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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Where can I go from your Spirit?
Text:Psalms 139:7 (View)
Occasion:Pentecost
Topic:The person of The Holy Spirit
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-06-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hy 6:1,2                                                                                         

Ps 143:1,5,6

Reading – Psalm 139; Galatians 5:16-26

Ps 139:1,2,3

Sermon – Psalm 139:7

Ps 139:4,5,13

Hy 82:1,2,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ Jesus, Psalm 139 has encouraged so many people, for so many years. For in it God speaks powerful words like this: “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (vv 9-10).

Maybe if you’ve traveled to a distant country, you’ve been amazed that while your surroundings are so different, God hasn’t left you—“He’s traveled with you,” so to speak. Or as you’ve gone through a traumatic experience, perhaps God comforted you with the truth that He’s still with you, right in the thick of it. Wherever you are, God is there. Wherever you are, you’re not alone, but God will hold you fast.

Now, this is certainly true about God in a general way. He can never be limited to one particular place, but He has the freedom to go anywhere, even to be in many places at the same time. Think of Solomon’s prayer at the opening of the Jerusalem temple; he asks, “Will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” (1 Kgs 8:27). God doesn’t live in and through a body as we do, and He’s not subject to the boundaries of space and time like we are. He is infinite.

This is true in relation to God, we said, and our text shows that it is also true in relation to the Holy Spirit. “Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” (139:7). Let’s listen to the gospel of our salvation as it is revealed in Psalm 139 on this theme,

Where can I go from Your Spirit?

  1. the Spirit is constantly with us
  2. we must be constantly with Him

 

1) the Spirit is constantly with us: The Psalm open before us is really well-known and much-loved. And sometimes the trouble with familiar texts is that we assume we know what they’re all about, when we actually don’t. So, backing up for just a moment, it’s good to consider this Psalm as a whole.

First, why did David write it? He clearly wrote it as a prayer, for throughout he’s calling on God and praising him for his greatness. But David wasn’t praying from a place of peace—rather, he was in a really trying spot, for he was being oppressed by his enemies and falsely accused. This is why, towards the end of the Psalm, he bursts out with a petition against his foes, “Oh, that you would slay the wicked, O God! Depart from me, you bloodthirsty men” (v 19). Reading the Psalm, we don’t always know what to do with that outburst, but this is the whole reason that David is crying out to God.

David was being harassed by his enemies because he was on the side of God and he had stood up for his honour, “They speak against you wickedly; your enemies take your name in vain” (v 20). Along with their attacks on the LORD had come false accusations against the LORD’s servant, saying that David was corrupt and deceitful and slanderous.

If someone brings a lying accusation against you, it can be frustrating to try and clear your name. You quickly tire yourself out, insisting on your innocence. And sometimes you just can’t convince someone that you’re blameless, and the only thing is to rest in God’s judgment. This is what David does in Psalm 139: he appeals simply to Almighty God, “who searches him and knows him” (v 1), who sees him in all he does and who understands if there is in him any wicked way.

Yes, David does a remarkable thing in his trouble: he meditates on God’s tremendous character. You can take the first six verses as one section; it’s a contemplation on God’s intimate knowledge of David, and of all people, and all things: “You know my sitting down and my rising up; you understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways” (vv 2-3). The LORD is all-knowing, for nothing is beyond his understanding or outside his wisdom. The elegant theological term for this is omniscience: “all knowing.”

The second section is from verse 7 to 12, a meditation on another quality of God, his infinite presence. David says that he can go the highest place, and God is there; the lowest place, and God is there; or travel to a place on the far side of the sea, and God is there. Whether it’s dark or light makes no difference to the God who can be anywhere in the fullness of his glory. The theological term is omnipresence: “being present everywhere.”

Moving briefly to the third section of the Psalm, David speaks about how God’s deep knowledge of him goes back even before his birth: “For you formed my inward parts; you covered me in my mother’s womb” (v 13). And God knows too, how long David will live on this earth, “In your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them” (v 16).

After his meditation on the perfections of God, David’s final petition becomes a little more understandable, “Search me, O God, and know my heart… see if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting” (vv 23-24). Other people don’t always know us—and sometimes they’re very wrong about us—but God knows us, truly and completely. And if we’re his children, that’s a good thing.

So now let’s return to our verse, “Where can I go from your Spirit?” (v 7). David is confident that God is everywhere present, and that in his grace God is present with him personally—“Where can I go without you?”

Let’s notice here how David speaks about God’s Spirit. When the Holy Spirit filled the disciples at Pentecost in Acts 2, this wasn’t the Spirit’s first time visiting. The Holy Spirit has always worked on earth and dwelled among God’s people—think of the judges upon whom the Spirit came so that they could deliver Israel. Or think of another Psalm where a guilty David prays, “Do not take your Holy Spirit from me” (51:11).

David knew about the gift of the Spirit. And because the Spirit is God, the Spirit too has the quality of being present everywhere. Like the LORD says in Jeremiah 23, “Am I a God near at hand… and not a God afar off? Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I shall not see him?” (vv 23-24). No, for the LORD is ever-present.

