Tagged: Theology

Reflections on Gratitude and the Holy Supper

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Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 1 Cor 10:16

Eucharisteo is the Greek word for gratitude.

The posture of thanksgiving is what the biblical narrative points to as the proper posture of the imago dei in man. This stands in contrast to our North American culture of excessive hoarding and addiction through the gratification of insatiable desires. Hans Boersma makes the observation that this is quite understandable since our words is astonishingly beautiful: “When we smell, when we taste, when we hear, when we see, when we touch—the pleasure that follows can be overwhelmingly powerful.” But the purpose of our lives is not for increased gratification of the instinctual sort. What separates us from animals and what makes us rightful candidates of the imago dei—that uniquely human calling to image the Creator—is a posture of eucharisteo: gratitude. But not just any gratitude, but the kind that leads to self-giving, the kind that recognizes that all of creation—all that we can taste, touch, smell, hear and see—is merely a gift to be offered back to God.

In response to Jesus’ instructions, christians have made what has come to be known by countless names (holy communion, eucharist, holy supper, etc) as the definitive marker of the Christian identity.

“Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said. Then word “communion” refers to the greek word, koinonia, which is also translated as fellowship, and participation. This special Christian act is precisely that: fellowship, participation, a unique and unexplainable mystery of entering into the Trinitarian life. And as we enter into the life of the Trinitarian God, we are launched into a life of eucharisteo.

To be authentically human, according to Christian faith and practice, is constituted by the posture of thanksgiving that leads to self-giving.

Paradoxically, and in opposition to everything we’re told by a culture of rampant consumerism, a life of gratitude is the life that is most satisfying of all.

Studies have shown that gratitude in itself is a healthy posture, and daily practices of expressing gratitude will contribute to happier life. But who are we to thank? How we answer this question will determine whether or not we will move from thanksgiving to self-giving.

Discipleship is More than You Know

Discipleship

Over the last half-decade of church work I have wrestled with what it’s supposed to look like for churches to practice discipleship.

The models of church that I’ve seen most are built on the idea that discipleship means accepting ideas about God.  The more “truth” you know about God, the greater disciple you are. But discipleship is not about having information, because if it is, the disciples weren’t really disciples after all. Let’s just say they didn’t have their systematic theology in order. For the disciples, and for us, discipleship is more than you know.

At the180 we are looking at how there are moments in life that we need the courage to unlearn the bad habits we’ve picked up on our journey. Jesus often calls his disciples and listeners to unlearn something—which is hard, scary, and takes courage.  The sermon that kicked off our series on unlearning reminded me of how we tend to reduce the Great Commission to “coming to church to be a christian”, instead of “going out to make disciples.” The church at large has come to the conclusion that disciple-making means giving people a list of things to believe and then making them do the same.

But Christian discipleship is much more than some heady acceptance of ideas about God.  Jesus didn’t commission his disciples to make us into great consumers of ideas or “absolute truths.” This discipleship thing has to do with our hearts, heads and hands.

Here’s something: discipleship is a word Christians use but it’s not something only Christians do. Discipleship happens to every human. Every person is being discipled all the time—something is drawing us into its way of life, teaching us a way of living that we believe will bring satisfaction. Another word for disciple is learner, but not the kind of learner that sits in a classroom to receive ideas, the kind of learner that follows a person in the way that he/she handles life, relationships, people, money, everything. Ideas play a small part.  Apprenticeship might capture what discipleship entails—being with someone long enough to become a lot like him or her. And it always happens in communal spaces, like with friends around a dinner table or a sports games.

“It’s about life!” my professor Rikk Watts is know for saying. Discipleship is about life in the most comprehensive sense. It’s about being with Jesus in order to do what he does. It’s asking the question (thank you Dallas Willard) “what would Jesus do if he was me?”

One of the things we talk about at the180 is how the church is made up of those who are “called out of the world to go back into the world.” If discipleship is more than cranial consumption, if disciples is more than you know, and discipleship has to do with the way we live, then the church needs to be more than a dispenser of ideas. The church learns to be “the called out ones” in a sacred space to rehearse the life of the kingdom through the practices of singing, eating, and sharing together around a common Lord. And it’s in this space that we learn to be disciples together–learning to live the Jesus-life–so that we can go out and make disciples.

 

 

Can We Know God’s Will for our Lives? Part 2

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In my last post, I suggested that a Christian should be able to answer the questions, what is God saying to me and how do I know that he’s saying it?

