This sermon is part of the “More Than a Holiday” sermon series. See the whole series here.
We’re in the fourth week of our Advent series where we are considering the Christmas message together, that God became a man in Jesus. What I want to get across in this series is that the message of Christmas is not just a Christmas message. Jesus’ humanity has important implications for our everyday lives. So far we’ve seen how as a human Jesus teaches us how to grow in wisdom, his humanity changes the way we face temptations, he helps us to persevere through suffering, and today before we head into Christmas morning, Jesus is going to teach us what all of us should be asking for for Christmas.
What do you want for Christmas? Well, whatever it is, there is one wish, one request that should top the list of every Christian here. If you want to live in this world like Jesus did with spiritual effectiveness and power, there’s one essential gift that we all must receive. And I want to share with you what it is and how you get it.
[Read Luke 11:11–13]
What do you need for Christmas? What’s on your list? We all need various things to get by in life, and what we find ourselves so often needing is strength. Strength to face the strains of life. Strength to go on, power to overcome sin, power to change and be effective for the Lord. And if you’re anything like me, you pick up your Bible and it seems like everywhere men and woman are living with this supernatural power, and you ask, “How do I experience it in my life?” And if you’re asking that question, if you want more than to just look at the map, if you want to live in its reality, you’re not alone.
The disciples saw this power in Jesus’ life and they were asking that very question. They thought maybe the secret is Jesus’ prayer life, and so at the beginning of this chapter, they ask him, “Lord teach us to pray,” and he does. And prayer is a part of it, but at end of this teaching, Jesus gets right to the source and says, “What you really need is the power of the Holy Spirit.” All throughout the New Testament, we learn that this was the secret to Jesus’ effectiveness and power. In his humanity, Jesus needed to depend upon the Holy Spirit just like we do. This was the secret to his power, the Holy Spirit. What he wanted his disciples to know, what he wants us to know, is that the same gift of the Spirit is available for you and me. But what is this gift of the Holy Spirit and how do we get it? Let’s set out to answer these two critical questions.
What is this gift?
The gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is talking about here is a gift that all of us absolutely need. It’s a necessity to live the normal Christian life. You notice in the example Jesus gives in verses 11–12, the child is not asking for a toy; he’s not asking for a stuffed animal; he’s asking for food, an everyday necessity of life. A fish, an egg … basic necessities. Everyone knows that food is a necessary source of strength and power.
Have you seen those Snickers commercials where you’ve got some guy and he’s angry or complaining, he’s not acting like himself or can’t do something that he normally can do like play football, and one of his friends says, “Hey, c’mon man, you’re playing like Betty White out there. Eat a Snickers,” and the guy says, “Why?” And what’s the tagline? “Because you’re not you when you’re hungry.”
Everyone knows that. You’re not you when you’re hungry. You need food for strength. That is a universal principle in our physical lives, and it works the same way in our spiritual lives. Just like a child needs food for physical strength, and so asks for it, the child of God needs to be asking for the Holy Spirit for spiritual strength and power. Jesus wouldn’t have been Jesus without the power of the Holy Spirit, and you’re not you without the Holy Spirit either.
You might hear that and think, I’m a believer, I’m already a Christian, I already have the Holy Spirit, why do I need to ask for him again? I don’t need to put the Holy Spirit on my Christmas list. Look at who Jesus is addressing here. He’s talking to his disciples, and Jesus has already told them in chapter 10 that their names are written in heaven. So he’s talking to Christians, men and women who are already saved, and even the context of his illustration is of child and his father. So what Jesus is saying is that the children of God need to be asking their heavenly Father for the Holy Spirit. Now, it’s true that every believer has been once and for all regenerated by the Holy Spirit, sealed by the Holy Spirit, baptized, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but we need to be continually filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Remember what Paul says to the church in Ephesians 5:18: “Do not get drunk with wine, but be filled with the Holy Spirit.” It’s a continuous verb, be continually filled with the Holy Spirit. That’s the gift we need. The filling and empowering of the Holy Spirit for the everyday Christian life. It’s not only a need; it’s an ongoing need.
Look at it this way, the way the Bible invites us to look at it. Paul compares it to getting drunk. You don’t stay drunk for several days. You sober up. If you want to stay drunk, what do you need to do? You need to keep hitting the bar, keep hitting the bottle. What Paul is saying is that he knows a much better drink than a pint of Guinness. If really you want to let loose, you want to feel free and really be continually joyful no matter what’s happening in your life, you need to be filled with the Spirit, and it’s not a one-time thing, a one-time need, but an ongoing need for spiritual power.
