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A Call to Repentance

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As Judah faced the locust swarm, Joel led them to cry out for mercy to God.

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A Call to Repentance

The day had come. They had been warned over and over again. They had simply refused to believe the warnings. But as they emerged to face the day, the truth was upon them. There was no denying it. They were about to face a disaster of epic proportions. The roar of the locust wings was almost deafening. And if that wasn’t enough, the crunch, crunch, crunch sound as the bugs consumed all green plant matter was ever present. A plague. A disaster.
The warnings they had ignored had come from the prophets. God would not tolerate a lukewarm, dispassionate expression of religion much longer. God desires a relationship with people. He is not interested in a religion that doesn’t include a deep-abiding, soul-changing relationship with Himself. Those in Judah had reduced their relationship with God to simple obedience to the religious practices, but their hearts were not in it. They simply went through the motions. The prophets had warned them over and over that God desired more. Even King David had said, - For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. - The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. If it doesn’t include the heart, frankly, God is not interested in your religious service. It is in this context that we come to the verses we need to focus on today. It is my hope that this call from Joel will echo down through the centuries to you here today. And that, as Joel spoke to the people of Judah, you will respond and come and pray this evening. Please turn in, or turn on, your Bibles to .
Joel 2:12–17 ESV
“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? 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?’ ”

A Call to Repentance

PRAY…
PRAY…
This short passage is the turning point for this entire book of our Bible. In the preceding portions of the book, Joel has been lamenting. Crying out to God and warning his hearers about the impending doom. Then, this happens, and the rest of the book is given to rejoicing that God has relented from the disaster. So, again, the whole book pivots on these 6 short verses.
The question I would hope you are asking is this: why did Tony land on this passage as one of his last 3 sermons at Immanuel? I’ll tell you. I have told you before that we are on an unsustainable path. I declined the raise the trustees proposed because I don’t believe the church can afford to pay more. And just so you know, I declined the raise BEFORE I knew I was going to another church. With every number that measures church health on a downward trend, it just doesn’t make sense to raise any spending category. And I tell you that to tell you this: I do not believe it is too late for Immanuel Baptist Church. Listen now: I do NOT believe it is too late for Immanuel Baptist Church. But the time to act is right now. Yet, what kind of action is required? If the church is in decline, what action do we need to take? I have heard several folks say, “God can bring Immanuel back to health.” And I say, “Amen! God can certainly do that.” However, why would God bring this church back to vitality? Let’s make it wider, why would God bring ANY church back from decline to vitality? I believe the answer is in the verses before us. The one thing Immanuel Baptist Church needs to do is the very thing the prophet Joel writes about in the passage before us today. So, here is one thing, in 3 steps, that Immanuel Baptist Church needs to do in order to be a church God would want to revitalize.
Joel 2:12–14 ESV
“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?
1.

Return to the LORD

1.1. Return to the LORD
1.1. Return to the LORD
1.2. Yet even now because the locusts are swarming all over the place. The plants in the fields are being eaten up. Yet even now as the disaster swirls around us. Yet even now as the only visible future is one of destruction and hardship. Yet even now there is something to do.
1.3. And the LORD says, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments. Weeping and mourning for the destruction taking place, certainly, but could Joel have another reason to weep and mourn in mind? They are to return to the LORD. I am convinced that there is a double meaning to this passage. The first is the tragedy of the judgement they are living through. The second is the realization of their own sinfulness that brought about this judgement. Do you see? Don’t return to the LORD because of what He has allowed to happen that you don’t like! Return to Him in humility because He is just and you have brought this destruction on yourself!
1.4. Return to the LORD because He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster God takes no pleasure in disciplining His children. Listen now! He takes no pleasure in disciplining His children. But He knows that sometimes children need to be disciplined to learn what to do, or what not to do. And the recipients of discipline CERTAINLY don’t enjoy being disciplined. So, Joel says, return to God and count on the fact that he is full of grace, giving us what we cannot possibly earn. Return to God counting on the fact that God is full of mercy, not giving us what we indeed earned. Return to God counting on the fact that He is slow to anger, not ever in a rush to punish. Return to God counting on the fact that He is abounding in steadfast love, not hating, but loving patiently and kindly even through the hard times. Return to God counting on the fact that He relents over disaster. God allowed it and God can stop it.
1.5. And then Joel asks the question that is at once hopeful and haunting in verse 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? Who knows if God won’t do the unexpected when His children return to Him. Who knows if God won’t grant a blessing instead of a punishment? God can certainly do that. But the question is who knows whether He will. The answer is kind of implied. The worst that can happen is already happening. The locusts are here, and they are destroying everything! We must return to God because He is the only one who can stop this disaster.
1.6. I don’t know if the plight of Immanuel at this point in time is as dire as Judah dealing with the locusts, but I do know this. For this church to not just survive, but thrive, each and every member must return to God and plead with Him. Who knows whether He will not turn and relent? To do nothing is to accept things as they are and continue down the same path. Return to God and see what He will do.
Joel 2:15–16 ESV
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.
2. -16
2.1. Pray urgently together

