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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:The gospel promises a comforter in the Holy Spirit
Text:LD 20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The work of The Holy Spirit

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 103:1,2

Psalm 139:1-4

Hymn 49

Hymn 1

Hymn 6

Scripture readings: Isaiah 63:7-14; John 15:18-16:15

Catechism lesson: Lord's Day 20

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

Beloved congregation of Christ,

A few years back, I was listening to a colleague preach in Canada and he mentioned something called “Dutch comfort.”  The term was new to me, but perhaps you’ve heard of it.  I think you’re probably familiar with the idea.  “Dutch comfort” is when somebody says, “Oh, you think you’ve got it bad?  Quit your complaining, it could be much worse.”  Or, “You think you’re doing it tough, let me tell you what I’m going through.  It’s far worse.”  That’s Dutch comfort – it’s cheap and worthless.  Nobody wants Dutch comfort.  Nobody wants to have what the Bible calls miserable comforters.

Thankfully, the Bible promises us an effective and wonderful comforter with the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit will never deliver Dutch comfort.  He comes to us in a far better way, with real comfort. 

The Bible actually calls the Holy Spirit the “Comforter.”  It’s one of his names.  We read from John 15 and 16 and there Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the “Helper.”  That’s in our ESV translation.  “Helper” is a good translation, there’s nothing wrong with it.  However, the Greek word can also be translated as “Comforter.”  In the good news, Jesus promises us his Holy Spirit will be with us to give us comfort in a miserable and broken world.  This afternoon, with the help of Lord’s Day 20, we’ll learn about how the Holy Spirit does that. 

So the theme of this afternoon’s sermon is:  The gospel promises a comforter in the Holy Spirit.  We’ll learn about how our comfort comes from:

  1. Who he is
  2. What he does

Let’s say some tragedy has taken place in your life.  For example, the sudden death of a loved one.  At a moment like that, you probably wouldn’t allow a stranger to come into your life and bring you comfort.  When tragedy strikes, you want to be comforted, but you’d want that comfort to be coming from someone you know. 

The Bible introduces us to this Comforter known as the Holy Spirit.  In the Bible we learn about who he is, so we’d know him and receive comfort through him.  You don’t want the Holy Spirit to be a stranger in your life.  Instead you want to be familiar with him. 

Well, there are two important things for us to learn about who he is.  First of all, he is true God.  Next, he is the third person of the Holy Trinity.  Let’s focus in on each of those important things and also learn about how this all connects to his role as the Comforter.

Let’s start with the fact that he’s true God.  The Bible has plenty to offer in terms of proving the divinity of the Holy Spirit.  One place that right away springs to mind is Acts 5.  In that passage, Ananias is said to lie to the Holy Spirit.  And then a few verses later, it says he was lying to God.  The Holy Spirit is God.  And there are quite a few other references saying the same thing in the New Testament.

But we often forget how also the Old Testament reveals that the Holy Spirit is true God.  This is a truth that’s found throughout the Bible.  For example, there’s Psalm 139.  It says, “Where can I from your Spirit flee?”  The Bible teaches that God is omnipresent, present everywhere.  In fact, ONLY God is omnipresent.  No creature can be present everywhere at once.  Only the Creator.  Only God.  And in Psalm 139, the Holy Spirit is said to be omnipresent.  There’s nowhere you can go where he isn’t present.  This implies the Holy Spirit is God.   

We also find it in what we read from Isaiah 63.  That chapter looks back to the Exodus, when the people of Israel left Egypt and made their way to the Promised Land.  Elsewhere in the Bible, it’s common for the Exodus to be described as a work of God.  Just think of the opening words of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of  Egypt…”  But here in Isaiah 63, what God did in the Exodus is said to be the work of the Holy Spirit.  You can see this in Isaiah 63:14, “The Spirit of the LORD gave them rest.”  The Holy Spirit is the true God who brought Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. 

