Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Spiritual Adolescence?

In John 20:22 Jesus breathes on His disciples saying “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Later, in Acts 2 the Holy Spirit comes on the disciples in power and their miraculous ministries really take off. What are these two events and what happened between? Here’s one attempt to map it all out (just an idea, not a dogma) - one I’d really like some feedback on:

The Disciples’ Old Testament Commission
Matthew 10:1-15 ... Jesus gives His disciples supernatural authority and sends them out to proclaim “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It’s similar to the commission given to the prophets. With the commission are clear instructions to function in interdependent community and focus their ministry aim on the suffering and oppressed.

Jesus Prophesies About the Spirit
John 16:7 ... Jesus tells His disciples that He must “go away” so He can send “the Helper”, explained in John 14:26 as the Holy Spirit (3rd person of the Triune God).

John 16:16-18 ... Jesus’ confused disciples respond by saying, "We don’t know what He’s talking about ... 'A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me'; and, 'because I go to the Father'."

John 16:19-22 ... Jesus, sensing their confusion, explains that they would soon “weep and lament, while the world rejoices” but also that their “grief will be turned into joy”. He refers to His crucifixion and death as a kind of “labor pain” that produces new life worth rejoicing over when He would “see them again” (after His resurrection).

Jesus’ Death & Resurrection
1 Corinthians 15:44-45 ... Jesus dies, like a seed, “sown a natural body” and is resurrected “a spiritual body” thus becoming “a life-giving spirit” at His resurrection.

Jesus’ Pre-Ascension Announcement
John 20:17 ... After rising from the dead, Jesus meets Mary Magdalene, instructing her to "stop clinging” to Him since He had not yet “ascended to the Father.” He then says, “go to My brethren and say to them, 'I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'" An ascension apparently taking place while Mary was telling the disciples (the “going” mentioned in John 16:7).

Proclamation, Emptying Paradise, & Ascension (Presentation) to the Father
1 Peter 3:19 ... Having conquered death, Jesus goes in spirit to make “proclamation to the spirits now in prison”.

Ephesians 4:8-10 ... Having proclaimed His victory, Jesus “ascended on high ... leading captive a host of captives and giving gifts to men.” Having accomplished atonement, He was able to give justification and spiritual birth (regeneration) to those Old Testament believers whose sin had been previously “passed over ... in the forbearance of God” until Christ’s redemptive work was finished (Romans 3:25). This happened after Jesus had descended to the “lower parts of the earth ... so that He might fill all things.”

Jesus Gives New Life to the Disciples

(i.e. spiritually regenerated or “born again”)
John 20:19-20 ... Later that same day Jesus appears to His disciples in a room without using the door (glorified body), showing them His hands and His side. They rejoice as Jesus had said they would in John 16:16-18 after He had “gone to the Father”.

John 20:27 ... Jesus instructs Thomas to, “reach here with your finger and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing." It’s a different reaction then he gave to Mary Magdalene, indicating something had occurred to change things, namely His ascension to the Father.

John 20:22 ... On that same occasion (His first post-ascension appearance to the disciples) Jesus “breathed” on them saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Breath, most commonly an indication of life-giving (Gen 2:7) or the principle of life (Gen 25:8), is used here to indicate a life-giving moment. It’s the moment of new life for the disciples, of being born-again (John 3:3). Up to this point, the disciples had been Old Testament believers, following God without a regenerated spirit. Here they become New Testament believers, united with God in spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17; 2 Corinthians 5:17).

The Disciples New Testament Commission
Matthew 28:16-18 ... Jesus disciples go to the Mount in Galilee, where He had previously designated. Amidst their combination of worship and doubt, Jesus says, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”

Ephesians 1:19-23 ... The Apostle Paul explains this statement further saying, “God’s power toward us who believe [is] in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

Apparently Jesus had already been given His seat over all authority at the time He makes His claim in Matthew 28:18. That seat is both a status of glory and a real seat. As a real seat, He has the freedom to leave His position there without compromising His glory - even as Stephen witnesses Him standing in Acts 7:56 in the moment of his martyrdom.

Matthew 28:19-20 ... Before His bodily ascension into heaven, Jesus commissions His 11 remaining disciples to “go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Interesting to note that Jesus didn’t say “I will be with you” but rather “I am with you always”. Apparently even as Jesus was ascending into the clouds, the disciples retained His presence through the Spirit which He had given them in John 20:22.

