Summary: A short talk for our annual Ash Wednesday service. The bright light of God's judgement and holiness and grace calls us to leave no stone unturned and no cobweb un-swept as we route out sin.
In 1977 (in his book How to be born again) Billy Graham wrote: ‘Several years ago I was to be interviewed at my home for a well-known television show and, knowing it would appear on nationwide television, my wife [Ruth] took great pains to see that everything looked nice. She had vacuumed and dusted and tidied up the whole house but had [also] gone over the [lounge] with a fine tooth-comb since that was where the interview would be filmed. When the film crew arrived with all the lights and cameras, she felt that everything in the [lounge] was spic and span. We were in place along with the interviewer when suddenly the television lights were turned on and we saw cobwebs and dust where we had never seen them before. In the words of my wife [Ruth], “That room was festooned with dust and cobwebs which simply did not show up under ordinary light.”’
A Christian is examined in the light of God’s word.
Thomas à Kempis wrote, “Spit out the poison with all speed, hasten to take the remedy, and thou shalt feel thyself better than if thou didst long defer it.”
The Book of Joel is thoroughly relevant to the 21st Century Church and indeed to anyone with the inkling that there is an Almighty God of justice at work in our world and in our lives. It is a short Old Testament book that can be read in full, out loud, in 12 minutes; and I’m quite a slow reader. It is a book of prophecy, written at some point between 500-350 BC in which the Prophet Joel quotes prophets from years before; in which he points ahead to the Holy Spirit being poured out, and in which he calls for repentance in order to be saved on the future Day of the Lord. It is a book that resonates with the Gospel of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus. First, Joel announces God’s very real judgment on human sin; but second, Joel proclaims the merciful grace of God who won’t abandon his covenant people to destruction. Hallelujah!
More and more, as I read the Old Testament I find it helpful to imagine Jesus himself reading or hearing these words. As Jesus absorbed the full implications of the Hebrew Scriptures his self-awareness of his role as Messiah increased (Luke 2: 46-52). We know that as a 12 year old Jesus sat in the Temple with Bible scholars, and I believe he continued to study and apply the Hebrew Scriptures both before and during his ministry. For example, during his 40 days in the desert Jesus continued to be immersed in the scriptures as he did battle with temptation. At the start of his 40 days of testing Jesus meditated upon the truth of the Bible to ensure that his motives, his mind-set, and his future ministry would be authentic. He allowed the light of God’s word to shine into every nook and cranny, every alcove, every aspect of his life, his thoughts, and his private desires. Indeed he was tempted in every way, just as we are (Hebrews 4:15) yet unlike us he was completely without sin. His life was totally free of cobwebs and free of dust.
The Book of Joel is a vivid reminder that the Lord is coming in judgement against a world of sin. In Joel 1: 13 the Temple Priests are called to repentance, as indeed are the whole people of God: “Put on sackcloth, O priests, and mourn: wail, you who minister before the altar. Come spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before the altar.”
Is anyone up for a night of prayer and repentance?
Tonight’s Bible reading began like this: “Even now, return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. 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” (Joel 2: 12-13).
I had to laugh because tonight before I prepared to come her to preach my wife was busy vacuuming and dusting the house because her Mum and Dad arrive late this evening!
Everywhere they will see is getting the once over; but to my embarrassment, there is a part of my office in our house that is in a mess; and as I left to come out I was aware of mess on my desk and beside my bed. It needs to be dealt with; but more importantly – most importantly, it is time to repent of the mess of sins that show up under the light of God’s holiness.
Like Billy Graham’s wife Ruth we may’ve done a great job with the obvious stuff; but the bright light of the holiness of God reveals areas that He wants to clean up, starting right here, right now, tonight.