It is said that the proper study of mankind is man, but is the proper study of spirituality the spirit? Well, yes and no. How can you study a spirit? Eastern mysticism tells us to start the enquiry inside ourselves, whereas western materialism warns us to abandon the quest. But Luke’s writings show us that we needn’t seek a path to spiritual enlightenment; the proper study of mankind and the spirit-filled man is Jesus.
No other Gospel writer places such strong emphasis on the role of the Spirit in Jesus’ ministry. Let us follow this theme through Luke’s writing—in the Gospel of Luke and in Acts—to see how Jesus is glorified as the Spirit-filled Man whom the Old Testament foretold.
Conceived (Luke 1:35)
From the commencement of this Gospel, when the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will have a son, we know that Jesus will be the Son of God. The phrase ‘Son of God’ has many levels of significance in the New Testament. It can mean Messiah/Christ, king of Israel, son of David and son of Jesse, and this is not an exhaustive list. These words are all different ways of saying the same thing—that Jesus is the one whom the Old Testament prefigures. He is recognized as such because he enters the world by the special intervention of the Holy Spirit:
The Holy Spirit will come upon you [Mary], and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the son of God.
Revealed (Luke 2:25-32)
Soon after his birth, Jesus is taken to the temple in Jerusalem. Here we read about someone upon whom the Spirit rested—the old man Simeon. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die before he had seen the saviour of Israel. When Joseph and Mary arrive with the baby Jesus, Simeon instantly recognizes him as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of your people Israel”. Simeon can now die in peace because he has seen God’s Messiah. The Spirit of God reveals to people that Jesus is this Messiah.
Baptized (Luke 3:21-22)
30 years later, Jesus goes with the rest of the faithful in Israel to receive baptism from John the Baptist. Here we read about a crucial event in the gospel story. As Jesus is praying, heaven is opened and the Holy Spirit descends upon him like a dove. A voice rings out from above: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased”. The voice and the dove are both important symbols, but we learn much more about Jesus from the voice than the dove. We could probably understand the significance of Jesus’ baptism without the dove, but without the voice, we would be thoroughly confused!
At Jesus’ baptism, the voice of God echoes his own earlier words from Psalm 2 and Isaiah 42. Psalm 2 proclaims the coming king, the royal Son who will rule the world. Isaiah 42, as we saw in our last article, speaks of the servant in whom God delights and on whom the Spirit rests. The voice from heaven establishes Jesus’ identity. We could almost guess the rest of the gospel story now that we know that Jesus is the servant and king whom God had promised. The key to our understanding is the Spirit who descends upon Jesus to anoint him to fulfil these roles.
Led (Luke 4:1)
Once baptized, Jesus was “full of the Spirit”, and was “led by the Spirit” into the desert. Here he begins the conflict with Satan that Isaiah’s “servant of the Lord” had to face. Where Israel had been unfaithful to God during her 40 years in the desert, Jesus is victorious over the temptations of evil (see Exod 16 and Deut 8). Like Israel, Jesus is tempted to abandon God for material comfort and power and to test God, rather than trusting his word. But unlike Israel, Jesus the Spirit-filled man is not diverted by Satan’s ‘better’ offers. Empowered by the Spirit of God, he is moved to fulfil God’s law.
Empowered (Luke 4:14-30)
The spiritual empowerment of Jesus brought great praise for his teaching in every place he spoke—every place, that is, except for his hometown, Nazareth. There, Jesus goes to the synagogue and reads aloud from the Scriptures. He reads from Isaiah 61, where the prophet of good news, the gospel evangelist, is prefigured: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor”. Jesus claims this prophecy for himself: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. He is empowered by the Spirit to preach the good news of salvation for all who believe, both Jews and Gentiles.
In event after event from Jesus’ life, Luke emphasizes that Jesus is the Spirit servant, the Spirit prophet and the Spirit king.
Joyful (Luke 10:21)
Luke does not mention the Holy Spirit again until the return of the 72 ministers of the Lord in chapter 10. Jesus is “full of joy through the Holy Spirit” because the power of Satan is being overcome. However, he warns his disciples not to rejoice at their own power to perform miracles, but in the fact that they are members of a spiritual kingdom, with their names registered in heaven.
