And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.
In the last two messages I have spoken to the older saints and to the younger saints. I tried to show from Leviticus 19:32 and Psalm 71:18 that older people are to be prized, mobilized, and evangelized. Then from Jeremiah 1 I tried to show that the fears and hesitancies of youth should be overcome by the sovereignty of God (in choosing us and forming us and consecrating us before we were born), the authority of God (in his Word and his sending), and the promise of God (to be with us).
Now today I want us to focus on old and young together, unified by the Spirit in ministry according to Acts 2:17. My deep desire is to see the old and the young united in vision and in ministry at Bethlehem. This is where the Spirit would take us. So I urge all of us: "Walk by the Spirit!" "Be led by the Spirit!" "Bear the fruit of the Spirit!"
An Extraordinary Turning Point in History
Let's begin with the situation here in Acts 2. It is an amazingly important turning point in history. The Son of God and King of glory has humbled himself and come to earth as a servant. He has died on the cross to destroy the works of the devil and to bear the sins of all who believe in him. He has risen from the dead to vindicate all his claims and to give indestructible hope to all who follow him. He told his disciples in Luke 24:49 to wait in Jerusalem until they are clothed with power from on high. He told them in Acts 1:8 that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them, and they would be his witnesses to the end of the world. He had told them earlier in John 14:16 that he would send the Spirit of truth to be their Counselor when he was gone. He had promised in John 16:8 that when the Spirit comes, he will convince the world of sin and righteousness and judgment.
So you can see that an extraordinary turn in world history is happening. The Son of God, the king of Glory, has made his appearance on the earth. He has ransomed a great multitude of people by his blood. Now he is saying that one more chapter in world history must be written before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. It will be the chapter of the Spirit. The Spirit empowering his people for witness (Acts 1:8) and the Spirit convincing the world of sin (John 16:8). And this last chapter will continue until the ends of the earth are reached (Acts 1:8), until the gospel of the kingdom is preached in all the world as a testimony to all peoples (Matthew 24:14). Then the end will come—when the Spirit has gathered the ransomed of God from every people and tribe and tongue and nation (John 11:52; Revelation 5:9).
Old and Young and the Final Chapter of History
So the 120 disciples wait in Jerusalem as Jesus told them too. They worship at the temple (Luke 24:53) and pray continually in the upper room. Until the feast of Pentecost. And on that, when they were all together, the Spirit came, just as Jesus promised he would. Acts 2:4 says they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. According to verse 11 their mouths were filled with the mighty works of God, and they spoke them in languages that all different nations could understand.
So the promise was being fulfilled: the saints had unusual power for witness to the mighty works of God. You can see in Acts 2:37 that the convicting work had come as well: "Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brethren, what shall we do?'"
The final chapter of the world had opened with power for witness and power for conviction. But this needed some explaining. Some of the people said it must be the effect of drunkenness. Acts 2:13, "They are filled with new wine!"
But Peter gives a very different understanding of what is happening. He says it is the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy about the last chapter of history. Let's read now verses 16 and 17.
This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
'And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
What's happening at Pentecost, with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, is the opening of a new chapter of history. We live in this chapter and I want to unfold three of its characteristics from verse 17. But I want to do this with a very specific focus on old and young in this congregation.
Notice that verse 17 says, "Your young men will see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams." Neither will be left out. Both will be blessed in this way. When the Spirit comes, he draws together in ministry. Sons and daughters will prophesy (v. 17) and servants will prophesy (v. 18). The Spirit will draw men and women together in ministry, he will draw low and upper class together in ministry (servants), and he will draw old and young together in ministry (v. 17). The Spirit comes upon all, fills all (Ephesians 5:18), gives gifts to all (1 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Peter 4:10), and empowers all for witness and ministry. It is not of the Spirit when old or young withdraw from the other or from the ministry.
Three Characteristics of This Chapter
So let's look now at the three characteristics of this chapter of history beginning at Pentecost and keep in mind as we go, the truth that it is old and young together, not old and young separated. To help you remember them, each characteristic begins with an "F."
First, the chapter of history beginning with Pentecost is the FINAL chapter. Verse 17: "In the last days it shall be, God declares." This chapter is the chapter of the "last days."
The Beginning of the End Times
Peter said years later when he wrote the letter called 1 Peter (1:20), "Christ was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake." Paul taught the same thing in 1 Corinthians 10:11 when he said (about the people of Israel in the OT), "These things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come."
In other words, as the Bible pictures history, the first coming of Jesus and the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost were the opening pages of the last chapter. We live in the end times, the last days. It does not matter that these last days have stretched into 2,000 years. Peter answered this objection in his second letter by saying that "with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8). He said the Lord is not slow as some count slowness, but is patiently gathering people from all the nations lest they perish without repentance.
