The Wind Blows Wherever It Wills
May 15, 2005
This is the first in a six-part series on the Holy Spirit called Experiencing God Today. Two months ago I had no idea that I would be preaching on the Holy Spirit once we finished I Peter. But as I thought about the matter, I felt impressed by the Lord that this is the direction we should go. There are four reasons why we are beginning this particular sermon series on this particular Sunday:
First, there is a personal reason. In 26 years as a pastor, I have never preached a series on the Holy Spirit. Although I have discussed the Spirit’s work in various sermons, I have never devoted a series of consecutive messages to this topic. But that is not all. I have a deep desire in my heart to experience more of the Spirit’s power in my life. I am praying that I might receive a fresh outpouring from the Holy Spirit in the next few weeks.
Second, there is an historical reason. Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day when churches around the world celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. Churches of all denominations traditionally give attention to the work of the Spirit on this particular day. And this year we have even more reason to do that because today is also the Global Day of Prayer. Churches in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the islands of the Pacific, are joining together to pray for a second Pentecost, a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our generation.
Third, there is a corporate reason. In the last few months, we’ve been talking a lot about becoming a multi-site church. Even though the details are not completely fleshed out, we’re praying that God would allow us to become a “church in many places.” As we think and pray about our future, and as we face the challenges and the opportunities before us, we desperately need the blessings of the Lord. We want the Holy Spirit to lead us so that we go in his direction, at his speed, in his time.
Fourth, there is a practical reason. We need the Holy Spirit as never before. The early Protestant Reformers adopted this motto: “Reformed, yet always reforming.” No church ever truly “arrives.” We are always on a journey with the Lord. Every church has faults and flaws and weaknesses that cannot be hidden. This is true regardless of the age of your church, the size of your church, or the denomination of your church. Every church is in continual need of further reformation by the Holy Spirit. Nearly 20 years ago I heard J. Vernon McGee speak at the commencement service at Dallas Theological Seminary. He was an old man in his 80s at the time. Several years later he went to be with the Lord. I have forgotten everything he said that day except for one statement. He commented that if he could start his ministry over again as a young man, he would do one thing differently. He said he would preach more about the Holy Spirit because that is the great need of the church.
And so it is in that spirit that we begin this sermon series. The New Testament reveals four commands given to the Christian relating to the Holy Spirit. Two are positive and two are negative.
“Be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).
“Live by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16).
“Do not grieve the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30).
“Do not quench the Spirit”(I Thessalonians 5:19).
In years past I have preached on the two positive commands. Later in this series we will spend one sermon on each of the negative commands.
I. The Wind of the Spirit
This morning we begin by looking at the words of Jesus in John 3:8. This verse occurs during the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, the ruler of the Jews who came to Jesus by night. When Jesus said, “You must be born again in order to see the kingdom of God,” Nicodemus did not understand the concept. So Jesus explained that flesh produces flesh (speaking of human birth), but only God’s Spirit could give new birth in the realm of the spirit (v. 6). Then Jesus added this word of explanation in verse 8: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Pay special attention to two words in this verse: “wind” and “Spirit.” Though they are two words in English, in Greek they come from the same word: pneuma. We get the English words pneumatic (an air-powered drill) and pneumonia (a disease of the lungs) from this Greek word. Depending on the context, pneuma can mean breath, wind or spirit. In this case, the same Greek word has two meanings in the same verse.
Wind serves as a particularly good symbol of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus points out to Nicodemus, wind by its very nature is invisible and unpredictable. The wind that blows today from the north may blow from the south tomorrow or from the east or west or not at all. We feel its effect and hear it whistling through the leaves, but the wind itself is totally free from man’s control. Wind exists everywhere on the earth, is continually in motion, and may be experienced in varying degrees—from a slight breeze to a mighty rushing wind to the destructive force of a tornado. In a closed room, the air soon becomes stagnant. But when the window is open, the incoming wind blows out the stifling air. On a hot summer’s day, a cool breeze refreshes everyone. Just as the wind is everywhere in the world, even so the Holy Spirit’s work is universal, not limited to one country, region, or race of humanity. Similar to the unpredictability of the wind, no one can say for certain where the Spirit will blow in great power today or tomorrow. As the wind is beyond man’s control, in the same way no one can control the work of the Spirit. As the wind blows from the heavens, so the Holy Spirit is sent from heaven.
