October 24, 2020

Sundays in Pentecost: Open to the Spirit (2)

Blue Ohio Skies (2015)

Sundays in Pentecost: Open to the Spirit (2)

We are taking the Pentecost season to post a Sunday series of excerpts and reflections from Scot McKnight’s new book, Open to the Spirit: God in Us, God with Us, God Transforming Us.

• • •

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— and I am about to show how this is found in the Bible— then it is true that you and I need the Holy Spirit. Even more so.

• p. 23

How did Jesus accomplish the things he did during his ministry?

I think a lot of people imagine that Jesus was like some sort of Marvel superhero, the “king” of the superheroes perhaps, who had every power at his disposal because of his divine nature. Perhaps Jesus was somehow “super-human” and the signs and wonders he performed and the powerful teaching he gave emanated naturally from him because, ontologically speaking, he walked a few inches above the ground and had within him a storehouse of divine wisdom and power. You know, he’s the One with the halo in all the pictures.

It is often harder for people to come to grips with the humanity of Jesus than it is for them to accept his divinity. They can’t conceive of him having limits, needing to learn, not knowing or comprehending everything, being surprised by things that happen, being caught unaware or not in control at any and every moment.

However, as Scot McKnight reminds us, Peter described Jesus in a particular way that helps us understand him better:

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 10:36-38

As Scot concludes, “Jesus’s kingdom powers were at work in him because he was wide open to the Holy Spirit” (p. 24).

A close look at the Gospel of Luke will reveal that this is a distinctive emphasis of Lukan theology.

  • In the Gospel, Jesus announced his mission by quoting these words from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18).
  • In the Book of Acts, it is the coming of the Spirit that ignites the church to participate in the same mission, on a worldwide scale: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Throughout the Gospel of Luke, we see a distinct emphasis on the Spirit filling Jesus’ life and ministry.

  • Even before Jesus’ birth, Luke portrays” the days leading up to Jesus’s appearance on earth as a special unleashing of the Holy Spirit on the principal people in the story: Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, and most especially John the Baptist and Jesus” (p. 33).
  • At Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit descended upon him.
  • The Spirit drove him into the wilderness to be tempted and enabled him to withstand the devil.
  • He announced himself as the one that the Spirit-anointed for God’s mission (see above).

Scot summarizes the import of this for our lives well.

Jesus was the Spirit-filled human among humans. Was he different from us? Not in his need for and dependence on the Spirit, except that he was always wide open and we are not. I agree with Gerald Hawthorne when he wrote that Jesus “needed the Spirit’s power to lift him out of his human restrictions, to carry him beyond his human limitations, and to enable him to do the seeming impossible.” With Jesus, a new age has begun: the Age of the Spirit. If Jesus could do his ministry only by the power of the Spirit, and if special but ordinary humans such as Elizabeth and Mary and Simeon could do their ministries only by the power of the Spirit, then you and I especially need to be more and more open to the Spirit.

• p. 34


  1. Robert F says

    How is it that we are to be “more and more open to the Spirit”? Aside from worship, prayer, study, being open to my fellow human beings, and undertaking acts of compassion and mercy, is there something else, some esoteric practice or belief? Should I be praying in tongues or something?

    • Iain Lovejoy says

      “Aside from worship, prayer, study, being open to my fellow human beings, and undertaking acts of compassion and mercy…”
      I would have thought this quite enough to be getting on with! The other bit, I suppose, is faith: trusting that if we do follow Jesus in this manner we will receive his grace and the spirit to take us further. I am distrustful of people who bang on about “works righteousness” as a cop out (“I’ve said the prayer and signed on the dotted line; that’s me sorted and I don’t need to bother with any of that other nonsense.”) but there may be something of a point to it: it’s not a question of forcing yourself to become something you’re not, but persisting in faithful service and letting a life lived in Christ do its transforming work within you.
      (Then again, what do I know? I’m basically rubbish even at the worship, prayer, study etc bit anyway, and am not exactly spirit-filled, so don’t listen to me.)

