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