Power from On High

August 01st, 2010 Apostle’s Creed Series 14 Isaiah 63:7-14

7 I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.

8 For he said, “Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely.” And he became their Savior.

9 In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

10 But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them.

11 Then he remembered the days of old, of Moses and his people. Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit,

12 who caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name,

13 who led them through the depths? Like a horse in the desert, they did not stumble.

14 Like livestock that go down into the valley, the Spirit of the Lord gave them rest. So you led your people, to make for yourself a glorious name.[1]

Our Apostle’s Creed teaches us that Christians believe in the Holy Spirit. We believe in God the Father Almighty. We believe in Jesus. And Christians believe in the Holy Ghost.

Barna Research Group published a survey in 2009 that many people who call themselves Christian do not believe in the Holy Spirit. Barna reported that “most Christians do not believe that the Holy Spirit is a living force, either. Overall, 38% strongly agreed and 20% agreed somewhat that the Holy Spirit is “a symbol of God’s power or presence but is not a living entity.” Just one-third of Christians disagreed that the Holy Spirit is not a living force (9% disagreed somewhat, 25% disagreed strongly) while 9% were not sure.”

I know it’s hard to hear and make sense of statistics. Let me bottom line it for us. Only 25% of Americans who call themselves Christian believe strongly that the Holy Spirit is a real person and the Third Person of the Trinity.

Let me blame my profession for this biblically illiterate condition. Pop-culture preaching and populist sermons leave people with happy thoughts about God, and even happier feelings about themselves, but no biblical understanding about the person and character of Almighty God.

2 Timothy 4:3-4 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

I hope we don’t turn from the truth to wander off into myths about God. The Holy Spirit isn’t a myth. Believing in the Holy Spirit isn’t optional for us or any other believers.

If we believe the Bible we will believe in the Holy Spirit.

Even the Old Testament saints believed in the Holy Spirit. Genesis 1:2 says that the Holy Spirit was moving over the face of the waters at the beginning of the creation. In Genesis 6:3 the Holy Spirit is revealed as striving with men. The Spirit still does.

In Numbers 11:25-26 the Spirit of God is upon the prophets to speak the words of God. It is the same today.

The Spirit of God was upon the general contractors and construction workers making the tabernacle in Exodus 31 through 35. The Spirit of God should be upon you in your work.

Moses was replaced by a man in whom is the Spirit of God (Numbers 27:18) The Spirit of the Lord was upon Othniel, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson. The Spirit was upon King Saul until he grieved the Spirit and the Spirit left him. The same thing happens today.

The Spirit was upon King David 1 Samuel 16:13 from that day forward. When a king failed to be effective the prophets and even the general population would lament that the Spirit of God was not upon that leader. All of this is the same in the New Testament.

In Micah 3:8 the prophet declares himself to be filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, with justice and with might.

There are hundreds of references to the Spirit of God in the Old Testament. The story of Israel’s salvation is told through prophets, priests, kings and judges who are all anointed by the Holy Spirit. The power of God came down and enabled the work of God’s redemption to go forward. Jesus opened His first sermon by quoting Isaiah 61:1-3 about the Spirit being upon Him.

Israel was keenly aware of this and knew when the Spirit of God was missing.

Do we know when the Spirit of God is missing?

Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. The prophet Zechariah assures Zerubbabel that the kingdom of God and His church would be built. No mountain would stand in the way. Zechariah 4:6 Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.

The pouring out of God’s Spirit is the only way to build the Lord’s eternal Kingdom. Isaiah 44:4-5 I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground. I will pour My Spirit upon your children, and My blessing upon your offspring.

It is the outpouring of the Spirit that brings us to repentance and renewed obedience and fellowship with the Father. How can only 25% of American Christians believe in the reality of the Holy Spirit? I will try to answer that in a minute. Let me continue with Old Testament truths.

The life of God’s people has always been maintained by the power of the Spirit.

Let me illustrate. In my office I own the sermons that Jonathon Edwards preached before and during what historians call the Great Awakening.

Jonathon Edwards was a preacher, theologian, and missionary to Native American Indians. He is widely acknowledged to be America’s most important and original philosophical theologian. Secular historians label Edwards one of America’s greatest intellectuals.

In Northampton, Massachusetts in 1733 God began the Great Awakening. God did it again in 1741 with Edward’s sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” It is considered a classic of early American literature and it used to be required reading by every child in a public school.

He’s my question, why can’t I read those sermons from this pulpit and start the Third Great Awakening? Edwards read his sermons in a monotone voice. Why can’t I also read his sermons in a monotone voice and watch a revival break out?

The reading of sermons does not incite a revival any more than reciting the sinner’s prayer sends someone to heaven. There is a way to go to heaven and there is a path for spiritual renewal, but both paths depends on the work of the Holy Spirit.

First, we need to acknowledge that our sin got us in trouble, not God’s lack of love or power. That’s in verses 1-7. God is treading the winepress of His wrath and His garments are drenched by the blood of His enemies. We’ll save that horrific image for a later sermon.

