Please read Joel 2:28-32 and Acts 2: 14-21, and then pray; Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me, that I might live to exalt and honour Christ my Lord and spread the fragrance of the knowledge of God and his love everywhere I go.  Amen.

Once the prophet Joel had declared renewal and restoration for the land of Israel (2:18-27), he then proceeded to announce that there would be a time of unprecedented spiritual renewal in and among the people of the Lord. He boldly declares;

And afterwards (in the last days Acts 2:17), I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Joel spoke of a time in the future when God would liberally pour out an unprecedented, ongoing measure of the Holy Spirit upon his people, the sons and daughters of Israel and the Gentiles who called upon God for mercy. (2:32) Just as the land would be thoroughly renewed by God “sending abundant showers, autumn and spring rains”, (2:23) so the people themselves would be spiritually renewed and empowered by this downpour of the Spirit of the living God. In the future, the Spirit would be poured out from the heavens (sent from the Father and the Son), just as the rains would now pour down from the skies to renew and refresh the land, and bring it to abundant life and fruition once again.

Joel has now reached the highest peak in his prophecy to his repentant people. It is this special part of the prophecy that reaches out into the distant future and becomes fulfilled on the glorious day of Pentecost. (Acts 2) This is why Joel’s prophecy is so very significant in the history of God’s people and in the overall history of salvation. Joel prophesies the Pentecost event! Pentecostal showers of the Spirit will set alight the mission of the Church to the “ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) The rains will come and then the spiritual harvest will multiply. The word of God will increase and spread. (Acts 6:7)

Just a few weeks after the mighty resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the apostle Peter explains to the great crowds standing before him on that historic Pentecost day, (Acts2:14 f), that what they are now witnessing in Jerusalem with their own eyes and ears, is the fulfilling of the Joel’s ancient prophecy. (Acts 2:16f) This is the pouring out of the Spirit that was solemnly promised by God! The “I will pour out my Spirit” spoken by Joel has now become, “See, I am pouring out my Spirit as promised”. Peter, inspired by the Spirit to stand up and preach, is explaining that this which the gathered crowds are now witnessing, is that which was promised through the prophet Joel. The rain has at last come. The Spirit is now being poured out immeasurably. This is the day that the Lord has planned and made! Rejoice and be glad!

During this series of sermons on Joel, I have had cause to use the word unprecedented several times. The locust plague that devasted Israel had been unprecedented. (Joel 1:2) Covid 19 and its impact on the entire world has been unprecedented. The restoration of the land which God was now bringing after the repentance of the people would be unprecedented. (Joel 2: 25-27). Now there is a promise of an unprecedented amount of the presence and power of Holy Spirit which would fall on the people of the Lord.

The idea of the Spirit being “poured out” obviously speaks of abundance and magnitude. To use the analogy of rain once more, this is going to be a mighty downpour! It will be an unprecedented time when the Spirit comes upon “all people”. In the OT era, when the Spirit came down, the Spirit fell upon certain individuals chosen by God for specific tasks and ministries. This Spirit came down and anointed kings like Saul and David, prophets like Isaiah and Joel, judges like Samson, Gideon and Samuel. However, in the last days, the Spirit would come upon “all God’s people”. Each child of God would receive and be baptised with the Spirit. In this sense, the outpouring would be unprecedented. As we look at the NT and the era after Pentecost, we see the Spirit coming in wave upon wave upon all God’s people as the gospel is taken to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8) The Spirit initially falls in Jerusalem at Pentecost upon the 120 gathered in the upper room. (Acts 2: 1-4) Then the Spirit comes upon the Samaritans in a similar fashion. (Acts 8: 14-17). Next the Spirit rains down upon a significant gathering of Gentiles in the home of Cornelius to the astonishment of Peter. (Acts 10: 44-46). This becomes the pattern. As Peter preached and promised on the day of Pentecost, the day on which Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled;

Repent and be baptised, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you (all of you) and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call. (Acts 2:38-39)

God’s plan and promise was this. After his Son had risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, the Spirit would be sent or “poured out” on all who repented of their sin and trusted in Christ for forgiveness and salvation. Every believer without exception would be given the gift of the Spirit. The Spirit would come to live in them all as Jesus promised. (John 14:16-17) The Counsellor and Comforter would come and take up residence in their lives. The Spirit would cause them to become “new creations” in Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:17) Every believer’s body would become a temple, a dwelling place for the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 6: 19-20). Spirit filled Christians would be joined together through the fellowship of the Spirit, and together they would form an ever-growing holy temple occupied and empowered by the Spirit of the living God. (Ephesians 2:21). In that sense, the Holy Spirit’s presence would be the distinguishing mark of the follower of Christ. (Romans 8:9)

This was new and unprecedented. This was the new covenant which prophets such as Joel and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 36:26-27) foresaw. The Spirit graciously poured out and given to ALL BELIEVERS. This is essentially what makes a person a Christian – the active presence and power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Do you have the Spirit? Have you received the promised Holy Spirit? The person of the Holy Spirit is the key to Christian life and living for anyone – for you and for me. The biblical scholar Gordon Fee puts it like this;

The Spirit as an experienced and empowering reality was for Paul and his churches the key player in all of Christian life, from beginning to end…. The Spirit covered the whole waterfront: power for life, growth, fruit, gifts, prayer, witness and everything else.

