Yet Even Now - Joel 2:1-17
Now and Later: A Journey Through the Minor Prophets • Sermon • Submitted
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It’s easy for us to hear the difficult messages of the minor prophets and believe they were meant for different people from a different time. But, what the Big Story compels us to understand is that these prophets and their message prefigure the Great Prophet, Christ himself. Our culture has reduced the teachings of Jesus to mere platitudes and simplistic cliches that make us feel better about ourselves. But, what we must recognize is that Jesus’ teachings are filled with prophetic warnings and assurances of a coming judgement.
That’s how I understand Jesus’ message to the Church at Laodicea in Revelation 3. He says to the church — in the New Testament and after the resurrection — a difficult prophetic message: Revelation 3:15-17 ““ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” That is, Jesus sees in Laodicea a lukewarm, sleep-walking church that is no longer amazed by the glory of Christ or passionate about their love for Christ. They’ve cooled, and they’re just plodding along toward the enjoyment of their lives with very little thought of Christ.
In many ways and in many places, the Church of Laodicea is the church of today. We’re sleepwalking, lukewarm, content to pay lip service to a Savior so long as He lets us live our lives as we please. And, this is an apt description of Joel’s message to the southern Kingdom of Judah. We don’t know a lot about Joel or the context of when he prophesied over Judah, but we know this: He was prophesying to the lukewarm, sleepwalking people of God for the purpose of waking them up to the reality of their offensive indifference toward the glory of God. Three Questions Joel Asks Us (headline):
How “easily” will you “awaken”?
How “easily” will you “awaken”?
Joel 1:2-5 “Hear this, you elders; give ear, all inhabitants of the land! Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your fathers? Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children to another generation. What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten. Awake, you drunkards, and weep, and wail, all you drinkers of wine, because of the sweet wine, for it is cut off from your mouth.”
A single swarm of insects has been known to devour in one day what 40,000 people would eat in a year. For an economy and society that is built upon agriculture for it survival, this is a grave threat. Us Alabamians know this. We have a statue of a boll weevil in Enterprise because its destruction of cotton crops brought our economy to the edge of collapse before we discovered the ability to diversify. This is the condition of what’s taking place in Judah when Joel prophesies. Locusts had come upon them in such swarms that they scarcely had food to eat, no ability to generate income, and not even the ability to participate in the regular grain offerings. They had been crippled by something as seemingly benign as a tiny insect.
So, Joel, does what prophets do: he instructs the people on how to view this in the context of their relationship with God. He wants them to recognize that God is trying to get their attention, and he wants them to recognize it because the sooner they do the better off they will be. Joel is trying to shake us up as to say:
Recognize your “discipline.”
Jesus says that the issue with the sleepwalking, lukewarm Laodiceans is that they have too much and enjoy it too much. Their wealth is rocking them to sleep. The same condition in Judah is what preceded the locusts. Joel says: Awake, you drunkards, and weep, and wail, all you drinkers of wine, because of the sweet wine, for it is cut off from your mouth.” Drunkards are those who have too much. They’re those who enjoy its sweetness to the point of passing out. And, that’s what’s happened to God’s people — they’ve so indulged in wealth that they’ve passed out. They’re drunks. They’re staggering and sleepwalking. They’re lukewarm and indifferent to glory of God.
The locusts have come because God wants them to wake up. Since having so many grapes has turned them to drunks, they won’t even have enough grapes to offer in the temple. God has sent the locusts because He doesn’t take our love for him nearly as casually as we do. The question is: will they listen? Will they recognize the discipline of the Lord and turn back?
And, what about us? Will we listen?
Realize you’re “accountable.”
So, Joel says: Joel 2:1 “Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near.” That is, you need to listen right now. You need to heed the warning today. Because the situation is going to escalate soon. Built into the covenant was a set of blessings if they obeyed and curses/consequences if they didn’t. And, these escalated depending upon Israel’s response (Deuteronomy 28). In fact in chapter 2, your mind can go back to Exodus when God was breaking down Pharaoh. You’ll remember the plagues constantly escalated until Pharaoh finally broke. The 8th plague was locusts, the 9th was darkness, and the 10th was death. He’s blowing the trumpet because God is arming an army greater than the locusts to descend upon them. The 8th plague has come, and the ninth and tenth plagues are on the horizon — not for Egypt, but for Israel — if they won’t listen.
