Friday, September 7, 2007

Will You Be Saved--The Message of the Prophet Joel

Will You Be Saved?
The Message of the Prophet Joel:
Repentance Leads to Restoration

Scripture Introduction:

One of my favorite movies is The Wedding Singer. It has many great quotable moments and is actually one of the cleanest Adam Sandler movies. If you have seen the movie you remember the one part where Robbie Hart (Sandler) is bummed out because his fiancĂ© has recently left him. But he is beginning to fall for this other girl Julia (Drew Barrymore) that is engaged to a jerk. Through a major miscommunication he feels that she would have nothing to do with him because he is just a poor Wedding Singer. So, he does what every miserable person does—goes to a bar. There he meets up with his brother, who is the cool (or so he thinks, yet rather disgusting) ladies man. Robbie says, “man I’m gonna start being like you, I’m gonna have a new girl every night, you and me man we are gonna have a blast, we are gonna be happy and live it up”. Then his brother shocks him by saying, “I’m not happy man, I’m miserable. At the end of the day I just want someone to hold me and tell me everything is going to be okay”. To which the weird old man comes up and says, “Everything is going to be okay”.

And really isn’t that what we all desire. Maybe not the “hold me and coddle me” aspect of it, but don’t we all really just want to know “everything is going to be okay”? In the midst of the difficulties of life, whatever it is you are facing, we want to know “it’s going to be okay”. Relationships, friendships, grades, parents fighting, people leaving, people dying. We all want to know that it works out in the end, it has a purpose, and everything is going to be okay. Even if it is something on a grander scale—the war in Iraq, the presidential election, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, increasing viruses, cancer, AIDS, influenza, bird flu….we want to know “everything is going to be okay”. Even in our relationship with God we ask this question. Is everything going to be okay? Am I going to stand before God on judgment day and everything be “okay”? Or to put that another way, “will I be saved”? That is the question that the Prophet Joel is going to answer. He is experiencing peril in his current situation, but in this current peril he is also asking, “will I be okay”, “will I be saved”, on that great and awesome day of the Lord when I stand before Him?

Sermon Introduction:

Joel is a story about a locust invasion. These locusts have utterly destroyed the land of Judah. It would have perhaps been close to the destruction America saw on 9/11. I say close because 9/11 is actually less devastating than the destruction that Joel is seeing. Listen to what he says in 2:3, “The land is like the garden of Eden before them (so beautiful, rich, plentiful, glorious) but a desolate wilderness behind them (meaning that this devastation is so massive that all is laid bare).

Everything is laid bare. As Joel says in 1:4, “What the gnawing locust has left, the swarming locust has eaten; and what the swarming locust has left, the creeping locust has eaten; and what the creeping locust has left, the stripping locust has eaten.” These are the different stages of locust development or perhaps different types of locusts—Joel’s point is that nothing is left. All are affected by this. From the drunkard to the priests all are affected. We get a hint of this from 1:16, “Is not the food cut off before our eyes, joy and gladness from the house of our God?”

In all of this Joel sees it foreshadowing something even greater. Perhaps even greater destruction than the locusts—the locusts are real by the way. This is a real historical event that happened in the life of the prophet Joel. Joel, however, sees more than his current situation. Joel sees in the midst of these locusts the hand of God. Furthermore, Joel is looking forward to that great and mighty day of the Lord.

He sees the locusts but pictures them as if they are indeed the Lord’s might army in that last day. Swift and quick and will destroy everything. No man can hide from these locusts, they destroy everything in their path. The same thing will be with the Lord on that day. It is as if Joel is saying, “we cannot survive this attack of locusts, or invading armies, what then will happen to us on the day when God comes to judge us?” “Who will be able to stand before Almighty God?!

“Before them the earth quakes, the heavens tremble, the sun and the moon grows dark and the stars lose their brightness. 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?” Joel 2:11

Indeed, the answer to that question is no one. So then the question that is asked of Joel, “Who can endure it” or to put that another way, “Who will be saved”, is asked of us tonight. On that great and mighty day, in that Valley of Yahweh, that we read about in 3:11-12, what will be your fate? Will you be saved on that great and mighty day?

