Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Outpouring (Joel 2, Acts 2)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
May 27, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: Jazz piano by Rick Bean
Hymn of Praise: "On Pentecost They Gathered"
 The Word in Music (Choir): "Fill-a Me Up!" (Pepper Choplin)
Song of Response: "O Great God" (Kauflin)
Offering of Music: Jazz piano by Rick Bean
Hymn of Sending: "Spirit of the Living God" (Iverson)
Postlude: Jazz piano by Rick Bean

The Outpouring
Text: Joel 2:12-13,28-32; Acts 2:33-39

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Last week we looked at the Ascension of Jesus, recorded in Acts 1:9.  We talked about the benefits of the Ascension, which largely come about because Jesus has carried true humanity into Heaven and we are connected to and with him in faith and through the Holy Spirit.  We also read that after he left, the Holy Spirit would be poured out on human beings in a new way – a significant and a promised way, so that we would be empowered to be witnesses in the world.

In the days after the Ascension, the disciples and women and other followers of Jesus – about 120 in all – continued to meet and pray.  They selected a new twelfth disciple to take Judas’ place.  And then, ten days after the Ascension (and 50 after Easter), the outpouring happened.  There was a loud noise like a “violent rushing wind” and flames of fire and the followers of Jesus were filled up with the presence and power of God and went out to speak to the crowds of people in Jerusalem.  Immediately, they became witnesses, as Jesus had said they would.  That’s what we call Pentecost, and it marked a beginning of a new time, one that Jesus had promised and one that had been foretold long ago for God’s people and all who would follow.

Today we will talk about how this event was described generations earlier.  We will look at part of the message the Apostle Peter delivered to the crowd that day.  And we’ll be reminded of the scope and purpose of God’s reach into our lives through His Holy Spirit

Promised Time for Repentance (Joel 2)

Long before the time of Jesus, Joel was a prophet of the Lord to the southern kingdom of Judah prior to the defeat of God’s people by foreign powers and the subsequent Exile.  God’s people were prosperous and complacent, not worshiping and obeying God faithfully.  When a particularly bad plague of locusts wiped out all the crops one year, Joel used the event to draw a picture of God’s judgment.  Joel went on to call God’s people to fast, pray, and repent of their sin and turn back to the Lord.  Along the way, he described to them the great and terrible “Day of the Lord,” when God would come in power and defeat sin and evil once and for all. 

Joel warned that a time for decision comes to every person.  But Joel said that it was not too late to return to the Lord. In vv. 12-13 of chapter 2 he wrote: “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “Return to me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping, and mourning, and rend your heart and not your garments.”  And so Joel called for a true repentance, this “rending of the heart” that seeks God’s mercy and forgiveness. 

And finally, Joel spoke of the great sign of the Day of the Lord, when God would pour out His Spirit on His people.  When is the “Day of the Lord?”  Is it at the end of time?  Has it already happened?  Is it too late to return to God or can we still do that?  There is a piece to Joel’s message that helps explain all this.  It is his description of the promised Holy Spirit.  In vv. 28-29 Joel wrote:

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, even on the male and female servants I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

This passage is quoted in Acts 2 at Pentecost.  Jesus told his disciples that he would leave his Spirit.  And fifty days after Easter, after Jesus had ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in a miraculous way.  When Peter began to speak, he declared that the prophecy of Joel was being fulfilled, that the last days were at hand and God was doing what He said he would do.

Demonstrated Time for Repentance (Acts 2:33-37)

When Peter begins to speak in Acts 2, he helps explain where this outpouring of God’s power fits into God’s larger overarching story.  He begins his message by explaining that what is happening is the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy spoken through the prophet Joel (vv. 15-16).  He goes on to say – with commentary on each part – that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection mark the time about which Joel was prophesying.  To tie in to last week and the Ascension, his message approaches a peak in verses 33-34, when he names the Ascended Jesus as the one “exalted to the right hand of God” and notes it was not David who ascended, but Jesus.

His message reaches a peak in verse 36, then, when he declares, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified.”  That’s the Word of God; that is the message; that is God’s story and the word of salvation – that Jesus is Lord and Christ, saving one and anointed one, by God’s will and power.

Now look at what God brought about in those who came to believe.  It is the crisis of conviction, the repentance, to which Joel called God’s people: “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said…. ‘What shall we do?’” (v. 37)  This is describing conviction of sin.  The people knew that they were not right before God and shared, directly or indirectly, in culpability for Jesus’ death.  It is not necessary that you be present for the crucifixion to be responsible for it.  One of the necessary realities of salvation is recognizing our sinfulness and being convicted of its tragic consequences… getting to the point of Isaiah facedown before God in Isaiah 6, “Woe is me; I am undone” and asking, “What shall I do?”

What shall we do? Peter responded, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ…” (v. 38)  ‘Repent’ means “turn around.”  It describes the change from a posture of being turned away from God to one of being turned toward God.  That is what conviction of sin can lead to.  It is as if, when we recognize that we may be running headlong into our own destruction, we stop momentarily to see if there is a way out.  Repentance is turning around to face God.  In the first moment, that can be a scarier prospect than continuing to run!  But God’s promises are sure and His grace is immediate.

Peter also instructs them to “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”  There were other baptisms already being practiced at that time.  Most close to this context, baptism was a sign of conversion to Judaism reserved for pagans.  Jesus’ name marked this baptism as distinctly different, but it still would cost the mostly Jewish crowd something in terms of respectability and reputation.  It was public and it specifically connected those being baptized with Jesus.

Baptism not only marked those who publicly repented and aligned themselves with Jesus, but it was “for the forgiveness of your sins.” (v. 38)  The detail of God’s work among humanity is captured here in the meaning of baptism.  Hearers were baptized in Jesus’ name to signify that God accomplished forgiveness of sin through His Son, Jesus.  Peter’s instructions were to repent and be marked publicly with the sign of God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ. 

The Gift and the Promise (vv. 38-39)

Peter continues, saying that God not only forgives sin, but also pours out His Spirit as a gracious gift.  Let me say a word about the scope and the purpose of this gift, because the whole message from Peter drives to this point, the reason for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The scope of the gift is the full reach of God’s love, and the story of that is told from the first pages of the scriptures.  God’s salvation, grace, and gift is for the nations of the world, extended through a particular people, their families, and their witness to the world.  That was the nature of the ancient covenant blessing of Abraham and continues to be the nature of the promises in the New Testament.  God blesses those who repent and believe, gracing them with forgiveness and the Holy Spirit that they might witness and be a blessing, through their own families, to the world.  Do you hear it in verse 39?  “The promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”

And that leads right into the purpose of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus stated it back in Acts 1:8 (our call to worship!) and now Peter and the others are experiencing it firsthand.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is “power… [that] you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”  We are blessed to be a blessing; we are saved to be sent; we are gifted to be witnesses of God’s great love for the world.

For the rest of the summer, we will be looking at the fruit of the Spirit.  Those are specific traits that are manifested when the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives.  They include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, and others.  Each week we will look at one spiritual fruit and a passage where Jesus teaches or demonstrates that fruit.  I will keep reminding you of the scope and purpose of those gifts – that they are given by God that we might be witnesses of His great love in Christ toward the whole world.

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