The Apostles’ Creed: I believe in the Holy Spirit: Truth-Prover

Do you ever notice, in the news, a report of a person who was convicted of a criminal offense but who was later proven to be innocent? That’s a shocking thing, isn’t it?

One of the Holy Spirit’s roles among humans is to expose just such a miscarriage of justice.

[Jesus said,’ But I am telling you the truth; it is better for you that I go away, because if I do not go, the Helper will not come to you. But if I do go away, then I will send him
to you.

And when he comes, he will prove to the people of the world that they are wrong about sin and about what is right and about God’s judgment.

They are wrong about sin, because they do not believe in me;

They are wrong about what is right, because I am going to the Father and you will not see me any more;

And they are wrong about judgment, because the ruler of this world has already been judged. John 16:7-11,
Good News Bible

You see, Jesus made spectacular claims. Here’s one.

‘I and the Father are one.’ John 10:30

Those listening to him picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’

‘We are not stoning you for any good work,’ they replied, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’ John 16:31-34

Jesus’ listeners clearly rejected that spectacular claim.

The truth-prover, in the quote above, will prove people wrong about three things:

1. They are wrong about sin, because they do not believe in me. John 16:9

Sin, says Jesus, is not first of all murder, robbery or fraud. It’s a failure to believe that Jesus is who He claims to be, as did those who picked up stones to throw at Jesus. He claims to be God. That’s an outrageous claim
– unless it’s true.

2. They are wrong about what is right, because I am going to the Father and you will not see me any more. John 16:10

One scholar writes, “The language is obviously that of a courtroom….The case is clear: the world vs. Jesus of Nazareth. The facts are known: the world determined that Jesus was not from God. On the contrary, it seemed expedient
of the peace and stability of the nation that Jesus with his disturbing claims should be eliminated….In fact, that there was no divine intervention was persuasive argument that justice was served. The case for the world is closed. A function of the Holy Spirit,
however, is the enlightenment that offers another reading of the evidence” (Craddock,
Knox Preaching Guides: John John Knox 1982, 119-120).

In other words, some who watched Jesus die reasoned like this:

(1) Jesus claimed to be God

(2) When He was executed, no supernatural power intervened to rescue him.

(3)If He had been God, a supernatural power would have rescued Him.

(4) Therefore Jesus was not God

Jesus said, “That’s the wrong conclusion. I am going to the Father – that’s proof that I am who I claimed to be.”

3. They are wrong about judgment, because the ruler of this world has already been judged. John 16:11

“The ruler of this world is [a term of John’s] for the devil….Jesus interprets his death, not as defeat, but rather as a triumph over the ruler of this world.” Newman & Nida, A Handbook on the Gospel of John United Bible societies 1980, 505

In other words, Jesus planned to defeat the devil using the devil’s plan to kill Jesus. Jesus would die innocently, voluntarily, for all the wrongdoing of humanity through the centuries – and prove His victory over evil by rising from the dead.

Do you ever wonder how a person executed as a criminal 2,000 years ago became elevated to the status of God?

Andy Stanley suggests an answer:

“[T]here is no viable, natural explanation for why the church survived the first century, much less twenty centuries….From a purely secular perspective, the story of the church goes something like this:

“A small band of Jewish dissidents defied a superpower and a religious system that had been in place for a thousand years and, in the end, prevailed. At the center of this grassroots movement, originally referred to as The Way, was a Jewish carpenter whose messages centered on a ‘kingdom’ that wasn’t directly connected to this world. He spoke mostly in parables that few could understand. He insisted that those who followed him love the Romans and pay those onerous taxes. He alienated the influential and the powerful. He offended practically everybody. His family thought he had lost this mind. After only three years of public ministry, he was arrested, publicly humiliated, and executed….

“In a relatively short amount of time, this Jewish knockoff religion replaced the entire pagan pantheon of gods as the primary belief system of the Roman empire, the same empire responsible for crucifying its central figure. The same empire that launched several vicious inquisitions with the intent of stamping it out completely.

“Doesn’t really add up, does it? Not without an actual resurrection anyway.” Andy Stanley, Deep & Wide Zondervan 2012, 52-4

It’s the Holy Spirit’s role to help people connect the dots to see reality the way Jesus saw it, enabling people to see that Jesus died innocently to defeat evil – and that the next step must therefore be to recognize Jesus for who He is; namely, God in human form, alive, risen from the dead.

The Apostles’ Creed: I believe in the Holy Spirit: Witness

Happy 2020!

What is a person’s responsibility if they experience something that changes their life for the better and that could also change the life of every person who was open to that change if only they knew about it?

There was a dreadful famine inside the walled city because of the long siege by invaders. People were desperate. There was even resort to cannibalism.

