The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: A New Era

Inside the dome of the Pantheon in Rome (Author photo)

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of baptism. You can find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

Welcome back to this series of essays on baptism. I am currently focusing on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Thanks for hanging around. I know it’s not as much fun as Wonder Woman.

In the last essay, we saw that the Old Testament prophets predicted two things: 1) a righteous ruler on whom the Spirit of God would rest, and 2) a general outpouring of the Spirit upon all God’s people. Both of these predictions went against the grain of the Old Testament experience. First, while plenty of rulers had God’s Spirit placed upon them, none of them exhibited the kind of righteousness and saving perfection predicted for the Messiah. Second, the idea that all of God’s people would receive the Spirit individually, regardless of status, was a development without precedent.

We must now take a look at how these two things came to pass, and how they reveal to us the meaning of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Continue reading

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: Prophecies

Michelangelo’s portrayals of (L-R) Isaiah, Joel, and Ezekiel on the Sistine Chapel ceiling

This is the latest in a series of essays on baptism. You will find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

In the previous essay, I began examining how the Spirit worked prior to Christ’s death and resurrection in order to help determine what is meant by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We saw that the Spirit was always at work in the Old Testament, but that He was only “placed” on a specific set of people: those entrusted with spiritual leadership of the nation of Israel in one form or another. This Spirit could be given or taken away at any time, according to the will of the Lord. When the covenant relationship between God and His people broke down and the covenant curses were enacted, God promised to restore a righteous remnant to Himself. How would that occur? Let’s take a look. Continue reading

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: Beginnings

Depiction of Pentecost in Siena Cathedral by Duccio di Buoninsegna, circa 1308-11

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of baptism. You can find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

I began this series by discussing the baptism of John. We must now consider something that John himself said. He proclaimed that while he baptized with water for repentance, a greater one was coming who “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11b)

What did John mean when he spoke those words? What is the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Who receives it? Is it a new thing or an old thing? Is it one and the same with water baptism? These are the types of questions I hope to answer in the next few essays, but it is going to be difficult. This is a complicated theological topic.

The first time we find an explicit mention of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is in that quote from John the Baptist. If we want to discover exactly what it means, we need to follow the trail of scriptural evidence. First, we should note that John associates this baptism with the work of Christ.

John testified saying, ‘I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, “He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.” I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.’

John 1:32-34

Therefore, John prophesied that Jesus Christ was the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.   There are a few other things to note at this point: 1) John clearly felt that there was something about this baptism that was different from his own, 2) he seemed to believe it represented something new in redemptive history, and 3) he associated it with fire. Let’s move on to see the next place where this specific phrase appears. It is used by Christ in His final words to the disciples just before His Ascension. Continue reading

How Christ Redeemed Our Suffering

“Christ Carrying the Cross” by Anthony van Dyck, circa first quarter of the 17th century

In a recent essay, I made a throwaway comment to the effect that Jesus Christ has not only redeemed us, but also our suffering. I then fell prey to a nagging question. “What exactly do you mean by that, Amy?” It seemed right to me that I should follow up on that thought and flush it out more fully. Here is the result.

Suffering is a result of sin, either directly or indirectly. There was no suffering before the Fall – not even anything we could truly call difficult. Following the Fall, we suffer in such myriad ways that we become desensitized to a certain percentage of it in order to simply get through the day. First, you have the obvious aches and pains, an assortment of physical maladies so diverse that it has made the health care industry one of the largest in the world, with plenty of room to grow. Then there is the emotional pain brought about by daily disappointments: friends letting you down, careers going south, opportunities missed, etc.

There is the persecution, both active and passive, faced by so many Christians worldwide, to which the New Testament devotes much of its focus on suffering. There are those times when the universe itself seems out to get you, so bemoaned in Alanis Morisette’s hit tune, “Ironic”. Often ignored is the spiritual suffering we all experience due to the distance between ourselves and God, which is only less painful because we are unaware of what perfect communion with God really feels like. Last of all, there’s the really big one: death.

The good news is that Christians do not suffer in the same way as everyone else. Yes, we are subject to the same kinds of suffering, and anyone who tells you that becoming a Christian will magically make your life suffering-free is either a liar or doesn’t believe in what the Bible has to say. They are setting you up to feel that either you are failing in your faith or God is failing as God, for you will inevitably face suffering. The difference is not that Christians don’t suffer, but rather that through the work of Jesus Christ, our suffering has been redeemed. Continue reading

Awaken!

A plaque with saints rising from the dead made in Limoges, France circa 1250. Photo by Marie Lan Nguyen

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You can find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

The year was 1971 and the new John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. was about to have its grand opening celebration. The late president’s widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, commissioned the famed composer Leonard Bernstein to create a new work that would be performed as part of the dedication festivities. Bernstein had already established himself as one of the greatest American musicians of all time, heading up the New York Philharmonic and writing the music for West Side Story and On the Waterfront. However, for this particular occasion, he chose to do something rather unconventional: he wanted to create a Catholic Mass.

Masses intended for performance were nothing new. Both Mozart and Verdi had reached the pinnacles of their careers by writing a Requiem Mass, though Mozart was famously unable to complete his before dying young. Those who went for a more general Mass, as opposed to one for the dead, included Puccini, Liszt, Schubert, Haydn, Stravinsky, Bach, Beethoven, Vaughan Williams, Schubert, Rossini, and Dvořák. The reason for this is obvious: the Mass was always meant to be sung, and it serves as the focal point of Catholic life. Even some Protestants have gotten in on the fun, including a few of the names on that list.

But why should Bernstein wish to compose a Mass? He was, it must be noted, not a Catholic. If anything, he seems to have been a rather secular Jew. He was also homosexual (despite not revealing that publicly and being married for many years) and held some views that were not in complete harmony with Catholic teaching. Yet, the Kennedys were well-known for their Catholicism. Bernstein no doubt wanted to honor this aspect of his friends’ lives, and according to his daughter, Nina Bernstein, he “had always been intrigued and awed by the Roman Catholic Mass, finding it (in Latin) moving, mysterious, and eminently theatrical.”[1] Continue reading