Strange Scripture: Jesus breathes on the disciples

If you’ve never come across a strange passage of Scripture you need to read more. Consider Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to his disciples in John 20:19-23. Assuming you’ve reckoned with the strangeness of God becoming a man & then being raised back to life after his execution (Acts 17:18, 20), you could still be forgiven for finding this exchange curious:

And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (Jn 20:22)

The question for most Christians on this point doesn’t concern hygiene but theology. Namely, is this the point & time at which the Holy Spirit (HS) was given to the Church or did the HS come later on Pentecost (Acts 2)?*

Here are some reasons why we might interpret John 20 as a symbolic act that anticipated the HS’s arrival in Acts 2:

1) Jesus previously said that the HS would come after He returned to the Father (Jn 16:7), but Jesus is obviously still with his disciples.

2) Jesus has previously used a symbolic act to speak of an imminent event as if it were already happening (Jn 13:7-8; see also 12:23, 31; 17:4).

3) John 20 is decidedly anti-climactic compared to Acts 2. If the disciples received the HS in John 20, it appears to have made no tangible difference. They’re still fearful, slow to understand, etc.

4) Peter marks the HS falling on the disciples in Acts 2 “the beginning” (Acts 11:15). He can’t be alluding to the event in Jn 20 because the proof of the HS falling on Cornelius (and his house) was speaking in tongues which happened in Acts 2.

*one’s answer to this question is related to broader questions about the Church’s birth, the HS’s ministry to the Church, the possibility of a “second blessing” of the Spirit, etc.


The author wishes to thank the slumbering congregant who provided the impetus for this post.


He asks too much

Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. {John 5:8-9a, ESV}

Is it unreasonable to command a man to an action which he has no ability to perform? To be specific, is it unreasonable to command a 38-yr invalid to walk as Jesus does in John 5? [John doesn’t tell us what the sickness was but the inability to walk was at least a major symptom if not the defining characteristic] A few preliminary observations will further sharpen the question.

First, the invalid didn’t know Jesus (Jn 5:11-13). Perhaps the man had heard of Jesus from reports of previous miracles (Jn 2:23). If so, it seems strange that the man doesn’t put two and two together when he’s been healed—only through a second encounter does the former cripple discover his benefactor’s identity. Regardless, the text is clear that the man doesn’t know Jesus before or after the healing.

Second, since the invalid didn’t know Jesus he could neither possess nor exercise faith for the healing. In fact, nothing in their cursory exchange would lead this man to even imagine that a miracle was in the making (Jn 5:6-7). How much more bizarre is the sick man’s obedience to Jesus’ command when seen in this light! On what basis did he act out the command—his trust in Jesus? submission to a stranger? positive thinking?

Now to the original question: is it unreasonable to command a man to an action which he has no ability to perform? To be more specific, would God require of us that which we are incapable of giving? Some would conclude that one doesn’t command what one cannot reasonably (or rationally) expect. But the inadequacy of this line of thinking is exposed when we’re compelled to soften divine directives. “Love your enemies” sounds like hyperbole until you “discover” that you can love someone without liking them. “Love your wife as Christ loved the church” is unreasonable—even in the best of marriages—unless love is a choice or a commitment with the option of affection.

The alternative is to acknowledge that God does command the impossible and that with the command He grants the ability to obey. A cripple man walked not because of unrealized potential but because the command “Arise and walk” created the requisite ability for the command to be obeyed. Scripture is replete with impossible commands. Will we neuter them or do them?

Give what you command and command what you will. -Augustine

Inadvertently renovating a house of cards with new cards

NOTE: The video which is the subject of this post is no longer available.

  We affirm that a confession of the full authority, infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture is vital to a sound understanding of the whole of the Christian faith. We further affirm that such confession should lead to increasing conformity to the image of Christ.
     We deny that such confession is necessary for salvation. However, we further deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences, both to the individual and to the Church.                                                                                         The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, art. XIX [emphasis added]

(ht: Here I Blog)

Yesterday (or the day before?) I was having a back-and-forth with a good friend on a Carl Trueman article which takes Stanley to task for “erroneous thinking” on the relationship between culture & Christian ministry. Today someone passed along the link to the video you see above. Some brief remarks on the video:

1. Affirming the inerrancy/infallibility of Scripture is not necessary for salvation. Denying that the Bible is without error won’t keep you out of the kingdom but it will affect your seating in the kingdom. {relax, that last bit is a joke}

2. Adherence to young earth creationism is not necessary for salvation [nor is it necessary to uphold the inerrancy of Scripture]. I fully expect to see theistic evolutionists in glory although I suspect it’ll be hard to spot them so far back in the crowd. {again, a joke}

