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The Holy Spirit and Discipleship

More than any other New Testament author Luke speaks of the Spirit of God. It has been observed that the Spirit is the connecting thread which runs through both Luke and Acts. Luke does this primarily by linking the ministry of the Spirit with the birth of Jesus in Luke 1-2 with the birth of His Church in Acts 1-2. This parallel structure is also evident in the Spirit-filled ministry of Jesus and the Spirit-filled minisry of Christ's disciples in Acts. In addition, Luke is also careful to ground the miraculous work of the Spirit in the Old Testament births and the prophetic ministry of Elijah and Elisha. Various aspects of the work of the Spirit are outlined below.

The Holy Spirit Gives Birth

Luke 1:34-35 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.

Acts 2:38-39 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off —for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Just as the birth of a child together brings young and old together in wonder, Luke uses the birth of Jesus and the church to unite the Jewish Old Covenant community of faith with the flood of incoming New Testament Gentile believers.

The unity of the community in Luke-Acts is highlighted by discussing the role of the Holy Spirit as inaugurator in the birth of John and Jesus in Luke 1-2 and the birth of the Church in Acts 1-2. Luke also shows that just as the Great Commission at the end of Matthew acts as an index to the gospel which proceeded it, the programmic discourse in Luke 4:16-30 serves as a preface to both the ministry of Jesus and the Church which would follow it. Parallels were drawn between the Nazareth pericope and the ministry of Paul.

It is important for the modern-day church to realize that it is only through the new birth, conversion that anyone can enter the covenant community. This was profoundly illustrated by the importance of the miracle birth as shown in the birth of Isaac, John the Baptist, Jesus and the believers in the book of Acts.

Being Filled with the Spirit

Luke 1:13-15 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth,
15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.

Luke 4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert,

Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,
Luke 4:19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus’ announcement that the “Spirit of the Lord is upon Me” through the citation of Isa. 61:1 in Luke 4:18 affirms what Luke has already been hinting at by the activity of the Spirit within the birth stories. Namely, that the Holy Spirit is going to be a major theme within Luke-Acts. The sermon at Nazareth also underlines the prophetic ministry of Jesus as well as His intention to minister to the marginalized within the society.

Jesus Himself is closely linked with the Holy Spirit in the opening events of His ministry. The three episodes of the baptism (where Jesus is filled with the Spirit); the temptation (where Jesus is led by the Spirit) and now the public proclamation in the community at Nazareth can be viewed as “an integrated narrative, the launching of the public ministry of Jesus—the charismatic Christ” (Stronstad 1984:39).

Being “filled” or “full” of the Spirit is a dominantly Lukan term. Jesus is described as being “full of the Spirit” at the temptation (Luke 4:1) and “full of the joy through the Spirit” (Luke 10:21) when He praised the Father for revealing truth to the humble.

Unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke alone pictures Jesus returning from the desert to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit” (4:14). Through these unique portrayals of Christ’s public ministry Luke desires to highlight the important role of the Spirit in the life of Christ and by extension the life of the Church.

Thus Luke clearly links the decisive role of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus and His disciples. Lest the Gentile believers forget the foundational work of the Spirit in the Old Testament prophetic ministry of Elijah and Elisha, Luke is careful to draw distinct parallels between Jesus and these Old Testament prophets.

Luke, the Church and the Holy Spirit

Luke 24:49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Acts 2:1-4 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Acts 4:31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

Acts 8:29, 39 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.

Acts 10:19; 44-45 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. 44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.
Acts 10:45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.

Acts 13:2-4 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. 4 The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.

Luke’s concept of the church is so radical in its constitution that it is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that the age-old hostilities between the Jew and the Gentile could be broken down in order to form a new community under the authority of the risen Lord.

The Spirit’s testimony in Acts 2 springs forth on the day of Pentecost when those who had been discipled by Jesus were united and waiting for the promised blessing of the Spirit.

For the disciples, the ascension marks the end of their apprenticeship and the beginning of their missionary task for which their discipleship has prepared them. The same Spirit which Jesus received at the birth of His ministry is given to the disciples at the birth of the church. Therefore Acts can be seen as the continuation of the Lucan Gospel, not in the sense that it relates what Jesus continued to do, but how his followers carried out his commission under the guidance of His Spirit.

The literature of the New Testament reveals three primary dimensions of the activity of the Holy Spirit: 1) salvation, 2) sanctification, and 3) service. These dimensions are interdependent and complimentary. However, in the development of Protestant theology, the Reformed tradition has emphasized the activity of the Spirit in initiation-conversion, the Wesleyan tradition has subsequently emphasized the activity of the Spirit in holiness or sanctification, and the Pentecostal tradition has finally emphasized the charismatic activity of the Spirit in worship and service.

It was preeminently through the Spirit that the risen Christ was present in the community. In Mark and Matthew the Spirit is not particularly prominent and is rarely linked with mission. Not so in Luke. Among the evangelists he may be singled out as the theologian of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit in Acts is explicitly cited as the guiding force of the disciples in either directing their activity (see Acts 2:4c; 4:31; 8:29, 39; 10:19, 44; 11:28; 13:2,4; 15:28; 19:21[?]; 20:22, 28) or hindering it (16:6, 7; 21:4).

Luke’s concept of the church is so radical in its constitution that it is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that the age-old hostilities between the Jew and the Gentile could be broken down in order to form a new community under the authority of the risen Lord. While the Spirit-induced praise and witness are surely the most evidential fruits of the Spirit’s working, they by no means exhaust the more foundational work of the Spirit in the formation of the community itself. This relationship between the foundational and evidential work of the Spirit is more thoroughly discussed in the following sections which deal with Pentecost.

Just as Jesus acknowledged the work of the Spirit as the basis for his own ministry in Luke 4:18, Peter stands up and explains to the wondering multitude that it is the Spirit as promised in Joel 2:28-32 that correctly explains their ministry. Peter’s first sermon occupies most of the chapter (2:14-39) and is bracketed by the corporate meeting of the disciples both before (2:1-4) and after (2:42-47) Pentecost.

Peter acts as a spokesperson for the Twelve and stands up to explain the gift of tongues which had provoked both wonder and questioning from the diaspora Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem for the feast (Acts 2:11-7-13).

The Baptism and the Holy Spirit

Acts 2:37-41 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off —for all whom the Lord our God will call.” 40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Peter‘s spirit-inspired sermon which uplifted the crucified and risen Savior changed the assembly’s question from “what does this mean?” (Acts 2:12) to “what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off —for all whom the Lord our God will call’” (Acts 2:38-39).

Most importantly, baptism is presented as the means of joining the Christian community (cf. Acts 2:41). Luke has now traced in his gospel and Acts how the locus of the Spirit’s activity has moved from the periphery of the Jordan to the heart of Jerusalem. While John focused the message on preparing his hearers to meet the coming Lord, Peter declares that Jesus indeed is the Risen Lord. Whereas the response by the repentant crowd and the subsequent appeal to be baptized by John and Peter are the same, the promised coming of the Spirit as fire in John is fulfilled in the eschatological “last days” at Pentecost.