BRIGHT WINGS APPROACHING
Any more, there are few who would argue that we are living in a world free from the need for spiritual renewal, hope, or the rekindling of inspiration. Our newspapers, our thinkers, our leaders, and even our poets speak of this age as one overshadowed by decadence and death. Our societies tumble down into a miasma of discontent and misdirection, so that our young people choose suicide over living. It is a careening course of chance and lost opportunity that we chart, crossing the boundaries of a new millennium. Faced with the terrors of nuclear destruction, and a hundred other calamities, we must rediscover the path to spiritual, psychological, and emotional survival - a passage that will lead us to a safer existence, to healing and renewal.
Beyond the shadow of any doubting I believe such a channel exists, and even awaits us. Creation, and the witness of our own hearts, tell us of its proximity. The passage, I conclude, is one made possible by the working of God's Holy Spirit. Such has come into our world, delivered to us by Jesus the Nazarene as recorded in the New Testament record, sent to lift humankind to a place of greater peace and vivacity.
Dr. Alexis Carrel, the great Nobel Prize-winning physician, intimates such thoughts in his book, Man the Unknown. On page 135 he speaks of our need for renewal, for ³...an elevation of mind toward a being who is the source of all things. Such will bring humankind to a fulfillment of his highest desires: inner strength, spiritual light, divine love, and ineffable peace. We become in God, and God acts within us.²
At this hour, this same truth burns within the hearts of many, breaking down the walls that divide our cultures. When the Spirit is present among us, race, gender, or social status become of little importance. We are made one ³in the Spirit.² A new day dawns then, just as it did for a great number of ³New Testament² believers. We are offered an opportunity to escape the treadmill of guilt and failure, and to discover a new and abundant source of strength.
Where psychology, and even religion fails, the true working of the Holy Spirit responds with a new way of being and thinking. Gerard Manly Hopkins, the great English poet, wrote these magnificent lines,
The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out...Oh morning!
Because the Holy Spirit over the bent World broods with the warm breast and with ah! bright wings...
To understand the concept and the work of the Holy Spirit, we will read from a number of credible observations - for the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, contains a great wealth of information on the influence, importance, and operation of the Holy Spirit. The ancient Judaic prophets, such as Isaiah, foresaw a future time when the Holy Spirit of God would re-ignite the hearts and lives of people. Centuries afterward, the disciples of Jesus the Nazarene would witness this fire of transformation. A new message would be recorded for future generations to hear; a message of redemption, restoration, and liberation. This small book is gleaned from those inspired words drafted long ago; the testimony of men and women who experienced first-hand the Holy Spiritıs warm presence, and the bright wings of his approaching.
BECOME ALIVE NOW
Painted on the walls of the catacombs, the honeycomb of underground tunnels where the early Christians hid themselves from Roman oppressors in the first century, there is an oft repeated image of a woman praying. In this image she is gazing towards heaven, her open hands raised with palms extended upwards. This is one of the most early and important Christian symbols. Who is this person? Is it an actual member of the early church, or is the painting merely representational. Kallistos Ware tells us that this image, ³depicts a soul at prayer...portraying a basic Christian attitude: that of invocation or epiclesis, asking for and waiting upon the Holy Spirit.²
When I visited Rome and walked the damp underground passageways and grottos, I was greatly moved by images such as this one. What struck me most forcefully was that these were men and women like you and me. Tears filled my eyes and blurred the ancient paintings. Such men and women had really found something wonderful, without question the most fantastic discovery of the ages: a source of life so transcending and exhilarating that all of the life they had lived before had been rearranged. The past sorrows, hunger, oppression, loneliness; or cold heartedness had all been swept along by this tide. All of the hate, envy, greed, indeed all of the negative habits of life had been treated by the incoming presence of God's Spirit. Death and persecution could not extinguish this truth. These first Christians might be forced underground, but their new way would live on. Throughout time their discovery would illuminate and shine.
Twenty years have passed since my visit to the Via Appia outside Rome, and still that anonymous woman remains a vivid and stirring impression. If she had been painted in fire, her memory could not have burned more indelibly into my consciousness. She reminds me to say, as I write this page, ³...the Holy Spirit is for everyone, for real people living in a real world.² Hers was not some other-worldly truth available to patriarchs or holy mystics. Her message was for all who would open their hearts, and extend their hands to reach out and be made new. The disciple John records that Jesus approached his circle of witnesses until they could feel the breath of his voice as it fell upon them.