    • Patience. Scot is building his case. Perhaps the question to be asked at this point is, what indications might we glean from the Gospel records as to how Jesus was open to the Spirit.

      In Luke, for example, the filling of the Spirit seems to happen at times of prayer. This is true of both Mary and Zacharias, as well as Jesus. For instance, Luke is the only Gospel that tells us Jesus was praying at his baptism when the Spirit descended.

  2. Burro (Mule) says

    RobertFs point is a valid one. “Being open to the Spirit” can mean nearly anything. The author’s point is that if we as Christians are really open to the Spirit, we would be seeing the sorts of “Kingdom powers” Jesus manifested in His ministry in our quotidian lives. Cessationism gives an easy out here, but both the Charismatic/Pentecostal and the Orthodox traditions agree that ‘signs following’ is God’s seal of approval on an exemplary life.

    Now I’ll be the first to admit that I am not open to the Holy Ghost to that degree. I know I should be but at the same time I don’t want to put that awful burden upon anyone else’s shoulders. I know it can be a real guilt trap.

    • I go back to something I said last week. Paul indicated that the fruit of the Spirit is love, with all its attendant characteristics (Galatians 5). What will be most manifest in a life filled with the Spirit is love of God and neighbor.

      • Christiane says

        I very much liked that analogy:
        to be ‘open’ to the Spirit is to be open to the fruit of the Spirit and being willing to activate it in your life and in your interactions with others. . . .

        as for conjectures about ‘Who Our Lord was’ and ‘the nature of the Holy Trinity’, I would stick with the Catholic councils and with the observations of the Cappadocian Fathers. I do believe that Christ was fully God and fully Man at the same time, as spoken about in the teachings of the Cappadocian Fathers.

  3. For me being open to the spirit is when I can spend time with the Lord alone and reflect and listen. When I let the cares of the world take over I feel it. If I am so concerned with being right on political, social, and theological issues I lose the spirit. I realize I live in the real world but how I interact with that sets the tone for me. If I am telling someone I disagree with them or they need to see things my way I feel I am losing the spirit. Jesus went out to the wilderness but even he saw the need to return. Jesus was able to keep the political, social , issues at bay and instead proclaimed the kingdom. I don’t think if Jesus were here today he would not be blasting Trump or evangelicals, or the many things we get so caught up in on this blog. I know for myself I need to be spending more time in the kingdom and less in the wilderness.

    • Christiane says

      I think Our Lord would take Trumpism to task for hurting migrant families, sure. Taking children away from their parents? That’s heavy-duty abuse. It’s unChristian, sure. And profoundly unAmerican in spirit. We are better than that.

      there will be justice for those who have shown no mercy to innocent people . . . . justice will come

      I disagree with your sentence, this:
      ” Jesus was able to keep the political, social , issues at bay and instead proclaimed the kingdom.”

      As Our Lord came into this world, so does His Kingdom come. It touches the world and changes it through those who obey the Royal Law of Our Lord, who live out the fruit of the Holy Spirit and who practice the beatitudes of Our Lord.

      Read the Beatitudes, or as we call them in my Church: ‘ the gospel of the beatitudes’. Maybe you will see what I’m considering here.

      Your thoughts?

      • Christiane says
      • My point was that Jesus never confronted Ceaser or the politicians of his day. You may think he would speak out about Trump but I dont agree

        • Robert F says

          Never mind Trump — do you think Jesus would’ve spoken out against politicians who support the right to abortion?

          • Rick Ro. says

            –> “do you think Jesus would’ve spoken out against politicians who support the right to abortion?”

            There are no indications Jesus ever took on political missions nor politicians specifically, so No, I don’t think he would have.

            • Robert F says

              I think the really germane political question here has nothing to do with WWJD, but would Trump have hesitated to have Jesus crucified, if it was the politically advantageous thing for him to do, as it was for Pilate?

