The Holy Spirit and John’s Gospel
St. Mary of the Angels
November 19, 2021
The Spirit descending as a dove
John 1:33: “And I knew Him not: but He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, the same is He which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.”
In the Synoptic Gospels, Christ Jesus Himself sees the descent of the Holy Spirit when John the Baptist baptizes Him. In John’s Gospel, John specifically sees the descent of the Holy Spirit as is represented by a dove. Here, the dove is identifying for John that Christ Jesus is the Chosen One of God. In the Old Testament, the Spirit provides the grace by which people can undertake the will of God. So the first act of grace God bestows upon us is for us to be able to identify Him and His work on our behalf in the world. We must identify Him and His work from all the false gods and false prophets out there, so that we may have a relationship with the true God in whom is our salvation. That relationship is the basis by which we may attain that likeness to God which Adam had squandered and that likeness, in turn, is the basis by which we may do the work for which God has ordained us.
Isaiah 11:1-2: “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.”
The same Spirit that identifies for us the Chosen One of God, which is our first step in being able to have a relationship with Him, also empowers the Chosen One to be for us what we need. Our hope is in the fact that the One designated by God will maintain fully “the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, [and] the spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord.” In other words, the Chosen One will have those qualities that Adam had lost and that we need in order to be able to have eternal life with God in His Kingdom. He has the strength in character to save us precisely because He can be the One, Good, and Sufficient substitution for us before God’s Throne. Because He has these qualities, His sacrifice for us on the Cross will be the atonement we need to overcome the sin we cannot overcome ourselves.
Isaiah 42:1: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.”
Christ Jesus fulfills the Law which means that He assumes unto Himself and on our behalf all the Judgment which is proper for sin. Before Christ Jesus, we are condemned by this Judgment; but in Christ Jesus, since He has assumed and had overcome the Judgment for sin, we are freed into eternal life from the same. Moreover, in Christ Jesus, this freedom into eternal life is extended to the Gentiles. They too are judged by the Law, but in Christ Jesus they too are saved. So as the Spirit identifies the Chosen One, the Spirit also strengthens the Chosen One to do what is good and necessary for man’s salvation and to extend that salvation unto the Gentiles.
Isaiah 61:1: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.”
The Spirit indwells in a man so that He may do the work of God (“anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek”). Working with the Spirit, the work will be transformative: those who are brokenhearted are bound; those who are captive obtain liberty; those who are in prison are freed. When we identify the Chosen One, have hope that He has the character needed to do for us as is needed for our salvation, and have hope that He can and will extend this same grace to all men who turn unto Him, then we can move forward in faith to do the work that will change our lives and the lives of many others. We may not see in our lifetime the total effect our work will have on others, but because of the Spirit indwelling in the Chosen One, and the same Spirit offered unto us by the Chosen One, His Apostles, and their successors, we can know that there will be much more than we may imagine that comes from our work. The key is that we do work that is faithful to our “anointing,” which is the outward sign of the grace we receive when we as Christians enter into a sacramental relationship with God. The work we do which runs contrary to this “anointing” will not be the work of the Spirit and so will not have the same positive and transformative effect on ourselves and on others.
What is born of the Flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.
John 3:6: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
To be born of the Flesh is to conform one’s life to this world; the fallen creation predisposed by sin toward self-destruction and unable to overcome death. We are born into this state and, no matter our efforts to the contrary, cannot but conform to it. Therefore, we must “die” to what is “flesh” and be “reborn” to what is “Spirit.” When reborn of the Spirit, we shall conform then to the life of God and to His Kingdom. Notice that when Nicodemus comes unto Christ Jesus, he does so during the night. He is in the darkness but is seeking the light. Christ Jesus makes it very clear that for him to be out of the darkness and in the light, he must be reborn. In Christ Jesus, there is no midway, no compromise, no cafeteria religion where Nicodemus then can pick and choose what aspects of Christ Jesus he finds comfortable and just stick with those. The old life must be completely thrown out, and so he must be “reborn.” So we see here that the Spirit is transformative precisely because He is all encompassing. The Spirit gives us everything, but also demands from us everything.
John 7:38-39: “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)”
The same Spirit that demands everything of us also gives us an overabundance of life to be able to meet the task ahead (“rivers of living water”). Like a dam bursting we shall be freed from the restraints of our old life and empowered to do what is asked of us. Sin remains a temptation to us but is not able to overpower us, no matter how hard and often we succumb to its dark allure in our lives. If only we stand up and go back to Our Lord, the “rivers of living water” will be able to take us forward. Moreover, the “rivers of living water” will push us further toward God than our former sins had pushed us away from God.
The Spirit plants the Community of the Faithful in Christ Jesus
John 15:26: “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.”
Notwithstanding the continued allure of sin, the Spirit will comfort us by always pointing out to us where we may find Christ Jesus and others faithful to His Kingdom. By being able to identify Him and His beloved, we shall never be so lost as to be unable to return to His Kingdom, unless we renounce the Comforter altogether and embrace a Hell of our own invention. This ability to find Christ Jesus and His faithful is the foundation for His community on earth. To be a Christian is to be a citizen of grace in this community of the faithful, and the Spirit leads us there and gets us back there when we stumble.
Notice that the Prophecy in Isaiah 11:1-2 describes the coming Messiah as rooted in the soul and providing nutrient for the branches. The Messiah is never a standalone man but is the center of a community of faithful people. If the Incarnation of God the Son serves as the root/vine, and God the Father is the Husbandman, then the root/vine is planted – and the branches are engrafted into it – by virtue of God the Holy Spirit. This is similar to the Holy Spirit planting the seed of the Incarnation into the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Messianic Prophecy hints at the Triune God, and the Spirit is what allows us to see this deeper insight in the prophecy and for the faithful in particular to be moved as a result into a deeper relationship with God.