THE POWERFUL IMPACT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Dear friends in Christ,
The days in which we live are unsettling. The Head of Homeland Security said this week that if everyone knew what he knows, he doubted if anyone would leave their homes. How disgusting that a young man in his early twenties dresses himself up and becomes a living bomb. Now England is burying 22 of her citizens all because they attended a concert. That’s followed by an attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt headed to a monastery to pray. 29 are dead, ten of whom were children. The world is living on edge. The new French prime minister says that this is the new norm. I suppose it is the new norm, but I pray we never get accustomed to it and not fight it with every fiber of our being.
The sixties were pretty raucous too. Bombs were thrown into black churches and many young people were slaughtered almost daily. There were violent riots raging in our streets protesting the U.S. involvement in Viet Nam. 58,000 names of men and women are on a memorial in D.C. as evidence of this conflict that many couldn’t really explain and many didn’t support. That memorial doesn’t include the names of those who were killed protesting.
The prophet Isaiah cries out to us today in unmistakable terms. Lord, send us your Spirit. We need your Holy Spirit…to get us through this life and get us there with us. It was true for ancient Israel. It is true for us now. Let’s listen to God’s prophet as he speaks to us about the need for “The Powerful Impact of the Holy Spirit.” The prophet gives us 1) A before picture; and 2) An after picture.
The days of Isaiah were unsettling too. There was a power struggle among the nations. Judah was in the middle of it all. That’s the way it has always been, hasn’t it? Egotistical people desire influence which leads to power and wealth. It is vicious sinful circle. Theodore Roosevelt once said that “Power undirected by high purpose spells calamity.” The highest purpose needs to be “for the Lord.” That’s the problem; “for the Lord” is usually missing and is replaced by “for me.”
That was true in Isaiah’s day. Isaiah prophesied for forty years in Judah. Ahaz was king for all but fifteen of those years. He was a real problem. Ahaz was a politician, but not a God-fearing man. He thought strength was gained and maintained through negotiations of treaties and alliances. His God was not the Lord, it was Egypt. Egypt was supposed to keep Judah safe.
From whom? Remember a little history here. King David’s Israel no longer was the same one he ruled. Israel had split in two - Israel the northern kingdom, Judah the southern. At the beginning of Isaiah’s prophecy the nation of Assyria wanted to devour all. They did get Israel, but Judah was spared. But Assyria caused all kinds of ulcers for Judah. Assyria was a border away. While Judah would be spared, their demise was coming. Eventually Assyria would fall to Babylon and Babylon would make toast of Judah.
That was in the not too distant future. Through Isaiah, God describes what would happen to Jerusalem, the heart and core of Judah. “The fortress will be abandoned, the noisy city deserted; citadel and watchtower will become a wasteland forever, the delight of donkeys, a pasture for flocks.” One day Jerusalem would be deserted. The city that was noisy especially on the festival days of the Jewish Church calendar would be silent. No one would be at the busy temple. The royal palace would be abandoned. Wild donkeys would roam freely because no one would be there to chase them away. The people would all be gone into captivity. Not very encouraging words, are they?
All this was in the future, but the Lord was warning them now. This was a lot like it was in Noah’s time. 120 years he preached and warned the people to repent. No one listened and the Flood came. Repent! Repent Judah! But the warning fell on deaf ears.
Historians would explain it like this. There were some bad politics. There were misguided alliances and bad decisions. There was a deeper cause. It lay inside the sinful human heart. People, in high places spent too much time strategizing and not enough time in prayer. But then, how can a person pray to someone that they don’t believe in? The people of God, God’s chosen people failed to follow the God who had chosen them to bring Jesus, the Savior into the world.
Are there lessons to be learned? Ahaz thought Egypt would save them. We spend too much time and plenty of energy thinking voting Democrat or Republican will do the trick, when real hope and change comes from God the Father who created and preserves, Jesus who redeems and the Holy Spirit who effects real change – godly change.
Yet as sinful people of every nation we go on believing that there is nothing to be found in the counsel of our God; we go about living and believing that right is wrong and wrong is right. People come out of the closet to brag instead of seeking the counsel and power for change through repentance and guidance from God’s Word. Killing unborn babies is considered a right we have instead of being a national shame. We exercise freedom of speech but use our tongues to sin instead of to love. Violence, adultery and foul words entertain us when they ought to offend us. The Lord has blessed this land like no other nation in the history, but we call the Lord who blessed us oppressive and a bigot because he calls certain kinds of behavior perverse and damnable. The Lord, who has blessed this nation like no other is basically told to move into the 21st century.
But this has always been the history of mankind. Every person born to this world is described the same way: dead in trespasses and sin, hostile to God’s ways and living in darkness. Hearts are cold and hard. They change only by the grace of God. Isaiah says “till the Spirit is poured on us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest.”
It is that time of the church year when we celebrate and remember the Holy Spirit’s special day. He changes cold hearts and hard hearts. He does spiritual heart surgery. God speaks through Ezekiel and says it like this: “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.”
People so foolishly lay claim that this is the part of their salvation they do. Yes, Jesus’ death and resurrection brings forgiveness to me, but I must accept him. That too is God’s work. That happens as Isaiah says, “till the Spirit is poured on us from on high” through the Word that is preached and the sacraments that are administered. God’s grace from beginning to the middle to the end.
The Spirit causes “the desert to become a fertile field, and the fertile field to seem like a forest.” Spiritual life is born in us by his power. We become alive unto Christ. We bear fruit. God uses illustration to show us. “I (Jesus) am the Vine you are the branches.” Those branches bear forth fruit. “The desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest.” There is the sower and the seed. The seed falls on four different kinds of ground. The fourth kind of ground is where the seed takes root and grows and brings forth fruit or results 30, 60 and 100 times that which was planted. The Bible says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” We certainly don’t bring forth these virtues perfectly, but, because of God’s Spirit, we not only desire to do so but in fact do. Why? Because the Holy Spirit connected us to the God who loves us in Christ Jesus and makes us part of the body of Christ.
Isaiah says further, “The Lord’s justice will dwell in the desert, his righteousness live in the fertile field.” The Lord’s justice and righteousness is a reference to Jesus. The one who bore the justice of sin. He was punished for the sins of all. He is our righteousness. He lived holiness for us. We are declared holy because of him. He was declared sin for us and was punished for us.
Isaiah says, “The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever. When you read the Lord is not saying that Judah would become a kind of utopia or Never Neverland where there is nothing but happiness and contentment. That sure didn’t happen. The Greeks and the Romans made all for all kinds of trouble for Jerusalem in the centuries ahead. The Spirit who connects us to Jesus gives us a peace that that “surpasses all understanding.” It is a peace so binding and solid that no one, not even Satan himself, “can bring a charge of sin against those whom God has chosen.” in whom the Spirit of God has worked by bring them to the Righteous One, Jesus.
There is more good stuff. Isaiah says, “Its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.” No longer should we ever say, I think I am going to heaven or I have my fingers crossed. We are going to heaven. Our confidence is based on the same confidence that Job had. “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another.” I think we sometimes think that to say that I am going to heaven doesn’t sound humble. If our confidence were based on something we have to do to get there, then it is time to be concerned. But it is not! It is based on the righteous Savior to whom the Spirit connects us by faith.
There is more good stuff. “My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. Though hail flattens the forest and the city is leveled completely, how blessed you will be, sowing your seed by every stream, and letting your cattle and donkeys range free.” Ultimately our final and most wonderful and secure home is in heaven where nothing evil will be able to affect us. Even cattle and donkeys can roam freely without any worry of predators.
Paul once wrote, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” But only through the Holy Spirit are these things revealed. He convinces us not only of the reality of them, but also why we know we will receive them…through Christ – by grace.