Joel and the Day of the Lord

This week the Independent newspaper reports, “A man has been bitten in his sleep by Britain’s most poisonous spider as hordes of the arachnid are reported to have invaded parts of London and Kent due to climate change. Dubbed the “British black widow”, the deadly false widow spider, which is about the size of a 50 pence piece, unleashes venom and can kill those who are allergic to it. However, it will only attack if provoked. The false widow spider has also been sighted in Orpington and in Greenwich, where one victim was 29-year-old glazier Paul Lakeman, who felt something on his shoulder as he lay down to sleep. “I was in bed with the light off,” … instinctively I threw it off onto the floor. “I heard the spider hit the floor and I looked at it – it looked like it meant business.” The false widow spider first came to the UK over 100 years ago in crates of fruit from the Canary Islands. Climate change seems to have caused the population to spread across the South East and they are heading for Virginia Water.

Now I know a cluster of false widow spiders in Greenwich hardly compares with the plague of locusts mentioned in Joel chapter 1. But if we lived in Greenwich and our home was infested with them, you might think otherwise. And that is because the way we read Scripture is shaped by our circumstances.

Let me illustrate: If we were meeting in a Church in Alexandria or Cairo in Egypt this morning, where in the space of 24 hours, a month ago on 14th August, fifty-two churches were burnt to the ground along with and at least forty church schools, Christian-run orphanages, clergy vehicles, and bookshops, we might see Joel’s description of the plague of locusts as an apt description of the Muslim Brotherhood.

And if we were in a church in Aleppo or Damascus in Syria this morning, where over seven million people have been displaced, two million are now refugees in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, and over 100,000 people have died, we might make equate Joel’s plague of locusts with Al Qaida and the Islamists or with the “shabiha” pro-regime militia, depending on your political allegiances.

And if we were meeting in a church in the State of Colorado this morning where the annual rainfall of 15 inches fell in a week, and the flood zone has grown to an area of 4,500 square miles, or half the size of Wales, we might be thinking in apocalyptic terms too.

We cannot help but be influenced by our circumstances. And that is especially true of the Book of Joel and what he has to teach us about the Day of the Lord and the coming of the Holy Spirit. But more of that in a moment. First, let’s review where we have come in our series, Christ in all the Scriptures.

Hosea: Jesus the Bridegroom (Hosea 1)
Daniel: Jesus the Son of Man
(Daniel 7)
Ezekiel: Jesus the Good Shepherd (Ezekiel 34)
Jeremiah: Jesus and the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31)
Isaiah: Jesus is the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53)
Psalms: The Cross of Christ (Psalm 22)
Esther: The Providence of God (Esther 4)
Kings: Solomon, Elijah and Elisha (2 Kings 4)
Samuel: The Son and Lord of David (2 Samuel 9)
Judges and the Angel of the Lord (Judges 6)
Joshua: Joshua and the Commander of the Lord’s Army (Joshua 5)
Deuteronomy: Moses and the Prophet (Deuteronomy 18)
Numbers: The Bronze Serpent (Numbers 21)
Leviticus: The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16)
Exodus: The Passover Lamb (Exodus 12)
Genesis: The Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22)

Each book of the Hebrew Bible has revealed another dimension to the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ – whether in prophecy, in picture or parable. And the text and videos are accessible on the website. But today we come to Joel and the Day of the Lord. We know little about Joel. His name means ‘The Lord [Jehovah] is God’.  The meaning of Joel’s name is the reverse of Elijah’s name. Elijah’s name means “God is Lord.” Joel’s message was to the Southern kingdom of Judah. With just 73 verses it is one of the shortest books in the Old Testament. But what Joel lacks in weight he makes up for in punch. Joel’s message is about judgement because the Day of the Lord is near. But it is not fatalistic.

It is a message intended to warn people to be ready. In the Day of the Lord,

1. Repentance is expected by God’s people (1:1-2:17)
2. Renewal is predicted for God’s people (2:18-32)
3. Restoration is assured of God’s people (2:28-3:21)

1. Repentance is expected by God’s people (1:1-2:17)

“Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing— grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God.” (Joel 2:13-14)

An unprecedented locust plague is taken as a symbol  of the coming Day of the Lord. The insects, depicted in their four stages of development, moved through the land in successive swarms, utterly destroying everything in their path. Farmers were denied a harvest. Animals desperately roamed searching for food. Drought and famine followed the locusts. Vegetation was stripped; the weather was hot; water was scarce. Priests were urged to call for fasting and prayer (2:15–17). Only God’s grace would avert annihilation.

Joel uses the devastation of an invasion of locusts to point to the coming Day of the Lord. This will be a day of judgment upon all nations. If as we think, Joel wrote about 600 B.C., he would have lived in the frantic final years of the nation of Judah.  After the Babylonian army destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C. the leading citizens of Judah were carried into captivity in Babylon. This invasion must have given special significance to the terrible “Day of the Lord” about which Joel warned his people.

