TEXT: Joel 2:1-17; Matthew 4:8-10
REPENT! – The word ‘repent’ doesn’t have positive associations for most people today. I picture the street preacher in the city streets shouting “Repent!” at those walking and driving by. Sometimes there are colorful additions, like “Turn or Burn!” or “The End is Near!” Interestingly, these are essentially the same message as the prophet Joel, but somehow his message connects more effectively, at least with me. Joel speaks of the end – the judgment that is part of the Day of the Lord. But he also talks movingly about repentance – turning back to the Lord. That’s the piece that our modern street prophets seem to be missing. There’s often just the dire warning – all scare tactics – but you seem to be left on your own to figure out how to do it. Joel doesn’t hold back with the warnings, but he doesn’t just say WHY to repent, but HOW to turn back to the Lord and experience HOPE rather than judgment.
So we’ve looked at the locust plague, the drought, and the fire of Joel’s day. We’ve seen some parallels with COVID and the cultural polarization of recent years. And Joel says there is more to come. That sounds about right for us, too. There is war in Ukraine and some news – dare I say it out loud – of more (COVID) variants in other parts of the world. Could any of that visit us here? Surely it is already impacting people in other parts of the world. Today we’ll see what Joel has to say about “more to come” and see how he describes HOW to repent on the way to finding HOPE through repentance. That’s the name of our series – not discouragement or shame through repentance, but HOPE through repentance. Let’s dig in!
The Day of the Lord (Joel 2)
Chapter two of Joel begins with an announcement of the Day of the Lord. Joel has already mentioned this, but now he elaborates. And he doesn’t hold back. There is an invading army on the way!
1 Blow a trumpet in Zion, And sound an alarm on My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, For the day of the Lord is coming; Surely it is near…
Now what comes next the scholars are divided on. It could be describing the locusts; either equating what has already happened with the Lord’s judgment, or saying they could come again for another round. OR it might be describing the armies of the Babylonians, who would invade, but later be repelled by the Persians. Or it’s easy to picture our own plagues and calamities. The question is: When calamities and plagues and even armies continue to come, will we trust in the Lord?
I was going to just read a few verses, but listen to the whole thing… it doesn’t lack for detail:
2[The Day of the Lord will be] a day of darkness and gloom, A day of clouds and thick darkness. As the dawn is spread over the mountains, So there is a great and mighty people; There has never been anything like it, Nor will there be again after it To the years of many generations. 3 A fire consumes before them And behind them a flame burns. The land is like the garden of Eden before them But a desolate wilderness behind them, And nothing at all escapes them. 4 Their appearance is like the appearance of horses; And like war horses, so they run. 5 With a noise as of chariots They leap on the tops of the mountains, Like the crackling of a flame of fire consuming the stubble, Like a mighty people arranged for battle. 6 Before them the people are in anguish; All faces turn pale. 7 They run like mighty men, They climb the wall like soldiers; And they each march in line, Nor do they deviate from their paths. 8 They do not crowd each other, They march everyone in his path; When they burst through the defenses, They do not break ranks. 9 They rush on the city, They run on the wall; They climb into the houses, They enter through the windows like a thief. 10 Before them the earth quakes, The heavens tremble, The sun and the moon grow dark And the stars lose their brightness. 11 The Lord utters His voice before His army; Surely His camp is very great, For strong is he who carries out His word. The day of the Lord is indeed great and very awesome, And who can endure it?
Wow; that’s pretty grim; who can endure it, indeed?! But Joel’s not done. That’s not the final word; there is still hope! This seemingly endless progression of human sin, suffering, and oppression doesn’t have the final word. There is still hope… in the Lord! But before we get there, let’s turn to the Gospel of Matthew for a moment and look at the third of three temptations from the devil to Jesus.
Worship and Serve (Matthew 4:8-10)
Jesus had been fasting and praying for 40 days to begin his public ministry and the devil came to tempt him off the track of obedience:
8 Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.”
That’s the classic devil’s bargain, right? “You can have it all if you will just sell me your soul… bow down and worship me.” Maybe you can get out of some of this calamity and suffering if you can just find the something or someone with the right solution. We want to skip the suffering and loss, but that’s not the way it works. God promises to be with us and lead us THROUGH, not to give us pain-free lives. Jesus responds by quoting Deuteronomy 6:8, which is a variation of the second commandment.
10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’ ”
Whether dealing with temptation, suffering, or any other of the trials we face, the consistent prescription of God’s Word, in the Torah, in prophets like Joel, and from the lips of Jesus is to put our hope and trust in God alone, to worship and serve God alone.
Sometimes that’s neither easy nor obvious. Joel maps out a helpful process to get there. And I might even suggest that if worshiping and serving God seems to lack depth and meaning, then perhaps what is missing is honest lament and repentance. Here’s Joel’s full prescription:
- Lament what is wrong, whether thrust upon you or a consequence of your own doing
- Repent and turn freshly to God in humility and honesty
- Worship and serve God alone to experience the Day of the Lord not as judgment, but as deliverance à this is our HOPE
HOPE through Repentance
To flesh that out a little more, let’s turn back to the second part of our scripture from Joel today. We left off at Joel 2:11, where Joel had painted a pretty grim future of the Day of the Lord. But I said there is still hope in the Lord! And you get there through repentance. In the next verse (12) Joel goes on to say, “Yet even now…”
12 “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping and mourning; 13 And rend your heart and not your garments.” Now return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness And relenting of evil.
This is repentance: turning freshly to the Lord with all our heart, with humility and honesty. It’s not external show, but the kind of inward change that grief and lament can open up in us. We are to “rend our hearts, not our garments.” And here is the good and hopeful Word of the Lord: God is gracious and compassionate (HESED!), slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness, and relenting of evil. This is the hope at the end of the long tunnel of human suffering: that God can and will deliver those who trust in Him from all the trials and sufferings of this world, whether in this life or in the life to come.
You may wonder what you need to repent of. Yet every week (except this one) we begin our prayer of confession with the verse from 1 John 1:8 – “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” We all have sin; we all have ways we need to turn freshly to the Lord.
And so, as he has already done, Joel issues a call to gather and repent collectively. Everyone is included from the babies to the brides to the priests interceding for their people:
15 Blow a trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, 16 Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and the nursing infants. Let the bridegroom come out of his room And the bride out of her bridal chamber. 17 Let the priests, the Lord’s ministers, Weep between the porch and the altar, And let them say, “Spare Your people, O Lord…’ ”
This is a good and healthy part of regular worship. It’s why we include confession and repentance in our worship service every week. But it also challenges me to not let those prayers and those responses become empty and rote, simply reading words on a screen or page. Especially in a world where we continue to be plagued by sin, suffering, injustice, disaster, and threat, Joel’s prescription of LAMENT and REPENTANCE will lead us to deeper worship and service, and ultimately to HOPE in the Lord who is gracious and compassionate, abounding in HESED-lovingkindness. Amen!
Some Music Used
- I Will Worship (Ruiz)
- I Will Offer Up My Life
- Total Praise
- Rick Bean, jazz piano
- Praise to the Lord/Hallelujah (Passion)
- It is Well (Bethel)
- Come to Me (VanderHeide)
- CHOIR: My Jesus, I Love Thee (arr. Forrest)
- Merciful God (Gettys)