So why are we here tonight? What makes Pentecost such a big deal that we start the celebration on the night before, just like Christmas and Easter? The answer can be found in our text. You probably aren’t surprised to hear me say that. However, it’s not quite what you expect.
You see, I am actually am preaching on the wrong text for Pentecost Eve. The assigned text is Joel 3:1-5. You will see in the bulletin and you heard me announce in the reading that our text is from the end of Joel chapter 2. Now after twelve years, you know that I don’t go off “free texting” for sermons. This is in fact a mistake on my part – a mistake generated by a very good reason, and one that also helps us to understand what Pentecost means.
The assigned text is Joel 3:1-5. As I do in preparing any sermon, the first thing I did was to read the text in the original language – in this case, I read it in Hebrew. So I turned in my Hebrew Old Testament and read Joel 3:1-5 and then worked on the exegesis for my sermon.
What I forgot, is that the book of Joel is one of those rare cases where the numbering of the chapters in the Hebrew text is completely different from the English Bible. In the English Bible our text is the end of chapter two. This is followed immediately by chapter three, which is the last chapter in Joel. However in the Hebrew text the verses of our text are set off as a separate chapter – they are chapter three, verses one to five. The next and final chapter is then chapter four.
In short, I am preaching on the wrong text because I read it in Hebrew – so sue me. But the mistake is actually a helpful one. The text that is assigned – our English Joel 3:1-5 – 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, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land, and have cast lots for my people.” Yahweh gathers all nations and enters into end time judgment against them for what they have done to his people.
The reason that the editors of the Hebrew text had separated the end of chapter two as a separate chapter – a chapter three followed by a chapter four - is because they understood that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is an end time event. It is something that stands in direct relation to the judgment of the last day.
They are right. And it is not just I who am saying that. The apostle Peter announced it on the day of Pentecost. Our text tonight begins by saying, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” Yet when Peter quotes the text in his Pentecost sermon he says, “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.’” As often happens in the New Testament, Peter builds the inspired interpretation into the quotation. He explicitly says that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is an end time event.
This is because of the direct connection that it has to Jesus Christ. When the Fall occurred and sin entered into the world, God promised that a descendent of Eve would defeat Satan. In the incarnation God sent his Son into world as we was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. The incarnation was the beginning of the end, because it was the beginning of the new creation. Jesus Christ is the second Adam sent to undo all that the first Adam had caused in the Fall. But the Son of God didn’t become flesh and dwell among us only to provide the answer to Adam’s sin. He came do so for your every sin as well – every thought, word and deed that is not true to God’s will.
He took your sin, or as Paul says, he became sin for you and received the judgment for your sin as he died on the cross. The sky became dark, there was an earthquake and rocks split when Jesus died because it was an end time event. It was the judgment of the Last Day executed against Jesus Christ because of your sin.
Yet God’s saving work in Jesus was not finished. And on the third day God’s Spirit raised Jesus from the dead. He defeated death. Resurrection, by definition, is an end time event. It’s a Last Day thing. And so we see in Jesus Christ that the Last Day has already begun in Christ.
For forty days Jesus demonstrated to his disciples that he was alive and taught them about the kingdom of God. And then, he ascended into heaven as he was exalted to the right hand of God. In his Pentecost sermon, Peter said that it is as the exalted Lord that Jesus has poured forth the Spirit.
The Spirit who was involved in the work of creation is the One who works recreation. It is the Spirit who creates new life as we are born again of water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. The Spirit makes us a new creation in Christ. It is the Spirit who will transform our body in the resurrection to be like Jesus. And so for all of these reasons, the outpouring of the Spirit was an end time event.
In Christ, the end has begun. But it is also not yet. And so while we look for our Lord’s return in glory we listen to Joel’s words: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” In faith we call on the name of the Lord Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord. We find forgiveness in him and peace with God. We know that because of Jesus’ resurrection, we too will be raised. And we know that the Spirit poured out on Pentecost whom we have now received is the guarantee of our own resurrection on the Last Day.