The Gospels tell us a different story, a story of Jesus praying to God and being empowered by God. In the midst of Luke’s depiction of Jesus the Benefactor, Luke tells us that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Prayer is hard work, especially hard when you pray for long periods, which Jesus did. “One of those days,” Luke reports, “Jesus went out into the hills to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” Have you ever prayed all night long? 95% of those who have admit that they spent lots of that time thinking either about how hard it was or they spent time thinking about spending time praying all night. Not Jesus. He was in tune with God and praying energized him because he opened himself to God’s Spirit.
The witness of Israel’s history – from those (you have to admit it) weird and wild judges all the way to the greatest of the prophets – is that God’s Spirit comes on people and two things happen: abilities are transformed and inabilities are transcended. Whenever we see something extraordinary, Bible readers have the instinct to hunt for evidence of the Spirit. There is no reason to believe this isn’t the case with Jesus and every reason to believe it is the case. Jesus did benefactory deeds because he was living the life of the Spirit.
Jesus ties this all into one bundle in this statement: “But it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). Luke has a slightly different version: “But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20). Jews used the expression “finger of God” for a compelling deed by God. Either way, Jesus is saying that his exorcistic deeds that liberated humans from evil forces were done by God’s power. Benefactions by Jesus are Spirit-empowered. When Jesus was baptized, the Spirit came upon him and it was the same Spirit that drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. His first sermon announced that Isaiah’s claim that the Spirit was upon him were also true of Jesus.
Matthew adds more words from Isaiah to describe Jesus: Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; One of my favorite descriptions of Jesus in the Gospels is found in John 4:34-35: “For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.” We need to make it doubly clear that Jesus depended on God and that it was through the Spirit’s power that Jesus did his deeds of benefaction.
We need to see something central to who Jesus is: Jesus is the primal Spirit-ual human. Jesus lived in the Spirit and the Spirit dwelled in Jesus. We are back now to Peter, one who walked and talked with Jesus daily for about three years. I quote the words we read at the beginning of this chapter: … how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good [benefactor] and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him (Acts 10:37-38). Jesus was a Benefactor because God was with him, and God was with him – as God was with those early Christians – through the Holy Spirit. But the kind of GodLife Jesus created cut into the plans and power of others and he was put to death. Here’s what we must see in the Story of Jesus if we want to make sense of it: he was the benefactor whose benefaction meant giving himself entirely for others.