Unfortunately, some Christians feel they need to discern God’s will about what they eat for dinner. What we eat for dinner is not something that God is really concerned with, provided we eat with gratitude. An important reality, often overlooked in our anxious searches for God’s will, is that many life decisions are left for us to make freely. Some Christians walk with an enormous weight of uncertainty, worrying about every jot and tittle of their lives, when God has allowed a certain degree of freedom.

Through Scripture, we know enough about God to make most decisions. Some questions have been answered with a “no” and others with a “yes,” while many other questions are left to up to us. Imagine God gave you a watch. Would you honour him more by asking him for the time or by looking at the watch? I know that I ought to practice kindness and patience towards my wife, and I know that I ought not hate or judge my brother. However, what I eat for dinner is my choice.

Still, some decisions require more than logical reasoning and biblical knowledge. Some decisions we face beckon us to slow down and listen carefully to God’s direction. Maybe it’s prioritizing tasks for the week in order to make decisions well, or considering a career or relational opportunity that might change the direction of one’s life completely. There are certain matters we know the answer to, other matters in which we are free to choose for ourselves, and still other matters that require thoughtful and prayerful discernment.

Let me illustrate:

Pretend a coach of a soccer team has drafted you into his team. When it’s game time, it would be silly to ask about the rules of another sport, or whether or not you should try to work as a team with the other players. The first question is irrelevant and the second is obvious.

Likewise, to fret about God’s will for my dinner or whether or not I should be “kind” to my neighbour misses the point of discernment. In the first instance, we’re asking a question that has nothing to do with the game or even the sport, and in the second instance we’re ignoring the rules of the game we’ve already been given. There are also moments in the game when passing the ball to player A or player B will be your choice, and to ask the coach for his instruction in that moment would be detrimental to the game.

I know the rules, I know the point of the game, I know that there will be moments where I must depend on my reflexes and choose accordingly. In this way, we can understand “God’s will for my life” as referring to my position on the field and how I can best use my strengths to win the game according to the strategy.

In order for me to play well I will ultimately need to know myself: how am I built to play this game well? This is the task of discernment.

Seeking God’s will for my life does not dismiss everything he’s already revealed in Scripture, but seeks to understand my fit in it. What are my “gifts” in the context of the team and the strategy already given?

The particular will of God we seek is in the context of our participation in the life of the church.

One of the early challenges the church had to wrestle through was individual gifting, or vocation. Every individual equally contributed to the life of the whole, just like every part of a body contributes to the life of the body. And that body, being the church, exists for the common good of society. The question is: what is Jesus saying to me personally (now comes in the individual, the parts that make up the whole), in the context of our calling to be the church in our world.

We must learn to listen to the voice of Jesus for ourselves, but not apart from our team. So how will we do it?

Here are five voices we must be listening to in the dance of discernment:

1) We listen to Scripture, which speaks not only to our heads, but to our hearts as we contemplate its stories and teachings. Scripture has an authoritative power, not because it has special secrets about how old the earth is, but because it has a special way of igniting faith, hope, and love in us. In an overarching sense, Scripture tells us of the gospel news of God’s rescue mission to bring the world to its intended harmony. It tells us the rules of the game and the strategy for winning. But to know how we fit in the game we need to learn to read the Bible personally: how is a passage, a verse, a story speaking to you, in this moment?  When we take the time to slow down, listen, and contemplate God’s word, it has a special power to speak to us in a personal way, because the Bible always brings us to the person of Jesus who is the Word of God in the flesh. Sometimes this means sticking with one word, one verse, one parable or psalm or story that sticks out to you, and letting it resonate with you until your heart catches guides your head. Perhaps you’ll receive a picture, an invitation, a sense of gratitude, or a memory. This isn’t an easy discipline, but a very rewarding one.

2) We listen to people in our lives who can help us see our blind spots. Who are we reading the Bible with? Who are we worshiping with on Sundays? Who knows you enough and loves you enough to be honest with you about who you really are? But beware of people telling you what God is telling you: they may be able to guide, to advise, and even to offer an opinion, but only you can know the inner witness of the Spirit.

3) We listen to the friendships we find in the church, the local and the historical, the present and the past. Scripture has a personal and concrete word for us, yet keeping ancient friends from our Christian heritage will help us keep from making Scripture fit our own designs. Let the creeds of the church be the boundary markers of the soccer field, telling you if you’re in, or if you’re out. The creeds can also help you make sense of where you are on the pitch, providing you with an orientation that helps you know if you should pass or shoot. Our forefathers were at a different level in their prayer lives. Find an old prayer book to help you discover  new ways to foster intimacy with God (Augustine’s Confessions is one of my favourites).

