I Will Pour Out My Spirit On All People
July 10, 2005
A few days ago I happened to see my son Mark intently reading a paperback book. When I asked him what he was reading, he named a title I recognized as being very popular with Christians in their 20’s and early 30’s. It is, in fact, a bestseller with that group. How did Mark like it? “It’s great, Dad. This book says a lot of things I had been thinking and feeling but couldn’t put into words.” So I picked up the book, looked at it, thumbed through the pages, and said, “Maybe I should read it.”
“I don’t think you should read it, Dad.”
That surprised me. What, does it have too many big words? No, that’s not the problem, it’s just not written for my generation. Then Mark added the “fighting words.” “I don’t think you’d understand it.” He was smiling as he said it. “It’s written for people my age. I don’t think you’d get what the author is saying.”
Who could resist a challenge like that? So I determined to read the book and try to understand it if I could, given my advanced age and all that. I had been cherry-picking parts of the book when I decided I might mention it in this sermon. Did Mark mind if I used his name? Not at all. “Have you read the whole book?” No, just parts of it. A few minutes passed and then Mark popped into my room and said, “Be sure and read the chapter on worship. That’s the heart of the book.” Maybe five minutes later Mark reminded me again to read the chapter on worship. “Do you think I can understand it?” I didn’t want to get in over my head. He laughed and said I would probably understand most of it. So I read the chapter on worship, expecting to find something about worship styles, and ended up being surprised because it’s not about that at all. The worship chapter is only five pages out of a 240 page book, so there isn’t space to get into a discussion of traditional versus contemporary or anything like that.
By the way, the book is called Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. The author grew up in an evangelical church and almost lost his faith as a result. The book details how he gave up religion and found Christianity. He is only 34 years old, so he can speak with authority to his own generation. I should add that I still haven’t read the entire book and can’t offer a detailed commentary. But I enjoyed the chapter on worship and found it challenging. Here is the heart of his thesis:
Too much of our time is spent trying to chart God on a grid, and too little is spent allowing our hearts to feel awe. By reducing Christian spirituality to a formula, we deprive our hearts of wonder…
I want to tell you something about me that you may see as a weakness. I need wonder. I know that death is coming. I smell it in the wind, read it in the paper, watch it on television, and see it on the faces of the old. I need wonder to explain what is going to happen to me, what is going to happen to us when this thing is done, when our shift is over and our kids’ kids are still on the earth listening to their crazy rap music. I need something mysterious to happen after I die. I need to be somewhere else after I die, somewhere with God, somewhere that wouldn’t make any sense if it were explained to me right now (pp. 205-206).
Those words contain enormous depth of insight. Death is coming. There is no escaping it. We saw death fill our screens last Thursday when the terrorists attacked London. Those fears we tried to bury after 9/11 suddenly came surging to the surface again. They were never that far away. And Donald Miller is right. Charting the truth about God on a grid (something theologians love to do) will hardly help us when life tumbles in. We need to know the truth about God, but we need the wonder also.
Here’s another quote from earlier in the same chapter:
I love how the Gospels start, with John the Baptist eating bugs and baptizing people. The religious people started getting baptized because it had become popular, and John yells at them and calls them snakes. He says the water won’t do anything for them, it will only get their snakeskins wet. But if they meant it, if they had faith that Jesus was coming and was real, then Jesus would ignite the kingdom life within them. I love that because for so long religion was my false gospel. But there was no magic in it, no wonder, no awe, no kingdom life burning in my chest. And when I get tempted by the same stupid Christian religion, I go back to the beginning of the Gospels and am comforted that there is something more than the emptiness of ritual. God will ignite the kingdom life within me, the Bible says. That’s mysticism. It isn’t a formula that I am figuring out. It is something God does (pp. 203-204).
I believe Donald Miller is on to something important that we need to hear. Religion, even good, biblical, evangelical religion, can become a “false gospel” that leads us astray. We all need ritual, but ritual alone cannot transform us. Perhaps his most important statement is this: “God will ignite the kingdom life within me.” He’s right about that. It’s not the work of man. It’s something God does because it’s something only God can do.
And that brings me to the words of a prophet named Joel. Writing approximately 830 BC, he predicted a day would come when God would pour out his Spirit on all people. Joel 2:28 contains a direct promise from God: “I will pour out my Spirit.”
Let’s break that sentence down for a moment:
I—the sovereignty of God.
Will—the determination of God.
Pour Out—the generosity of God.
My Spirit—the personality of God.
