The Day of the Lord (Joel)

I don’t need to tell you that the year 2020 has been a year of disasters.  Even if we set aside the COVID pandemic and all the civil unrest, there were the 23 tornadoes at the beginning of this year that killed 75 people and did over $12 billion in damage.  There was the earthquake in Puerto Rico in March that did $3 billion in damages and devastated that island which was still recovering from previous disasters. 

            We’re in the midst of a hurricane season that looks like it will be a record-breaking season for hurricanes.  We currently have over 500 uncontrolled fires in the Midwest.  That on top of the horrible fires in Australia that destroyed millions of acres earlier this year.  Oh, and don’t forget about the murder hornets.  They haven’t disappeared yet.  And for those who have said, “All we’re lacking this year is a locust plague”, we now have a plague of locusts in East Africa, hundreds of billions of locusts, devastating over a dozen countries,

            I saw a meme this past week that sums it up well:  SHOW PICTURE (“I wrote a song called 2020, it goes something like this…”)

            In the midst of a year like this, there are two things that you tend to hear from some Christians – (1) all of these terrible things are evidence of God’s judgment against the United States because of our sins; and (2) These are obviously signs that we’re approaching the end of the world.

            I want to address the second of those two statements first and say this as clearly as I know how.  Nothing that has happened this year is a sign that we are approaching the end of the world.  Now, I’m not saying that we aren’t approaching the end of the world.  It’s possible that the world could end before we go to bed tonight.  I’m just saying that the earthquakes and the hurricanes and the pandemic are not signs that we are approaching the end of the world.

            I feel very confident in saying that because of two things.  Number one, because of what the Bible says.  How often have you heard people say, “You know, the Bible says these things are going to happen as a sign right before the end of time.”  The next time someone says that to you, please ask them, “Exactly where does the Bible say that?”  Because, the truth is, the Bible does not say that.  In fact, it says just the opposite. 

            Jesus said in Matthew 24, “But concerning that day and hour” (he’s talking about the second coming).”  But concerning that day and hour, no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only….Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.  But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.  Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:36,42-44).

            Jesus said, “There are not going to be any signs that I am coming back.  A thief doesn’t send out a message saying, ‘Here are some clues that will help you to figure out when I’m going to break into your house.’”  No!  A thief doesn’t give clues, and Jesus doesn’t give any clues either.  He simply says. “It will be at a time when you least expect it.”

            The second reason I’m confident that the events of this year are not signs of the end of the world is this:  Do you honestly believe that this is the first year we’ve ever had any hurricanes or tornadoes or earthquakes?  We have them every single year!

            And, despite what you may think, these aren’t even the worst the world has ever experienced, not even close.  The Great Hurricane of 1780 resulted in over 22,000 deaths!  The deadliest tornado in history was in 1925.  It went on for over 200 miles, killing almost 700 people.  That’s about 10 times the number of people killed in all the tornadoes of this year combined.  And the deadliest earthquake in history?  It was in 1556, killing 830,000 people in China.  If deadly natural disasters mark the end of the world, it seems to me that those would have been some pretty good indicators. 

            But, of course, this year we also have the COVID pandemic infecting 23 million people across the world and killing almost 80,000 people.  Which is terrible.  But, I’m sorry, folks, it’s not bad enough to signal the end of the world.  In 1918, the Spanish flu infected 500 million people in the world, that was one-third of the world’s population, and 20 million people died.  Yet, despite those terrible numbers, that didn’t mark the end of the world either.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand our curiosity, I understand our desire to know the exact day that Jesus will return.  One Sunday after church, a mother was talking to her young daughter. She told her daughter that, according to the Bible, Jesus will return to earth someday.  Her daughter asked, “When is he coming back?”

The mother said, “I don’t know.”  So, the little girl asked, “Can’t you look it up on the Internet?”

It would be nice if we could look it up on the Internet.  But Jesus made it clear that we don’t know when that day will come.