              • Robert F says

                And it is probably the answer to this question that marks the difference between any decent elected official who deserves our support , and indecent ones who don’t, no matter whether we agree with their partisan political positions or not.

                End of excursus into off-topic subject.

              • Rick Ro. says

                –> “but would Trump have hesitated to have Jesus crucified, if it was the politically advantageous thing for him to do, as it was for Pilate?”

                Oh, c’mon, Robert. That’s a stretch even for you.

                • Robert F says

                  Maybe. I wish people wouldn’t bring partisan political subjects, and the names of partisan politicians or leaders, into these discussions. When I hear that particular name spoken, I see red, and it’s not the Holy Spirit.

                  I will say this, apart from partisan politics, and in connection with the idea that CM mentions in a comment above, ” What will be most manifest in a life filled with the Spirit is love of God and neighbor”: It is impossible to manifest such a life without that intersecting politics, in one way or another. That Jesus in the gospels does not speak out against abortion (which was practiced in his time), or infanticide (which also was practiced in his time), or slavery (need I say it) is not an argument against the fact that Christians will, in whatever time they live in, have of necessity to be involved in political realities, and choose which side to take in issues that are divisive. Aside from the fact that the argument against political involvement in these issues (or for that matter which side the Christian should take in them) is an argument from silence (How do we know all that Jesus said and did? The New Testament does not claim to tell us all; in fact there is a disclaimer that it does in at least one place.), Jesus himself was incontrovertibly caught up in the political realities of his time, because the Kingdom of God is a political and public reality, not a private and apolitical one, even though it is not “of this world” (if anyone knows what that means). Its mandate is the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus’ other public teachings about how we are to relate to each other and God. The life of the
                  Spirit is a communal one, in which we listen for the Spirit blowing as much in fellowship and community as in our own solitary time with God. Any purely and solely private and supposedly apolitical so-called life of the Spirit is nothing but quietism.

                  • Iain Lovejoy says

                    As I understand it, the “of” in “of this world” in Greek means “out of” or “from” and means that Jesus and the kingdom do not originate from this world, not in any sense that they are separate from it.

                  • Well said, Robert.

                  • You wish people would not bring political issues in but you DO it all the time !,,,,,

                    • Robert F says

                      I respond to people bringing partisan political issues and leaders in, never initiate, just as I did to your initial comment at the beginning of this thread. But you and others can’t resist making topical political comments, even when they are not mentioned in the post.

                    • Robert, if you took the time to read my post I was discussing my feelings on the Holy Spirit and agreeing.h that time spent on trashing Trump and Evangelicals seems to be this blogs number one topic.I was explaining that for me it took the spirit away. It seems funny how you call me out but never have you called out anyone else for talking Trump. I wonder why?

                    • Robert F says

                      I acknowledge that I overreact to that name, but I certainly have challenged others in that department. You have a persecution complex.

                    • Christiane says

                      Don’t worry.
                      I’m sure that today’s right-wing conservative Christians will develop a new brand of Christianity that will fully embrace Trumpism.

                      It’s already in the making.

                    • It’s already here.

        • Christiane says

          essentially, Jesus Christ became the Kyrios, the Lord, replacing Caesar as the Lord of the Cosmos to whom everyone owed allegiance and obediance . . .

          it wasn’t a ‘confrontation’, it was a sea-change:
          did you obey Caesar and worship the Roman Gods OR did you refuse to worship them and accept martyrdom in the Coliseum?

          It was a change in this way:
          you didn’t follow evil anymore . . . . you could obey authorities up until the point where you were told to sin, and then, by honor and conscience, you owed obedience to a higher Authority . . . . and the early Christians indeed understood this and many paid the price

        • Clay Crouch says

          Do you think Jesus would have cared what Trump was doing?

          Would Jesus have held Trump up as an example of what his teaching embodied?

          Do you think our society would be healthier if Christ’s teachings (not the Christian religion) were promulgated by our elected officials?