This is one of the greatest statements in the Bible. This is how God ignites kingdom life in his people. He pours out his Spirit on them and they are never the same again. When God promises to “pour out” the Spirit, this is more than a trickle. It means that God plans to release the floodgates of heaven into the human heart. No man can do this on his own. I can preach for hours, but I cannot pour out God’s Spirit upon you. This is not the result of church membership or the organized aspects of local church life. This is God doing what only God can do. I think that’s part of what Donald Miller had in mind. We must individually go to God for this outpouring, and he must come to us with the power of his Spirit. Unless that happens, we will never be changed. And when that does happen, we will never be the same again.
Let’s consider this amazing promise of the Spirit from five different perspectives.
I. This is a Promise for the Last Days.
When Joel records the promise, he uses the phrase “and afterward” in verse 28 to indicate that the blessing of God’s Spirit comes after God’s judgment on the unbelieving people of Judah. Eight hundred years later Peter quotes Joel 2 at the beginning of his magnificent sermon in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41). When the Holy Spirit came upon the early disciples, they began to speak with other tongues, declaring the Lord’s greatness in languages that they did not know. Some scoffing onlookers thought they were drunk, but Peter said that was impossible since it was only 9 AM — too early to be drunk! Peter then gave the right explanation. What happened in Jerusalem was a fulfillment of what Joel had predicted eight centuries earlier: “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16). The King James is even plainer: “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.”
“This is that.” What Joel predicted has now started to come true. On the Day of Pentecost, God began to pour out his Spirit on all people, just as he said he would.
When Peter quotes Joel, he changes one part of the quotation. Where Joel said, “afterwards,” Peter says, “in the last days.” In the New Testament the “last days” refers to the entire period of time starting with Pentecost and ending with Second Coming of Christ to the earth. Pentecost inaugurates the last days. It marks the start of the final chapter of human history. It doesn’t matter that the “last days” have already lasted for 2000 years. God doesn’t count time the way we do. Think of it this way …
What Joel predicted in 830 BC,
Peter says has come to fulfillment in AD 33.
That fulfillment continues in the 2000 years since then,
And will not be complete until Jesus returns to the earth.
You cannot understand Joel 2 and Acts 2 apart from God’s great purpose to empower his people with the Spirit so they will take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8 says that very plainly: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” God never pours out his Spirit simply for the purpose of entertaining us or to cause strange emotional manifestations. Those things may happen on occasion, but that is beside the point. God pours out his Spirit so that we will be bold witnesses for Christ starting where we are and going to “the ends of the earth.”
If someone asks, “Are we living in the Last Days?” the answer will always be yes because the last days started 2000 years ago. And as we come ever closer to the return of Christ, we can also believe that we may be living in the literal last days before the coming of the Lord.
II. This is a Promise for All People.
seat of our weakness. The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41). Because sin resides in our flesh, that’s where we fight our spiritual battles. Here, the Lord promises to send his Spirit at the very point of our personal weakness. Do you struggle with certain sins that cause you to feel unworthy of the Lord? God promises to pour out his Spirit in the very place where you struggle. It’s as if we say, “Lord, I’m too big a sinner to receive your Spirit,” and the Lord replies, “You are indeed a sinner, but my grace is far greater than your sin.” He not only forgives us in Christ, he also sends his Spirit to help us walk with him. What a humbling, exalting thought this is. He does not say, “To your strength, I will add my strength,” but “On your flesh with all its weakness, I will pour out my Spirit.”
Notice that he promises to pour out his Spirit on all people. Pentecost means that the Spirit is no longer given only to spiritual leaders in Israel; the Spirit now indwells everyone who calls on the name of the Lord. Numbers 11 records a remarkable story from the days when the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. Because the Jews continually complained to Moses, he became exasperated and told the Lord he couldn’t lead the people anymore (v. 14). God responded by telling Moses to call seventy of Israel’s elders to come to the Tent of Meeting where he (God) would take the Spirit that was upon Moses and put that same Spirit upon the seventy elders so they could help Moses lead the people. When the Spirit came upon those laymen, they began to prophesy before the Lord. That means they publicly praised the name of the Lord. It was like preaching, but it was more than that. The Spirit so filled them that all seventy men began to praise the Lord together. It must have been quite a scene. However, two of the elders remained in the camp and did not go to the Tent of Meeting. Their names were Eldad and Medad. And even though they stayed behind, the Spirit came upon them and they began prophesying in the midst of the camp, which no doubt shook everyone up. A young lad ran to tell Moses what was happening. Before he could say anything, Joshua spoke up and urged Moses to make Eldad and Medad stop prophesying. Joshua thought things were spinning a bit out of control. If Moses didn’t take a firm hand, you’d have ordinary people standing up and prophesying left and right, and you couldn’t have that. Instead of telling the two men to stop, Moses said to Joshua, “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!” (Number 11:29) This is exactly what Joel was predicting. That a day would come when all God’s people would experience the power of the Holy Spirit.
