"If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?" NASU
In Luke 11:1-13 Jesus was teaching His disciples about prayer. The disciples asked, "'Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.'" At this point Jesus gave them the Lord's prayer. This was a model for them to follow.
Then, Jesus told the disciples a parable. The friend of a man came to him at midnight asking for food. Assuming the friend persists, the man will give him the food. The point is that we should be persistent in keeping on asking. Jesus made another point. If a son comes to his father asking for a fish, the father will not give him a snake. Nor, if the son asks for an egg, the father will not give him a scorpion.
Jesus applies his teaching to the gift of the Holy Spirit. The parallel verse in Matthew 7:11 does not mention the Holy Spirit. According to Matthew, Jesus said that the Father would give "what is good" to those who ask Him. It may be that Luke regarded the Holy Spirit as inclusive of other gifts. In any case he focuses on the Holy Spirit here.
Several key points are evident in this story. These points will provide some background for us as we apply the story to our walk with Christ today.
First, Jesus was speaking to His disciples. Jesus had been preaching (Luke 4:43; 8:1; and 9:11) the kingdom of God. He had been healing people (Luke 5:17) and forgiving sins (Luke 5:23 and 7:48). In addition he had sent his disciples out to preach and heal (Luke 9:2; 9:60). With regard to the disciples, the names of those sent out (Luke 10:20) had been recorded in heaven.
Second, the Father gives the Holy Spirit in answer to persistent prayer. As Rea (p. 123) points out, "In the Greek text in verses 9 and 10, the verbs 'ask,' 'seek' and 'knock,' as well as the verb 'ask' in verse 13, are in the present tense; this suggests that we are to keep on asking, to be as persistent as the man who went to his friend's home at midnight to get bread."
Third, the disciples need not be afraid of what God would give them. Our heavenly Father will be much more righteous in giving good gifts than earthly fathers. Thus, those who ask the heavenly Father will receive Him.
This passage gives rise to many of the questions that deal with the reception of the Spirit. As with many crucial passages, this one usually is interpreted within the overall framework of one's doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Without attempting to give all the views that surround this passage, we will deal briefly with some of the issues.
First, what dimension of the Spirit's presence and work was in consideration? Here, Luke is not talking about the Spirit's work in salvation. Throughout his gospel, Luke deals with the Spirit inspiring prophetic speech and empowering Jesus. Jesus, in turn, shared that power with the disciples. Although Luke does not say how inclusive the gift of the Spirit is, the idea of empowerment harmonizes with the rest of what he says about the Spirit.
Second, to what age does this teaching of Jesus apply? The truth Jesus taught here transcends the ages. It applied under the old covenant, during the ministry of Christ, and still applies under the new covenant. In all ages, and with all disciples, the Spirit of empowerment is needed.
The disciples were still living under the provisions of salvation prior to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. As many hold, the presence of Christ brought the kingdom of God into existence in a new way. Even so, the new covenant era had not been entered. During the time when Jesus ministered, as well as later, the disciples needed the power of the Spirit.
A covenantal transition occurred in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Today, we as believers have been regenerated by the Spirit. At the time we came to faith, we received the Spirit, but this does not preclude the need for the ongoing receiving of the Spirit. As stated above, we keep on asking. The implication is that the Father keeps on giving the Spirit, and we keep on receiving.
Third, who is eligible to receive the Spirit? Jesus suggests here that all disciples are eligible. Keep in mind that the emphasis of Luke is on the empowerment of the disciples. Under the Old Testament approach, the empowering Spirit came upon chosen people. As the new covenant era dawned, this empowerment became available to all who followed the Lord.
George M. Flattery
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