Four beggars at the city gate decided to go out to surrender to the invaders simply because they had no hope of survival inside the city. When they got to the invaders’ camp, they found it abandoned. The entire invading army had clearly fled on foot in such haste that they had even left their horses and donkeys behind.

The men…entered one of the tents. They ate and drank, and carried away silver, gold and clothes, and went off and hid them…Then they said to each other, ‘We’re not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace. 2 Kings 7:8-9

We’re back studying the benefits of having the Holy Spirit in our lives. We saw before Christmas that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to live inside each person who becomes a Jesus follower. The Holy Spirit creates new default settings, and is an Advocate for and a Teacher to each Jesus follower.

The next benefit of having the Holy Spirit, based on Jesus’ final address to His followers before His voluntary surrender to arrest and execution to save us, is this: The Holy Spirit sets the pattern for our testimony about our experience as a Jesus follower.

When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning (John 15:26-27).

Testimony in court is simply the telling of what you personally experienced about the event that is the subject of the court case.

Jesus first says that the Holy Spirit will testify about Jesus. As we saw in previous episodes, the Holy Spirit’s methods of testimony to Jesus followers include reminding them of what Jesus said and helping them understand what Jesus said. The Spirit’s testimony is based on the Spirit’s own experience of Jesus – and that experience is intimate and accurate, because they are both members of the Trinity.

Then Jesus says to His followers, ‘And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning’ (John 15:27). His followers’ testimony, like courtroom testimony, is based on their experience with Jesus.

Remember what Jesus said about His purpose for coming? We looked at it shortly before Christmas.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:10-11.

Jesus came to die in our place, and to give us life to the full. He came to undo the forces that were stealing, destroying and killing our spirits.

Testimony about Jesus is simply the telling of the story of how Jesus has brought life, wholeness, healing to the parts of our lives that were broken.

When we look around, we see evidence of the thief’s work all around us. There’s a lot of stealing and destroying and killing of all that’s wholesome, all that’s good.

In the same chapter of John, Jesus said,

‘…anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.’ John 10:1

A few verses later, Jesus made His point: ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep….I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved (John 10:7, 9).

If there are a lot of hurting people in the world, and if there’s only one cure for their hurting, what is the responsibility of those who have experienced Jesus’ life? The answer of the four beggars fits, doesn’t it? The loving thing to do is to tell people.

And the Holy Spirit can help each Jesus follower with that. You’re not on your own!

On the Feast of Stephen: grace and power

One of our lovely Christmas carols begins like this

Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen

When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even

Brightly shone the moon that night, though the frost was cruel,

When a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel.

Four verses later, the song ends

Therefore, Christian men, be sure, while God’s gifts possessing,

You who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing.

The Feast of Stephen, the occasion mentioned in the song, is on Boxing Day, the second day of Christmas. Clearly, for the song writer, it’s a day to celebrate generosity.

Remarkably, Stephen gets only two chapters in the Bible, apart from three other references to him. The early church chose him as one of seven leaders to oversee the needs of ethnic widows (Acts 6:1-7). His qualifications for the job were that he was “full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3). He came to the attention of the authorities for performing miracles and for winning debates.

The charges against him in the Sanhedrin (Jewish governing body) were not about things he’d done wrong but about what he had said. It was alleged that he had said Jesus would destroy the Jerusalem temple and change the customs Moses had given (Acts 6:13-14).

In his response, Stephen didn’t respond to the charges, but enraged this group with life-and-death power over him when he said,

You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? But your ancestors did, and so do you!

Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute!

They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One – the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered.

You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, though you received it from the hands of angels. Acts 7:51-53, New Living Translation 1996

He then locked in his violent death:

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily upward into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand.

And he told them, ‘Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!’ Acts 7:55-56, New Living Translation 1996.

As he was dying by stoning,

Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’

And he fell to his knees, shouting, ‘Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!’

And with that, he died (Acts 7:59-60 New Living Translation).

We see in these words why the writer of Acts says Stephen was full of God’s grace and power (Acts 6:8).

Power: He spoke candidly about their shortcomings, pointing out their responsibility for the death of an innocent man.

Grace: As he was dying violently for a speech offence, he prayed that God would forgive them. In other words, his candour was motivated by concern for them, not by dislike. Not even deadly violence could get an angry word from him

How’s that for a resolution, two days into a new year and a new decade? To speak candidly but without ill will, motivated by love and concern for those with whom we speak, driven by goodwill regardless of their response to our well-intentioned candour?

How does Stephen’s response to personal attack compare to your own?


Do you ever feel hopeless?

If so, here’s a story to encourage you.