So when David asks, “Where can I go from your Spirit?”, it’s a rhetorical question, for the answer is perfectly obvious! “Where can I go from your Spirit?” Nowhere! It’s not desirable to get away from him, and even if we did desire it, it’d be impossible. We can never reach a place where the Spirit isn’t, or keep a secret that He doesn’t know. For the Holy Spirit, there are no obstacles or barriers that keep him from being with us.

Notice the two verbs in our text, and how they’re different. In the first half, it’s “going,” while in the second half, it’s “fleeing.” To “go” is a neutral term—just traveling in a particular direction—while to “flee” speaks of trying get away from God. But neither can be done. The Holy Spirit is everywhere, even if we don’t see him or feel him or think about him.

Now, that’s a fearful thought if we’re trying to run away from God, if we’re trying to deny him, or ignore him: you can’t find a place where the Spirit isn’t present. That’s a fearful thought, but it can also be comforting—comforting if we’re striving to walk with God. Because though God is Almighty Creator, He’s always with us. Though God is King of the universe, through his Spirit He never leaves us. You can never get lost from God.

Let’s ponder how this glorious truth of Psalm 139 has become even more glorious. We said that the Holy Spirit was active in the Old Testament, that He came upon people, guided believers and gave gifts for service. Yet in the New Testament, something did change. For now the Holy Spirit comes closer, and the Spirit fills the people of God—He lives in us, just like God used to dwell in the temple. That’s how near and present the Spirit is!

And here’s the whole reason that the Spirit can come so near: Jesus Christ. Jesus brings the Father near, and Jesus brings the Spirit near. In John 14, shortly before He dies on the cross, Jesus tells his disciples, “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth” (vv 16-17). Jesus knew that his disciples feared the day of being alone and apart from their Master. So He says, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (v 18). For He would send the Spirit.

And not just any Spirit, He would send his Spirit. A Spirit who was so connected to Christ, a Spirit who was so full of Christ, that it’d be like Christ himself was still on earth! “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” Beloved, Christ our Saviour will always be with us—not in person, but in spirit—in his Spirit.

This is our Saviour’s sure promise: “I will come to you. In the hard times. In the good times. I will come to you in happiness, and in sadness. I will come to you in days of contentment, and in days of deep anxiety.” Through his Spirit, our Lord and King is always near: He is near to bless, to guide, to comfort, to restore, to forgive. For He has united himself to us, and us to him.

This is how Jesus can also say to his disciples just before He ascends into heaven, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20). As God’s children, whoever we are, wherever we are, whatever it is we’re doing—Jesus comes to us, draws near to us, and He stays among us through his Spirit. It means that Christ doesn’t forget us when we’re grappling with an illness. He doesn’t overlook us when we’re grieving for a loved one. He’s not out of earshot when we cry out in a prayer of pain or confession. He says, “You won’t be alone. You won’t face this all by yourself. But I will come to you. And I will stay with you.”

What a reassuring truth! Through his Holy Spirit, Jesus goes with you. He comes alongside you and He fills you so that you can keep going. Christ gave his life for you, and now He gives you life in him.

Through Christ and his Spirit, the words of Joshua 1 take on a new and powerful meaning. There God says to Joshua, the servant of the LORD who was preparing to begin his task of leading the people into the Promised Land, “I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and of good courage” (vv 5-6). That is the message of Christ for us: “By my Spirit, I will be with you. I am all-powerful and all-knowing and ever-near. I will not leave you nor forsake you. So be strong and of good courage.”

 

2) we must be constantly with Him: We understand that every proper relationship has two sides. A marriage is only healthy when both husband and wife are fully invested in each other, open with each other, and committed. A friendship is only strong when both sides work at it; like the saying, “To have a friend, you must be a friend.”

The same applies to our relationship with God. In the covenant, there is no question about God’s investment in us; there can be no doubting his total commitment or his unfailing love for us. He’s in it for good!

But what about our side of the relationship? We’ve got to work at it. This is the amazing truth about being in covenant with the holy Lord. God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present—infinitely greater than us, totally independent of us—and yet He delights to know us, and He wants to be in a relationship where we love him freely and wholeheartedly, where we’re devoted to him not because we’re scared, but because we want to.

This is a mystery, that God is already so near, but we’re called to let his Holy Spirit work in us so that He can be even nearer. God made us and He completely rules us, but He also wants to be a meaningful part of our lives. Like we said, a living relationship will always have two sides.

This truth is evident throughout the Bible. I was recently reading in 2 Chronicles, and I came across this gem of a text, “The LORD is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you” (15:2). Knowing God, and walking with God, requires us to make the effort of seeking him and staying with him. When we do, there is the immense blessing of his presence: “The LORD is with you when you are with him.” We find the same truth in James 4, “Come near to God and He will come near to you” (v 8).

