|February 25, 2010 – Joel and the Start of the Church
Recently I was reading Acts 2 and the sermon the apostle Peter gave on the Feast of Pentecost, the day that marks the beginning of God’s Church. Peter quotes from the prophecies of Joel in verses 17 through 21. But have you ever wondered why?
The passage speaks of God’s Spirit being poured out on all flesh, of young and old prophesying, of their dreams and visions. It speaks of signs in the heavens and a time when the "sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD" (Acts 2:20).
This passage is mixed with good and bad pronouncements. When you look at the source, one of the minor prophets of the Old Testament, you will read of horrible events. Locusts devouring the grain and famine and mourning occupy most of the first chapter. It goes downhill from there.
The prophecy of Joel is one of the most dire in the entire Bible. The bad news definitely outweighs the good. The book ends on an uncharacteristically blunt note by speaking of the desolation of Egypt and Edom. By contrast, the prophecy says God dwells in Zion, that Judah and Jerusalem "abide forever." In essence, it says, God’s nation wins over all others! I have to admit, Joel’s prophecy is hardly the message I would first think of for the inaugural sermon for a Church based on brotherly love and mercy.
But Joel is where Peter was inspired to turn for his opening lines. In thinking about this, I came to a conclusion. On Pentecost God was starting a new entity, the Church of God. It would be a spiritual body of believers called from many different nations. No longer would God work only with one nation, Israel, the descendants of Abraham. This new body of believers would be empowered with the Holy Spirit to go into all the world, preach the gospel of the Kingdom and make believers. This would be a hard job in a world openly hostile to the true gospel.
Revelation 12, for example, is a condensed history of the Church through the ages. It shows the persecution engineered by Satan against the "woman who gave birth to the male Child" (verse 13). It shows the dramatic scene of Satan as the "accuser of our brethren" before the presence of God (verse 10). Satan, through those he is influencing in human governments, has sought to overthrow the Kingdom of God, as well as the messengers of that government since the beginning. Note the sober pronouncement of verse 9, that he has deceived the entire world.
Could it be that Peter’s reference to Joel’s prophecies was in part a signal that though the task before believers would be challenging, there would always be the constant aid and comfort of God’s power through His Holy Spirit? Was God reminding us through this reference to Joel’s stark prophetic book that the Church would develop in a hostile environment (Matthew 11:12)?
The Church Jesus founded has for the most part been a small and often persecuted group. There are times in history it would be difficult to even find its location. Today it is still small, but it carries out its biblical mandate to preach the gospel to the world. Its existence today is proof of God’s faithful promise that nothing would prevail against its work.