The nation of Israel was in quite a mess. The prophet Isaiah, speaking about 740-730 B.C., described widespread corruption, theft, murder, exploitation of the poor (Isaiah 1:15-23).

God, who created all humans from a common origin (meaning with equal dignity) responded by announcing that the nation would lose its independence and that the people would be exiled. God painted a picture of the future in the assignment he gave Isaiah:

Then I said, ‘Lord, how long must I do this?’

And he replied, “Until their cities are destroyed, with no one left in them.

Until their houses are deserted and the whole country is an utter wasteland.

Do not stop until the LORD has sent everyone away to distant lands

and the entire land of Israel lies deserted.

Even if only a tenth – a remnant – survive, it will be invaded again and burned.’

(Isaiah 6:11-13a New Living Translation 1996)

What is more hopeless than the Creator’s removal of a nation from its homeland, creating a nation of displaced persons?

But throughout the Bible, God is not only a God of judgment but a God of hope, desiring the resumption of relationship with humans.

And so the very next line:

Israel will remain a stump, like a tree that is cut down, but the stump will be a holy seed that will grow again. (Isaiah 13b, New Living Translation 1996).

Is there a more eloquent picture of despair than a stump? A tree has been cut. It’s dead. The stump also looks dead.

But have you ever seen a fresh shoot growing from a stump? Have you ever watched, year by year, as that shoot became a strong tree?

That’s a picture of what God can do with any life that turns to Him. Whatever feels hopeless in your life, whatever your failures, bring them all to the Creator who can bring new life from a stump. He can bring new life out of failure, too. That’s the point of Isaiah’s reference to the growth from a stump.

Christmas celebrates the Creator’s coming to earth as a human to live among humans, to die in our place for all the brokenness we’ve suffered and all the pain we’ve caused to others, and then to rise again. Death could not hold Jesus of Nazareth. The tomb became the place from which new life emerged – just like the stump!

St. Nicholas and the Good Shepherd

Did you ever wonder where the story of Santa Claus came from?

According to Wikipedia, the story’s roots are found in Nicholas of Myra, a priest who lived from 270-343. The story is told that Nicholas of Myra heard that a poor man had 3 daughters. Nicholas was concerned that because the father had no money for a dowry, the daughters would be unable to marry and would be forced into prostitution to support themselves. He couldn’t help the family publicly because that would humiliate them, so at night he threw a bag of gold sufficient for one dowry through the window of the family home. The next night he threw in a second bag. On the third night the father stayed up and caught Nicholas in the act. Nicholas instructed the man to tell no one. Secret gift giving at night…

The connection between good deeds and faith is also in Jesus’ teaching. In John 10, Jesus made some very radical statements:

1. I am the Gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. John 10:9

…anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber . John 10:1

In other words, Jesus claimed to be the only path to life. Every worldview needs Jesus at its centre to complete it.

2. I am the Good Shepherd. John 10:14.

A shepherd protects the sheep, keeping them safe. Jesus said He is the protector.

3. ‘The Father and I are one.’

Once again the…leaders picked up stones to kill him.

Jesus said, ‘At my Father’s direction I have done many things to help the people. For which one of these good deeds are you killing me?’

They replied, ‘Not for any good work, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, have made yourself God.’ John 10:30-33

Did you notice Jesus’ response to their threats to kill Him? “I’m doing the kind of good deeds that God does to help people. Why are you angry?” (see also John 10:19, 25)

In other words, there are actions one expects of someone who represents God.

From this story, there are two things that are important:

1. To recognize Jesus of Nazareth for who He claims to be: the only path to life, the one who cares about you and watches over you, and God in human form.

2. To help people as God’s representative.

Christmas is about both. Christmas celebrates God becoming born as a baby (Matthew 1:23) to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21). God came our way to help us as an expression of love for us. Christmas is about Jesus, God in human form, and it’s about self-giving love.

Nicholas of Myra did what he could to help a family in need. What can you do this Christmas as an expression of gratitude for God’s Christmas gift 2000 years ago?

when life doesn’t make sense

We’ll take a Christmas break from the Apostles’ Creed

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen…to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.

But the angel said to him; ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord…

Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.’

The angel said to him, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.’ Luke 1:5-20

When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. ‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.’ Luke 1:23-25

When it was time for Elizbeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. Luke 1:57-8

How do you handle the parts of life that feel unfair? Do you ever wonder whether the reason you don’t have what other people have is because you’re not living right?

Zechariah and Elizabeth were unable to have children. This was a disgrace in that culture (verse 25 “my disgrace among the people”).

But the story teller makes it very clear that this was not God’s punishment for wrongdoing. In fact, God was pleased with them.

1. Nonetheless, God had not given them something they very much wanted.

2. There is no indication in the story that God sent an angel in the intervening decades to tell them

-why they were unable to have children

– that one day they would have children

– how long they would have to wait.

