The Holy Spirit’s Role in the Coming of Jesus

We often associate the Holy Spirit with the beginning of the church in Luke’s second volume, the book of Acts. What is interesting is that the Holy Spirit also played a key role in kicking off Luke’s first volume, the Gospel of Luke:

  • Luke 1:15 – John the Baptist will be filled with the Holy Spirit before he is born
  • Luke 1:35 – The Holy Spirit will take part in the conception of Jesus
  • Luke 1:41 – When Mary and Elizabeth meet, both pregnant, John jumps in Elizabeth’s womb and it is Elizabeth who is filled with the Holy Spirit! It prompts her to speak a blessing on Mary.
  • Luke 1:67 – The Holy Spirit fills Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, and he prophesies. I am really unsure why this prophesy always gets the heading “Zechariah’s Song” when it is a prophesy.
  • Luke 2:25 – Simeon had been promised that he would see the Messiah before he died. He also had the Holy Spirit on him.
  • Luke 3:16 John the Baptist tells the crowds that the one who comes after him will baptize people in the Holy Spirit
  • Luke 3:22 – the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus at his baptism (interesting that Luke says this happened “as he was praying” at his baptism)
  • Luke 4:1 – Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit as he went out into the wilderness to be tested.

The Holy Spirit played a huge role in the coming of Jesus and the beginning of his ministry. What is more, the Holy Spirit was present in the ministry of Jesus as well:

  • Luke 10:21 – The Holy Spirit wasn’t just present at Jesus baptism and temptation. The Holy Spirit was upon him in this verse as well
  • Luke 11:13 – Jesus says God will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask
  • Luke 12:10 – a warning against blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. This warning means the Holy Spirit was a driving force in Jesus’ ministry and miracles. That is clear because Jesus is warning them against calling his miracles from the devil and saying that to deny his miracles is to blaspheme the Spirit, which means the Spirit was at work in the ministry of Christ.

It is easy to think the Holy Spirit was absent from all of this because we spend more time on Jesus’ promise of the coming of the Spirit from verses like John 16:7,

“But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”

Some then assume the Spirit wasn’t much a part of anything until after Jesus ascended to heaven. As you can see from all the verses above, the Holy Spirit played a central role in the coming of the Messiah from before he was conceived, through Mary’s pregnancy, to his birth and through his ministry and then, finally, to the church. The Spirit’s involvement in the start of the church wasn’t anything new. It was very much in line with everything the Spirit had been involved in up to that point.

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The Book of Acts And the Shaping of the Church

Ever since I can remember growing up I have heard that the book of Acts is the model for the church. A lot of people say (correctly) that we are a 21st century church in a 21st century world and that means there are going to be some differences between the church we read about in Acts and the church of today. That is fair. I do think, though, that there is so much in Acts that we really do need to take notice of and emulate.

When I read Acts I read about the church away from the assembly. They are out there on a mission. They are seeking lost people and intentionally reaching them with the Gospel. They are prayerful about their direction and focus. They are relying on God in so many ways and for so many reasons. It is really pretty humbling. When I have heard people express the sentiment about us being like that church it worries me just a little bit because it is often implied that we are already there when the reality is we still have much to learn from their example.

Here are a few areas that I think they had right that are still helpful today

Mission
How much has the book of Acts shaped the one thing that stands out the most in the book of Acts? Our mission. If we are that church we read about in Acts, are we sending people out to reach lost people? I don’t mean sending checks (that is important and essential to many good works continuing). I means people…do the people who attend know they are a part of a mission, what that mission is and how they contribute to it?

Boldness/Zeal
Do we share their boldness and zeal? They took on the world. They spoke with kings. They upset the status quo and had meetings with rulers and authorities and found themselves in conversations with prominent people because what they were up to was significant enough to get them in trouble with certain groups.

Dependence on God
Do we mirror their full out dependence on God for direction? These guys trusted God. They didn’t always get it right but it always came back to what God wanted and trying to be pleasing to God through fulfilling the work He gave them to do. I am afraid there are some Christians who have learned to depend on doctrine rather than God. Again, doctrine is important, even essential but we must always remember who the doctrine points us to.

Imitation & Maturity
The point here is that being a church like that is more than form. It is about our heart. It is about our view of God. It is about our mission and our attitude. It is more than imitation. We can imitate someone else all day but it doesn’t mean a whole lot until we make it our own and grow to maturity. Strict imitation can be a real sign of immaturity and can reflect a real lack of dependence on God in favor of a dependence on form.

