Joel 2: 23-28; Acts 1: 1-5; 2: 1-8
There is something that we must admit to ourselves as we read our Bibles: there were many groups—and there still are many groups—that claimed that the Day of the Lord was near; even imminent. John, in Revelation, heard Jesus say, “Behold I am coming soon!” But more than 500 years earlier, the prophet Joel thought the Day of the Lord—that included the judgments of God—was near too! And as I said in May, we have plenty of contemporary authors and preachers who claim the Day of the Lord when Jesus returns is soon too! Even the Apostle Paul thought Jesus would return soon. What we might want to ask the Biblical writers, and Jesus himself, is “What does ‘soon’ mean to you?” Clearly lots of ink, and prayers, and hopes have been spent on this topic. Today we will find some followers of Jesus trying to connect an early 6th century B.C. prophet’s words with an event happening in Jerusalem around 30 A.D.! Let’s take some time to explore the stories of Bible readers trying to connect the dots in the Bible.
Professor Jacob M Myers, who once was a Bible Commentator and Senior Lecturer at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, wrote this about the Old Testament book of Joel:
The central teaching of Joel is that the Day of the Lord is at hand.(3:13-14) or that it is rapidly approaching. The locust plague with its accompaniments is a sure sign that the great and terrible Day is near. [It reminded people of how God acted decisively during the Exodus, making Pharaoh free the Hebrew people.] …For the earlier prophets—Amos and Zephaniah—the day of the Lord was an evil Day, sweeping away everything before it, like the Flood in the days of Noah. For Joel, it was a day of both judgment and salvation. The constant nearness of the Day, as viewed by Joel is also a feature of the New Testament ….The Day is always near, the harvest ripe, the kingdom of heaven at hand. [The Layman’s Bible Commentary, Volume 14, 1959, p. 73-74]
The guidance to “Be ready!” is probably the most pertinent guidance for Christians, “for He will come at an unexpected hour.” Nevertheless, people often have a knee-jerk reaction to incidents that seem supernatural, mysterious, or prophetic. As planes crashed into building after building on 9/11, I heard people cry out that it was the Day of the Lord. It wasn’t. As we have just honored the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the horrific three months of Allied forces finally forcing Hitler’s armies to surrender in France—I wonder if the blood, the bombs, and the combat might have caused some to think it was like the Day of the Lord? D-Day began some decisive and necessary days of reckoning for freedom loving peoples. Another frightful event, concocted by Orson Wells, was his famous radio broadcast “The War of the Worlds” when, in spite of an announcement that it was a play, made people across America think that the earth was being attacked by creatures from outer space! In our day, many of us get understandably unnerved when we hear what sounds like gunshots. On Friday at church I heard what I thought could have been gunshots coming from the kitchen. What I found was our Custodian stepping on bubble wrap with his foot. We are in times of heightened awareness! Imagine all the times before when people thought we were being invaded, or thought Jesus was coming again. Some called those times “Armageddon,” the end of the world as we know it. Today let’s look at something cataclysmic that was good!
The Apostle Peter, on a momentous day in Jerusalem, started his proclamation by quoting Joel. That might seem like a stretch, but it wasn’t. Jew after Jew had learned the Hebrew Bible. They were as infatuated and engrossed by the amazing and terrifying parts of it such as in Daniel, Ezekiel, and Joel, like people in our day quote from terrifying novels and films. Many of us get inspired by our heroes—like pride in our military personal, or in patriots who created our country, or in biblical heroes like Moses, Judges like Deborah, or Apostles like Peter. To inspire others the way Peter quoted Joel, some in our day have quoted the strong words of Julia W. Howe, who wrote them all the way back in 1861: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; he is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword, His truth is marching on.” Wow. Those words, like the words of Joel, have gotten the attention of people for generations. Joel said [Watch for these things to happen:] “My Spirit will be poured out on all generations. Sons and daughters will start to proclaim the word of the Lord, and will give warnings about the coming of the Lord; old men will begin to hope for a new tomorrow, including a different world for their children; and young men will begin to have clearer visions about the way they’ll fit into the future. When those things happen, says Joel, God is about to do something new in our midst.”
So we come to Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, generally observed in Jerusalem on the 50th day after Passover. It is also known as the “Feast of Weeks” or in Hebrew, “Shavuot.” It was a holy day, but not an extraordinary one; that is, until God’s powerful Spirit broke into the Jerusalem rituals, and an explosion of newness hit the ground! If we start with Acts 1, we are reminded that Jesus ascended into Heaven, and before her departed, he told his followers they should begin to tell others about him, beginning in Jerusalem. When they said they didn’t feel qualified to do that, he said they would be clothed with power from on high. What did Jesus mean? They found out: there on Pentecost, all of a sudden, a mighty wind—perhaps hurricane like—started to blow like never before. Some in hindsight might have called it the “winds of change” but it was more than that. It was the wind of power from on high. When people from different cultures and nations felt anemic on their own, together with others they found strength to proclaimed what they believed God wanted others to hear. Soon people from many nations heard and understood people from other nations! Never had this happened before! In our day we mechanically simulated it as members of the U.N. gather in their large New York conference room and understand each other using dozens of translators. But on Pentecost, the Spirit was the only translator! Peter, who was just getting his confidence back after denying Jesus three times, found his power, as the Spirit gave him voice! He was back, baby, and then some! He claimed the high title of “The Rock” that Jesus bestowed. Then he addressed the crowd. What words did he use to get the attention of the men of Judea? People who have stirred Americans in times of conflict might use the Battle Hymn; Peter, by contrast, recounted the words of Joel! Peter decided that what he had learned from Joel was starting to happen! He added some statements to get everyone’s attention, but basically he quoted Joel. Listen: “In the last days, God declared, I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy; your young men will see visions; and your old men dream dreams.” Then Peter threw in scary stuff like blood, fire, smoke, and mist, saying that the sun would turn dark and the moon would become as blood: things a good horror writer would include. Peter got everyone’s attention! That was the cataclysmic day when God took an ordinary holy ritual and made it an extraordinary event! From that point on, people of all nations and cultures have drawn power from God’s Holy Spirit. Sometimes it’s the power to save someone else from danger; sometimes it’s the courage to finally let God speak to others though you. And sometimes it’s when you have a new beginning, or some say get “born again,” and you say to your family, your friends, or anyone within earshot something like the words Edward Mote wrote in 1834, when he declared: “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
Have you had an Exodus event: a time when God parted the waters for you and delivered you, or showed you the way out of your malaise or oppression? Or have you had a Pentecost event: when an ordinary day became extraordinary, or a time when God broke the mold of a ritual and made it new? What new birth, or new creation, or new idea came out of your momentous event? Perhaps yours is still on the horizon. One thing is for sure: what happened on Pentecost to Peter and to others gave birth to the Christian church, who stopped just following Christ; they started proclaiming Christ as well! Tap back into the fire of that glorious day, each time that you need new strength to face tomorrow.
Let us pray: I invite you to repeat this prayer after me:
” Spirit of the living God,
fall afresh on me.
Spirit of the living God,
fall afresh on me.” Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner June 9, 2019