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The Day of the Lord

Minor Prophets - Joel  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Judgment is coming and is already here

Acts 2:14-21
Acts 2:14–21 ESV
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: 17 “ ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; 20 the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. 21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
This morning we are continuing our survey study of the Minor Prophets. I hope that you find these sermons helpful in your personal reading of these often forgotten and misunderstood books. The Minor Prophets are difficult, and their prophetic statements often seem impossible to decipher. This morning we are looking at the book of Joel. I would like to encourage you to take the time to read Joel today or sometime this week while our discussion is still fresh in your mind. Really, I encourage you to do that each week. That is one of the cool things about these books is that they can be read pretty quickly.
With that said, let’s turn read Joel 2:28-32 together. If you are able, please stand for the reading of God’s Word. We do this to show appreciation to God for this amazing gift and in recognition that these are among the most important words we can hope to hear today. Joel 2:28-32 says,
Joel 2:28–32 ESV
28 “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. 29 Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. 30 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 32 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.
Thank you, you may be seated.
If that passage sounded familiar, it is because our Scripture reading from Acts 2 was a quotation by Peter at Pentecost. Peter claimed that what was happening at Pentecost was at least a partial fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. But, before we can really unpack that, we have lots of other stuff we need to consider and some groundwork to lay.
I should warn you that in laying the groundwork, some of what we look at this morning is going to lean more toward the technical side. It is not my intention to bore you. My hope is that you will leave this morning not only with points to apply to your life today, but also with some tools to help you interpret Joel in your own reading. And frankly, Joel is a difficult book which many good biblical scholars are divided over, so I want you to be able to see where I’m coming from and why I fall where I do along that divide.
I hope that doesn’t dishearten you in studying Joel, but instead causes you to want to dig in deeper and appreciate the richness of Joel and the rest of God’s Word.
One of the first things we typically want to consider when we look at a new book, especially the prophets, is its setting. Basically we want to ask who wrote it, to whom did they write it, and when did the write it? Those questions are all interconnected, but with the book of Joel, we don’t have clear cut answers.
We do know from Joel 1:1
Joel 1:1 ESV
1 The word of the Lord that came to Joel, the son of Pethuel:
That it was written by Joel – hence the name of the book – the son of Pethuel. But that is all we know. We don’t know who Pethuel is, nor do we know much more about Joel. In the book, it becomes clear that Joel is a prophet in Judah (the southern kingdom), but this is the only information we have. Not much to go on.
There is also the difficulty of when it was written and therefore to whom. So, let’s look at some of the information in the book to help us figure that out. Remember what had happened in Israel/Judah…
Israel (Northern Kingdom) is not mentioned in Joel which is an important indicator that either the Northern Kingdom has already been taken away into exile, or that Joel is written after people have returned from exile. Likewise, Joel talks about sacrifices at the Temple. That tells us also that the book was written either before the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, or after it was rebuilt. A similar discussion is made regarding Jerusalem’s walls which were destroyed when Babylon invaded but were subsequently rebuilt by Nehemiah.
With all the information taken together (and there is a great deal more within Joel), I tend to lean towards a timeframe just before the exile, but a date after the exile is not impossible.
This leads us to a second major question in the book of Joel. The first half of chapter 2 is also much discussed among scholars. To set the stage, Joel 1 deals with a massive locust plague which has devastated or is currently devastating the land. Joel chapter 2, however is not so clear. Some commentators understand Joel to still be talking about the locust invasion by using poetic language to describe the locusts as an invading army from the north. In fact, when I first started studying the book of Joel, that is where I landed.
However now, after studying the book more in depth, I believe that Joel is actually talking about a foreign invading army from the north. I don’t want to bore you with all the specific reasons why I think that to be the case, but if you want to discuss it, I’d be happy to because it is really interesting discussion – just give me a call! Sorry, that’s the nerd side of me showing. The question then becomes, who is this foreign army? If Joel is before the exile, it is the Assyrians/Babylonians. If it is after the exile when the people have returned, it is some other northern enemy – perhaps the Greeks or someone else. Because I think the date of Joel is pre-exile, I therefore think the invading northern army is the Babylonians. I’m sorry for all the background and detail, but I think it is helpful for us to think deeply about these things as we study the Scriptures. We are supposed to study to show ourselves approved. We are called to love God with all our heart, soul strength and mind. If we aren’t willing to do some of the difficult and sometimes tedious study, then we aren’t obeying the command to love God with our minds.
