Thursday, January 7, 2016

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 Power for Service

KEY TEXT: Luke 3:21-22 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." 

KEY THOT: This passage of Scripture presents again the same kind of challenges as in Acts 8:14-17. The Lutheran Study Bible has little to comment on this passage, so I share my view based on years of study and meditation on Scripture. It may yet be faulty and I stand corrected, but only by Scripture, not traditions. I hope my understanding reflects Luther’s own sola scriptura attitude when he declared before the Emperor and princes at the Imperial Diet of Worms in 1521: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God, are. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen." (Caveat: read on with an open mind).

And what are the facts from the Word of God?
  • Firstly, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and therefore regenerated from the womb: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy— the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). So, we may conclude Jesus was born spiritually regenerated, unlike the rest of us who are born spiritually dead.
  • Secondly, he lived a very ordinary life as a carpenter’s son for 30 years. This is evidenced by his family opposition to him when he started his ministry after his baptism at Jordan: ““And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, "He is out of his mind” (Mark 3.21).
  • Thirdly, in preparation for his ministry, he was baptized and received a fresh anointing of the Spirit for power, not for life, since He was already regenerated from birth: “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21-22). The Spirit imparted to Jesus a new self-awareness and self-identity as the Son of God by the voice from heaven.
  • While Jesus’ conception in Mary’s womb by the Spirit is a hidden and invisible work imparting divine life, his reception of the Spirit’s anointing at Jordan was public and visible, imparting divine power: “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness…And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country” (Luke 4:1, 14). Clearly, his life was turned around after the Jordan experience of the Spirit’s enduement of power.
Whatever may be our theological construct to explain his Jordan experience (some bible interpreters see his experience as vicarious, on our behalf, not for himself), no one would deny that Jesus’ life sets the norm for true discipleship, for He has said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt 4:19). The scriptural evidence here as in the other Gospels and Acts suggests that the Holy Spirit work is two-fold: first to regenerate, then to empower: “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration (by water baptism?) and renewal of the Holy Spirit (by laying on of hands?)” (Titus 3:5). However we may choose to understand this two-fold work, I would say from my years of observation in real-life ministry that this “renewing” work of the Spirit is often (but not always) visible and conscious to the person concerned. 

Some may dispute my theological understanding and it's okay--no one has the perfect theology of the Spirit. But ultimately, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. While I am open to other theological constructs of the Spirit’s work, my only concern as a pastor is that our theology helps our people experience the Spirit’s power so that they may grow and serve in His power, not their own fleshy strength. Otherwise, instead of burning up by the fire of the Holy Spirit through an on-going spiritual renewal as we serve, we may end burning out using our own self-efforts. 

Father God, You have shown us through Your Son what it takes to serve You with power, namely by being renewed daily by Your Spirit. Help us to rely more on Your Spirit and less on our flesh. Amen.

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