Power According To God’s Promise - Joel 2:28–32

Who possesses the greatest power in the world right now? Forbes magazine recently created their yearly list of the world’s most powerful people. Political leaders top the list, of course, and compose much of it. But there are many business and technology leaders on the list, and even one religious leader: the Roman Catholic Pope. Interestingly, no athletes, entertainers or media personalities on the list.

When they build their list, the goal is to identify the people whose actions mean the most; those people whose words and decisions have the greatest influence in the world. All the individuals represent countries, companies, or organizations, so you could easily make a list of those and rank them according to power. But here’s a question to consider: where would the Church be on that list? It might land on some lists, but generally speaking, the Church is not naturally associated with great power today. Instead, we are often viewed as too fragmented or too diluted, or as a relic of days gone by.

Power According to God's Promise - Joel 2:28-32

And, in a sense, much of the visible church is probably all of those things to some extent. But the true Church of Jesus Christ, the invisible church, what Scripture calls “the remnant,” those who are true believers in the only God, saved by grace through faith in Jesus - the true Church is not a relic of days gone by. We are connected to and empowered by immeasurable power. Now, you might scoff at that.  It may just sound like rhetorical, persuasive language to you. “Of course you say that Stacey, you’re a preacher. Don’t all of you say things like that to motivate people and inspire them?  It’s a nice sentiment, but frankly, we know better.” But it’s more than just inspirational talk. The Scriptures claim that with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit by God on his people, God has connected us to his great and eternal power according to his promise.

He said he would do it, and then he did. Therefore the Church is powerful, not in the sense that we control that power or wield it as we desire, but in the sense that we are enabled by that power in certain ways and we are strengthened by God through that power. And for that reason, we need to understand the significance of that power for our lives. For the present day. Because by this power, we experience true and lasting change within, and we are comforted by true and lasting hope, love, and peace that is beyond our comprehension, which in ourselves we cannot fully understand, yet which will last forever, unlike the power of those who make up the Forbes list and the nations, organizations, or financial empires that those people control. No doubt, the people on the Forbes list possess great earthly power and influence, and this according to the providence of God, but the promised power of God to his people is greater still, because it is divine, eternal power. 

Yet it has immense earthly, immediate significance. But what is the earthly significance of the outpoured Holy Spirit? You see an outline on page 6 of your worship guide. Through His outpouring Spirit:

1. God’s very word has been and will be spoken to us,
2. his natural world has been and will be transformed before us,
3. and his eternal salvation has been and will be delivered to us.

I speak in terms of “has been and will be” because with these things, the Scriptures present them in an “already but not yet” type of way. “Already” in the sense that these things are eternally secure and effective right now, but “not yet” in the sense that there is a completeness to them which has yet to take place. The Scriptures allow for and assume that the true Church will not rank high on the list when it comes to great power in this world. God’s promised power is with us now and forevermore, but it’s not always as evident as it has been at times in the past and as it will one day be.  

Now, if you know my normal approach, you probably expect me to drop into Point 1 right about now. I admit, I’m predictable. But I can’t do that just yet. There are some things to explain first. We have to consider the meaning of verses 28-32 in light of Acts 2 in the New Testament.

Not strictly in light of it, but Acts 2 is extremely important in our understanding of how these things are fulfilled by God. The apostle Peter quotes these verses in order to explain a supernatural event that took place. It was the time of Pentecost. “Pentecost” literally means “50th day.” Pentecost was a feast celebrated 50 days after the Sabbath day of the Passover week. “Passover” was a feast in which the Jewish people celebrated their deliverance by God from slavery in Egypt. God slayed the firstborn sons in the Egyptian homes but “passed over” the Israelite homes where the blood of the lamb had been smeared above the door as a sign of trust in Yahweh or “The Great I AM.” The Israelites then left Egypt, crossed the Red Sea and, about 50 days later, came to Mt. Sinai, where God gave Moses the 10 commandments and all the laws. Pentecost celebrated the giving of that law.