What Moses wished for,
What Joel predicted,
What Peter explained,
Is now available to every believer.
That’s the whole point of the text. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the Holy Spirit’s power is only for religious professionals. The promise is for you. It’s not just for graduates of Moody or Wheaton or Trinity or Dallas Theological Seminary. You don’t have to go to Bible school to experience the Holy Spirit’s power. And you don’t have to pass an exam in Greek or Hebrew. We should say with Moses, “Would that all God’s people were prophets!” I think the young people have figured this out better than we have. They understand that the church belongs to the people, not to the leaders, and that the true work of the ministry belongs to people themselves. May the Lord hasten the day when every person at Calvary speaks boldly and publicly in the power of the Holy Spirit to testify about Jesus Christ. Hear what John Piper says:
Would that all God’s people were so filled with God that our love and admiration could not but spill over into words. Would that every Wednesday night and every Sunday night we might come together so deeply moved by the Spirit that we would fall over each other to testify in prophetic words of edifying praise to what we have seen of God. What is it that hinders us? What is it in our tradition that has locked us into ourselves, and imprisoned us in solitary cells of silence? Why, why, in the name of Pentecost are we so reticent to speak of God when opportunity is given the church and beyond? I don’t know why. But this I know: it is not the Spirit; it is not the Spirit of God that seals your lips and makes you think that praise and exhortation is a private affair.
III. This is a Promise for All Groups.
men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28-29).
The Holy Spirit does not discriminate.
We are the ones who discriminate. We have our little groups and we tend to stay in those groups. We hang out with people who are like us in some way or another. We tend to associate with those who think like us, act like us, dress like us, talk like us, walk like us, speak like us and look like us. We divide ourselves by age, sex, race, skin color, language, culture, clothing, education, housing, income, ethnic origin and national origin. We divide and then we divide again. We’re so good at it that we do it without thinking. We gravitate to PLU—People Like Us. And we don’t hang out with people who don’t fit our profile.
God’s isn’t like that. He’s no respecter of persons.
He doesn’t discriminate on the basis of sex: “your sons and daughters will prophesy.”
He doesn’t discriminate on the basis of age: “your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.”
He doesn’t discriminate on the basis of social class: “even on my servants …I will pour out my Spirit.” The word “servants” translates a Hebrew word that means “slaves.”
God is no front-runner. He doesn’t pick his friends only from the better parts of town. He doesn’t associate only with people from Winnetka, Lincoln Park or River Forest. He’ll hang out with anyone who’ll hang out with him. He’ll be friends with anyone who wants to be friends with him. And when it comes to pouring out his Spirit, he doesn’t favor the rich or the famous. He’s perfectly willing to pour out his Spirit on the poorest of the poor. Our God does not play favorites.
I spent some time thinking about the statement that old men will dream dreams and young men will see visions. Why does he mention that? When you are young, you naturally have visions of what the future might hold. I can remember the exuberance I felt in my late teens and early 20’s as I was just starting out for the Lord. Everything seemed possible. I had a ton of grandiose ideas — some of which turned out to be quite impractical. It’s natural and normal for young people to feel restless. It would bother me if they didn’t. I completely understand why the young get turned off by all the machinery of the modern church. It does seem like a convoluted mess, doesn’t it? The fact that young people get turned off by the church is a good sign that the Holy Spirit is at work. It’s a good thing when they come to church, look around, and then say, “We could do better than this.” That’s part of the vision that God gives to every new generation. I felt that way 35 years ago about the church I attended as a teenager.
But that’s not the whole story. God also says that old men will dream dreams. They dream because their work on earth is almost done, and because they aren’t afraid to die, they are now free to dream big dreams of what God might do after they are gone. As men and women pass their 70th year and move toward 75 and then 80 and 85, they are increasingly freed of the earthly burdens they carried for so many decades. That freedom often gives birth to big dreams from the Lord. It’s good to be around old men who dream dreams because they keep the rest of us from settling into the rut of mediocrity. Cliff Raad is one such person in my life. Though he is 81 years old, he looks like he’s 61, talks like he’s 41, and acts like he’s 21. We call him the director of our Senior Adult Ministry, but he actually serves as one of my closest advisors. Cliff has big dreams that often put my dreams to shame. It’s good for me to be around him.
