Preached at Newberg Friends Church
March 8, 2009
I’m here to tell you that God is sovereign. To God, nothing comes as a surprise. To us, however, many things are surprising, and some of those surprises are not welcome, are in fact disruptive and disconcerting. Our scripture today talks about how the Spirit of God can surprise us, and how it is self-destructive for us to attribute those surprises to the devil.
I grew up (and old) loving Bob Dylan’s song, Blowing in the Wind. How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man; how many seas must the white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand; how many times must the cannonballs fly before they’re forever banned; how many times must a man look up before he can see the sky; how many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry; how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people—particularly children—have died; how many years can a mountain exist before it is washed to the sea; how many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free; how many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see. Where is that answer? It’s blowing in the wind.
At first, that might seem like a hopeless answer—we don’t trust the wind, it isn’t predictable, and it isn’t visible. However, the wind is used throughout scripture to illustrate the sovereignty and the intervention of God in human history and human lives.
We’ll frame this using John 3:8—The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. In other words: Everyone born of the spirit goes where the Spirit goes and speaks what the Spirit says to speak, but outsiders cannot understand, predict, or control these things. This is not mysterious. Jesus said repeatedly, I do only what my Father tells me to do, therefore, if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father in action. And it is not “unsafe” since Jesus also said that we know people by their fruits, and Paul spelled out numerous fruits of the Spirit, against which there is no law, and Jesus described some of the ways the Spirit moves people in the Beatitudes.
In Genesis 1, the Spirit moved over the waters. The Hebrew word for spirit is the same as the word for breath or wind. God’s breath moved over the waters—God breathed over the waters—and the result was creation, variety, beauty, companionship, surprise, and it was all good.
Throughout the OT, the wind is seen as under God’s control—the east wind brings destruction and the west wind brings restoration.
We can see this in the plague of locusts visited on Egypt, Exodus 10: The Lord brought an east wind upon the land for a day and a night, and the east wind brought the locusts, who ate Egyptian vegetation down to the ground. Pharaoh admitted his sin, “Do forgive my sin just this once, and pray to the Lord your God that at the least he remove this deadly thing from me.” So Moses prayed, and the Lord changed the wind into a west wind that blew the locusts into the Red Sea. And Pharaoh went back to his oppressive ways.
Today in our disbelieving modern way, we talk about air pressure differences and temperature differences as if they explained the wind’s behavior, and we are skeptical about whether God controls the weather.
I will direct your attention to the several storms on the Sea of Galilee and I will ask you, who made them stop? And what was the response of the onlookers? And what did Jesus say, “Oh, you folks with such small faith—such tiny understanding of the character of God and such tiny confidence in God’s good will toward you.”
Not only is the physical wind under God’s control, but so is the Spirit. This is sort of silly to say, but God’s Holy Spirit does only what God the Father and God the Son do, did, will do.
In Ezekiel 37, the famous valley of dry bones, what brings those bones to life? Ezekiel speaks God’s word to them, they rattle together, stand up, gain organs, muscle, and skin, and God says to the prophet: “Prophesy to the wind, the breath, the spirit, O mortal, and say: Thus says the Lord God—come from the four winds, O spirit, wind, breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” And as he prophesies, the breath, wind, spirit, comes into them and they live, and the word of the Lord is: “Thus says the Lord God, I am going to open your graves, o my people, and return you to your home, and I will put my spirit within you and you shall live, and you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and will act.”
In the book of Jonah, what makes sure that Jonah obeys the will of God? The Lord hurls a great wind upon the sea, the Bible says. Jonah fesses up, he is tossed overboard, the wind dies down, a fish swallows him and he spends 3 nights meditating on the folly of a prophet running from God’s Spirit, he makes promises to God, and then the fish spits him out and he goes off to Nineveh to preach God’s message there. And what happens? Repentance and redemption, much to the dismay of God’s prophet, for these were Israel’s enemies.
I will also remind you that at Pentecost a mighty wind filled the house, and the Spirit of God swept over and into people, and they did things they would not have thought possible. The fact that the first sign was speaking in languages they didn’t know helped teach them about God’s power and sovereignty. God used that miracle of languages several other times when they were challenged to accept certain people, namely Gentiles, as equal with them before God. See, God said, I’m in this also—do you recognize me?
Recognizing God at work is the key to understanding this passage on what God does not excuse—frequently referred to as the unpardonable sin. When the scribes said about Jesus, he does these wonders by the devil’s power, what were they talking about?
