I heard an embarrassing but funny story, apparently true, about someone getting the wrong impression: A lady called Mrs Watson was about to step out of the shower when she realised there were no clean towels in the bathroom. Not unduly concerned (the house being empty) she walked naked downstairs to get a towel from the tumble drier, which was in the back porch, but she hadn’t managed to get a towel out of the machine when she heard the milkman coming up the porch steps. He always left the milk on the back step and so she quickly stepped inside a cupboard, incase he should look through the screen door and see her. As she stood waiting for him to leave, the cupboard door was suddenly flung open, and standing infront of her was the gas meter reader! In her embarrassment she blurted out, “Aarrgghh! I thought you were the milkman!”

A case of mistaken identity giving the wrong impression!

‘Many people know a certain amount about God the Father and Jesus the Son but for a long time in the Church the person and work of the Holy Spirit was ignored, misunderstood, resisted. Some older translations of the Bible speak of the ‘Holy Ghost’ and this can make him seem a little frightening and give the wrong impression! The Holy Spirit is not a ghost but a Person – He is a person not an ‘it’. The Holy Spirit has all the characteristics of personhood. He thinks (Acts 15:28), He speaks, through the Scriptures (Acts 1:16), He leads (Romans 8:14) and can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30). He is sometimes described as the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9) or the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7). He is the way that Jesus is present with his people.’ Citation Would you like to know the presence of the Holy Spirit?

Robbie Williams, the pop star, once went on a shopping spree in Los Angeles. He bought seven cars, including a brand new Ferrari, a brand new Porsche and a brand new Mercedes. Within a week he wished he had not bought any of them. I admire Robbie Williams’ openness about himself. He is ruthlessly honest about his self-obsession and addictions. In his song, Feel, he sings:

I just want to feel real love…
There’s a hole in my soul
You can see it in my face
It’s a real big place.

God implants this desire ‘to feel real love’ in humanity. This ‘hole in my soul’ is common to all human beings. It cannot be filled by cars, wealth, success or drugs. It is a God-shaped hole. It is a spiritual hunger and thirst. Jesus said that if we come to him and drink, he will satisfy this spiritual thirst by giving us the Holy Spirit to live within us (John 7:37). Citation

I remember my own search to fill the God-shaped hole in my soul. Nearly twenty-seven years ago, Suzanne and I joined an explorer’s course (similar to Alpha) so that we could investigate the Christian faith for ourselves. On that course there was a man named Roy who had recently become a Christian and had been filled with the Holy Spirit. I noticed him immediately, the first week, because there was something about him; something about his face; a glow that radiated joy, and a peace that was somehow magnetic. Roy and I ended up becoming close friends and later business partners. But I remember at the beginning of the course the leader asking each of us what we were hoping to find or gain by attending the course. When it was my turn I pointed across at Roy, the smiley man in the corner on the room, and said, “I want what he has.” At the time I wasn’t able to articulate ‘what it was that he had’ other than, maybe, a knowledge and love for God. But in my heart of hearts I wanted to know the same joy, peace, forgiveness and acceptance that my friend had. I wanted to receive the Holy Spirit. Sometime later, both Suzanne and I did receive the Holy Spirit and our lives changed forever as a result. Maybe you’ve already experienced something of the Holy Spirit in your life.

In this session we are going to be looking at: Who is the Holy Spirit?

In Scripture the Holy Spirit is sometimes described like a dove. And like a dove the Holy Spirit is sensitive. I heard R.T. Kendall relate the story of ‘a British couple sent by their church to be missionaries in Israel some years ago. They were given a home to live in near Jerusalem. After being there a few weeks, they noticed that a dove had come to live in the eaves of their roof in their home. They were thrilled. But they also noticed that the dove would fly away every time they would slam a door or get into an argument with each other.

“How do you feel about the dove?” the husband asked his wife.

“It is like a seal from the Lord on our being in Israel,” she replied.

“But have you noticed that every time we slam a door or start shouting at each other, the dove flies away?”

“Yes, and I am so afraid the dove will fly away and not come back,” she said.

“Either the dove adjusts to us, or we adjust to the dove,” the man concluded.

