The New Testament Gospels are unlike the other gospels that didn’t make it into our Bible. For example, there is a story about Jesus as a boy making mud birds in a puddle, and then, to dazzle those around him, waving his hands and sending the birds off flying. That tale didn’t make the cut. It doesn’t portray the real, human Jesus of the four Gospels.
However, we know that the human Jesus had to learn mathematics; he had to learn the names of friends; and he had to grow in wisdom and knowledge like the rest of us. He also had emotions (Matthew 27:46; Mark 3:5, 12; 6:3; 7:34; 8:12; 14:33; Luke 10:21; 19:41; John 11:33, 35, 38). In fact, the Gospels let us in on how Jesus felt: he was exasperated, he wept, he wailed, he got angry with other people, and he even cried out in despair. But he also expressed victory and triumph. C. S Lewis, in a letter he wrote to Mrs. Frank Jones, rejoiced over Jesus’s real human emotions: “God [could], had He pleased, have been incarnate in a man of iron nerves, the Stoic sort who lets no sigh escape Him. Of His great humility He chose to be incarnate in a man of delicate sensibilities who wept at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane.” (The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume II: Books, Broadcasts, and the War, 1931-1949 [HarperOne, 2004], 764.)
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, then it is true that you and I need the Holy Spirit. Even more so.
How Did He Pull Off the Miracles?
Jesus healed people; he exorcised demons and unswirled a storm at sea. He knew things in people’s hearts before they expressed them. How did he do these things? I will begin with Peter, a disciple who knew because he was there. Peter gave a sermon that was heard by a gentile named Cornelius, who himself had experienced a life-altering vision. In his sermon, Peter said this about Jesus:
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 10:37-38)
Peter was pointing out two things. First, what Jesus did is accurately characterized as “doing good” and “healing.” How Jesus did these things is clear: God anointed Jesus . . . with the Holy Spirit and power.” Jesus did these things “because God was with him.” Jesus’s kingdom powers were at work in him because he was wide open to the Holy Spirit.
Peter and others who wrote the New Testament don’t leave us any room for doubt. Jesus, as a human, did all that he did—living, eating, praying, conversing, healing, teaching, doing good, rebuking, defending—by the power of the Spirit.
The highly regarded Wheaton College professor, the late Gerald Hawthorne, summarized his study of Jesus and the Spirit in these words: “The Holy Spirit was the divine power by which Jesus overcame his human limitations [such as being limited in knowledge and bound by physical space and human strength], rose above his human weakness, and won out over his human mortality.” Unlocking the doors to so the Spirit can come in begins with Jesus, the perfectly wide-open human.
Jesus, the Spirit-Filled Man
What often has been overlooked needs to be made clear. Every major facet of the life of Jesus is a Spirit event—so much so that we need to see that the more Christlike we become, the more Spirit-ual we become. Again, the closer our Spirit-uality gets to Jesus, the more dependent on and empowered by the Spirit we will be.
The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke open with the baptism of Jesus: “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 alighting on him.” This same event is described by John:
Then John [the baptizer] gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.'” (John 1:32-33)
John saw the Spirit descend on Jesus. He knew the Spirit-anointed Jesus would have a perpetual filling of the Spirit and would go about plunging people into the Spirit.
A window was opened into the Spirit-prompted religious experience of Jesus, which is capture in the word Abba:
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 alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)
When the Father announces that this Jesus is God’s very beloved “Son,” Jesus knows that God is his special, loving Father. This event was an epochal moment in Jesus’s spirituality. From this point on, Jesus will be known as Son and he will teach his followers to call God “Father.”
To call God “Father” ushers us into an intimate relationship with God, and it is one that Jesus himself knew personally. How so? Jesus’s reference to God as his Father shows the trust of Jesus, the intimacy of Jesus with God, and the interactive relationship of Father and Son in the life of the man Jesus. This is a Spirit-ual reality because it was when the Spirit came upon Jesus that this reality was announced to the world.
Spirit-uality in Times of Testing
The temptations, or testings, of Jesus are connected to the Spirit. “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit,” Luke wrote, “left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1-2) Jesus was led into the wilderness for testing, and he succeeded in overcoming the temptations because he was filled with the Spirit.
Jesus knew he was being empowered by God’s Spirit. For his opening-day sermon in his hometown, Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me,
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord s favor.
Why did Jesus select this passage? First, at that rime it was Jesus upon whom the Spirit of the Lord was resting. Second, Jesus’s work all would be done in the power of the Spirit: proclaiming the gospel to the poor and co the prisoners and to the blind and to the oppressed. Jesus was announcing in Jubilee-like fashion the “year of the LORD’s favor.” (Leviticus 25:10; Isaiah 61:1-2) All of these are Spirit-prompred acts.
When Jesus read from Isaiah 61, he could well have reminded those in the synagogue that fifty chapters earlier, the same prophet, Isaiah, had said this about the coming Messiah:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
The Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—
and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. (Isaiah 11:1-3)
Jesus was a Bible reader, and he knew that these great words about the Spirit, God’s ruach (roo-ach), pertained to him and the new age God was ushering in through him. We should not be surprised that Jesus at times attributed his powers to the Holy Spirit. “If it is by the Spirit of God,” Jesus declared, “that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matthew 12:28) Hence we read in another gospel that the “power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick.” (Luke 5:17)
In everything, Jesus was a charismatic, or pneumatic, person. What is evident in the lives of those who are wide open to the Spirit was present in Jesus. He could discern the motivations of others; he could see what might happen if he continued on the same path; he had a vision of Satan’s downfall; he had an unusually explicit prayer life wrapped up in his experience of God as his Father. Further, he could predict and prophesy the future, and he possessed an unusual sense of authority. One more thing: not a few theologians have wondered if Jesus’s sighings were signs of his speaking in tongues. (Mark 2:8; Luke 4:30; 10:18; Matthew 26:42; 24; 7:28-29; Mark 7:34)
Keep in mind that the Crucifixion and the Resurrection are events also empowered by the Holy Spirit. The writer of Hebrews summed up the life of Jesus as a sacrificial offering of himself to the Father through the eternal Spirit. The apostle Paul wrote that it was the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, or perhaps we could say the Father raised Jesus from the dead by the Spirit. (Hebrews 9:14; Romans 8:11)
Enjoy this entry? It is an excerpt from Open to the Spirit: God in Us, God with Us, God Transforming Us (WaterBrook, 2018). Used by permission. View it on Amazon here (affiliate link).
Dr. Scot McKnight is a speaker at the 2018 New Room Conference. Learn more and register at newroomconference.com.