READ : Luke 4:14
For Jesus and his followers, the gift of the Holy Spirit brings power to proclaim salvation.
We’ve been looking together at the most beautiful book in the world, the Gospel according to Luke. Today it’s the good news of the Holy Spirit’s power. Here we learn that the gospel of Jesus is not only about doctrines and duties, about religion and ritual. It’s about life and power, about fulfillment.
I once was leading a series of studies on Christian faith in Trenton, New Jersey. When the time came to speak about the Holy Spirit, a lady present asked, with some feeling, “I can understand about the Father and the teachings of Jesus, but why do we have to have this Spirit?” Let’s think about that today. Why do we need the Holy Spirit?
The Spirit throughout the Bible is linked to God’s creative, life-giving power. The word “spirit” in Hebrew and Greek means “breath” or “wind” something invisible, mysterious, yet very powerful. In the Old Testament, the Spirit again and again breathes life into people, and empowers them to fulfill God’s purpose.
The Spirit in the Life of Jesus
In the New Testament, Luke is outstanding among the four Gospel writers in his emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of Jesus. The miraculous birth of Jesus will be brought about by the Spirit’s power in Mary. Once again new life, a new creation.
From Jesus’ baptism onwards, he appears as a man of the Spirit. At the River Jordan the same Spirit who quickened his life comes upon him to equip him for his ministry (3:21-22). He is described from then on as “full” of the Holy Spirit (4:1). With him, the filling of the Spirit is an abiding reality, his characteristic condition. That’s who he is, someone full of the Spirit.
Further, he is said to be “guided” or “impelled” by the Spirit. The Spirit leads him into the wilderness to commune with the Father and to face the devil’s temptations. When he returns victorious, having repelled every temptation by the Word of God, he is “filled with the power of the Holy Spirit” (4:14). Luke is highlighting for us that Jesus’ entire life is under the Spirit’s control, pulsing with God’s power. Even his emotional life is included in this; Luke tells at one point how Jesus “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit.” His whole personality is both governed and enlivened by the Spirit. This is what it means that he is the Messiah, the promised One anointed by the Spirit.
We can’t understand the life and ministry of Jesus unless we see this. From the human side, as we saw last week, Jesus is always praying, expressing his dependence on God. From the divine side, he is always being moved upon by the Spirit.
Sometimes people ask questions like this: “If Jesus is God in the flesh, why does he need to do all this praying, and to be empowered by the Spirit? Couldn’t he do everything on his own?” The answer lies in his genuine humanity. In every respect except for sin, he is like us. He has emptied himself to take the form of a servant, to become one of us. We see in him not only God’s Son, but also God’s idea of a human being. He lives his life as all of us are meant to conduct ours always praying, and always Spirit-empowered.
The Ministry for which the Spirit Anoints Him
Now, what is the special ministry for which the Spirit anoints Jesus? Listen to these words the Lord read at the synagogue in Nazareth. They come from Isaiah, chapter 61 . . .
The Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
. . . to proclaim deliverance to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the acceptable day of the Lord.
Here we learn about his saving work releasing captives, giving sight to the blind, relieving the oppressed. But all of that is in the context of proclamation. He is anointed to herald these things, to announce God’s reign. He brings good news to the poor; he proclaims release, recovery and salvation. He is empowered by the Spirit to make known God’s good news.
With Jesus this is more than speaking words. His proclamation is filled with power. It makes things happen.
Remember the man he met in the synagogue who had a withered hand. This account has always moved me, as our oldest son had a hand similarly crippled through encephalitis. He carried his right hand in front of his chest, and because he couldn’t use it, in time it atrophied.
What we noticed was that Billy could not extend the fingers of that disabled hand, nor could he stretch out his right arm. I believe that was true also of the afflicted man in the synagogue. So when Jesus said to him, “Stretch out your hand,” that was precisely what he couldn’t do. But at Jesus’ word, at the Lord’s command he did and was healed.
