The only real security
Joel 3: God is a safe hiding place.
When the prophet describes God as a “safe hiding place” he isn’t talking about hiding from the natural disaster that’s struck the land. He’s moved forward in his sermon and is thinking about how the world as we know it will come to an end. He pictures a great final battle when God’s Judgment will fall over the earth. Joel says the forces of evil will come to do battle against the forces of God and that the Almighty will respond in full force, shaking the earth and sky in one unforgettable blow that will spell the end of all opposition to his Kingdom. Lest his own people fear that day, the Lord promises to, himself, be a “safe hiding place” for all who trust in him. We’re told that the end result of all this will be that “God has moved into Zion for good.” The fact is that natural disasters will come and go as the pages of history are turned. Most of the time, I’m merely a concerned spectator, watching from the sidelines. Some of the time, I can involve myself in some relief effort. Once in a while, maybe only once in a lifetime, I will find myself unhappily at the epicenter of it all. This passage reminds me that an event much greater than any of that is out there on the horizon of history. On that day everything’s going to come crashing down as Good and evil clash in a Creation-shaking battle. There’ll be no storm shelter secure enough and no place remote enough to protect me from it all. My only hope of safety is in God. As I live my life in him, I not only find strength for the unwelcome ordinary trials and tribulations of life, but shelter against this, the biggest storm of all.
Take Away: My only hope of safety is in the Lord.
Living in the day of the Spirit
Joel 2: I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people.
The Hebrew prophets were, in general, positive people. Sometimes they had negative messages to give and sometimes they spoke harshly but they always found a place to promise a better day. In the face of the natural disaster that has befallen his people, Joel calls for them to take stock of their lives and repent of their sin. Then he describes a coming better day. He sees a day when God will “make up for the years of the locust,” restoring what has been destroyed. He pictures tables full of food and people filled with words of praise and thanksgiving. Then Joel says, “If you think that stuff sounds good wait till you hear what else is coming!” He then describes a day of wonderful blessing in which God pours his Spirit out upon, not just one nation, but upon all the nations of the world. He says that in that day their sons and daughters will prophecy and people from all nations and stations of life will be blessed. This event, Joel says, will happen before the “Judgment Day of God.” Years later Peter will quote these words on the Day of Pentecost. Peter will tell people that they’re literally seeing this “Spirit pouring” promise being fulfilled before their very eyes. Even today, we live in that “in between” period of history. We’re between the outpouring of the Spirit and the Judgment Day of God. What a wonderful time in which to live! We’re in the “day of the Spirit.” This is the time when, according to Joel, “Whoever calls, ‘Help, God!’ gets help.”
Take Away: What a wonderful thing it is to live in the “day of the Spirit.”
Praying in catastrophes
Joel 2: And here’s why: God is kind of merciful.
The prophet sees the natural catastrophe of the locust infestation as a judgment of God. It may be that the Almighty manufactured these bugs specifically to cause the people to stop their march to wickedness. God is God and he has ability to do stuff like that. On the other hand, it may be that the locusts are just a natural phenomenon that God is using to get their attention. Either way this is all under his authority. Joel tells his people that in the face of all that’s happening it’s time for a national turn around. He calls for more than a surface makeover but a real change in which they return to God with their whole hearts. If they do that, Joel promises, they’ll find God to be kind and merciful and they might just see the Lord intervene to cancel the catastrophe that has them reeling. One response to personal disaster should be a reexamination of our lives. If things aren’t as they should be this is a good time to ask the Lord to forgive us and ask him to help us get our act together.
Take Away: One response to personal disaster should be a reexamination of our lives.
Weeping with those who weep
Joel 1: Get them into God’s Sanctuary for serious prayer to God.
The event that drives Joel’s sermon is a natural disaster. A swarm of millions and millions of locusts have devastated the country. Every green thing has been stripped bare. The result is that famine is most certainly coming to the land. What are they going to do now? One thing Joel calls for is for people to take their fear and pain to the Lord. He says to the priests, “You, who lead people in worship, lead them in lament.” This is no time for empty promises that everything will be okay. Rather, this is a time for fasting and crying out to God. Joel takes his own advice and a few lines later he prays, “God! I pray, I cry out to you!” Today, I find this passage to be frighteningly instructive. It’s quite likely that our version of the disaster of Joel’s day will come. What is the church to do when a hurricane or earthquake or tornado sweeps through the community destroying lives and property? Joel says this is a time for pastors and other leaders to lead the community in lament; a time for “weeping with those who weep.” I’m not ignoring the good that can be done in practical ways, but I’m reminded here that the church isn’t to just “put on a happy face.” It’s okay, and even necessary, for God’s people to lead the way in crying out to God, declaring the pain and suffering of a community in the face of disaster.
Take Away: Sometimes it’s the role of the people of the Lord to lead the way in crying out to God.
Preaching on current events
Joel 1: Have you ever heard of anything like this?
There have been a few times when my Sunday sermon was 100% driven by current events. Some were huge, world shaking events like 9/11, hurricane Katrina, and Desert Storm. Others were powerful events on the more local level: the church gym being destroyed by fire or the death of a beloved member of the church. There are times when the preacher has to lay aside the sermon schedule and deal with what’s already on the minds of everyone. The prophet Joel ministers in such a time. A horrible plague of locusts has swept through the country devouring everything in its path. This is a disaster. Their crops are gone and there’s nothing to eat or with which to feed their livestock. Hunger and even starvation is a real danger. Realizing God has the attention of everyone Joel takes the situation at hand as his text and begins preaching his sermon. That sermon is the three chapter book of Joel.
Take Away: A sermon schedule can’t be driven by current happenings, but sometimes that’s exactly as it should be.