Episode 20: Holy Spirit | 10 MGJ Devotional Podcast

Episode 20: Holy Spirit


John bore witness saying
“I observed the spirit descending from heaven like a dove
and remaining upon him. Now I did not recognize him,
but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me,
‘The one you see upon whom the spirit descends and remains,
this one is the one who will baptize with the holy spirit.’
I have seen and have given witness
that this one is the son of God.” (John 1:32-34)

The words of John the Baptizer introduce the Holy Spirit into the story of this Gospel. We know two things from John’s testimony; 1) The Spirit was seen descending from heaven and remaining on a man, and 2) this man will baptize others with this Holy Spirit.

In the Old Testament

     The spirit of God represented God’s favor toward those upon whom it came to rest. The language is used of both Saul and David to indicate God’s choice for them to lead God’s people. This pattern eventually becomes the template for understanding God’s leader who will deliver God’s people from their oppressors, codename the Messiah. In Chapter 10, the prophet Isaiah tells his audience not to fear the Assyrian army because of the deeds their own God is capable of performing. His message promises someone will come from the family of Jesse, David’s father, on whom the Spirit of YHWH will rest. The description of this one’s influence found in 11:1-9 speaks of absolute peace within the created order and a time when “the knowledge of the Lord” will fill the whole earth.

     A similar promise is found in Isaiah 42. This time the individual is referred to as God’s chosen. The Spirit of God is placed upon him and he will bring forth justice. As God’s representative, the one upon whom the Spirit rests will act in accordance with God’s priorities and God’s character.

Elsewhere in John

     Even though the Holy Spirit’s appearances are limited in the Gospel of John, the timing of these are key for understanding the important role it plays. After Jesus’ resurrection he appears to Mary Magdalene in the garden and then to his disciples inside a room where they are gathered in fear. Twice he greets those present with a blessing of peace, and then indicates that he is sending them. After these things Jesus breathes on them and tells them to “receive the Holy Spirit.” His final words describe the authority they now have to forgive sins. (John 20:21-23)

     The words of the Baptizer, specifically those which indicate Jesus would baptize with the Spirit, have now come about. Jesus commissions his disciples to go and act as representatives of God, helping to fulfill the promises envisioned by Isaiah, even that the lion would lie down with the lamb.

     Another timely moment when the Spirit is mentioned, comes not in the words of Jesus, but in those of the Gospel writer. During the Fall Festival described in John 7, Jesus stands up in the middle of a large crowd of religiously fervent people and says,

“If anyone is thirsty, let that one come to me and drink.
The one who believes in me, just as the Scripture says,
‘A river of living water will flow forth from his belly.’” (John 7:37-38)

Then the Gospel writer explains the meaning behind Jesus’ somewhat cryptic words.

He said this about the spirit, which those who believed in him
were about to receive; for the spirit was not yet,
since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (7:39)

     These three episodes: John the Baptizer’s testimony, Jesus’ own words explained by the Gospel writer, and Jesus’ commission to his disciples shape one’s overall understanding of the Spirit of God within the Gospel of John. Yet, the question may still remain, is this factor of Jesus’ life and ministry all that important? The answer is a solid and resounding ‘yes!’ But how do we know this? The repeated words of John the Baptizer give us the clue.

In the first chapter, John’s testimony concerning Jesus is repeated on three occasions. As part of the Prologue we hear these words in 1:15,

John testified concerning this one as he heralded,
“This one is the one of whom I spoke,
one who will appear after me who has always been before me,
because he is of greater importance than I am’”

Then in 1:27, we hear John repeating the words “one who will appear after me.”

“I baptize with water; someone is standing in your midst
whom you do not know, the
one who will appear after me,
I am not worthy to even remove the sandals from his feet.”

Finally, in 1:30, John again describes Jesus. This time he modifies the first few words while repeating the last part of 1:15.

This is the one I spoke concerning,
‘a man is coming after me who has always been before me,
because he is of greater importance than I am.’

     We are provided a three-fold testimony regarding the relationship between John the Baptizer and Jesus the Messiah. From this repetition we know that Jesus 1) is greater than John, and 2) was before John. Yet, what exactly makes him greater than John? The testimony by John clarifies.

Now I did not recognize him,
but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me,
‘The one you see upon whom the spirit descends and remains,
this one is the one who will baptize with the holy spirit.’ (1:33)

The comparison between John and Jesus comes in their mode of baptism, John uses water while Jesus uses the holy spirit. Jesus’ relationship with the Holy Spirit sets him apart from, even elevates him over, John the Baptizer. This spirit is only available through Jesus, specifically by believing in him, a crucial theme we discussed in Episode 8.

Concluding Thought

     What grants the Spirit such importance? In the Christian phrase brought to the public’s eye and ear during the 1976 Presidential campaign, Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be “born again.” This is one of two meanings for translating the word used for “again.” We find by reading John 3, that Jesus actually means he must be born “from above,” that is to say, born of the spirit. The Baptizer indicates to those listening that Jesus possesses this spirit of God and further describes him as the one who baptizes with the Spirit. In other words, Jesus offers what humanity needs.

     In our culture, our descriptions of Jesus fall short far too easily, whether we speak about his name, his teaching, or his impact on this world. The Baptizer describes Jesus as one possessing a vastly superior quality of existence. The only way for us to come close to understanding the surpassing nature of Jesus is to receive the Holy Spirit, as the disciples were commanded in John 20. Only by experiencing what Jesus alone has to offer can one experience the life provided by the Word at the Beginning with God.


     In a culture which emphasizes personal performance and independence, it can be extremely difficult to think outside that box. Yet, the Gospel of John challenges its reader to do so. No longer does God judge me on my character, my actions, my thoughts, my failings, my insecurities, . . . well, you get the picture. I am judged on only one thing now–do I receive the Holy Spirit? If I have been born of water and the Spirit, am I acting as a representative of God in this world as one who has been born from above?

     Consider the following questions:
     • Have I received the Spirit of God by believing in Jesus the resurrected Son of God?
     • Am I living under the direction of the Holy Spirit of God and acting as God’s representative in the World?
     • Am I acting in the world to forgive the sins of others?

     If your answer to any of these questions is “no”, then take a few moments to write down what hinders you from answering the question with a solid and resounding “Yes!” If you answer each of these questions with “yes”, then take a few moments to write down what avenues God would seek you to pursue today, this week, or this month as his representative in this world.