            Well, if all of this year’s disasters don’t mark the end of the world, they surely must be a sign of God’s judgment on the United States for the sins of this country.  In fact, every time there’s a big disaster, we hear some preacher making this point.  After 9/11, Jerry Falwell said that what happened was because of “pagans, abortionists, feminists, the gays and the lesbians and the ACLU.”

            After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, preacher John Hagee said, “I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they were recipients of the judgment of God for that.”  When I heard him say that, I wondered how it was that New Orleans got hit and Las Vegas got spared.

            When there was a terrible earthquake in Haiti in 2010, Pat Robertson claimed that the earthquake was caused by its people’s “pact with the devil.”

            And now, preachers are doing the same thing with COVID.  In a series of blog posts, minister Ralph Drollinger argues that COVID is “God’s consequential wrath on our nation.”  Robert Jeffress, another minister, echoed this idea by warning, “All natural disasters can ultimately be traced back to sin.”

            When I hear preachers like that, I’m reminded of what Jesus said in Luke 13.  There was a disaster in that area where a tower collapsed, killing 18 men. And there were apparently some of the Jews who said, “That’s obviously God’s judgment.  Those men must have been terrible sinners.”  But Jesus said, “Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 18:4-5). 

            Jesus said, “That wasn’t God’s judgment on those men because of their sin.  Yes, it’s true they were sinners, but if you want to point fingers, so are you.”

            Now, let me be clear.  I do believe that we often suffer because of the consequences of choices we make.  And I also believe that there may be times when God uses disasters as a means of judgment for sin.  The problem is this – we can never, ever be certain that something comes about because of God’s judgment unless God were to tell us that that’s why it happened.  And since God doesn’t tell us, we’re wrong to make assumptions.

            So, all of this leads us to our study in the book of Joel this morning.  And the reason all of this is so relevant is because Joel describes a terrible disaster that took place in the land of Israel and he said that it was a judgment from God because of the people’s sins.  The disaster, appropriately enough, was a locust plague.  But there’s no way that anyone would have known that that locust plague was God’s judgment upon men unless God had told them.  But that’s exactly what he did through the prophet Joel.

            Let’s take a look at this overview of the book of Joel and then I’ll be back to talk some more about God’s judgment.

            SHOW VIDEO (Joel)

            As this video pointed out, there’s a phrase that appears often in the book of Joel.  It appears in many of the other minor prophets as well, but five times in the book of Joel, Joel mentions the Day of the Lord.  Now, when we hear that phrase, “the day of the Lord”, we tend to think about that day at the end of time when Jesus comes back and there’s a Day of Judgment.  And that is referred to in the New Testament as the Day of the Lord.

            But it’s a phrase that also appears often in the Old Testament, and when it’s used there, it refers to any time when God comes into our world to act – either to rescue those who are righteous or to punish those who are wicked, or sometimes both at the same time.  And Joel tells Israel that a recent plague of locusts was the Day of the Lord. 

            He starts off in verse 2,

“Hear this, you elders;
    give ear, all inhabitants of the land!
Has such a thing happened in your days,
    or in the days of your fathers?
Tell your children of it,
    and let your children tell their children,
    and their children to another generation.

What the cutting locust left,
    the swarming locust has eaten.
What the swarming locust left,
    the hopping locust has eaten,
and what the hopping locust left,
    the destroying locust has eaten.”
(Joel 1:2-4)

            Joel says, “This was the worst locust plague that anyone could remember in all of history.  It was so bad that you’re going to be talking about this for generations.  Those insects destroyed everything.” 

            I don’t know how that locust plague compares with the locust plague that is currently going on in East Africa, but let me describe that one to you.  There are tens of billions of locusts packed into every swarm, and there are many different swarms across Africa.  In northern Kenya, one swarm was reported to be 25 miles long by 37 miles wide.”

            These swarms ride the wind, traveling up to 200 miles a day, searching for food.  And when they find that food, a locust can eat its body weight every day.  And so, imagine how much vegetation ten billion locusts can eat.  They cause absolute total devastation wherever they go, eating 50-80% of the crops.