I believe Joel IS concerned with his people’s current situation. Joel is concerned with the destruction that these locusts have brought his nation. And we will look at Joel’s (and our) current affliction first. But there is something even greater that Joel is asking. And we should be asking that question too. Joel is not primarily concerned with the current affliction. Joel is concerned more with eternity. If we cannot endure these locusts then we will be helpless before the Almighty. What hope then will we have when He comes to judge us? We will attempt to answer that, but first we must ask:

I. What is our hope in current afflictions?

We see in Joel 1:2-12 how utterly devastated the land is by this plague of locusts. As I was doing research for this sermon I found myself shocked at the utter devastation that a plague of locusts could bring. Apparently the desert locust, which is what Joel is dealing with, consumes its own body weight (2g) each day. That would not be so much if you were dealing with only one locust, but these little guys come in swarms. And swarms have been known to cover more than 400 square miles. So we are talking about 400 square miles of destruction. Just to give you a little perspective, all of Ralls County is 484 square miles. So imagine a swarm of locusts the size of Ralls County coming at you? How many locusts are in each swarm? It is estimated that one square mile can teem with as many as 100 million locusts. Do the math; 100 million multiplied by 400 is 40 billion locusts, each eating 2 grams per day. That comes out to about 176 million pounds that they eat each day. If they were people-eaters they would eat at average weight 1, 174, 950 people in a day. But they do not eat people, they eat plants. And, just one last little note about their devastation, their poop is toxic and destroys whatever they do not eat. Locust are devastating.

And we see this very devastation is happening to Joel. It has affected the entire population of Judah. From the drunkard to the farmer to the priests, the locusts have destroyed their livelihood. The drunkard can no longer have his wine because the grapes are gone. Therefore, he can no longer drink away his troubles, so he is left in despair. The farmer has his source of income cut off, the pomegranate, palm, and apple trees are all dried up. And with this gladness has left them. The priests too must wail, because without grain offerings and drink offerings, as well as their daily sacrifices the people’s means of access to God are also cut off.

Some people have looked at this text and saw something a little different. Some believe that what Joel here is talking about is not an actual plague of locust but instead an invading army. They are pillaging the land and devouring its inhabitants. Perhaps this is the case, but I think Joel is seeing something quite different. He is looking at this plague of locusts and he is seeing the very hand of God. More than likely Joel believes this IS the great day of the Lord. More than likely Joel is saying in 1:15-18, “Look at all these signs, look how clear this is, if this is not the great day of the Lord, then how bad will that day be?”

Try to imagine if you can what this would be like. More than likely many of you do not try to escape reality by retreating into a bottle of wine. But how many other things do we use to stop that nagging, gnawing voice inside. What do we do to try to numb our conscience, what are the things that we do to keep us from really grasping the reality of life? Imagine whenever you go home that you have no electricity, and no batteries. No computer, no radio, no CD player, no video games, no television. You cannot escape into a fantasy world through books. You have nothing to deaden it. That which you use for pleasure, amusement, entertainment, and ultimately escape is taken from you.

Imagine also that you are craving a Baconator from Wendy’s. You have 5 bucks, you get to Wendy’s and they have a big CLOSED sign on their door. No Baconator today. Perhaps you will settle for a Big Mac. Again, CLOSED. What, about a Grilled Stuffed Burrito from Taco Bell. CLOSED. Fine then, you will just to go Wal-Mart. It’s actually open. You go to the produce aisle, nothing. Frozen dinners, nothing. Pizzas, nothing. Meat aisle, nothing. Canned goods, milk, it’s all gone. Down each aisle there is scarcely anything. It has all been ravaged. Then when all hope is dashed that you will have a meal you see the last can of Baby Food. It’s squash. You see that the price has been crossed out numerous times, and notice the current going rate for an 8 oz can of Squash is 46.50.

This is perhaps not even an accurate portrayal because it would effect much more than the fast food joints. You couldn’t grow your own food. What little that actually did survive would be so expensive, not to mention that in an agricultural community if all of your food is devoured by locusts you do not get any money. So, not only are things totally expensive, you are totally broke. So, you can see how horrible this would have been. No hope of entertainment or escape. Really no source of income or even of food.

And like all good people when we get in trouble we turn now to our last source of refuge, the church. Maybe they have some canned goods stored up. Maybe we can go pray. It too has nothing there. Now, it is quite difficult to give you a contemporary story with this one. We do not have to access God through a priest, or a church, or anything like that anymore. We can simply bow our knees wherever we are and cry out to God. People could not do that back then. And it was not just some merely stupidly religious thing. It isn’t as if all the people back then are Catholics and think they have to go to a priest. They really did have to go to a priest. They could not approach God on their own without their sin atoned for. Not even the priest could do that. But how did you atone for your sin? You sacrificed an animal. You made a grain offering. You gave up a drink offering. But how do you do that when your animals are dead from starvation? How do you do that whenever you have no grain or no grapes for wine? You don’t. Therefore, your contact with God is also broken.

