The Holy Spirit: The Synoptic Gospels, Part 3

Missionaries

(Mat 10:16-22 ESV)  16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

(Compare Mark 13:9 ff; Luke 12:10 ff).

Jesus sends out the 12 apostles as missionaries to the Jews, promising them that the Spirit will give them the words to say. And it’s an important promise.

The apostles may well have been teenagers — as this was the typical age for students of a rabbi. Ray Vander Laan quote the Mishnah,

At five years old [one is fit] for the Scripture, at ten years the Mishnah (oral Torah, interpretations) at thirteen for the fulfilling of the commandments, at fifteen the Talmud (making Rabbinic interpretations), at eighteen the bride-chamber, at twenty pursuing a vocation, at thirty for authority (able to teach others)

The apostles, other than Peter, appear not to have been married, and so they may have been very young. Although some may have had considerable education, most appear to have been relatively unlearned compared to the rabbis and others scholars of the day, such as the Pharisees. Three years with Jesus would have been the best education imaginable, but not in the things the “experts” in the Law studied. They would not have mastered the “traditions” — the oral commands compiled over the centuries, for example. To a Pharisee or priest, they would have seemed naive rubes — but for the power of the Spirit.

This is, of course, one of the passages that assures us the inspiration of apostolic writings. But it’s also a parallel to —

(Mat 28:19-20 ESV)  19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus’ earlier promises of persecution and the Spirit’s help remain true, and they are true for us. We won’t have the Spirit’s words to the degree that the apostles had it, but we’ll have the Spirt’s leading — as we’ll see as we work through the rest of the New Testament. And we’ll have the very presence of Jesus — which is more than a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Joy in the Spirit

Following Jesus’ sending out of the 72 missionaries, he receives their favorable reports.

(Luk 10:21-22 ESV) 21 In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.  22 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

It’s easy enough to see why Jesus would rejoice as the victories achieved from his disciples’ mission work, so what does the Spirit add to his joy? Well, the Spirit is particularly involved in God’s mission, and so when Jesus rejoices at the gospel being taught in so many places, his joy is all the greater because it’s a joy in seeing God’s mission being accomplished — a joy that he shared with the Spirit and God himself.

But not just that he knew the Spirit was rejoicing, but that the Spirit rejoiced within him.

The gift of the Spirit

(Luk 11:9-13 ESV)  9 “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent;  12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

This is an astounding promise in context. For centuries, God had given the Spirit to a very select few judges, prophets, and kings, but Jesus promises that the Spirit will be freely given — because from God’s standpoint, the Spirit is what we need. After all, the reason an earthly father gives fish and eggs to his children is for their sustenance. God will give us what we need for our sustenance.

The prophets had, of course, promised an outpouring of the Spirit in the Messianic age, and so Jesus’ promise of the generous dispensing of the Spirit was also a claim to be the Messiah.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit

(Mat 12:22-32 ESV)  22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw.  23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?”

24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”

25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.  26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?  27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.  28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.  29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.  30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.  31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.  32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

(Compare Mark 3:22 ff).

Jesus says blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven, and this has led to some crazy theories and a lot of fear. But we don’t need to import theories from elsewhere. The key is to interpret in light of the immediate context.

Jesus cast out a demon — clearly a being in league with Satan, and yet the Pharisees accused Jesus of doing so by the power of Beelzebul (the lord of dung — a particularly severe term for Satan).

Jesus evidently finds it incomprehensible that anyone can be this dense! If he’s casting out devils by the Devil’s power, then Satan’s world is in rebellion! Praise God! How could he cast out servants of the Devil unless he’s working with someone more powerful than the Devil? And why accuse Jesus of Satanism when the Pharisees’ sons (apprentices) also cast out demons?

And Jesus declares, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Why? Well, because as Matthew had just very helpfully quotes, Isaiah declared —

(Mat 12:18 ESV) 18 “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.”

The powerful presence of the Spirit was to be a sign of the Messiah — and the crowd knew it. They asked whether he might be the “Son of David” — the Messiah? And the Pharisees desperately looked for a way to avoid the obvious conclusion.

