I want to take this piece of string and stretch out its 15-foot length. Let’s say the one end of the string is the beginning of the world; God creates time by creating the light and dark (Genesis 1:3-5). The other end represents the end of the world; Jesus will come down from heaven again. People will stop what they are doing, see him, and stand gathered before his judgment throne (Matthew 24:30-31; 25:31-46). So, this string represents the beginning of time and the end of time.
Now, let’s chart a few significant events [and we’ll track them by using these clothespins]. In the Apostle’s Creed you confess: (1) Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit and (2) is later born. We know after 33 years of life he (3) suffers, (4) dies, and (5) is buried. Three days later he (6) rises from the dead. Forty days after Easter he (7) rises into heaven to sit in power over all things. Now, how does time end? (8) Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead, right? [We’ll place this clothespin at the end of the string.] So, we have clothespins marking the order of Jesus’ life. However, we do not know where these events fall in relation to the end of the world. Are we days from Jesus’ final return? Are we years away?... centuries? … millennia? We don’t know, do we? (Matthew 24:36) There is something you do know, right? Look at this timeline again. What does Jesus have left to do? (Come again to judge). What is the last event he has [already] completed? (Entered heaven to rule all things for our good). So, you see this gap on this timeline between his ascension and his return. Here’s the question: Where and how do you fit in?
With all the events of Jesus’ earthly life complete, it can feel like all you have left to do is sit around waiting to meet Jesus. That is not true. Life after Pentecost teaches you to: Prophesy in These Last Days! Why? God has poured out the Holy Spirit. How (do you prophesy)? The Holy Spirit equips you for service.
In our reading, a prophet named Joel points to a specific time in world history. In verse 28 he says, “[A]fterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” “One day,” God says, “the Holy Spirit will fill the hearts of people and they will prophesy.”
Now, before Jesus is born, God selected certain people to be prophets. He gave them a message through a vision (Isaiah 6) or a dream (Daniel 7) or conversation (Exodus 3). The prophet would then share this message with an audience. Joel looks ahead to a time when God will send out more prophets, but these would not be your Old Testament prophets. He uses the word: “prophesy” in a broader definition, meaning: “to proclaim.” “There will come a time,” Joel says, “when believers will proclaim God’s message of love to the world.” It is the disciple Peter who tells us when that time is.
Fifty days after Easter (which is where we get the word ‘Pentecost’) the disciples sit together in a room, when the Holy Spirit suddenly rushes in and settles on them, giving each disciple the ability to speak fluently in a real foreign language (Acts 2:1-11). Peter stands up before thousands and explains, “We are not drunk! This [miraculous ability to preach in different languages] was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people’” (Acts 2:16-17). So, we can label another clothespin “Pentecost” and put it after Jesus’ ascension; God pours out his Holy Spirit on people and they prophesy.
Yet, this “proclaiming” does not stop on this one Pentecost day; it continues. God says: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” The verb [will pour] shows continual action. Joel sees the Holy Spirit poured out like a bucket of water on Pentecost and the water spreading throughout every generation.
Hasn’t that happened? “Flesh” reminds us of who we are— mortals with skin that ages, bones that break, minds that weaken, and bodies that break down and die. That is because our “flesh” houses a sinful nature. The Bible clearly teaches: The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so (Romans 8:7). That means, you do not have the power to invite God into your heart so that you have faith. It’s impossible because the sinful mind does not want God. It means you cannot win God’s forgiveness with a large offering. You can be the kindest, most helpful person on the face of the earth and still live separated from God because the sinful mind does not want to obey God. You are dead— a lifeless corpse lying at the feet of God (Ephesians 2:1).
That is why God pours out his Holy Spirit. Why? To make you spiritually alive! (Ephesians 2:4-5) How? Well, how can [people] believe in the one of whom they have not heard? (Romans 10:14). You cannot hike through the woods, stare at a tree, and say: “I now believe in God!” A guilty conscience will never teach you: “Hey, you have a Savior. He cancels out guilt.” You cannot come to faith, let alone know who God is, unless you hear the Word of God (Romans 10:17).
