Then he (Jesus) led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hand, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them… (Luke 24:50-51)
Luke presents Jesus as a person of prayer.
Whether it is at his baptism, dealing with popularity, choosing leaders, or feeding 5000 people on the hillside, Jesus is praying. Throughout his gospel, Luke shows us that Jesus maintains his relationship with God through prayer. Now, at the end of his gospel, he has Jesus praying as he blesses his followers.
Luke also presents Jesus as being empowered and energized by the Holy Spirit. Jesus begins his public ministry with the words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me (or Christed me) to bring good news to the poor.”
Holy Spirit Power
This Holy Spirit power in Jesus is also the Holy Spirit power in the church. It is the power to move beyond the cowardice and hesitation to witness across the barriers that keep people separated from God’s love and one another. So, at the end of his gospel, Luke has Jesus preparing his followers to receive power to be his witnesses.
This connection between prayer and the Holy Spirit is unique in Luke. In John, Jesus is divine by nature. He does not need prayer. He comes from God and is going back to God.
He is aware of everything. There is no agony, no struggle, no Gethsemane.
Matthew has Jesus as the authoritative teacher of the Word of God. Jesus is the final authority in his teaching. Mark presents Jesus like an exorcist, constantly in contact with forces of evil.
But Luke has Jesus as a person of prayer. He is filled with the Spirit of God. The Spirit in Jesus is the same Spirit available to the church. The qualities of Jesus are the qualities of church.
In the gospels, there are no photos of Jesus, but four portraits of Jesus. It is in Luke’s portrait that we begin to understand why we are in the presence of God. We get an up close view of the Holy Spirit in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We begin to see that Jesus is available to us as the church.
And, we begin to understand that Holy Spirit power comes through prayer.
So, here we are at the end, or is it the beginning? “Then he (Jesus) led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hand, he blessed them.” Is this a prayer of benediction or is it a blessing to send the disciples into a new mission? Whether end or beginning, it is a good word. Jesus is calling down the blessing of God. He has prepared them and is saying, “Farewell.”
The Benediction is the final word, the final blessing. But the blessing is also the assurance of God’s favor and protection. It is also the promise of God’s grace and peace. Just as God instructed Moses to equip Aaron and his family to bless the Israelites, Jesus now blesses his followers.
Moses said, “Bless the people saying, ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.’”
And Jesus blessed his followers saying, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses…”
With his blessing our witness begins!