Friday, May 13, 2005

His Holy Spirit, Part II

From Creche to Cross

Part I | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII

I don't begin to know how to introduce this section of the study. It seems as if God's Spirit retreats from the stage of scripture at this point, only to be referred to in promises made by Jesus - except for one spectacular moment at His baptism when the two are together and seem to become one again; two-thirds of God's triune personality on this world (if God can possibly be described in mathematical terms). But the presence of the Spirit expressed in the New Testament begins with a revelation to a couple who would become Jesus' aunt and uncle:

Luke 1:15 | "...for he [John the Baptist] will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth."
"Filled with" - scripture goes back to the description of the Spirit's relationship with Bezalel, the tabernacle designer ... why? And from birth? Is it the Lord's instruction that John should be a Nazirite? Is that interrelated to his relationship with the Spirit?

Luke 1:34-35 | "How will this be?" Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God."
This is just awkward; we don't like to talk or even think about this. But the Spirit was an agent - along with the power of the Most High God - in the giving of Jesus to the world through Mary. Maybe "hows" and "whys" are pointless to ask here; maybe the most accurate (and simplest) description from a qualified physician is already used.

Luke 1:41 | "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit."
Now the mother of John the Baptist is spoken of as being "filled with" the Holy Spirit. (Interesting to me that the first two people mentioned in connection with Him are women. John - yet to be born - would be filled "from birth" {see above} and he hasn't been born at this point.) Look this up to see the beautiful exchange between these two - dare I say? - inspired women.

Matthew 1:18 | This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.
Matthew tells the story rather matter-of-factly. The phrasing is peculiar to us: How was she "found" to be with child through the Holy Spirit? To be sure, both Joseph and Mary were told in advance that it would happen. What would your reaction be as a young, engaged person to news like this? Mary's response was pretty much "Let it happen to the Lord's handmaiden as He has said."

Luke 2:25 | "Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him."
Here is the "upon him" language again, referring to this elderly priest who was delighted to see the baby Jesus at the temple for the bris - but spoke prophetic words of warning to His mother. Did those words of prophecy come from the Holy Spirit who was upon him? Why did the Spirit choose to reveal this truth in this way - and at this time? To be sure, at the circumcision there would be piercing of flesh and dripping of blood and the baby would cry ... and His mother would feel a peculiar mix of sadness at the pain and joy at the covenant fulfilled ....

Matthew 3:11 | "I [John the Baptist] baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." (Also Mk. 1:8, Lk. 3:16)
Here, John speaks prophetically of a day when Jesus will "baptize" with the Holy Spirit - and with fire. It seems to be fulfilled at Pentecost. And it seems to be the first of many instances in which the Holy Spirit is given in close proximity to baptism.

Matthew 3:16 | As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment, heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. (Also Mk. 1:10, Lk. 3:22)
Here's the next instance. The "he" might refer to Jesus - or to John; that's not real clear. Apostle John's account (see below) makes it clear that John saw it and testified to it. Why "as a dove" and why "descending" and "lighting on him"? Not "filled" or "poured out upon" or any other term? Is this a signal of a unique relationship between Jesus and the Spirit?

John 1:32 | Then John [the Baptist] gave this testimony: "I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.' "
This fascinates me! Who was "the one" who sent John to baptize with water and gave him this signal of recognition? And if John didn't recognize Jesus as the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit, why did he hail Him as "The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world"? Could it be that the Spirit actually spoke through John before John recognized his Cousin to be the person who would baptize with the Holy Spirit?

Luke 4:1 | Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the desert... | 4:14 | Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.
Now, immediately after His baptism, Jesus is spoken of as "full of" the Holy Spirit - something that was true of John "since birth." Had it also been true of Jesus? Or did that fulness begin here? The Spirit leads Him into the desert to be tempted after 40 days of fasting - and gives Him the power to return to Galilee. Why did news about Him spread? Had He done something miraculous, began teaching powerfully or something else we're not told? Or was it just that an emaciated carpenter and friend of the community had found the strength to return home from the wild? Did the Spirit pick Him up and supernaturally transport Him, as the servants of Elijah thought the chariot might have done with their master?

Luke 10:21 | At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and revealed them to little children."
Jesus had just heard great news from the returning 72 missionaries He had sent out. Here He is described as "full of joy through the Holy Spirit." Is it possible that we are missing out on some of this joy ... or even experiencing it from time to time without recognizing the Spirit through which it is given?

Luke 11:11 | [Jesus:] "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
Do we ask Him? Jesus has just shared a model prayer with His followers. He has just begged them to be persistent in prayer, and promised them it will pay off. But what He is encouraging them to beg for in their prayer is the Holy Spirit. Do we ask for Him?

