The Birthday Gift
by Ted Schroder, June 4, 2006
On the Feast of Pentecost (fifty days after the Passover), seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples were gathered in Jerusalem. They had been told by Jesus not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the gift his Father had promised, which they had heard him speak about: the baptism of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:4,5) As they were worshipping together they received this gift of the Holy Spirit in a spectacular fashion: through wind and tongues of fire that came to rest on each of them.
One result was that three thousand accepted the message of the Gospel, as proclaimed by Peter, and were baptized into the church. Since then we have celebrated this day as the birthday of the Christian church.
Genesis tells us in the creation story, that the difference between the first man and other primates, was the result of God breathing into his nostrils the breath of life. In this creation story of the church in Acts, God breathed his Spirit into those who believed in Christ. So today we celebrate the new birth, the new life of the Spirit, which marks the beginning of the family of the church of Jesus Christ. It is a day, for all who believe in Christ, to celebrate our life in the family of God.
Birthdays should be exciting times. They celebrate the gift of life. They should make us feel special. Friends and family remember us by sending cards, calling us, and sometimes even giving us parties and presents. As Christians we should feel special and appreciate the new life God has given us in Christ. This new life, this eternal life, is made possible by the gift of his Spirit. We must be careful not to take this gift for granted. Sometimes we are given gifts that we do not need. We wonder what to do with them. Why do we need the gift of the Holy Spirit?
We need the gift of the Holy Spirit to know the truth. Jesus calls the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth (John 14:17). Spirit means breath or wind. At Pentecost the Spirit came with a sound like the blowing of a violent wind. The life-giving breath of God blows our ship of life in the direction of the truth. Without it we are likely to be blown off course. There are many spirits in the world. We live in a universe of philosophies, and faiths which proliferate in our pluralistic and global society. Each vies for our attention. If we are not sure of our course, in what direction is the truth, we can be blown in the wrong direction. God is a God of truth. He does not want us to be blown here and there by every wind. St. Paul urges us to become mature in Christ so that “we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” (Ephesians 4:14)
Let’s face it, every day we hear conflicting claims to be the truth. Is there any clear criteria by which we can distinguish truth from error? The Spirit is meant to guide us to the truth. (John 16:13) Where does it guide us? Jesus said that the Spirit of truth would speak about him. “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the spirit of truth, who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.” (John 15:26) Jesus revealed that he was the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). The point that Peter made on the day of Pentecost, was that Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead, was both Lord and Christ, who brought the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. He brought also the truth about God and about life. Jesus gives us the Spirit when we believe in him. The Spirit also guides us to Jesus as the criterion of truth. The winds of the world can be tested for their veracity by whether or not they bring us closer to Jesus.
St. John writes, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.” (1 John 4:1-3)
Those who claim to possess the truth and yet reject Jesus as Savior are misled as to what constitutes the truth. Dostoevsky once wrote about his struggle to believe. He longed for faith and yet was a child of unfaith and skepticism. “And yet God gives me sometimes the moments of perfect peace; in such moments I have formulated my creed, wherein all is clear and holy to me. This creed is extremely simple; here it is: I believe that there is nothing lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic, more rational, more manly, and more perfect than the Savior: I say to myself with jealous love that not only is there no one else like him, but that there could be no one. I would even say more: If anyone could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth really did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ and not with truth. (March 1854).”
We believe that whatever may be the claims to proofs that Christ is not the truth, that they are spurious.
How does the Holy Spirit communicate this truth about Jesus to us today? In what form does the wind of the Spirit direct us? St. Peter tells us that the wind carried along the writers of the prophetic Scriptures so that they wrote down the inspired truth of God for our edification. (2 Peter 1:21) The gift of the Spirit of truth is wrapped up in the pages of the Holy Scriptures. God has given us all we need to know about Jesus in the pages of his written Word.
Jesus said that the world cannot accept the Spirit of truth because it neither sees him nor knows him. (John 14:17). Those who do not share our faith suppress the truth about Jesus, and resist the Spirit’s direction. This is true for any kind of knowledge which a person may find uncongenial.
Last April 25 and 26 was the twentieth anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The Soviet system was still in power. When the nuclear reactor exploded sending a radioactive cloud all the way to Scandinavia, the Soviet government was silent. Under international pressure the Soviet authorities said that a nuclear meltdown did not happen, or it was not as bad as it was thought to be, or it had been solved. That was the extent of the information that was allowed to be disseminated to the citizens of the Soviet Union. They refused to admit the truth. In the same way a closed heart and mind and spirit can simply refuse to admit evidence of the reality of the Spirit of truth. The citizens of Jerusalem would only interpret the joy of the apostles, at their birthday party, as being drunk. They suppressed the possibility that God’s Spirit had come to fulfill prophecy. “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)
The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown’s novel, now made into a movie, appeals to the current search for an alternative to Jesus and his gift of the Spirit of truth. By attempting to discredit the Biblical Gospel it promotes a form of self-discovery, particularly discovery of gender-based aspects of ‘myself’, such as the sacred feminine. But the Spirit of truth directs us, away from an introspective search for our true feelings of personal identity (a never-ending black hole of egotism), to what God has done for us in Jesus.
This is why we need this birthday gift. We need the truth about ourselves, and God; the truth about life and salvation; the truth about love and grace; the truth about forgiveness and healing; the truth about this world, and the world to come. Welcome and receive this gift, and allow the Spirit to renew and refresh you with his presence.
An audio version of this presentation may be found on www.ameliachapel.com.
Amelia Plantation Chapel, Amelia Island, Florida
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