4) We listen to our circumstances: how has God provided the context you are now in? Pay attention to the circumstances of your life. How are you to be faithful in your current circumstances? What do you like or dislike about your circumstances that you would like to change or not change? These questions force us to be honest about what is possible and what isn’t. But don’t eliminate the apparently impossible option, because God may indeed be calling you to something that in this moment, feels impossible. This listening is merely a matter of seeing clearly how God has been at work in your circumstances. Oppositions and obstacles need to be considered, but don’t be quick to take them as signs that this isn’t what God wants: God may very well be asking you to walk through a closed door.

5) We listen to our emotions, which help us identify what we love and what we dislike.   We tend to be suspicious of emotions, for fear of emotionalism, and end up putting too much weight on our rational abilities. However, Descartes was wrong when he proposed that humans are merely thinking beings. We are thinking, loving, and acting beings, far more complex that what Descartes suggested. Emotions are at the heart (no pun intended) of what it means to be human and in order to properly discern the voice of Christ, we need to develop the capacity to articulate what is happening to us emotionally.

All of these activities happen in the context of a life devoted to prayer. Prayer is the glue that helps us make sense of each sphere of our lives. Prayer is our response to God’s initiation; in prayer, we are always responding to God’s YES to us in Christ. Prayer is constant dialogue with the coach, cheering and guiding us on as we play the game.

Seeking the will of God is not as simple as a question and answer session. Discernment is a process, it is a game, or a dance or like being part of an orchestra. We attentively listen and watch the conductor move his baton towards a harmonious composition. As we learn to play in sync with the voice of the coach, God’s team defeats opponents not by beating them but by winning them over to a new way of playing.

Feel free to share your thoughts or experiences on discernment and seeking God’s will below.

Mirror Dimly

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We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! 1 Cor 13:12 (MSG)

In the “love chapter” Paul provides a beautiful metaphor to explain our earthly limitations. As long as we await Christ’s second coming, life is experienced as through a mirror dimly.

Paul is talking about the different parts of worship that revolve around scripture; singing, tongues, prophecy, preaching. These are gifts to the church to foster and serve love.  If love for God and for one another is not the motivation and goal of worship, then it is nothing more than a clanging cymbal; an out-of-place and misleading distraction.

Paul goes on to say that we see through a mirror dimly because we are still infected by sin, despite our standing with Christ. The metaphor calls attention to the act of seeing, not to the mirror itself:  we do not see a “dim mirror.” It is the act of seeing which is limited by dimness-a foggy overcast that beckons us to humility.

A mirror is used to see a reflection–of yourself, of others, of what’s around you. Scripture is the mirror that we see in order to know God and to know ourselves; it is the breathed out words of God that are without error and profitable for training in righteousness. But my reading of Scripture is faulty and broken, and until I come to grips with this reality, I will not serve love. Without an awareness that I am unable to know and interpret Scripture in its entirety, I will be a clanging cymbal.

Today, Christians are bombarded with skepticism around Scripture. We are told not to trust the Bible because it’s archaic and erroneous. The temptation will be to defend the Bible’s reliability in ways that ignore human limitations-we insist on the certitude and clarity of Scripture; we simplify what is complex and ignore the impaired capacity of a dim vision.

Some are afraid of the uncertainty of what I am proposing. Don’t we want people to be confident in the reliability and authority of Scripture? Yes. But what is the purpose of the authority of Scripture but to form God’s people into who they were called to be? What I want for Christians is to trust in the power of Scripture to shape their lives; and that we don’t need to know all the answers for that to happen. Perhaps the power of the Scriptures–its authority to shape our lives–is only effective when we approach it with humility. Uncertainty is what compels faith, and it is in the uncertainty–in the dimness of our vision–that God encounters us and we begin to really, and truly see. That alone will serve love.

Schmemann on modern escapist spirituality

“Tired and disillusioned by the chaos and confusion he himself has brought about, crushed by his own ‘progress,’ scared by seemingly triumphant evil, disenchanted with all theories and explanations, depersonalized and enslaved by technology, man instinctively looks for an escape, for a ‘way out’ of this hopelessly wicked world, for a spiritual haven, for a ‘spirituality’ that will confirm and justify him in his disgust for the world and his fear of it, yet at the same time give him the security and the spiritual comfort he seeks. Hence the multiplication and the amazing success today of all kinds of escapist spiritualities—Christian and non-Christian alike—whose common and basic tonality is precisely negation, apocalypticism, fear and a truly Manichean ‘disgust’ for the world”
– Alexander Schmemann, Of Water and the Spirit, 84.

