The Humanity of Jesus: Empowered by the Spirit

ManThe call to follow Jesus is a startling call. It’s startling for many reasons, but particularly so when we consider the divinity of Jesus. How can we be expected to “follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21) when he is God and we are not? As we contemplate this question is behooves us to consider what it means for Jesus to have been “empowered by the Spirit.” After all, what does it mean for one who is fully God to be empowered by the Spirit? But if we understand Jesus as also fully human, and living daily out of that humanity, then we can begin to make sense of his “Spirit empowerment.” The humanity of Jesus allows us to see how his Spirit empowerment can help us in our own daily living.

The idea of Spirit empowerment and full divinity do seem strange combined together. If Jesus is living his life on earth out of his divine power then it makes no sense to talk about his being anointed with the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38). It was men in the Old Testament who, temporarily, received the anointing of the Holy Spirit. But Jesus is God. What could the Spirit possibly contribute to full divinity? So we have to raise the question of why anointing with the Holy Spirit is necessary. Dr. Bruce Ware believes it is evidence that Jesus lived his earthly life out of his human nature. He writes:

One of the clearest and strongest evidences that Jesus lived his life and carried out his mission fundamentally through his humanity is that Jesus came as the Spirit-anointed Messiah. That is, Jesus was empowered by the Spirit to accomplish the work he came to do. (34)

This seems the best explanation for Jesus’s empowerment by the Spirit. If he lived fundamentally out of his humanity, then he needed the Spirit of God to help him overcome the human limitations that would have kept him back from fulfilling his mission. Let’s examine some Scripture that supports this conclusion.

Let’s consider the remarkable nature of the daily life of Jesus. On a regular basis Jesus evidenced extraordinary insight, wisdom, and discernment. He knew what people were thinking, how they would respond, and what was in their hearts. We may say, as some do, that these were merely the outworking of Jesus’s divine power. But Isaiah 11:1-3a roots such insight in the power of the Spirit. We read:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

It is by the Spirit’s “resting” on him that Jesus would exercise such supernatural gifts and abilities.

In his prophetic role too, Jesus is empowered by the Spirit. We consider his own testimony in Luke 4:18-19. Jesus shows up in the Temple, picks out specifically this passage from Isaiah 61 and reads:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Jesus roots his identity as a prophet, as one who comes proclaiming the Word of the Lord, in his empowerment by the Spirit. In fact the point is emphasized in verses 20-21, where we read: And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Bruce Ware comments:

Obviously this indicates something of the significance of Jesus’s identity as the Spirit-anointed Messiah. At the heart of who he is, we must see him as coming the power of the Spirit. (36)

It is out of his humanity that Jesus is living his daily life and fulfilling his mission, that is why Spirit empowerment is necessary.

Our list could go on. In Matthew 12:28 Jesus states that it is by the Spirit of God that he casts out demons. In Acts 10:38 Peter summarizes the life of Jesus testifying that he did good and “healed all who were oppressed by the devil” because “God was with Him.” Peter refers to Jesus as the one whom “god anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power.” Jesus is, without question, fully God. And yet it is clear from these and other passages, that Jesus lives out his mission fundamentally from his human nature.  That is why he needed the Spirit’s empowerment. But this reality has some great implications for us.

Namely, we ought to consider that we have access to this same Spiritual power. Think of Luke writing in Acts 1:8 quoting Jesus’s words to his disciples, saying:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

That very same Spirit which empowered Jesus for the mission of God will empower his followers. In Acts 10:38 it is Jesus who receives the “Holy Spirit and power,” but in 1:8 Luke points out that it is his disciples who will receive “power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” We have access to the same power that fueled Jesus’s earthly life. Bruce Ware writes:

The most pressing application from this understanding of Jesus is that the life of obedience and faithfulness that Jesus lived can genuinely and rightly be set forward as an example of how we, too, should live, precisely because the very resources Jesus used to live his obedient life are resources given also to all of us who trust and follow him. (43)

This is an astounding encouragement. The Christian life is hard, often frustrating. And to call us to do what Jesus’s did can be deeply discouraging if we think following him is impossible. After all, he was God. There are, of course, many things we can’t duplicate from the life of Jesus. His full divinity is certainly a reality; his sinless perfection is not something we can imitate. And yet, because we know that Jesus lived out of the power of the Spirit, and because that same Spirit is ours, we can surely follow in his footsteps.

It should be noted too, that the example of Jesus is not open to all indiscriminately. Jesus is not just some great model that everyone can follow. Following in his footsteps is only possible if we are fueled by the power of the Spirit of God. The Spirit can belong to anyone, surely, but only as they humble themselves, repent of their sin, turn in faith to Christ, and claim him as Lord. Then the Spirit of God can belong to them and they may strive to follow Jesus. His model is for all, but all who are submitting to his Lordship.

Jesus’s Spirit empowerment is a reminder of his humanity, and an encouragement to his followers. You can follow Jesus, friends, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Let that sink in today.

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  2. […] earthly life, then, can be an example for us precisely because we are “in Christ” have access to this same divine power (Acts 1:8; Rom. 8:11). What would Jesus do, then, is not an entirely […]

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