And for the yearly celebration of Pentecost, Jewish travelers from every nation came to Jerusalem to worship God and recognize what he had done so long ago. And on this particular Pentecost, Peter and the rest of the apostles, as well as the other disciples (both men and women), were together for the feast. They had been waiting according to the instructions of Jesus. Acts 1 says that Jesus, having been crucified, dead, and now resurrected, was going to ascend to heaven, but he, Acts 1:4 says “ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; [5] for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” That baptism would unveil the fulfillment of these verses in Joel chapter 2.

Acts 2 describes the event: “suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. [3] And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. [4] And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. [5] Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. [6] And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. [7] And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? [8] And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?

Now, remember that Jesus said this would happen according to “the promise of the Father.” It’s an old promise of God, but do you know how old? Well, at least as old as Joel’s prophecy, but actually older. Think of other prophecies. Ezekiel, Jeremiah would be good guesses, but the promise is older still. Paul points out the origin of the promise of the outpoured Spirit when he writes this in Galatians 3: [13] Christ redeemed us…so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Therefore, Peter answers these bewildered Jews at Pentecost by explaining
that what is taking place is a fulfillment of something even older than the Passover and the giving of the law. It’s older than Moses himself, although Moses desired it and prophetically prayed for it. When? In Numbers 11 in the Old Testament, Moses lamented that the Israelites were so hard to lead because they did not possess the Holy Spirit the way he did. And Moses says, “Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”

We looked in previous weeks at God’s covenant with Abraham seen in Gen.12, 15, and 17. And we saw that from Abraham would come “a nation” and God would bless Abraham and that nation to be a blessing to all nations, and the crux of God’s promise for Abraham’s descendants was this: “I will be their God and they will be my people.” Through Abraham, all the nations of the world would be blessed in this way: in every nation, though they were sinners, there would be those who hear from, intimately know, and worship the one true God.

What we learn as the Scriptures reveal the unfolding of God’s redemptive plan
is that for this promised “blessing” to take place, God would have to send his Spirit,
he would have to pour out or give the Holy Spirit. And upon doing this, the world would never be the same. We’ve looked at the book of Joel for many weeks now. We’ve seen God’s judgment for their sin, his call for them to turn from sin and return to him, and the people are clearly a mess because they keep rejecting God, worshipping false gods, and indulging in sin. They need help, and God knows it, even though many of them don’t. And the help would come with a new covenant. Ezekiel 36 describes what God would do. 

In Ezekiel, God says, [27] And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. [28] You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
Only by the power of the outpoured Spirit could they be strengthened to obey God
and able to live as his people.

But as Paul said in Galatians 3, Jesus had to die, he had to redeem his people, taking upon himself the curse of sin for us, in order for us to receive the promised power of the Spirit. Now, at Pentecost, Peter explains who Jesus was and why he came, that the Jews had rightly waited for a Savior, yet when he came, they killed him! But that was according to the plan of God, because Jesus had to die, and he did so on his own terms, not theirs. So they were responsible, yet God was working out his plan. It’s the providence of God again – explain please! But Peter doesn’t explain it – he simply yields to the reality that God’s sovereignty and our responsibility are compatible with one another.

Listen to what Acts 2 says happened after Peter’s explanation of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection: [37] Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” [38] And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. [39] For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

We learn many things here, but none more evident than this: the gift of the Holy Spirit is not a secondary experience after becoming a Christian. There is no second baptism of the Spirit. It’s not a special gift for the super-Christians. The Spirit is given in full to all who are born again by the power of the Spirit and who profess faith in Jesus Christ. Because the reception of the fullness of the Spirit is not according to some work we do; it is according to the promise to Abraham and comes to us by the work of the Lord Jesus Christ for our sake. And this sure and full connection to God’s power has immediate significance for us. How so? 

Well, first, through His outpoured Spirit, God’s very Word has been and will be spoken to us. 

