Monday, December 5, 2016

God Provided His Spirit

By now, we are getting used to the pattern.  Israel walks with the LORD and things go well for them.  Israel stops walking with the LORD and things start going badly again.

Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, so the LORD delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years. (Judges 13:1 NIV)

Once again, the Israelites needed a savior. God provided.

A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was childless, unable to give birth. The angel of the LORD appeared to her and said, "You are barren and childless, but you are going to become pregnant and give birth to a son. Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean. You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb. He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines." (Judges 13:2-5 NIV)

Much like the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac, the LORD sends a messenger to tell a barren woman that she will give birth to a son.  That son will be set apart, dedicated in a special way to the LORD, even from the time of conception. (See Numbers 6:1-21 for details about Nazirite vows.)  They needed a savior, and God provided.

The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the LORD blessed him, and the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol. (Judges 13:24-25 NIV)

It’s easy to miss what God is providing here.  In fact, we often misunderstand the point of the story.  We tell the story of Samson and talk about him as the hero of the story.  But Samson is not the hero here.  God is.  When the people needed a savior, God provided…His Spirit.  Read Judges 13:24-25 again.  What did it say?  “…the Spirit of the LORD began to stir in him…”  God provided His Spirit to save the Israelites.  The same is true for us today.

When God gave His Spirit in Old Testament and Gospel times, The Spirit was given to specific people at specific times to accomplish specific tasks. God gave His Spirit to Moses and seventy of Israel’s elders (Numbers 11:16-17) to lead Israel well.  God gave His Spirit to Bezalel son of Uri, and other workers (Exodus 31:3, 35:31) to build the Tabernacle where God would meet with His people.  The Spirit worked in and through every prophet to speak the Words of God to His People, including the prophetic words we have captured in the pages of Scripture (2 Peter 1:20-21).  And, as we see here, God provides His Spirit to the Judges to rise up and lead the Israelites to victory against their oppressors.  God provided His Spirit to save them.

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7 NIV)

The same is true for us today.  You see, God provided His Spirit in very specific circumstances before Jesus died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven.  Once he had completed these pieces of the Father’s plan, though, everything changed.  On the day of Pentecost following his ascension, we saw this change in action.

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 of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:1-4 NIV)

The twelve Apostles (Mathias had replaced Judas Iscariot by now), were given the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This followed the pattern from before.  Specific people were given God’s Spirit for a specific purpose.  They were supposed to preach that day.  They needed to share the Good News (Gospel) that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), the Son of God and the salvation of our souls.  His death provided the way for our eternal life.  When they preached, God gave them the power to speak in different languages.  This was important because their audience was filled with people visiting from out of town.  They all spoke different languages.  The Holy Spirit gave the Apostles the ability to speak to these visitors in their own native tongue.  They preached sermons like the one Peter delivered, which we have captured in the pages of Scripture.

"'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' (Acts 2:17-21 NIV)

This part of Peter’s sermon is actually quoting the prophet, Joel (2:28-32).  Peter was telling everyone, then and now, that this prophecy was being fulfilled that day.  Notice the change in God’s strategy for distributing His Spirit.  All people – men and women, young and old, rich and poor, will be offered the Holy Spirit of God.  God does not limit His Spirit to specific people at specific times for specific purposes any more.  Now, His Spirit is offered to everyone.  This new era began on that day of Pentecost, two millennium ago.

"Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah." When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:36-37 NIV)

The people listening that day believed what the Apostles were preaching: Jesus is the Messiah (Christ), the Son of God.  Jesus is God’s solution to our problems.  Through Jesus, we can be saved.  So, they asked what they must do to accept God’s gift of Grace through Jesus.  Peter told them.

Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, 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 NIV)

When we read this passage, we often miss the whole picture.  You see, we think “What must I do to be saved” is talking about fire insurance.  We want to be saved from the fires of Hell and get to go to Heaven someday.  While this is a piece of what they are talking about here, it is only a piece.  I would even go so far as to say it is the smaller piece in some ways.  That’s because the solution has two parts.  Yes, we receive forgiveness for our sins.  That is the “fire insurance.”  But we also receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This combined gift (forgiveness AND Holy Spirit) is promised to all of us.  The promise is passed down from generation to generation through our children.  The promised is expanded to all people groups as we go “far off” and share the Gospel with them as well.  God promises to give forgiveness and His Spirit to everyone who wants it.  This is the promise.  This two-package gift is given to us so that we might be saved, but not just in the way we often think.

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:40-41 NIV)

God’s Grace (two-package gift) is given to us so we can save ourselves from this present generation.  In other words, it is given to help us be saved here, today, and now; not just there, in the future, when we get to heaven.  God sent His Son to provide forgiveness for our sins.  God sent His Spirit to empower us for today.

So, how about you?  Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the living God?  Have you asked Him to be your Lord and Savior?  Did you repent, being baptized in water for the forgiveness of your sins and to receive the Holy Spirit?  Are you empowered by the very Spirit of God?