          If so, do think Trump would be on board?

          I’m only asking so that I might understand the christian calculus you employ in your support of him.

        • Rick Ro. says

          John the Baptist spoke out against Herod (more against Herod’s bizarre relationships), but I don’t think Jesus ever did. I’d put Trump and Herod in the same category, so I think you’re right. I don’t think Jesus would speak against Trump. Politics and politicians weren’t his mission.

        • Patriciamc says

          Jesus did take the Pharisees to task, though. If he were here today, it just stands to reason that he’d condemn appearance-based Christianity (we say holy things but behave badly); he’d condemn churches and denominations that sweep abuse under the rug and tell victims to just forgive their abusers and not go to the police; he’d condemn churches and denominations that link Christianity with political parties and political positions; he’d condemn exclusivity (God chose me; God didn’t chose you); and he’d condemn cherry-picking verses and lifting them out of their context so that some people have all the power and others don’t. In other words, Jesus would condemn the evangelical hunger and striving for power.

          Now, to be fair, Jesus would also point out how left-wing Christianity has diluted its beliefs so that it really doesn’t believe in anything, and that while social action is good, it’s not God.

        • Jesus did not directly deal with Herod or Pilate, true. But He *did* repeatedly confront their religious enablers.

          Would Jesus directly confront Trump today? Maybe, maybe not. But I have little doubt that Jeffries, Barton, Falwell Jr, etc, would be getting quite the “You whitewashed tombs!” treatment…

          • Robert F says

            But I have little doubt that Jeffries, Barton, Falwell Jr, etc, would be getting quite the “You whitewashed tombs!” treatment…

            Yes. And Jesus would be threatened with arrest if he planned to hold a revival on Liberty University grounds for that very reason.

            • And He would reply, “Go tell that fox that i will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal, for no prophet can die outside of Lynchburg.”

        • Iain Lovejoy says

          Jesus told his followers to “take up your cross”. Crucifixion was a punishment specifically reserved for those who rebelled against Roman rule. He knew exactly what he was doing. The kingdom of God is necessarily in defiance of the kingdoms of this world, which, knowingly or unknowingly, are explicitly and repeatedly stated in the NT to be in thrall to the Accuser.

  4. Rick Ro. says

    Has anyone tried to “force” the Holy Spirit? I see it attempted all the time, even try to do it myself at times. Usually ends in disappointment.

    All the instances of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the Bible, particularly by Luke, since he seemed to be the writer who gives it the most ink, it just seems to come when it comes. Now maybe there are things we can be doing and patterns we can establish that make its presence more evident and frequent, but rarely have I found “forcing” its presence a fruitful endeavor.

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    They can’t conceive of him having limits, needing to learn, not knowing or comprehending everything, being surprised by things that happen, being caught unaware or not in control at any and every moment.

    VERY analogous to the Fantasy of the Kid Genius in the Fifties and First 1960s.

    • Heather Angus says

      Or to medieval tales about the child Jesus. In one, some of his playmates are taunting him (I forget about what), so he conveniently drowns them in a nearby stream.

      Or (wonderful Wikipedia): ” In some apocryphal texts, the Infancy Gospels grew up with legendary accounts of the intervening period, and these are sometimes depicted. These stories were intended to show Jesus as having extraordinary gifts of power and knowledge, even from the youngest age. One common pious tale has the young Jesus animating sparrows out of clay belonging to his playmates. When admonished for doing so on the Sabbath, he causes the birds to fly away.”

      People want superheroes to BE superheroes.

  6. senecagriggs says

    How did Sundays in Pentecost become a diatribe about Trump? Does anybody get reprimanded for being off topic or is that something that happens ONLY to me?

    • Robert F says

      It wasn’t a liberal who brought up that name.

    • Clay Crouch says

      Why don’t you ask Stbndct.

      Boo Hoo. Everyone get a pass or two before Chap warns you. After that, the hammer falls quickly. Certainly you’ve figured that out by now.

