Thursday, May 27, 2010

Faith Tidbit #55

On the first Christian Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus' resurrection, the Holy Spirit came to a group of 120 of Jesus' first followers, who, as instructed, had gone to Jerusalem to await the Spirit's arrival.

But Who exactly is the Holy Spirit?

Jesus and the Scriptures reveal the Spirit to be the Third Person of the Trinity. Christians believe that there is just one God of the universe, but that this big God has three distinct, co-equal, and interdependent personalities: God the Father; God the Son (Jesus the Christ); and God the Holy Spirit.

Be advised though, that the term, Trinity, never appears in Scripture, and that the concept was only understood after the first Christians had experienced all three persons of the "Godhead." That's because, as Billy Graham writes in his classic book, The Holy Spirit, "God unfolds his revelation of Himself in the Bible progressively." Like a would-be groom wooing a bride, God took centuries to reveal Himself and His true nature to humanity, beginning with the mother and father of ancient Israel, Sarah and Abraham; then to their descendants to whom He gave the Torah and the promise of a Messiah; then, definitively in that Messiah, Jesus; and at Pentecost and beyond, in the Holy Spirit Who convicts us for sin, convinces us that the grace offered in Jesus can erase the power of sin and its consequence, death, over our lives, creates faith within the willing, and empowers us to live faithfully each day.

And yet, through the eyes of faith, on this side of Jesus' cross and resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we can look back and see that the Spirit was always present, always active, even if He is, as the title of a book of essays referred to Him as the "shy member of the Trinity."

Shy may not be the right word. It may be better to say that the Spirit doesn't like to call attention to Himself. If the servant heart of Jesus is demonstrated in acts we can readily visualize, in things like washing the disciples' feet, in dying a criminal's death on a cross, that same servant heart is expressed by the Holy Spirit in pointing away from Himself. His burden and His mission is to point us to Christ as the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus was describing the Spirit when He told the eminent teacher, Nicodemus, that, to live in God's kingdom, sinful humans must be born from above "of the water and the Spirit." And responding to Nicodemus' incredulity at such an absurd and incomprehensible assertion, Jesus told the old man, "Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:7-8)

In the days before weather satellites and Doppler radar, the wind--be it the wind of a hurricane, a desert sirocco, or a gentle breeze--showed up and left without notice. The wind is still, to this day, beyond our control.

That's a good picture of the Holy Spirit. In fact, in the Greek of the New Testament, the word for "spirit"--pneuma--can be translated not only as spirit, but also as wind or breath. The same is true of its Hebrew equivalent in the Old Testament, ruach. The "Spirit of God" makes His first appearance in the Old Testament at its beginning, in Genesis 1:1-2, where we're told, "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind [ruach] from God swept over the face of the waters." He shows up again in Genesis 2:7, where the very breath [ruach] of God brings life to the first human being.

The actual term "Holy Spirit" appears only three times in the Old Testament, but each is telling. In his prayer of confession, Psalm 51, David asks God not to take God's Holy Spirit from him. David recognizes that without God's Spirit, life is impossible, though a lifeless, joyless existence might go on. In Isaiah 63, in two places, the prophet recalls how God's people first grieved the Holy Spirit and voices the conviction that the Holy Spirit is the life-giver.

During His time on earth, Jesus repeatedly promised the Holy Spirit to His followers, His Church. What the Holy Spirit has done and is doing in the days since the first Christian Pentecost will, hopefully, be the topic of this next Tidbit.

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