Pray Urgently Together

2.2. Notice that the elders, the children, even nursing infants are all included. There is no member of the community that is left out. The need is so urgent that even the newlyweds are called out to join in the assembly. In ancient Jewish tradition, newlyweds were not required to do anything for the first year of their marriage. But Joel says here that even that rule should be broken so they can join the assembly and fast and pray together.
2.3. This is a quick point, but so important. Friends, if Immanuel Baptist Church is truly to be revitalized, we must pray together. That is why I declared the solemn assembly for this evening. To schedule a time when the whole church could come together and pray and seek God’s face. When the whole congregation would earnestly seek to return to the LORD. This is not a task that can be left to the prayer warriors. Whether you are comfortable praying or not, if Immanuel is to be revitalized, everyone must be in prayer together. And it needs to happen now. This is not a “we’ll get around to it” kind of thing. The locusts were devastating Judah and Joel declared a prayer meeting, a solemn assembly. Immanuel Baptist Church is in decline and soon to be without a pastor and I am calling for a prayer meeting, a solemn assembly. Join me here at 4 o’clock. Let us seek God’s face together.
3. :17Pray humbly
Joel 2:17 ESV
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?’ ”

Pray Humbly

3.1.
3.2. In the ancient Jewish temple, the area between the vestibule and the altar was the place priests would gather to pray and prepare for the public service. And it is here that they are told to weep and cry out to God. If they started between the vestibule and the altar, there is simply no way they could hide their weeping from the people as they made their way out to the public place. And they are to ask God to spare the people for His own glory! Do you see? There is simply no place for personal pride. Judah was in trouble and the call was for a humble crying out to God. No false fronts. No putting a good face on it. Weep and ask God to do what only He can do for His glory and no other reason.
3.3. Let me bring it home. There are countless books and programs you can look to that all promise to turn around a church. There are techniques that could be employed that could boost the attendance. But my hope, my prayer, for Immanuel is that you are not interested in growth for growth’s sake. Rather, what I am telling you today is to fall on your face before the Most Holy God and cry out for His mercy. To cry out for His grace. To cry out that He would be glorified IN and THROUGH Immanuel Baptist Church.
3.4. The point I am trying to make is this: we need to hear God say what He said to Solomon when he had completed building the Temple.
2 Chronicles 7:11–22 ESV
Thus Solomon finished the house of the Lord and the king’s house. All that Solomon had planned to do in the house of the Lord and in his own house he successfully accomplished. Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. And as for you, if you will walk before me as David your father walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to rule Israel.’ “But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will pluck you up from my land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And at this house, which was exalted, everyone passing by will be astonished and say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’ Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore he has brought all this disaster on them.’ ”
1 Chronicles 11:11–22 ESV
This is an account of David’s mighty men: Jashobeam, a Hachmonite, was chief of the three. He wielded his spear against 300 whom he killed at one time. And next to him among the three mighty men was Eleazar the son of Dodo, the Ahohite. He was with David at Pas-dammim when the Philistines were gathered there for battle. There was a plot of ground full of barley, and the men fled from the Philistines. But he took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and killed the Philistines. And the Lord saved them by a great victory. Three of the thirty chief men went down to the rock to David at the cave of Adullam, when the army of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. David was then in the stronghold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then at Bethlehem. And David said longingly, “Oh that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!” Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and took it and brought it to David. But David would not drink it. He poured it out to the Lord and said, “Far be it from me before my God that I should do this. Shall I drink the lifeblood of these men? For at the risk of their lives they brought it.” Therefore he would not drink it. These things did the three mighty men. Now Abishai, the brother of Joab, was chief of the thirty. And he wielded his spear against 300 men and killed them and won a name beside the three. He was the most renowned of the thirty and became their commander, but he did not attain to the three. And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was a valiant man of Kabzeel, a doer of great deeds. He struck down two heroes of Moab. He also went down and struck down a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen.
