I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.
West Side Story, the Sondheim-Bernstein breakthrough musical about urban gang life, kicks off in cool gear: “When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way, from your first cigarette to your last dying day.” There’s a tug of sadness beneath the bravado, however—a tang of wasted youth—that doesn’t lift until the next song, “Something’s Coming”. Tony, the Romeo figure, defies his limited circumstances in a burst of optimism: “Something’s coming. I don’t what it is, but it is going to be great. Around the corner or traveling down the river, come on, deliver to me!” As the disciples brace themselves for Christ’s momentary departure, they also face the prospect of becoming a group of rebels without a cause. But Jesus takes care to reorient their thinking. “Something’s coming,” He tells them in Luke 24.49.
Luke’s Gospel ends with the Ascension, recording Jesus’s final words as, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” In his sequel, The Acts of the Apostles, Luke repeats it as the vital bridge between Christ’s ministry and the formation of the Church, embellishing it slightly: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1.4-5) Clearly, Jesus is concerned the disciples will mistake His ascension as the period ending the last sentence of the story when, in fact, it’s a semicolon; there’s much more to tell. If they disband and resume their previous occupations, they’ll miss what’s about to happen. “Don’t go anywhere,” Jesus instructs them. “Stay here. Stay together. Something’s coming.”
A Power Source
Jesus has alluded to the Holy Spirit numerous times before this, yet the meaning of the promise apparently hasn’t stuck. His mentioning it here puzzles His followers. They assume His absence will be temporary and His directive to wait in Jerusalem for a few days indicates He’ll rejoin them soon to start a new phase in His ministry. “Is this when You’ll restore the kingdom to Israel?” they ask. (Acts 1.6) On this side of history, knowing what’s going to happen and why Jesus instructs the disciples to stay, their question sounds odd. At the time, though, it makes sense. Although Jesus has definitively triumphed over death, His resurrection hasn’t changed the political and religious landscape. Israel remains occupied by Roman forces. The legalists retain control of the Temple. His doctrine of love and forgiveness is more unpopular than ever. And the disciples are highly sensitized to their vulnerabilities as His associates.
Jesus’s reply to their question tips us off to the disciples’ anxieties. He tells them to leave the restoration of Israel to God, Who’ll take care of that in His own time. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This expands on the quote in Luke’s Gospel: “Stay… until you have been clothed with power from on high.” In His previous references to the Holy Spirit, Jesus calls It a Comforter, a Teacher, a Guide, and an Inspiration. But He explicitly describes It as a Power Source here to remedy His followers’ feelings of powerlessness. When the Holy Spirit comes, It will endow them with authority and strength to stand on their own, to take charge of Christ’s mission, to speak His message with boldness. Furthermore, they’ll spread the gospel “to the ends of the earth.” In essence, Jesus is saying this story is bigger than Israel—it’s global—and the power you’ll need to contribute to it will arrive in a matter of days.
Days of Promise
In anticipation of next Sunday’s Feast of Pentecost, when all of Christendom commemorates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we should regard this time as days of promise. Just as Advent focuses our thoughts on the miraculous gift of the Christ Child, the coming week affords us the opportunity to ponder the equally miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit. Exploring various aspects of Its nature and details leading up to Its delivery will deeply richen our appreciation of how It applies to our lives.
First, we should note Jesus identifies the Holy Spirit as a promise from God the Father. It comes to us and remains with us by divine pledge. And second, It is given to clothe us in power. The Holy Spirit mitigates our weaknesses and fears, enabling us to represent Christ to the world. Having followed Jesus this far, walking with Him, learning from Him, mourning His death, and rejoicing in His resurrection, it’s essential we stay, waiting and receiving the Father’s promise of power. The story of Jesus doesn’t end with His ascension. New chapters get written every day. When we accept God’s gift of the Holy Spirit we become part His story and our responsibility exceeds restoring order within our boundaries. The Holy Spirit’s power changes us, enabling us to change the world.
Accepting the gift of the Holy Spirit makes us part of Christ’s story.
(Tomorrow: The God of Hope)