Let’s move on to number 2 in your outline and talk about prophecy. Prophecy is notoriously difficult to interpret. It just is. It is harder to read and understand prophecy than it is the Gospels, for example. But again, since it is God’s Word, it is worth our study and attention.
One reason prophecy is difficult is because sometimes prophets “forthtell” – that is they warn against current sin and problems – that’s mostly what we saw with Hosea. Repent! Stop taking advantage of the poor! Etc. At other times, prophets “foretell” – that is they tell the future of what God is going to do. And even that is sometimes conditional on whether the people repent or not – think Jonah and the Ninevites.
Sometimes it can be difficult to recognize whether a prophet is forthtelling or foretelling. And added to that is the nature of timing of the fulfillment of the prophecy. Did the prophet tell about the future for him, but it was already fulfilled to us? Or is he prophesying something that is future for him and still future for us? Sometimes in prophecy – because God is the ultimate author and is all knowing – there is a double fulfillment. Take Isaiah 7:14 for example which says,
Isaiah 7:14 ESV
14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
That was literally fulfilled in Isaiah’s time as a sign for King Ahaz, but we also know that this prophecy was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. Isaiah probably didn’t fully understand the ramification of his prophecy, but God did. Sometimes, but not always, there is an initial fulfillment of a prophecy and a later ultimate fulfillment in Christ and His Church.
I know many of you probably already know most of this stuff, but I think it is worth taking the time to lay some groundwork – especially since we will be looking at prophecy and prophets for a little while.
Another complicating factor in interpreting and understanding prophecy is the “telescopic” nature of prophecy. And this one is really important for the book of Joel. No, I have not forgotten what we are talking about!
Let me explain by way of analogy. When you look at mountains from a distance, you can see the various peaks jutting up here and there. You might be able to tell that some of those peaks are closer to you than others, but you can’t really tell how far apart the peaks are. It looks more like a flat painting. However, if you were to look down at the mountains from way above, you would easily be able to see that there is a lot of distance between those peaks.
The prophets were looking at these future events as like we would mountain peaks. They would often speak of two events as if they were going to occur one right after the other, but when viewed from above, there is actually a large span of time between those peaks – those events. They aren’t prophesying falsely. What they say is absolutely true and trustworthy, but sometimes a couple thousand years may sit between two sentences. And at other times only a couple decades.
One more thing about prophecy, although much more can be said. Oftentimes, the fulfillment of the prophecy is surprising or not how people expected it to be fulfilled. For example, Jesus the messiah coming as a suffering servant. In Joel, we see that the passage we read is fulfilled by Spiritual Israel who are grafted in – Gentiles and Jews alike. We’ll get more into that in a second.
So, we have laid a lot of groundwork. I am happy to report that the “technical mumbo jumbo” portion of the sermon is over – at least for the most part. So, you are free to tune back in – in fact, please do!
So, let’s get to the specifics of Joel. The title of this sermon and this roman numeral in your bulletin is “The Day of the Lord”. The Day of the Lord is an important theme in Joel. And because it is so important, we need to ask what it’s all about. What is the Day of the Lord? Is it good or bad? And the answer to that questions is “Yes!”
The simplest definition of the Day of the Lord I can give is the Day of Judgment. So, in Joel, when the Lord brings judgment, that is an experience of the Day of the Lord. Joel 1:15 says,
Joel 1:15 ESV
15 Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.
Now in prophetic, poetic language, the idea of the day being near, means it is here, it is upon you. Not that it will be soon. In fact, Deuteronomy 28 discusses what will happen if Israel breaks the covenant – the Lord would send a locust plague, then invading armies. Joel, is teaching the people that God is judging them for unfaithfulness to His Law. The locust is part of the judgment of God – it is not a mere natural disaster.
Likewise the foreign army of chapter 2:1-11 is sent by God. In fact, Joel understands their invasion as being God Himself coming in judgment. Look at Joel 2:10-11 with me:
Joel 2:10–11 ESV
10 The earth quakes before them; the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. 11 The Lord utters his voice before his army, for his camp is exceedingly great; he who executes his word is powerful. For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome; who can endure it?
