By Femi Aribisala
When you ask Christians why Jesus came into the world and died on the cross, they will tell you he had to die in order to offer himself as a sacrifice for sins. However, this is entirely different from the reason Jesus gave to his disciples.
He told them God is not interested in sacrifices: he is only interested in repentance: “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13).
At the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus did not say he had to go away in order to make a sacrifice for sins. He said he had to go away in order to send the Holy Spirit: “I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7).
Why is the role of the Holy Spirit so critical in the redemptive process?
As a man, Jesus could only be in one place at a time. This limits the number of people he could minister salvation to at any given time. Not so, with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can be everywhere simultaneously. He can minister salvation individually and collectively. Therefore, he is a more effective minister of the new covenant.
But let there be no mistake: the Spirit of Jesus is Jesus. The spirit of a man is the man. The Holy Spirit is Jesus in another form. He is the spiritual Jesus who transforms sons of men into sons of God by systematically feeding us with the bread of life:
“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).
This is the charge of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says: “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:13). “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:25-26).
Jesus provides us with a symbol of the coming of the Holy Spirit by drinking wine with his disciples at the Last Supper. He poured wine into one cup and said to them: “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:27-28).
Many presume he was referring to the outpouring of blood from his body on the cross of Calvary. However, Jesus would not ask his disciples to drink his natural blood, something forbidden in the Law of Moses. The blood of sacrificial animals is not drunk by sinners, but the Holy Spirit is new wine.
The Holy Spirit is the blood of the covenant that Jesus poured out symbolically at the Last Supper. The actual out-pouring ultimately took place at the Pentecost and not at Calvary. That outpouring was not merely a historical event, as was the case at Calvary. On the contrary, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit operates in the present continuous and has continued since the Pentecost to this very day. It occurs every time we invite Jesus into our hearts and the Holy Spirit either comes to dwell in us or to refill us again with himself.
Peter told onlookers at Pentecost that what they were witnessing was the out-pouring of the Spirit of Jesus Christ: “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” (Acts 2:32-33).
This fulfilled the prophecy of Joel: “Afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:28-29).
Jesus prayed that those who believe in him should be at one with God: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. (John 17:20-22).
This prayer is answered through the process whereby the Holy Spirit of God comes down to in-dwell every true believer. By this answered prayer, Jesus became: “the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Hebrews 12:24). Again, the blood that is sprinkled on believers and the blood that speaks a better word is none other than the Holy Spirit.
The blood of Abel spoke of vengeance and judgment: “And he said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.” (Genesis 4:10-11).
The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, speaks in our hearts the love and mercy of God.
Therefore, we are counseled: “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.” (Hebrews 12:25). “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30).
With the Holy Spirit at work in us, God fulfils his promise of the new covenant: “I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you” (Ezekiel 36:25-26).
“‘The time is coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD. ‘This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.’” (Jeremiah 31:31-33).
Unlike under the old covenant where God wrote his commandments on a tablet of stone; under the new covenant, God’s commandments are written: “Not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:3).