Weekly Bible Reflection
Luke: Signs of the Kingdom
The First Sunday of Epiphany
3 verses 15 – 17, 21 -22: " Baptism with Spirit and Fire"
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Share your thoughts on the role of the Holy Spirit and prayer in the life of your church and in your life as a Christian in society. You may want to share specific experiences.
A Window on the Text
In chapter 3, Luke tells us that the ‘word of God came to John’ (v2). The Baptist speaks of the need for a great national turning (v3) by submission to a baptism of repentance in the River Jordan. The people cannot rely on their Jewishness to save them. What matters is a commitment to radical change in thinking and lifestyle that will issue in forgiveness.
Luke focuses more on Jesus’ identity than on his baptism. John the Baptist makes clear that Jesus is far more important than he in the scheme of things. Jesus is the Messiah who will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire – he is the one who comes as judge. The descent of the Spirit on Jesus in Luke comes after his baptism and whilst he is praying. The Spirit comes to empower Jesus for his ministry. But there is also a strong sense of identity and of being loved by God in the words ‘you are my Son, the beloved’ (v22). Jesus willingly accepts the role he is given and places himself in solidarity with humanity.
Luke continues to emphasize the importance of prayer and the empowering of the Holy Spirit throughout his writing. After healing a leper Jesus withdraws to pray (5v16). He prays before choosing the Twelve (6v12). He prays prior to a time of questioning by his disciples (9v18) and prior to his transfiguration (9v28-29).
Jesus is filled with the Spirit during the time of intensive temptation in the desert (4v1f). When he enters the synagogue in Nazareth he claims to have the Spirit’s anointing (4v18). And in Acts, it is the Spirit that empowers the church for God’s mission (Acts 2 etc.).
As we begin 2010 it is good to be reminded of the importance of prayer and that the life and witness of the Christian community will only be effective if undertaken in the power of God’s Spirit.
Responding as a community
- What might national repentance look like today? Is it something that we should be praying for? What role should the church play in it?
- What does your baptism mean to you? What is the relationship between baptism in the Holy Spirit and baptism in water? (see Acts 8:14-17)
- How might we help people become more aware that God loves them?
- What steps might we take to deepen our life of prayer? As a community? As individuals?
- How might you as a church stand in solidarity with suffering humanity this year?
This could be an opportunity to renew baptism vows. Various forms are available.
Ask someone in the group to read these words by Henri Nouwan, in Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World (New York: Crossroad, 1992), pp. 30-3. We recommend people close their eyes as they listen.
“I have called you by name, from the very beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favour rests. I have moulded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb. I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step. Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch. I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst. I will not hide my face from you. You know me as your own as I know you as my own. You belong to me. I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover and your spouse. Wherever you are I will be. Nothing will ever separate us. We are one!”
Spend time in silent prayer and then conclude with the Lord’s Prayer.
- From the evidence it is likely that John the Baptist began his ministry in the Autumn of 27 or 28 AD. He was 30 years of age, the normal age when Levites began their public ministry. Jesus began his public ministry at the same age.
- Repentance means literally to "change one's mind or thinking after a time of reflection".
- Wheat was separated from chaff by throwing both up into the air with the winnowing fork. The heavier wheat would fall back down and the wind would blow the chaff away. Joel Green, in The Gospel of Luke, notes that ... ‘the language John uses actually presumes that the process of winnowing has already been completed. Consequently, all that remains is to clear the threshing floor, and this is what John pictures. This means that John's ministry of preparation is itself the winnowing, for his call to repentance set within his message of eschatological judgment required of people that they align themselves with or over against God's justice. As a consequence, the role of the Messiah is portrayed as pronouncing or enacting judgment on the people on the basis of their response to John.’ [p. 182]
- It is worth reading Acts 8 verses 14 – 17. Walter Brueggemann says : The candidates were convinced of the news of God in Christ; they were baptized and they received the spirit at the hands of the apostles. What happens to the church in baptism is what happens to Christ in baptism: submission to God’s intent and solidarity with the human community. See http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=magazine.article&issue=soj1001&article=wondrous-inexplicable-demanding-newness.
- See http://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20070101JJ.shtml for more commentary on the text.