Again, this is poetic, prophetic language. The northern army is not literally God, but their invasion is from God. It is God’s judgment on Judah – such that Joel is basically saying that God has come (or will come) and destroyed them.
But the locust and the invasion are not the only aspects of the day of the Lord. Eventually God will judge the invading army. God will judge all the nations that have harassed His people. And we can see that “telescoping” of the prophecy. The northern invaders were near future for Joel, but God judging all nations (Joel chapter 3) – the final culmination of the day of the Lord – at the end of time – that is still future. The Valley of Jehoshaphat – Jehoshaphat means “God has Judged”. Joel looks to the future where God will judge all the nations, and that will be a great, awesome and unendurable day.
So, is The Day of the Lord good or bad? I guess that depends on who you are. Obviously it is good, because all that God does is good, but is it good or bad news for us. The answer is, it depends. Joel calls the people to repent even in the midst of God’s judgment. Scripture holds out the offer of forgiveness and the promise of restoration. In Joel the language is that of God rejuvenating the land and sealing the people for Himself.
So for the people of God, the Day of the Lord is a day of final and total restoration. It is a good day. For the wicked, especially on that final Day of the Lord, it is the day of destruction.
Where does that leave us today? It leaves us between the already and not yet. Peter showed that Christ poured out His Spirit upon all flesh beginning at Pentecost. Beginning is an important word. It isn’t yet completed. People are still being saved and the Spirit is still indwelling them. This prophecy in Joel is fulfilled in the Church where the Holy Spirit indwells everyone who is united to Christ and therefore grafted into true Israel. A greater and fuller fulfillment than Joel probably could have imagined.
Look at Joel 2:30-31 again with me
Joel 2:30–31 ESV
30 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.
When Peter quotes that passage, he includes this part. And he’s saying this that you see happening is what Joel prophesied. Let me make that more plain. The life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Inaugurated the final Day of the Lord.
It’s been nearly 2000 years since Pentecost, yet Joel spoke of them as if they were right next to each other. And Peter affirms that. The Spirit has been poured out… We are in the Day of the Lord which will soon be culminated in final and total judgment. And it will be Christ who judges the nations who have warred against Him and His people.
As terrible and frightening as the judgment of God sounds, it will be worse. The apocalyptic language of the sun being darkened and the moon turning to blood. Blood and fire and columns of smoke – it all sounds terrible, but it is poetic language to describe something that is unfathomable to us now. Even pandemics and earthquakes and tornados and all the other terrible “natural” disasters we are acquainted with cannot prepare us for the Day of the Lord if we are on the wrong side of that day. There is much talk today about being on the right side of history. That phrase is often used as a bludgeon to beat people over the head with if they don’t “get with the program” of inclusivity. But ultimately, there is only one right side of history.
So, what can we do? We repent. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!
When the Day of the Lord arrives, and we all stand before God in judgment, how will we fare? Will you stand before the Lord Most High as an enemy? Will you stand before Him and say, “I was a good person”. The most important question is what will He say?
Will you hear “Well done my good and faithful servant, enter the joy of your Master.” OR will you hear “Depart from me you worker of iniquity for I never knew you.”
Regardless of some of the interpretive difficulties we mentioned, the essence of Joel is pretty straight forward. Repent, for the Day of the Lord is here.
The final Day of the Lord will be terrible, and the world we live in is full of terrible disasters that are just a taste of what is to come. They are meant to turn us to God in repentance. God mercifully sends locust and invading armies (figuratively speaking) to awaken us to our sin. To call us to repentance. Will you call upon the name of the Lord and be saved?
We are about to transition into a time of worship through response. We believe that any time we hear the Word of God, we respond either in worship or rebellion. We will sing a song of worship during that time, and I hope you will respond to the Lord in worship by repenting of your sin and trusting fully in Christ. That is something we all need to do. For believers, we often need to refocus on Christ by repenting. For unbelievers, you definitely need to turn from your rebellion, otherwise you will be destroyed with the wicked nations of Joel 3.
If you need someone to talk to or pray with, I’d be happy to do that. But out of an abundance of caution, I ask that you not come forward during this time. If you will just remain in your seat, I will come talk to you and pray with you once everyone has dismissed. We know that the Lord can hear you calling upon His name from anywhere.
Let’s pray, then worship our great and mighty King Jesus who rules and judges righteously.
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