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The Promise of the Father


Old Testament Reading: 2 Kings 2:9-15

New Testament Reading: Luke 11:1-13


To reiterate: I am spending the first few Sundays of the Pentecost season with a series of sermons on the first two chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. This morning I would like to invite you to join me on a brief Bible study occasioned by an intriguing tidbit of the text, the occurrence of a particular phrase that may not be altogether inappropriate for our consideration since it is Father's Day. It is the phrase, "the promise of the Father." The phrase occurs in Luke's preface to the Book of Acts, "And while eating with them, he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days now, you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit."

What promise is it to which Jesus refers? Where did the Heavenly Father make such a promise? In context, given what happens in chapter 2 of Acts, it seems obvious that what is in view is the Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit. But where did the Father promise this? Let's see if we can find out. One obvious possibility is that Luke regards the prophecy of Joel 2:28-29:

    And it shall come to pass afterward,

    that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;

    your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

    your old men shall dream dreams,

    and your young men shall see visions.

    Even upon the menservants and maidservants in those days,

    I will pour out my spirit.

He does have Peter quote this passage in Acts 2, immediately following the Spirit-baptism. "This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel."

That would certainly qualify as a promise made by the Father. But the reader of Luke 24 and Acts 1 where the phrase "promise of the Father" occurs would then be left in the dark until Acts 2 to find out what this promise was, whereas Luke seems to expect that the reader will know good and well what this promise is as soon as he meets with the phrase. This would mean there must be some previous reference in the Gospel of Luke that could be called the promise of the Father. But what is it? My guess would be that he is referring to the teaching on prayer Jesus is shown dispensing in Luke 11:1-13. I think the specific reference is to verse 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."

I think this assurance of the Father's willingness to give the Spirit in abundance is what Luke means by "the promise of the Father." It is certainly a promise that might be fulfilled by what happens on the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit is poured out so abundantly. In fact I am doubly persuaded because this passage as it stood in the Q source, the sayings source used by both Matthew and Luke, had the crucial line as follows: "How much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him." Hear that? Not "the Holy Spirit," but "good gifts." It is surely Luke who has made the general assurance of answered prayer into a promise of the Father to supply the Holy Spirit.

Let me let you in on another little secret. There are a few ancient manuscripts of Luke which have a slightly different reading of the Lord's Prayer a few verses before this text. As we read it, it says, Thy kingdom come." But in some copies it says, "Thy Spirit come upon us and sanctify us." In my opinion, this is what Luke wrote, and then copyists changed it in most manuscripts so it would sound more like the Lord's Prayer in Matthew, which has at this point, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

So this is the bottom line. Luke has Jesus instruct his disciples, actually the readers of Luke's Gospel, to pray for the sanctification of the Spirit. He built this right into the Lord's Prayer, so that the people in his community would ask for the Holy Spirit every time they prayed together. And then he followed the prayer up with a couple of parables about confidence in prayer, culminating with a saying on how God could certainly be counted upon to answer the prayer Luke has just had Jesus prescribe, the prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit. I suppose that what Luke envisions the 120 disciples in the Upper Room doing for 10 days leading up to Pentecost is praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit--and then it comes!

The lesson to be drawn from all this is quite simple. To pray for the Holy Spirit is to seek to grow morally and spiritually, to become wider in sympathy, more patient with fools, broader in perspective, more Christlike in character, more expansive and selfless, more virtuous, less prejudiced, more open to what the winds of change may blow your way. And the assurance, the confidence of it, as Jesus says, it only common sense: if you want more Spirit, who's going to stop you? Must you wrest it like Prometheus did from the hearth of a jealous God? No! How could God not want you to grow in the Spirit? It simply stands to reason that you can have as much of the Spirit as you can accommodate. The only limits are those you yourself have set. And there is no reason you cannot, like the man in another Lukan parable, tear down your barns and build bigger ones to accommodate a greater harvest of the fruit of the Spirit than you have ever known before.




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