Thursday, December 1, 2016

Matthew 3:1-12 Repentance and Spirit

KEY TEXT: Matthew 3:11-12 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

KEY THOT: John stated that he baptized “with water for repentance,” but Jesus who was to come after him would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire”. John implied that his baptism is preparatory and incomplete: the one who was coming after him (Jesus) would complete his water baptism with the baptism with the Spirit and fire. When Paul met a group of John’s disciples at Ephesus, and realized they were only baptized in John’s baptism he explained: “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus” (Acts 19:4). So now that Jesus has already come, John's baptism has been superseded by Christian baptism. Paul re-baptized this group of John's disciples “in the name of the Lord Jesus,” after which he laid his hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit: “the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all” (Acts 19:5-6). 

This is consistent with what Peter’s message to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost: “Repent and be baptized ever one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38). What John describes as a "baptism with the Spirit" Peter calls this “the gift of the Spirit”. There is much controversy among bible teachers regarding how to interpret these texts in Acts. Some conveniently ignore these passages in Acts in their preaching while others consign them to history as non-repeatable and non-normative historical events. In other words, these events don't represent how the Holy Spirit works today since the apostolic age.

Many are stumbled by the various descriptions of the work of the Holy Spirit used in Acts: "baptized with the Spirit" (Acts 1:5), "filled with the Spirit" (Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31), "gift of the Spirit" (Acts 2:38), "full of the Spirit" (Acts 6:3), "receive the Spirit" (Acts 8:15-17), etc. Before we can sort through these confusing language about the Spirit, we need to recall what the Nicene Creed says about the Holy Spirit: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.” The Nicene creed clearly states the Holy Spirit is co-equal with the Father and the Son and therefore to be worshiped and glorified as God. Like the Father and the Son, He is an infinite Being.

The first implication of the Spirit as an infinite Being is that He is beyond human comprehension. Anyone who thinks he’s already "got it" regarding the Holy Spirit in his doctrine is claiming that his finite mind has finally comprehended the infinite God. And that is theological arrogance. Whatever knowledge we have of the Holy Spirit can only be finite and partial. So when we try to describe the person and work of the Spirit, we need to remain humble and teachable like Paul: “For we know in part and we prophesy in part” (1 Cor. 13:9). So, the starting point is admit we don’t know fully.

The second implication of the Spirit as an infinite Being is that God cannot never be fully "contained" in any one person and place. A frequently-asked question about the Spirit is: “If I already have the Holy Spirit, why do I need to pray to be filled with the Spirit or to ask the Spirit to come?” The one who asks this question thinks in finite categories of space and time. And we have to remind ourselves that the Spirit cannot fit into our space-time categories: He is beyond our space-time world. So he can be at the same time inside us as well as outside of us. There is no contradiction--except in our creaturely mind.

The best analogy to understand the ministry of the Spirit is to remember He is called ruah (breath) in the OT and pneuma (wind) in the NT. Jesus compares the Spirit to wind in John 3:8, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." In John 3:5-6, Jesus compares our spiritual birth to our physical birth.

Before a baby is born, he does not need to breathe while inside the womb. Once he is born, he is given a smack to start him breathing air into his lung. It’s like the moment of spiritual birth—the Spirit (wind) rushes into the the spiritual baby and he or she starts breathing in the Spirit. At the moment of birth, the baby is also immersed ("baptized") into the new environment filled with air (Spirit). So, at the moment of his regeneration, the believer receives his first intake of the Spirit of God. The baby does not stop breathing thereafter—he continues to breathe, keeping his spiritual faculties alive and energized. But it doesn't stop there. As the baby grows and his lung capacity increases, he will be breathing in more air. When he exercises and plays, he needs even more air. So, is the new believer in Christ: as he grows, he will be asking for more air--and it is a continual process. This is especially needed when he is involved in spiritual ministry: he will ask for more air and will "receive" more of the Spirit to exercise the spiritual gifts.

The “gift of the Spirit” is therefore the infusion of God’s Spirit received at his spiritual birth as he is "baptized" into this new spiritual environment filled with the Holy Spirit. Each time, he needs more breath, he can ask to be "filled" again so that he can walk and live according to the Spirit's power. If we use this analogy, we will not be stumbled by the various expressions used in Acts and the Gospels to describe the Spirit's ministry among us.

Father, keep us humble to learn to walk by Your Spirit even though we do not fully understand how He works in our lives. Amen.

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