Full of the Holy Spirit and Led in the Wilderness
|"Christ in the Wilderness" by Ivan Kramskey|
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
They had been attending worship faithfully each week for about two months. Actively participating in two Bible studies each week, they just seemed to drink in everything, asking the most insightful questions. This young couple was the kind of prospective members that we pastors just dream about. “We think we’d like to join your church,” they said. “But before we do, we want to know just what you believe and teach. We’ve seen the summary on your website, but do you have a book or something more in depth that we could read?”
I could have chosen a number of books, including the Small Catechism or the Book of Concord, but I gave them a book called “Spirituality of the Cross,” by Gene Edward Veith, a summary of his own odyssey through the American religious wilderness that ended at the Lutheran Church.
Two days later they returned. “Pastor, we’ve read the book you sent with us, and we just can’t agree with some of it. We can’t, in good conscience, join, because we would like to become involved in teaching. We know that we would always have some level of conflict with what you’re teaching.”
Though it was disappointing, and I disagree with their conclusion, I could appreciate the importance they wished to place upon the truth. In this day, where so many people find doctrine unimportant, here was a couple that was trying to use that criteria to determine what church they should join. What I found hard to understand, however, was their final statement: “We’re really sorry to do this, because we really like your preaching and teaching. We can just tell that you’re full of the Holy Spirit.”
I never have been able to figure out how an honest seeker of Christian truth can disagree with a teaching, and yet admire the one who is teaching or preaching that doctrine because he is “full of the Holy Spirit.” The only way I can reconcile these two contradictory positions in this case is that the couples’ previous involvement in the Pentecostal movement led them to confuse emotion and enthusiasm for the presence and work of the Holy Spirit.
Which leads me to a few questions touched upon by our text: (1) What does it look like to be “full of the Holy Spirit”? (2) How do you know someone is “led by the Spirit”? (3) Why does it even matter?
In our text for today, Luke 4:1, the evangelist reports the events immediately following Jesus’ Baptism: “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.”
Included in this verse are two very important things for your everyday life. The first is that Jesus is full of the Spirit. The second is that this same Spirit now leads Jesus into the wilderness. Only Luke feels the need to explain to you that Jesus is “full of the Holy Spirit” after being baptized. Sts. Matthew and Mark make no mention of this detail, but Luke believes this is necessary for you and for your upcoming week, and so he places it emphatically into today’s Gospel. Luke wants you to know and to benefit personally from the news that after His Baptism Jesus is now “full of the Holy Spirit” as He is led off into the wilderness.
Probably one of the reasons why Luke took pains to tell you that Jesus is full of the Spirit is because Jesus does not look very spiritual after His Baptism. Yes, when Jesus was baptized, “He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming on Him,” but He did not build a nest or remain perched on Jesus’ head from that day forward. The visible image of the Holy Spirit’s presence at Jesus’ Baptism eventually disappeared. When Jesus left the Jordan, He looked and acted and felt the same way He did before He arrived. You could not tell, just by looking at the Man, that He was full of the Holy Spirit. While He languished in the lonely wilderness, Jesus probably could not feel the presence of the Holy Spirit within Himself, either. All He really felt was hungry and tempted.
So Luke takes pains in today’s Gospel to offer you assurances, as if to say, the lonely and hungry and exposed Man I am telling you about here? He is “full of the Holy Spirit.” The Man who feels the weight of His own human desires in this Gospel? He is “full of the Holy Spirit.” The Man who is here tempted in exactly every way that you are likewise tempted; the Man whose temptations only grow more difficult for Him as He moves forward through life and as the tempter continues to make every use of every opportunity from here on out? Yes, that Man is “full of the Holy Spirit.” It is almost as if St. Luke is saying to you, “You would never guess this by looking at this Man, but I assure you: Jesus did not merely have an experience of the Holy Spirit at His Baptism. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus and now remains upon Him and in Him as He is led into the wilderness.
Luke wants to press this point upon you because Luke knows that the Holy Spirit also came upon you and entered into you when you were baptized. Luke might also know, based on his own experiences and temptations, that you do not always look or feel especially spiritual. Stated another way, Luke knows it is probably much easier for you to identify the sensations of temptation and sin and hardship in your life than it is for you to identify the presence of the Holy Spirit. So Luke emphasizes the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit in your life by pointing you to the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit in Christ’s life. “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.”
How can this good news benefit and serve you every day of the coming week and beyond? Consider doing what Luther suggests: each morning when you wake up, make the sign of the cross upon yourself and say aloud to yourself, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This is the same sign that was made upon you and these are the same words spoken over you when you were baptized, whether your baptism happened last year or last century.
After you make the sign of the cross upon yourself, pray the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer—just as these things likewise were prayed at your Baptism. Then go off to school or to work or to do whatever it is you do during the day. Go in complete confidence. Proceed with the certainty and assurance that you are “full of the Holy Spirit” in the same manner that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit in today’s Gospel.
Think of each and every day as your own personal return up from the Jordan, your Baptism, just as Jesus returned from the Jordan in this Gospel. Think of each and every day as the day during which God’s Spirit faithfully rests upon you and fills you, in the same way that Luke says of Jesus here: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.”
