The Promise of My Father

IN THE GOSPEL OF LUKE, as we have seen, the Lord Jesus is shown fulfilling Old Testament prophecies. The expressed aim of this Gospel is to proclaim what has been fulfilled. Jesus is also depicted as prophesying Himself: He foretells the destruction of Jerusalem and the persecution of His own followers. Jesus’ final words to the disciples before His ascension form a promise: “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).

The “Promise of My Father” is, of course, the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit and the Incarnation

The infancy narratives in Luke are filled with references to the Holy Spirit. In Luke we are told that John the Forerunner would be “…filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). The Holy Virgin is promised a visitation of the Holy Spirit as well when she agrees to conceive the Lord: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

When Elizabeth and Mary, both now pregnant, meet one another, the Holy Spirit is again said to be present: “And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41). When John is born, his father Zachariah is said to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:67). Luke also says that “the Holy Spirit was upon” Simeon when he encountered the infant Christ in the temple (Luke 2:25).

Early in Luke’s Gospel John the Forerunner tells us that “One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16). He is, of course referring to the Lord Jesus.

The Holy Spirit in Christ’s Public Life

Luke also connects the presence of the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ baptism (see Luke 3:22), to His encounter with the devil in the wilderness (see Luke 4:1), and to the beginning of His public ministry in Nazareth. Jesus appropriates to Himself the statement of the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18). The bulk of Luke’s narrative on the words and works of Jesus are illustrations of how the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him.

Jesus did not claim to possess the Spirit exclusively; rather He insisted that His disciples ask for the Spirit and the Father would send Him. “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13). It has often been noted that in Matthew, the verse reads very differently: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11). Does Luke, who seems to be so conscious of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the event of Christ, more readily see the Holy Spirit as the greatest of the Father’s gifts to us?

The Holy Spirit would be present to Jesus’ disciples when they were harassed or persecuted. Even then, they had no need of a reasoned defense, because the Holy Spirit would be with them: “Now when they bring you to the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you should say.  For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:11).

The Holy Spirit in Acts

Luke is the only evangelist to add a second volume to his Gospel – the Acts of the Apostles. As the Gospel proper is devoted to the ministry of Jesus, the second volume focuses on the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the infant Church.

The disciples had been empowered by Christ to minister “to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:2) in His name. Now the Holy Spirit empowered the apostles to proclaim that it is in Christ Himself that the kingdom of God was to be found. As Peter said, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

The preaching of the apostles and the accompanying miracles they performed were seen as the effect of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This in turn was believed to be the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel (Joel 2:28, 29).

According to Joel, the Holy Spirit was to be poured “on all flesh.” The Spirit was not to be the exclusive property of the Twelve. Preaching to those gathered outside the upper room on Pentecost, Peter set forth the Church’s basic message of evangelism in the same terms as Joel’s: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39).

Receiving the Holy Spirit was at the heart of entry into the Church, joined to repentance and baptism. When it became known that Philip, a deacon, had baptized some Samaritans, the apostle Peter and John went to them “…that they might receive the Holy Spirit…Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:15, 16).

In Ephesus St Paul encountered some believers who had received John’s baptism, but not baptism into Christ. Then, we are told, “… they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:5, 6). 

This bestowal of the Holy Spirit in connection with baptism is what we call the Mystery of Chrismation.

“You must also know that the Holy Spirit empowers the martyrs to bear witness … A person cannot bear witness as a martyr for Christ’s sake except through the Holy Spirit. If ‘no one can say Jesus is Lord except in the Holy Spirit,’ will anyone give his life for Jesus’ sake except through the Holy Spirit?

“Great indeed, and all-powerful in gifts, and wonderful, is the Holy Spirit … He is working suitably for each of us present here. Being present in our midst, He beholds the temper of each, beholds also his reasoning and his conscience, and what we say, and think, and believe. Great indeed is what I have now said, and yet is it small.

“For consider, I pray, with mind enlightened by Him, how many Christians there are in all this diocese, and how many in the whole province of Palestine, and carry forward your mind from this province, to the whole Roman Empire; and after this, consider the whole world; …And as the light, with one touch of its radiance sheds brightness on all things, so also the Holy Spirit enlightens those who have eyes; for if anyone is not vouchsafed His grace, let him not blame the Spirit, but his own unbelief.”
St Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture XVI, 21, 22.