“Witness”…Making Personal Things Public

ws“My religion is a personal thing, deeply personal, but it’s not private.” – J. Mack Stiles in Speaking of Jesus, p.13

There is a belief out there that deeply personal beliefs should be kept private. The thought is, they should be kept private because deeply personal beliefs often have a lot of strings attached. When someone presents these types of beliefs we either have to stand our ground on any differing beliefs we might have or be changed by what we see and hear. Deep seated, deeply personal beliefs, when presented demand a response…some sort of action. Many people don’t want to have to be faced with someone else’s belief system and then have to examine their own life in light of what that other person believes. If you believe in moral relativism and all belief systems are equally good, then why be bothered with that kind of friction?

When Jesus gave his disciples the great commission in Matthew 28 and then again in Acts 1:8, Jesus was commanding them to take the most profound and personal areas of their life and make it public. There is a word in Acts 1:8 that I have read dozens of times but never really unpacked. Jesus told the disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

A witness is someone who experiences an event and is willing to talk about what they saw and heard. The word witness is a legal term. We see it in the legal requirements laid out in the Torah in verses like Numbers 35:30 & Exodus 23:1 in regard to witnesses needed to convict someone of a capital offense. But in the New Testament the term witness is used almost exclusively about what people saw and heard Jesus do. 1 John 1:1-4 lays this out really well,

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.”

In John’s Gospel he tells us that the very idea of witness started with Jesus himself. He came to be a witness to us about what he knows about the Father (John 1:1-8). Jesus bore witness through his words (things people heard…telling us what he knows about God) and through his actions (things people saw…showing us something about God through his compassion, miracles and even his judgment).

What we hear and see in Jesus’ teaching is that he bore witness to the world about the Father so that his disciples, in turn, bear witness to the world of what they saw and heard from Jesus. So in Acts 1:8 Jesus tells them that they will be his witnesses. In Acts 2, Peter preaches (a public pronouncement of what he has seen and heard from Jesus) to several thousand people. He tells them in 2:29-33 that David bore witness of the Christ because he saw what was ahead and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ (2:31). Peter goes on to say that the resurrected Christ, “has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” Now they are witnesses of the power of the Holy Spirit that also bears witness that Peter’s testimony (another legal term) is true. They have experienced something deep and personal. Will they tell someone about what they saw and heard and how it all came from the power of the resurrected Lord?

Another instance of this is in the very next chapter of Acts where Peter and John heal a crippled beggar. The crowd has experienced the power of God and Peter tells the crowd this, “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.

What does this all mean for us? If we have any experience with the resurrected Lord, any transformation through the Holy Spirit, or any blessings that we have received from Christ or through Christ…we have a story to share as a witness to these things. What is more, we can point people back to the original eye witnesses of these events that testify to who Jesus is and what he has done so that people can see and hear for themselves so that, like with any good eye witness testimony, they can conclude that these things are true and find life through Christ. But it starts with us having the willingness to make some very personal and often private views public.

John The Baptist’s Baptism Was for the Forgiveness of Sins

You have undoubtedly heard that John the Baptist’s baptism was a baptism of repentance and that the difference between John’s baptism and Jesus’ baptism was that Jesus’ baptism took it a step further by adding the effect of the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). Well, was anyone even reading Mark 1:4? “And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” I have read that verse a zillion times and never picked up on it until this week when a good friend of mine pointed that out.

What is more, Jesus’ disciples baptized people during his ministry. John 4:1-2 says, “Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John — although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.” I had always assumed this was the same kind of baptism John was doing and for the same purpose. Was this also a baptism for the forgiveness of sins? If that is what Jesus came to do it would only make sense that it was. Would Jesus baptize in a way less than what John was doing?

Honestly, this should come as no surprise. God constantly forgave sins under the old covenant. The sacrificial system itself came with the blessing of atonement and forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness of sins wasn’t a new idea in the new covenant. The means of that forgiveness certainly changed.

Then Why Did Jesus Have to Come?
When my friend shared this with me, he said the person who pointed this out to him then asked him “Why did Jesus have to die if John’s baptism brought forgiveness?” That is a question a lot of people would ask if you showed them Mark 1:4. I believe that question shows a gross misunderstanding of the ministry of Jesus. They might as well have pointed out the verses in the Old Testament where God said he would forgive their sins and ask why Jesus had to come if God could forgive sins any other way. The Gospel we have preached is too small when people ask questions like that.

Jesus certainly came to forgive sins but Jesus did more than wipe away the bad. Jesus came to bring us abundant life. Jesus came to give us his yoke. Jesus came to show us the inbreaking kingdom and reign of God. Jesus came to be victor of sin and death so that by his overcoming of those powers he would open the door to our having eternal life with God. Instead, we have chosen to boil down the ministry of Jesus to fixing our problem of sin only. We have preached it and taught that so much that people can’t even see why Jesus came once they understand forgivness of sins was already present prior to Jesus Christ. We have a lot of work to do in helping people have a biblical understanding of the message and mission of Jesus Christ and what the Gospel is all about.

Help From You Guys With Accordance or Logos – What is the most common command in the Bible?

