Sunday, February 18, 2018

[Matt's Messages] "Spiritus Sanctus"

“Spiritus Sanctus”
Following Jesus: The Gospel of Matthew
February 18, 2018 :: Matthew 3:13-17

My plan was to fully jump into Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount this morning. Last week, we read the whole thing from start to finish, and my plan was to start in on the beatitudes this morning. That’s why Marilynn put that cover on your bulletin.

But I guess the Lord had different plans for us!

I’m just not ready to take us deeply into Jesus’ sermon like I wanted to. Hopefully next week, we can do that. But that casserole needs a little more time in the oven!

Instead, I want us to use this time to think together about the Holy Spirit.

In fact, I have a snazzy Latin title for today’s message.

Last month it was, “Imago Dei.” This month, “Spiritus Sanctus.”

Does anybody know what that means?

It’s just Latin for “Holy Spirit.”

“Spiritus Sanctus” was the theme of the Stay Sharp Theology Conference that a group of us attended this week at our district church in Canonsburg.

We go to hear Greg Strand from the EFCA National Office teach us about the Person and Ministry of the Holy Spirit.

It was a really good conference.

Great teaching on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

A lot of people have said that learning from Greg Strand is like drinking directly out of the fire-hydrant. He just opens up and pours out good teaching, and it’s basically too much!

And Greg always brings more than he can share. Greg brought a 292 page powerpoint presentation, and we probably didn’t make it through half of that during our two days together! But it’s all good.

What I thought we might do today is to review together the major outline of the biblical teaching on the Person and Ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Basically, answering the question, “Who Is the Holy Spirit?”

What do we mean when we say, “Spiritus Sanctus?” Who or what is the Holy Spirit?

For some of us, that’s a very basic question. We’ve known about the Spirit for most of our lives. But perhaps it would be good to be reminded.

For others of us here, we may never have received much teaching on the Person and Ministry of the Holy Spirit.

I remember when we took the teens to the Challenge Conference in 2016. And the teaching there was about how our identity is shaped by the Trinity. God is Father, so we are a family. God is Son so we are saved servants. And God is Spirit so we are sent on mission.

And the teens we had that year at Challenge said that one of things they learned the most that year was just simply who the Holy Spirit is. They didn’t know that much about Him.

It reminded me of those disciples of John the Baptist that the Apostle Paul met in Ephesus in Acts 19. When Paul asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit, they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit!” (Acts 19:2).

We don’t want that. Christians believe in the Holy Spirit.

Greg took us through church history and showed us what Christians have believed about the Spirit (good and bad) ever since the first century.

We don’t want to be ignorant about the Holy Spirit.

So let’s have a little "mini-Stay Sharp" on Him this morning.

And we’ll start at the baptism of Jesus. We just looked at this a few weeks ago, but let’s focus on Holy Spirit here in particular. Matthew chapter 3, starting in verse 13.

Who Is the Holy Spirit?


You remember the story. Jesus knew where John was baptizing by the Jordan River. He came to see John and asked to be baptized himself.

John, realizing who Jesus is, God’s Son, the Messiah doesn’t want to do it.

John thought that Jesus should baptize him. John knew that Jesus was greater than Him. He had just said that. In fact, he said that he wasn’t worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals, much less baptize Him!

He said that Jesus would be doing the baptism and not with water but with...what?

“The Holy Spirit and with fire!”

And John knew that Jesus didn’t need a baptism of repentance!

But Jesus insists.

He says that he should be baptized by John “to fulfill all righteousness.”

That’s Matthew’s favorite word, “fulfill.”

We said a few weeks ago that it meant that Jesus was identifying with us in His righteousness.

Baptism is identifying. It is putting yourself into someone or something–identifying with that. When we get baptized, we are publicly putting ourselves into Christ by repentance and faith. And we’re looking for the next class of people who want to do that. To go public, identifying with Jesus in baptism.

When Jesus was baptized, it was going the other way. He was identifying with us.

It was right; it was righteous, for Him to get baptized, too.

And so, John took Him down in the Jordan River and baptized Jesus. And then when Jesus came up out of the water, something amazing happened! V.16 again:

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him.  And a
voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”


There is so much there. We keep coming back to it.

For one thing, here is the Trinity, right?

You’ve got the Son being baptized. You’ve got the Father declaring His love and pleasure with the Son.

And there is Somebody else there, too. Who is it?

“The Spirit of God.”

The Spirit of God, also called the Holy Spirit, descends from heaven and lands on Jesus, in some way like a dove.

All three are present in one place, in one event, at one time.  Father, Son, and Spirit.

Who is the Holy Spirit?

He is God.