So our Catechism is right when it says the Holy Spirit is the true and eternal God.  But then how does this connect to our comfort?  Loved ones, think about the way God is described in 2 Corinthians 1 as the “God of all comfort.”  The true God comforts us in all our afflictions.  If the Holy Spirit is this God, then he has both the power and the willingness to comfort us.  He has the power and the willingness to comfort those for whom Christ died.  What’s true of God in general is also true of the Holy Spirit in particular.  He is able to comfort us and he wants to comfort us.  In a few moments, we’ll learn how he does that.

For now, we also want to look at the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity.  The Father is usually referred to as the first person of the Trinity, the Son as the second and the Holy Spirit as the third.  It doesn’t mean he’s less important or less God.  So we don’t want to read too much into the fact that he is placed third. 

Far more important is the fact that he is a person of the Trinity.  What does that mean?  When we say that the Holy Spirit is a person, we mean he is a someone, not a something.  One writer says that, in theology, a person is “an active subject who does things and to whom things happen.”  That’s a good technical definition. 

The Bible is clear that the Holy Spirit is a person.  Think of what we read from Isaiah 63.  In verse 10, the Israelites were said to have grieved the Holy Spirit.  They made him sad.  You can only do that to a person.  Remember:  a person is an active subject “to whom things happen.”  Things like being grieved.

We can see his personhood in what we read from John 15 as well.  In verse 26, the Holy Spirit bears witness about Jesus.  He gives testimony about Christ.  He communicates about the Saviour.  That’s something only a person can do.  Remember:  a person is an active subject “who does things.”  Things like bearing witness.

So, brothers and sisters, it’s important to realize that the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force or energy.  There are those who teach that he is.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force.  Sometimes we can even speak about him the same way.  It’s not uncommon for Reformed people to call the Holy Spirit an “it” or a “something.”  But he’s a person, a someone, an active subject who does things and to whom things happen.  So you can’t compare him to gravity or electricity or whatever other impersonal force.  He’s the third person of the Trinity. 

And this is vitally important to know and believe.  Why?   One reason has to do with his role as the Comforter.  Do you think anyone has been really comforted by an impersonal force or energy?  Facing a tragedy like a sudden death, are you going to get any consolation from electricity or gravity?  Of course not.  We realize that meaningful comfort comes from persons, from someones who care about us.  In this case, the most meaningful comfort we could ever hope for comes from a person who is true God.  He cares for us and he can and will comfort us in whatever difficult circumstances we may find ourselves. 

Now let’s learn about he does that.  Let’s learn about how our comfort comes from what the Holy Spirit does.

Think again about dealing with a tragedy like a sudden death.  If there were a man or woman who had a proven track record of really helping people through things like that, and if we knew them, we’d quite likely welcome them into our situation.  In the past they’ve shown they can help and so we trust that they can help us too. Similarly, if we look at what the Holy Spirit has done and what he continues to do, we can see how we can trust him to really comfort us too.  So let’s survey some of what the Bible teaches about the work of the Holy Spirit.

We can begin right at the beginning of the Bible, at creation.  The Holy Spirit was involved with creation at the start.  But he didn’t stop being involved with creation.  As the Nicene Creed puts it, “he is the Lord and giver of life.”  Not just that he was, but he is, present tense.  All life is owing to the Holy Spirit.  The Bible teaches this in Psalm 104:30, “When you send forth your Spirit, they are created.”  All biological life, animal or human, is because the Holy Spirit gives it.  

But of course, he’s also the giver of spiritual life.  He’s the one who takes hearts of stone and turns them into hearts of flesh.  The Holy Spirit causes those chosen by God to be born again.  Jesus teaches that in John 3 in his famous discussion with Nicodemus.  So you could say that the Holy Spirit is the engineer of our regeneration.

The Holy Spirit comes to God’s chosen ones, to the elect, and he makes them spiritually alive.  We’re converted – which means turned to God.  The Holy Spirit gives us the precious gift of a saving faith in Jesus Christ.  Through the Holy Spirit, we take hold of Christ and we trust him alone for our rescue from sin and its consequences.  We’re reminded in 1 Cor. 2:12 that we have received the Holy Spirit “that we might understand the things freely given us by God.”  Through the Spirit, we understand and we believe. 

