Great people quite often tend to be controversial people. During the Second World War in England, Winston Churchill was hailed and loved as the “man of the hour”. His impassioned speeches encouraged the Brits to courageously resist the onslaught of the Nazi war machine. England’s men, women, and children squared off with the evil Axis even at the cost of “blood, sweat, and tears.” But shortly after the war ended, England turned its back on its war hero and instead elected Clement Atlee as Prime Minister. Instead of being hailed and loved, he was loathed by many.
When the greatest man who ever lived moved among people, similar reactions emerged. The apostle John remarks casually in the opening chapter of his Gospel, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:11) While hundreds of people thronged towards him in Galilee and Judea, his hometown people in Nazareth attempted to throw him off the cliff to kill him. As the fullness of the gospel unfolded, we see that Jesus was either worshiped or whipped, followed or flogged, crowned or crucified. The presence of Jesus elicited both responses.
When the Apostle Paul brought the gospel message he was either received with joy or ridiculed with jest. The messenger himself was either loved or hated, gratefully embraced or gruesomely embattled. Like the messenger, the gospel message acts like double-edged sword.
Luke 20:18 “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”
On the Day of Pentecost, when God descended on the crowd gathered in the person of the Holy Spirit, Luke informs us that there were two different reactions. “Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’ Some however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.” Both seekers and scoffers were present. At this point Peter stands up to clarify, “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!” These men may well be intoxicated, but not with young wine, but with the new wine of the Holy Spirit. Listen, this is what is taking place here today. “No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.’” (Acts 2:12-18)
A new era… the Church era, has begun! The Holy Spirit is working in a new way, an intimate way, and an available way introducing explicit signs of God’s grace. Note the intriguing story in Numbers 11 of Eldad and Medad. These two men who are listed among the elders of Israel were given the gift of prophecy. When this extraordinary phenomenon was reported to Joshua, he suggested to Moses that they be stopped! Moses’ replies, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”
Moses’ wish became reality! When God unleashes his Holy Spirit upon his people on the day of Pentecost, all prophetic tongues break lose and there is no stopping. All the Lord’s people do indeed become prophets and his Holy Spirit is placed on every one of them.
Peter makes that abundantly clear when he sees in this Pentecost event the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel, recorded in Joel 2:28-32. As it is fulfilled longstanding and tough barriers are eliminated and erased. The Holy Spirit is no respecter of persons. He is poured out upon all flesh, all people. Joel mentions young men who see visions and old men who dream dreams. Gone is the age barrier. The Holy Spirit gifts not only Eldad and Medad, elders in Israel, with prophetic powers, but now also their sons. Gone is also the gender barrier. Prophecy, visions, dreams and the gift of the Spirit are given to daughters as well as sons, to women as well as men. What was an exception in the era of the Old Covenant now becomes the accepted norm. The prophetess Hulda (2 Kings & 2 Chronicles) is joined by her sisters all across the globe, the daughters of Philip, and brothers and sisters in Christ today!
Gone are the age barriers. Gone are the gender barriers. To this church which began as Jewish, gentiles were grafted in by the same Spirit. Social barriers, educational barriers, and racial barriers began to come down. The Holy Spirit includes and calls all God’s people, the rich and the ragged, the scholar and the servant.
Today a 6-year-old girl can tell her friend that Jesus loves her. A 75-year-old saint in China witnesses to faith in the one Lord from his torturous prison cell. A committed Christian educator can posit a compelling argument in a scholarly journal undermining the theory of atheistic evolutionism. Christian missionaries go undercover to rescue thousands of young women preyed upon by sex traffickers and help them find employment and a new beginning. All of these declare the wonders of God within cultural contexts and real time because the Holy Spirit of God has been unleashed on all flesh.
However, note that the Holy Spirit not only introduces explicit signs of God’s grace. He also introduces explosive signals of a final crisis, a judgment. Peter not only quotes Joel 2:28-29, but he also quotes Joel 2:30-32. “I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.”