Notice that verse 16 calls Him the “Spirit of God.” Now, that could just mean that He belongs to God in some way. He is the Spirit that belongs to God.

But other passages of Scripture clearly teach us that the Holy Spirit is fully God Himself.

For example, when Ananias and Sapphira lied about how much money they had made on the sale of their property in Acts chapter 5, the Apostle Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to LIE TO THE HOLY SPIRIT and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? ... You have not lied to men but to God.”

Lying to the Spirit is lying to God.

Or 1 Corinthians 2:11 says that the Spirit comprehends the thoughts of God. And only God Himself can fully know what God thinks! Paul says, “No one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”

The passages go on and on equating the Spirit of God with God Himself.

When Jesus gave the great commission at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, He told His disciples to baptize in the Name (singular) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We might think of that as three names. But Jesus saw them as co-eternal, co-equal, fully divine.

The Holy Spirit is God.

Now, you might think that this is just a settled fact. And it is, as far as I’m concerned, and as far as church history is concerned.

But there are still people who call themselves followers of Christ who do not believe that the Holy Spirit is God. The Third Person of the Trinity.

I talked to two people this week who both say they believe in Jesus who are not sure that God is triune. Father, Son, and Spirit. One God in three persons.

They are not sure that the Spirit is a distinct Person or fully God.

Friends, this Spirit of God who descended upon Jesus at His baptism was God the Spirit.


We Should Worship Him.

We don’t just worship God the Father. We also worship God the Son. And our worship should embrace God the Spirit because they are Three in One.

When was the last time that you specifically remembered in worship that the Holy Spirit is God?

I’m thankful for worship songs like Holy, Holy, Holy that bring out that truth!

"God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity."

We sang songs about and to the Holy Spirit at the conference.

Holy Spirit, living Breath of God,
Breathe new life into my willing soul.
Bring the presence of the risen Lord
To renew my heart and make me whole.
Cause Your Word to come alive in me;
Give me faith for what I cannot see;
Give me passion for Your purity.
Holy Spirit, breathe new life in me.”

We should worship God the Spirit.

Now, we’re going to see in just a few moments that the Spirit is self-effacing and actually loves to be in the background.

So, it’s not that strange that He isn’t at center stage in our worship all of the time.

But it is right and proper to worship Him, because He is God!


Notice that I’ve said, “He” and “Him” and “His” instead of “It” or “Its.”

We don’t get that from this passage, but when Jesus promises for the Spirit to come in John 14, that’s how Jesus refers to Him.

In John 14, Jesus says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever–the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”

Do you hear it?

Jesus knew that the Holy Spirit was not an IT, but a Person.

Everything Greg said this week supported that idea.

He showed us that the Spirit has, in some way, emotions (you can grieve Him) and intellect (He knows things), and will (He decides things).

The Spirit is a Person.

And that’s important because that means that we can have a relationship with Him.

We Can Relate to Him.

Our relationship will center on Jesus, we’ll see that again and again. But it will be fellowship with the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is not just an impersonal force.

Some people, I think, conceive of the Spirit as being like “the Force” in the Star Wars movies. [Did you know that there are 390,000 people in England who consider “Jedi” to be their personal religion?! I think most of them are joking, but that’s what they mark on their census forms. What’s your religion? “Jedi.”]

Whenever I lead an ordination council for pastors, that’s always my first question when we get to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

“What is the difference between the Holy Spirit and the Force from Star Wars?”

How would you answer that?

Everybody ask that question at lunch today and see how many answers you can get.

There are similarities. The Spirit is powerful. The Spirit is found everywhere.

But other than that they are not very alike.

In Star Wars, the Force, is impersonal and can be controlled by the Jedi’s.

God the Spirit is not controlled!

He is free to do as He pleases.

He is a Person. He can be grieved, quenched, blasphemed.

He is a Person.

So we can relate to Him.

We don’t tell Him what to do.

But He does tell us.

And He’s at work in our lives.

He is so busy in our lives as Christians, and we don’t even realize it.

Greg gave us a long list of His ministries. Pages and pages of notes on what He is up to in our lives.

Our EFCA Statement of Faith summarizes it like this:

“We believe that the Holy Spirit, in all that He does, glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ. He convicts the world of its guilt. He regenerates sinners, and in Him they are baptized into union with Christ and adopted as heirs in the family of God. He also indwells, illuminates, guides, equips and empowers believers for Christ-like living and service.”

That’s a lot, isn’t it?

And that just scratches the surface.


Why a dove?

Why does the Spirit (v.16) descend like a dove?

I’m really not sure. From this point on in history, doves are a symbol of the Holy Spirit.