            So, Joel describes this locust plague.  He says, “The fields are destroyed…because the grain is destroyed, the wine dries up, the oil languishes.” (Joel 1:10).  The people don’t even have enough crops to offer their sacrifices to God (Joel 1:9). 

            Because of this total devastation which was brought upon the people by God as judgment for their sins, Joel called on the people of Israel to repent.  “Put on sackcloth and lament….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.” (Joel 1:13,14)

            In chapter 2, his call to repentance continues.  “‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘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…” (Joel 2:12-13)

            But, as the video pointed out, the book of Joel is not just about God’s past judgment on the people of Israel.  It is also about God’s future judgments, not just on Israel but on all of us.  And, as the New Testament makes very clear, the Day of the Lord is still coming for us and we need to be ready for that day.

            In the time we have remaining, I’d like for us to take a look at three words that I think best describe our responsibility as we look forward to the Day of the Lord.

I.          WAIT

We are to wait for Christ and his return.  In I Corinthians 12:7, Paul says that we are “eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

There are times when it seems that life is all about waiting. We’re all waiting for something. There are times we spend waiting for the return of a loved one from deployment.  Others are waiting for a new job to start, or waiting to get into a new home, or waiting for retirement.  Or waiting for the birth of a child or a grandchild.  The list could go on and on because we’re all waiting for something. 

            And the hard part is not waiting.  The hard part is waiting patiently.  And the more anxious we are for something to arrive, the more difficult it is to patiently wait for it.  When you’re a teen, it always feels like the day you get your driver’s license is forever away because you’re so anxious for that day to come.  And all of us know that feeling of impatience as we wait for things to get back to normal and for us all to be back together again.

            That’s why James writes, “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord.  See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain.  You also be patient.” (James 5:7-8).  I want you to see that the reason James had to say that was because the coming of Christ was something those Christians were excited about, they couldn’t wait for it to get here. 

If I were to say to you, “Be patient, tax season will be around before you know it.” That wouldn’t make any sense.  You only need to wait patiently for something you’re looking forward to.

And so, I ask this – are you excited as you look forward to the day when Jesus returns?  If you were to go into a country where Christians are being persecuted for their faith, thrown into prison, tortured and killed, I suspect you would often hear those words, “Lord, come quickly.” 

I’ve sat at the bedside of Christians who were sick and in great pain.  They’re ready for Christ to return, they’re ready for the pain to be over.  But let’s be honest, most of us aren’t in any hurry.  Life for us is so comfortable that we’d just as soon Jesus wait a while.  And if he does come, could he at least wait until after our upcoming vacation because we’ve got some really big plans we don’t want to miss out on.

Folks, we need to be waiting for the Day of the Lord – waiting with anticipation, with excitement, with patience.  But we need to do more than just wait; we need to watch.

II.        WATCH

            Jesus said in Matthew 24, “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.” (Matthew 24:42)

            Different versions translate this verb, “watch”, “keep awake”, “be alert”.  When Jesus says to watch for his second coming, he’s not talking about looking up into the sky, trying to get a glimpse.  He’s talking about being ready. 

            Remember, Jesus said his coming will be like a thief.  There won’t be any alarms that will sound; no newspaper headlines will announce it ahead of time.  There will be no signs of his coming; we’re not going to be able to wake up that morning and say, “I can tell, today is the day.”  The day of the Lord will come suddenly, and time as we know it will be no more.

            I’m reminded of something that happened to some friends of ours in Oklahoma City in May of 1999.  They had driven out of the state to attend the funeral of a friend who had died.  While they were gone, Oklahoma City was hit by some of the worst tornadoes ever seen in this country.  When our friends returned home, they found nothing but a slab.  Their entire house was gone.

            Their first response was to give thanks to God because if they had not gone to attend that funeral, they most likely would have been in their house and counted among the 48 people who died that day.  Even if they heard the warnings that were sounded, they just weren’t prepared for that disaster.