They both knew that the dove was not going to adjust to them. They mutually agreed: they would adjust to the dove. That decision changed their lives. Just to keep a bird at their home!

The dove is a shy sensitive bird. But the Holy Spirit, depicted as a dove in each on the four Gospels is a thousand times more sensitive than a turtle dove.

You may already know what it is like for the Holy Spirit to come down on you. The problem is He doesn’t stay. He doesn’t remain. He apparently flies away. When the Holy Spirit comes down on you there is nothing like it in the world. The peace. The joy. You want time to stop. (…) But the sense of His presence doesn’t seem to last. It is not that the Holy Spirit leaves us. He doesn’t. [When you become a Christian you receive the Holy Spirit and] Jesus promised that He would abide forever (John 14:16). So let’s be clear about this: the Holy Spirit never leaves us. The Dove illustration is a metaphor: the Dove only seems to fly away. He seems to lift. It is therefore the sense of God that appears to lift from us. (…) When the Dove lifts – although the Spirit never leaves you, the anointing diminishes. That is, the sense of His presence is gone Citation … for the time being, at least.

So who is the Holy Spirit? In this session I am going to give you a kind of CV of the Holy Spirit from the Bible. Let me start by simply saying that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity.

1. He Was Involved in Creation

In the very opening verses of the Bible, in Genesis 1v1-2 we read: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty. Darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” – Here we see God the Holy Spirit hovering over the waters…

I love the tale of the little boy in Sunday club who was asked to read those verses aloud, but he made a mistake and got one of the words wrong: He said, ‘In the beginning… the Spirit of God was hoovering over the waters!’ (Can you imagine… the Holy Spirit vacuuming…Vroom!)

‘We see in the account of creation how the Spirit of God causes new things to come into being and brought order out of chaos. He is the same Spirit today. He often brings new things into people’s lives and into churches. He brings order and peace into chaotic lives, freeing people from harmful habits and addictions and from the confusion and mess of broken relationships.’ Citation

When God created humankind from the dust of the ground He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). This is a beautiful picture of intimacy – the first ever kiss of life. The Hebrew word for breath here is ruach, which is also the word for ‘Spirit’. The ruach of God, the Spirit of God, brings life. In the Old Testament, He, the Holy Spirit…

2. Came Upon Particular People at Particular Times for Particular Tasks

‘When the Holy Spirit comes upon people something happens. He doesn’t just bring a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling. He comes for a purpose’, and on p.46 in your red Alpha manuals there are some examples of this. He filled people for artistic work. The Spirit of God filled a man called Bezalel ‘with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills – to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts (Exodus 31:3-5). It is possible to be a talented musician, writer or artist without being filled with Spirit. But when the Spirit of God fills people for these tasks their work often takes on a different dimension. It has a different effect on others. It has a far greater spiritual impact. Hearts can be touched and lives changed.’ Citation There’s a poem that captures something on this, it’s called The Touch of The Master’s Hand written by Myra Welch:

’Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
But held it up with a smile.
“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried,
“Who’ll start the bidding for me?”
“A dollar, a dollar,” then, two! “Only two?”
“Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?”
“Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;
Going for three…” But no,
From the room, far back, a grey-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then, wiping the dust from the old violin,
And tightening the loose strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet
As a carolling angel sings.
The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said: “What am I bid for the old violin?”
And he held it up with the bow.
“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?
Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?
Three thousand, once; three thousand, twice;
And going and gone,” said he.
The people cheered, but some of them cried,
“We do not quite understand
What changed it’s worth?” Swift came the reply:
“The touch of the Master’s hand.”

Again, when the Holy Spirit comes upon people something happens, and their work often takes on a different dimension. ‘Gideon was very conscious of his own weakness but when the Spirit of God came upon Gideon (Judges 6v34) he became one of the most remarkable leaders in the Old Testament. The story of Samson is well-known. On one occasion the Philistines tied him up binding him with ropes. Then, ‘The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands’ (Judges 15v14). Later on we see how the Spirit of God came upon prophet Isaiah to enable him ‘to proclaim good news to the poor… to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners… and to comfort all who mourn’ (Isaiah 61:1-3).