I had an email discussion yesterday with a buddy about what the most frequent command in scripture is. If you google it you will find “do not be afraid” comes out on top. That is at least the theory but I can’t find really any evidence that backs it up. They say it occurs 365 times in the Bible and that there are 365 days in the year, and that God was making a point with that (even though the Jewish calendar didn’t have 365 days). Often the command “Fear not” (like in Acts 27:24) is actually in the passive and is not an imperative. It comes across as an imperative though. Anyone thought about any of this? Help me out. What is the most common imperative in the whole Bible? Is it:

  • Go
  • Say/Tell
  • Listen
  • Do
  • Something else?

Any ideas out there?

David Platt: The Sinner’s Prayer is Superstitious and Unbiblical

A friend of mine just pointed me to this video from David Platt on the sinner’s prayer.

I have always had a problem with the sinners prayer. It is not that I have a problem with faith. It is not that I have a problem with responding to God through faith and even prayer (I can’t imagine turning my life over to Christ without prayer). What bothers me about the sinners prayer is that it offers up a different response to a very biblical question than the answer an inspired apostles gave to the question of convicted sinners, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Honestly, the sinners prayer ignores the response of the apostles to the question of those who asked in response to the Gospel, “What shall we do?” and replaces the answer with something that is abiblical.

So we have two different answers being offered in response to the what shall we do question. You have Peter’s answer, repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38) and you have pastor Steve or pastor Billy or sister Susie’s answer…pray this prayer. Who are you going to trust has a better answer to the same question? Sorry if that sounds snarky. I don’t mean to be disrespectful to well meaning people but it is entirely possible to be well meaning and still be wrong on this subject. I don’t mean to sound arrogant. I do want to be biblical.

The question of the 3000 in Acts 2:37 is the same question every single person asks who is convicted by the truth of the Gospel and the identity of Jesus as the Christ/Messiah…since these things are true, what response does God call me to? (Biblically…”what shall we do?”). I will go with Peter over any preacher or teacher today who has not personally been in Jesus’ inner circle, not personally inspired in their teaching by the Holy Spirit, and who has not written books recorded in the New Testament as Peter has. If you ask me what to do, let me point you to Peter, Jesus, and Paul rather than the opinions that are floating around today.

Thanks to Eric for pointing me toward the video.

Infant Baptism

I had slacked on my baptism series because this post has been a difficult one to publish. I really want to make sure I have my facts straight here and not stir things up based on faulty information. Infant baptism is practiced by a very high percentage of Christianity and it is important to understand the practice and how it is supported by those who practice it.

Advocates of infant baptism have several points they use to support the practice. Let me start with one example from the Roman Catholics who view baptism as a sacrament necessary for all mankind regardless of age due to our fallen nature,

“Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called.50 The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.51″ (link)

First and foremost, Catholics view baptism as necessary for salvation. Supporters of infant baptism make several points they say support the baptism of infants:

  1. Tradition – Some believe the earliest witness to infant baptism dates back to Irenaus in the second century and that the tradition of infant baptism over the last 1800 years carries a lot of weight.
  2. Apostolic origin – they cite Origen and St. Augustine as saying the practice had apostolic origin – See #4 in the 1980 Catholic Instructions for Infant Baptism. That link is to a very interesting document where they even bring up the issue of believers baptism and talk about why it is more important to baptize people when they are infants. More on that in a moment.
  3. Scripture -They believe scripture supports the need for infants to be baptized. The biblical support comes from two sources. The first are passages they believe support original sin. The second are the household baptisms found in Acts (Acts 16:15, 16:33, 18:8, 1 Cor 1:16, 2 Tim 1:16, 4:19). The assumption is that infants and small children would have been baptized along with the adults .
  4. Replacement of circumcision – Many believe that baptism is the new covenant’s form of circumcision. Circumcision was done to infant males on the 8th day of their life. There are many parallels between baptism and circumcision and they view those parallels as including being done as an infant including as a sacrament that gains someone access to the grace of God.

Let’s examine these.

Tradition – Everett Ferguson has a wonderful book on baptism called “Baptism in the Early Church,” which is just under 1000 pages of invaluable information. Ferguson gives the Irenaeus quote that many say is the first witness/support of infant baptism (A.H. 2.22.4).

“He sanctified every age of life by having the like age in himself. For he came to save all by means of himself, all (I say) who by him are born again to God – infants, children, boys, youths, and the old.. He therefore lived through every age, made an infant for infants and sanctifying infants; a child for children, sanctifying these…”

It is not convincing and the word baptism is never even used (Ferguson, 308). Irenaues is saying that Christ went through all stages of life so that he might be able to sanctify all. Ferguson believes that the Irenaeus reference does not actually favor infant baptism and that many of the quotes that people cite to support the practice, when looked at in context don’t actually lend much support at all.