23.5. You see, that passage is not just about God’s blessing on His people when they humble themselves and pray. It is a promise AND a warning. I believe for all I am worth that God put His hand on Immanuel Baptist Church. That He consecrated the people and the place. That He worked in and through this church to bring much glory to Himself. Yet, I fear that the church is no longer bound tightly to Him. I am saddened when discussions in the halls revolve around proper procedure or doing things right. The name of this church is Immanuel. Scripture tells us that the word “Immanuel” is interpreted to mean “God with us.” Those who started this church wanted that image to live down through the years. So ask yourself this question, do you really believe that Immanuel is an accurate name for this church today? It is a hard question.
3.5. You see, that passage is not just about God’s blessing on His people when they humble themselves and pray. It is a promise AND a warning. I believe for all I am worth that God put His hand on Immanuel Baptist Church. That He consecrated the people and the place. That He worked in and through this church to bring much glory to Himself. Yet, I fear that the church is no longer bound tightly to Him. I am saddened when discussions in the halls revolve around proper procedure or doing things right. The name of this church is Immanuel. Scripture tells us that the word “Immanuel” is interpreted to mean “God with us.” Those who started this church wanted that image to live down through the years. So ask yourself this question, do you really believe that Immanuel is an accurate name for this church today? It is a hard question.
3.5. You see, that passage is not just about God’s blessing on His people when they humble themselves and pray. It is a promise AND a warning. I believe for all I am worth that God put His hand on Immanuel Baptist Church. That He consecrated the people and the place. That He worked in and through this church to bring much glory to Himself. Yet, I fear that the church is no longer bound tightly to Him. I am saddened when discussions in the halls revolve around proper procedure or doing things right. The name of this church is Immanuel. Scripture tells us that the word “Immanuel” is interpreted to mean “God with us.” Those who started this church wanted that image to live down through the years. So ask yourself this question, do you really believe that Immanuel is an accurate name for this church today? It is a hard question.

Pray Humbly

3.5. You see, that passage is not just about God’s blessing on His people when they humble themselves and pray. It is a promise AND a warning. I believe for all I am worth that God put His hand on Immanuel Baptist Church. That He consecrated the people and the place. That He worked in and through this church to bring much glory to Himself. Yet, I fear that the church is no longer bound tightly to Him. I am saddened when discussions in the halls revolve around proper procedure or doing things right. The name of this church is Immanuel. Scripture tells us that the word “Immanuel” is interpreted to mean “God with us.” Those who started this church wanted that image to live down through the years. So ask yourself this question, do you really believe that Immanuel is an accurate name for this church today? It is a hard question.

A Call to Repentance

So, as the hard times are upon this church let us remember what the prophet Joel says, Yet even now, declares the LORD, return to me with all you heart. The point is simply this, we are not asking God to somehow join us to bless our human efforts. Instead, we, all of us, need to turn to God and humbly seek His favor and His face. The one thing we need to do, in my opinion, is to throw ourselves at the feet of our God and plead for His mercy and for His hand to once again move at Immanuel Baptist Church.
Now, I know that this has been a somewhat difficult message to listen to. And if you are not following Jesus with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength, it probably seems like a horrible warning to the church. So if you will bear with me just a little longer, I want to talk to you. I am talking to anyone within the sound of my voice who does not know Jesus personally.
- for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
- For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Do you believe God raised Jesus from the dead? Won’t you confess Him as your Lord today?
Church family, at 4pm this afternoon, the Solemn Assembly has been declared. This could be the time when Immanuel begins to return to the Lord with all our heart. I am pleading with you to make this gathering, this time of prayer, a priority. This is going to sound harsh, but please understand, if you have decided that this time of prayer is not your thing, you have decided that you don’t want God to revitalize Immanuel. Every one of us needs to be part of this plea.
Let’s PRAY…
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