Sundays in Pentecost: Open to the Spirit (2)
We are taking the Pentecost season to post a Sunday series of excerpts and reflections from Scot McKnight’s new book, Open to the Spirit: God in Us, God with Us, God Transforming Us.
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Jesus was a real human being, which means he grew Spirit-ually by learning to be open to the Spirit. I know busloads of Christians who deny this was true of Jesus. Other Christians would like it not to be true, so they choose to avoid the truth. Most of us, however, would prefer to not explicitly deny a plain reading of the Gospels. So I’ll say it again: Jesus was human and because Jesus was a human, he needed to be empowered from day one with and by the Holy Spirit. If this is true— and I am about to show how this is found in the Bible— then it is true that you and I need the Holy Spirit. Even more so.
• p. 23
How did Jesus accomplish the things he did during his ministry?
I think a lot of people imagine that Jesus was like some sort of Marvel superhero, the “king” of the superheroes perhaps, who had every power at his disposal because of his divine nature. Perhaps Jesus was somehow “super-human” and the signs and wonders he performed and the powerful teaching he gave emanated naturally from him because, ontologically speaking, he walked a few inches above the ground and had within him a storehouse of divine wisdom and power. You know, he’s the One with the halo in all the pictures.
It is often harder for people to come to grips with the humanity of Jesus than it is for them to accept his divinity. They can’t conceive of him having limits, needing to learn, not knowing or comprehending everything, being surprised by things that happen, being caught unaware or not in control at any and every moment.
However, as Scot McKnight reminds us, Peter described Jesus in a particular way that helps us understand him better:
You know… how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
• Acts 10:36-38
As Scot concludes, “Jesus’s kingdom powers were at work in him because he was wide open to the Holy Spirit” (p. 24).
A close look at the Gospel of Luke will reveal that this is a distinctive emphasis of Lukan theology.
- In the Gospel, Jesus announced his mission by quoting these words from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18).
- In the Book of Acts, it is the coming of the Spirit that ignites the church to participate in the same mission, on a worldwide scale: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Throughout the Gospel of Luke, we see a distinct emphasis on the Spirit filling Jesus’ life and ministry.
- Even before Jesus’ birth, Luke portrays” the days leading up to Jesus’s appearance on earth as a special unleashing of the Holy Spirit on the principal people in the story: Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, and most especially John the Baptist and Jesus” (p. 33).
- At Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit descended upon him.
- The Spirit drove him into the wilderness to be tempted and enabled him to withstand the devil.
- He announced himself as the one that the Spirit-anointed for God’s mission (see above).
Scot summarizes the import of this for our lives well.
Jesus was the Spirit-filled human among humans. Was he different from us? Not in his need for and dependence on the Spirit, except that he was always wide open and we are not. I agree with Gerald Hawthorne when he wrote that Jesus “needed the Spirit’s power to lift him out of his human restrictions, to carry him beyond his human limitations, and to enable him to do the seeming impossible.” With Jesus, a new age has begun: the Age of the Spirit. If Jesus could do his ministry only by the power of the Spirit, and if special but ordinary humans such as Elizabeth and Mary and Simeon could do their ministries only by the power of the Spirit, then you and I especially need to be more and more open to the Spirit.
• p. 34