A Gift on a Thread

I want to chase a thread through Luke’s writings. I began to notice it as I’ve been reading Acts but it starts in Luke’s gospel. The thread is the promise of the Father. It starts in Luke 24:49 when Jesus promises to send “the promise of my Father upon you” to the disciples. They are to wait in Jerusalem till this promise is given and then they will be “clothed with power from on high.” What is this promise? At this point it isn’t clear but it sounds pretty good!

The next mention of the promise is in Acts 1:4 where the previous announcement is repeated but we also get more of a clue as to what this promise is. Again, they’re told to stay in Jerusalem and “wait for the promise of the Father.” But this time Jesus goes a bit farther and tells them that they will be “baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” The promise of the Father is the Holy Spirit.

We have gained a bit of insight into the promise so far. The promise is the coming of the Spirit and when He comes, He will cloth the disciples with power. We don’t know what that will look like yet but again, it sounds pretty good so far.

We know what happens next in Acts. The Spirit comes upon the church, all 120 of them, as they wait in an upper room in Jerusalem and he does come with power! There is the sound of a might wind and tongues of flame land on each of the disciples and they speak might words in other languages (Acts 2:1-4). Is that the arrival of the promise of the Father? That is how Peter explains the events of the day against the theory someone put forward that the disciples are drunk. In Acts 2:33 he says that Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, he received the promise of the Holy Spirit and he poured out that promise on the church.

So who is this promise for? Is it just for the Apostles? Peter extends the offer of the promise to others. In Acts 2:39 he says “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off.” But Peter qualifies that list of recipients. He says that the promise is for “everyone whom the Lord God calls to himself.”

At this point a few things happen. First, we’re not sure exactly what Peter means by those “the Lord God calls to himself.” There is a general call of the gospel that goes out to everyone. Does that mean that everyone in the crowd who Peter preached to received this gift? They heard the gospel so in a sense they were called. That doesn’t seem to fit. Later in Acts 2 we get a head count of those who responded to the call it is 3,000; a huge number but probably not the entire crowd. So we are going to keep looking for a way to know who God calls to himself and gives this promise. The other thing that happens is that “the promise of the Father” isn’t used to describe the arrival of the Holy Spirit on people any more in Acts. Now that the Spirit has come Luke just refers to Him but not the promise. We can see this transfer occur in Acts 3:28 & 29. In verse 38 Peter says that if they’ll respond by repenting and being baptized then God will give them the “gift of the Holy Spirit” then he says “For the promise is for you…” So as we continue chasing this thread we need to look for the Spirit and not the word “promise” any more.

Then next stop in this thread is Acts 5:32 where Peter once again explains who God will give the Spirit to. He says that “God has given [the Holy Spirit] to those who obey him.”

So let’s gather all of this up. God the Father promised to give God the Holy Spirit to people. When Jesus rose from the grave and ascended to heaven he received the promise and gave Him to a group of people. The way Peter defines it, these people are those who God calls, who repent, who are baptized, and who obey God. That is who the promise is for. That group could be the crowd in Jerusalem for Pentecost, it could be the Jews in Judea, and it could be people in Corinth and Ephesis and Colossea. The way to tell is to see who responds to the general call of the gospel. The promise they receive is the Holy Spirit. The promise is not for rebellious people, be they Jewish or gentiles.

What about Peter’s statement that the promise is for “your children”? Some take that to mean that the children of those who believe are part of the New Covenant. But does that fit with the thread we’ve seen? Only if those children repent and obey and are baptized, just like everyone else.

The point of this is that for those who obey, God has promised to give them the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Triune Godhead who will fit them with power that comes from “on high” or from God himself. What a tremendous gift. We can have salvation in Jesus’ name (Acts 4:12) but we also get fitted with divine power to accomplish his purposes in our lives as well.

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