In the 2nd verse of the Bible, the Spirit of God is pictured as “hovering” bird-like over the waters. But that’s mysterious, too. What does that mean?

In fact, almost everything about the Holy Spirit is mysterious!

For example, He is a Spirit!

The Hebrew word for Spirit is Ruach which literally means “Breath.”

The Greek word is “Pneuma.”

It’s supposed to conjure up the idea of wind blowing, the breath of God, the exhale of God huffing and puffing and working His power in the world.

Our word “spirit” doesn’t really cut it, but there are no good words.

“Spirit,” I think, is better than “Ghost.”

Because we think of Casper and Slimer and walking white bedsheets.

There are no perfect words to capture Him.

The Spirit is too mysterious.

Do you remember the story that I call, “Nick at Night?”

John chapter 3. When Jesus met with Nicodemus that one night, Jesus said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

He is mysterious!

Wind is not the only picture. Hardly!

Water. Fire! Flames of Fire. Powerful Clothes.

These and more are all pictures of the Holy Spirit.

He’s too mysterious to capture with just a few words.

And I think that means that we need to wonder at Him.

We Should Wonder at Him.

We should marvel at Him.

Thinking about the Spirit should lead us in marveling at His amazing work.

He is not a hum-drum subject worthy of scant attention.

No, He is the mysterious, personal, God the Spirit–worthy of our wonder and amazement.

And we should not treat Him as our pet.

I think that the number one takeaway that I heard from the Stay Sharp conference this week was that we should not misuse the Holy Spirit.

We shouldn’t claim things for Him that we cannot back up with Scripture.

We should be careful to attribute things to the Spirit that may or may not be.

For example, we should not treat Him as simply a feeling. That reduces Him to the level of our emotions.

We learned about lots of movements of people over the years that have claimed the Spirit and the fruit of their actions were so far from the fruit of the Spirit, it was scary!

Not that we don’t see the Spirit the working in our lives. We do.

But we need to be careful to not just baptize whatever we want or feel or think and call it the “Spirit.”

The Spirit is mysterious. And He is not controllable.

He is like the wind!

Anybody here able to control the wind?

We can’t capture Him.

He is elusive. He is incomprehensible.

We can know Him in part but He is also beyond our grasp.

Let’s wonder at His work in our lives.


One of the reasons I picked this passage to preach on the Holy Spirit, not because it is about the Holy Spirit, but because it shows the Holy Spirit in His dove-like-descending highlighting the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ!

Even as the Spirit operates amazingly and supernaturally and mysteriously and miraculously, He is always pointing people to Jesus.

The Holy Spirit is Jesus-Centered.

Jesus said that’s what would happen. In John 16, He said, “[The Spirit] will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.”

The Spirit is all about Jesus!

Greg told us that J.I. Packer calls this The Spirit’s Floodlight Ministry.

In His book, “Keeping in Step with the Spirit,” Packer writes, “I remember walking into a church one winter evening to preach on the words ‘he shall glorify me,’ seeing the building floodlit as I turned a corner, and realizing that this was exactly the illustration my message needed. When floodlighting is well done, the floodlights are so placed that you do not see them; you are not in fact supposed to see where the light is coming from; what you are meant to see is just the building on which the floodlights are trained. The intended effect is to make it visible when otherwise it would not be seen for the darkness, and to maximize its dignity by throwing all its details into relief so that you see it properly.

This perfectly illustrates the Spirit’s new covenant role. He is, so to speak, the hidden floodlight shining on the Savior...[His message is] ‘Look at him, and see his glory; listen to him, and hear his word, go to him, and have life, get to know him and taste his gift of joy and peace” [Keep in Step with the Spirit, pg. 66].

The dove points to Jesus as the Father says, “This is my Son.”

Some Christians have made the mistake of ignoring the Holy Spirit.

Other Christians have made the mistake of focusing too much on the Holy Spirit.

But Holy Spirit want us to be Christians, not Pneumians.

Not Holy Spiritists, but Followers of Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit is Jesus-Centered, and So Should We Be.

We should be Jesus-centered, too.

The Spirit of God will be eternally happy if we are eternally focused on Jesus Christ!

It was right for Jesus to be baptized, to identify with you and me.

And when Jesus went to the Cross, He was identifying with us yet again.

Jesus was taking our un-righteousness, and in the greatest exchange ever, He was giving us His perfect righteousness!

And to all who put their trust in Him and what He did on the Cross, they receive the  gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

And the Holy Spirit then continually shines His light on Jesus in our lives so that He gets the glory forever.

[For those who like to track things, I first preached a version of this message a decade ago in the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit series in 2008.]


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