Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Showing the Spirit

Almost everyday I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing trying to advance the gospel among Muslims.  The last few years I have been yearning for God to make that possible.  And yearning for more of God has at times led me to a deeper understanding of the gift of the Holy Spirit in my life.

One short book that helped me last year was Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit by Francis Chan.

Another book I am reading from tonight is Showing the Spirit by D.A. Carson.  This quote below was especially encouraging and instructional in a “big picture” kind of way so I thought I would pass it on to you in the hope that a deeper understanding of the enabling presence of God through the Holy Spirit would stimulate your ministry to Muslims.

The rest of this post is a block quote from Carson:

“Under the old covenant, God dealt with his people in what we might call a tribal fashion. Despite remnant themes, the Scriptures picture God working with his people as a tribal grouping whose knowledge of God and whose relations with God were peculiarly dependent on specially endowed leaders. The Spirit of God was poured out, not on each believer, but distinctively on prophet, priest, king, and a few designated special leaders such as Bezalel. When these leaders stooped to sin (e.g., David’s affair with Bathsheba and consequent murder of Uriah) the people were plunged into the distress of divine judgment.

But Jeremiah foresaw a time when this essentially tribal structure would change.

“In those days people will no longer say, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’

Instead, everyone will die for his own sin; whoever eats sour grapes— his own teeth will be set on edge.”

“The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.

It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers.…

This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord.

“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jer. 31:29–34)

In short, Jeremiah understood that the new covenant would bring some dramatic changes. The tribal nature of the people of God would end, and the new covenant would bring with it a new emphasis on the distribution of the knowledge of God down to the level of each member of the covenant community. Knowledge of God would no longer be mediated through specially endowed leaders, for all of God’s covenant people would know him, from the least to the greatest. Jeremiah is not concerned to say there would be no teachers under the new covenant, but to remove from leaders that distinctive mediatorial role that made the knowledge of God among the people at large a secondary knowledge, a mediated knowledge. Under the new covenant, the people of God would find not only that their sins were forgiven but that they too would know God in a more immediate way.

The same kind of hope is set forth by Ezekiel, who quotes the sovereign Lord in these terms:

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezek. 36:25–27, italics added; see 11:19–20)

Elsewhere, we read:

“I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.

They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams. One will say, ‘I belong to the Lord’; another will call himself by the name of Jacob; still another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’ and will take the name of Israel.” (Isa. 44:3–5)

The same theme pervades many Old Testament texts that anticipate what we might generically label the messianic age. Moses himself recognizes that the desideratum [something desired as essential] was a universal distribution of the Spirit; for when Joshua complains to him that Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp and indignantly demands that they be stopped, the aged leader responds, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Num. 11:27–29).

It is of this that Joel prophesies (Joel 2:28–32 in English versions); and according to Peter, it is this that is fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). But that means Joel’s concern is not simply with a picky point—more people will prophesy some day—but with a massive, eschatological worldview. What was anticipated was an entirely new age, a new relationship between God and his people, a new covenant; and experientially this turns on the gift of the Spirit. Put more generically, what the prophets foresaw was what some have labeled “the prophetic Spirit.” All who live under this new covenant enjoy the gift of this prophetic Spirit; and this is no mere creedal datum, but a lived, transforming, charismatic (in the broad, New Testament sense of that word identified in my first chapter), vital experience. It is in that sense that all who live under the new covenant are prophets: they enjoy this enduement of the Spirit, with various rich and humbling manifestations distributed among them.

It is the dawning of the new age that was signaled by Pentecost, and that is why Peter’s quotation of Joel’s prophecy is so significant. According to all four Gospels, John the Baptist predicted that Jesus Messiah would usher in that age: he would baptize his people in the Holy Spirit. Jesus, especially in the Gospel of John, explicitly connects his death, resurrection, and exaltation with the coming of the Spirit. His return to the Father via the cross and the empty tomb is the necessary condition for the Spirit’s coming (e.g., John 7:39; 16:7). Indeed, the Holy Spirit, that “other Counselor,” is in certain respects Jesus’ replacement during this period between the “already” and the “not yet” so characteristic of New Testament eschatology; he is the means by which the Father and the Son continue to manifest themselves to believers (e.g., John 14:23). The same theme is picked up by Peter on the day of Pentecost: “Exalted to the right hand of God, [Jesus] has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear” (Acts 2:33). It has been shown in some detail that for Luke the coming of the Spirit is not associated merely with the dawning of the new age but with its presence, not merely with Pentecost but with the entire period from Pentecost to the return of Jesus the Messiah” (pg. 151-155).

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