No careful reader of the Gospels could fail to appreciate that when the Lord Jesus was here, manifest in flesh, He experienced in an unprecedented way the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. As the perfect Man, the Lord Jesus lived totally submissive to the will of His Father. ‘Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered’.1 But, equally, as the perfect Man He lived in total dependence upon the Holy Spirit, and in both of these matters He has left an example for us to follow.
Matthew introduces his account of the Lord’s conception and birth with this significant statement, ‘Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise’. His language indicates that he is about to tell us of something different to the norm, different to the birth of all those named in the preceding genealogy. In the following verses Matthew records how the angel of the Lord appeared to Mary’s husband, Joseph, in a dream saying, ‘Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost’. Then, quoting from the prophet Isaiah, Matthew adds, ‘Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled … Behold, a virgin shall … bring forth a Son’. Conceived of the Spirit, born of the virgin.2
While Matthew describes the matter from Joseph’s perspective, Luke views it from Mary’s. To her the angel Gabriel announced ‘Thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bring forth a son’. Perplexed at his saying, she replied, ‘How shall this be seeing I know not a man?’ Her response was not prompted by unbelief, for her cousin Elisabeth would say later, ‘Blessed is she that believed’, but was rather the expression of her pure conscience, ‘I know not a man’. Although, over the centuries, Jewish women must have longed to be the mother of the Messiah, it seems evident that they had not really grasped that He would be born of a virgin. In answer to her query, having spoken of the fact of the conception, Gabriel proceeded to describe the means, ‘The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee’, that is for production, as the angel said to Joseph, ‘that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost’. Gabriel continued, ‘the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee’, that is for protection, guarding her offspring while she carried Him in the womb. Then Gabriel added, ‘therefore also that holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God’. ‘That holy thing’ lays stress upon the essential sinless nature of the One who was to be born. That He will be called ‘the Son of God’ marked Him out to be the eternal and only begotten Son of the Father.3
Bildad, in his controversy with Job, said, ‘How can he be clean that is born of a woman?’4 The Lord Jesus was born of a woman, yet He was ‘clean’. We know that Mary was a sinner, for in her song of thanksgiving she said, ‘My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour’,5 yet she gave birth to One who was without sin. ‘How can he be clean that is born of a woman?’ Luke will tell us, through divine conception and divine protection, preserving the holy child from all taint of Mary’s sin. This is fundamental, vital truth relative to the person of Christ, conceived of the Spirit; born of the virgin; intrinsically holy. Truth that sadly is denied by many today, truth to which we must faithfully adhere.
1. ‘God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power’. When the Lord Jesus was baptized, Luke says, ‘The heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased’.6 Three things accompanied the Lord’s baptism that had not taken place with those who had been baptized previously: ‘heaven was opened’; ‘the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him’; and the voice of the Father was heard speaking from heaven. We should not miss that all three persons of the Godhead are mentioned, the Son baptized, the Spirit descending, and the Father speaking. Three distinct persons, yet acting in absolute unity and harmony! We must not think from this reference that prior to His baptism the Lord did not possess the Holy Spirit. We have seen that He was conceived of the Spirit, and we can say that His body was ever the temple of the Holy Spirit, but here, at His baptism, He is anointed by the Spirit. This anointing was with a view to service, the Lord at His baptism taking His place publicly as the Servant of Jehovah.
Later, in the synagogue at Nazareth, He read from Isaiah chapter 61, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor …
to preach the acceptable year of the Lord’, adding, ‘This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears’. Peter, preaching in the house of Cornelius, declared, ‘God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil’.7 All these passages demonstrate that in His ministry and service He always lived and worked in dependence upon and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
At the baptism of Christ, the Holy Spirit descended in ‘bodily shape like a dove’. In Leviticus chapter 1 the turtledove is associated with a ‘burnt offering’, in Leviticus chapter 12 with ‘poverty’; and in Matthew chapter 10 with ‘gentleness’, all features characteristic of the person and ministry of the Lord Jesus.8
The descent of the Holy Spirit upon Him in this way also had in view His manifestation to Israel. In John chapter 1 verses 30 to 34, John the Baptist said, ‘This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. 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. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God’.
2. Led by the Spirit – Following the baptism, Luke says, ‘And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being forty days tempted of the devil’.9 We should notice that the word ‘being’ ought to be omitted from the verse. This was not something exceptional in the experience of Christ, but was continually true of Him. As He went into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil He was ‘armed’ with two things, the Spirit of God and the word of God, that He might thereby provide an example of the resources available to ourselves in time of temptation.
3. Empowered by the Spirit – After the temptation in the wilderness Luke says, ‘And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee’.10 We have seen that the opening verse of chapter 4 said, ‘Jesus … full of the Holy Ghost’. In between these two references we have the record of the temptation. Now, as He returns, He does so in ‘the power of the Spirit’; there had been nothing in His life, in that intervening period, to grieve the Holy Spirit of God.
His preaching was in the power of the Spirit. Commenting on the Lord reading from Isaiah 61 in the synagogue at Nazareth ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel’, the late Geoffrey Bull, in an article in the Believer’s Magazine, said this passage was, ‘chosen deliberately, read significantly, and interpreted personally’,11 preaching in the power of the Spirit.
His miracles were likewise accomplished in the power of the Spirit. In Matthew chapter 12, the Lord said, ‘If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you’. Just a few verses earlier, in a quotation from Isaiah chapter 42, we are reminded that this is the One of whom Jehovah said, ‘I will put my spirit upon him’. Little wonder men should say ‘Never man spake like this man’; ‘He hath done all things well’.12
4. The fruit of the Spirit – The fruit of the Spirit is nine-fold: ‘love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance’. It would be beyond the scope of this article to expand how each aspect of the fruit of the Spirit was fully seen in the life of the Saviour.13
We do well to remember that we also have an ‘anointing’,14 but what do we know of the leading and empowering of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives? What evidence is there of the fruit of the Spirit?
The Holy Spirit in relation to the death of the Saviour
In Hebrews chapter 9 verse 14 the writer says concerning the Lord Jesus, ‘Who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God’. As He went to the cross, His steps were controlled by the Spirit, His heart was dependent upon the Spirit, and in the power of the Holy Spirit He offered Himself without spot to God. We notice He ‘offered himself’ – a willing, obedient act. ‘Without spot’, without a single blemish, and that after living some thirty-three years in this polluted world. Offered Himself ‘to God’, for His pleasure and satisfaction. Although there are many other verses that we might have considered, perhaps we do well to conclude this meditation by reminding ourselves of our own responsibility as expressed in the words of Romans chapter 12 verse 1, ‘I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service’.
Heb. 5. 8.
Matt. 1. 18; Isa. 7. 14.
Luke 1. 26-35, 45.
Job 25. 4.
Luke 1. 47.
Luke 3. 22.
Luke 4. 16-21; Acts 10. 38.
Lev. 1. 14; 12. 8; Matt. 10. 16.
Luke 4. 1.
Luke 4. 14.
Believer’s Magazine, December 1970, pg. 365.
Matt. 12. 28, 18; John 7. 46; Mark 7. 37.
But see The Spirit of Glory, Assembly Testimony Publications, pp. 99-102.
2 Cor. 1. 21; 1 John 2. 20.