Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pentecost

Today, as last week, we're going to look at one of God's works of redemption. Last week it was Jesus' ascension into heaven. Today, it's going to be the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost. And that's appropriate since today is Pentecost Sunday. As last week, the goal is for us to remember. It is as we remember the great works of God, especially His works of redemption, that we are able to live well. That really is an important goal - not just to get by, but to live well. And the Gospel gives us the resources to do exactly that.

Before we look at what Pentecost is about, we're going to look at what it's not about. Pentecost was not the first time that the Spirit showed up on the scene. Just as God, the Son, was busy before His coming in the Incarnation, God, the Spirit, was busy before His coming at Pentecost. The Old Testament is filled with things that that Spirit did. What was special about Pentecost is that the Spirit began to do some new things. That's what Pentecost is about, the Spirit doing some new things.

The obvious question to ask here is simply this. What new things did the Spirit begin to do? There are several. Through Jeremiah God described one of those new things. 

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Jeremiah 31:33

Let's take a look at what Jeremiah wrote. Through the millennia God has dealt with His people by means of a series of covenants, each one building on the one that went before. When we get back to Genesis we’re going to read about covenants that God made in Noah’s and Abraham’s day. Then, there are also the covenants that God made in the time of Moses and of David. A few centuries after David, God, through Jeremiah, spoke about one more covenant, the last one. He was going to make a new covenant in the days to come. This explains what Jesus meant when He said,

This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

What Jeremiah prophesied, Jesus fulfilled. God deals with His people today by means of this new covenant.

Now, there are several important things associated with this new covenant, but Jeremiah wrote about just one.

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.

This is new. Before this, the law was something written in a book. But that changes in the new covenant. It's one of the blessings of the Gospel that Jesus brought. This writing the law on the heart is an aspect of redemption that the Spirit does. The Father plans redemption, and the Son carries out that plan. But it is the Spirit who applies the benefits of that plan to the people of God. The Spirit writes God's law on the heart of every saint. It's an aspect of the new covenant God has with His people today.

Now, let's take a look at this law.

First, of course, a definition. The law of God is often presented as a list of rules that we had better obey - or else. But that's not what it is at all. The Hebrew word translated as 'law' is the word 'torah'. There are several aspects to the word. One basic aspect has to do with instruction. Here's one place in Proverbs that this word 'torah' shows up.

The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.

Where's 'torah' here? It's translated here by the word 'teaching'. That doesn't sound like a list of threatening rules, does it? In fact, it sounds rather positive. Torah here is about someone wise teaching others how to live well. Heeding this 'torah', this teaching, leads a person away from death and toward life. And that captures the point I want to make. God's law is His instruction on how to live well. God's law is a blessing.

Now, let's consider a common objection to the use of the law. I'm sure that you've encountered some who understand Paul's statement, 'you are not under law but under grace', to mean that God's law no longer applies to us. We can ignore it. But that can't be right. Paul must have meant something else. According to what we read in Jeremiah, God's law is a blessing of the new covenant for the people of God. It's a blessing for us today. And what a blessing. Can you imagine what it would be like to try to live well without God's instruction? God's law is the fountain of life.

Now, to be sure when you look at all of God's law in the Scriptures there are certain aspects of it that were tied to particular covenants. And, as a result, those particular aspects aren't for us. So, we no longer offer animal sacrifices as the covenant made in Moses' day required. But we still hold the part of the law of that covenant that talks about only worshiping the one true God. Some parts of each of the covenants are temporary. That's true even of the new covenant. And we know which parts are still in effect and which aren't because the Scriptures tell us. Most of God's instruction that was given to the people of God before Pentecost still applies to us. It is still

… a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.

But one big difference between God's instruction given before Pentecost and that given after is this. The Spirit has come so that this instruction is no longer just written in a book. Now, it's written on our hearts. 

So, we’ve looked at God’s new covenant, and how the Spirit will do something new with the law in this new covenant and how the law is a blessing. Now, we're ready to think about what it means to have the law written on our hearts. Bear in mind that the heart is all about who you are down deep. The heart is about the mind, the will and the affections. Or to say that differently, it's about how you think, how you choose and what you love. And because of the work of the Spirit, the heart of every Christian has been changed when it comes to thinking, choosing and loving. This is a profound change. God's law, His instruction, is no longer merely over there in a book. It has become a part of who you are. And it has changed you.

To understand this change, consider how Paul has described the heart of an unbeliever, someone without the law written on the heart.

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

One fundamental difference between people who are Christians and those who are not has to do with the state of the heart. In the depths of their being, where they think and choose and love, unbelievers hate God, are hostile to Him. But that is just not true of the Christian. God's instruction is a part of who we are. As a result, we heed that instruction and enjoy the life of God and avoid the snares of death. The Spirit has done something in us that makes a huge difference in who we are.

Now, don't misunderstand. This doesn't mean that following God's instructions is easy. Sadly, there are still other things that also reside in our hearts, things that mislead and confuse. Paul wrote about that too.

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 

There are battles in our hearts. We want to obey God's law, but as Paul wrote, the flesh, our sinful nature, fights against that. It tries to keep us from obeying God's law. It's quite a tussle at times. But still, this is so much better than what goes on in the hearts of those who do not belong to Jesus. For them it's just a choice between this evil or that evil. They will never obey God's instruction on how to live well, unless the Spirit does to them what He has done to us, unless the Spirit writes the law on their hearts.

I realize that I have thrown a lot at you this morning. I've talked about God's plan of redemption, and what each Person of the Trinity does in that redemption; about God's covenants with His people, especially the new covenant; about the law of God, what it is and isn't; about the work of the Spirit in changing your heart - mind, will and affections, and about some other things, too. That's quite a bit. So, what are you supposed to get from all of that?

Here's one thing. I want you to understand who you are. You are not like everyone else. You are a Christian. And that means that Jesus is very busy making you fully human. Today, I've spent time on one aspect of that work of His. Jesus has sent the Spirit to you to do what He has done to all God's people since Pentecost. Jesus has sent the Spirit to change your heart. God's law, His instruction on how to live well, has been written there. And now, unlike all of the people you know who aren't Christians, you want to live the way God wants you to live. This is a fact, a fact of the Gospel. You want to live the way God wants you to live. To be sure, there are still battles to fight because there is still sin within you. And yes, you're going to lose some of those battles. In fact, you've already lost some. But there are also battles you have won. And there will be many more that you will win. In fact, even though you will lose still some more battles, you are sure to win the war.

I know why Christians say, 'I am just a sinner saved by grace'. There is a precious truth there. But I'm thinking that Christians also need to say, 'I am one of God's holy saints who loves to obey His instructions on how to live well'. And thinking this way makes a difference. So, what will you say to yourself the next time you blow it? Will it be, 'What a jerk! How stupid can you be!' and other words that make you feel worthless? Or will it be, 'Okay, I lost that battle. But I'm going to work hard to win the next one. And I know that I can win the next one because the Spirit has changed me'? 

So, who are you? You are a Christian. You are a warrior who is battling away. You are a conqueror over the works of the flesh that war against your soul. And you're going to win this. This is the kind of attitude that you need when that little voice tells you that you are just another loser who should just quit. Do not listen to it. Remember who you are. Remember God's plan of redemption, that plan that includes the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost. Remember the Gospel and fight on.

No comments: