The first sermon I ever preached on the Holy Spirit I preached as a student pastor during seminary days. My main point was that The Holy Spirit is a Person — the personal presence of God, the third person of the Trinity.
As I greeted the departing worshipers one-by-one at the church door on that Sunday morning, one woman lingered to tell me with surprise and shock that until that sermon, she had believed the Holy Spirit was nothing more than a feeling or a vague influence. Thus, she had not taken His presence or His work seriously.
Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian era (Acts 6,7), knew better. He was chosen to be a deacon because “he was known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3). He stood up to the powerful ruling council of Jerusalem and was stoned to death by them.
Would he ever have given up his life for a mere feeling or impulse? And would he have died so radiantly (Acts 7:59,60).
James Denny, New Testament scholar and writer, supported this conviction that the Holy Spirit is personal with the following statement, “To the men who wrote the New Testament, and to those for whom they wrote, the Spirit was not a doctrine but an experience. Their watchword was not believe in the Holy Ghost, but receive ye the Holy Ghost.”
But does the Holy Spirit really make his presence known in a personal way — as God, the Spirit? Can he actually direct the ministry of his workers’ lives so directly?
Once, the Apostle Paul and and his companions crossed Asia Minor and arrived at the seaport city of Troas on the Aegean Sea. It appears they initially contemplated going southward into Asia but, “they were kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia” (Acts 16:6). Or they thought of turning northward into Bithynia. But when they tried to enter that region “the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to” (Acts 16:7).
I was made aware of of the universality of the Holy Spirit when I visited our churches in the Philippines a few years ago. The believers I was with there worshiped the Lord with a deep awareness of his presence. It was as though they were experiencing the fulfillment of our Lord’s promise when he told his followers in his closing words: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18).]
There I was, on the opposite side of the globe, but sensing among the believers there the guiding presence of the living Spirit of Christ as much as I do when I worship with God’s people in Ontario or Florida.
Worshipers in all parts of the world can report that same reality. All through church history, the authentic church has experienced the reality of Christ’s promise, wherever and whenever they gather to worship God. The Holy Spirit as a personal presence is there, not as a mere feeling or doctrine, but as a presence.
It was that historic day of the first Christian Pentecost that revealed this reality to the church, for all time until our Lord returns in his glory.
Spirit of God, descend upon my heart:
Wean it from earth, through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.
Image credit: Waiting for the Word (via flickr.com)