Wednesday 8 August

 Australian Rikk Watts is the speaker for the morning Bible Teaching at New Horizon this week. Initially an aeronautical engineer, Rikk later worked with IBM while studying philosophy, art history, and sociology at LaTrobe University. He went on to complete two Masters degrees in theology (OT & NT, Gordon Conwell) and a PhD (Cambridge).  After 20 years of teaching at Regent College, Vancouver, Rikk and his wife Katie recently returned to Australia where he is the Dean of the School of Theology at Alphacrucis College. 

It is increasingly uncommon in the church to find evangelicals of different persuasions actually getting on together and meeting together. It is powerful spiritually to gather together. The great power of the Christian church is its unity. Jesus has broken down the dividing walls of division and has made us one.Thank you for being gracious to one another. Honouring the Jesus we all love and serve is more important than some of the other debates we have (even though they are important).

The last thing we spoke about yesterday was when Yahweh stood on the rock at Horeb and said, hit me and see what happens. This informs what goes on with the golden calf incident.

In Exodus 19, the glory cloud has descended and there is this wonderful covenant moment and then, in Exodus 32, despite everything that has happened, they build a golden calf. They were echoing what they learnt in Egypt.

The Egyptians had an image of a bull and it represented power and fertility and they expected the “creator god” Ra to stand on its back. Some people think that the people of Israel were worshipping the gods of Egypt. Actually, after they made the golden calf, Aaron said they were worshipping Yahweh (the one who brought them out of Egypt) but they were trying to access and manipulate His presence in the way the Egyptians did with their gods. They were trying to make the worship of God into something that was more comfortable and familiar. We can do the same, trying to fit our worship of God to our own rationality or sentimentality. They were presuming to re-define who Yahweh is and that is idolatry. It is possible for us also to be Christians and still to be idolaters.

This act (of idolatry) deserves destruction. What Israel had done was a fundamental rebellion and rejection of who Yahweh is. But what happens next is incredible! Moses goes up the mountain and implores God, and God relents. Exodus 32:14

Yahweh changes His mind. The rationalists don’t like this. We try to find reasons to explain away the text. The passage says that a human being changed God’s mind! Do we try to adjust the word of God to fit our pre-conceptions and beliefs? Moses tells God, “I know that Israel deserves judgement but remember who you are.” And then the LORD relents.

But He also says He will not go with them.What marks us out as God’s people is His presence. So Moses says, “If you don’t go with us, we can’t go.”

Exodus 34: 6 – 9

God does not give us what we deserve. Because of His mercy, He is gracious to us. Somehow, profoundly, we are involved in His work. God wants to hear from us.

The unbelievable and overwhelming commitment of God is to showing us mercy. He has compassion on us. That is what it means to be Christian.

Christian is another way of spelling compassion.

That is what we should be known for. We don’t give people what they deserve. We give them what we need. Because this is Yahweh’s nature.  And in response to this revelation of God’s character, Moses bowed and worshipped.

Note that Moses asks for God’s presence to go with them not in spite of the fact that they are sinful but BECAUSE they are sinful. We NEED a God like this – a God whose pre-disposition is to show mercy and grace even in the face of outrageous idolatry. And human beings are involved in this (in interceding for mercy). That is mind-boggling that human beings can talk with God about these things and change His mind.

But it is not a guarantee (in Jeremiah, God says clearly that He will not relent). Prayer is not about controlling or manipulating God. We don’t pray to control the situation, we pray on the basis of a deeply trusting relationship. Our despicable idolatry brings forth God’s incredible compassion and mercy because of His grace (not because we deserve it).

God is the Creator but He is also compassionate and gracious. Whenever we read about the Lord Jesus, keep this in mind. This is the LORD that the scriptures reveal – our LORD Jesus Christ.

Today we are talking about the Spirit (following the Scriptural pattern of how the Trinity is revealed – Father, Spirit, Son).

Reading from Ezekiel 36: 22 – 27 and Joel 2: 28 – 29

For many western Christians, the Spirit is the silent member of the Trinity.  Some even seem to worship the Father, Son and Holy Scriptures.  Sadly the Spirit who was sent to make us one has become the touchstone of tension and division among God’s people. The 21st century is often described as the Pentecostal century. The massive growth in the church around the world is often among pentecostal churches.  Today the average Christian is 30 years old, black and she is a pentecostal!

Yahweh is mentioned 6,000 times and the Spirit of God or the Spirit of Yahweh is mentioned around 400 times. The term the “Holy Spirit” only occurs three times.

The Spirit of God in Creation

There are two real concerns in the creation narrative. Creation is God’s temple and human beings are made in God’s image. The first thing we notice in Genesis 1 is that the Spirit of God is hovering over the waters. In some English translations it talks about a “mighty wind” – technically this could be correct but nowhere else in scripture does Ruach Elohim mean a “mighty wind”. It is God’s Spirit that creates and gives life to creation so I will go with the traditional argument that the Spirit of God was the one that hovered over the waters.