      • senecagriggs says

        I’m on the wrong side of the internetmonk narrative Clay.

        • I’ve been on the wrong side myself, especially with regard to original sin/depravity and the substitution view of the atonement. I try, however, try not to pout and be a jerk about it.

        • Rick Ro. says

          –> “I’m on the wrong side of the internetmonk narrative Clay.”

          1) We all know that.
          2) You still visit and post regularly, even knowing that.
          3) That must mean you view this site and the people here as fairly safe, even knowing you’ll get pushback most of the time.
          4) You’re allowed a lot of latitude, and when comments are removed it’s usually because they have no bearing on the topic at hand.
          4a) Take today’s topic, for instance. Did you offer any thoughts on the Holy Spirit as most of us have? No. Instead, as tends to be your habit, you came only to comment on one thread of comments just so you can complain and let everyone know how different you are.
          5) Several of us still appreciate your presence here as it challenges our thinking and beliefs.
          5a) Have you ever let a post/comment that’s counter to your thinking challenge your beliefs?

        • Clay Crouch says

          We know that. What’s your point?

  7. jo9hn barry says

    Someone on site cited Eric Hoffer, one of my favorites. Jesus was a “true believer” from day one, he believed he was the Son of God, fully human, fully God. We know the story of the life of Jesus and to us we certainly can see the humanity of Jesus. I would be like Jesus for sure and ask God to remove my cup of pain from me but Jesus was the true believer as a human.

    I am just not aware of any serious Christian belief that denies that Jesus was fully human during his earthly life. How many times have I heard the old refrain , they killed the only perfect human usually by one of my relatives enjoying the vino a little too much.

    Jesus knew, willingly was the sacrifice and felt all the pain of a terrible death as he took upon the sins of this world, Is not that the very foundation on Christianity? A good series to get grounded as it is the foundations that we need to keep building upon.

    Also Trump is fully human also. Sorry can not help myself. Certainly Trump is not afraid to show he is a man of the flesh and this world. Sorry again. love the Trump analogies , good and bad. Forgive I know what I do but cannot help myself.

    • Robert F says

      “There you go again.” — #40

    • Robert F says

      Jesus believed he was fully human and fully God from the moment of his birth? How is that possible, JB? Was he pretending not to be able to speak and comprehend as an infant? Was he a fake baby?

    • “I am just not aware of any serious Christian belief that denies that Jesus was fully human during his earthly life.”

      American Christianity has a strong undercurrent of Gnosticism in it. If you don’t believe me, ask any given American churchgoer if Jesus crapped during His life. The reaction may surprise you.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Ah, the Litmus Test for Docetism, “Jesus Did Not Poop”.

        Even ran across that one in the underground comix version of Malleus Maleficarium; I don’t know if that argument was in the original (like all the Hawt demon-witch sex) or whether Agouti Rex added it from other sources.

      • Christiane says

        Wow. Just ask among fundamentalists if Jesus is God, and be prepared to sit down when you get some very surprising responses. Traditional Trinitarian doctrine and fundamentalist-evangelicalism don’t see eye to eye in some circles and it can be quite jarring.

    • Christiane says

      “I am just not aware of any serious Christian belief that denies that Jesus was fully human during his earthly life. ”

      you are almost two millenia late to that party 🙂

  8. jo9hn barry says

    Robert F. Please hold my age and inexperience against me,, I cannot even qualify for that rebuke. Again forgive for I do know what I do. We all know 40 us a special number in the Bible and to Ali Baba. now it is to Republicans.

    I have always thought 13 was the accepted age of accountability so I cannot speak or account for Baby Jesus . However John Barry’s age of understanding of things and acceptance of things is 70 years at least and moving on.,

    Plus John Barry is looking for the three wise men to visit him especially with gifts, so far wise men have avoided me and not gifts. Closest I have gotten visit wise was Larry, Moe and Curly on DVD , waiting for the platinum set where the plots are explained and expanded upon.