3. The Holy Spirit Was Promised By God The Father

‘So we see a few examples of the work of the Holy Spirit in the OT. But the Spirit’s activity was limited to particular people at particular times for particular tasks. However, as we go through the Old Testament we find that God promises that He is going to do something new.

In the Old Testament God made a covenant with his people. He said that he would be their God and that they would be his people. He required that they should keep his laws. Sadly, the people found that they were unable to keep his commands. The Old Covenant was consistently broken [and sacrifices were continually made to atone for people’s sins].

God promised that one day he would make a new covenant with his people. This covenant would be different from the first covenant. Quote: ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant… ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people… they will all know me’ (Jeremiah 31:31-34). In other words, under the New Covenant the law would be internal rather than external.

If you go on a long hike, you start off by carrying your provisions on your back. They weigh you down and slow you up. But when you have eaten them, not only has the weight gone but you also have new energy coming from the inside. What God promised through Jeremiah was a time when the law would no longer be a weight on the outside but would become a source of energy from inside. How was this going to happen?

Ezekiel gives us the answer. He was a prophet, and God spoke through him, elaborating on the earlier promise. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

God was saying through the prophet Ezekiel that this is what will happen when God puts his Spirit within us. This is how he will change our hearts and make them soft (‘hearts of flesh’) rather than hard (‘hearts of stone’). The Spirit of God will move us to follow his decrees and keep his laws.

Another prophet, Joel, tells us who this is going to happen to. God says through Joel: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28-29). Joel is foretelling that the promise will no longer be reserved for particular people at particular times for particular tasks, but it will be for all. God will pour out his Spirit on all of his people.

Yet all these promises remained unfulfilled for hundreds of years, until… at the coming of Jesus there was a burst of activity of the Spirit of God.’ Citation

John the Baptist – the forerunner, sent to prepare the way for the coming of Christ – was ‘filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born’ (Luke 1:15). Mary, the mother of Jesus, was promised: ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you’ (Luke 1:35). When Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin came into the presence of Jesus, even though he was still in his mother’s womb, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41). Even Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:67).

4. John The Baptist Links The Holy Spirit With Jesus

When John was calling for repentance and baptising people in the River Jordan, people wondered if he was the Messiah. In response John said: “I baptise you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16).

The water of baptism symbolises the washing away of sin and our being forgiven and made clean by turning to Christ. Baptism with water is very important – Jesus commanded us to do it – but baptism with water is not enough by itself. We need to repent and believe. We need to receive Jesus as Lord and follow him. Jesus is the Spirit baptiser; the one who baptises with the Holy Spirit and with fire. In Greek the word is ‘baptidzo’ which literally means to overwhelm, immerse, to plunge or drench.

Are you parched, thirsty for God? Are you hollow? Do you want to be filled? Sometimes, hollow people pretend everything is okay; sometimes they kid themselves and others that they are something really they are not. Like the very large man who stepped on some public weighing scales, not realising they were out of order. He put his coin into the machine and watched the dial spin round to 32 kilos (5 stones) and then stop. The next person in the queue smiled and said, “You must be hollow!” Some people are like that; they pretend they are okay on the outside and in appearance everything seems fine, but on the inside they’re hollow spiritually; they’re running on empty! In the words of Robbie Williams song again, ‘there is a hole in their soul… they just want to feel real love’ [God’s love].

Now let me ask you this: Do you suppose God wants us to be hollow or filled with His Spirit? And do you suppose God wants us to be partially filled or fully filled to overflowing? God intended for the Holy Spirit to be extremely active in believer’s lives. He wants us to be filled with the Spirit, filled to overflowing, and to continue being filled, or topped up if you like. Nicky Gumbel, pioneer of the Alpha course, maintains that all Christians should be completely overwhelmed by, immersed in and plunged into the Spirit of God. He likens the experience to sometimes being like a hard dry sponge dropped into water. There can be a hardness in our lives, which stops us absorbing the Spirit of God. It may take some time for the initial hardness to wear off and for the sponge to be filled. You see, it is one thing for the sponge to be in the water (baptised), it’s quite another for the water to be in the sponge (filled with the Holy Spirit). But when the sponge is filled, the water literally pours out from it. It is the same with a Spirit filled Christian; the presence of God literally flows out from them, just like it did out of Jesus.