Promised (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4, 5, 8)
No further discussion of the Spirit occurs until after Jesus has been raised. When he appears in the resurrection body to his disciples, he tells them of their task as witnesses of the Messiah and preachers of repentance and forgiveness to all nations. They are commanded to wait in Jerusalem until the promised power to undertake this ministry of world evangelization is provided.
In the opening verses of volume two of Luke’s writing (commonly known as Acts), this promise is reiterated in more specific language. Here we find one of the few New Testament references to Spirit baptism (the phrase is only used seven times in the New Testament):
Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit King has come, seen and conquered, fulfilling God’s prophecies—except one. The pouring out of the Spirit upon all people is still to come. This is the Pentecost event for which the disciples are waiting.
Received (Acts 2:33)
Following the outpouring of the Spirit, Peter preaches a sermon explaining the event. The climax to his message is a key passage for understanding the relationship between the Son and the Spirit:
God has raised this Jesus to life and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he [Jesus] has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.
God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ, because of his obedience unto death (Acts 2:36). Having risen and ascended to God’s right hand, Jesus receives the promised Spirit. The Father gives the Spirit to the glorified Son who then sheds the Spirit abroad into the hearts of all believers.
Poured out (Acts 2:18, 38)
When Christ had won victory over sin and death, he poured out the Holy Spirit from heaven to all who believed in his name. ‘Poured out’ is a strange phrase, borrowed by Peter from Joel 2. Peter recognized that the Old Testament prophecy was being fulfilled before his eyes: now the dwelling place of God was with humanity.
The day of Pentecost is not about speaking in tongues. This happened, but it is not the focus of the event. Pentecost is not even about the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit is powerfully present, but Pentecost is about the giver of the Holy Spirit—the man who is greater than John the Baptist because he baptizes not with water, but with tongues of spiritual fire.
Designated (Acts 2:36)
The meaning of Pentecost is the designation or recognition of Jesus as both Lord and Christ. If we are ever searching for proof of Jesus’ identity, it is provided at Pentecost. Jesus’ signs and wonders were impressive and his preaching powerful. His execution even brought a pagan soldier to admit that the dying man was the Son of God. His resurrection was a unique, world-shattering miracle. But his exaltation to the highest place where he receives the Holy Spirit to anoint the world—this is the clinching evidence that this man, whom we crucified, is both Lord and Christ.
There is a verse in Romans that rarely receives any attention during discussion of the Holy Spirit:
… and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom 1:4)
Jesus was powerfully designated as the Son of God, and this was done by the Spirit of holiness, the Holy Spirit. That is what Pentecost is about. It is an important gospel milestone because it was the day when Jesus was plainly declared king of the world. It was appropriate that Pentecost was the beginning of the Jewish harvest festival. The symbolism of the gospel was now complete: as the Passover was celebrated, the spiritual Passover Lamb was being sacrificed on the cross; now, at the beginning of the harvest season, God’s Spirit is poured out upon the purified people and the spiritual harvest of the world commences.
Jesus and the Spirit
The coming of the Holy Spirit is the result of the victory of Jesus. The Spirit that is poured out is the Spirit of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit is Christ himself, who comes to dwell within us. In Romans 8:9-10, four phrases are used interchangeably to refer to the Spirit within us:
You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.
“The Spirit”, “the Spirit of Christ”, “the Spirit of God” and “Christ” are all one and the same gift from God to those who believe. Jesus told the Jews that everyone who believed in him would have streams of “living water” flowing from within them. John comments that Jesus was referring to the Spirit, “whom those who believed in him were later to receive” (John 7:38-39). Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:45, calls Jesus a “life-giving spirit”. The New Testament is adamant: no wedge can be driven between Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They never operate independently, and you cannot have one without the other.
Where can you find God’s Spirit? Who can give this Spirit to you? No human has the right to give God’s Spirit, but many will claim differently. We can’t even take the Spirit; we have no idea how to or where to search, and even if we did, the Spirit is not just there for the taking. We need Jesus, the herald of the new spiritual age, who is now Lord and Saviour, to give God’s Spirit away to mankind. And this spirit does not come in some unrecognizable form; the Spirit of God is the Spirit of Christ, and the gift of God is Christ himself. Don’t believe the hype; Luke’s message is that you cannot be more spiritual than being joined to the glorified Lord Jesus Christ.
Adapted by Greg Clarke from an address by Phillip Jensen.