TEXT: Joel 2:18-27; Acts 3:18-21
What is the result of repentance, of turning back to the Lord?
We have spent several weeks in the Old Testament book of Joel, written to God’s people after a terrible series of plagues and calamities. I was drawn to Joel as I pondered the series of calamities we and the world has faced in the past several years, from COVID to extreme cultural polarization to racial injustice to war in Ukraine that is impacting the whole world. And while there are points of disconnect, too, God’s Word to His people seem timely for us as well: LAMENT what has been lost and REPENT by turning freshly to the Lord. And that process leads us to and gives us good reason to HOPE in the Lord, even in the middle of all that’s going on. That’s the general arc of this series and the book of Joel. Lament, repent, and discover hope.
Last week we left off with the news of a third calamity (or fourth if you count fires separately from the drought). Either the locusts were returning or an invading army was on the way. And God urges His people even more strongly to lament and to repent – all together from the priests to the leaders to the nursing babies. Let all turn freshly back toward the Lord!
Today we pick up with where that is headed. Without that lament and repentance, the next plague was certain to be worse than the last, kind of like the plagues God sent on Pharaoh and Egypt. But lament and repent and there would be a different outcome because (as we were reminded last week), God is merciful and compassionate, desiring blessing not cursing. So the Day of the Lord, the other big theme in Joel, could go both ways. It could be a terrible day of judgment on those who reject God or it could be a day of hope and restoration for those who, even now, would turn back to God.
That’s where we pick up today in Joel 2:18… with a picture of the hope that comes with repentance.
Hope not Fear (vv.18-24)
Verse 18 starts with ‘then’ – that’s after lament and repentance, THEN… Well, I should add it’s after lament and repentance AND because of God’s steadfast love and compassion (HESED), THEN…
v.18 – THEN the Lord will be zealous for His land – that’s the Promised Land, given but later taken away because God’s people rejected the Lord. But God had also promised it to Abraham. So the Lord’s zeal for His promise does not fade.
v.19 – THEN the Lord will have pity and answer and send new grain, wine, and oil. Remember how devastated the crops were by the locusts and the drought? One day it will be restored.
v.20 – THEN the Lord will remove the northern army (this happened when the Persian army repelled the Babylonians who had invaded and occupied Israel).
v.22 – THEN the livestock, the pastures, the vineyard, the fruit and fig trees… it will all again flourish. Rain will again come and bring life back. (v.23)
Remember how bleak things were after the locust plague? After the drought and fires? After a year of COVID? After two years? After divorce? After conflict and fall-out? When you are in the midst of something it can be hard to see or even imagine the other side of it. It is so much easier to fear than to hope. But the Lord tells His people to lament and turn back freshly to Him, and to hope in the Lord’s HESED-goodness and mercy.
The next verse (v.25) is one of the most encouraging and heartening verses I know. It is one more THEN statement: “Then I will make up to you for the years that the locusts have eaten.” It actually goes through the full description, as in chapter one, of the different kinds or stages of locusts. Each stage and each loss is part of this statement.
Have you ever felt like you have “lost years” because of some ordeal? I have. Rather than the adage of two steps forward and one step back, sometimes it just feels like ten steps back or simply being knocked on your backside. We can lose time, relationships, accomplishments, health, and much more. It’s easy to think “I’ll never get that back.” And in one sense we don’t; we can’t rewind time. But the Lord, who created the world out of nothing can bring about new life and health and growth.
The Lord can take what humans mean for harm and bring about something good. (cf. Genesis 50:20)
And so Joel continues in v. 26 to say that “you will have plenty to eat and be satisfied.” This leads to praise and certain knowledge that God is in the midst of His people. (v.27) So consider the progression Joel has put before us: LAMENT – REPENTANCE – HOPE – PRAISE
Lament and repentance help us recognize that there is light at the end of the tunnel. That light is hope. Praise (and the joy of God’s presence in our midst) is what we experience when we pass out of the tunnel into the light. (Though that’s often when we also realize God was with us all along, even in the dark night!)
If you hear nothing else today, hear again this hopeful message: Bring your sorrow to me and turn freshly to me; then I will restore to you the years that the locusts have taken.
A Picture of Jesus (Acts 3:18-21)
While God’s message through Joel was clearly focused on material and physical things – crops, animals, food, there were certainly spiritual dynamics involved and overlaid. The lack of grain, meat, and wine affected the sacrifices that were to be made in the Temple. And the whole ordeal was cast in spiritual language of sin, repentance, and so forth.
I chose the passage in Acts 3 that we read because it makes more explicit some of those spiritual connections. In Acts 3:18 we read, “But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.” The time of Jesus Christ was the time of which the prophets spoke. Jesus announced and ushered in the “Day of the Lord.”
And so the message in Acts 3 is strikingly similar to that in Joel. Verse 19 reads, “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” That’s all of Joel to this point! Repent and return, sins forgiven, refreshing and restoration, and the presence of the Lord in the midst of His people!
Acts 3 goes on to say that the Day of the Lord has only begun. It is now, but not yet; here, but still unfolding. Jesus is the Christ, but has returned to Heaven until the period of restoration (spoken by prophets like Joel) is completed. That will be the final Day of the Lord. The Day has dawned, but the sun has not set.
There is further connection between Joel and the book of Acts, as we will see next week when we look at the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit, fulfilled (and quoted) at Pentecost in the first chapters of Acts. We are living in that in-between time where the Lord is actively at work. Our opportunity and invitation is to LAMENT, REPENT, HOPE, and WORSHIP the Lord in order to know God’s presence with us.
What do you still need to grieve, to lament and bring to the Lord?
In what areas of your life do you need to turn freshly to the Lord.
Are there years the locusts have eaten that you would long for God to restore? Can you envision what that could look like?
Where do you see God at work in the world? In your day to day life? Where is God “in your midst?”
May God give us the eyes of faith to see and know He is with us. Amen!
Some Music Used
- Yes and Amen
- Great Are You, Lord
- Bless the Lord/10,000 Reasons
- Be Still My Soul – Rick Bean, jazz piano
- All Creatures of Our God and King
- We Will Feast in the House of Zion (McCracken)
- CHOIR: If My People Who Bear My Name (Kendrick, arr. Youngblood)
- I Will Offer Up My Life