Today we’re going to be concluding the series that you’ve been studying in the minor prophets, and it’s a delight to be reading and sharing Joel with you today.
First of all I want to ask you, what do you think is a person’s greatest need? Perhaps you know the answer already, so it might be helpful to think of how one of your family members or one of your friends might answer that. What is a person’s greatest need?
God’s people in Joel’s time were in huge need. Cast your eye with me back to the start of Joel chapter 1… if you were to scan down the first and second chapters, you’ll notice that the people of Israel were suffering from a nation-wide invasion of locusts. This was a period in bible history where God’s people had returned from exile back to Jerusalem. Previous generations had died out, but some had returned and were trying to rebuild their lives. But for a people who depended on their land for everything, not just for food but for their livelihood, and even their sacrifices to God, this was a huge deal. 1v4 – the locusts had eaten everything; v7 it had stripped the trees and laid waste to the vines.
You could say at this stage that a person’s greatest need is to ensure they stay alive. To make sure they find enough to get by. But actually, Joel says that the people had a bigger problem on their hands, even bigger than a national disaster. Their problem was that they were complacent towards God, and that complacency turned into disobedience. Have a look at 1v2-3… v5… Joel is telling them to wake up! The people had given up on the God who had brought them back to their own land. They had become like drunkards, and they were to be ashamed, v11, and cry out to God.
Worse still, Joel tells us that because of their complacency, these locusts came not by coincidence, but because God sent them. Have a look at chapter 2v3-4… and then v11… It was God who was leading this army of locusts to devour the crops, and punish his people.
What was their greatest need? It wasn’t their land, their food or their wine. Their greatest need was to be back in relationship with God. Have a look at chapter 2v12-13…
Joel wanted them to know, and wants us to know, that…
- A person’s greatest need is to be in relationship with God
If you know your Old Testament history (which I’m sure you all do at St Michael’s!) then you’ll remember that God and his people are in a covenant relationship. If you want a picture of what that looks like, then just think of a Christian parent and their child. Just as a loving father gives all they have to their child, all their time, all their energy, their protection and comfort; God says in Exodus 6v7, and throughout the bible, that God will be their God, and they will be his people.
God knows what his people need. They need him! What do we think our greatest need is? A comfortable home, a bigger salary, a nice retirement… Just as a loving father knows that his child needs him, so God knows that our greatest need is him. Not just the ‘stuff’ he gives us, we need him.
And as we come to look at our passage for today, have a look at what God promises to his people when they do turn back to him in repentance, and back in relationship with him – chapter 2v24-27…wow! God restores everything that was taken away by his locust army, but even more so they will be in plenty and be satisfied.
Even more astonishingly, though, despite his unlawful children turning away from him and becoming complacent, God promises his very self to be in the midst of his people (v27). ‘There is nothing else you need’, says God, all you need is him.
It’s in this situation of God lavishly blessing his people that we get to our passage today, from v28-32.
Now I want you to remember a time when you were waiting for something to come, like a birthday present or a holiday or something like that. Something good that you’re excited about and can’t wait to come… Remember that.
You’ll have probably gathered that today we’re celebrating Pentecost. I don’t know how long you’ve ever had to wait for something exciting to come, but the people of Israel had been waiting hundreds of years for God’s spirit to be poured out from God, ever since Joel says it in v28. They would have passed this news on down the generations, and would have expected it to come from God at any moment.
For the Jews this was a big thing – only a few key people in the Old Testament were blessed with having God’s Spirit in them! People like Moses, Samson, and David. These people were leaders of the community of God, and so the expectation in Joel’s time was that those who were going to be empowered by the Spirit would also become leaders of God’s people. That’s how it worked in the OT.
So the expectation was great! When this event happened, Joel says God would lavishly pour out his Spirit to all his people. His people would then become leaders and direct others to God. I don’t know how you feel about that? It feels like a lot of responsibility doesn’t it – surely only people with the right capabilities can do that job. Surely only people with the right skill-set can lead others to God. Well have a look on who God sends his spirit… (28b-29). Young and old, sons and daughters, men and women, servants and free people. This was going to be something completely counter-cultural. No longer was God going to empower a few key individuals to lead. He was going to empower everyone and anyone who belongs to him.
On Pentecost Sunday we remember the first Pentecost festival after Jesus went back up to Heaven after his death and resurrection. You can read all about it in Acts 2. Today we remember when God poured out his Spirit on his people – not just Jews, but people from all nations, men and women, young and old, slaves and free. This passage from Joel reminds us of the huge significance of that moment in history – and I think he gives us two really clear messages that we need to remember. The first is this…
- Those who receive God’s Spirit are safe
As you’ve been going through some of the minor prophets, you may have already come across this phrase that we see in v31, ‘the day of the Lord’. This was a big theme of the prophets – it pointed to one moment in history where the Lord would return to the earth, and there would be loads of signs like an earthquake and darkness, smoke and columns of fire. You may have read those and thought it was a bit weird and apocalyptic – these were signs in the old testament of God’s holiness and protection over his people. Just like the smoke around the mountain when God gave Moses the law.
God is a holy God – he is in a whole different category to us humans. God doesn’t sin, he is perfect justice and perfect love, and that’s why he cannot tolerate sin. This ‘Day of the Lord’ is still coming – we know from the New Testament that Jesus will return, and this will be the day of the Lord.
This day was to be terrifying because it meant God was on his way. And that meant, because he was a holy God, punishing those who had rejected him. Have a look down at chapter 3v2… The name Jehoshaphat means ‘God judges’ – This is a foreshadowing of God judging the whole world, and ultimately bringing them to account for the way they have rejected God.
