“After this I will pour out my Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will have dreams, and your young men will see visions. I will even pour out my Spirit on the male and female slaves in those days.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
So, yesterday we talked about the fact that much of the Old Testament does not apply to us as followers of Jesus. If you stuck with me for most of Monday’s full sermon I explained the concept there in a little more detail but with the Ten Commandments in view rather than the proclamations of the prophets. Context shift aside, the point is the same: Most of the Old Testament doesn’t apply to us. It details the old covenant God made with Israel which was fulfilled in Christ and replaced with the new covenant to which we are liable in Him. That’s the rule. This verse is one of the exceptions.
Hearing that kind of a statement raises some questions in my mind. First is this: Why is this an exception? The answer to that is simple: Because the apostle Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, tells us it is. More specifically, he tells us that this verse was fulfilled in the coming of the Holy Spirit to inhabit the lives of all of Jesus’ followers.
What Peter understood this to mean—with the Spirit’s help—is that God was promising the coming of the Holy Spirit into the lives of His people all the way back in the days of the prophet Joel.
Before the coming of the Spirit, people didn’t have access to God the way followers of Jesus today are accustomed to having. We have this crazy notion that we can go to God, that we can enter His very presence, anytime we want. And by “we,” I mean anyone. Jesus is the gate, but as long as we go through Him, we are guaranteed entrance.
That kind of access wasn’t something the average Israelite could have even conceived of having. They didn’t have a category for it. Of course you couldn’t enter into God’s presence. And why would you want to anyway? I mean, go and worship Him for sure, but the thought of being in His presence was a terrifying idea. Think about the prophet Isaiah’s experience. He was scared out of his mind by it.
Anyway, if someone wanted to be able to do that, he was going to have to get rid of any and all sin from his life. That required going through all of the various purification rites which were both time consuming and costly. Then, once you got there, if you missed anything, He might just strike you down on the spot. That was simply not worth the risk. That’s what the priests and prophets were for.
Imagine living your entire life without ever encountering the presence of God. We, frankly, cannot once we have tasted it in Christ. God was up there, we were down here, and that divide, although bridged a bit by animal sacrifices, was not ever going to be crossed.
But that’s not how God wanted things to work. He made us for a relationship with Him and He wasn’t going to be satisfied unless and until He had that. The only way we were going to be able to handle something like that was if He put a bit of Himself in us. So, once His Son paved the way and dealt with the sin issue through the cross and the empty tomb, that’s exactly what He did. Just as He promised here. To this we are now the beneficiaries.
That much helps us understand what Joel and later Peter meant by this, but what is perhaps the bigger question here is how exactly we’re supposed to know when we can understand a verse like this and when it’s simply part of the old covenant, useful for information and inspiration, but not more than that?
Well…that’s not so easy to answer. Different folks are going to come to different conclusions about that—even those who agree on the whole about how we should understand the text generally. Because of that, let me offer a single rule of thumb for now. If one of the New Testament authors reinterprets a verse in the Old Testament as applicable to followers of Jesus, we take it as such. Absent that, we err on the side of not.
The fact is, the promises we have in the New Testament alone are more than sufficient to keep us occupied and encouraged. Let’s rely on the Old Testament actively to give us context and a deeper understanding of what we find in the New (which means not neglecting it in favor of the New), but let’s not use it for what it is not meant for and try to claim promises that aren’t ours to start with.