Joel teaches us that the Lord may use a natural disaster to stir in His people a renewed awareness of His will. Any traumatic event of nature—flood, fire, storm, or earthquake—should motivate the sensitive ear to listen again to the words of the Lord. C.S. Lewis says “Pain is God’s megaphone for a spiritually deaf world.” So while there is no direct correlation between sin and suffering, God does use suffering to get our attention. In the light of the Day of the Lord, repentance is expected by God’s people. Secondly, in the Day of the Lord,

2. Renewal is predicted for God’s people (2:18-32)

“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls.” (Joel 2:28-32)

As a result of their return to God, His people were promised the presence of God’s Spirit among them. John the Baptist was the first to reveal how this would be fulfilled.

“Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” (John 1:33-34)

Then in Luke we see Jesus himself imparting the Holy Spirit to his disciples,

“You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:48-49).

After his death and resurrection and before his ascension to heaven, Jesus told them to wait in Jerusalem,

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8-9)

So, on the Day of Pentecost when,

“Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:2-4)

While some mocked, others heard the good news of Jesus in their own tongue, in their own language. The Apostle Peter, quotes Joel to explain the meaning of what was happening.

“Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:14-15)

Peter quotes Joel then goes on to explain that the death of Jesus was no accident and the resurrection of Jesus was no myth but the will of God. He concludes,

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”  When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:36-39)

You see the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was a sign that the Last Days had begun and that just like Joel predicted, the Holy Spirit would enable the followers of Jesus to proclaim repentance and renewal to all nations. But there is still a future dimension to Joel’s prediction.

The gifts of the Spirit that began to flow through the people of God on Pentecost were not exhausted on that day – their purpose then as now were to be signs – not for edification, still less for entertainment but for evangelism, for mission, for witness, for proclamation – to bring others to repentance, renewal and restoration. And the supernatural gifts, Joel promised are still available to all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and who anxiously await His return and the final establishment of His kingdom. In the light of the Day of the Lord, firstly, repentance is expected by God’s people. Secondly, renewal is predicted for God’s people. Thirdly, in the Day of the Lord,

3. Restoration is assured of God’s people (2:28-3:21)

“In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will put them on trial for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel, because they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land.”  (Joel 3:1-2)

“Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars no longer shine. The Lord will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the heavens will tremble. But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.” (Joel 3:14-16)

Joel’s vision is clearly centred on Jerusalem and God’s people who at that time were largely associated with the nation of Israel. Joel could only look forward to the coming of Jesus and wonder. He could not see that the Last Days would span 2000 years between the coming of the Lord to be our Saviour and the return of our Lord to be our judge. Joel was given an insight into Pentecost but he could not comprehend how the good news of Jesus would not only be made available to all nations, but that people of all nations would be welcomed into God’s people. That revelation would only fully and finally be made known by the Lord Jesus himself. Speaking of the events Joel predicted, the Lord Jesus promised,

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats… “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’… ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. “Then the [unrighteous] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-32, 40, 44-46)

Today our hearts go out to our brothers and sisters in Egypt, in Syria, in Nigeria, in Kenya, in North Korea, in China, in Iran, in Iraq, in Sudan, where ever believers are suffering or are persecuted because of their faith in Jesus. Joel teaches us not to speculate about the signs of the Day of the Lord, but to be a sign of the Lord in our day, and care in practical, tangible ways for our brothers and sisters who are suffering, whether through natural disaster or religious persecution. Then God will use us to help them experience something of the restoration assured to God’s people. Remember that whatever we do or not do for them, we are doing to Jesus.  In the Day of the Lord,

1. Repentance is expected by God’s people (1:1-2:17)
2. Renewal is predicted for God’s people (2:18-32)
3. Restoration is assured of God’s people (2:28-3:21)

Lets pray.

Christ in all the Scriptures

Hosea: Jesus the Bridegroom (Hosea 1)
Daniel: Jesus the Son of Man
(Daniel 7)
Ezekiel: Jesus the Good Shepherd (Ezekiel 34)
Jeremiah: Jesus and the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31)
Isaiah: Jesus is the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53)
Psalms: The Cross of Christ (Psalm 22)
Esther: The Providence of God (Esther 4)
Kings: Solomon, Elijah and Elisha (2 Kings 4)
Samuel: The Son and Lord of David (2 Samuel 9)
Judges and the Angel of the Lord (Judges 6)
Joshua: Joshua and the Commander of the Lord’s Army (Joshua 5)
Deuteronomy: Moses and the Prophet (Deuteronomy 18)
Numbers: The Bronze Serpent (Numbers 21)
Leviticus: The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16)
Exodus: The Passover Lamb (Exodus 12)
Genesis: The Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22)

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