Even before Jesus was born, the Spirit is stirring, preparing the way for His coming. Gabriel tells Zecharias that his son John will be filled with the Spirit from the womb (Luke 1:15), and after John’s birth the Spirit loosens the tongue of Zecharias so he can prophesy (Luke 1:67).
Gabriel tells Mary that she will conceive a son when the Spirit overshadows her (Luke 1:35), and Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit when Mary visits (Luke 1:41). The Father sends the Son through the Spirit; the Son takes on flesh by the Spirit. The Creator Spirit is the maker of the Son’s humanity.
Jesus’ ministry is ministry in the Spirit. It begins when the Spirit descends on Him at His baptism, accompanied by the Father’s declaration, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).
After His baptism, the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Luke 4:1). The same Spirit drives Him to Nazareth, where He announces in the synagogue that he is Yahweh’s Servant, filled with the Spirit to proclaim good news, release captives, give sight to the blind, free the oppressed, and declare the favorable year of the Lord (Luke 4:14, 18).
Jesus heralds the kingdom by the breath of the Spirit, heals by the power of the Spirit, casts out demons by the finger of the Spirit, raises the dead by the strength of the Spirit.
Jesus gives that Spirit to His disciples. The Spirit comes to the church imprinted with the life and work of Jesus, in order to imprint the life and work of Jesus on the church. Jesus’ entire ministry is ministry in the Spirit. The apostles’ work is Pentecostal from top to bottom.
When the Spirit comes, they speak in tongues and prophesy (Acts 2:4, 17-18), and later so do the Samaritans (Acts 8:15, 17) and the members of Cornelius’s household (Acts 10) and the disciples of John in Ephesus (Acts 19:6). The Spirit gives them speech, so everyone can hear what the Spirit is saying in and to the churches.
In the power of the Spirit, the apostles perform signs and wonders, healing, raising the dead, casting out demons. In the power of the Spirit, Peter speaks to the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:8); in the power in the Spirit the disciples pray (Acts 4:31); in the power of the Spirit, Peter discerns the lies of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:3, 9).
Stephen speaks and confounds his enemies by the power of the Spirit (Acts 6:10), and he dies full of the Spirit (Acts 7:55). His death unleashes the Spirit outside Jerusalem. The Spirit directs Philip to intercept the chariot of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:29), and after baptizing him the Spirit snatches him to another place (Acts 8:39).
The Spirit chooses and sends Barnabas and Saul on a mission to the Gentiles (Acts 13:2, 4), and as they go, they spread the joy of the Spirit (Acts 13:52). The Spirit directs their mission, sometimes by blocking their path and directing them elsewhere (Acts 16:6-7).
The council of Jerusalem’s decision is made in communion with the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28). The Spirit drives Paul to Jerusalem (Acts 19:21; 20:22), warning him that he will be bound and chained (Acts 20:23). Acts ends with Paul quoting what the Holy Spirit said about the Jews through Isaiah the prophet (Acts 28:25).
The Spirit blows where He wills, and He often outpaces the apostles. He fills Samaritans and Gentiles before the apostles are quite ready for it. He directs Paul into Macedonia when Paul wants to stay in Asia. Paul tells us to keep in step with the Spirit, and we might imagine that means we’re taking a leisurely stroll with the Spirit. Often, keeping in step with the Spirit means sprinting to catch up.
Traditional Protestants are sometimes reticent about the Spirit. We’ve over-reacted to the excesses of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements and been spooked into silence. We sometimes slip into an implicit belief that the Spirit has no active role in the church today. We sometimes slip into a kind of naturalism that ignores or denies the Spirit’s work.
Instead of blocking the charismatic excesses, I suggest we over-accept. I suggest we strive to be more Pentecostal than the Pentecostals and to out-charismatic the charismatics. Instead of minimizing the Spirit, or being embarrassed by the Spirit, we should magnify the Spirit.
Let me highlight two places where this might be done. I’m sure many Pentecostals and charismatics will agree with me. First, some charismatics have adopted a prosperity gospel. If you have faith, everything you do will succeed. If you walk by the Spirit, you’ll go from triumph to triumph.
But the apostles have a deep sense that every move in their mission, every development is guided by the Spirit: Every open door and every closed door comes from the Spirit. When 3000 are baptized on one day, it’s the work of the Spirit. When Paul can’t get to Asia, it’s the work of the Spirit. When they do works of power, it’s the work of the Spirit. When they’re weak and persecuted and imprisoned, it’s the work of the Spirit. In the Spirit, we are more than conquerors; in the Spirit, we suffer for Jesus’ sake.
When the Spirit invades a world under the dominion of flesh, He starts a war, Spirit against flesh. He’s the Spirit of the judges, and He arms us for battle, first of all against our own sin. We gain ground, then lose ground; we think we’ve crushed the head of some sin, but it’s a zombie that keeps coming back from the grave. That battle isn’t a sign we’re out of sync with the Spirit. Relentless struggle is a sign of the Spirit’s presence.
The Spirit drove Jesus to the wilderness. Overwhelmed by the audacity of the Spirit, Jesus walks a path that cannot but lead to a collision and a cross. And then He gives us this same Spirit to inspire a like audacity. Sometimes he drives us into the wilderness. If we keep up with the Spirit, we’ll find ourselves on a cross.
Second, another weakness of some charismatics is a lust for display. It’s not hard to see why. Pentecost begins with a spectacle of power. The Spirit storms in like a rushing mighty wind, lighting up each apostle with a tongue of fire. The apostles speak in tongues and Peter talks about prophesying. This is the Spirit of creation, the Spirit who filled the tabernacle, the Spirit who clothed the judges and turned them into Yahweh’s berserkers.
But as evening falls on the first Christian Pentecost, as day dawns on the day after Pentecost, we get a different glimpse of life in the Spirit. Those who are baptized and receive the Spirit devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the communion, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. Disciples share their goods, ready to sell their own property to provide for those who are in need.
After such a spectacular beginning, this seems a prosaic ending. After the Spirit is unbottled, it seems He’s been bottled up again. No. Extraordinary gifts come from the Spirit, and the Spirit is also active in the ordinary life of the communion of saints. For the Spirit makes the ordinary extraordinary, and the extraordinary ordinary.
When people are of one mind, holding to the teaching of Scripture – that’s the Spirit’s work. When people from every nation under heaven break bread together at a common table – that’s an aftershock of Pentecost. When the saints sacrifice their own wealth and comfort for the sake of brothers, when we devote our goods to the service of the church, the Spirit is at work. When we live lives of continuous prayer, the Spirit of battle is stirring.
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