Luke wants you to think this way about Jesus because he wants you to think this way about yourself, not as having the gift and the presence of the Holy Spirit once in a while like at your Baptism or only during worship. But Luke wants you to think of yourself as having the full presence of the Holy Spirit within you also during the dark times and trying times and tempting times and exhausting times of your life. Because of your Baptism, you are now full of the Holy Spirit, even when you do not feel or look as though He is in you.
Now take a careful look at what the Holy Spirit does for Jesus. I’ll bet Luke wants you to know and to believe that the exact same indwelling Holy Spirit does exactly the same thing for you: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.”
This experience in the wilderness was no picnic for Jesus. He is fully God, vested with all divine power and authority, and yet He exerts none of that power to serve Himself. While the Holy Spirit leads Him along into the wilderness, Jesus suffers hunger, exposure, loneliness, temptation, and every other human thing that can be experienced in this hostile, fallen world—this “wilderness,” if you will.
Jesus’ divinity offers Him no protection against these things. He only has His Baptism, His pocket full of Bible verses, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus cannot feel or see, but whom He must only believe is with Him. The joy and the presence of the Holy Spirit seems to be so far away from Jesus that Luke emphasizes that the Spirit is indeed present, despite what Jesus is feeling and experiencing, or how it would look to any outside observer.
Jesus has not arrived in this wilderness accidentally, either. Although His presence cannot be seen or felt, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into this dark place. This wilderness is exactly what God the Spirit intends for Jesus. This hardship, which focuses Jesus’ eyes upon the Word and promises of God, is precisely what the Holy Spirit wants for Jesus. This demonstration of God the Father’s faithfulness to Jesus—even in the midst of temptation and trial—is what the Holy Spirit wants Jesus to learn. This wilderness is a good and blessed thing for Jesus. This is why Luke explains that Jesus is “led by the Spirit” to this place.
It is purposeful and necessary in God’s plan—and surely also in Satan’s—that this confrontation take place immediately. Satan, the fallen angel, the “prince of this world,” has to do his utmost to sidetrack God’s saving action in its very genesis. Satan had succeeded with Adam, and he surely aspires to succeed also with the “second Adam.” Just one sin by Jesus, and no one would be left to fulfill the demands of God’s Law. Every soul would be lost to hell.
What happens in the wilderness is an integral part of Jesus’ mission on earth. Jesus’ suffering and death are, of course, necessary for the salvation of the world. But just as necessary is His perfect keeping of God’s Law, His “active obedience.” God’s Law is serious and binding, never abolished, and it has to be kept. Just as He comes to pay on the cross for your failure to obey, so also Jesus comes to obey for you, to do for you what you would not and could not do for yourself. To exchange His righteousness for your sin, His Life for your death.
Jesus wins the victory over the devil by using the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. He does what Adam and the people of Israel had failed to do, what you have failed to do. Like you, Jesus is tempted in every way (Hebrews 4:15); but there is a big, important difference: He is not overcome!
In doing so, Jesus supplies you with the example of how you can use the Word of God to win victories over the temptations that come to you from Satan. But we dare not leave it there. Jesus as a moral example, a model, does not save you. Christ the Substitute, the One who keeps the Law perfectly, the One who obeys His heavenly Father’s will willingly, the One who gives up His holy precious blood for you, the One who gives His innocent life into suffering and death in exchange for your sin and disobedience, He is the One who saves you.
See how Luke has layered blessing upon blessing for you in this Gospel. He begins by assuring you that Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit, so that you yourself may be assured that you also are full of the Holy Spirit. Now Luke wants you to know that the Holy Spirit deliberately and purposefully leads Jesus into the wilderness for you. You can probably guess why Luke wants you to know this: Luke wants you to see and believe from this Gospel that the Holy Spirit has likewise led you to where you are today.
No, you probably do not feel the Spirit taking you by the hand and leading you (or dragging you) through your day. Jesus likely didn’t feel it, either, soaked as He was in the fullness of your humanity, loaded down with the world’s sin. No, you probably do not feel especially spiritual as you struggle with your family, your co-workers, or with the other constant obstacles that spring up in your path. Jesus did not feel especially spiritual either. All He had was Bible verses for His defense. No, you probably do not feel terribly strong every single day. You might feel weakened by the constant effort. You might feel empty. You might feel hungry for something that you cannot identify, much less satisfy.
That is precisely why St. Luke has written you today’s Gospel in the manner that he has! “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.”
Because of God’s miracle of Baptism, you are within your rights to reword this sentence in today’s Gospel so that it speaks more personally about you. In place of Jesus’ name, insert your own. You might even write it in on a piece of paper and stick it on the bathroom mirror, or pack it in your lunch: “I, John (or Jane or whoever), full of the Holy Spirit, returned to my Baptism and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.”
You might not feel the Holy Spirit as you leave worship today and head out into the wilderness this week, but He is with you nonetheless, poured out upon you in Holy Baptism, breathed into you by the Word of Christ’s absolution. Because He is with you, you now possess all of His benefits and gifts—not the least of which are forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, through the work of the Holy Spirit and for the sake of Christ and His perfect obedience and atoning death, you are forgiven for all of your sins.In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.