Something Worth Waiting For
Today is our final message in the Book of Joel. Joel hasn’t filled the trail with daffodils and daisies, but it’s been a meaningful journey. He’s asked us to awake; he’s asked us to become self-aware; he’s asked us to turn to the Lord in repentance; he’s asked us to place our hope in the fact that God uses locust-experiences for good purposes. And all of that is good.
In Christian theology, there’s a doctrine called “eschatology.” People like it because it’s a discussion about death, and judgment, and the final destiny of the soul. This last chapter is full of eschatology.
Now, some of the things in eschatology are illogical. Jesus’ return, for example, is illogical. He was treated badly and rejected before, so why would he want to come back? The resurrection of the dead is also illogical. But what this lack of logic tells us is that Jesus’ return and the resurrection are activities of grace. They’re undeserved gifts; they aren’t logical, and that’s okay. The final judgement, however, which we’ll touch on today, is logical. Sin doesn’t mix with a holy God, so he has to dealt with. There’s something very reasonable about that.
Now think about this… “The atheist who cries out in the face of injustice, ‘It isn’t fair!’ or ‘It isn’t right!’ is logically inconsistent.
Fairness and rightness are words that are irrelevant to one who doesn’t believe in a God who gives value … a God who determines what is fair and what is just.
And yet even the most strident unbeliever winces at the unfairness of tragedy and suffering. Even if they don’t know it, it is the ‘smell of heaven’ … the yearning, if you will, for lost Eden” (Steve Brown). We want things set right. So, judgement and justice makes sense.
I want to make one more preliminary point before I turn to today’s passage. The passage is going to speak of Judah and Jerusalem. When you see those understand that they’re metaphors for “God’s people,” the spiritual descendants of Abraham, those who trust God like he did. The Bible says, “[Abraham] believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6).
Therefore, New Testament believers are included in what we’re going to read. In fact, when the Book of Revelation speaks of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem that comes from heaven it’s not speaking about building. It’s speaking of the people of God across all space and time. People, not stuff, make a city.
Judgement of the Nations (Joel 3:1–8)
“For behold, in those days and at that time [[the last day]], when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.
[[This is a reference back to when King Jehoshaphat defeated a collation of Israel’s enemies, using it as a metaphor of God’s defeating his enemies.]]
And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land, and have cast lots for my people, and have traded a boy for a prostitute, and have sold a girl for wine and have drunk it.
[[The Lord will judge the nations, the unbelievers, and vindicate his people who have been abused and discarded because they’ve been his witnesses. Justice will come.]]
“What are you to me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the regions of Philistia?
[[Tyre and Sidon were port cities in which idolatry continued because the Israelites failed to remove the pagans from the Promised Land. Latter on the King of Tyre called himself god, and Ezekiel spoke of him, alluding to the power of Satan behind the throne.]]
Are you paying me back for something? If you are paying me back, I will return your payment on your own head swiftly and speedily. For you have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried my rich treasures into your temples. You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks in order to remove them far from their own border.
[[Tyre and Sidon and the Philistines were always a thorn in the side of God’s people, enslaving them, waring against them, robbing the Jerusalem temple—and they assumed they could get away with it.]]
Behold, I will stir them up from the place to which you have sold them, and I will return your payment on your own head. I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, to a nation far away, for the Lord has spoken.”
[[Sometimes the Lord allows people to remain in their sin, eventually suffering the consequence of it; and we know from history that Alexander the Great rolled into the region, conquered, and made its young men serve his army as slaves, never to see home again.]]
The point … in God’s time—not ours—justice will come.
It often seems like the wicked prosper, and the righteous suffer. But God is saying, “When it’s all said and done justice will come, retribution is real, vengeance is mine” (see Psa 7:14–15; Prov. 26:27).
There’s a tendency today for folks to think, “Oh, no, the God of the New Testament isn’t vengeful.” But that’s an idiotic thought. It means is: “Oh, no, the God of the New Testament isn’t just.” For any judge who sets a guilty person free without punishment is immoral and unjust. God’s love doesn’t cancel his holiness.