All throughout the Bible, almost every time the Holy Spirit is mentioned, he’s associated with giving ongoing everyday power. That’s why Paul says earlier in Ephesians 1 that he’s praying that they would know the immeasurable greatness of Holy Spirit’s power for all who believe. It’s why he says in Philippians, “I want to know him and the power of his resurrection.” What does that mean? Well, he says in Romans that the same power of the Holy Spirit that raised Christ from the dead now dwells in us. That means the same power that raised Christ to physical newness of life is raising us to spiritual newness of life. If you’re honest today, isn’t that what you need? Isn’t that what you want? Power to change. Power to be effective for God.
Now let’s be clear what type of power this is. It isn’t power to domineer over people, to push people around, and control people. No, it’s the power to serve and love people like Jesus did. It’s the power to live life God’s way, the power to become more like Jesus.
I’m afraid far too often we stop at being forgiven. Forgiveness is essential; you can't be reconciled to God without it. And praise God, because Jesus died for our sins, we can be forgiven when we receive him, but friends, Jesus doesn’t just give us pardon to get to heaven. He gives us power to live life now. The Christian life is meant to be lived now. The Holy Spirit doesn’t just bring me through the gate; he brings me down the path. He doesn't just get me started in the right direction but goes along with me every step of the way. God doesn’t just stop at giving you his mercy. He wants to give you his might. He doesn’t just stop at forgiving you; he wants to fill you. Not just pardon, but everyday power to face the world, the flesh, and the devil, power for a godly life and effective service to others.
So let’s all be clear on the answer to the first question: What is this gift? It’s the ongoing power of the Holy Spirit that all of us need to be more and more like Christ and to be more effective for Christ. So that’s what it is; now how do we get it?
How do we get it?
You need to believe.
This is why Jesus uses this contrast. He says, “Alright dads, how many of you, when your kid asks you for some basic need like food, what father out here is going to say, ‘Oh my child, you’re hungry, you want some cereal, here how about a bowl of snakes instead?’ What father in his right mind is gonna do that? No one,” and so Jesus says, in verse 13, “If you who are evil, who are sinners, and are imperfect, if you know how to give good gifts to your children, think about the perfect pure loving heart of your Heavenly Father.” How much more! Right, how much more, he says, will he give this power to those who ask. What was Jesus trying to do? He’s trying to raise our faith. He’s trying to convince his disciples that this power is not only available, but God is more than willing to give it to us.
You’re not going to ask for something you don’t think you’re going to get. No one’s going to sit down at a restaurant if they don’t think they’ll be served. You need to believe and know that you will receive this when you come to him. And here’s what you’ll receive in order to be filled: his truth. It’s why the Spirit is called the Spirit of truth, because the Spirit of God works through the Word of God to empower the people of God, but the way this works is by personally believing his Word for you.
You see, let’s go back to the example of drinking. I’ve shared this several times from this pulpit. Here’s a guy sitting at the bar, and he’s got his drinks all lined up in front of him. Now is that man going to get drunk by just looking at the drinks? Just by knowing that they’re there? No, he’s got to personally take it in. He’s got to personally consume them. And you see, it’s the same way when it comes to God’s truth. In order to empowered by the Spirit:
You’ve got to believe that God has forgiven all your sins.
You need to believe that nothing can separate you from God’s love in Christ.
You need to believe that God’s your Heavenly Father who will supply all of your needs.
You need to believe that God is working out all things together for your good.
You see, no one is going to go to the bar if they don’t think they’re going to be served, and no one is going to get drunk unless they personally consume what they’ve been given. We’ve got to believe.
Look at it another way. You could be given ten checks for $1,000 each, but none of those checks are going to do you any good unless you personally sign your name to them and deposit them in your account. It’s the same with the Word of God. You’ve got to personally believe lots of God’s truth and promises for your life. You not only need to read God’s Word and hear God’s Word; you need to believe God’s Word!
You need to pray.
