Summary: The "already/not yet" nature of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Who’s ready for some pop culture trivia this morning? In the 18-49 age group, what has been the highest rated TV series for the past two seasons? The Walking Dead. In case you’re not familiar with it, The Walking Dead is about some people trying to survive a zombie apocalypse. Who knows what the newly crowned Video Game of the Year is? Fallout 4. I’m obviously not a gamer, but I’m told that Fallout 4 is about life after a nuclear apocalypse. For the past two seasons, one of Fox’s top comedies is a show called The Last Man on Earth, which is a nasty show about life on earth after a virus apocalypse. One of the most-hyped new shows on NBC this season is a show starring Rob Lowe called You, Me and the Apocalypse. It’s about living in the days leading up to an asteroid apocalypse. You have to admit, in our culture today, there’s a real fascination with the end of the world, isn’t there? TV and movies try to imagine all the ways that it can happen—viruses, nuclear war, asteroids or comets, alien invasion, zombies, technology—even global warming. They try to figure out all the ways that it can happen, but the only reason they can keep generating ratings and selling tickets and video games is that, inherently, people know something’s coming. And it isn’t good. You see—God has planted an understanding of Himself and His coming wrath deep inside every person He’s ever created. That’s why even people who vehemently deny the existence of God will watch Doomsday Preppers. God hardwired us to know that this world is coming to an end one day. And I think that the current popular fascination with the apocalypse is a sign that it’s coming soon. At least we know this—it’s sooner now than it’s ever been. But what’s coming isn’t a zombie apocalypse. It isn’t somebody wandering around the earth looking for another survivor to have sex with. It isn’t sitting with your AR-15 eating Beanie Weenies in a fallout shelter. The apocalypse isn’t a Hollywood creation. But it is coming soon. And Joel gives us a glimpse of what it’s going to be like in our passage this morning. Remember a few weeks ago, we started our look at this book by understanding the overall theme of what the prophet Joel is talking about. Throughout the book, the underlying theme has been the apocalypse—or as the Bible calls it, “The Day of the Lord.” Remember we said The Day of the Lord is the time when God pours out His wrath on sin-marred and sin-scarred creation. Just like He destroyed everything on earth with water in Noah’s day, one day He’s going to destroy everything on earth with fire. I believe the Bible teaches that the Day of the Lord starts with the Rapture of the Church, and ends with the 1000-year rule of Jesus on earth called The Millennium. Just like Noah and his family were caught up in the ark and preserved from God’s wrath in the flood, believers from the church age will be caught up in the Rapture and preserved from God’s wrath in the apocalyptic Day of the Lord. For everybody who’s left behind, the Day of the Lord will be a terrifying time. The Book of Revelation uses images of seals and trumpets and bowls and woes to describe the increasing horror of what it will be like for those who are alive during that time. Global disease and famine and war are just the beginning of it. Fire from space. Water turning to blood. Mass slaughter. Cruelty and horror like the world has never seen before. But in the midst of all that—God is still faithful to keep His promises. And our passage this morning specifically shows how God will keep His promises to Israel.
To understand what Joel is talking about here, we need to have a quick overview of how God has dealt with His people throughout history. Out of all the people that God created, out of His great love and mercy, He chose to deal with a specific group of people in a special way. He called those people, Israel. That doesn’t mean that God didn’t love all the other people. It means that He desired that His specially chosen people would be the ones who would be His witnesses to everybody else. God’s desire has always been to draw people from every tribe and tongue and nation to Himself. And He chose Israel to be His instrument to do that through. God showed His strength through Israel. God gave His Word through Israel. And eventually, God gave His Son through Israel. But throughout Israel’s history, they continually rejected God. The entire history of your Old Testament is filled with Israel’s stiff-necked rebellion against God. They begged God for the law, then they broke it every chance they got. They begged Him for a king, then they followed those kings into idolatry and immorality and all kinds of wickedness. And when, through Israel, God sent His Son Jesus Christ—the Messiah of Israel, they rejected and crucified Him. John 1:11 says, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” You would think that after all of that, God would finally be done with them, wouldn’t you? And there are some people who think that. Some people think that the church has somehow replaced Israel, or somehow become Israel. But that’s not what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that God made some unconditional promises to Israel. He promised them a piece of land that they’ve never fully claimed. But more importantly than that, God promised that Israel would completely and fully obey every aspect of His law. And that they would completely and whole-heartedly love and follow Him. But they’ve never done that, have they? And because of their rebellion, God’s promises to them haven’t been fulfilled yet. But God made His promises unconditional. So God’s promises to them don’t depend on their faithfulness—they depend on His faithfulness. So we know that there will be a time when all of God’s unconditional promises to the nation Israel will be fulfilled. But even though God has chosen to deal in a special way with Israel, His love for all people is evident in the fact that Israel’s rebellion has opened the door to God dealing with us Gentiles in a special way. God’s desire was for Israel to be His witnesses to the world, to draw all people to Him. But since Israel rejected Jesus, God is now using the church for that. And at the same time, the Book of Romans makes it clear that, during this age, He is using His dealings with the church to eventually draw Israel back to Him. Romans 1:11-12 says, “So I ask, did they [Israel] stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!” So—during this time that we are living in—between the cross and the Rapture—God is working in a special way through His church rather than Israel. That’s not going to last forever. Because God still has some promises to Israel to fulfill. And He’s faithful to fulfill His promises. The problem is—it’s going to take experiencing God’s wrath during the Day of the Lord for them to recognize Jesus as their Messiah and turn to Him. But even in the midst of that terrible time of wrath, God will pour out blessing on His people. That’s what our passage this morning is about. The first blessing God will pour out on Israel during the Day of the Lord is His Spirit. Look at verses 28-29: