As you listened to the Old Testament reading for Pentecost Eve, it is understandable if you felt a little confused. You may have found yourself wondering, “Aren’t we getting ready for the Feast of Pentecost? Why then are we hearing about the Last Day? Wouldn’t this be more appropriate for the end of the Church year?”
After all, we hear in our reading, “For behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land.” If you read a little further in Joel chapter 3, it would only confirm your questions because we hear there, “Let the nations stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations.”
Now to be sure, this is language describing the judgment of the Last Day. Yet the reason that we have this as our reading for Pentecost Eve is because it provides the setting for the words of the prophet Joel that are quoted by Peter in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost. And in this fact we are reminded about how the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost announces that the last days have arrived.
In the verses just before our text, the prophet Joel begins a new section. He says, “And it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.”
God speaks of how he will pour out his Spirit “afterward.” And this rolls right into our text where God says, “For behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there.” In the text of Joel it becomes clear that these events are related to one another. Like other prophetic books, Joel leads us to expect that the outpouring of the Spirit is an end-time event. It is an event that is tied to the final judgment that God will bring upon all nations when he vindicates his people.
Tomorrow we will celebrate the Day of Pentecost. On that day, as you know well, there was a sound like a mighty, rushing wind. Tongues as of flame were distributed on the heads of the disciples and they were filled with the Holy Spirit in a new and dramatic way. As a result of this, they began to proclaim the good news about Jesus Christ in the languages of the many different peoples who were present in Jerusalem.
Peter began his sermon by responding to the accusation that what was happening was simply a result of too much alcohol. He pointed to the true reason, and in order to do this he used the words of the prophet Joel. He said, “But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.’”
Peter left no doubt about what was happening and what it indicated. The events of Pentecost were caused by the Holy Spirit. And they were occurring because the last days had arrived – the end-times were here. Peter went on to proclaim a message that focused on the death and resurrection of Jesus fifty days earlier. Jesus had been crucified according to God’s plan. But Peter went on to say, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.’”
Joel’s prophecy and the events of Pentecost prompt us to recognize what God has done and what it means for us. God has entered our world in the incarnation as Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. The Son of God has borne our sins upon the cross and died for them – he has received the wrath and judgment of God against sin that we deserved. And then on the third day, God raised him from the dead.
More specifically, Paul tells us that through the work of the Spirit, Jesus’ body was raised from the dead. He didn’t simply come back to life, but rather he rose as the second Adam in whom mortality and corruption have ceased. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the resurrection of the Last Day has already started.
The Spirit carried out this end-time event. And on the Day of Pentecost God poured out the Spirit upon his church. Because of Pentecost the Spirit who will raise you from the dead is now active in the world. Paul tells us, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Or as Paul told the Ephesians about Christ, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” The presence of the Spirit within you is the guarantee that you will share in Christ’s resurrection on the Last Day.
The question then is whether we realize what time it is. It is the last days – it is the time of the Spirit who has caused us to be born again in Holy Baptism. Because of this we now live as people who are in Christ – we have been joined to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This means that through the work of the Spirit, the resurrection power of Jesus is at work in us.
True, the old Adam is still present too as we live in this time of the now and the not yet. There are times when we live like “not yet” people instead of the “now” people the Spirit has made us to be. And when we do, we return in faith to the forgiveness that we have in Christ. We return to the source of our life in Christ - we return to our baptism. Washed clean of our sins, we then arise once again to walk by the Spirit and not the sinful flesh. We arise to live as the “now” people that God has made us through the work of the Spirit poured out on Pentecost.