Thus far Daniel James Levy and I have review the introduction and first two chapters (see the bottom of this post) of Jack Levison’s Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life–a gem of a book. I have read scholarly books and I have read books aimed for spiritual formation. This has been the best hybrid of the two I have read (some of N.T. Wright’s popular works come close). Today I will tell you a bit about Chapter Three: Simeon’s Song.
To understand this chapter Jack asks readers to become acquainted with Luke 2.21-4o; Isaiah 42.1-4; 49.1-4; 50.4-6; and 52.13-53.12. Like chapter one we find ourselves discussing the spirit in the valley rather than the mountaintop. As someone who entered Christianity through Pentecostalism I have heard many a sermon on the power (!) and excitement (!) of the spirit, but it was quite rare to hear about the spirit’s leading into danger, darkness, and suffering.
“Simeon’s song” is from Luke 2.21-40. You know, the elderly man/prophet who holds the child Jesus and says that Israel’s deliverance has come–then tells Mary his mother than things might get quite bleak in the process. Simeon was a man upon whom the holy spirit rested (pp. 69-70). Jack finds his words to be influenced by Isaiah 40-55. He emphasizes that Simeon was aware of the contents of these passages. They provided him with an understanding of the Servant, of Israel, of the day when Israel would experience deliverance, of the nations who would benefit from Israel’s salvation.
“When we realize that Simeon’s song is a collage of words, and ideas originally lodged in Isaiah 40-55, we learn something important about the holy spirit. Simeon, who receives guidance and revelation because the spirit rests on him, is a figure of epic inspiration, although we know nothing else about him–except that he was a student of the book of Isaiah (pp. 72-73).”
“His experience calls into question the belief that the holy spirit moves most powerfully when our minds are set aside, when our mental faculties are immobilized (p. 73).”
So the spirit is not something associated with pure emotion, but also study, reflection, awareness, persistence.
At this juncture Jack moves into a discussion on the Servant of Isaiah 40-55. He emphasizes 42.1 where the spirit is on the servant. He discusses what this “looks like” from 50.4-5 drawing forth these principles: 1. God arouses the servant in the morning; 2. The servant listens with the ear of a disciple. 3. The servant has a goal: to sustain the weary with a word (pp. 77-78).
The Servant is juxtaposed with Elihu, as Daniel was juxtaposed with Elihu. The Servant uses his words, but they heal the nations, bring a light to the nations, and this is a wholly different use of the spirit than that of Elihu (pp. 79-84). Surprisingly the Servant is punished and abused by his own people. The Servant suffers. This is what Simeon knew was coming. This is what he told Mary. He knew the Book of Isaiah.
I hope this gives you a glimpse of this chapter. Let me give you the excerpt that I feel embodies Jack’s goal with this chapter examining Jesus, the Servant, who Simeon–a student of Isaiah–knew would suffer:
“If you have read popular books about the holy spirit, you have heard a very different message–that the spirit is the source of great personal fulfillment. In one of these books, the purpose of the holy spirit is to give us the power to do with ease things that would otherwise be difficult or impossible. That is quite a promise–extraordinary, really. The impossible becomes possible, the difficult easy. This is personal fulfillment on steroids (p. 88).”
But when Jack looks at Isaiah’s Servant upon whom the spirit rest he sees:
“The holy spirit didn’t dispel his self-doubt. Nor did the spirit allow him to live with ease. In fact, as his vision expanded, as his awareness of God’s plan for the nations grew, opposition to his message grew as well, not from those nations, but from his own (p. 89).”
The spirit doesn’t anoint for ease.