Over the course of the next year, they built a new house, and it should come as no surprise to you that their new house has one very important feature that their old house didn’t – it has a tornado cellar, stocked up and ready for the next warning that is sounded.

            They are watchful today in a way that they never were before.  Since 9/11, our country is watchful now in a way that it never was before.  If your house has ever been broken into, you are watchful now in a way that you never were before.  You see, we only watch for events that we consider likely to happen. 

            Nobody here is watchful when it comes to meteorites coming to earth and striking your home.  No one here is watchful of blizzards in the winter – you don’t have your garage stocked up with snowblowers and shovels.  No, we’re only watchful for things that we believe are likely to happen.

            Which I think explains why most people aren’t watching for the second coming of Christ.  To them, the likelihood of that happening is about as likely as getting caught in a blizzard in Fayetteville. 

            But for those of us who believe that Jesus spoke the truth when he said that he will return for his people, we know that we need to watch, we need to be prepared.

            And I think the word that best describes how we need to prepare is the word “walk”.

III.       WALK

            Paul said in Ephesians 4, “I…urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” (Ephesians 4:1)

            As we wait with patience for our Lord to come, as we watch and make preparation, we need to walk with our Lord.

Let me share with you a story about a couple named Jeff and Janell, and their first date.

Janell was expecting Jeff to show up, so she was dressed and ready for the date. She waited patiently for an hour for him to show up, but he didn’t come.  She finally gave up, figured that he stood her up… So she went to the bathroom, took off her makeup, slipped into her pajamas, grabbed a pint of ice cream and sat down in front of the TV set.  After two hours had passed, guess who showed up at the front door?

It was Jeff.  He took one look at her and he said, “I’m two hours late and you’re still not ready! (incidentally, the two of them are now married)

I think there’s a danger that we can do the same thing as Christians.  We talk about the second coming of Christ, and we get all excited, and expectant, but after a while if Jesus doesn’t show up, then we figure maybe he’s not really coming and we settle back into our easy chair.

But Jesus doesn’t call us to a passive, do-nothing kind of waiting.  Listen to these words of Peter:  “Therefore since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God…?” (2 Peter 3:11-12).

            Peter says that if you’re convinced that Jesus Christ is going to return, then it will make a difference in the way you live.  If we’re truly looking forward to the Day of the Lord, we’ll put our priorities on spiritual things. 

            And I’m not just talking about things like “going to church”, I’m talking about kingdom living.  I’m talking about living our lives every day conscious of the fact that Jesus is coming back and until that day comes, he has called us to live in a way that brings him glory. 

            I’m talking about raising our children to know the love of God.  I’m talking about maintaining a commitment to our spouses.  I’m talking about living lives that are holy and pure.  I’m talking about forgiving those who have wronged us.  I’m talking about having a work ethic that demonstrates to everyone around us that we work for Jesus Christ.  I’m talking about finding ways to help those who are in need – feeding the hungry, visiting the sick.  I’m talking about sharing the good news with those who have no hope.

We don’t just wait for Jesus’ return by sitting around, twiddling our thumbs.  We walk with the Lord, living in a way that brings him glory.  We “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called.”

John Wesley was once asked, “What would you do if the Lord was coming tomorrow?” and I like the answer he gave.  He said, “I would get a good night’s sleep and wake up in the morning and go on with my work, for I would want Him to find me doing what He had appointed me to do.” 

I wonder how many of us are walking with the Lord in such a way that if we knew Jesus was coming back tomorrow, we’d go right on doing what we’re doing right now.

Maybe we need this reminder – Jesus is coming back.  The Day of the Lord is coming, a day when God will judge the world, rewarding those who are righteous and punishing those who are wicked. 

Until that day comes, may we eagerly wait for that day, may we watch in order to be prepared, and day by day, may we make a commitment to walk with our Lord by faith.

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