If you want to find the real action in the church today, you need to go out to the generational edges — to the young and to the old. They have visions and dreams of what God wants to do through his church. By young I mean roughly under 30. By old I mean over 65. That’s where the real action is. It’s the generation in the middle that gives us problems. And at 52, I am squarely in the middle of that troublesome Baby Boomer generation. If I am honest with myself, I remember when dreams and visions came much easier to me than they do now. Like most people at my stage of life, I’ve got tons of concerns that I have to think about. I have obligations and responsibilities, promises to keep, bills to pay, meetings to attend, and a to-do list that never really gets done. I’m no different from anyone else in these “middle years” of life.
The young have visions because they don’t know any better.
The old dream dreams because their work is mostly done.
We need the energy of the young and the faith of the old if the church is to be all God wants it to be in the 21st-century. Yesterday while surfing the Internet (a form of sermon preparation), I came upon a statement by one of the leaders of the “emerging church.” What will be the church of the future need in order to be successful? “Retired missionaries may become a huge asset to the emerging church.” That strikes me as a hugely important statement that goes right along with the spirit of Joel 2. Retired missionaries have been spent decades in places like Germany, Thailand, Nigeria and Brazil, exegeting the culture and trying to figure out how to explain the gospel in ways that people can understand. It will be a great thing if in the future the younger leaders partner with retired missionaries who still have a burning heart to see God do great things in the world today.
One final point and we’ll move on. These “dreams” and “visions” of Joel 2 and Acts 2 are not given by God simply for our personal enjoyment or in order to make us feel closer to God. In the Bible, God gave dreams and visions at crucial moments in history in order to advance his cause on the earth. When Paul saw a vision of the man from Macedonia (Acts 16:9-10), it was a missionary call, “Come over and help us.” The dreams and visions we need today are not about how to make more money, but how we can shake the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ. After I preached this sermon, a friend who attended worship in the Upper Room (UR) yesterday sent me this email:
Yesterday during worship a question came into my mind out of nowhere and became so strong that I spent part of the worship time just praying about the thought. The question was this: “What would happen if everyone in this room (I was in the Upper Room) was touched so deeply by the Holy Spirit that it changed the entire direction of our lives?”
I kept thinking about it and imagining the kind of global impact that might occur if dozens of people in the UR were suddenly called to Missions. I imagined God doing something right in Oak Park that would awaken all of our neighbors to the light of the Gospel. I thought about how it would save marriages and affect the next generation. It put a burden inside of me to pray that God would remove any blockages that would prevent Him from pouring out His Spirit in such a way at Calvary. I also had a deep sense that this was something the Lord wants to do in the next year or two.
IV. This is a Promise of Coming Judgment.
“I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, 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 dreadful day of the LORD” (Joel 2:30-31). We might be tempted to skip these verses or to think they aren’t connected or somehow don’t apply to us. But that would be a mistake. These verses describe a series of cataclysmic events just before the Second Coming of Christ when he comes to judge the earth.
These verses were not fulfilled in Joel’s day.
They were not fulfilled on Pentecost.
They have not been fulfilled since then.
These verses will be literally fulfilled in the days just preceding the coming of Christ to the earth when the world will be wracked by war on a scale unprecedented in human history. The attacks on 9/11 and the terrorist attack in London this week will seem tiny by comparison to the blood, fire and billows of smoke that will engulf the earth just before our Lord returns. It is a picture of the wrath of God that will cover the earth in judgment. It’s not easy or natural for us to think of God in these terms. As Daniel Harrell put it:
We’d like to think our Father who art in heaven has matured. We’d like to think that he’s learned to control his temper and overlook our sin. That hellfire and brimstone stuff, well, it’s just so crass.
It helps to remember that the Bible writers (unlike most modern men and women) did not shrink from using fear as a proper motivation. True preaching always involves the negative. We cannot preach the God of love if we do not also preach the God who judges sin and punishes sinners. If we do not preach the truth of God’s judgment, we present a warped gospel to the world that cannot save the lost.
V. This is a Promise of Free Salvation.
“And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved” (Joel 2:32). This is the flip side of the previous truth. If God will judge sinners (and he will), he also invites them to be saved from their sin. This text is so crucial that it appears in the Bible three times.