In fact, he calls it the “Day of the Lord.” We often think of the Day of the Lord as the return of Jesus, and it certainly is. But, there are numerous “days of the Lord” throughout the Scriptures that are all down payments on the great “Day of the Lord” that is to come. And, the “Day of the Lord” is always a day of judgement when God will take decisive action to assert his rule as King of the universe. So, these smaller judgements are coming, like this army, like the seige of Jerusalem in AD 70, like the fall of Berlin in 1945, perhaps, even like the pandemic of 2020.
And, they are meant to awaken God’s sleepwalking people before the great judgement comes. That’s why Joel “blows the trumpet.” The longer they go, the harder the judgement will be. The more severe the discipline will be. They are accountable to God, and they will give an account. He wants them to wake up.
Revelation 3:18 “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.”
And, that’s why Jesus sounded the alarm for Laodicea and for us too. Jesus will not let his sleepwalking church stagger toward her death without intervention. He will “refine by fire” his people for their good. He will do what must be done “so that you must see.”
what we see in Joel is that God is willing to turn the Promised Land into a waste land to show how serious their lukewarm love is.Look around, and you’ll see a scene among the church that’s not that different from Joel’s day. Churches are supposed to be glimpses of the New Earth, but they’re closing and being turned into trendy bars and community centers instead. Churches are supposed to walk humbly, love mercy, and do justice, but instead scandals are filling our headlines. Denominations are splintering. Churches are splitting. And, our children are seeing the impotence of our lukewarm faith and deciding it doesn’t matter much to them. God is turning church lands into waste lands. A reckoning has come for the sleepwalking church. Will we listen? Will God’s discipline have to intensify? How easily will you awaken?
How “long” will you “presume”?
How “long” will you “presume”?
Joel 2:12-14 ““Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?”
A few years ago, I was talking with a heartbroken mother. Her son had completely severed all contact with her and her family, and she was left reeling. She hadn’t been a perfect mother, of course, but even by her son’s own admission, she had been a good mother and had provided him with a good childhood. Still, he believed his life would be better without her than with her. She explained to me how everyone in her family had told her to let him go and to not let him come crawling back to her one day once he recognized his deficit. But, do you know what she said? She said, “I’d take him back right now.”
That’s the thrust of “Yet even now.” Even after their abandonment, even after their cold heart toward him, God’s love for his people had not cooled. “Yet even now” He’d welcome them home. So, Joel says they should “return,” and in their “return” they must:
Joel 2:12-13 ““Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.”
You’ll notice that Joel ties their return to God’s character, not theirs. This isn’t: “Of course, you’re a pretty good crew. You deserve a second chance.” This is: “He is a wonderful, patient, merciful, and gracious God. He offers you a home you don’t deserve.” It’s the exact same description God gives to Moses after Israel abandons him in the wilderness to worship a golden calf in Exodus 34. Because of who God is, not because of they are, “yet even now” they can return to him.
But, God isn’t looking for more lukewarm religious exercises for them to sleepwalk through. To express grief and repentance, Israel would tear their clothes as a sign of mourning before God. Joel says, “Don’t tear your clothes. Tear your hearts.” God will take you back, but He requires it be all of you who returns. He’s seeking genuine repentance, not a just an elaborate show. He wants a heart that’s awakened.
Not long ago, I met with a man who had been caught in deep sin. He hated all the consequences his sin had brought financially and relationally. He hated that others didn’t think as highly of him. So, we had a very direct conversation, something like what Joel is having with Judah. He cried and passionately said that he was committed to accepting the consequences of his sin and seeking to walk right before God going forward. And, he left my office and returned to the same sin that afternoon. You see, that’s the difference in “rending your clothes” and “rending you heart.” He hated the consequences, but no the sin. He loved the grace of God, but not God himself. This morning, I’m not asking you to hate the consequences of your sin. I’m calling for you to hate your sin, to hate that you have a heart willing to abandon such a good God.