Praying Sacramentally

christians-praying-iconThere are typically two types of prayer: prayers of longing, and prayers of supplication (or, request). Both are good. But, it seems like most people prefer one over the other. In many prayer meetings I’ve attended and led, I have learned that attendees desire to be given a list of needs to pray for. This isn’t bad, but what I’ve learned is that the prayer of supplication is safe(r): it has the potential to allow us to pray (a good thing), in a way that is selfless (i.e. pray for other, which is also a good thing), and yet, it very often can be superficial (a not so good thing). The prayer of supplication in this manner is invulnerable, shallow, and obligational. Its function is to merely check off from the list of duties another good thing we did for God. Or perhaps, we think it’s good for us (we’re pragmatists!) and so we do it.

Yet, prayers of supplication (like many of the Psalms), are good and necessary. Essentially, supplications are requests for God’s kingdom to come to his creation he has so generously conferred to us. The prayer of supplication though, as I’ve alleged, can often become superficial and dutiful. The way this happens, I think, is that we think of that thing we’re praying about—a ministry, a neighbourhood, a church—as something unrelated to us. Or, more precisely, we allow a small degree of “relatedness.” The small degree can be illustrated by various articles of clothing. I am a shirt, and you are a hat. We are both part of the same body; there is some degree of relatedness there. But there’s something lacking here.

I started by saying that there are two types of prayer, but what I should say is that they are two in one: they are not distinct, but enhance and enable each other. Two sides of the same coin, I suppose. But I have not yet described the so-called “prayer of longing.” A prayer of longing is when your truest self is exposed before God. A prayer of longing is true knowledge of self and the world, and consequently, a deep desire for God himself. When confession is abounding and repentance is desired, and God is sought in a most honest way, we are praying with longing. So how is a prayer of longing and a prayer of supplication related? Well, as I’ve said, I think there’s a problem when we think we are only barely related to the “external” things we prayer for. We consider ourselves only formally associated to our workplace, the children’s ministry at our church, the people in our community groups, the leaders of our churches.  Do we pray for these things and people because we know them? Because they’re in our lives in some degree? How can our prayers of supplication—prayer for others—truly be a prayer of longing?

Here’s a hint:

“[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church.”
– Colossians 1:15-18

What preceded these words was Paul’s description of his prayer of longing for the Colossian church (see 1:1-14 for yourself). With special emphasis on the church, Paul believes that all of creation profoundly shares in Christ. In Christ, all things hold together. Paul’s high Christology grounded his understanding of church (his ecclesiology), thereby forming his prayers. Paul could pray for the church without slipping into an obligational superficiality. He didn’t him see himself as merely related to the church, but for Paul, he and the church shared so intimately, so deeply, so profoundly in Christ, that they were one person: one body.

Knowing that all of creation shares in some degree in the work and person of Christ, we can pray for others with a longing that is honest. That honestly views ourself as mysteriously woven, not as separate articles of clothing, but as one beautiful tapestry that includes the ongoing problem of sin, the ongoing gift of salvation, and the ongoing work of new creation, in Christ Jesus.

Amen.

Cross-Shaped Community

We often seek to be in relationship with people that are like us, in terms of ethnicity, dress, socio-economic status, etc.  But the Gospel transcends these categories. It creates a people that are part of the new creation: “neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:15).  The “how” of the community of this “new creation” requires a posture of self-giving that takes its shape from the Cross. Earlier in the chapter, Paul tells us that we must

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2)

 So what is distinctive about this new creation community?  What’s the purpose of relationships if it isn’t to meet people that have similar sentiments?  I want to examine three truths from this passage that may help us make sense of Christian life in new creation community, which must take the shape of the cross.

