Stunned by the Holy Spirit image

Stunned by the Holy Spirit

I have heard that it was said (by Andrew Wilson among others), that you shouldn't use your quiet time to study scripture for work. But I tell you that I have found the times I've had to wrestle with scripture (for writing Bible reading notes, for instance) to be far more fruitful than my normal quiet times. So I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Of course, I understand the principle of keeping your quiet times for worship, not work, and it makes sense if ‘the Bible’ is your full time occupation that you need to make sure you’re taking time to nourish your own soul as well as expound on the text for others, but for me, having to find something worth saying about the scripture passages I’m reading means I am forced to pay more attention to them than I otherwise would. I know so many of them so well that it’s easy just to let them drift past my eyeballs without connecting with my brain, but there’s knowing and knowing, isn’t there? It’s true what they say, that you never really understand something until you can explain it to someone else.

There’s one thing that hit me earlier this year that just keeps cycling back round my brain again and again, so I’m writing it down again in case it’s useful for someone else.

It was just a little verse in John 14, that I wrote about for Daily Bread:

Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” (John 14:22)

Jesus had just been telling the disciples that he was about to send the Holy Spirit, but in Judas’ mind, Jesus was the key thing – if only people could see him, then they would believe, surely.

But here’s what hit me – Jesus had shown himself to the world. He appeared to thousands of people before the crucifixion, bringing power and wisdom like they had never seen before, and had appeared to over 500 people after the resurrection (1 Cor 15:6). Yet by the time of the day of Pentecost the believers numbered only 120 (Acts 1:15).

Seeing Jesus, in the flesh, bodily resurrected…you’d think that would be a guarantee of belief, wouldn’t you? But no. Only 120 stuck with it, continued to worship together, and waited for this Holy Spirit that had been promised to them.

And then he came, and ‘about three thousand were added to their number’ in one fell swoop (Acts 2:41), then ‘the Lord [continued to add] to their number daily those who were being saved’ (v47).

It seems a strange thing to post at the beginning of Advent - the time when we celebrate, perhaps more than ever, Jesus’ bodily presence on earth. I’m not sure why the timing has worked this way. It’s of course right that we point to the baby in the manger, the fulfillment of centuries of promise, and point people forward to the salvation that this child would bring, but maybe we’re in danger of minimising the power and significance of what came next.

It’s so easy to think ‘If only Jesus would appear again on earth, if he were here and could speak to my friends, then they’d believe,’ but the evidence of the Bible contradicts that. An unusual man claiming to be God attracts far fewer followers than a bunch of flawed people empowered by the Holy Spirit. More people came to Christ through one sermon preached by a failed fisherman than through seeing the risen Christ in person. Thomas wouldn’t believe unless he saw. The other disciples only believed once they had seen, but somehow for the rest of us, not seeing is actually more effective.

God is made visible through us more compellingly than he was through Jesus.

That blows my mind.

The Holy Spirit living in you - in me - is more powerful than a virgin birth, a new star, a host of angels, and an empty tomb. Incredible.

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