3. I think Stanley is right on his basic premise: our faith is about dealing with Jesus Christ not the infallibility of Scripture. However, his explanation of the premise seems to create more problems than it resolves. My friend, who is far more familiar with Stanley than I am, says that this is consistent with Stanley’s apologetic approach to skeptics: start w/ Jesus’ death/burial/resurrection & allow faith in Christ to clear any other hurdles in Scripture. All fine and good. The game plan is good as far as that goes but the details of the execution strike me as odd:

(a) Believe in Adam & Eve not because it says so in the Bible but because Jesus talks about A & E in the gospels. This is self-contradicting unless you see a distinction between the gospels and the rest of the Bible. Are the gospel books (of the Bible) more reliable than the other 62 books (of the Bible)? [Even if Stanley just meant to contrast the gospels to Genesis the question still stands–why are the gospels any more trustworthy than Genesis?]

(b) Believe in Adam & Eve not because Genesis states their existence but because Jesus believed they existed. But didn’t Jesus believed the Genesis account–and he did (Mat 19:4-5)–shouldn’t I believe it, too?

(c) If Jesus can predict his own death & resurrection and pull it off, he can be trusted when he speaks about A & E. But how do I know Jesus predicted his death/resurrection? Isn’t it because it’s recorded in the Bible? How do I trust Jesus without trusting the Bible?

Whether or not Stanley has successfully cut the Gordian knot on this one you can decide for yourself. Like Jesus, I think Stanley isn’t keen on entertaining pointless arguments that obscure the heart issue. I get that. I’m uncomfortable with the explanations more than the approach. I just want to be careful to cut through the fog without fraying the tie between Christ & the Scriptures (Luke 24:25-27, 44-46; Jn 5:39; 1Cor 15:3-4).

No, our faith doesn’t stand on the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. But we can be too clever for our own good. Even when we try to set Jesus above his Word.

I left out the most important part

As an “associate” pastor (curious as to how this title came to be) you have a hidden blessing when it comes to preaching. Most associates only preach when the “senior” pastor is unavailable and since many senior pastors want to preach, they seek to minimize their unavailability for the pulpit. The associate, then, doesn’t preach on a weekly basis which means he has the luxury of sitting on certain passages as he waits for the next available opportunity. Depending on how long you’ve been sitting you may already know the major points you intend to hit well before it’s your turn to stand in.

Such was the case last Sunday when I stepped in to preach from 2Sam 12:1-15a. The passage recounts the Lord’s indictment & sentencing of David–spoken through Nathan–for his adultery with Bathsheba & the subsequent murder of her husband. There’s no way to honestly preach a section of Scripture like that without addressing the coexistence of God’s judgment & forgiveness. But 2Samuel 12 offends our natural sensibilities when we discover that David isn’t executed for his adultery & murder (both capital crimes under OT Law) while the infant son conceived through the affair is (2Sam 12:14). Say what you will about God’s mercy & forgiveness, are we really expected to see the juxtaposition of David’s pardon with the infant’s death as a demonstration of God’s justice? Yes, for at least three reasons:

1) God’s judgement is righteously dispensed to the criminal & to those he represents. It started with Adam as the head of the entire human race. As our “federal head” Adam’s guilt became our guilt (Rom 5:12, 19a) and God declared the sins of the father would be judged to the third and fourth generations (Exod 34:6-7). Thus, David’s infant son was corrupted by his father’s guilt (not to mention Adam’s guilt as well).

2) Following on #1, there are no innocent defendants in God’s courtroom–not even infants. David rightly declared in his confession psalm, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psa 51:5) If David was sin-cursed from conception how much more his son conceived in the act of adultery? The awful reality is that every life is issued with a death sentence, amassing more guilt & condemnation as (s)he grows (Rom 3:10-18).

3) The punishment for David’s crimes wasn’t denied–it was delayed & displaced. #1-2 are cold comfort until we understand that justice was served in every way. Although David was pardoned his sin didn’t go unpunished. God merely suspended David’s death sentence until the time He would place it on His own Son, Jesus Christ. On the cross, Christ suffered the penalty that David was spared and justice was served in full. God proved His righteousness in pardoning David by punishing Christ (Rom 3:23-26).

This final point was what I inexplicably forgot to explain in my pinch preaching. It’s the most important part because it represents the heart of the gospel. All of humanity deserves death but God has commuted the death sentence to His Son so that His people will be granted life. Sadly, I fear too many of us mistake the death of David’s son to be the greater mystery.

Evil turned back on itself

Evil is conquered as evil because God turns it back upon itself. He makes the supreme crime, the murder of the only righteous person, the very operation that abolishes sin.

–Henri Blocher, Evil and the Cross: An Analytical Look at the Problem of Pain

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