1. We all have burdens.

The easy-road consumer-driven “prosperity gospel”  promises a burden-less wealth-filled good-life, rather than a cross-shaped life. Its popularity is a witness to the pervasiveness of our consumer mentality: it seeks to “sell” the gospel by promising  physical well-being and status. Sadly, it overlooks the Christian life portrayed by the Scriptures. . Jesus instructs his followers  that they too must bear their cross, a prerequisite to being his disciple (Luke 14:27). Peter says suffering is a means of “sharing in the sufferings of Christ.” The church at Corinth suffered from persecution; Paul doesn’t tell them that they don’t have enough faith, but tells of his own suffering and exults in them, claiming that they are to bear the marks of  ministering for a crucified messiah. The reason why I mention the “prosperity gospel” is because I think it has so deeply pervaded our thinking that we have come to believe that sharing our burdens is a bad, faithless thing to do. In reality, we all have burdens, we all have struggles, we all have emotional or physical pain. We must begin with the concession that “we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2), and therefore, we all have burdens, to be shared within our new creation community.

2. A personal relationship with Jesus does not mean a private relationship with Jesus.

We love our privacy. I know I do. But a close relative of privacy is a subtle resolution for self-sufficiency. Culture  tells us that we must seek to be self-made men and women. As a result, we establish a framework in which we view people as tools to serve our independent purposes rather than as humans to share life with. It’s time to stop living as though a “personal relationship with God” means doing Christian life alone. In verse 6 (in Galatians 6) Paul warns, “if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Something who “thinks he is something” thinks it too menial a task to bear the burden of another, and will keep their own burdens private, since that would require an acknowledgment of need. If we’re not careful, we will use the language of “having a personal relationship to Jesus” as a justification for pride, and thereby avoid participation in the new creation community. 

3. Burden bearing, not being the morality police, fulfills the law of Christ.

In Galatians, Paul addresses the moral imposition of the so-called Judaizers. They wanted circumcision to be the identifying mark of the Christian, a scheme that sought to salvage a defining ethnic element of the Jewish tradition.  Paul, annoyed, writes: “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” (5:12).  It seems the Judaizers cared little for the burdens of the people.  They focused their energies instead on keeping their ethnic tradition intact and so imposed many laws and instructions  in a burdensome manner.  The question for the new creation community is: Will we impose burdens on each other, or will we bear each others burdens?

The Canadian way tends to be the private way, and as a result, we don’t know the deep struggles, temptations, and sufferings of those in our church communities. Despite this, within the new creation community, we are directed to bear each others burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. This requires a cross-shaped  faith and lifestyle that seeks to acknowledge our own failures, embrace the way of humility, and lovingly fulfills the law of Christ, that is, the law of love. 

Nouwen and The Return of the Prodigal Son

the-return-of-the-prodigal-son-1669I am finding myself drawn the beauty that comes from candid concession of  inherent brokenness. Truthful transparency is vulnerability, which by definition, is the “susceptibility to physical or emotional harm.” Yet paradoxically, in it, there is much strength and freedom. There requires a sense of confidence and self awareness when one musters the courage to confess their needs – and thus confess their lack. Confession of lack is to admit that I can do nothing without Jesus.

Today I started reading Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. I was impressed with his self knowledge, his recognition of weakness, and his ability to articulate it with such forthright honesty.  What begins as honest self knowledge and confession turns to Christ awareness and reception.  In this book he speaks of his mesmerizing experience with Rembrandt’s painting, The Prodigal Son, which led him to his reflection of Jesus’ parable on the subject. Initially, Nouwen sensed a personal identification to the youngest son, which drew out his admiration for the painting. He then tells of his subsequent realization that he, in addition to the brash recklessness of the younger son, has also tended towards a behavioural pattern much like the pharisaic older brother.  Even more surprisingly, Nouwen admits that through the words of a friend, he is called live like the father:

“You have been longing for friends all your life; you have been craving for affection as long as I’ve known you; you have been interested in thousands of things; you have been begging for attention, appreciation, and affirmation left and right.  The time has come to claim your true vocation — to be a father who can welcome his children home without asking them any questions and without wanting anything from them in return.  Look at the father in your painting and you will know who you are called to be.”

These words have rung true for me. My hope is to reflect and confess my own weaknesses as I consider Nouwen’s, and, like him, reveal my personal tendency towards the two son’s in the parable, while simultaneously  becoming increasingly aware of the calling to adopt the father’s mantle.