Through faith in Christ worked by the Spirit, we get the greatest comfort of all:  reconciliation with God – a relationship of fellowship with him.  Through our Spirit-given connection to Christ, we also get intercession before God on our behalf.  Christ becomes our great High Priest in heaven constantly pleading our cause.  Through the faith the Holy Spirit gives, we’re also comforted with confidence in God’s providence.  All things will work together for our good.  Through our Spirit-granted faith in Jesus, we’re also given the comfort of a future with God in the new heavens and new earth.

Let’s also not forget the work the Holy Spirit did in inspiring the Bible.  He infallibly guided the human writers of the Bible.  The Bible reveals Christ and the gospel to us.  In the Scriptures, we learn of all God’s good promises towards us.  Through the Scriptures, we receive absolutely everything we need to live and die in the comfort of belonging to Christ.  So the Holy Spirit is also our Comforter in his work of inspiration. 

Now I don’t know if you noticed, but there’s a golden thread which connects these works of the Holy Spirit.  It all has to do with Christ.  The comfort the Holy Spirit brings us is all connected to Jesus.  The Holy Spirit has sometimes been compared to a spotlight.  You know how you might go to a theatre for a concert or a show.  There are often spotlights.  The person behind the spotlight isn’t the center of attention.  The spotlight isn’t the center of attention.  What’s the center of attention is who the spotlight is shining on.  The whole purpose of the Holy Spirit is to shine our attention on Jesus.  Jesus takes center stage.  The Holy Spirit is the spotlight pointing everyone to him. 

We can see that taught in our reading from John.   In John 15:26, Jesus says the Holy Spirit will bear witness about him.  In John 16:13, Christ says the Spirit “will guide you into all the truth.”  That’s speaking about the truth of the gospel, the truth about Jesus and salvation in him.  And then there’s John 16:14.  Jesus says the Holy Spirit “will glorify me.”  The Holy Spirit makes people become impressed with Jesus.  He comforts believers by pointing them to Christ. 

So, loved ones, to receive the comfort the Holy Spirit provides in Christ, we need to be attentive to the tool or instrument the Holy Spirit uses.  His tool or instrument is the Word of God.  The Scriptures he inspired are how he points us to Christ and comforts us in him.  Another way of saying this is that if you’re ignoring the Bible, the Holy Spirit won’t comfort you.  His way of comforting us is through what the Bible teaches us, and specifically how the Bible tells us the good news of our Lord Jesus. 

Some of you may remember the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in June 1953.  That was a long time ago and perhaps soon we’ll see the coronation of another monarch.  But back in 1953, to celebrate her taking the throne, all the children under her reign received a gift, including all the children in Australia.  It was a sign to celebrate the joyous occasion of her coronation. 

Similarly, when Jesus was enthroned as the King of glory, he sent a gift to his subjects.  After Jesus had ascended into heaven and sat at God’s right hand, he sent a beautiful gift to all who recognize him as king.  He poured out the gift of his Holy Spirit on the church.  Christ did that at Pentecost – this was when he fulfilled the promise he’d made in John 15. 

This gift of the Holy Spirit assures us of the comfort of knowing that Christ is on the throne.  This gift in the person of the Spirit assures us that Jesus is our glorious Lord and Saviour, that nothing can come between us and him.  This gift of the Spirit assures us that someday our King who loves us will return in glory.  As we continue living in this broken world with its tragedies and heartaches, the Holy Spirit comforts us with all these gospel realities.  Praise him for who he is and what he does!  AMEN. 


O Holy Spirit, Spirit of truth, our Comforter,

We praise your Name as true God.  You have the power and the willingness to comfort us in all our sorrows, as we live in this broken world.  O Holy Spirit, we praise you as the third person of the Trinity.  In your personal nature, you can and do come to us with the comfort of the gospel.  Thank you for your work in inspiring the Scriptures which speak of the Saviour we need.  Thank you for your work in regenerating our hearts, converting us, and giving us faith in Jesus.  O Holy Spirit, we thank you for pointing us always to Christ and the comfort we have in him.  Please help us with your strength always to listen to the Word you inspired.  Help us always to keep our faith fixed on Christ, so that we find the comfort we need in him.  Holy Spirit, remain with us, bless us, and help us in our daily Christian walk.                   


* 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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