When the Spirit of God shows up

September 25th, 2016

Joel 2:23-32

There is much in life that is unpredictable—our health, world affairs, and the behavior of others to name three. This unpredictability becomes significant only because much of our life is predictable—our routines at work and home. Other people are predictable—the relative who will talk your ear off, the friend who loves controversy, the colleague who always has a smile.

But what about God—is God predictable? Is there a set pattern to God’s encounters with us? Do our encounters with God have a predictable effect on us? That is one of the issues the prophet Joel addresses in this passage. The prophecy that bears his name is short—only three chapters. The three chapters focus on a single problem. There is a national crisis—a plague of locusts. Joel sees this plague as an onset of the “day of the LORD” (Joel 2:31), which is mentioned five times in the book. It is a familiar theme for the Hebrew prophets. The day of the Lord is a day when God will go to war with God’s enemies.

This event in the history of Israel is meant to be a warning to God’s people—including us. We, too, have locusts in our lives that serve as wake-up calls—a tragedy, a failure, people who seek to harm us. The result of these locusts in our day is that our joy is “withered away” (1:12 NIV). Joel’s word to believers of both his day and ours is simple: these “locusts” are pointing us to God. That doesn’t mean, of course, that God has sent the locusts—although God may have. It does mean that God can use these events in our lives to draw us closer to him.

If that is true, what should our response be to the locusts in our lives? Some fight back when they feel attacked. Others work harder in their personal or spiritual lives. Some become depressed and shut down. Still others play the blame game and try to find someone responsible for the difficulties they are facing.

Faithful folks, wisely, turn to God. When a person does this, they can expect criticism. Friends may suggest that it is hypocritical to turn to God in a time of personal crisis. “Why didn’t you turn to God in the good times?” they ask. Interestingly, God never suggests this in Scripture. God encourages us to turn to him in our times of crisis. Joel says that God can and will do something about the locusts. God waits on us to place our faith in God. Then, God acts on our behalf.

Joel contends that God always responds when his people repent. God responds by putting things right. The Lord protects us from our enemies. God comes to provide for our basic needs. God comes to comfort us in our sorrow and despair.

If this is the way God responds to the negative events in our lives, how should we respond to God’s intervention? Some might lapse back into spiritual lethargy. Some might take God’s intervention for granted. Joel envisions a day when the people of Israel respond as they should. They will respond to God’s intervention by living in a new way. This new way of living is the life of the Spirit.

Joel contends that when we respond to God in faith he will pour out his Spirit on us—regardless of our age, gender, or status. This is a new idea; in the Old Testament God’s Spirit is poured out on individuals— prophets, kings, leaders. The Spirit resides in a person as long as they are doing God’s will. Once their task is completed, the Spirit leaves them. Joel envisions a day when the Spirit is poured out on all God’s people and remains with them.

The result of this gift from God is that wonderful, unexpected things will be seen. Everyone will testify to God’s goodness. Men will testify, as we might expect in an ancient cultural context. But, surprisingly, women and children will also testify. This is a sign of a new world.

Of course, Christians understand that new world to be the kingdom of God. They understand this new world to have begun at Pentecost, when followers of Jesus received the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. These disciples went out into the streets of Jerusalem and witnessed to what they had seen and heard. Peter’s sermon at Pentecost is the summary of what these first Christians were telling their Jerusalem neighbors. It is a reaffirmation of Joel’s message: repent, turn to God, experience God’s blessing, receive the Holy Spirit, and enter the kingdom of God. Peter makes clear that this has all been made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, who, he claims, is the promised Messiah.

Joel’s little book presents us with a timeline. It is a timeline for Israel, but it is also a timeline for our own lives. Each of us must decide where we are on that timeline. Are you living with the locusts? This is the initial stage where a person realizes that there is a problem and that they need help.

Are you turning to God? Have you come to the conclusion that God can and will help and that you need to ask for his help? This is the second stage.

Have you turned to God and, as a result, are enjoying God’s blessings? This is where many Christians are today. They have turned to God and God has responded, and they are enjoying their blessed status.

Or, are you living in the Spirit? This is where God wants us to be. If we are living in the Spirit, we are telling others about what God has done and wants to do. We are sharing what God has done for us and encouraging others to join us in this wonderful new life in the Spirit.

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