I hope you can feel the hopelessness of this situation. Perhaps you can even connect it to how you sometimes feel now. Have you ever felt like your prayers are to no avail? Have you ever felt like reading the Word of God is dry and cut off? Has it ever been that you have found yourself without a desire for God and the things of God? And even if you did muster up a little desire it was only met with doubt, questions, and frustration.

Maybe your frustration is with food or money. Maybe you feel the weight of needing to pay bills. Maybe you have even discovered the emptiness of money and possessions, it never feels like you have enough—so you work more and more but are never satisfied. Or perhaps you have no idea where your family’s next meal will come from. Maybe you are not certain where you will sleep. I would venture to say most of us are not quite this destitute.

We probably fall under the deprivation that the alcoholic did. We are discovering our emptiness in all that we are trying to do to escape reality. It comes up empty and we end up depressed, so often we end up searching after meaning and happiness in something else. Oh, that God would give us the grace of a locust plague so that we are left with nothing to turn to but Him. What then did the people do in their despair?

1:14 tells us precisely what they did. “Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD”. Then again in 1:19-20, “To you, O LORD, I call. For fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and flame has burned all the trees of the field. Even the beasts of the field pant for you because the water brooks are dried up, and fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness.” Here “fire” is symbolic for not only the locusts but for God’s fierce destruction. It has left even the beasts of the field crying out to God. So what do you do, when you find yourself in the midst of despair? Repent and cry to God for mercy. Call on Him to help you in times of trouble.

Repent and turn to the Lord. I love the great mercy of the Lord. Listen to 2:12-14, “Yet even now [that means in the midst of this judgment] 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…?”

As I read this, I am wondering how long has it been since we at FBC New London have turned to God with all of our heart? How long has it been since we fasted, since we deprived ourselves of material blessings because God is sweeter than anything? How long has it been since we really mourned? How long has it been since we have been absolutely broken for our sin? How long has it been since we have actually shed a tear for our sin and lack of love for the Lord? What does it mean to rend our hearts and not our garments? It means to not just pretend like we are broken but that we are actually broken, and repentance and obedience follow!

But we must put a little disclaimer here. We cannot be as certain about God’s action in our current affliction as we can concerning the day of the Lord. The call is still to repent and turn to God, but notice the uncertainty of Joel in 2:13-14, Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him…” Based on God’s character he more than likely is going to relent from this calamity, but sometimes we still must face consequences of sin, and sometimes we are called to walk through a valley. So, do not think that this first point is saying, “If like stinks, turn to God and He will make it all better and give you what you want”. This point is saying, “When we are being afflicted, turn to God, and trust in Him to do what is good and change our hearts to desire what He wants”. This is why our primary concern is not with our current affliction, and neither is it Joel’s. Joel’s primary concern is with the great and mighty day of the Lord. And it is here now that we turn.

II. What hope do we have on the great day of the Lord?

In Chapter 2 Joel strengthens his imagery. It is still more than likely a locust invasion that Joel is referring to, but in this invasion he sees something even greater. “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…” A trumpet blast would signify danger or impending warfare. Here it is announcing the coming of the army of the Lord. Joel is seeing something far greater in this locusts plague, he is seeing a foreshadowing of the great army of the Lord. Earlier we spoke of the utter devastation that locusts can bring—Joel is telling us, if you think that is bad, wait until God comes with his wrath! We saw how destructive locusts can be, but now we must ask, how destructive can God be?

Joel 1:15 begs this question. “Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes”. Understanding the Hebrew in this verse (which I do not pretend to) will help us understand a word play that Joel is using. The word for “destruction” is the Hebrew word shadad. This word means destruction, violence, severity, havoc, ruin, and the like. The Hebrew word for Almighty isShaddai. It is where we get the name for God El Shaddai. It means Mighty One, All-Powerful One. So the question Joel is begging us to ask, is What would it be like if The Mighty One is bent on violence, severity, destruction, havoc, desolation, and ruin. How bad can He make it? How destructive can El Shaddai (The All-Powerful One) be?

The short answer to that is, as destructive as He wants to be. You can get a little more specific if you want to look at the execution of the army in 2:3-11. But I think we can get the picture, although very difficult to paint if we do as Joel did; compare it to locusts.

Picture the devastation that locusts can do—now multiply that infinitely and that is the destruction that God can bring about. Imagine that if the sun, the moon, the stars, the oceans, the earth, the sky, everything of Creation is fully obedient and at his disposal. Do you really think God needs a nuclear bomb? Do you really think God needs our petty machine guns? He could in a split second remove the effects of gravity and each and every one of us would be dead. When Joel asks, “who can endure it”, it’s not a question he needs answered. He, like you and I know the answer—“no one”. When it is God’s set purpose to judge us, we will not stand before Him.

