This is the Sermon for Pentecost Sunday -- May 24, 2015 at

Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church
Laurie, Missouri

Joel 2:28-321

“And it will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. And even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. And I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth, Blood, fire, and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the LORD Will be delivered.

Sermon for Pentecost Sunday                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 5/24/15

Just Before the Great and Awesome Day of the Lord

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

The text for this morning is the Old Testament lesson for Pentecost. It was chosen because it begins with the promise of God that He will pour out His Spirit upon all mankind. That far it sounds a little like what happened on Pentecost. The Lord did not pour out His Spirit on all mankind on that specific day, but He began to do so. He poured it out on His disciples - presumably the Twelve, although it is possible that there were more involved in that exciting day. But there is more going on in the text this morning than just the sounds of Pentecost. Joel speaks of wonders in the sky and natural occurrences that are anything but ordinary in connection with the prophecy. So we want to take a closer look at this Pentecost passage of Joel; and see what it is that may be happening just before the great and awesome day of the Lord.

I said, “may be happening”. I would like to have said, “will be happening”, but with prophecy, one can never been too absolute about it until it is fulfilled. Once a prophecy is fulfilled, you can identify what all the symbols and the uncertain words of the prophecy meant, but while you look forward to the fulfilment, you may be pretty certain, but you can never say, “This is the only thing that these words could possibly mean”. You gotta leave room for God to be bigger than your imagination.

The other interesting note as we begin to look at this prophecy is that it is about the things that are going to happen before the great and awesome day of the Lord. That day, of course, is the Last Day, the day when the Judgment of God is pronounced and the world comes to an end. So this ‘Pentecost prophecy’ is about now - or it could be - because we are living in the last days, the days at the end of time.

The prophet Joel is clearly looking toward the Day of Pentecost. He sees the Spirit being poured out, and he sees the tongues of fire. On Pentecost, God began to fulfill what He spoke through the prophet Joel. I wonder as I read the prophecy if Joel is witnessing the blood of Calvary, the fire of Pentecost, and the columns of smoke created in the persecutions of the saints - such as when they burned Jon Hus, and others that were accused of heresy against the established Church, throughout history. Or was the column of smoke a reference to the way God had worked during the Exodus – signaling, perhaps, that God intended to be among His people as He was, say, during the Exodus? There is no way of knowing for certain. We do know that the outpouring of the Spirit happened - or began happening - at Pentecost.

Pentecost was the beginning of the Church. It was on that day that Jesus sent the Spirit publicly. We know that the Holy Spirit was active even before Pentecost, and that believers had the Holy Spirit even before Pentecost because faith doesn’t happen without the Spirit. That didn’t just start on Pentecost. It has always been so. On Pentecost, however, Jesus poured out His Spirit publicly, visibly and formally. Until then, the Spirit’s working was hidden, even while faith was not. Beginning on Pentecost, it is publically recognized that the Holy Spirit works among us, and that the Church is His creation, and that faith is not possible apart from the working of the Holy Spirit.

That is good to know. It is good to know because we can take comfort from the knowledge of the Spirit in us that we are not alone, and God is not merely ‘up there’ or “out there”. He dwells in us, just as surely as we believe. You see, that is the problem with the Pentecostals. It isn’t that they claim to have the Spirit, it is that they limit His presence and work to those few and infrequent signs. And then they try to manipulate the Spirit by counterfeiting the signs and try to claim Him as their unique possession, when in fact He dwells in every single Christian - at least in those who are actually Christian.

So, today every Christian has the Holy Spirit. And we all prophesy just as Joel said, that is, we all speak the Word of God. We do it in worship, as we speak to one another God’s Word in the Liturgy. We do it as we confess Christ in our daily lives as we speak to our neighbors and friends. We speak of the goodness of the Lord and of the great salvation that He has poured out on us.

The prophecy also talks about some pretty striking signs and wonders. The sun goes dark, and the moon is turned to blood. Those are the signs that are hard to interpret. Do they mean natural disasters? Are they speaking of great miracles? Or are they merely expressions pointing to great signs which God will work in the world in the natural order of things during the time of the Church? We cannot be sure until they have happened.