The other thing linked to this of course was that there would be no discrimination at all in the distribution of the Spirit. Women and men would receive the gift. Son’s and daughters would be rained upon. (Joel 2:28-29). The Spirit would rain upon all age groups, the young and the old. Children could receive the Spirit. I was filled with the Spirit when I was 15. All social classes of people would receive the Spirit. Wealthy influential believers and slaves would receive this special divine gift. It is believed that something like 80% of the Church in Ephesus was made up of slaves and servants. Yet all in this Church were challenged by Paul to be “filled with the Spirit”. (Ephesians 5:18) They were all part of the temple filled with the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:21). They were all marked by and sealed with the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 1:13-14) No exceptions!

And it wasn’t simply that all believers would receive and inherit the Holy Spirit as new born children of God, they would all also receive gifts given by the Spirit – especially and notably the gift of prophesy.

Joel stresses that “sons and daughters will prophesy”. In other words, all believers will be empowered and enabled by the Spirit to be witnesses – verbal witnesses of God’s goodness and love in Jesus. All would be used by God to testify to their salvation. All would be used and inspired by the Spirit to share the good news of God’s kingdom and God’s anointed King – Jesus. The NT emphasises again and again two realities within the life of all Spirit- filled believers. Firstly, they are all called to be witnesses. Secondly, they all receive and must use their God-given gifts to build up the Church and the mission of the Church. Moses himself had longed for this day. (Numbers 11:29)

God wants to use you as a witness of his Son’s resurrection! God wants to inspire your speech! God equips you and all believers with gifts that contribute to the building up of the Church and the strengthening of God’s mission to the whole world. Are you a living witness? Do you prophesy? Do you use your Spirit- given gifts for God’s glory and honour? Is Joel’s prophecy being worked out in your life and witness? Every true Christian has a binding living link to Joel’s ancient prophecy!

The Spirit comes to live in us for many great reasons. His presence makes all the difference. His life and presence and power transform weak vessels into channels of God’s resurrection power and life.

The Spirit brings power to all Christian witness. Believers “receive power” (dunamis / dynamite) when the Spirit comes upon them. Explosive power and love for witness, evangelism and ministry, is God’s gift for his new community of the Spirit. (Acts 1:8) WE now live in the era of the Spirit; we live in the last days; we live in the eschatological era between the two advents of Jesus Christ. The Spirit is sent upon us as it was upon Christ to bring “good news to the poor” and “release to the captives”. (Luke 4:18f). The fulfilling of Joel’s great prophecy concerning the pouring out of the Spirit, kick-started the age which leads up to the final great and glorious day of the day – the day of Christ’s glorious return and coming Kingdom. (Joel 2:13) And in this period of time known as the last days, the Church’s main task is to take the gospel to all nations before the end comes (Matthew 24:14, 28:18-20). Our great commission is clear. Share the gospel with all people. This is not only the era of the Spirit’s work and power, it is critically the era where people must repent, when they must “call upon the name of the Lord” for salvation and deliverance. (Joel 2:32) As the apostle Peter wrote;

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

As Joel has said, the day of the Lord is great and it is near (1:15, 2:11), and the Church must be active in mission up until the dawning of that day. But the task can only be done with and in the power of the Holy Spirit. How else can the gospel penetrate all nations? How else can people be changed and brought into God’s kingdom from the kingdom of darkness? Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty. (Zechariah 4:6) The apostle Paul stressed to the Thessalonians;

Our gospel came to you not simply with words, BUT ALSO with power, with THE HOLY SPIRIT and with deep conviction.  (1 Thessalonians 1:5)

What you essentially have in Joel’s prophecy is a description of revival. Revival is predominantly a massive and unprecedented sovereign outpouring of the Spirit upon God’s repentant people, who then are charged and inflamed by the Spirit’s power, so that they are signally used to spread the fire of the gospel to a spiritually dry and desolate nation or group of people. How we need such a revival in our time, in our day. How we need God to stretch forth his hand and send forth his light and truth in the power of his Spirit. How we need the Spirit to blaze through this land as he has done before in generations gone by. We may have had thunderstorms and torrential showers in the south of England recently, which caused serious flooding, but we need a great outpouring of the Spirit of God to fall upon the entire nation – north, south, east and west. Come, Holy Spirit! When God promises “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh”, we need to seek that reality for our nation and neighbourhood through persistent prayer today and every day!

And that same Spirit who ignites and empowers and enables all Christian mission and evangelism also brings the most wonderful inner renewal and refreshing to each believing heart and life. As we have sung today, those in Christ “are changed from glory into glory till in heaven we take our place.” (Charles Wesley). Though outwardly we waste away through ageing and natural decay, inwardly we are being renewed like a rain drenched land, every day in the lead up to being glorified before God. (2 Corinthians 3:16-18) The Spirit himself does this inner work of renewal and prepares us for eternal glory. He is passionate about our holiness! He is Holy Spirit!

And that same Spirit guarantees our redemption and place in heaven. His presence in us is the down payment of the glory to come. The Spirit is the first fruits; the full harvest is yet to come – but it is guaranteed and pledged by God. We need have no doubts about this. Pentecost was a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest. Likewise, the Spirit living within us provides us with a living and real foretaste of heaven and eternal life. (2 Corinthians 1: 21-22, Ephesians 1:13-14). The Spirit makes real the presence and promises of Jesus. The Spirit makes friendship with God dynamic and living and transformational. The Spirit makes living for Christ in the last days not only possible, but gloriously hope-filled and enriched by the love of God in every way. His Spirit is with us and in us and upon us!

Thank you, O my Father, for giving us your Son, and leaving your Spirit till the work on earth is done!

Revd Peter J Clarkson (1.8.21)