Everett Fergus says the first mention of infant baptism came from Tertullian (2nd century) and was actually written in opposition to the practice. That tells us that the practice was a very early one but it is an assumption to say that it had apostolic origin. Here is what Tertullian had to say (quoted from Ferguson, 364),

According to the circumstances and nature, and also age, of each person, the delay of baptism is more suitable, especially in the case of small children. What is the necessity, if there is no such necessity, for the sponsors as well to be brought into danger, since they may fail to keep their promises by reason of death or be deceived by an evil disposition which grows up in the child? The Lord indeed says, ‘Do not forbid them to come to me.’ Let them ‘come’ they while they are growing up, while they are learning, while they are instructed why they are coming. Let them become Christians when they are able to know Christ. In what respect does the innocent period of life hasten to the remission of sins? Should we act more cautiously in worldly matters, so that divine things are given to those to whom earthly property is not given? Let them learn to ask for salvation so that you be seen to have given ‘to him who asks.’ (On baptism, 18)

The sponsors Tertullian mentions are those who stand in the place of the baptized infant in order to make a confession for them. More from Ferguson on Tertullian’s take,

“Tertullian confronts and already definite scriptural argument for baptizing children, namely Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:14. Tertullian’s response underscores the importance for him of teaching, learning, and personal knowledge of and commitment to Christ – the reasons for his advocacy of a delay of baptism until these conditions had been fully satisfied. He joins a host of earlier Christian writers in the affirmation of the innocence of children, a condition making infant baptism incosistent in his view with the generally recognized meaning of baptism as bringing the forgiveness of sins.” (Ferguson, 365)

Apostolic origin – Origen supported infant baptism as seen in his commentary on Romans (V:9) in 244 AD. There he says that it was passed down from the apostles (See under Tradition/Church fathers I.). He doesn’t get any more specific than that. His view was that at birth all are ritually unclean and stained by sin that must be washed away. This is slightly different than original sin. If it was passed down by the apostles I am not sure why Tertullian had such a tough time with it. We don’t have any biblical evidence of apostolic origin (some assume household baptisms give us that support…that is an assumption with no specific verses telling us infants were baptized in those instances).

Scripture – The strongest point here are the household baptisms in Acts 16 & 18. If you read Acts 16:31-34 it sounds like the salvation of the household was dependent upon the faith of the jailer himself (the head of the house). Again, this is layered with all kinds of assumptions. Do we know children were baptized in the households? In Beasley-Murray’s book “Baptism in the New Testament” he tackles Jeremias’ assumptions about the signficance of the household baptisms. Jeremias believed that the whole house must include every single person in the house. Bruce makes an interesting parallel in the case of Cornelius’ household (Acts 10:44-48). Beasley-Murray points out that in that instance the Holy Spirit was poured out on the entire household so that everyone spoke in tongues and praising God. He says if we are to be consistent here that would require the infants in the house to be just as involved in speaking in tongues and praising God as it would involve in them in being baptized (p.315). In this instance “all” would not include every member of the house.

How does that go along with the necessity of faith for salvation? We have no way of knowing who that included but reserve the possibility that it included the entire household. The scriptural argument is inconclusive and filled with assumptions. here is the key question – Would the apostles have practiced something incompatible with the rest of the New Testament teaching regarding baptism? In other words, if the rest of the New Testament teaches that faith is a part of baptism, how then can you conclude that those without faith were baptized by those who taught the necessity of faith for the baptized? More on that in the next point.

Replacement of circumcision – Circumcision and baptism have some similarities. Circumcision was a sign of the covenant. Baptism is a part of the new covenant. However, it is not a perfect 1-to-1 match. Otherwise we would be baptizing only 8 day old males. There are significant differences. In Romans 4, Paul makes the point that Abraham is father of both the circumcised and uncircumcised who have faith. In other words, circumcision no longer matters. Faith does matter and it matters especially when it comes to baptism.

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” – Colossians 2:9-12

Here Paul parallels baptism and circumcision. He calls our baptism a circumcision done by Christ through faith in the power of God. That is incompatible with infant baptism. Faith and baptism are inextricably linked. We see this connection in the Gospels as well. When Jesus commissioned the apostles he told them to make disciples by teaching and baptizing (Matt 28:19-20). We see the connection in Acts (Acts 8:12,13, Acts 18:8). I could site many other examples and verses but it boils down to this – we don’t have any examples or teaching that baptism is to be practiced on unknowing or unwilling participants. Baptism is always a choice. It is a choice to turn from worldly ways to turn to follow Jesus Christ.

I don’t personally find any of the pro-infant baptism arguments to hold water. For those of you who are reading this who worship in a group that practices infant baptism, I would be very interested in hearing your view and response to this post.

Click here to read one person’s defense of infant baptism.