According to Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper, “The Holy Spirit leaves no footprints.” Like the wind he is invisible, unpredictable and uncontrollable. Have you ever tried to catch the wind in a bottle? When I was a child and we were taking a trip in the car, I would hold a cup outside the window, hoping to somehow catch the wind. But it can’t be done. The same is true of the Holy Spirit. He is sovereign and will not be taken captive by any person. They call Chicago “the Windy City,” and with good reason. The wind blows here nearly all year round. Sometimes the wind is a gentle breeze rustling through the leaves. In the winter, the cold north wind roars into town as an “Alberta Clipper.” Earlier this week, a severe thunderstorm blew through Oak Park with winds so strong, they knocked out the power for several hours. It’s all the same wind, but we experience it in different ways. So it is with the Spirit. He comes as he wills, and he manifests himself in different ways. And as the story of Nicodemus demonstrates, no one can predict when he will invade a human heart. Last night I spoke with a person who rejoiced that a friend had responded to the gospel after just one invitation. “Sometimes you have to talk to a person again and again, and even then, they may not respond. Do you know what I mean?” Yes, I do know. Why does one person respond immediately while others take much more persuasion? While there are many explanations, one part of the answer is the Holy Spirit. Like the wind, he blows where he wills, and no one can control his movements.
II. The Descent of the Spirit
Acts 2 describes the descent of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, as the small band of disciples waited and prayed in Jerusalem. According to Acts 2:1-4, four things happened in this order:
A. The sound of a violent, rushing wind filled the house.
B. Tongues of fire rested on each of them.
C. They were filled with the Holy Spirit.
D. They began to speak in other languages.
Wind … Fire … Holy Spirit … Languages. Later Peter preached the gospel, 3,000 were saved in one day, and the Christian church was born. Note the sequence again:
Wind … Fire … Holy Spirit … Languages … Preaching … Conversion.
Why does the wind come first? Because the Holy Spirit begins his work by blowing through each heart, preparing them for further work to come. So it is with us today. We need the wind of the Spirit to blow through our hearts,
Replacing fear with faith,
Replacing anger with forgiveness,
Replacing doubt with hope,
Replacing anger with love,
Replacing judgment with grace,
Replacing bitterness with trust,
Replacing pride with humility,
Replacing envy with kindness,
Replacing cowardice with courage,
Replacing impatience with perseverance,
Replacing harshness with compassion,
Replacing selfishness with generosity.
We need the wind of God to blow through our midst today. All our work will come to nothing without the Holy Spirit to bless our efforts. We may plan and organize and strategize and publicize to our heart’s content. We may meet and write papers all night and all day. We may discuss and ponder and consider all the alternatives. We may use all the wisdom we can muster, but unless we are changed on the inside by the Holy Spirit, nothing will change and our work will mean nothing for the sake of the Kingdom.
We need the Holy Spirit to come in a new way because there is always more of God to experience. In Ephesians 3:19 Paul prayed that his readers might be “filled with all the fullness of God.” This is the whole goal of the Christian life. Don’t water it down. The word for “filled” has the idea of being dominated by something. If you are filled with rage, then rage will dominate your life. If you are filled with love, then love dominates your life. If you are filled with joy, then joy dominates your life. When you are filled with God, then God himself will dominate your life. It pictures the total transformation of the human personality by virtue of the presence of God in your life. This is an amazing thought—to be filled up with all the fullness of God. Don’t shy away from the implications of this truth. As believers we have been created to be the containers of God. He desires to pour his life into ours and to fill us until we’re full. This prayer will never be completely answered in this life. And in eternity we will continue to experience more and more of the “fullness of God,” and we will never (not even in eternity) come to the end of who he is.
No one will ever come to the end of the Holy Spirit.
No one will ever come to the end of the Lord Jesus Christ.
No one will ever come to the end of God the Father.
It is the work of the Holy Spirit to bring us continually into a deeper, more profound experience of who God is. He brings more of God to us as we bring more of us to him.
III. The Sovereignty of the Spirit
Jesus applied the image of the wind of the Spirit in the last phrase of verse 8: “So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus did not come that night intending to be converted. But that is what happened. The Spirit drew him to Jesus and he came. The same is true for everyone who comes to Christ. In John 6:44 Jesus declares that “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” The Father draws sinners to the Son by means of the Holy Spirit. And all those who are drawn will in fact come to Jesus, and those who come will never be turned away (John 6:37).
We must change and only God can change us. This is the testimony of the entire Bible. Because we are sinners, we cannot come to God bearing our own sins. If we come with our sins, he will turn us away for sinners will gain no admittance to heaven. Here is the Bible’s testimony as to the true condition of all humanity apart from Jesus Christ.