When God’s holiness is canceled in favor of love, grace is also canceled. How so? It’s so because without the jeopardy of judgement, you’ll never sing the song of the redeemed.
Let me put it this way … My friend, Steve Brown, who Brittany and I will see later this week, has a friend who was a judge, although he wasn’t a Christian when this event happened—I’m told he is now. Once when Steve was going to his friend’s town he called him and suggested they get together.
“I meet my friends in bars,” the judge laughed.
“You name the bar,” Steve countered, much to his surprise, “and I’ll be there.”
That evening when Steve got to the bar, he found that the judge had come with a prostitute. Steve suspected it was a game of “Shock the Reverend.” So he pretended not to be surprised. When the judge’s escort went to the ladies’ room, the judge turned to Steve and pointed to the people standing along the bar, “Steve, all those people are sick.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” he added hastily. “I’m sick, too. The only difference is that I know it and they don’t.” (When Being Good Isn’t Good Enough, pp. 108–109.)
The judge wasn’t far from the kingdom. Jesus loves people who know they’re sick. The holiness of God teaches us that we are sick and in need of a Physician. And that alone is where we find grace.
Jehovah Is Your Refuge (Joel 3:9–16)
Our passage continues on, and it’s not pretty at first.
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 plowshares 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.
Bring down your warriors, O Lord.
Let the nations stir themselves up
and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat;
for there I will sit to judge
all the surrounding nations.
Put in the sickle,
for the harvest is ripe.
Go in, tread,
for the winepress is full.
The vats overflow,
for their evil is great.
in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near
in the valley of decision.
The sun and the moon are darkened,
and the stars withdraw their shining.
The Lord roars from Zion,
and utters his voice from Jerusalem,
and the heavens and the earth quake.
But the Lord is a refuge to his people,
a stronghold to the people of Israel.
I’m not going to shilly-shally here. The Bible clearly teaches a day of judgement. If you don’t get that out of what I just read, then you need to read it again.
That being said, I want to draw your attention to the 16th verse: “But the Lord is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel.” If you take seriously God’s holiness and his right to put things straight, then this verse should give you relief.
I think it’s interesting that if you go to the 3rd chapter and 16th verse in the Gospel of John you’ll read: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” This is where we learn how the Lord is a refuge to his people. He’s a refuge because of what he’s provided. For those who come to Jesus, their sin has already been judged at the cross. Jesus, therefore, is their substitute and so their refuge.
At the cross God judged the mindset and behavior, which says, “I want to decided for myself what is good and evil, and of course good is going to be whatever makes be feel like I’m a god. I don’t trust you, God, because you’ll interfere with my program to make myself feel better now.” That kind of selfishness undergirds all sin. At the cross God says, “Do you see what I’ve sorted for you? You don’t have to fear, you can trust. Let’s take a walk and talk together.” That a relationship of safety. In fact, you can trust that not even death will end the relationship God has begun with you.
When I was much younger than I am now I had nightmares. In those years, I was a competitive swimmer; today I just float like a beach ball. But one of the nightmares I had was being in a pool filled with strange fish, piranhas, and electric eels. That dream scared the spit out of me. It also woke me up. And I’ll be damned if I was going to go to sleep again. So, I’d walk down the hall to my parent’s bedroom, and go over to my father’s side of the bed. He’d never got mad, or sent me away. He’d just put me in bed with him, wrapped his arms around me and pulled the blanket over. 30 mins later he’d walk me back to my room and tuck me into bed.
The scriptures say: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psa 46:1). In another place it says, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe” (Prov 18:10).
A citadel is a fortified area at the center and highest point of an ancient city. It formed the last place of refuge in case the city was besieged and its walls stormed. God says, “That’s what I am for you. I calm your souls in danger. I am strong tower about you. Sometimes I remove you difficulties. Other times I give you internal strength to endure difficulties. But no matter what, you’ll be with me forever.”
Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch watchmaker and a writer. She helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust. She tells that as a little girl, her father tucked her into bed at night. He talked and prayed with her, then laid his big hand on her little face. Later, when she was imprisoned in a brutal Nazi concentration camp, she would ask God to tuck her in, praying, “My heavenly Father, will you lay your hand on my face?” Reflecting on those hard nights, she said, “That would bring me peace, and I would be able to sleep.”