‘Jesus was a man completely filled with the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God descended on him in bodily form at his baptism (Luke 3:22). He returned from the Jordan ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ and was ‘led by the Spirit into the desert’ (Luke 4:1). He returned to Galilee ‘in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14). In the synagogue in Nazareth he read the lesson from Isaiah 61v1, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me…’ and said: ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ (v21).’ Citation
The same Holy Spirit is available to us today. Jesus foretold the coming of the Spirit being poured out on believers.

Jesus Predicts His Presence

On one occasion Jesus went to a Jewish feast called the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths) – which commemorated the time of the Exodus, when Israel lived in tents or cubicles – and… “on the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them’” (John 7:37-38). Jesus was saying that the promises of Ezekiel and Joel and others would not be fulfilled in a place, but in all believers and through the person of the Holy Spirit. Believers will be filled with the Holy Spirit and it will be like streams or rivers of living water will flow from within them and out from them.

At the end of Luke’s Gospel Jesus said to the disciples, ‘You are my witnesses… I am going to send you what my Father has promised [the Holy Spirit], but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high’ (Luke 24:48–49).

And again at the beginning of Acts, just before he ascended to heaven, Jesus promised, ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you (Acts 1:8). Ten days later, at Pentecost (Jewish thanksgiving festival for harvest), the outpouring of Holy Spirit happened. We read, Acts 2v2-4: ‘Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All [the believers] were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.’ I want to say three things here:

  • Firstly, the breath or wind is a symbol of the Spirit of God: When God created man from the dust of the ground He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7); in the Valley of Dry Bones, in Ezekiel God says: “Come from the four winds O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live” (37v9); and when Nicodemus didn’t understand about being born again, Jesus said, “The wind blows where 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,” (John 3v8). At Pentecost, the ‘sound like the blowing of a violent wind that came from heaven’ was the breath or ruach of God, the coming of the Holy Spirit. The biblical description here, reminds me of being on the platform on the London Underground, at a tube station, and that noise you get at the sound of an approaching train in the tunnel. You can hear it and sense its powerful impending arrival, even though you can’t see it yet.
  • Secondly, the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was marked by visible fire. ‘This is the fire of the burning bush that does not consume… The infilling of the Holy Spirit means that believers become holy ground.’ Fire symbolises God’s purifying presence, which burns away the undesirable elements of our lives and sets our hearts aflame to ignite the lives of others. Fire warms and comforts us, so does the Holy Spirit. Fire provides power – think of a locomotive (a massive chunk of metal) powered by steam – the Holy Spirit empowers us. Fire cleanses and purifies; Fire gives light to see; Fire is attractive – so is the Holy Spirit.
  • Thirdly: “All the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” ‘These people literally spoke in other languages they had never learned – a miraculous attention-grabber for the international crowd gathered in Jerusalem for the feast. All the nationalities represented recognised their own languages being spoken.’ Utterly amazed (v7), they heard them ‘declaring the wonders of God in their own tongues!” (v11). ‘One of the reasons for this gift of tongues was to let people know that the gospel was for the whole world. God wants to speak to every person in their own native language, giving them the message of salvation in Jesus Christ.’ – ‘The diversity of languages around the world isn’t a blessing! From the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), we know that God punished proud humanity by giving people different languages. God marked the arrival of his Spirit at Pentecost with a temporary reversal of the curse of Babel, and this example of speaking in other tongues showed them, and us, what their role was to be… communicating the gospel all around the world.’

‘It had happened. The promise of the Father had been fulfilled. The crowd was amazed and mystified. Peter stood up and explained what had occurred. He looked back to the promises of God in the Old Testament and explained how all their hopes and aspirations were now being fulfilled before their eyes. He explained that Jesus had ‘poured out what you now see and hear’ (Acts 2:23). When the crowd asked what they need to do, Peter told them: ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call’ (Acts 2:38-39). We are told about 3000 were added to their number that day (v41). – Every single Christian receives the promise of the Spirit. It is no longer for particular people at particular times for particular tasks.’ Citation

When we become a Christian we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is a part of God’s free salvation gift pack. That’s what we are going to look at next session.