Isaiah takes the first step back to revival in verse 8 and 9. He takes time to meditate on God’s love that brought to His people His eternal kindness. Myles Coverdale in 1533 translated two words out of the Hebrew into one English word loving-kindness.

The law condemns. Love transforms. Meditating on God’s love will bring us to repentance. I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.

We start a pathway back to God by focusing on His love for us. We bring people in the world back to a right relationship with God by telling them about God’s love.

How connected is God’s heart to you? God’s love is so strong that when you suffer He suffers too. Verse 9. In all their affliction he was afflicted. Like the bitter tears of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, God is moved when we suffer. And God’s steadfast love moves Him to intervene.

John 3:16 God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. Verse 9, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

Salvation is the supreme goodness of God. We all enjoy His air and water, His sky and earth, His food and provision, but the greatest thing God ever gave to His people was the presence of His face. That’s Jesus. No man can see God and live, yet the people of God have seen the face of God’s presence in the person of Jesus Christ.

Isaiah puts his eyes back on Jesus, the supreme goodness of God, and in verse 10 Isaiah acknowledges the reason they are experiencing trouble. But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them.

Why do only 25% of American Christian’s strongly believe in the Holy Spirit? Let me now try to answer that. I am convinced that Americans only want to hear the sweet things out of the Bible. This unwillingness to listen to sound doctrine transforms the teaching about the Holy Spirit into something created by Disney. And if the Holy Spirit is a fairy tale then we grow out of it when we enter adulthood.

There’s a song called Surely, “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place, I can feel His mighty power and His grace, I can feel the brush of angels wings, I see glory on each face, Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.”

I like the song. It’s a fine song and occasionally I am moved as I consider the sweet fellowship we have with God by His Spirit. But American Christianity in this era has no respect for the other side of the Spirit of God.

We can’t seem to imagine the Spirit who came upon Samson so that he took up the jawbone of an ass and slayed a 1,000 of the enemies of God. The Philistines felt more than a brush of angels wings. They got smoked by the Spirit.

Most believers today have no concept of the Spirit of God striving with men. Why would we want to believe in a truth like that? We rebel against authority. So how do we dismiss the Spirit’s authority to lead us? We say He doesn’t exist.

That may work in a delusional sort of way, but practically it won’t work over the long haul.

Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, tried to act like they could disregard the Spirit. They  offered strange fire in the worship of God and fire came out and consumed them.

The Spirit is awesome like the pillar of fire that guided and protected Israel.

We are told in 1 Thessalonians 5:19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire. Jesus baptizes with this fire. You cannot mishandle the Person of the Holy Spirit and not get burned.

Paul tells us that some believers have disobeyed the Holy Spirit by taking communion unworthily and are now dead. In Acts 5 Ananias and Sapphire lied to the Spirit and died.

The Holy Spirit is working to lead us into a holy life. If we refuse His leading we strive with Him. When we strive with the Spirit we are arguing with God. The Holy Spirit then brings trouble into our lives. That’s verse 10 of our passage.

Most religious people are not willing to connect the dots between their sin and the fires that keep burning up the progress in their life. And since they cannot bring themselves to admit that the fire of the Spirit is striving with them, they dismiss the conviction of the Spirit as heart burn from bad pizza. They say the Person of the Holy Spirit is a false teaching. They stop listening to His guidance and sear their conscience.

People often ask why God allows suffering in the world. They think, “there is suffering in the world, therefore God is either not all-loving or He is not all-powerful.”

What about a third option. Maybe God’s Spirit is treading us under like the grapes in verse 1-7. Maybe we have become the hindrance to God’s glory being revealed in the world. Maybe the Spirit of God has stopped striving with us toward repentance. Maybe the Spirit is now working against us.

If this is true, then we need to follow Isaiah into spiritual revival. We need to remember God’s loving-kindness. We need to focus our eyes on the face of God in our midst. We need to look to Jesus. When we sin we need to understand that the Spirit of God is working to bring us back to repentance and renewal through conviction. We need to remember that our sin afflicts the person of God. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Don’t offend Him with sin. Stop it.

Verse 11, we need to remember what it was like to be living in step with the Spirit. Then he remembered the days of old, of Moses and his people. Get back to those good days.

We need to submit as He leads us back into sweet fellowship with the Father through the shed blood of Jesus. Like livestock that go down into the valley, the Spirit of the Lord gives us rest.

Do you believe in the Holy Spirit as He is revealed in the Bible? The Holy Spirit isn’t a pushover. Are you under His blessing or conviction? Are you walking in step with His love or suffering under His purifying fire? Remember, God disciplines people He loves. If you are under His hand of discipline then it means that He loves you. It means you are His child. Run back to His loving arms. He hurts more than you for the trouble He is bringing into your life. It really is like our parents said. It hurts them more than it hurts us.

Be careful how you live. Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit. Don’t dismiss His work in your life by claiming He doesn’t exist. Respect, reverence and submit to the Spirit. He will always lead you back to the loving arms of Jesus.

May God help us to know His loving-kindness that we might live in the power of His Holy Spirit and glorify His name.  Amen.

[1] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.