The End of An Era – The Start of A New Era
It’s pretty well accepted that Luke is the author of the Gospel which carries his name and the author of the Book of the Acts. Luke wasn’t a disciple of Jesus. We don’t meet him until the 16th Chapter of Acts, a book he himself authored. He was Greek, not a Jew. As such he is the only non-Jewish author in the New Testament. As a traveling evangelist with Paul, it is appropriate that he takes the good news of Jesus Christ into Europe. Most of his ministry was in eastern Greece. Conservative scholarship says that Acts was written around AD 64. Conservative scholarship also says The Gospel of Luke was written around AD 90 and 100. That is to say that Acts, what we are told is a sequel to the Gospel, was actually written first. But this actually makes sense.
The Gospel is part one of what some suggest was intended to be a three volume work of which we have only the first two installments. It builds on the biblical history of God’s dealing with humanity found in the Old Testament and shows God’s promises to Israel being fulfilled in Jesus and how the salvation promised to Israel and accomplished by Jesus is extended to all humanity. He presents Christianity as a legitimate form of worship sufficient to meet the spiritual needs of a world empire like that of Rome.
As there is a period of Israel’s development and then a period marked by the life and ministry of the Jewish Messiah, Jesus. Luke says there is also a period of the church as a distinct phase of salvation history. That has important consequences for how Luke interprets the teachings of Jesus. He shifts the emphasis from the expectation of an imminent escape from this world to day to day concerns of the Christian community in the world. He is concerned to present Jesus as the model of Christian life and piety in, what was to his mind, the next great period of salvation history, the period of the church.
The prologue to the Book of Acts clarifies the scope of his Gospel which was the period of the Messiah, Jesus. He writes: “I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven….” In the prologue to his Gospel Luke characterizes himself as a scholar who, while not being an eyewitness himself, researched the oral and written stories of the life and ministry of Jesus that were in circulation in order to write a connected narrative of that era.
We know the beginning of that period quite well. It’s all about Herod and Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, John and Jesus. We know about the shepherds and angels, Simeon and Anna and that Jesus didn’t begin his work until he was thirty years old.
We’re well acquainted with the calling of the disciples, Jesus’ parables and sermons on the mountain, on the plain, from the boat. We are familiar with the story of the passion from the upper room, to the garden, to the court yard to Golgotha. We celebrate the resurrection story and then, for some reason we dispense with following Luke’s outline. We jump to Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit and with it the birth of the Church and its missionary enterprise which is story told in the Book of Acts.
The scope of Luke’s Gospel was from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven. In our great desire to keep Jesus as the focus of our faith pilgrimage we conveniently skip over the conclusive fact that Jesus left the building!
The Gospel ends this way: Luke 24:44-53 50Then he (Jesus) led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Jesus had explained it. He said it needed to happen, his leaving. And, he said, his leaving was a good thing. He had to leave so the Holy Spirit could come. We find in John 14: 15”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. And two chapters later we read where Jesus says “it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you
So we come to the conclusion of Luke’s Gospel and this is what he tells us: .
4While staying with them, he (Jesus) ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
He told them to wait for the promise of the Father. What promise was that? Luke has Peter to quote Joel 2:28-29 in Acts 2, immediately following the Spirit-baptism. “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel. ‘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.’”
In Luke’s eleventh chapter Jesus says: “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.” One commentator says that the 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 fulfilled by what happened on the Day of Pentecost. Luke makes the general assurance of answered prayer into a promise of the Father to supply the Holy Spirit. There are a few ancient manuscripts of Luke which have a notably different reading of the Lord’s Prayer. Instead of saying “Thy kingdom come…” it reads “Thy Spirit come upon us and sanctify us.” That may have been the original before copyists decided to bring Luke into conformity with the other Gospels.
Luke has Jesus instructing his disciples, actually Luke’s readers, to pray for Christ’s Spirit to take its place in their lives. He built this right into the Lord’s Prayer, so that every time the people in his community prayed they would ask for the Holy Spirit . Imagine that. Every time we pray we pray for the Holy Spirit that we might be more Christ like in character, less selfish and more selfless, less prejudiced and more open the changes in our lives.
Jesus’ coming into the world fulfilled the expectations of Old Testament salvation history. Jesus’ leaving the world opens up the period of salvation history in which Christ’ spirit is poured out on all flesh. In John 16 Jesus says to his disciples , 7Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. 12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth;
The end of an era – the beginning of a new era. That is Luke’s vision. The version of what’s called the Lord’s prayer found in Luke 11 goes like this: The disciples ask “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name. Your Spirit come upon us and sanctify us. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
God of all creation, may your Spirit come upon us and make us clean.
God of compassion, may your Spirit come upon us to make us whole.
God of forgiveness, may your Spirit come upon us that we may be able to forgive.
God of reconciliation, may your Spirit come upon us that we may live in unity.