Daniel James Levy and I have been reviewing each chapter of John R. (Jack) Levison’s Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life. You can find previous entries at the bottom of this post. Today I want to share a few thoughts on Chapter 7: Jesus’ Test.
This was a timely read for me. Recently, I relocated with my wife to San Antonio, Texas. My mother-in-law lives here, so it has been nice to be around family, but I don’t have a support network of friends here and I have not found employment. This has given me some time to study and write, which is good, but it has been a bit lonely at times and I have had days where I have second guessed our choice to move here.
In Chapter 7: Jesus’ Test Jack wrote quite a few things that I needed to read. For the most part the chapter is about Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the wilderness according to the Gospel of Mark. He begins with a story about his daughter’s baptism and some challenges that she faced immediately afterward. As he consoled his daughter he told her about Jesus’ baptism in Mark.
Jesus is baptized, he sees the heaven split, he hears the Father call him his beloved Son inaugurating his reign as Messiah, and the holy spirit comes upon him peacefully “like a dove” from the sky. Jack comments:
“…in Mark’s Gospel, this is Jesus’ private moment before the onslaught of crowds, prior to the persistent pestering from which he would occasionally need to withdraw. Here, Jesus has his own moment, his own vision, his own heavenly revelation.” (p. 169)
But it is short lived. The scene declares Jesus to be the Son of Psalm 2.7 and the Servant of Isaiah 42.1. This makes Jesus God’s beloved. Jack write, “Tying together the sonship and the servanthood of Jesus is the most intimate whisper of all: Jesus is God’s beloved.” (p. 171) Being that he is God’s beloved one would think this means he will be comfortable, but the opposite occurs. Jack observes:
“The gentle descent of the holy spirit turns on a dime when the spirit hurls Jesus violently away from his private respire into a world of rampant hostility: ‘And the spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him” (Mark 1:13-13). (p. 173)
The text says that the spirit “threw” Jesus into the wilderness (ἐκβάλλει) “immediately” (εὐθὺς). There was no time for Jesus to relax in his Father’s presence. The Father’s declaration of Jesus identity led him to sent the spirit gently only for the spirit to violently thrust Jesus into his mission. Jack notes that this is an “explosive verb” (p. 173) used on occasions such as Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden (Genesis 3.24, LXX); Jesus’ exorcism of demons (Mark 1:34, 39); Jesus driving out the moneychangers in the temple (Mark 11:15); and so forth. The spirit does not nudge Jesus into his mission. It thrust him into it.
Jack has many insightful things to say about Jesus’ temptation in this chapter, but the most important lines were as follows:
“…the holy spirit is not just the giver of the fruits of the spirit, such as peace and patience, or the gifts of the spirit, such as speaking in tongues and healing, or the power of the spirit, such as the sermons in the book of Acts. The holy spirit also drives us out with tremendous force, like a demon cast out or an erring eye plucked out, into the presence of our enemies.” (p. 178)
The fruit producing, gift giving, empowering spirit pushes us into uncomfortable places. I feel like I’ve been in an uncomfortable place and it is helpful to know that stages of life such as this one is not a sign that I have been abandoned or ignored by God, but maybe this is exactly what the spirit wants to do with me, in me, for me.
Jack discusses the promise of the spirit speaking for believers found in Mark 13.9-13 and he emphasizes (correctly) that this is not a text we should use to excuse our lack or preparation or study, but a text that is promised to those who are persecuted. Jack writes about those who do not prepare for sermons or conversations with others:
“‘I’ll just let the holy spirit speak through me.’ Not true. Jesus promises the holy spirit to faithful followers whose backs are against the wall of official persecution, followers who haven’t got a moment to spare or to prepare, because they’ve been taken forcibly from their homes and neighborhoods and made to stand trial. This promise, in other words, is not an excuse for failing to study, think, consider, plan, ponder, muse, read, and contemplate.” (p. 181)
In summary, this chapter reminds us that the spirit doesn’t just comfort us. Sometimes the spirit discomforts us. And the spirit is present with those who face great challenges like persecution, but this is no excuse for not cultivating the spirit’s wisdom and presence in times of peace.
Our next post will be by Daniel on Chapter 8: Peter’s Praise and then I will write a concluding post with links to all of our review posts.