God will take you back, but He requires it be all of you. And, when you return, you must...
Joel 2:14 “Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?”
There’s a great humility in Joel’s “who knows.” It’s the same phrase the Ninevites said in Jonah 3 after Jonah preached. Let’s repent for “who knows” the Lord may forgive us. It’s an acknowledgment that God doesn’t have to, and it’s an acknowledgment that we are solely dependent upon God’s grace.
It’s the opposite of how Judah had been and the opposite of how we often are. We presume upon grace. What’s the big deal if I sin since I know God will forgive me? What does matter if I’m not not as radical as some in my faith? What does it matter if I disobey from time-to-time? Aren’t we all sinners? You see, one of the clear indicators of a lukewarm, sleep walking heart is that you take grace for granted. You live like grace didn’t cost much. You live like the cross came cheap. And, that’s why Jesus spews you out of his mouth.
Revelation 3:19 “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.”
Jesus told the lukewarm Laodiceans why he would “spew them out.” It was so they would:“Be zealous and repent.” Tear your heart. Humble yourself before God. Throw yourself upon his grace. And, leave a different person. How long will continue to presume upon his grace?
How “quickly” will you “come”?
How “quickly” will you “come”?
Joel 2:15-17 “Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’ ””
Is there any worse realization that to realize that you’ve wasted your a portion of your life? During the period in which I suffered terribly with intractable headaches, I couldn’t help be feel a sense of shame over all of the good health I had wasted. I think of the prodigal son. When his father received him back after his abandonment, is it possible to believe that his mind didn’t drift to how much time he had wasted away from his father’s love? We should always stop to ask if we’re wasting our lives because our lives are passing by quickly. And, Joel’s message is one of urgency. We can’t wait. Today, we must respond. He says:
There’s no “good excuse.”
We all have reasons why today isn’t the right day to sober up. We have reasons why today isn’t the day that we can return wholeheartedly to Christ. Perhaps, you’re in sexually impure relationship, and you think you can’t return until you’re married or until you end it. Or, you’ve got one more unethical deal you have to complete, and after that you’ll be in. Or, you haven’t graduated just yet, but as soon as you do, you’ll be on your way. Sleepwalkers are never ready to wake up. The lukewarm are never ready to warm up.
But, Joel says: “No matter where you are what your excuse. Come now. If you’re nursing, don’t wait for your baby to grow up. Come now. If you’re newly married, don’t wait until you’ve enjoyed your honeymoon, come now! Come to the Lord now!”
There’s no “better time.”
Joel 2:15 “Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly;”
The drunk always thinks: “Tomorrow, I’ll start sober.” The addict always thinks: “Tomorrow, I’ll get help.” The greedy always thinks: “Tomorrow, I’ll be generous.” No! You’re not guaranteed tomorrow. The “Day of the Lord” is approaching. “Blow the trumpet in Zion! Gather up! Today is the best day.” Oh, the longer you go the bigger the mess you make. Don’t you see that? The longer you go the deeper in the valley you sink. Don’ you see that? Today is the day in which the consequences will be the least. Don’t wait for the armies to come. Don’t wait for the judgement to fall. Don’t wait! Today is the day that you can enjoy your father’s hug again. Today is the day that you can go home!
That’s what Jesus said the lukewarm:
Revelation 3:20 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”
If you hear his voice, it’s a miracle. The living God is drawing you to himself. The living God is speaking to you. The living God is calling you back to him. Open the door now! Stop staggering and sleepwalking. Open the door!
My cousin was bad to sleepwalk when she was growing up. She would wander out of her room, and her family would find her in the kitchen the next morning still asleep. Well, the handle on their front door had broken so that it could only be opened from the inside. One night, Morgan slept walk outside the house. She woke up once the cold air hit her face, and she realized she was outside the house. When she went to open the door, it wouldn’t open. Don’t sleepwalk into eternity, friends. Don’t sleepwalk into the “Day of the Lord.” If you do, you’ll find yourself outside a door that won’t open. But, today, Jesus says, “Even yet now, come!”