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The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit
“The Difference Maker”
An old man was walking on the beach when he saw what he thought was someone dancing, but when he got closer he saw it was a young man reaching down and picking up something and gently throwing it in the ocean.
When asked what he was doing, the young man answered, “Throwing starfish in the ocean.” When the old man asked why, the young man replied, “The sun is up, and the tide has gone out, and if I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
The old man then told this young man of the futility of his efforts. “Don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach, and starfish are all along it. You can’t possibly make a difference.” After throwing another starfish into the ocean, the young man said, “It made a difference to that one.”
In God’s loving kindness and faithfulness, He reaches down and makes a difference in our lives. He did so by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, the second person of the Godhead, to this earth to die upon the cross for our sins. And for all of us who believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord, He sends the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead, to live inside us and empower our lives so that we can make a difference as well.
You see, that is who and what the Holy Spirit is, He is the difference maker.
After the death and resurrection of Jesus, a New Era was about to dawn within God’s people. Up to this point, they knew of the Spirit of God, knew of His power as He hovered over the earth after creation. They also knew of His power as He empowered them at various times and seasons to carry out God’s kingdom instructions. But He never stayed.
But now a New Era was about to dawn, one foreseen by the prophets, especially the last of the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist.
He said, “I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8 NKJV)
Later as Jesus was preparing His disciples for His departure He said that He would pray for the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever – the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:16-17a NKJV)
Notice Jesus said that this Helper was none other than the Holy Spirit who would abide with them forever, not coming down and then leaving when the job was done, and further teach them all things, guide them into all truth, and remind them of everything that Jesus had taught.
Now, this word, “another,” is a key to understanding the purpose and work of the Holy Spirit. In the Greek language there are two words for “another.” One is “hetros,” which means another of a different kind whose intent was generally evil, hence our word, “heterodoxy,” or false doctrine. The word that Jesus uses here, however, is “allos,” which is another of the same kind.
And so, when Jesus said that His departure was going to be a good thing, He wasn’t just trying to soothe over the hurt of His leaving, He literally meant it. You see, because of His death, not only do we experience the forgiveness of our sins, but also, Jesus would send to us the Holy Spirit, the 3rd person of the Godhead.
Jesus said, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” (John 16:7 NKJV)
A New Era for the people of God was about to dawn, and Jesus knew that it would start with them, that is, His disciples, and that the Holy Spirit would come and take His place within those who follow.
Therefore, right before He ascended into heaven Jesus said, “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49 NKJV)
This brings us to the very heart of our message, and that is, the Holy Spirit makes all the difference in the world, and in a believer’s life. Jesus had given the disciples, and for that matter you and I, an earth-quaking, world-shaking job, and that is to preach the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ to the world.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20a NKJV)
What is this good news? It’s about how God forgives our sins and transforms our lives where the old is past and everything is brand new. The good news is that we can be forgiven and where a brand new life is ours with Heaven as our eventual home once this life is over.
Yet, having told them to go and preach this good news, Jesus tells them not to go just yet. Therefore, there must have been a very compelling reason for His instructions to wait.
Now, in order to fully understand this Great Difference Maker, let’s first take a look at these disciples. No one less than Jesus Christ taught them. In a sense they had just graduated from the greatest Bible school in the world.
Further, these disciples had authority that very few people had ever experienced. Jesus told them to cast out demons, to heal the sick, and raise the dead back to life with the authority He gave them (Matthew 10:8).
But still, Jesus tells them to wait until they were endued with power, that is, clothed in and infused with a power that can demolish strongholds. Why do I say that? It’s because the word “power” Jesus uses is where we get our word for dynamite.
Now, up to this point they knew Jesus. They had been with him through thick and thin for three years. They saw Him crucified, and three day later resurrected. So they knew Him living, dead, and alive again.
In short, they were believers in whom the temple of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit resided. When Jesus told them to wait until they were endued with this power, they were already filled with the Holy Spirit.