Before the time of Jesus Christ, there would be 400 years of prophetic silence. No additional Word of the LORD. But then with before the coming of John the Baptist
and Jesus, it became clear that God is speaking again. God would speak through John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus. In Luke chapter 1, Luke writes that the angel Gabriel revealed that John would be “filled with the Holy Spirit.” In this way, John would be like the prophet of old. And in Luke 4, we learn that when Jesus went out into the wilderness to be tempted, he was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Then Jesus began his ministry, and he was speaking and explaining the word of God in a way that the people had never heard. People said he spoke “with authority,” the authority of God himself. In Luke 3, John the Baptist had said that the Messiah would baptize with the Holy Spirit.

Important to note, Luke the physician wrote both Luke and Acts, so he wrote his gospel account knowing that Pentecost has fulfilled this baptism of the Spirit. the outpouring of his Spirit on all types of people (male, female, young, old, servant, master). Notice each of those referenced in verses 28-29. Notice also mention of prophecies, visions, and dreams. This is Old Testament language for what God gives to his prophets, to those empowered to speak his words. This was vital during the beginning of the new covenant community. Unlike the old covenant community, the Scriptures had not fully taken form yet. The written testimony of Jesus Christ was not yet complete and not yet put on paper for future generations.

But those familiar with the old covenant prophets would know that this message was on par with that of the previous prophets. It was not a lesser message. And while that era, what we call the apostolic age, was unique in that God was giving new revelation, the church today still benefits from this aspect of the outpoured Spirit in that because all believers have the Spirit, every believers possesses the ability  to speak the truth of God. Not to give new revelation from God, not new Scripture, because that is unnecessary. Hebrews 1 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, [2] but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” And so, enabled by the Spirit, we offer one another insights from God’s Word. Of course, some of us are specifically gifted to teach or preach, but “all flesh,” in other words, all types of believers, can communicate the truth of God because we have the Spirit of God.

A parent will lead family worship in the home and be surprised when he or she ends up learning something from the children. The expectation is that parents will be the ones doing all the teaching; kids do the learning.  And then a child will have a keen insight from the Scriptures or give a fresh perspective on God’s truth. This is what happens when God has poured out his Spirit on those both young and old. A lowly custodian may, in conversation with the owner of the building he cleans, share a word of encouragement or knowledge from God’s Word that totally changes the perspective of the wealthy boss. 

This is normal in a world where God has poured out his Spirit on both the rich and the poor. And a husband will wrestle with some decision for days, only to have his wife swoop in with some discernment from the Lord that makes the answer obvious. Can you tell I speak from experience? But this will be typical, because the Spirit has been poured out on both men and women.  Galatians 3 shows us that In Christ, in the outpouring of the Spirit, there is no male or female. But not that this does not undermine God’s instruction for the roles of men and women in the church and home in passages such as Titus 1 and Ephesians 5.

Do you view the body of Christ in this way? Do you view yourself in this way as a believer? All those in Christ have his Spirit in full and may speak his Word. This is significant earthly power – to hear from, and speak the truth of, the one true God.

Also, through His outpoured Spirit, God’s natural world has been and will be transformed before us. 

Luke said the Messiah would be supernaturally born of a virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit. Luke also says that Jesus, filled with the Spirit, performed miracles, signs and wonders that defied the properties of the natural world. In doing so, it was confirmed that he, and his apostles after him, were empowered by God. That was another unique aspect of the apostolic era of the church. Many “wonders” taking place, as verse 30 says.

Obviously, people speaking in languages they don’t know was a supernatural wonder. Also, the New Testaments gospels record that during the crucifixion of Jesus, the sky inexplicably went dark. But in addition, what we see here in verses 30-31 is both a look back to the past and a look to the end of history. The language in these verses is very reminiscent of the events in Egypt when God delivered his people. During that time, the river turned to blood, fire fell from heaven, and God manifested his presence with the people by a pillar of cloud and fire. And while some of these things took place at Pentecost, including tongues of fire coming to rest on the believers, this looks forward to the end of history, the final great Day of the LORD. There was a great Day of the LORD when the locusts came, a great Day when a foreign nation invaded, a great Day when Christ died and rose again, a great Day at the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, and there remains a final Day when Jesus returns to judge the world and make all things new.