Next to the prophecies, the visions, and the dreams, we find blood and fire and billows of smoke. We hear of the sun turning to darkness and the moon turning to blood. These signs will be universally displayed, both in the heavens above and on the earth below. They will include the heavenly bodies of the sun and the moon. Joel and Peter could also have mentioned the falling of stars. All of these signals will be so awesome and so dreadful that all people on earth will be affected. No one will escape.
They remind us what Jesus himself spoke of when he responded to his disciples’ question concerning his coming and the end of the age. Jesus talked about the fact that “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” All of this will take place “before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.” The vanishing of the sun, the moon, and the stars introduce us to the final chapter of human history. These universal signals are at the same time eschatological (end-time) signals.
Peter wants to communicate on this Day of Pentecost that the Holy Spirit comes both in judgment as well as in grace. The wind, the fire, and the tongues not only illustrate that the Holy Spirit has powerfully invaded our humanity with the Lord’s prophetic word of grace; these signs also offer a prelude of the Lord’s coming in judgment. The Holy Spirit has come! Now there is hope for the seekers, to those who inquire, “What does all of this mean?” For the earnest seekers, Pentecost means: grace has broken in upon you! You too will become part of the mighty movement of this age of the Holy Spirit. You too will prophesy, see visions, and dream dreams.
But it also carries a warning to those who sneer and ridicule the Good News of Jesus. Those who will do everything in their power to undermine its impact on their lives and on society. Let them beware, for the Spirit who has come in grace, with visions and dreams, this same Spirit also comes with blood and fire, with holocausts, wars, and devastation.
Peter concludes his quotation from Joel’s prophecy with a challenge, an invitation. “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” This is the beautiful signature of God’s salvation! This is a word for seekers and scoffers alike. The invitation is open-ended. It is for everyone, regardless of gender, class, or race. A divine lifeline is thrown to all who are drowning, to all members of the human family. It is thrown to you and to me.
The only condition to God’s unconditional love? We must receive it… we must believe it! Salvation is for “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord!” The phrase “calling on the name of the Lord” is the Old Testament’s equivalence of “worshiping the Lord.” To bow before him, to offer “your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” (Romans 12:1) By implication, to acknowledge our own emptiness, our frailty and our failures. There is of necessity a coming ‘to the end of ourselves’ in opening up to Him.
So we call. Like this plea of desperation, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). It may be like the response of a man blinded and awe-struck in meeting Jesus himself, “Who are you, Lord?” (Acts 9:5) It may be an almost inaudible prayer like that of the tax collector in the temple, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13) It may be like the wailing of ten lepers who cry from the distance, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.” (Luke 17:13) It may be like the cry of a blind beggar, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” (Luke 18:38) It may be like those simple desperate words of a dying thief, “Lord, remember me.” (Luke 23:42) However the call is made, it is now toll free. The results of calling on the name of the Lord are always the same: the blind receive their sight, lepers are cleansed, and sinners are forgiven and received into the Kingdom of Jesus.
That’s the Good News of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit continues the ministry of Jesus. It’s a ministry of salvation, a ministry of hope, a ministry of renewal and refreshment. Jesus is in heaven, but his ministry empowered by the Spirit continues through Peter, John, Thomas, Paul, and even to this very day. Jesus’ ministry continues through young men who dream dreams and sons and daughters who see visions. It continues through prayer warriors and worship leaders, through school teachers, and van drivers, accountants and Disney characters. It continues through school crossing guards and church treasurers and auto mechanics and piano teachers. Through engineers, salespersons, retired equipment operators, Air Conditioning service professionals, and Library Archivists… It continues with a Christian couple sharing their faith with a neighbor, and a housewife listening to the plight of her friend. It continues when a child gives a Christmas gift to another child who has gone without. Jesus’ ministry continues through all of God’s people who are truly possessed with the Spirit of prophecy from assembly lines to the shopping malls.
A new era has been ushered in. It’s an era of grace and salvation, of mission and evangelism. It’s also an era of impending judgment, of darkened suns and blighted moons, of blood and fire and billows of smoke. Listen and hear the urgent call to all who have ears to hear. “Repent and call on the name of the Lord…”And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!”