It was the sermon that opened the floodgates to the kingdom of God. The apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost stood up with the apostles and preached a sermon that began something like this. “We are not drunk, as you all think, but this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel” (cf. Acts 2:15). Peter then quotes and then explains the prophecy that is found in the second chapter of Joel. This passage in God’s word is the whole key to what you read about in the book of Acts. Joel was speaking about a glorious time for the whole world and Peter proclaims that now was the time that Joel was talking about. So let us look at what Joel said because Peter tells us that he was speaking about the time of Christ and the Christian age.
Reversal Coming (2:18-27)
Joel 2:18-27 starts describing the reversal that is coming for God’s people. Up to this point Joel has prophesied that a judgment is coming that is going to be the complete destruction of the nation. The army coming will be like a locust attack in terms of its severity, intensity, and thoroughness. But Joel has called for the people to turn their hearts back to the Lord, yet even now. God’s character of graciousness and mercy allows for people to turn back to him. Who knows if God will relent and leave a blessing for his people rather than disaster. But now I want you to see something staggering. I want you to notice that verse 18 shows that God is going to act and bring about a great reversal for his people. But carefully consider that it does not say that the people responded in repentance. Verse 18 does not say that God saw their repentance and decided to have compassion on his people. Rather, verse 18 tells us that the Lord has a heart for his people. The Lord became jealous for his land and had compassion on his people.
The Lord is going to give an answer to his people. Notice what is described in these verses. The Lord says in verse 19 that he will send his blessings on his people so that they will be completely satisfied. In verse 20 the Lord says he will drive the enemies who come from every direction back. They will be pushed into the deserts and into the seas. In verse 22 the Lord says that what was lost will be restored. Trees will bear fruit. The vine and fig tree will give their full fruit again. In verses 23-24 the Lord says he will pour down his abundant rains on the people so that the land will be fruitful and produce a harvest again. In verse 25 the Lord says that he will restore what has been lost. Everything that was destroyed by God’s great army will be reversed and restored. Notice the emphasis made again in verses 26-27. The people will have plenty to eat and be satisfied. The people will praise the Lord and they will know that the Lord is in your midst.
But I want us to carefully notice what else is threaded through these promises of satisfaction, reversal, and restoration for God’s people. In verse 19 the Lord says that the people will no longer be a reproach among the nations. In verse 26 the Lord says that the people will never again be put to shame. God says it again at the end of verse 27. The people will never again be put to shame. The restoration picture is not only satisfaction and abundant blessings from the Lord, but it is also a picture of God in the midst of his people never again allowing outsiders to threaten them, harm them, or shame them. Now we need to think about this for a moment. We might immediately consider a problem because when we continue to look at Israel’s history, we do not see this. We see the Persian Empire ruling over Israel. We see the Greek Empire ruling over Israel. We see the Roman Empire ruling over Israel. Israel never again had sovereignty so as to be able to establish a king. In fact, Israel was put to shame on many occasions like when Antiochus IV Epiphanes desecrated the temple or when the Romans invaded and destroyed the city of Jerusalem and its temple. This problem is so important to consider because this is the reason why there are scholars and writers who say that this prophecy in Joel has in fact not yet been fulfilled. The problem with that answer is the apostle Peter. The apostle Peter stood up and proclaimed that this indeed had been fulfilled on the day of Pentecost.
The restoration of God’s people must have been pointing to something beyond the physical. The promises of Joel about God’s people enjoying God’s abundant blessings, having their conditions reversed, and being satisfied by God’s provisions must have looked beyond the physical nation and land of Israel. For God to promise that he would live in the midst of his people and his people would never be put to shame must point to something else for the apostle Peter to proclaim that is what was spoken by the prophet Joel. So the big question that would come up in the minds of the people who heard Joel’s words would be this: How will this happen and when will this happen? Joel answers this in the next paragraph which Peter uses as his proof in Acts 2.
The Pouring Out of the Spirit (2:28-32)
Joel continues that not only is going to do this great work of restoration and reversal, but he will pour out his Spirit on all flesh. I want us to notice that the emphasis of verses 28-29 is that no one will be excluded from this pouring out. It will be your sons and your daughters. It will be your old men and young men. It will be on your male servants and female servants. When the Spirit comes, it will be for everyone, not just for physical Israel. The inclusive nature of this promise makes sense with the context. God was not promising to have compassion and reverse the fortunes of the few. No, God was promising to have compassion and reverse the fortunes of all of his people, regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, or social standing. Further, the focus is also on the amount. Notice that the Spirit will not be sprinkled out or dribbled out little by little. Rather, the coming of the Spirit is described as a pouring out. God was going to richly bless his people. The blessings are so rich that Joel twice proclaims that the people will be satisfied (2:19,26). The blessings are so rich that the relationship between God and his people would be restored, as symbolized by the vine and the fig tree giving their full fruit (2:22). The blessings would be so rich that the great enemies of God’s people would be driven back to such an extent that they would never be put to shame again because God himself would be in their midst (2:19,20,26,27). All of God’s people will abundantly enjoy this new life when the Spirit is poured out. You might remember that Jesus said the same thing himself and the gospel writer confirms the picture.
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39 ESV)
Jesus is offering life and restoration to those who will come to him. Then we are told that Jesus was talking about the Spirit that everyone who believed in Jesus was going to receive. This is exactly what Joel was saying.
We will come back to this in a moment. But I want us to see what else was coming when God did this great reversal work and had compassion for his people. Look at Joel 2:30-31. Not only will there be God’s blessings poured out on his people, judgment was also coming with it. You might notice that the language of verses 30-31 were also used back in Joel 2:10. The sun turning to darkness and the moon turning to blood is the way God describes judgment. At the same time when God pours out his blessings there will also be the warning of judgment, the great and awesome day of the Lord. You might remember that this is exactly what John the Baptizer taught in Matthew 3:10-12. John declared that when Jesus came it was going to be the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the baptism of fire. Blessings and judgment were combined together. He would gather the wheat into his barn but the chaff would be burned with unquenchable fire. When the Spirit comes, judgment also comes. But there is hope. Look at verse 32. Joel declares that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. There will be those who escape the coming judgment of God and there will be a remnant from whom the Lord calls. God is going to have his remnant people. Those people are the ones who will call on the name of the Lord to be saved. They are the ones who will have the blessings of the Spirit. They are the ones who are going to have this restoration. They are the ones who are going to be satisfied. They are the ones who will never be put to shame. They are the ones who will enjoy God’s rich, abundant blessings.
Now I want us to think about this prophecy. God is proclaiming a spiritual renewal. God is proclaiming a spiritual restoration where the relationship between God and his people is restored. God is proclaiming hope to avoid the wrath of God by calling on the name of the Lord. God is proclaiming that life, blessings, and satisfaction will be found in him. God is declaring that he will be jealous for his people and have compassion on them again. How were the people to know when this was available to them? How did the people know when this was going to happen? How would the people see these spiritual blessings offered and restored to them? How would they know that the door of reconciliation had been opened by the Lord and that they could come to him in this restored kingdom? There must be some visible sign to indicate this reality.
Peter stands up in Acts 2:15-16 and proclaims that the events they saw of the Spirit falling on the apostles and their ability to speak in different languages was the visible proof. Peter tells the people that what just happened in this miraculous events was exactly what Joel’s prophecy was talking about. But you will also notice that Joel speaks only of prophecy, visions, and dreams. All three of these were the means of God’s revelation to his people before Christ’s arrival (cf. Hebrews 1:1-2). So the promise is not when the Spirit comes that everyone would be able to perform miracles. In fact, we do not even see this in Acts 2 or at any time in the scriptures. Rather, the event would be observable to reveal God’s will, which is what the apostles stand up and do. When you go to Acts 2:37 we see the people who have heard this sermon respond, “What should we do?” They ask this because Peter has made the point from Joel’s prophecy that when the Spirit comes, judgment also comes and only those who have called on the name of the Lord will be saved. They need to belong as the remnant people of God. So they want to know how to do this. Peter’s answer in Acts 2:38-39 is very important because it carefully fits Joel prophecy.
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. 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.” (Acts 2:38-39 ESV)
First, repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. The message of Joel’s prophecy is that the day of the Lord is coming because of their sins. They have refused to turn back to the Lord. Remember what Joel said in Joel 2:13-14. If the people will turn the Lord and tear their hearts, then God may relent and leave a blessing. Peter says the same thing. Turn back to God and have your sins washed away in baptism.
Second, if you turn back to God and have your sins washed away, you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. People always want to know what this is. It is what was promised by the prophets. In fact, you will notice that Peter says that it is the promise that is offered to all people, even those far off, everyone the Lord calls to himself. What did Joel promise would happen? God promised to restore his blessings to his people. God promised that his people would be satisfied once again. God promised that he would be in their midst and they would never be put to shame. God promised to pour out his blessings on his people and restore the relationship with them. God promised to drive out our greatest enemies into the desert and into the seas. The promise was not that his people would perform miracles. The miracles only proved what God had done in the world. God had opened the door of reconciliation so that all could avoid the coming judgment and instead enjoy his rich blessings.
Friends, that offer is still standing today. God is calling for the world to come to him and enjoy the rich promises he has made. Here is how Paul summarizes this picture as he wrote to Titus.
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7 ESV)
God is offering for us to avoid the coming judgment. God is offering for us to be satisfied in him. God is offering for us to enjoy his rich provisions and abundant blessings. God is offering for us to have our greatest enemies driven into the sea: our sins which separate us from a relationship with him. God is offering reconciliation through his abundant compassion and mercy. God is offering to be in your life and in your midst. You can be in covenant relationship with God. This is what we now have. But you must turn with all your heart and be washed in the waters of baptism so that you can receive the promise of life in the Spirit.