Another characteristic trait of Luke’s Gospel is his emphasis on the Holy Spirit. Of course, we see this most clearly in Acts, volume two of the set, but there have been several time already where mention of the Holy Spirit has been made when it was not in Matthew or Mark.
The adult John was clearly a prophet, one who spoke necessary words even if they were confrontational, even if they would get him killed one day. (I noticed today that verses 4-6 were first spoken by Isaiah, who tradition says was sawn in two; then John the Baptist, who was beheaded; then Martin Luther King Jr. in his “I have a dream” speech, who was assassinated. People don’t usually like prophets.) John came preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins and offered a water baptism that brought this to one’s life. Yet he also says Jesus will do more than simply offer repentance and baptism for forgiveness.
To all of them John responded: “I am baptizing you with water. But someone is coming who is stronger than I am. I don’t deserve to untie his sandal-strap. He will baptize you with the holy spirit and with fire.” (3:16)
The thing that was new with Jesus was not baptism, it was the gift of the Holy Spirit offered to all who would follow him and come into Christ through Christian baptism. Baptism was the ritual; the Holy Spirit was the power and the result. Even forgiveness was available through John’s baptism; it was the Spirit that was missing. Remember Acts 19 (also written by Luke) where this was precisely the issue with a group of people baptized by John but who were missing the Holy Spirit? To punctuate the point, in this chapter Luke includes Jesus’ own baptism in which the Holy Spirit comes upon him.
A life with forgiveness is wonderful, but we are destined to end right back where we were before. We would be a people obsessed with forgiveness because of our permanent fallen state. What we need is empowerment to become something better than what we presently are. That is the importance of the gift of the Holy Spirit. God not only forgives us, He empowers us by that Spirit to live a life that is progressively more holy and capable than it was before.
I wonder if sometimes we are guilty of still only preaching “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (3:3). We emphasize the need to be washed clean of sin. We encourage each other to turn from sin. And, yes, we become obsessed with forgiveness because we have missed the part that we can actually become something different than an incapable sinner. Acts 2:38, a verse ultra-familiar to many of us here, says:
Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Have we forgotten about the last part? And if so, are we missing the most important part? Are we missing the one unique characteristic of Jesus’ baptism, the one part that is essential to becoming God’s people in a fallen world, the Holy Spirit?
I think so.