Summary: A look at the prophecies of Joel in light of Peter’s speech on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit has been made available to all who will repent and turn to God.
The day of Pentecost. I don’t know what your traditions have been in the past but I don’t think I’d really heard much about the day of Pentecost until I moved to the Nazarene Church. Now this might be strange considering we moved from a Pentecostal church but then again I was only about 8 at the time. But when I did move to the Nazarene Church it was something which was preached about. We are not that liturgical in the Nazarene tradition, or at least most of us aren’t in that we don’t follow set texts for the year. But there are one of two occasions when we do, Easter, Christmas and Pentecost.
So what is it all about. In Jewish tradition Pentecost was a harvest festival that took place 50 days after Passover, hence the name Pentecost, meaning 50. It was one of those festivals that not only would Jews from around Judea and Galilee come to Jerusalem to celebrate but Jews from all round the Roman world would make the journey. Now most of them wouldn’t come every year but many would come at least once. So you can imagine it, the city was overflowing with people from all round the world, speaking all kinds of languages and engaged in celebrations and parties. Sometimes we think of religious festivals as somber occasions and some are but this one wasn’t. They had to make an offering of grain to God from the first fruits of the harvest but then they would celebrate. In fact the atmosphere would probably be like a modern international sports festival and Jerusalem at the time must have been very similar to the atmosphere in Manchester when the Commonwealth games were there last year. People of all cultures mixing and partying in the streets and then there would be the squares where people would just gather together and party.
And in the midst of this were Jesus disciples. They must have been elated at his resurrection and then awed by his ascension into heaven but also a little saddened that Jesus was gone and a bit afraid and unsure about what to do next. Jesus had told them to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit but if their previous performance was anything to go by then they probably didn’t really know what was going on. But they did still gather together and probably not just the 12 either but all those who followed him including some of the women.
Anyway, as they were gathered together the Holy Spirit did come. With the sound of a great rushing wind and the visible sign of flames of fire, which I discovered only a few years ago is what is meant by tongues of fire, just flames. Yup, I know, degrees in Maths and Physics and doesn’t know what a tongue of fire is. Anyway the Spirit that came enabled them to speak in foreign languages. As they went out on to the streets they caused a commotion. You know when you are in a foreign country and you here people speaking your native language you are always curious and often go and say hi, just to talk in your native language. Well, the people in Jerusalem were the same. They heard these people talking in their language and when they went to investigate they were not natives of their country or even rich people or scholars who would have been likely to travel or speak their languages but fishermen and other assorted group who were from Galilee a backwater province. Understandably they were confused. So Peter stood up and began to explain things. He did so by telling them about Jesus, his death and his resurrection. Remember many of these people were only in town for the festival and would not know much about Jesus although many of them would have come for passover and stayed for Pentecost so they would know something about Jesus death, but not his life and resurrection. But then he goes on to justify what is happening now by referring to a prophecy from the Old Testament. A prophecy from the book of Joel, and saying that it had been fulfilled. So what I want to look at this morning is that prophecy from the book of Joel and see if by understanding what it means we can understand what the significance of Pentecost is.
Context of Joel
Firstly, the context of Joel. Unfortunately we really don’t know a lot about Joel. We don’t know when it was written or what the circumstances where but we do know a bit from the book itself. The people who it was written to seemed to worship God, but some how they were not doing right. They observed all the outward forms, the sacrifices, the ripping of clothes in repentance but they didn’t change their attitudes or their behaviour. If we extrapolate a bit from the other prophets then it was likely that they exploited the poor and had corrupt justice systems. Whatever the sins were they were paying for it. From chapter 1 to chapter 2 verse 11, we are told about the condition of the nation. The land had been devastated by locusts and a drought. There was famine in the land. It was so bad that Joel compared the locusts to an invading army moving relentlessly across the land, scaling walls and never stopping, leaving utter devastation in their wake. I don’t know if you know anything about locusts but they are actually grasshoppers who under certain conditions that no-one really knows what they are, swarm at one time, with millions in one swarm and they settle in an area until they have eaten everything and then they move on. They leave utter devastation in their path, destroying everything. And worse is to come, more than just comparing the locusts to an invading army, Joel seems to see the locusts as pointing to the armies that are going to come, marching across the land.