Last Sunday we spoke of the receiving and filling of God’s gift of His Holy Spirit. Whenever God gives a gift, the gift reflects the giver. His gifts are huge, they are extravagant, they are generous, they are over the top, they are the best. They are what you would expect from someone like God. For centuries before Christ God’s Spirit was only given to a few people and sometimes only at special times. His Spirit would come and go. For centuries the presence of God Himself was localized in the Temple, in the Holy of Holies at the mercy seat over the Ark of the Covenant between the two seraphim. Then Jesus came. In Him dwelt the fullness of God in human form, the Immanuel, God with us. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. After Jesus, the Father and the Son sent the promised Holy Spirit. The Temple was no more. Each believer became the temple of the Holy Spirit, the dwelling place of God. This indwelling of this great gift has huge effects. By the Holy Spirit we are raised from the dead and born again into new life. By the Holy Spirit we are united with Jesus Christ and seated with Him in the heavenly places. By Him we are filled with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, we are given power and victory over sin and temptation. By Him we are sanctified so that the good work that was begun in us is brought to completion. By Him we are enlarged in our ability to love God, to live and walk by faith, to forgive and serve others, to die to ourselves, and take risks for the sake of the kingdom. By the Holy Spirit we are sealed for the great day of redemption.
My plan last week was to move on to Belgic Confession, Article 10 and how Jesus is God. But the more I thought about it the more I realized we have to say something very important about God the Father. Something that must be said now days more than ever, something that is being lost, neglected, denied, something considered politically incorrect and out of fashion. We need to stop and take time to carefully understand the question of God’s gender. Is God male or female or both or neither? How are we to understand all the masculine pronouns and images used in Scripture concerning God? What is God or more to the point, who is God? And is God a He? Article One of the Belgic Confession begins by describing God with a list of attributes. These attributes tells us what God is like. It’s interesting and strange that it isn’t until Article Eight that we find out who God is. Why do we start our studies of the Doctrine of God by answering the “what” questions before we answer the “who” question? Why do we start with a bunch of parts before considering the whole? The “who” questions is the more central question. When God decided to reveal Himself to mankind, and make Himself known, He did so in very specific and very intentional ways. If we just talk about attributes and characteristics that can come off as generic. Our God is not a generic God. We must be clear who He is. We must begin with God the Father, the divine source of everything. “The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son” (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 2, Article 3). For about four decades now feminists and evangelicals alike have been trying to neuter God. There is a powerful movement to eliminate all masculine references, pronouns, images and roles of God in the Bible and in our liturgy and music and writing. We now have neutered Bibles (called gender neutral), we have neutered hymnals, we have pastors who speak very carefully of Gods-self, never saying Himself. We have women pastors changing the Trinitarian formula, in the name of balance and inclusivity, they say. Our Christian and Reformed colleges and seminaries are being neutered, term papers and tests must use gender-neutral PC language, sermons most be preached using inclusive language, mixing masculine and feminine terms, names and pronouns. If you think what I am talking about isn’t very relevant to us here in Lynden let me give you two quick examples. A member of our church came up to me just this morning while I was eating my fourth cookie and told me about a service she had just been to where the women worship leader started the Lord’s Prayer with “Our Creator in heaven.” Furthermore, we sang a hymn this morning from the Psalter Hymnal that changed one line from “Though the eye of sinful man they glory may not see” to “Though the eye made blind by sin they glory may not see.”
We often quote from Heidelberg Catechism Question one, “Christ, by His Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.” I want to show this morning from Scripture there is a difference between receiving the Holy Spirit and being filled with the Holy Spirit; that there’s much more to the Spirit’s work and power than just conversion. He brings us to eternal life and He empowers us to live holy lives. We have all been taught that at conversion we receive the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. That is true and very important to know and understand. Let me remind you of this from Scripture.