But when? When did they become believers in Jesus with the Holy Spirit residing within them?
I believe they became believers, that is, Christians, only after Jesus’s death and resurrection, and only after they met the risen Jesus. When told to touch and feel Jesus for himself, Thomas, the doubter, said, “My Lord and My God.” A Jew doesn’t call anyone or anything God except God. And so to His disciples who came to belief after their encounter with Him after His resurrection, the Bible says that Jesus breathed on them. Look at this remarkable verse.
“And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22 NKNV)
When a person comes to belief in Jesus Christ, they receive the Holy Spirit. But here’s where it gets interesting; there still remains the issue of the promise that they were told to wait for, the promise of this earth shattering, world shaking power that had yet to be received. A power so great it would transform them into powerhouses for God.
This promise was the power of the Holy Spirit that was to enter into and possess them. It is this encounter with the Holy Spirit, this encounter with the very power of God that would be the difference maker in these disciple’s lives.
The promise was the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. It was the baptism of the Holy Spirit that they had not yet experienced, but Jesus had promised. Look at what Jesus told them.
“He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, ‘which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now’” (Acts 1:4-5 NKJV)
Jesus isn’t waking up some latent power within us; rather He wants to fill us with His divine power, the power of the Holy Spirit. And so what makes the difference in our lives is Holy Spirit power, a power that can move mountains, and even the hardest human heart.
Therefore, since this baptism of the Holy Spirit is the difference maker, and what difference do we see in these disciples’ lives as a result?
Their is a story about how late one night a wife found her husband standing over their child’s crib. As she watched him looking down at their first child she saw on his face a mixture of emotions: disbelief, doubt, delight, and amazement.
Touched by this unusual display and the deep emotions, she slipped her arm around her husband and said, “A penny for your thoughts?” And he replied, “I just can’t see how anyone can make a crib like this for just $46 bucks.”
Here lay one of the greatest miracles in God’s creation and all this father saw was the crib. He didn’t see what lay within, and this is true of much of the church today. We know of the promise, we see the workings of the Holy Spirit within the pages of the Bible, and we see God working all around us, but we miss the miracle that lies within.
Theologically we accept the idea that the Holy Spirit lives within us, but we miss out on the miracle of what the Holy Spirit can do within us, that God not only wants to fill our lives, but overflow us with the Difference Maker Himself.
From the book of Acts I’d like for us to look at seven things that the Holy Spirit did for these disciples, the difference He made in their lives.
Now, it’s not by chance I choose seven, because in the Scriptures, not only is seven the number of perfection, but it also is representative of the Holy Spirit, from the seven out workings of the Holy Spirit as found in Isaiah 2:2-3, to the Holy Spirit represented by seven Spirits before the throne of God in Revelation 1:4.
So, what are these seven differences the Holy Spirit makes.
1. A Consciousness of God’s Presence
They not only knew and loved Jesus, but after the Holy Spirit descended in power there was the illuminating knowledge of God’s presence with them. In other words, the light was turned on, and the veil was torn away and now they knew that nothing separated them from God, and that they were in immediate contact with heaven itself.
In Acts chapter six, we’re introduced to a young man by the name of Stephen who was chosen as one of the first seven deacons of the church. It says that Stephen with the others was a person of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit, and wisdom. But of Stephen it goes on to say that he was full of faith and power and did many great signs and wonders.
Well, the religious authority arrested Stephen on grounds of blasphemy. At his trial he gave a Spirit filled defense, and at the end he called them “stiff-necked and uncircumcised of heart.” It says that they were cut to the heart, that is, they were convicted to their very soul, and they became angry. Of Steven the Bible then says,
“Being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, ‘Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’” (Acts 7:55-56 NKJV)
At this the religious authorities flew into a rage and they took Stephen out and stoned him.
When we are endued with the power from above, with Holy Spirit power through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, a sense of God and of heaven will be upon us, and we’ll live with the knowledge and consciousness of God and heaven every day.
