As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”G
- Matthew 3:16-17
We believe in the Holy Spirit - the first line of the third article of the Apostles' Creed.
He’s least tangible, the least talked of. God the Father – we get that. God the Son - Jesus, a man who went round and did stuff. But the Holy Spirit…? It's sometimes hard to have clarity and the Spirit and his identity.
The Bible helps us by giving seven (or more) word pictures to describe the Spirit.
The Spirit is wind, air, or breath. The invisible but animating force behind creation itself (see Job 32:8). The Spirit is fire - the refining holiness of God's presence, and his power for every believer (Matthew 3:11). The Spirit is water, the cleansing and restoring and refreshing goodness of God (John 7:37). The Spirit is a seal, a first-fruit, a guarantee - the first part of the fulness of life in God which is yet to come and the now of the not yet (Ephesians 1:13). The Holy Spirit is consecrating oil, the way in which we are set apart for works of service to God and our neighbour (Zechariah 4:6). The Holy Spirit is the wine of celebration and joy.
And the Holy Spirit is a dove, descending on Jesus after his baptism - such a rich image! The dove is a sacrificial animal. It's also the symbol of Noah's discovery of a new world after the flood. And it's gentle. "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased", is a reference to Isaiah 42, a prophecy of the 'Servant of the Lord'.
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
The Servant will come - Jesus comes - to bring justice to broken people and to a broken world, but with incredible gentleness. So it is with the Spirit - not just a rushing wind, or a tongue of fire, but a gentle dove.