On Monday Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to the triumphant cheers of a great crowd. On Tuesday Jesus came into the massive Court of the Gentiles at the Temple and threw over tables and chased out those who had turned the House of Prayer into a den of robbers. Today is Wednesday and Jesus returns to the same Court of the Gentiles and as the other Gospel writers tell us Jesus walked through the Temple area teaching and preaching the Gospel, the Gospel of repentance of sin and the righteousness and judgment of God (John 16:8-11). The Temple and all the religious life of the Jewish people were under the authority of the Great Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court, the most powerful ruling body in Israel, made up of the chiefs, scribes and elders. These men were revered. They had been ordained and set apart from the rest of the people. They could trace their lineage all the way back to Aaron, the first priest. The Sanhedrin’s roots went back to the 70 elders that Moses put in place to help him rule the people of God. In the most authoritative place, the Temple, and before the most authoritative body in Israel, the Sanhedrin, Jesus was challenged concerning His own authority.
The news this past week has been filled with the story of three women kidnapped and held captive in a house in Cleveland. Ten years and they only left the house once or twice. Isolated from friends and family, from each other and from the outside world. It sounds like our worst nightmare. Have you ever had the experience of being alone, I mean absolutely alone for an extended period of time, like days or a week? No one to talk to, no one around to touch, no human contact. Our son Reed is in Yosemite National Park this week on an outdoor wilderness training adventure. Part of the training requires a three day solo camping experience, totally alone with no food, just water. He told us he is not looking forward to that part of the training, in fact it terrifies him. He has to face his fears and the experience of being totally alone. I recall a very short isolation when traveling alone in Italy for just three days before meeting up with some college friends. Three days alone in a foreign country unable to speak the language. It was an impacting experience of how important human contact and communication are to us. In the movie Castaway, the star Tom Hanks finds himself marooned on a south pacific island by himself for four years. It’s an interesting portrayal of a man absolutely isolated and how he struggles to maintain mental and emotional sanity in utter loneliness. Can any of us even begin to fathom four years alone on an island? Four years of no conversation, four years of no human interaction, no TV, cell phones, texting or Facebook? If I say “God is ________ blank,” what’s the first word that comes into most people’s minds? Love. God is love. Now consider this. What was it like for God for millions of years of eternity before He created the earth and mankind? Millions and millions and millions of years alone, as if on a deserted island, living in a deserted universe. To say that God is love makes no sense for all of those millions and millions of years if God was alone and had no one with whom to give and receive love, no one to communicate with and to express love. In order for God to be love, in the Godhead there must be a diversity in the unity, an ability to love and be loved, to give and receive and share love.
We come this evening to the final of five articles in the Belgic Confession that deal with Scripture. We have studied the inspiration of Scripture, the Canon, the Apocrypha, the authority of Scripture and tonight the sufficiency of Scripture. No other doctrine receives this much attention in the Confession. This tells you how central this doctrine is to our faith and to everything else we believe. This also tells us how central the doctrine of Scripture is to our Reformed faith. Reformed theology is profoundly Bible centered and Biblically grounded. We have to get the foundation right.
You can tell a lot about a nation or a religion by what they worship and where they worship. The Temple in Israel was the very heart and center of all Jewish worship and religion. It represented that place where God met with man. The large outer court that surrounds the Temple was called the Court of the Gentiles. It covered nearly thirty five acres. It was the court where Gentiles were allowed to enter to pray and worship the one true God. The Gentiles who came to worship Israel’s God were sometimes called God-fearers, people like the Ethiopian Eunuch or the Roman Centurion whose servant Jesus healed. The temple was supposed to be a house of prayer for all nations. This court had become filled with stockyards of bulls, sheep, goats, and birds, a veritable petting zoo of merchants buying and selling, banks exchanging money, the equivalent of ATMs. The volume of trade going on was staggering and this was Passover. The Jewish historian Josephus recorded that in 65AD over a quarter of a million lambs were slaughter at the Temple. The amount of people and animals must have been deafening.