    • Robert F says

      So you’re just going to kick Shemp to the curb? You can’t diss a wise man like that!

    • Robert F says

      You’re saying that, all of a sudden at his Bar Mitzvah (yes, I know, that’s an anachronism, because Bar Mitzvah’s did not exist yet, and Jewish boys were allowed to participate in all religious rituals as soon as each individual child was deemed ready to do so), Jesus came to the realization, which he had no inkling of before, that he was God and man? Pop! Into his head comes the realization, out of nowhere, ex nihilo! After all, being God (not to speak of man) is just a matter of knowing that you are!

      • john barry says

        Robert F. I was just going with the temple visit at Passover when Jesus said he was in his Fathers house. for again a magic number 3 days. I know more about the three stooges it seems than the Bible but I do have a youth and inexperience problem.

      • flatrocker says

        Here is an excerpt from a book by Catholic writer Raymond Brown from his book “Jesus: God and Man.” It sheds some light on this and also shows that our wrestling with this question is not new.

        From Raymond Brown:
        But when all is said and done, the great objection that will be hurled again and again against any exegete (or theologian) who finds evidence that Jesus’ knowledge was limited is the objection that in Jesus Christ there is only one person, a divine person. And so, even though the divine person acted through a completely human nature, any theory that Jesus had limited knowledge seems to imply a limitation of the divine person.

        Perhaps the best answer to this objection is to call upon Cyril of Alexandria, that Doctor of the Church to whom, more than to any other, we are indebted for the great truth of the oneness of the person in Christ. It was that ultra-orthodox archfoe of Nestorianism (two persons or powers in Christ) who said of Christ, “We have admired his goodness in that for love of us he has not refused to descend to such a low position as to bear all that belongs to our nature, Included in which is ignorance.” (pp. 101-2).

        Brown goes on to write in his epilogue (which provides the gut punch to this topic):
        A Jesus who walked through the world knowing exactly what the morrow would bring, knowing with certainty that three days after his death his Father would raise him up, is a Jesus who can arouse our admiration, but still a Jesus far from us. He is a Jesus far from mankind that can only hope in the future and believe in God’s goodness, far from a mankind that must face the supreme uncertainty of death with faith but without knowledge of what is beyond.

        On the other hand, a Jesus for whom the future was as such a mystery, a dread, and a hope as it is for us and yet, at the same time a Jesus who would say, “Not my will but yours”–this is a Jesus who could effectively teach us how to live, for this is a Jesus who would have gone through life’s real trials. Then we would know the full truth of the saying: “No man can have greater love than this: to lay down his life for those he loves” (Jn 15:13), for we would know that he laid down his life with all the agony with which we lay it down. We would know that for him the loss of life was, as it is for us, the loss of a great possession, a possession that is outranked only by love.” (pp. 104-5).

        • Great reply!

          Now back to the Holy Spirit.

          As a former Pentecostal, I would say the way to be open & filled with the Spirit is reliant on God’s providence in timing, our willingness to wait & seek, & our carefulness in not “quenching” the Spirit.
          We should see the Spirit’s work even in the mundane.
          In regards to healings & miracles,the church on one side needs to “dump the rubbish”, & on the other, to be open to God through all channels. This would include being open to healing /miracles via the Eucharist & the prayers of the saints, both living & departed. The “mundane” work of the Spirit can be recognised through human channels like healing through medicine or justice through the legal system.
          Let’s not forget “tongues”, that are used to spread His love in foreign lands.

  9. jo9hn barry says

    When I was a kid one of my first shocks was to find out Curly and Shemp were dead, reruns of the 3 Stooges were an early TV staple, Both died young , I guess they supplied the name for Howard’s End. At least Moe made it to 77 and will soon just be a footnote to entertainment history. I always told my brother I considered him the fourth stooge and then realized he thought it a compliment , maybe it was when you are 12.