He set a man free from an unclean spirit on the Sabbath, 1:25
He healed Simon’s mother-in-law of fever on the Sabbath, 1:30
After sundown, after Sabbath, he healed many who were sick and cast out demons from many 1:34
He preached the good news of God’s kingdom come through Galilee
He healed a leper
He forgave the sins of a paralyzed man, which the scribes called blasphemy
He healed that paralyzed man
He got a tax collector to follow him and went to a party at his house
He refused to fast when the Pharisees and John’s disciples did
He protected his disciples when they harvested grain on the Sabbath, and he asserted that the Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath—in other words, God makes laws to help humans; he doesn’t make humans in order to have someone to obey laws
He healed a man’s useless hand on the Sabbath
He preached to mixed crowds of Jews and Gentiles
He healed many and cast out the evil from them
These are the things which his critics attributed to the power of the devil, of Beelzebub
And, Jesus says quite honestly, if when you see these things you do not recognize God at work, there is no hope for you.
We cannot grow towards Christlikeness if we insist that God work with us only in the ways we prescribe and in the forms we are comfortable with. God’s spirit may sweep over our lives from the east and eat everything we depend on down to the ground, so that we will recognize God’s sovereignty and bow our hearts in obedience. If we attribute that work to the devil, we will learn nothing about what God wants from us.
Suppose my besetting sin is pride? The wind of the Spirit sweeps over my life and blows away what I take pride in. Suppose I say—This is the work of the devil. So I work really hard—defend myself and what’s mine, do whatever it takes to stay in a place that I can be proud of, including back-stabbing and kissing up to powerful people. Because I’ve defined the disaster as the work of the devil, all the wrong I do to combat it can be justified.
But what if I say, where is God’s voice in this—I take some time to embrace the loss—I say faithfully, God has something for me in this that will make me more like Jesus. I remember that Jesus is in my boat. I will embrace God’s efforts to help me to be humble, so that, like Jesus, I can honestly say, it isn’t me—I just do what God tells me to do.
Suppose my besetting sin is lust? The wind of the Spirit sweeps over my life and I get caught in sexual sin. We’ve seen this drama several times with highly visible Christians. Do I say—this terrible thing happened to me (getting caught), the devil wants to destroy my ministry, people are out to get me. So I hide the full extent of my sin, deny the importance or even the fact of what I did, and force those who love me most to cover up for me.
But what if I say, where is God’s voice in this? I embrace the public shame— I say, full of faith in God, God has something in this that will make me more like Jesus. I embrace God’s efforts to help me to be self-controlled. I let God show me the holes in my heart I am trying to fill, and I say to God, “These empty spaces are driving me and I absolutely need your help to let them stay empty if you want, or fill them up with something good if you want.”
Suppose my besetting sin is a sour spirit? God’s spirit sweeps through my life and I am left wallowing alone in my sourness. Do I say, “God has abandoned me; I was right not to trust God?” And I become more and more a bitter person, trusting no one and hating myself. I become an emotional cripple sitting beside a pool where healing happens, but where it hasn’t happened for me, and I say to God almighty working through the Son, no one helps me?
But what if I say, where is God’s voice in this? What if I say to the Son of God, “Yes, I want what you want. Bring it on.” And I hear God say, “Pick up your bed and walk.”
I could go on with the other deadly sins, but you get the point. The Old Testament clearly teaches that God is sovereign over the natural and spiritual worlds, and that God’s spirit comes over those worlds to bring disruption, recreation, creativity, and restoration. The New Testament clearly teaches that Jesus, as the Son of God who did only what he saw his Father doing, only what his Father told him to do, is sovereign over the natural and spiritual worlds, and that his work was to bring disruption, recreation, creativity, and restoration. The Holy Spirit blows across our lives like wind, clearing away the dead limbs and loosening our shingles, threatening to fill our boats with water in order to get our attention so that we will listen to God, and like Jesus, do what we see God doing, do what we hear God saying to do.
How can we end war? How can we look on others’ sorrow and confess that we have caused it? How can we care for the earth? How can we set people free? The answer is blowing in the wind of the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of God.
If you recognize yourself in anything I’ve said—if you see the ways you have been avoiding the work of the Holy Spirit to blow your life into the Kingdom, take this moment to lay down your defenses and let God loose.