Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
Whether someone follows Christ or not, the words above may be one of Jesus’ most famous sayings. “Do unto others,” is another top slogan of His tossed around by school teachers and Presidents, but given our country’s prosperity and consumerism one might think, “Ask and ye shall receive” are the white print on America’s black T-shirt. But what Jesus offers to us all is something far different than a proof text for the prosperity gospel. It’s the vehicle of transformation to make us like Him.
The World Bank lists the United States with the highest GDP in the world, more than three times the next countries listed, Japan and China. Within the U.S., the average white household has fifteen times the wealth of the average Latino or African-American household, according to a 2007 Survey from the Federal Reserve Board. Exclude home equity and tabulate only financial wealth, and white households have one hundred times that of their Latin or African-American neighbors.
But Jesus isn’t American or white, despite what my children’s Bible of the 1970s depicted, nor is He telling listeners to ask for more “stuff.” What He is telling us to ask for, according to Luke 11, is a gift far different than earthly riches or manufactured power. It is the Holy Spirit given to us so that we can make the lowly of this world raised up:
“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Lk 11:9-13)
Would it be fair to say that Jesus’ radical announcement of this gift is often lost on most of us? If you were handed a wrapped box and lifted the lid to find a coupon that said, “redeemable for the Holy Spirit,” what would you expect to happen once you got Him?
If you’ve been a post-Enlightenment Presbyterian for more than ten minutes, would it be a stretch to think this Spirit makes you look and act like Jesus—miracles and all? Or are these types of “signs of the Spirit” something the apostles did in Acts but only sweaty Pentecostals and TV evangelist shysters do today for show? As twenty-first century Christians in the U.S., might we all have to knock more the Holy Spirit’s door for a greater understanding?
When Jesus speaks in Matthew and Luke, the Holy Spirit was a rare bird, no pun intended. Previously, the Spirit was given only to judges, prophets, priests, and kings. So, think predominantly male and Jewish. There were exceptions, as the Spirit was given to 70 elders with Moses, along with artisans for the tabernacle and temple. King David’s military warriors were uniquely gifted with the Spirit, plus the few female prophetesses and judges mentioned in the Old Testament.
But here, Jesus is saying that our heavenly Father (also a rare concept for Jesus’ listeners) is so mind-blowingly generous, He gives the Holy Spirit to anyone who seeks Him. And this Spirit makes you new, forgiven, God’s child, loved, loving, and helps you understand and obey His word. He enlightens you to know how to judge, proclaim Jesus’ resurrection, be scorned. He also teaches you to share all you have with the poor, stop sinning, and abound in hope. He makes you a healer, wise, humble, born again, and gives eternal life.
You can be old or young, male or female. You can be Jewish. You can be Gentile. You can be rich or poor.
But before receiving this gift, Jesus’ listeners had to wait for one thing – His coming death, His shed blood, and resurrection – then the Spirit was theirs for the asking. But the question isn’t, “Can I have the Holy Spirit?” The question is, “Father, will you forgive me?” And for anyone who asks, he or she receives.
Some of you may have already asked for God’s forgiveness, but you may not know what the Holy Spirit is empowering you to do. Knock on His door. Pray with others to see what you’ve already received, and let us know what you find.