The most striking expression of this in the Gospels is the experience of Jesus’ friend Lazarus. When Jesus arrived at the home of Mary and Martha (Lazarus’s sisters), Lazarus had already been dead four days. But Jesus, full of prayer and faith, full of the Holy Spirit, called to the body within the tomb, “Lazarus, come out!”
That’s clearly what dead people cannot do. They cannot bring themselves to life again. But at the command of Jesus, Lazarus did the impossible. He came to life and stumbled out of the tomb. Someone said to me once, “It’s good that he called Lazarus by name. Otherwise all the dead for miles around might have come out!”
After his empowering by the Spirit (4:14), Jesus began immediately to teach the people, to announce the good news. And he did that, we notice, in ever-widening circles. When the awestruck crowds wanted him to stay among them, he declined, saying, “I must proclaim the good news of the rule of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” The mission was proclaiming, and the mission field was everywhere.
Jesus Gives the Spirit to His Followers
We notice next that Jesus gives the same Spirit to his followers. John the Baptist describes Jesus as the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, who bestows him on others. Jesus tells his disciples just before his ascension that he will send upon them the promise of the Father, so that they will become witnesses. And later, Peter testifies on the first Pentecost that the exalted Jesus has poured forth his Spirit in these mighty events. He has poured out what you see and hear. The Holy Spirit, in other words, is the Spirit of Jesus himself. To be filled with the Spirit is to be filled with the presence and power of the risen Lord.
So the disciples also receive power from the Holy Spirit to do what Jesus did: to proclaim the good news. They are not to be anxious when called before the authorities, for the Spirit will give them at that very hour what they are to speak. As they face their world mission, they will be endued with power to fulfill it. “You shall receive power,” Jesus promises, “and you shall be my witnesses.”
And here again, they are not to settle down in one favored place. The witness is to be worldwide, “Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.” They are to start where they are, and then reach out to all the world’s peoples. That’s the story of the Book of Acts, the tale of three cities, as someone said. It’s the passion of Peter, Paul and their companions, to keep pressing on with the gospel. Let’s pause to reflect on that.
Why do we seek to tell everyone of Jesus? Why do we do that here at Words of Hope? Why are we not content to leave others in their own religious persuasions? Simply because we are sent and empowered to be Jesus’ witnesses. Compelling no one, pressuring no one, we offer good news to all who will listen. We sing of Christ crucified and risen, the hope of the world, and we invite others to join that song. We seek to bear our witness in life as well as in word until everyone, everywhere has had opportunity to hear. It’s a matter of loyalty, fidelity and obedience to the one we call Lord.
Now notice how the Holy Spirit comes to us ever and afresh in answer to prayer. So it was at Jesus’ baptism. He was praying as the Spirit was given. So it was at Pentecost. For ten days the band of believers in Jerusalem continued with one accord in prayer and supplication. They interpreted Jesus’ command to “wait” there as a call not to idleness, but to the most impassioned prayer. Then, on Pentecost Day, the Spirit’s fullness flooded their hearts.
Our Lord has told us that this principle applies to our life and witness every day. Listen to his words in Luke 11:13.
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
And that word ask is in the present tense. Jesus is really saying, “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who keep on asking him!” He has just been teaching about the power of persistence in our prayers, how we are to keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking. Now we learn that the greatest answer to our plea is the fresh filling and empowering of the Holy Spirit, bringing the life and love of Christ to our hearts. Isn’t that a marvelous promise? Don’t you want to live your life in such a way that no day goes by that you don’t take this promise of the Lord and make it your prayer. “Oh Father, fill me today with your Holy Spirit!” You never have to face any crisis again without the Lord with you. You never have to face any witnessing opportunity without the assurance that he will be there.
Now, of course, we need to confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness. And we need to be committing ourselves always to him to do his will. But as we do, it’s a kind of holy breathing. We’re breathing out prayer, and breathing in the Holy Spirit. And then God will marvelously meet us and use us. Amen.