I’d like to characterise the spirit as the architect of God’s creation. This is the first place you see the Spirit. That word “hovering” is also used in Deuteronomy for the way God watches over His people (with echoes of creation imagery). The Exodus is often seen as a re-creation.

The Spirit is the architext of God’s Temple.  And people are made in God’s image.

In the pagan world, they would build an “image” of their god and place it in a sacred garden. They would form an image and “animate” it by gathering around it to “bring life” to the image. Central to that, the pagan’s would invite the spirit of their god to enter their image.

What is going on in Genesis is a wonderful reversal of ancient thinking. They thought they build temples for their gods. God says, “I built my own temple.” People thought they created an mage of their god but God says, “I will create you in my own image.”

You cannot talk about the “image” of God language without talking about the Spirit. We were designed to be the image of God – we are not God – we are a representation of Him. In the Hebrew Bible, there are seven senses not five. The two additional ones are to speak and to move. Ever time you see humans seeing, hearing, moving and speaking, that is “image” of God language. What does Jesus do most in the Gospel narrative? He restores the image of God by healing people’s eyes, mouths and limbs.

Humans are designed to be in-dwelt by the Spirit of God so that we can be “makers”. The Spirit is intimately linked with doing stuff, with creating. One of the huge problems of theological education is that we are all about describing and thinking rather than about doing. This comes from the influence of Hellenism, which is rational rather than active.

Can you see how profoundly and seriously God takes our ability to create?  The Spirit is all about forming God’s character and work in us.

The Spirit of God in Exodus

That brings us to the Exodus. What might surprise us are the references to the temple. The first person in the Biblical text who is described as being filled with God’s Spirit is Bezalel – an artist – who is called to make and creating the tabernacle (a reflection of Creation as God’s temple).

Then we get Moses. In Numbers 11, God places His Spirit on Moses in order to lead and form Israel in His image (the Torah). And when the task becomes too difficult, they choose others to lead as well and the sign that they have been chosen is that God’s Spirit comes upon them. Wouldn’t that be a great mark of eldership if we look for those who show evidence of anointing

They prophesy and it is the evidence that God is working in their lives. Joshua becomes concerned but Moses says, “Are you jealous for my sake?  I wish that all God’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit on them.”

I wonder sometimes, are we nervous about the work of the Spirit because we want to be in control?

The Spirit of God in Judges and Kings

Moving on we see the Spirit at work in the Judges. The Spirit comes upon the judges to do the work of God. Guess which judge has twice as many references to the Spirit as all the other judges combined. The answer is Samson. He was the only judge that the people didn’t ask for! He is entirely God’s own work (despite all that we know of his weakness!).

The Spirit of God also works through the kings. Kings were always part of the plan ( see the promises made to Abraham and to Judah). The issue in Samuel is not that they asked for a king but that they wanted a king like the other nations. God gives them what they asked for. Saul’s name means literally, “you asked for it”. And even Saul is anointed with the Spirit.

When Samuel anoints David, the Spirit comes on David in power. What happens when the Spirit turns up?  There is a radical transformation.

The Spirit of God in the Prophets

Micah contrasts himself with the false prophets… “I am filled with power, with the Spirit of Yahweh…” It is impossible to talk about the Holy Spirit and not be concerned with justice and what is right and with the holiness of God.

One thing to note from the scriptures: The Spirit did not rest on everyone. Particular people were chosen and anointed for  particular tasks.  But now through the prophets,there is a hope and promise of the Spirit being poured out on the Messiah and then on everyone.

The Messiah will bring justice to the nations. What does that look like? He is the one who says, “I know what you deserve but I will show mercy. This is the nature of God’s justice.  His justice acknowledges what we deserve but in mercy, He gives us what we need. And that is what we should extend to others.

Isaiah 61 – the spirit is on me (quoted in Luke 4). Isaiah 44: 3 The renewal of Creation and the outpouring of Spirit go hand in hand. That is what Romans 8 talks about. The hallmark of Spirit-filled people is a concern for God’s creation.

Joel 2 talks about the outpouring of God’s Spirit on all people.  This is what Moses hoped for. He wanted all of God’s people to be anointed.

This is wonderful stuff but there is a heart breaking outcome because Israel doesn’t want it. (see Amos 8:11)

In Samuel, Eli honours his children more than God. He was presiding over a corrupt arrangement as high priest while his sons disobeyed God and abused the people. God was speaking but He was no longer speaking to Eli because of his disobedience. Don’t let this happen to us. Growing old and fat and going through the motions but no longer hearing and obeying the word of the Lord. Ever so slowly, there comes a famine of the word of God. The danger is not that God is not speaking, but that He is just not speaking to us any more.

There is a terrible time (400 years) when the prophets were no longer speaking to Israel.  Imagine that. You are the people of God. What marks you out is God’s presence and there have been 400 years of silence. Generation after generation.

And suddenly John the Baptist appears appears in the desert, speaking the words of the Lord.