³He breathed on his followers,² John records, ³and said, OBe full of the Holy Spirit.ı² (John 20:22)
What is the Holy Spirit, other than the breath and energy, the life force of God? The combined witness of the Old and New Testament history confirms this reality. ³Be full NOW.² This message resonates to us across time. ³Receive the energy of God. Donıt wait. Breathe deep. Become alive now.²
IN THE BEGINNING, THE IMAGE OF GOD
In the very opening words of the Bible we find these words:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . . and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Genesis 1:1, 2)
This world was created with a very decided motive. The prophet Isaiah declares that God created this world for humankind to dwell in. He writes:
God made the earth to be inhabited. (Isaiah 45:18)
The Genesis account of the creative process provides us with an image of God who, having completed the work of creation, is pleased with what is accomplished. The hosts of heaven beholding this creative act shouted aloud in ecstasy over what they saw. (Job 38:7) God declared what he had done was "good," but continued in his work of creation. The author of Genesis writes that God speaks his intentions, addressing witnesses to behold his purpose and final act of creation, saying,
Let us make man in our image, in our likeness. (Genesis 1:26)
From these three passages we begin to form an image of our very origins: of the Spirit of God active in creation, of our own significance in the creative process, and ultimately, our similarity by design, to the likeness of God and the heavenly witnesses.
Many centuries after Genesis was written, John, the disciple of Jesus, records Jesus as saying...
God IS spirit. (John 4:24)
If this is true, then man being made in God's likeness must be a spiritual being, much more than a mere earthly body. Likewise, the temple that is our body, is filled with a quality that makes us alive. Just as we are animated by our natural breathing process, the breath of ³Godıs Spirit² causes our inner being, or soul, to have life. This is the breath of God.
God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. (Genesis 2:7)
The most ancient writer perhaps in all of history, the venerable Job, confirms this statement, declaring:
The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life. (Job 33:4)
Our world has never known a true sharing of equality. History provides us with a panorama of nation dominating nation, and kingdom warring to subject another to its rule. On the local level, society determines rules that accept one and banish the less fortunate. But in the "kingdom of the Spirit" there are no outsiders. Consider this example.
Some forty miles, or seventy kilometers, north of Jerusalem once existed the ancient kingdom of Samaria, a nation that originated some 50 years after the death of King Solomon. In 721 B.C. it experienced a migration of Babylonians deported to that area of the world by Sargon II. These mingled with the Israelites in that region just 25 miles, or forty kilometers, from the Mediterranean. The descendants of this union became known as Samaritans. In the time of Isaiah the prophet, Samaria became infamous for its devotion to idol worship when the despotic King Ahab built his temple to the pagan god, Baal.
Still, in spite of their spotted history, the Samaritans felt that they shared a common heritage with the nation of Israel. They might have differed adamantly about the true place of worship, Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim, but there was a great deal of similarities between the two peoples. The Jews, however, wanted nothing to do with the Samaritans. To them, the Samaritans were outcasts and outsiders, the untouchables of the time. We catch a glimpse of how deep was their animosity towards the Samaritans when the opponents of Jesus the Nazarene wanted to curse him. They accused Jesus of being "...a demon-possessed man and a Samaritan." (John 8:48)
Against this background, John's gospel, the fourth book of the New Testament, recounts a beautiful story that takes place in Samaria, in the village of Samaia, named Sychar in Christ's time. Interesting that Jesus chose this route in his travels, walking up into these hills that culminated in the peak of Mount Gerizim, 2,890 feet, or nearly 1,000 meters above sea level.
Wearied by his journey, Jesus rests at "Jacob's Well." There he encounters a woman who is worn by life, and tired of heart. He asks her to draw water for him from the deep well. "How is it," she asks with astonishment, "that you, a Jew, would ask any favor of me, an untouchable Samaritan?"
But Jesus looks upon this woman with kindness that melted her heart, saying,
Whoever drinks of this well water will thirst again: but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give, out of that person will spring wells of refreshing and everlasting life. (John 4:14)
There are no outcasts to this new message. No place is so remote, that the new songs of joy cannot resound. No valley, no mountain top, no location is too isolated. The "little people" shall be elevated to sit at the King's table. Jesus concludes this remarkable encounter with an equally powerful prophetic statement...
Believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain (Gerizim), nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship my Father...the hour is coming, and now is here, when the true worshippers shall worship God in spirit and in truth. (John 4:21,23)
Why then, in the light of such wonderful promises, do we seem to walk in the shadows? Sadly, this shadowland, as C.S. Lewis called it, is a result of a broken communion between human hearts and the Creator. While God indeed created each of us for his glory, to worship him in Spirit and in truth, Satan, the fallen angel, has warred to turn us from our heavenly Father. The roots of this struggle emerge from the dim recesses of the world's origin. The dark angel, Satan, himself desired to be exalted in the heavens. Isaiah tells how he lifted his will against God, declaring,
I will make myself like the Most High. (Isaiah 14:14)
Eons later, Satan confronts Jesus in the Judean desert. The gospel chronicler, Luke, graphically describes Satan's temptation of Jesus in this fearful wilderness. Now Jesus had entered Satan's territory, and Satan uses all of his wiles to win Jesus' allegiance, thus undoing his power and mission. He offers Jesus the glories of the world if he would worship him, whispering...
I will give you all their authority and splendor... if you worship me, it will all be yours. (Luke 4:6,7)
Christ referred to Satan as, ...the prince of this world. (John 14:30) Christ did not refute Satan's authority. This authority was the very yoke of bondage which he had come to earth to destroy. Herein lies a great synopsis of the purpose of Christ's first coming: God's own son is sent to walk the highways of human suffering and toil, to know first-hand our aching hearts and muscles, and having so endured, to redeem us from the chains of evil forged by the hellish forge of Satan's domination. This is the supreme purpose of Christ's presence on earth, as John tells us...
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work. (1 John 3:8)
Every place that Jesus moved on earth placed him placed him in direct confrontation with the work and oppression of Satan. This was true concerning Jesus' influence in society, for the poor and outcasts "heard him with gladness." Those sick with physical affliction were healed. Once lame men and women were seen dancing and praising God on the temple steps. Jesus expressed no doubt about his works. He knew that they were in direct opposition to the evil workings of Satan's kingdom. Encountering a woman who was suffering with an incurable illness, Jesus said,
Should not this woman...whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free? (Luke 13:16)
And he described the very nature of his earthly mission as being,
...to proclaim freedom for the prisoners. (Luke 4:18)
Jesus knew that Satan had power to deceive men and women and to take them captive against their will. In order to deliver them from this influence, Jesus knew that his followers required more than their own strength to overcome the power of the enemy.
He referred to Satan as "...a strong man," and asked this allegorical question of his disciples,
How can anyone enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? (Matthew 12:29)
Christ himself was dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish his work on earth. When you read the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) that commence the New Testament, you will discover that Jesus did not begin his ministry until the Holy Spirit had come to rest upon him. Mark describes how Jesus received the Holy Spirit at the Jordan River when he was baptized by John the Baptist, the prophet God had sent to proclaim the arrival of his son among us. Mark tells us that,
Jesus...saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him. (Mark 1:10)
Students of the scriptures have often deliberated on this event. Did Jesus "see" this event so that others would as well, and recognize Jesus as the true son of God? Or was this "seeing" for his benefit? Was it to confirm in his heart that God's spirit would walk with him on earth as it was in heaven? Personally, I enjoy the latter explanation, although both might be accurate. John saw and knew what it meant. (John 1:32, 33)
Immediately following this anointing of the Spirit, Luke writes,
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit . . . was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. (Luke 4:1, 2,14)
God the Father knew that his son would need the anointing, blessing, and protective covering of the Holy Spirit in the desert. I am reminded here, that God often meets our needs before we have necessity of such help. God did not allow his son to walk into the desert of temptation without first anointing him with the Holy Spirit at the river's edge.
Jesus faced the barrage of Satan's temptations with strength, in spite of his weakened condition from spending forty days of fasting in the wilderness. Again, this is for our edification. It seems to me that Jesus had to go to the lowest point of human existence in order to assure us - who would read and retell this story for generations to come - that no place is too impoverished, miserable, or difficult for the Holy Spirit to provide superseding strength and comfort. Even the direct assaults of Satan could not penetrate the shield of the Spirit.
When Jesus returned from the wilderness he went directly to the synagogue to initiate his ministry. The very first words Jesus said were:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me . . . to proclaim freedom for the prisoners. (Luke 4:18)
He knew this to be true beyond the shadow of any doubting. The light of God's true Spirit had been poured out upon his life and consecrated his message. The shadowlands had become witness to a "great light" that would pierce even the darkest hearts.
The disciple Peter, looking back on Christ's time on earth, records,
God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil. (Acts 10:38)
Continue to Part Two
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