Disciples Are Empowered by the Spirit
Acts 2 ... The disciples are waiting in Jerusalem per Jesus' instructions when the Holy Spirit fills them in power so their word is courageous and miraculous, leading thousands to saving faith in Christ. For the rest of their lives, they continue to live and minister “in grace upon grace” (John 1:16), being continually led and empowered by the Spirit who had commissioned them in Acts 2.

Is there a difference between a Christian and a disciple? New Testament authors repeatedly challenge readers to move beyond the basic foundation of spiritual birth and embrace maturity (Ephesians 4:15; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; Hebrews 5:12-14; 6:1; etc.). Jesus tells story after story of people who embrace God in faith but fail to live out their faith in God-honoring ways that yield eternal rewards. Is there a kind of spiritual adolescence by which Christians become disciples, a season through which we count the cost and take up our cross and follow Jesus instead of merely receiving Him? Is there a spiritual experience that marks our movement from childhood into maturity by which Christ-followers are empowered to steward the life of ministry they’ve embraced?

It seems Jesus experienced something like this. In Luke 3:22 Jesus receives the Holy Spirit in His baptism. Forty days later, in Luke 4:14, Jesus is “empowered by the Spirit” after His wilderness experience. The baptism (spiritual birth) and empowering appear to occur at different times in His life.

Could it be that this empowering isn’t given to “Christians” but only “disciples”? Jesus says in Luke 14:27, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” He goes on in verse 28 to challenge us to “count the cost” adding that “none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” Was He saying that receiving Christ’s forgiveness is works based? No. But perhaps the Luke 4:14; Acts 2:1-4 empowering is reserved for commissioning mature disciples. Paul speaks of “the gift of God” which was “in” Timothy “through the laying on of hands”. This isn’t salvation and it doesn’t appear to be a Romans 12 spiritual gift or an office (since it was “in” Timothy). Galatians 1:17 seems to indicate that Paul had a few years as a Christian before launching into his public ministry. What happened in that time? Perhaps his spiritual adolescence?

After all, what does physical adolescence exist for? The genders teach us the character of God (love and truth). Sex teaches us the union with the Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17). Parenthood teaches us the paternity of God (Matthew 7:11). Labor of birth teaches us about the price of redemption (John 16:21-22). What does adolescence teach us? It’s the advent of adulthood, the season of transition out of childhood. It makes us no more human than before, but does produce a transformation in our bodies and the inauguration of physical power, including the power to procreate (create new life). What does it all mean?

Perhaps there is an adolescence all Christians are called to go through. Perhaps it is an adolescence best handled in community. Perhaps it’s intended to empower those who are surrendered to follow Christ in reconciling and healing the broken world around us. And perhaps its completion is marked by a spiritually transformational experience of power by which we are able to more effectively participate in Christ’s work of redeeming the lost with an emphasis, like Christ’s, on the suffering and oppressed.


Bob Carder said...

Spiritual empowerment by the laying on of hands can only be done by those who are filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

As you are empowered you lay hands on your disciples for Jesus and they in turn do the same.

When I get more time I want to read this more closely.

Great work!

John Lynch said...

More thoughts-in-motion... After working through this stuff, here's where my understanding is at so far (still gelling):

1) Disciples’ Old Testament commission (Matthew 10:1-15)
2) Jesus prophesies about the coming Spirit (John 16:7-22)
3) Jesus dies & resurrects (1 Corinthians 15:44-45)
4) Jesus announces His resurrection and pending ascention to Mary Magdelene (John 20:17)
5) Jesus proclaims victory over death in the spiritual realm and empties paradise into heaven, presenting it all to the Father and receiving authority (Ephesians 1:19-23; 4:8-10; Romans 3:25; 1 Peter 3:19)
6) Jesus breathes new life to the disciples (i.e. spiritually regenerated or “born again” - John 20:19-22; 1 Corinthians 6:17; 2 Corinthians 5:17)
7) Jesus gives disciples New Testament commission with the authority He received at his initial ascension / presentation (Matthew 28:16-18; Ephesians 1:19-23)
8) Disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit for the first time after their rebirth (Acts 2)
9) Disciples continue experiencing recurrent "fillings" of the Spirit after that event and throughout their ministries... commanding us to do the same (Ephesians 5:18)

How's it look?

David said...

sounds kosher to me!

John Lynch said...

One more addition... Birth is an event; but adolescence is a slower transition. Thought that was worth mentioning.

John Lynch said...

Thanks for the encouragement David! I really respect and appreciate your insight into all this stuff, dude.

John Lynch said...

You too, Bob.