When God’s message hits your heart, the Holy Spirit teaches you the guilt of your sins. He unveils the cross where Jesus’ life left. That innocent, blameless, sin-free life was given for you. That innocent, blameless, sin-free life is wrapped around you. The Holy Spirit teaches you that you are saved by God’s undeserved love alone—and by no other works (Ephesians 2:8-9). You receive faith, that is, spiritual life, as you hear the message (Romans 10:17).
That message is literally poured out on you in baptism. You hear the word: I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Yet, those are not just plain, empty words. God attaches a powerful promise to them. God clearly says: Repent and be baptized… And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
You see, your life lived between Jesus’ ascension and his final return is not spent doing nothing. Joel’s prophecy trickles throughout generations. The Holy Spirit has made his home in your heart, creating faith and daily strengthening your grasp on the wonderful truth of a Savior from the consequences of sin (John 16:5-11). This is why you can Prophesy in These Last Days! God has poured out the Holy Spirit. You know the message; you believe the message. You can share this message. How? The Holy Spirit equips you for service.
Have you ever stopped to think what brought you to sit here— not just sitting in a church building— but sitting here, listening to the words of a God you love and trust?
For many of us, faith can be traced back to Pentecost. The disciples speak the saving message in known languages. People gathered there listen, take the word back to their country, who in turn share it with those in their lives, and they share it further and further. Somewhere along the way those words hit the hearts of your ancestors and they shared it with their family! For others, your parents did not tell you about Jesus, but someone else did. A spouse or a grandparent or a neighbor or a friend. This message that can be traced back to Jerusalem has, by God’s grace, crossed an ocean and hit your door. Joel knew this would happen. He says: Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. Your mom and dad, your Pastor and friends are these “sons” and “daughters” and “men” and “servants” who carried the message of God. They all lived in these days between Jesus’ ascension and his final return, just like you do today.
So, how do you live life while waiting for Jesus? Well, you the words to speak. God says in the book of Hebrews (1:1-2), In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways… including visions, dreams, and direct conversation, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son— and those words are recorded in the Bible.
And those words bring the spiritually dead to spiritual life. Many still search for peace with God, but they do not know where to look. Some wander through nature or sit in their fishing boats, hoping their time in nature is actually time spent with God— but they never know for sure. Others focus on their emotions, hoping their feelings will convince them of faith. If you feel good and happy, then you must believe. If you feel sad and guilty, then you might be going to hell. So, they scramble for this inner willpower to cling to God. Still others hope their charitable giving and respectable life will get them into heaven. Yet, they never know for sure if they are doing enough. How can they do enough? Scripture makes it clear that their decisions and actions will never be enough! (Romans 3:23)
You can prophesy the words of life. You know Jesus enters this world to do what you and I cannot. He alone destroys the consequences we deserved for sin. He rises from the grave to tell us that we are forgiven freely. He tells us this forgiveness is a gift, a completed fact— not a feeling, not something we must earn—but a free gift put into your hands.
You know this truth so well, but stop for a moment and consider why God shares this Word. Think of it this way: God has given you this message. He has not hidden it in a far away place. He has not wrapped it up in a mysterious, unknown language no one is capable of understanding. God has spoken in a known language—a language that can be translated into English—so that you (who know English) can read, hear, and believe it and have eternal life! If God sees it as that important to communicate his Word to you, then how important it is for us to remain in the Word ourselves (so we don’t forget it), teach our children of a Savior, and share Jesus with others.
Because, as you can see on our timeline, you and I live somewhere between Jesus’ ascension and his final return. Are we days from Jesus’ final return? Are we years away?... centuries? … millennia? We don’t know, do we? (Matthew 24:36) There is something you do know, right? Look at this timeline again. What does Jesus have left to do? (Come again to judge).
Every day you wake up it is another day for you to know Jesus better and it is another chance for a nonbeliever to come to faith. The Holy Spirit has been poured out—and yes, on all flesh! He is present wherever the Word of God is spoken. He is always present to strengthen faith and to create new faith.
Peter the disciple tells you that Joel’s prophecy has started its fulfillment on the day of Pentecost. From the one city of Jerusalem, the Word of God has spread throughout the entire world. And Joel reminds you the Word will continue spreading.
So, you have more to do than sit around waiting to meet Jesus. While time continues Prophesy in These Last Days! Why? God has poured out the Holy Spirit. How? The Holy Spirit equips you for service.
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