BUT, amazingly, God spares judgement for those who have received his Spirit. Have a look again at v32.
This Day of the Lord is still coming, and it will be either terrifying or wonderful depending on who you are – judgement for those who reject God, but salvation for those who accept him.
It’s a bit like one of these (a zorb ball) – I wonder if you’ve seen one of them before? The idea behind a zorb ball is that the person on the inside is virtually indestructible… or at least they think they are! If you’re in a zorb ball you can bundle everyone else out of the way, roll down hills without getting hurt… I’ve even seen an advert with someone crossing a river in one.
But the picture is the same here in Joel – God’s people will be spared Judgement on the Day of the Lord. They’ll be protected – God will pass over them so that they don’t face his wrath – instead they will be safe, because they have the mark of God’s Spirit on them.
How does this happen then? How can someone in Gidea Park or Harold Wood receive this kind of favour from God? Well have a look again at v32… Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord… and everyone who the Lord calls. Christians – those who trust in Jesus – are those who God has called (and who He has put his Spirit in), but they are also those who have responded to God in faith. We know from the bible that we have all have sinned, we’ve all turned away from God. We therefore all deserve the punishment that God will bring on the last day.
But wonderfully God gave us a way to be saved. He did this by sending his Son into the world, and to take the punishment for us. On the cross when Jesus died, the sky turned black. God’s judgement fell on Jesus as he took that punishment for us. And it’s because of his death that means we’re allowed access into God’s amazing zorb ball, God’s salvation on the day of judgement. Those who receive God’s spirit, those who respond to God in faith are safe, because of Jesus’ sacrifice.
This means that we don’t need to go searching for security with God. There’s nothing we need to do in order to try and earn God’s favour. Nothing that we do can win that for us. Jesus has done it all for us, so trust in him. In the words of Acts 2 where you can read the story of Pentecost, the apostle Peter says ‘repent and be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’. Repentance is literally turning from sin to his Son, Jesus. Trust in Jesus, and you will be safe.
Even though Christians have this promise of salvation, the Lord Jesus is still going to come, we’re still waiting for this ‘Day of the Lord’. When he comes, and he meets you face to face, will he see you as his friend or his enemy? Have you ‘called on the name of the Lord’? Are you safe?
That’s the first message Joel gives us – only those who receive God’s Spirit and accept God’s Son are safe. The second is this…
- Those who live in God’s Spirit are to share the good news
What is the thing you talk about the most? Your car? Your job? Your spouse? Your children? Your last holiday?
I tend to be a pretty good evangelist about tv boxsets – I wonder whether you’re the same. Me and my wife Anna love a good tv series. But once we’ve seen it we rave about it to everyone. Why do we do that?! Well I think we do it because we want everyone else to enjoy what we’ve enjoyed don’t we? We want everyone else to have that same excitement that we’ve experienced, that same thrill and pleasure of watching a masterpiece.
Well Joel wants us to have that same spirit of excitement when it comes to Jesus. He wants us to be sharers rather than hoarders. He doesn’t want us to just keep our faith to ourselves, but rather he wants us to be telling everyone!
Have a look again at v28(b)-29… Those who receive God’s Spirit aren’t to just keep this gift tucked away in the spare room, but rather to be shouting it out just like Joel.
I love how these Old Testament pictures in v30-31 keep cropping up in the bible – God reminds us of these to remember his character, ultimately. But there’s another Old Testament theme that Joel picks up, and that is of being a prophet. As you know, Joel is a prophet, which basically means he has direct access to God, he hears from God, and then he goes and tells God’s people. Prophets are God’s mouth-pieces in the Old Testament, that’s the way God spoke to people.
We know from Hebrews chapter 1 that God now speaks through his Son (show on screen), and we know what Jesus said, because it’s all written down here in our hands – the bible gives us all we need to know about God. But Joel now says that those who receive God’s Spirit are also prophets. No longer a few key individual leaders in the Old Testament, but now everyone who trusts in God’s Son, empowered by the Holy Spirit, are prophets. Old and young, men and women, everywhere.
It’s refreshing to remember that what happened at Pentecost wasn’t the end of the story. God didn’t just send out his Spirit on those people who attended the festival that year, but He has been lavishly pouring out his Spirit since. How else would the gospel have reached Gidea Park in 2017?! God is wondrously at work in his Spirit in all nations of the world, and has been doing it ever since Pentecost.
God still uses people like us to get his message across. He does this in the power of the Spirit, and ultimately it’s all his work. But amazingly he includes you and me in this great work.
So I want to leave you with some thoughts… If the gospel is for all people, and if God pours out his Spirit on all who he calls, how are we sharing the good news? What does it look like for our commitment to youth work, to evangelism, or to sharing the gospel at the school gate?
If the Day of the Lord is still coming, then people need to turn to him now. Today. Because Jesus can return at any minute. This should motivate us to share the gospel with everyone we know who doesn’t yet know Jesus. How can they have a chance to be saved on the last day without someone sharing this good news with them?
That’s the message behind Romans chapter 10 – (show on screen) how can someone believe in someone they’ve never heard of? How can someone be saved without knowing they need to trust Jesus?
Sharing Jesus is the most important gift you can give, because it fulfils that person’s greatest need: a relationship with God himself.
If sharing the gospel is God’s work anyway, and it’s done in the power of his Spirit, then we can have confidence in this great work. Yes it’s hard, but it’s his work that he calls all his people to get involved in.
Those who God calls, who receive God’s Spirit and accept God’s Son, are safe when God returns to judge the world. Those who receive God’s Spirit are given everything they need to share the gospel. They’re given the motivation that one day Jesus will return to judge, and also to save. And it’s this great motivation that commissions us to tell others.