Jesus the Baptizer and New Testament Christianity

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In John’s version of the Great Commission, Jesus says, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (v. 21). But then the passage goes on to say that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (v. 22). Here you have the breath of Jesus on the disciples imparting the Holy Spirit before the day of Pentecost arrives.

So, what is happening here? There are four things I want to highlight. First, this is the breath of the new creation. There is no Jew on the planet that would have heard this and not immediately thought of Genesis 2:7. In Genesis 2:7, God forms the man and woman, and he breathes into them the Holy Spirit. He breathes the ruah of God, the Spirit of God, into us and makes us living beings. That is the creational act. Here, he breathes again. This time, it is the breath of the new creation. This is almost like a second creation account, but now it is the new creation—this is what it means to be endowed with the Spirit to usher in the new reality of God’s kingdom, his rule and reign in the world and in our lives.

Second, this reinforces that Jesus is the Baptizer of the Holy Spirit. John had said in Luke 3:16, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” So again, there is no closed doorway between Jesus’ ministry and the Holy Spirit because Jesus is the Baptizer. And, by the way, this door that we have erected gets opened from both directions. On the one hand, Jesus is the one that opens the door. He not only cracks it open, but he kicks it open. He is the one who makes sure that through the Spirit you are being made holy, that you have discernment, and that you are empowered for mission.

But the Holy Spirit also opens the door from the other direction as well. He won’t let you forget that you could not come to Christ without his ministry and conviction, and he is the one who brings back to our minds all that Christ said and did. The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts the world regarding sin. The Holy Spirit is active even in unbelievers, convicting of sin and drawing them to Christ. No one comes to Christ unless the Father draws him (John 6:44), and he draws us through the power of the Spirit. So we have the Spirit’s work in prevenient grace (grace that comes before we are justified), preparing us to receive God’s grace. We cannot be justified without the Holy Spirit’s work. He is active in bringing us to Christ. He is active as we abide in Christ. He is always active. But the point is that we need more of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Third, this text teaches us that Pentecost is not merely a singular event. The Spirit of God keeps falling down. The Spirit of God comes in John 20, but again in Acts 2, and then in Acts 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, and 19. Are you seeing a pattern here? It happens a lot. Once we go through all of these texts, and further subsequent texts in the Epistles, we find that there are eight different expressions used for the Holy Spirit coming into our lives. We love to choose one, and want everybody to use that same language. But the New Testament doesn’t do that. We have already seen that “clothed with power” is used in Luke 24. But other expressions are also used. The phrase, “baptized with the Holy Spirit” occurs twice. “Receiving the Holy Spirit” appears eight times. The Holy Spirit “coming upon” or “falling upon” appears four times. Three times we are told that the Holy Spirit was “poured out.” The most common expression is the phrase, “being filled with the Holy Spirit,” which appears eight times. Finally, four times we are told that the Spirit has been “given to us.” It doesn’t really matter what you call it, just make sure that you get it! God still wants to keep on pouring out his Spirit upon us. Keep getting filled with the Spirit. Be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Be sanctified by the ongoing presence and power of the Holy Spirit in your life.

Fourth, the language of receive is related here to the third person of the Trinity. Now, this is one of the great things about this passage. Jesus breathes on them and he says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” We have a mountain of evangelistic literature that asks people to receive Jesus Christ, which is wonderful. It is almost iconic in the Christian world to hear someone say, “I have received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.” That has become a classic phrase. But we have no comparable emphasis on receiving the Holy Spirit. When was the last time you heard someone say, “I have received the Holy Spirit as my personal Sanctifier”? But, in the New Testament, it is just as important for someone to say, “I have received the Holy Spirit,” as it is to say, “I have received Jesus Christ.” As I noted in chapter 1, God is not merely interested in forgiving us, he also wants to transform us. That is what all of this is about. We must get away from the low-bar Christianity which says, “What is the least one has to do to become a Christian?” That is minimalistic Christianity. We need a fresh dose of New Testament Christianity. We want to know what is the most God can do in our life, not what is the least we must do to get us through to heaven. God is not just providing “fire insurance.” He is in the business of transforming the whole of our lives, both now and in the life to come!

God’s power transforms lives. Abraham leaves his family, becomes a homeless wanderer and a father of a nation. Joseph is sold into slavery and rescues a people. Moses flees to Midian, stands in the presence of a burning bush, and becomes a deliverer. Naomi and Ruth return to their home empty, but discover the providence of God. Gideon stands fearful in the winepress and is called to lead an army. David is tending sheep and suddenly finds himself slaying a giant and being promised a throne. Jonah is scared and running away from God, and he ends up preaching the gospel to the Ninevites. The widow of Nain is on her way to the cemetery and ends up with a resurrection party. Zacchaeus climbs a tree and finds divine acceptance. A bunch of fishermen are mending nets and end up embarking on a mission to the nations of the whole world.

What is the theme in all of this? That God is taking ordinary people like you and me, and by his Spirit, he is transforming us to be a part of his mission in the world. Can we say amen to that? We need more than a tepid, easy-to-swallow, so-called gospel that is void of power, holiness, and transformation. We want a rebirth of New Testament Christianity. We want that holy desperation for more of God, which is the only soil that God uses to bring forth renewal and awakening in the church.

Did you enjoy this entry? It is part of a book by Timothy Tennent titled, The Spirit-Filled Life. In its pages, Tennent studies acts of the Spirit in the Old and New Testament, historic conversion stories, as well as modern examples from around the world, exploring the three great channels through which the Holy Spirit works in our lives:

  • power for global witness
  • holiness for sanctified purity
  • discernment for faithful living

Are you ready to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Pentecost wasn’t just a one-time event but is an ongoing process—the knot that ties the church to its holy, empowered mission in the world.

Are you looking for the fire of God to fall upon your life? Be ready. You, too, can be filled with the Holy Spirit, and it will change your life and the life of your church forever.

Get it from our store here.

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Timothy C. Tennent is the President of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Professor of Global Christianity. His works include Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century and Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. He blogs at timothytennent.com and can be followed on twitter @TimTennent.

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