Only the Holy Spirit living within can impart and maintain that sense of divine presence. For those disciples it was as if a cloud had been rolled back and heaven became a visible reality.
2. They Received Holy Spirit Joy
Consider these two scenarios. The first involves Job. When he lost everything it says that he tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell to the ground and worshiped. Satan then afflicted him with boils from the top of his head to the soles of his feet, and he took a piece of pottery and scraped them to where they oozed puss all over, and then he sat himself in the midst of ashes, which was a sign of mourning.
Now consider the story of Paul and Silas. They were unjustly tried, their clothes ripped from their bodies and they were beaten with rods, which basically meant that they were beaten within an inch of their lives. They were thrown into prison where their feet were placed into stocks, making it extremely uncomfortable for them. Now look at what they did.
“But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God.” (Acts 16:25 NKJV)
These scenarios play themselves out every Sunday. People are praying for joy. Some work themselves up trying to get that joy, only to find joy eluding them once church is over. The difference is the difference maker Himself. You see, divine joy comes only from the Holy Spirit’s power alive in a believer’s life.
As I see it, as humans, we’re always trying to work up joy, and that’s because we’re basically unhappy. And so the joy of the Holy Spirit isn’t something that can be worked up on our part.
Rather, it is the joy we have knowing we have already died with Christ, and that we have likewise risen with Him in resurrection, and that death no longer has victory over us. And so we can sing for joy in the midst of our suffering, because that is power of the Holy Spirit within us.
3. The Power of Their Words
The power of their words penetrated every human heart that heard them speak. Words can either put us under conviction, or leave us cold and empty. The difference between the one and the other is the difference the Holy Spirit makes.
After the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Peter preached, and it says that those who were listening were cut to the heart, that is, their hardened hearts were pierced when they heard his words, much as the religious leaders when they heard the words of Stephen.
“When they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37 NKJV)
What I have found interesting is the word “cut to the heart” is a stronger word than the word that was used when the Roman soldier pierced Jesus’s side and up into His heart. What I believe this means is that the words spoken under Holy Spirit power goes further into the hearts of those who hear it than the spear went into the body of Jesus.
That is one of the workings of the Holy Spirit. He sharpens the point of human words to penetrate the heart right down into the soul and spirit of the person who is listening.
Lucy, from the Peanuts cartoon, said, “I would make a great evangelist.” Charlie Brown replied, “Is that so?” She said, “Yes, I convinced that boy in front of me in school that my religion is better than his religion.” And Charlie Brown asked, “Well, how did you do that?” And Lucy replies, “I hit him over the head with my lunch box.”
The power to change lives, however, doesn’t lie in any power we possess, no disrespect to Lucy’s lunch box. Rather it lies in the real difference maker Himself, the Holy Spirit.
The prophet Zechariah wrote, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the Lord of hosts.” (Zachariah 4:6 NKJV)
4. A Clear Sense of Reality
For this point I’d like to take us to one of the first church’s council meeting. A dispute had arisen as to not only if the Gentiles could be saved, but also would they be responsible to keep the Law of Moses, especially the law of circumcision.
Now, Peter stood up and said that by God giving the Gentile believers the Holy Spirit in the same way given at Pentecost, then truthfully, there was no difference between Jew or Gentile. And to make this official, this they wrote a letter to be passed out to the Gentile church.
They said, “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things.” (Acts 15:28 NKJV)
And they gave them a list of some basic things to abstain from, including sexual immorality. The Holy Spirit gave the counsel a clear sense of the reality of the situation, and how religion was trying to trump a personal loving relationship with Jesus.
5. A Separation Between Flesh and Spirit
Acts records for us an incident that occurred in the first church. It says that everyone shared what he or she had with those who were in need. One person in particular, Barnabus, sold a piece of land and brought the proceeds and gave it to the church. Seeing this, a couple named Ananias and Sapphira also sold some of their land, but they conspired to lie by saying that they were giving all of it to the church, when they were only giving a portion.