In everything you’re doing, ask for the Holy Spirit to strengthen you. Ask for it. We’ve got to put this not just on a Christmas list but on our everyday list. Jesus said, “How much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” We’ve got to ask for this. Are we asking for the Holy Spirit? No, a better question, why don’t we ask for the Holy Spirit? The answer is pride. We are trained in our Western culture that to ask for help is a sign of weakness, but guess what? It is a sign of weakness, but remember, what did the Lord say to Paul? “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” That’s what Paul learned, that “when I am weak, then I am strong.” God resists the proud, but he gives grace to the humble. It’s a humbling thing to ask for help, but that’s where God wants us, on our knees in prayer, and even though we might not get what we’re asking for, God will strengthen us.
Remember Jesus, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. The cup wasn’t removed from him, but through prayer, it says, an angel came to strengthen him. It’s the same thing with David. He said, “In the day that I called, you answered me, my strength of soul you increased.” You see, that’s it. The power that comes through prayer.
If you want to stand in power, you need to bow in prayer. You need to believe. You need to pray.
You need to share your faith.
This past week, I was feeling very weak, very inadequate, and it’s often hard to remember that that’s always a great place to be because it led me to prayer. I prayed, “Lord, help me, fill me with your Spirit, empower me, help me to see opportunities to share the gospel.” As I was out, I ran into this older lady standing by a curb by herself. As I walked by, I said, “Hey, how’s it going?” And she said, “Well, I’m holding on.” And I said, “Well, we know who is holding onto us, don’t we?” and she said, “I guess, I just hope to God that he lets me into heaven.” And I said, “Did you know that you can know for certain that you’ll be in heaven?” And she says, “No, how?” and I told her that the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. I said, “Now, if it’s a gift, that means you can’t earn it or deserve it. A wage is something you deserve, but a gift is something you just receive. And I told her that because of what Jesus has done, we can be sure of heaven. I said, “What do you think of that?” and she said, “I think that’s wonderful, dear.” I said, “Yes, it is wonderful.” By that time, the bus had come, but my friends, how do you think I felt walking away from that conversation? I felt full. I felt empowered. You see, God not only empowers us to share the Good News; he empowers us more and more when we do.
Remember Jesus in John 4. Here he is after walking 80-something miles, tired, thirsty, and hungry, but here comes the Samaritan woman, and he loves her and tells her that he’s the Messiah. By that time, his disciples come back, and they say, “You’ve got to eat if you want your strength,” and he says, “I’ve got food to eat that you don’t know about.” You see, that’s it. He was strengthened by sharing the gospel. And so are we.
I can hear someone say, “But that’s what I don’t like about Christians, always trying to force their beliefs upon everyone else.” This is something you hear a lot, isn’t it? But let’s consider the logic of it. Everyone has a religious or philosophical viewpoint that they want other people to adopt. The question is who’s exclusive or not in their way of viewing things. The question is which way is the most credible in history and the world that we live in and produces the most joyful, humble, courageous, and loving people in this world. Now, of course, there are some bad apples that mistake being bold for being rude. Being bold for Jesus doesn’t mean being rude. Speaking up doesn’t mean you need to speak down to people.
So we need to believe, we need to pray, we need to share, and lastly, I would say,
You need to obey.
Here is Jesus in Luke 4 being filled with the Spirit before being tested and tempted in the wilderness, and by the Spirit, he overcomes the temptation. We’re told that he returned in the power of the Holy Spirit. You see what had happened, the same thing with sharing the gospel, the Holy Spirit doesn’t just empower us to overcome temptation. He empowers us more and more when we do. There is a blessing in obedience, and that’s one of the best ways to look at your temptations—as opportunities to grow in spiritual strength and power. Have you ever obeyed, you’ve served others, you’ve done the right thing, and felt a surge of spiritual strength and power after you did? That’s it. Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit.
But you might be here and fallen again under temptation, and you ask, “What about me?” What does this look like for me? When I haven’t obeyed, it means the obedience of confessing those failures to the Lord and repenting, turning around, and instead of facing sin, turning and facing Jesus, who says to everyone, “Come to me and I will not only forgive you, I will fill you.” You may have failed, but raise up the sails of confession and repentance and you will experience the wind of the Spirit filling you and leading you once again.
We need to believe. We need to pray. We need to share. We need to obey to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is a gift that’s always available. It’s never out of stock. This is a gift that you don’t need to wait for Christmas to get. May you receive it now, here today, and be strengthened once again with the power of God. What are you asking for this Christmas?
Jeremy A. McKeen is the Senior Pastor of the First Congregational Church of Hamilton, MA.