God has a plan for each human life, and that plan begins with the human life surrendered to its Creator. There’s no guarantee that life will give any one of us the things we desire. But God is still a God of love even when we have no idea what’s going on with our lives. The Christmas story – God becoming a human to rescue humans from their own brokenness and pain – is the greatest proof of that.

Stay close to Jesus. I can’t promise you that your dreams will become reality in this life, but as you stay close to Him, He’ll work out the Divine purpose for your life. Your life has a purpose, even if it’s not the one of which you dreamed!

2600 years ago, the prophet Jeremiah wrote,

‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ Jeremiah 29:13

Jesus restated it as follows:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:10-11.

Jesus created you for a life that’s meaningful, and died to make that life possible. Christmas celebrates the beginning of that earthly life.

Can you let God work out His dreams for your life?

I believe in the Holy Spirit: Teacher

What do I do now? How do I decide what’s the right thing to do?

In His final address to His followers before His arrest, Jesus told them the following:

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. John 14:26

1. One of the Holy Spirit’s functions is to remind Jesus’ followers of everything that He said to His disciples.

Of course, that requires something from us, doesn’t it? We need to do our part by reading what He told them. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John contain a record of Jesus’ teaching on many topics. A Jesus follower who doesn’t make regular study of Jesus’ teaching a part of their preparation for the day is missing a key element – kind of like going on a car trip to a destination they’ve never been without navigational aids – no maps, no smart phone.

Jesus’ words in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are valuable not only for what He says on various topics, but for understanding how He dealt with the Scriptures of His day, which we call the Old Testament. Some laws He kept and clarified, some He ignored or abolished, some He made more demanding. With an understanding of His view of the Old Testament we can gain a lot more clarity in the situations we face. Here’s a primer:

i) Some Old Testament laws Jesus kept and clarified.

Ten Commandments: (Exodus 20:1-17):

Love God Matt. 22:35-37

Sabbath – Mark 2:23-3:6

Honour parents, no murder, adultery, theft, false testimony – Mark 10:18-19

Integrity/honesty- no fraud – Mark 10:18-19

Tithing – Mathew 23:23

Sexuality – Mark 7:20-23; John 8:1-11; Matthew 21:31-32; Revelation 2:18-29

Love neighbour Matthew 19:19, 22:39. See Leviticus 19:18.

ii) Some laws He ignored or abolished

Ritual purity – lepers – Mark 1:40-45 (Lev. 13:1-14:32)

Temple worship – Mark 2:1-12; See Deut. 12:1-7; Lev. 4-6; N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God Fortress 1996, 274

Food laws – Mark 7:17-19. See Leviticus 11

iii) Some laws He made more demanding

Truth telling – Matthew 5:33-37. See Numbers 5:19

Murder – Matthew 5:21-22. See Exodus 10:13

Violence, enemies Matthew 5:38-48.See Exodus 21:23-24

Sexuality – Matthew 5:27-28, 31-32; 19:3-12

Love – a new command – love as Jesus loved, willing to lay down our lives John 13:34; 15:12-13 – well beyond the second commandment of “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

The word “remind” implies that we once knew it but perhaps forgot it. Once Jesus followers begin to study Jesus’ teaching, the Holy Spirit can remind them of what they read when they need to remember it.

2. The second part of the Holy Spirit’s job in John 14:26 is to teach us.

Why more teaching? Here’s one noted scholar’s answer to the question:

“Why more teaching? Because new conditions and circumstances call for hearing anew and appropriating anew the word of Christ. The Gospel is not only old but new, rooted in Israel and yet indigenous to every place and time. The Holy Spirit in the church keeps the tradition a living word.” Craddock, Knox Preaching Guides: John, John Knox 1982, 113.

There’s a second reason. It’s not just that situations change, but without the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we don’t understand what Jesus was saying. Do you remember having a teacher or tutor who helped you understand something that was gobbledygook to you? Something that made no sense? In your reading of the Gospels, do you remember how often the storyteller says that Jesus disciples didn’t understand what He had told them?

“Think of how many times Jesus marveled at His disciples’ inability to understand what he was trying to teach them… Those disciples had the benefit of three years of observing all the miracles and absorbing all the teaching of Jesus, and yet it wasn’t until the Holy Spirit came that they finally understood.” Plett, “The Holy Spirit is Okay With Being Listed Last,” The Messenger July/August 2016, 11-12.

When we consider the change in the disciples in Acts 2 after the Holy Spirit’s coming, we see the difference the Holy Spirit makes as a teacher. He is the tutor who helps us understand Jesus so that we can better follow Him.

Can you think of a good reason not to have a supernatural tutor like that?