The Second Coming of Christ to Follow
Living in the last days means that the next great epoch-making act of God is not another flood, and not the choice of a new Abraham, and not another great Exodus, and not the giving of another law, and not the taking of a promised land, and not a period of Christian kings or an exile in Babylon, and not another Christ to die and rise. Those chapters are all over. Living in the last days means that the next great epoch-making act of God is the great and terrible day of the Lord referred to in verse 20—the second coming of Christ. We are in the final days of preparation for the Great Day when no more conversions can be made. The final division of sheep and goats will happen. History as we know it will be over. All those who have loved Christ will enter the kingdom of his glory. And all those who have rejected him will enter just and everlasting punishment.
An Overwhelming Significance
This is where we live. Old and young. And the overwhelming significance of these days is so great as to make the tensions between old and young in the church evaporate. If our older minds and our younger minds could be filled with the awesome meaning of living in the last days, it would cover a multitude of frustrations and minor disagreements.
Note that word "filled"! If our minds could be filled! That is the second "F" that characterizes this chapter of history. It is not only FINAL.
It is a chapter designed for spiritual FULLNESS. Fullness for the old and fullness for the young. "And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit . . . "
The point of this outpouring is not that the Spirit be spilt, but that it fill. We know that because in verse 4 this is what happened: "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit." And we know it because in Ephesians 5:18 Paul commands every believer, "Do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit." And in Ephesians 3:19 Paul prays for all believers that they would be "filled with all the fullness of God."
Here I want to call you—young and old—to a passion for fullness. It is never too late and never too early to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus meant old and young when he said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst—they will be satisfied, they will be filled." Paul meant old and young when he prayed that we be filled with all the fullness of God. Jeremiah meant old and young when he said, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."
If you were to ask me, "What is this fullness?" I would say, "Why do you want to know?" Could it be that you want to know all that it is so that you can decide whether to obey the command to seek it, to pray for it, to have it?
What I long for from myself and from all of you is the answer: "Who knows all that the fullness of God might mean in my life? But I have tasted of the glory of God in the face of Christ, and I know I want all that he has to give. I want to see more of God, to love more of God, to reflect more of God. I want the Holy Spirit to be poured out in my life in ways that I have never known." Or are there any older or younger people who would dare to say, I have seen all of God I want to see; my love for him is as deep as I want it to be; my confidence in his grace is as full as I want it to be; my life is full enough of God for all to see as fully as they should see.
And if there is none who can say that, then one thing should unite the old and young of this church—a passionate quest for all the fullness of God.
In the FINAL chapter of history, I pray that the old and the young of Bethlehem will find a deep and precious unity in pursuing all the FULLNESS of God. That is what this FINAL chapter of history is for.
3. For All Flesh
But that is not all it is for. The third and last "F" describing this chapter of history is this: it is for "all FLESH." Verse 17: "And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh."
This means that the outpouring of the fullness of the Holy Spirit is not to be restricted or held in; God means it to be worldwide.
This too is the meaning of the time we live in. It is the great missionary time. We simply don't know the meaning of our day if we are content with the present extent of the gospel and the out-pouring of the Spirit on the unreached peoples of the world.
When Joel and Peter say that the young men will see visions and the old men will dream dreams, this is what they have in mind—dreams and visions about the spread of the kingdom of God until "all flesh" is reached. One strong evidence for this is that in the rest of the book of Acts all the dreams and visions are given for missionary strategy and missionary motivation. Ananias (Acts 9) has a vision to go commission Paul for his great missionary work. Peter (Acts 10) has a vision to carry the gospel and the Spirit to the Gentiles at Cornelius' house. Paul (Acts 16) has a vision of Europeans saying, "Come over into Macedonia and help us." (See also 18:9; 26:19.)
When the Spirit comes in his fullness, this is what will happen for the young and for the old. The Bible says, you are never to old to see a vision and dream a dream for the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ—never!
* * * * *
The meaning of our time is threefold: It is the FINAL time. It is a time for FULLNESS. It is a time for reaching all FLESH with the gospel—old and young together.
Keep these last two in the right order. First FULLNESS, then reaching all FLESH. We are not called by God to a frustrating, unfinishable, discouraging, gloomy task of reaching all flesh. We are called by the God of all grace first to experience all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19), all the fullness of the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), all the fullness of Christ (Romans 15:29). And then in the strength and joy and fullness that he supplies to spread it to "all FLESH."
We live in the final years of history. God is calling us to be FILLED with the Spirit, with all the fullness of God. And in that fullness he is calling young and old to dream new dreams and see new visions of how all FLESH can be drawn into the experience of Christ. May the Lord give us this fullness and hasten the great and final day of the Lord. Amen.
[This term "day of the Lord" is used in the New Testament three other times: 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Peter 3:10. But it occurs other times in combination with the name of Jesus. "Day of the Lord Jesus": 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:14. "Day of the Lord Jesus Christ": 1 Corinthians 1:8. "Day of Jesus Christ": Philippians 1:6. "Day of Christ": Philippians 1:10; 2:16. "Day of God": 2 Peter 3:2; Revelation 16:14.]