So what is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Well, it’s seeing the Spirit’s work with your own eyes and declaring it the work of Satan. More generally, it’s a willful rebellion against God. If you love your power and influence more than the evidence of your own eyes, then you’ve chosen to worship your power rather than bowing down before the power of God.

Now, some argue that therefore blasphemy of the Spirit is no longer possible, as the Spirit no longer works in this manner — but that is to assume what  you want to prove. (Called “begging the question.”) You see, if you dismiss all evidence, even without investigation, then you’ll never find evidence to dispute your opinion — and that’s exactly what the Pharisees did — they were so sure of themselves they were unwilling to consider any evidence to the contrary. And they were damned for their arrogance.

Therefore, when someone tells me he’s seen the Holy Spirit heal a friend, my attitude is “maybe.” I’ll not be so naive as to believe all such claims. And I’ll not be like the Pharisees and blame it on Satan without a thought. And if I ever see a broken arm mended before my own eyes, I’ll give glory to God — and it won’t upset my theology one little bit.

You see, if there’s any lesson here for us at all, it’s that we need to be open minded. After all, if God wants to do a miracle, he doesn’t need my permission. Call me “liberal” or “change agent,” but the conservative — the cautious — approach is to honor the teaching. And the teaching is plainly, “Don’t be like the Pharisees and give Satan credit for the Spirit’s work.” And the interpretation of 1 Cor 13 that says miracles have ceased is not so certain that I’m willing to bet my soul on it.

(And, yes, we’ll get to the texts that many claim prove that miracles no longer happen. I’m not persuaded that we’ve correctly read them. Indeed, I believe we are so afraid of the excesses of some, that in our zeal to leave Babylon, we’ve gone clean past Jerusalem to Rome — as Alexander Campbell once famously said.)

The Great Commission

(Mat 28:18-20 ESV)  18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Here’s one of the great Trinitarian passages. But I won’t spend much time proving orthodox Trinitarianism. It’s well-trod ground. And I doubt that Jesus said these words with the primary goal of proving the Trinity. Rather, it’s obviously important to Jesus that we understand our baptism as being into all three members of the Trinity. Why?

Well, to a Jew, it would be easy to imagine that our salvation relationship is entirely with God the Father. This formulation forces the Jewish convert to recognize that baptism requires recognition of the authority and position of the Son.

Of course, it’s also possible to imagine that Jesus somehow supersedes God, but Jesus assures us that even though the Son has been given “all authority,” it’s a gift from God — not a Marcionite defeat of God.

The role of the Spirit in baptism and our salvation is only hinted at in Matthew — particularly in the baptism of Jesus — but it’s clear that we are to consider our baptism “into the Spirit” as well. We gain a relationship with the Spirit — always pictured as God’s agent on earth among humanity — and long-prophesied as part of the transformation that would come in the Messianic age.

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2 Responses

  1. i think it’s important to note the bookends we see in mt 28. Jesus has been given all authority and will be with us until the end. we only find authority for evangelism in that we are in Christ and sent both by and as Christ. and he remains in us for all time through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. what “we” accomplish is not of our own power, nor is it of our own initiative. we find in this text both our mandate and our authority for mission. i would argue it’s also implied that only with God’s power are disciples made.

  2. Jay said:

    Jesus’ earlier promises of persecution and the Spirit’s help remain true, and they are true for us. We won’t have the Spirit’s words to the degree that the apostles had it, but we’ll have the Spirit’s leading — as we’ll see as we work through the rest of the New Testament. And we’ll have the very presence of Jesus — which is more than a warm, fuzzy feeling.

    Jesus said:

    Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. – John 14:11-12

    Can you reconcile the idea that we won’t have as much Spiritual leading as the Apostles, but we will do more than Jesus on the earth? In the Kingdom economy, less Spirit leading does not produce more spiritual work. The context of the conversation in John is knowing the Father by knowing Jesus. Jesus specifically says “anyone who has faith in me…” That would seem to include us right now.

    I guess I’m wondering how you drew the conclusion you did…

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