What does all this have to do with our focus on the Spirit’s work? We’ve learned that the Holy Spirit never forgets us, but the question is: do we ever forget him? We’ve seen that the Spirit is constantly with us, but this truth requires us to stay with him, to deliberately and consistently work to remain in his presence.

Remember the two verbs in our text, “go” and “flee.” David has told us that the Spirit is always with us, ready to help and present to guide. But the reality is that we’re not always comfortable with this holy companion, and sometimes we want to get away from him. This is where that second question comes from, “Where can I flee from your presence?”

The best example of this is Jonah. He’d been given a mission by God to proclaim the LORD’s judgement against the wicked and unbelieving city of Nineveh. Jonah didn’t like his assignment, so he attempted to run away—he literally tried to sail to “the far side of the sea.” But of course he couldn’t hide from God, or from the storm that God sent, or from the hungry fish. Jonah learned that he couldn’t flee but that the only option was to submit to the LORD’s will and way. “Where can I flee from your presence?” Nowhere!

Yet this is still how some people try to live. They live like spiritual refugees, always fleeing, always on the run. A person might know God’s Word, his commands and promises, yet they try to escape the Spirit. They break with the church, or they shut down good relationships, or they dive deeper into sin to try and forget who they are. But if you try to flee from God, you’ll find no rest.

And let’s not only think of a worst-case example. Fleeing from God can be done in a far quieter way than leaving the church. It happens when we know God’s Word, but we stubbornly ignore his truth. Or we know that God sees everything, yet we try to hide our sins from him. We act like God doesn’t “understand our thoughts afar off,” so we don’t repent from our sin, and we neglect to put right important things in our life.

When someone understands you really well—like your spouse, or a close friend—when they know how to read you, you’re reluctant to try hid things from them. Holding a secret from them makes you nervous, so it’s better to be open. So with God: intimacy with God means we must be open with God. The nearness of his Spirit means there’s no use trying to flee or hide. Rather, we should enjoy the closeness that you have. If we believe in Christ and we have received forgiveness through him, there’s no reason to flee from God, but every reason to flee to him!

So draw near. Stay near! And this nearness takes effort, takes cultivating. One way to foster the Holy Spirit’s presence with you is to pray for the Spirit. It’s God’s promise that He will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask, so we should ask. Just like we pray every day for our food and drink, we ought to pray every day for the Holy Spirit—an essential need. For every day we need to live by faith in Jesus Christ. Every day we’re facing the attacks of our three-fold enemy. Every day we have a holy calling, as kings and queens, as living sacrifices, as disciples and prophets of the Lord. Realize that it’s the Spirit alone who can clothe us with power. So pray for the Spirit.

And if we’re going to ask for the Holy Spirit, then we have to go where He’s found. And where is that? We have to be in the Scriptures. It’s through the promises and the commands of Scripture that we find out what God gives, and what He requires. If we will receive the Spirit, then we also have to be in church. It’s through hearing the preaching, through worshiping the Lord in song and prayer, and receiving the sacraments, that the Spirit works and strengthens faith. So draw near to the Spirit.

This is what Paul writes about in Galatians 5. He’s explaining the new life that dead sinners can have through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit transforms our life from being a worthless heap of stinking rubbish to being a beautiful orchard of delightful fruit for God and other people. As believers, we live in the Spirit—He’s the one source of our life.

But in this new life, we also have a holy obligation. Writes Paul, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (v 25). The Greek word for “walking” or “keeping in step” is interesting. It describes walking that’s done in a line, while holding to a pattern, like soldiers on parade. The soldiers listen to the lead of the head officer, and they march in step with him. If he says halt, they halt. If he says “on the double,” they get going, and quickly. If he marches all day and all night, then that’s what they also have to do.

This is how we walk, following the lead of the one who commands us. Keeping constantly in step with the Spirit means walking close to him, and close to Christ. We want to walk close to Christ, so we can imitate what He does. We want to walk close, so that we can talk to him. We want to walk close, so that we can hear his commands the moment that He speaks them. Don’t flee, and don’t fall behind, and don’t take other paths, but keep in step!

Let’s go back a final time to verse 7, and to that question: “Where can I flee from your presence?” Beloved, there’s no sense in fleeing, but there is every blessing in drawing near. We get a glimpse of that in how David speaks of God; when he says “presence,” the Hebrew word means literally “face.” Where can I flee from your face? Scripture often speaks about God having a face. He’s our Father, after all, and He looks on us with his eyes, and He speaks to us with his mouth.

As God’s children in Christ, we’re allowed to live before his loving face. Through the Holy Spirit, we live constantly in the presence of God our Father. He never forsakes us, but He is always with us. And that means, in turn, that we must always look to him. Like little children, we must make the effort of remaining with our Father—keeping up with him, taking his hand, following his lead, listening to his voice.

“Where can I go from your Spirit?” Nowhere. “Where can I flee from your presence?” I cannot. So we know what God calls us to do. “The LORD is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.” So come near to the Spirit, and He will come near to you.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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