And here’s the kicker, and it was something Peter pointed out to them. They didn’t have to sell the land, and if they did sell it they could have given any portion of the proceeds they wanted, so why lie. And the point he made is that they weren’t lying to man, they were instead lying to God; that is, they were lying to the Holy Spirit.
Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit … You have not lied to men but to God.” (Acts 5:3a, 4b NKJV)
The Holy Spirit separates our spirit from our flesh, and reveals those things that we have hidden in the dark.
6. An Understanding of the Things of God
Before the gospel went to the Gentiles, the Lord had to get some things straight with the Apostles, and for that matter the church. To the first church, which was Jewish, Gentiles were considered unclean, but that was not God’s take, and so to get their attention, God revealed a vision to Peter of a net filled with all sorts of animals, both clean and unclean, and the Lord said to Peter, “Get up and eat.”
Now Peter, being Peter, disagreed with God and said that nothing unclean had ever passed his lips, to which God replied that in His eyes, nothing is unclean. Look at what He said,
“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15 NIV)
And then, wouldn’t you know it, some men sent by the Roman centurion, Cornelius, showed up at the door inviting Peter to come over to Cornelius’ house, which was a big no-no to Jews. But now the truth of God was being made known to Peter.
When the Holy Spirit comes, He takes the things of God and translates them into a language our hearts can understand. Even though we may not know the will of God in a certain situation, the Holy Spirit does and He prays for us.
“No one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God … For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (1 Corinthians 2:11b; Romans 8:26b NKJV)
And so we are encouraged by the Apostle Paul to be “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18a NKJV). Why? Because it’s only in and through the power of the Holy Spirit that we can even begin to understand the things and the will of God.
7. The Word of God Comes Alive
Peter’s sermon contained three direct references to God’s word, quoting from the prophet Joel and Psalms. All told, almost half of his sermon came directly from God’s word. Even in their prayers we see them praying the Scriptures.
Here’s the point, we cannot read and understand the Scriptures outside of the presence of the Holy Spirit residing within us, because it was the Holy Spirit who authored it.
The Apostle Paul says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16 NKJV)
When we speak, the Holy Spirit breathes out our words much as He breathed into those who wrote the Scriptures. They are God-breathed. Now, the word “breath” in both the Greek and Hebrew language is the word for spirit. This was the understanding of the first church as well, that it was the Holy Spirit that breathed out the word of God, that is, the Scriptures.
Peter said, “No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21 NKJV)
Before we close, I would like to relate to you about a small group of believers back in the early 1700s that made an earth shattering difference through waiting for this special anointing of the Holy Spirit, that which we know as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
The group was called the Moravians. In 1727 they waited and prepared their hearts, which resulted in what they called a visitation of the Holy Spirit similar to that which was recorded in the Bible on the day of Pentecost. From this event large numbers of missionaries went throughout the world and it was considered the first large-scale missionary movement.
One of these groups was aboard a ship heading to America. On board was also John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist denomination. On their way they ran into a storm that scared even the sailors. But Wesley found that this group of Moravian Christians was not afraid. They huddled together and sang hymns with faces shining. When asked about their behavior they said, “If the Lord wills to have us all drown, sudden death will be sudden glory.”
Wesley didn’t know what to make of this; it wasn’t anything that he had ever experienced. Afterwards after talking to a Moravian Christian, Wesley felt his heart warmed and he was filled with the Holy Spirit. And the rest is history.
I believe that much of the church today has lost this. We can explain everything, but the joy and the power that was evident in the first church, and in revivals afterwards seems to be missing.
And so, during our study on the person and work of the Holy Spirit, let’s take this time and wait upon Him, and let’s learn to love God and one another, and wait for the promise from on high, because that is the only thing that will make a difference in our lives, in our community, and in the world.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study