We have seen mankind blot out the sunlight in some areas with fires and the dust from explosions. When there is too much smoke or dust in the atmosphere, the moon appears to be reddish - sometimes more than others. As to the “wonders” mentioned by the prophet, God has worked any number of those. Books as we know them today were invented by the Church to facilitate the study of Scriptures. Up to that time, men kept their writings in scrolls. Printing presses were not invented by the Church, but Christians put them to good use when they came along. The Church has led the way in using each new media as it has come upon human society. Books and printed pages, and such may not seem like wonders to us now - but in their day they were marvels - true wonders.

As has been the power of the Church to shape society in the last two millennia. We are losing that power today, but God transformed human life through the teaching of Christ and by moving the hearts of His people to want to do good and be holy. Medicine, modern science, human care agencies like hospitals and nursing homes and orphanages and adoption agencies were begun and duplicated throughout the world by Christians. They were not always well run nor always as wonderful as they could be - but the compassion and concern for the welfare of others less fortunate than ourselves transformed the way the once-Christian part of the world thinks. You just need to compare how we Americans think with how Muslims in terrorist nations think to see how tremendous the changes – look at their pathetic excuses for hospitals, see how they mistreat children -as a rule, not as aberrations such as we witness in the occasional child abuse case. They daily live an attitude about life and about one another which is almost unimaginable to those who have grown up in the ‘West” - in the Christian dominated countries. Even our adversaries in America tend to think with Christian values more often than not, often without realizing it.

Are those the wonders of which the Prophet speaks? I don’t know. Part of me looks for the supernatural events that the prophet sounds like He may be referring to - but I know that God usually works these signs in oh-so-ordinary ways. Then, one day, we turn and look back, and see the signs. But we are living in the last days, so these are the days in which we can look for the signs to be fulfilled.

And even if we don’t see them, or recognize them, we still have the promise of the last verse to hold to. It is true today, because it is the Gospel. And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the LORD Will be delivered. That is the true excitement for us in Pentecost. It isn’t the tongues of flame, because, although they fire the imagination, none of us has ever seen it, nor are we likely to. It isn’t the ability to speak in other languages, languages which we have never studied. That would be nice, but it hasn’t happened to me yet, and those who claim the gift of tongues are generally just babbling incoherently anyhow. They may feel good about what they are doing, but they aren’t really saying anything. The Apostle Paul, writing about them, wrote, “In the church I desire to speak five words with my mind, that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.

The excitement about Pentecost is that each of us has the Holy Spirit in us to guide us and equip us to do what He would have us to do for the building up of the Church and the blessings of the saints - and that because of Jesus, we who have the Spirit also have salvation.

We have been delivered. In the day of Joel it was a “will be”, but Jesus has come and borne our sins to the cross, died in our place, and risen from the dead in testimony that we are redeemed by Christ from all our sins and shortcomings. The Gift of the Spirit was another promise kept for our comfort and help in the faith. We have the assurance of His presence, and of our deliverance in every time of need.

Salvation is not something we need to look forward to. It is ours today. There are parts of it that still lie in the future; resurrection from the grave and life eternal beyond sorrow, sickness, pain or death, to name a few. Those things are still ahead of us - or at least the full enjoyment of them is. But they belong to us now, and we partake of them even though our sin-dulled senses cannot perceive the reality of them. These treasure belong to each and every one who takes God at His Word, and looks expectantly for the final fulfilling of these things for the sake of Jesus Christ. Everyone who calls upon His name will be delivered.

Of course, to call on His name, you have to know who He is and what He has done and promised. This doesn’t mean that if someone repeats the name “Jesus” that they will be saved. They will need to know something about Jesus, and they will need to have some faith - a hope and expectation to set their trust upon. But if they know and if they trust in God they will not be disappointed. They will, in fact, have first of all the gift of the Holy Spirit – their own personal Pentecost. It will come without the sound of a rushing wind, or the tongues of flame, or even the sermon in many different languages, perhaps – but it will come. The Holy Spirit will enter and dwell in each believer to comfort and to guide them.

Meanwhile we wait to see what the signs and wonders are, and how God will darken the Sun and turn the moon to blood. But most of all we wait to experience the full measure of the deliverance from sin and death and hell, of which the prophet Joel prophesied. I know it is coming soon, because God promised it would all happen just before the great and awesome day of the Lord.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

(Let the people say Amen)

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