Jeremiah 1:4-10, Luke 4:21-30
January 28, 2007
As Chapter 4 of Luke opens, Jesus is about to begin his public ministry. However, there was an event that would take place first – sort of “behind the scenes.” Jesus was confronted by Satan in the wilderness.
Now, we could say a lot about that story. We could look at all the “arguments” Satan threw at Jesus, and we could think about how they represent many of the same things that confront us. But that’s not the scripture I want us to focus on for day. For now, I’d like to leave it at just that, and say that these temptations Jesus faced are many of the same temptations we face. And I’ll let you read that story again on your own.
Instead, I’d like us to look at the first verse of the chapter. There it says, “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.” The more I read this, the more I believe Luke meant us to see the Holy Spirit as a focus of everything that happened in this chapter. The Spirit is involved in each of the things that happens here.
That’s what we’re talking about today – the Holy Spirit. And as we look at this chapter, I want us to be thinking about how the Spirit of God is part of our everyday lives, too. What happens to us, what difference is there in our lives when the Spirit is upon us. That’s what I want us to think about.
We know from this story of Jesus in the wilderness that one of the things the Holy Spirit does is it sees us through trying times. Sometimes we know that at the time, and sometimes we don’t see it until we look back later on. It all times of our lives, the Holy Spirit is the comforter. He is the sustainer.
Three years later, Jesus would tell his disciples in the upper room that they were going to be persecuted. But when they were, they were not to worry about what they were to do or to say, because the Spirit would be with them. The Holy Spirit would sustain them through those difficult times, and the Spirit would even help them to have the right words to say. And it’s the same with us. The Holy Spirit is with us through tough times. It’s that little voice within us that prompts us to speak or not to speak, when we aren’t sure what to say. But it’s more than that.
As we look further in this chapter, Luke tells us about the power of the Holy Spirit again. In verse 14 it says. “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee… and he taught in their synagogues…” The Spirit was the power by which Jesus spoke. It gave him the “authority” by which he spoke, that amazed all who heard him. The Spirit was his connection to God – indeed the Spirit is God, himself – and that Spirit gave him the power for his life. And if we will be open to that same Spirit, we will have that power, too.
Then he came to Nazareth, his home town. And there, in the synagogue, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. And he opened it to a certain place and read these words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” Do you see that constant theme of the Holy Spirit in this chapter? I think that’s important.
What happens when the Holy Spirit is upon us? And when do we know that the Spirit is upon us? Maybe you don’t feel like the Spirit ever is upon you. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. Even Jesus said the Spirit can be a very elusive thing. It’s like the wind. You can’t tell where it comes from and where it goes. It’s hard to tell sometimes what is the Spirit working in our lives, and what isn’t.
However, let me say that one of the most important things to know about the Holy Spirit in our lives is that it is always there! Sometimes we think the Spirit is only in our lives when we “feel” like it’s there. And when we don’t “feel” particularly “spiritual” we assume the Spirit is not in our lives. That’s our emotions talking. The great thing about God’s promises to us is that they are not tied to our emotions.
As you know, our emotions go up and down. We feel good one day and not the next. Bill Bright used to call that the “emotional roller coaster.” We have to remember that our spiritual well being is not tied to those emotions. In fact, it should be the opposite. Our spiritual well being should affect our emotions, not the other way around. When we know that God is with us “to the close of the age,” and that that doesn’t mean, “only when we feel like he is,” that helps our emotional well being! Do you see how that works?
God’s spirit is always with us! The only question is whether or not we are allowing the Spirit to work in our lives. And that’s something we can do or not do, isn’t it? Yes sometimes the Spirit works in a way that a person has no choice. But most of the time, the Spirit works when we are willing to “step out of the way.” And I know that’s no small thing! I know that’s hard for us people to do! “We’d rather do it ourselves.” That’s the constant refrain of the human race! Yet, just think of how the Spirit has touched people down through the ages, when they have “stepped out of the way.”
Remember our reading from Jeremiah. In that passage, the Spirit of God came to a young boy. God had a job for him to do. But when the Spirit told him, he said, “But Lord, I’m just a boy!” “I can’t speak to the people.” God answered, “Don’t say that! I’ve told you that you shall go. And I [by my Spirit] will tell you what to say. So don’t be afraid!” And that boy “stepped out of the way.” He allowed to Spirit to work in him. And he would become one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament, Jeremiah.
One of the greatest Biblical examples of the workings of the Holy Spirit is the book of Acts. Throughout that book, we find example after example of people being open to the Holy Spirit, and that Spirit touching them and giving them courage, giving them specific tasks, and even giving them specific words. It’s been my opinion for a long time that that book has been mistitled. Instead of calling it “The Acts of the Apostles,” it should have been called “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.” (It’s too late now, I suppose! But that’s what it’s about!)
These and many, many other stories tell us that the touch of the Holy Spirit is not reserved for a select few. The Spirit of God is upon us all! And he will work in our lives if we are willing to be open to it! Last week, we talked about rededicating ourselves to God. I hope you did that! I reminded you then of the words of Paul, where he told the Corinthians, “You are the temples of God, and God’s Spirit dwells in you.” I remind you of that again. The Spirit of God, that same Spirit that was upon Jesus and Peter and John and Isaiah, is upon us!
But again, the problem is that too many people don’t realize that, too many people don’t think about that, and too many people don’t care about that! They’re just not all that interested in the Holy Spirit, and they don’t want to open themselves to the possibility of the Spirit working within them. Indeed for some, the Holy Spirit is the most neglected person of the Trinity. They’re fine with the idea of the Father and the Son – the creator and the redeemer – those are not all that “personal.” But that Holy Spirit stuff is a little bit “unsettling.”
Actually, that’s all very ironic to me. Because in a lot of ways, this age in which we live is a very spiritual age. We are living in what I’m sure you’ve heard called the “Post Modern” era. And in that era, people are looking to experience the spiritual in greater and greater numbers all the time. For decades they’ve been hearing that “science has all the answers.” But now they’re saying “No.” “There has to be more.” And they’re looking for the Spiritual.
The irony is, that in this “spiritual age,” there are many people in the Church who are “suspect” of spiritual things. They see spirituality as “emotionalism.” They would call that a “shallow faith.” And they are uncomfortable with matters of the spirit and the heart. Many want the knowledge of God but not intimacy. They want to be taught, but not touched. They want form in their faith, but not feeling. They want the practice of their faith, but not the presence of God.
I want to say to you today, that here in this place, in this Church, and in our lives, the Spirit of the Lord is upon us. And I’ll ask, “Do you believe that?” Really! Do you believe it? Or do you doubt that God’s Spirit is among us? That’s what I want you to think about today. And I’ll say it again. When you are here, and when you go out those doors, God’s Spirit is upon you. I want you to know that!
Now, we can read about that, and we can talk about it, and those things are good. But more than that, we need to choose to be open to the Spirit working in our lives. And if we are, what does that look like? It’s always different. It’s as different as each of us is different. But, if we are open to the Spirit, things will happen. Through the Spirit, we know that God is with us. We will feel his touch. Through the spirit we remember what God has taught us and what he has done for us. Through the Spirit, we are given courage in our faith, and we are even sometimes prompted to speak and to act.
If we allow the Spirit to work in our lives, maybe some of these words will apply to us, too. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, and to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
Are you willing to be open to the spirit? Are you willing for the Spirit to work in your life?
Eternal God, let your Spirit be upon us and empower us to do your will in our lives. Speak in us and through us. Give us the courage to be your people, to do your will, and to show your love. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.