 

 

Jesus Baptized: The Holy Spirit and the New Thing

The Holy Spirit is a dominant theme throughout the book of Luke.  The Holy Spirit fills individuals in Luke (John, Elizabeth, Mary, Jesus, Zechariah, Simeon, cf. 1:15, 1:35, 1:41, 1:67, 2:25, 3:22, etc), and the work of the Spirit is spoken of in contrast to the many “evil spirits” that cause damage to the individual (7:21, 8:2). The Spirit is associated in the births of both John and Jesus; John will be “filled with the Holy Spirit before birth” (1:15) and Jesus will be conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit (1:35).  A common result from the infilling of the Holy Spirit is prophecy and praise (1:42-45, 1:64, 2:13). Joel Green and Scot Mcknight associate Luke’s use of the Spirit with prophetic acts that point to the recognition and assurance of salvation: “Elizabeth and Zechariah experience the Spirit of prophecy in invasive prophetic speech (the invasive quality denoted here by the Lukan favorite idiom “filled with” the Holy Spirit) … and as a result give oracles of recognition and assurance of salvation.”[1]

The Holy Spirit appears in a very special way at Jesus’ water baptism (Lk 3:21-22;  Mk 1:9-11; Mt 3:13-17; Jn 1:29-34).

It is interesting to note that in each of the Gospel accounts, Jesus’ baptism narrative introduces the rest of his ministry. What is really going on? What were the writers of the gospels telling their readers?

This moment is intentionally placed (in Luke’s account) in order to draw attention away from John the Baptism and centre in on Jesus. What Luke is saying to his readers, is that something special is going on here, a prophetic act in which the New Covenant is being announced.  It’s like he’s saying “It’s time for the project of the New Creation to begin, and it begins here, with Jesus.”

Scholars don’t agree on the purpose of the dove ascending on Jesus, and what that may intend to mean. I believe that it’s meant to allude to 1) the Noah narrative, where the dove was a messenger of new beginnings (Gen. 8:8-12), and 2) the creation narrative, where God’s Spirit hovers over the waters right as he is about to bring forth creation ex nihilo (Gen. 1:2). The point, I think, is that God is now doing something NEW in Jesus. The project of New Creation is beginning in Jesus who is the Christ.

Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan is meant to signify this powerful new thing that God is doing in history. It is “unique moment in history: the beginning of a new epoch in salvation-history – the beginning, albeit in a restricted sense, of the End-time, the messianic age, the new covenant.”[2]

With regards to this narrative, NT Wright claims that “John the Baptist is playing Samuel to Jesus’ David,” and thus, Luke’s readers are given notice that “there is a new kingdom, a kingdom of Israel’s god, and that the young man now anointed by his cousin in the Jordan is the king through whom it is to be set up.”[3]
The baptism of Jesus signifies the beginning of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, Jesus the Messiah, empowered by the Spirit, is bringing forth the year of the Lord’s favor: good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, the recovering of sight to the blind, and liberty those who are oppressed (Lk 4:18-19, cf Isa 61:1-2).

It is likely that Luke’s frequent mention of the Holy Spirit (much more than any other Gospel) is put to use in order to remind his readers that God “gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (11:13), and may shed light on Luke’s intention to convey to the readers that now is the time of the new covenant, where God’s spirit is given to all flesh (C.F. Joel 2:28, Ez 33-36, Jer 36, Is 40-55).
The key here, is ALL flesh. This project is going to bring in the plan God had from the beginning, to make himself known to all the nations (cf Ez 36, Gen. 15, Jer 36). The allusion to Creation and the Noachic covenant points to God’s commitment to the whole of creation and serves to intensify the universal nature of God’s plan of salvation. It is likely that Luke intended the readers to recognize Jesus’ identification as the Messiah endowed with the Spirit in order to bring forth God’s eschatological program of salvation to all the nations. 
It makes sense that Luke, throughout his gospel account, focuses on the outcasts of society; women, the poor, tax collectors, samaritans, etc. The point, I think, is that the Holy Spirit is offered to all (11:13), just as forgiveness is offered to all (3:3, 24:47). The gift of the Holy Spirit, it seems; will lead to Prayer, Praise, and Prophecy (yes, three P’s… my homiletics teacher would be proud).  Through the Holy Spirit Jesus Promises Power (that’s got to be an A+)…and will eventually lead up to ….the day of Pentecost… (Okay I don’t know how this is happening right now)…
And finally it is on that day of Pentecost where the Spirit falls on all flesh. The New Covenant is materializing in a new and powerful way.
A little after Jesus’ baptism, he himself announces this New Thing that is happening, in him:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives

and recovering of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

19  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 

Amen.
 


[1] Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel B. Green and Scot Mcknight (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 342.

 


[2] James D.G. Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A re-examination of the New Testament Teaching on the Gift of the Spirit in Relation to Pentecostalism Today (London: SCM Press, 1970), 24.

 


[3] N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992), 379.