Matthew 10:18-20 | "On my [Jesus'] account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." | Luke 12:11-12 | "When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say."
This prophecy reassures those who would speak for Him while under lock and chain that an advanced degree in theology would not be required; three years of seminary with Him and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit would be enough. Is that same inspiration available to us? When we wish to approach someone we love with the gospel, but don't know how to begin or what to say?

Matthew 12:31 | "And so I [Jesus] tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or the age to come." (Also Mk. 3:13, Lk. 12:8-10)
This is serious business. What exactly constitutes "speaking against" the Holy Spirit? Denying His power? Denying His holiness? Calling good "evil" and evil "good"? How close do we want to get to finding out by experience?

Matthew 12:43-45 | [Jesus:] "When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation." (Also Luke 11:24)
Why's this here? It's not talking about the Holy Spirit ....

But does it raise any questions in your mind? Like ... what should be filling that "house" after the evil spirit has been cast out? Is the Holy Spirit still available to us as a "housekeeper" after evicting our demons and evil inclinations?

John 3:6 | [Jesus:] "Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be suprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' 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."
Nicodemus is perplexed at Jesus' answer to his unspoken but heartfelt question. Is Jesus saying that the Spirit is like the wind, blowing where He pleases? Or that people born of the Spirit are like the wind; you hear their sound but don't know where they're coming from or going? Or both? How does Spirit give birth to spirit?

John 3:34 | [Jesus:] "For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit."
Is there an unspoken "him" here that some versions add: "... God gives [him] the Spirit without limit"? Jesus is speaking of Himself here; He doesn't talk about anyone else for a couple more verses. Is it only Jesus to whom God gave His Spirit without measure? Does He give it to us in a measure, like that "some" taken from Moses and apportioned to the seventy elders? Does that measure change over time? Increase when we ask for more? Decrease when we choose to walk away from God?

John 6:63 | [Jesus:] "The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life."
He had just alienated a number of followers who, after enjoying loaves and fishes, begged for bread from heaven. He had told them to eat His flesh and drink His blood and it sounded like cannibalism to them, no doubt. His closest followers remained, though, probably baffled but still faithful to Him. He shares that the Spirit gives life. Was it God's own Spirit (pneuma) that was breathed into Adam's nostrils that brought him from clay to man? Is Jesus speaking of eternal life given by the Spirit? Or both? Some have pounced on the next phrase to insist that His words are the Spirit and life. Is that a fair assessment? Or was it a reassurance to His followers that He was only speaking metaphorically about eating His flesh and drinking His blood?

John 7:38 | [Jesus:] "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'streams of living water will flow from within him.' " By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.
John does his own exegesis here. He apparently wants to leave no doubt what Jesus was talking about. The fluid, watery metaphor for the Spirit is here again, like the one for air/wind/breath, yet this one is connected again with life - "living water." And John makes it plain that the Spirit would be given later to "those who believed in Him."

John 14:15-18 | [Jesus:] "If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever - the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." | 15:28 | "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." | 16:13a | "But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth." | 15b | "... the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you."
In Jesus' prayer over the Passover meal from which Judas fled to betray Him, He identifies the Counselor to be the Spirit of truth - new descriptions. The term "counselor" has a meaning which transcends any single English word: companion, friend, advocate, walker-beside (literally). Jesus describes some of the ways the Spirit of truth will help: guiding into truth, making it known. Would there be more ways? Were these enough for Him to talk about at the moment?

(It's also in this passage that Jesus uses the singular masculine pronoun "he" to refer to the Spirit - as I have tried to remember to do throughout this study, wondering if the "it" I used to use is very accurate. How can a spirit have gender? God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth, Jesus told the Samaritan woman. Yet God is generally called "Father" ... though in Isaiah 49 and 66 He reveals some motherly aspects of His character.)

Matthew 28:16 | [Jesus:] "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
The Spirit again is intimately connected with baptism - which is almost certainly baptism in water because it is something done by one person to another. But it is only part of the instruction: make disciples, baptize them, teach them to obey. Then there is a guarantee: "I will be with you always." How? Visibly? In a resurrected body that will return periodically after He ascends in this verse? To the end of what age or world? And are we among the "you" to whom He speaks?

John 20:22 | And with that he [Jesus] breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit."
Is the act of breathing on His friends from His resurrected body somehow connected to His plea for them to receive the Holy Spirit? Is it a way of making the pneuma metaphor come to life? Does it call to mind what God did with Adam?

I'm out of questions again. Sometimes my brain just goes "TILT! TILT! TILT!"

When I've had a chance to let it rest and chew on some of these questions, let's put our heads together again and go after some more in Part III.

1 comment:

David U said...

I hope you are giving credit for degree work with this study brother! :) It is RICH!

Keep bringing it!