Once in Joel 2:28.
Once in Acts 2:21.
Once in Romans 10:13.
God always intended to make a universal offer of salvation through the death and resurrection of his Son. The outpouring of the Spirit means the offer of salvation now goes to every person on earth. And remember that everyone means everyone. It includes those poor souls who live in the slums of Calcutta and Port-au-Prince, but it includes the super-rich whose lives we read about in the weekly tabloids. The cultured and the illiterate are both offered free salvation. The prostitute and the debutante can both be saved. It certainly includes those who are regarded as “odd” or “strange” or “eccentric” by the world. And it reaches out to take in the sick, the weak, the disabled, the discouraged, the hopeless, and even the dying. No one is excluded.
Do you want to go to heaven? You can! Just call on the name of the Lord. And how do you do that?
Believe in the God revealed in the Bible.
Believe in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and rose from the dead.
Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior.
Cry out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner, for Jesus’ sake.”
If you call upon the name of the Lord, you will be saved. This is God’s promise to you. But you must do the calling. Do not wait or hesitate or put it off. Make sure that you yourself are going to heaven. If you cry out in Jesus’ name, you will be heard. God will not turn you away.
On the Edge of a Miracle
Spirit. It is always easy to find reasons why God won’t do something. But as I pointed out earlier, the young and old have something to teach us about that. God is more willing to pour out his Spirit than we are to receive his outpouring. The problem is never with God. It’s always with us.
God has more he wants to do in our midst. There are new adventures in store for us if we will “catch the wave” of the Spirit. But someone may say, “In the last days, hard times will come.” Yes, that is true and in many ways, hard times are already here. But God also declares, “In the last days, I will pour out my Spirit.” We should not be surprised that the last days will be days of trouble and blessing mixed together. So it has always been for God’s people. So it will be till Jesus comes again.
The terrorists may strike again — and they probably will.
God says, “I will pour out my Spirit in the last days.”
The love of many will grow cold.
God says, “I will pour out my Spirit in the last days.”
Christians will be persecuted in many places.
God says, “I will pour out my Spirit in the last days.”
When God’s Spirit is poured out, the result will be a church filled with passion, zeal and enormous spiritual power. God will ignite kingdom passion in every heart.
I want to be part of that. I don’t want to be left on the sidelines watching the action on the field. In the midst of trouble, destruction, terrorism, natural disasters, false religion and moral decline, God still says, “I will pour out my Spirit in the last days.”
This is my final sermon on the Holy Spirit. In the first message, I said that Holy Spirit comes like the wind–you cannot control him and you cannot predict where the wind of the Spirit will blow next. My heart cries out, “Wind of God, blow through me today. Let your gentle breeze blow out my doubt, my fear, my worry, my hesitation, and all my excuses. O Wind of God, blow through my heart and cleanse every part.”
I want to be part of what God is doing around the world. I believe he is raising up an end-times army of believers who are Spirit-filled, bold, bright, risk-taking, exuberant disciples of Jesus Christ. They are on the front lines of what God is doing around the world.
And so I say, “Lord, while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by. Holy Spirit, while you are traveling through Oak Park, please stop for a while at 931 Lake Street. Let your wind blow through our midst, sweeping out the old and everything that holds us back, and freeing us to serve you with great joy.”
I return one final time to Blue Like Jazz. The author is absolutely right that our hope does not rest in formulas or ritual or even in religion itself. Our only hope is in the Lord. We need God to ignite a kingdom fire in our hearts. And we need it today.
We need this word right now because we’re only a few months away from celebrating our 90th anniversary as a church. That’s a notable moment and we do well to celebrate God’s faithfulness. But it would be a shame if we looked at our present prosperity and considered the buildings God has given us, and after considering how we dwell in relative comfort and ease, if we then said, “It is enough.” How wrong that would be. How dangerous and how stifling to God’s Spirit. Better we should lose it all than for our prosperity to keep us from crying out to God. I remind you that this church was founded by young men and women who looked around Oak Park and said, “It’s not enough. We can do better than this.” May God impart that pioneer spirit and zeal to us today so that we will say to the Lord, “It is not enough. Fill us with your Spirit.”
During the days of the Reformation, many churches adopted Semper Reformanda as their motto. It means “Always reforming.” The church of Jesus is to be reformed and “always reforming.” That’s a good word for us today. We have not yet arrived and God is not done with us yet. May God pour out his Spirit in our midst, and I gladly say, “O Lord, begin with me.” Amen.