This is the very thing that we see in Chapter 3. I love this chapter. It is almost like God is picking a fight with the nations, and with God-hating unbelievers. “Proclaim this among the nations: Consecrate for war; stir up the mighty men. Let all the men of war draw near; let them come up. Beat your plowshare into swords and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, ‘I am a warrior’. Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there.”

Will you be there? “Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.” Who are these multitudes? Scripture testifies that God will in no way let the guilty go unpunished. All who are found guilty before Him! In fact if God Proverbs 17:15 teaches us that if God would “justify the wicked” He would be an abomination to Himself. He must condemn wickedness. In case you need specific things turn with me to Revelation 21:8, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” And just in case you are so prideful that you do not see yourself in this verse turn with me one last time to Deuteronomy 27:26, or Galatians 3:10 where Paul quotes Deuteronomy; “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” That means if you have broken even one commandment then you are cursed, that means the same as condemned. So who will be there on that great day of the Lord? All of us! We all stand guilty before God. We are all cursed, as it is, by the Law. We have broken it, and stand condemned. What hope then do we have?

Just as before our hope lies not in us or anything that we could possibly do but in the character of God. Earlier we spoke of the uncertainty of God restoring us in our current affliction. God might relent. But here we can be confident that God will restore, here we can be confident that God will save and deliver. This is the good news. That if we do turn to God, if we do cry out to Him for mercy then it does not matter the depth of our sin, because the basis for our acceptance with God is not in us. It is here that our great hope meets God’s great mercy, when through no action of our own, but in our filth the Lord holds us and says, “Everything is going to be okay”. And this is what we will see in our final point, that:

III. Jesus is the source for repentance and restoration

Recently I purchased the new Shane and Shane CD, Pages. It is awesome. One of the songs, one that I remember hearing at their concert, is called Embracing Accusations. It is based off of Galatians 3:10, which we read a little earlier. If you want to see a live version of the song then go to the blog and check it out.

The story behind the song is that Shane Barnard was jogging one day and the devil began accusing him. He was reminding him of this verse in Galatians. Reminding Shane that he is cursed and condemned for his lawlessness, and Satan does that so well. He is the great accuser and is quick to point out our sin. But then Shane remembered verse 13 of Galatians 3. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’.” Here are the lyrics to that song

Father of lies, coming to steal kill and destroy All my hopes of being good enough I hear him saying, “cursed are the ones who can’t abide”
He’s right, hallelujah, he’s right The devil is preaching the song of the redeemed That I am cursed and gone astray I cannot gain salvation Embracing accusation
Could the father of lies be telling the truth of God to me tonight? That if the penalty of sin is death, then death is mine I hear him saying, “cursed are the ones who can’t abide”
The devil’s singing over me an age old song That I am cursed and gone astray Singing the first verse so conveniently over me He’s forgotten the refrain. JESUS SAVES!!!

And that is the truth of the gospel and the truth that we will stand upon tonight. What then is the answer to Joel’s question, “For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome; who can endure it?” Simply this, no one. But thankfully the gospel does not stop there. Let us not forget the refrain. Jesus Saves. Listen to Joel 3:16, The Lord roars from Zion and utters his voice from Jerusalem and the heavens and earth quake. But the Lord is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel.”

So what hope do you have on that day? We will not endure that day—our only hope is Joel 2:32, “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”.

Perhaps the Lord is calling you here tonight. You realize that you have no hope on your own. You are looking at the great and awesome day of the Lord and realize that you will not endure it. Galatians 3:10 is condemning you. You are looking down the barrel of God’s Law and realize it’s going to destroy you. You cannot stand. You are guilty and you know it. And you’re right. The gospel doesn’t tell us, “your sin is okay, God will forgive it, God will forget it, He will let it go”. That is not the gospel, the gospel says “Your sin is disgusting, it is damning, God will not forgive it, God cannot forgive it, and It will be punished”. But the gospel also holds out our only source of salvation, That Jesus Christ took that punishment, he became accursed for us so that we would not have to face the punishment. Our only hope is to call on the name of the Lord, and as Scripture testifies we shall be saved. Not by our merit, not even because we were wise and cried out to God…but we will be saved because Jesus is the source of our repentance and restoration. It is because He has paid the debt that we can be forgiven. You cannot pay the debt. But He already has….cry out to Him for mercy today and you will be saved!

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