Often people look for signs that the last days are finally upon us or about to begin. I read that on July 27 there will be a “blood moon,” an eclipse in which the moon will look red. Inevitably someone will say, “See! This is proof that the last days are upon us.” But we don’t need that as proof of the last days. Why? Because when Peter quotes Joel 2:28, he says, “In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit.” These are the last days. Christ has come and returned once, and when he comes again, that will be it, period. Now is the time to return to the LORD.

Pentecost, and the Spirit living in you, shows that these events are in motion. You may notice that Joel 2:28 says “afterward,” whereas Acts 2:17 says, “the last days.” Why the difference? Peter’s use of “the last days” shows that Joel is referring to the last times in the plans of God. Some other prophets called this the “latter days.” Naturally, there wouldn’t be more last days, otherwise these last days aren’t really last days.

Do you have difficulty believing that God has manipulated the natural laws of the physical world, and that he could and will do it again?  He is God, after all, isn’t he? God still heals, still intervenes. Sometimes he uses earthly means, but he not bound to them.

The Spirit has been poured out. We shouldn’t assume that because we haven’t witnessed something, that God could not or would not do it. The Scriptures teach that God made the world and he will supernaturally transform this world, doing away with sin and making all things new. And it seems that deep down, we long for this. We long for the justice and the necessity of that great and awesome final Day of the LORD. This is significant earthly power, to have strength to hope in God’s ability to intervene. 

And finally, through His outpoured Spirit, God’s eternal salvation has been and will be delivered to us.

Verse 32 says “everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” There will be those “who escape,” it says, and who are “among the survivors.” So there would be Jews who would fulfill their divine purpose to be a blessing to all nations, and there would be Jews who would not. This is the “remnant” referred to in Scripture. “and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.” Does that sound familiar? Peter repeated those words in Acts 2, which I read earlier, when he said, “the promise is for you…everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Probably the most well-known Bible verse about salvation is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Some Bibles say “whosoever believes.” And much is made of this word “whosoever.” The assumption is that in the end, it’s up to people to choose or deny Christ by their own will, because “whosoever believes” will be saved. Actually the translation is literally “God gave his only Son, that all who believe in him should not perish.” That sheds light on the meaning. Notice again verse 32 in Joel 2. “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved,” but at the same time, only “those whom the LORD calls will be saved.”

Yes, whosoever believes in him will be saved, but whosoever can? Only the remnant of God, those born again by the Spirit of God, as Jesus says in John 3. Eternal salvation is delivered to us when we are born again by the mercy of God. Ephesians 2, Paul says, “this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.” And though saved, we still sin, because the sinful nature has not been removed yet. Why? Because the call is still going out, and more must yet respond. Our salvation is secure now, but it will not be complete until Jesus returns on the last day.

Have you responded to God’s call, admitting your sins, with a desire to turn from them, and confessing with your mouth that Jesus is God and Savior? God’s purpose in pouring out his Spirit is clear from Paul’s words in Galatians 4, where he writes that his desire for the church is “Christ is formed in you.” How would “Christ formed in us” look. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, [23] gentleness, self-control.” What a prayer and a desire! What power for the present day!

You may wonder why is it that though we are connected to such great power, the Church would appear so weak in the world?  2 Corinthians. 12 helps us see why. There Paul writes that God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul then writes, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. [10] For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Interpreting this, John Calvin writes, “The more deficiency there is in me, so much more liberally does the Lord, from his strength, supply me with whatever he sees to be needful for me.” God will fulfill his plans, but in doing so, he will not give his glory to another. He will not let his people go on in our own strength. He loves us too much. 

Let’s pray.