One of the frustrating things of apologetics is explaining seeming biblical contradictions to people who are not in the faith, who therefore apply secular standards as they work out their anger toward God by playing “gotcha” with the words of Scripture.
A favorite example of this for me is the two verses in the Bible which describe the sin of David when he conducted a census of Israel. One verse says, “Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel.” The other verse describing the same event has it this way, “Again the anger of the LORD was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah.’”
The blind secularist looks at this and says, “See! A contradiction. Is it Satan or the anger of the Lord?” Because of their blindness, they miss out on an incredibly profound point about the relationship between God’s anger, His alien nature, and Satan. Here we learn that Satan is a tool of God’s anger. Satan is not someone set in cosmological antipathy against God (though he might think he is), but a tool of God’s wrath. God is always in control.
Here’s another one, which we happen to see in this week’s introit for Pentecost. It’s the Psalm on which the introit is based, which has this verse in it, “You have ascended on high, You have led captivity captive; You have received gifts among men.” Note, it says that the one who ascended, Jesus, has received gifts among men. But here’s how St. Paul quotes the verse, “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.” Here, it says Jesus gave gifts to men.
So which is it, did Jesus receive gifts among men, or give gifts to men. Neither the Hebrew nor the Greek Septuagint has it that Jesus gave gifts to men. Paul deliberately changed the wording of the Old Testament, which has the word laqach, which means to take, receive, or obtain. How can he do this?
He can do this because He’s an inspired apostle in whom the veil endemic to the Old Testament has been taken away, and because the reality of Christ and what He has done fulfills the Old Testament, and because the new wine which Christ has attained cannot be fully contained by the wineskins of the Old Testament.
And in fact, what Paul is doing is being truer to the Psalm than what the literal words are saying. Keep in mind what Jesus’ ascension means. He ascended on high. He took captivity captive, that is, He undid our captivity to the lost status we had outside of Paradise, outside of the fellowship of God, the captivity to sin and death. And when He sat down at God’s right hand, yes, He received gifts.
What gifts? Here are some verses that answer this question.
“[T]he men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me…”
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me…”
“For I have given to them the words which You have given Me.”
“You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.”
What gifts were given to Jesus? All authority in heaven and on earth, His sheep, God’s Word, eternal life.
But here’s the point that we even see suggested in the last two passages. Jesus received these gifts “among men” (as the Psalm says) so that He might give them “to men” (as St. Paul says). Jesus is so bound to His “men,” being of their flesh, that there is no difference at all between saying, “Jesus received gifts among men” (in His humanity and sharing it with us) and “Jesus gave gifts to men” (in His divinity as the giver of all good gifts). Jesus is us! We are one with Him! We are His body! So, if He receives gifts, we receive gifts. His receiving and His giving is one and the same act.
And this leads to the Holy Spirit, and to Pentecost, because that is the Holy Spirit’s work, to give to us by declaration what Jesus has been given at God’s right hand. The Holy Spirit gives gifts, namely, life, for that is exactly who He is, the Lord and Giver of life.
As another part of the Introit says, “The Spirit of the Lord fills the world.” If Jesus fills the world, having descended and ascended, and thus filling all things, the Spirit of the Lord fills all things as well, and He renews the face of the earth with His life. He delivers by declaration what Jesus has attained at God’s right hand, life. He is the “preaching to all creation” that we see St. Paul reference in that strange phrasing from Colossians 1.
Ah yes, by declaration. Notice in Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, how sound-ful everything was. I’ve referenced this little quiz I like to give out. Fill in the blank, “The Holy Spirit is like the wind. Even though you can’t see Him, you can ____ Him.” Almost always people say, “feel.” Nope. It’s “hear.” That’s from John 3 when Jesus compares the Holy Spirit to the wind. The Holy Spirit is a sound, not a feeling. (Repeat that a million times and tell it to everyone you know a million times: The Holy Spirit is a sound, not a feeling.)
And we see this on Pentecost. A sound of rushing wind comes. Tongues – tongues! – of flames appear on heads. The apostles speak – speak! – in different languages. And then they had a charismatic service.
Um no. What exactly did Peter preach? Let’s back up and ask that question a bit differently. Inspired by the Holy Spirit who just filled him, what did Peter preach? Well, here’s the pattern of Acts 2. A reading from Joel. Proclamation of the crucifixion and resurrection (ahem, part of the Creed). A Psalm. Proclamation of the ascension (ahem, part of the Creed). A Psalm. Proclamation that Jesus is Christ and Lord (ahem, part of the Creed). Preaching repentance and baptism.
And then what happened? Baptism. Exhortation. Catechesis. Holy Communion. And “the” prayers. Not “prayer” (sigh, NIV). Not “prayers” (sigh, KJV). But “the prayers” (the Greek). What prayers are referenced by that additional definite article? The Lord’s Prayer? The Psalms? An early liturgy perhaps? Whatever it was, it wasn’t just people getting breathy and praying “from their hearts” some “wejust” prayers. It was set prayers.
In any event, let’s put together what happened when the Holy Spirit gave gifts to men by way of declaration, giving to men in parallel with Jesus eternally being given His gifts by the Father among us. What does this amazing event end up looking like?
Old Testament reading. Psalm. Preaching of repentance and the Creed. Baptism. Apostolic teaching. Holy Communion. People gathered together. A set body of prayers. Don’t look now but that almost looks a lot like the liturgy, and what happens on Sunday morning.
Jesus receiving gifts in heaven just as we are receiving gifts on earth looks like the liturgy. That is where all the Holy Spirit’s graces are outpoured. That is where life is given out. For as Jesus said, “You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.”
He’s been given; we’ve been given; all centered on the Holy Spirit. He’s the one that makes it happen. This week we’ll see how this is a greater work than what Jesus did on earth. We’ll see how this is the cosmic meaning of everything, God’s plan made manifest. We’ll learn still more about the Holy Spirit, His job of glorifying Christ, always pointing to Christ. We’ll learn about the peace of the Lord in the midst of a seemingly non-peaceful world.
It should be a good week.