This isn’t a psychological sleight of hand, but trusting in God and his promises. Sensations in the body follow suit with what has been laid down by the mind, which finds ground for faith in the fulfilled history of the mighty acts of God, especially the cross.
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks. It prides itself on whistleblowing, obtaining secret government documents and making them public. WikiLeaks has caused many a government official and diplomat to run around trying to stuff feathers back into pillows that have been slashed wide open.
Recently WikiLeaks published documents claiming that the British government helped the CIA hack Samsung Smart TVs and turn them into “microphones.”
Now, think about that. … What if your life, all of your sin, all of your darkness was put on public display. Where would you hide?
We often think of God as our judge, but have you’ve ever thought of his as your hiding place from guilt and shame? If not, then consider the cross.
Even while our passage speaks about the coming Day of the Lord, it’s also saying, “I am the refuge for my people; I am their stronghold.” Then for good measure it says, “I am their cause for joy!”
Look with me at verse 17…
Jubilation Fills the city (Joel 3:17–21)
“So you shall know that I am the Lord your God,
who dwells in Zion, my holy mountain. And Jerusalem shall be holy,
and strangers shall never again pass through it.
“And in that day.
[[Remember this is a picture of the end, not tomorrow—unless Jesus comes tomorrow.]]
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the streambeds of Judah
shall flow with water;
and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord
and water the Valley of Shittim.
“Egypt shall become a desolation
[[God’s people were slaves in Egypt]]
and Edom a desolate wilderness,
[[Edom mocked God’s people as they went into captivity.]]
for the violence done to the people of Judah,
because they have shed innocent blood in their land.
[[God’s saying my people won’t suffer like that anymore. They’ll know Eden again.]]
But Judah shall be inhabited forever,
and Jerusalem to all generations. I will avenge their blood,
blood I have not avenged,
for the Lord dwells in Zion.”
Have you ever heard the story about a village which was overtaken by enemy forces. All of the warriors who inhabited the village were gathered together and imprisoned by the conquerors.
Amidst the villagers were four philanthropists who became aware of the prison conditions that their friends were enduring. The first philanthropist went to the prison and said to the captors, “I understand that my brothers are without clean water. I want to take all my riches, and use them to purify the water, so that my brothers will have clean water, that they will not get sick.” The captors agreed and granted the man this right. He walked away, glad that he had been able to show this act of charity for his brothers.
The second philanthropist went to the prison, and approached the captors, saying “I understand my brothers are sleeping on rocks. I want to take all my riches, and provide bedding for the men, so they may rest comfortably in prison.” The captors agreed, and the man left, feeling that he had fulfilled his purpose in aiding his brothers’ plight.
The third philanthropist went to the prison, and spoke to the captors, saying “I have heard that my brothers have no food. They have only bread and water. I have a large farm, and want to harvest all my crops to see that the men have good food to eat while they are in prison.” The captors agreed, and the philanthropist left, knowing he had done much good in helping his brothers in prison.
The fourth philanthropist though heartened by the acts of the other three, was disturbed that his brothers remained unfairly imprisoned. So he found the keys to the prison, and one night, he slipped into the prison and freed all his brothers from their captivity.
What do you suppose the freed felt?
Joy! No doubt, joy.
These final words in Joel are a picture of that freedom. They picture the New Heavens and New Earth, when every tear will be wiped away from the faces of the freed, when death shall be no more, and neither will there be mourning, or crying, or pain, for the imprisonment in the former things—sin and death—will have passed away (see Rev 21:4)
What do you suppose the freed will feel?
Joy! No doubt, joy.
These final words in Joel are a picture of that hope: “I am doing this, I will avenge their blood…”
“Because I dwell in Zion” (Joel 3:21) … “I dwell with my city—which is my people.” That promise appears again at the end of the Bible where the apostle John says: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God’” (Rev 21:3).
As I think about these words from Joel and Revelation, I’m filled with a deep yearning. I can smell heaven … I’m smelling the restoration of Eden as a garden city.
It’s hard to wait for it. But it’s something worth waiting for.