Summary: Life is filled with bad news and good news. Joel and Zephaniah offer us both.
How God Restores
Joel and Zephaniah
Rev. Brian Bill
Life is often filled with good news and bad news. Have you ever heard someone say, “I have some good news and some bad news? What do you want to hear first?” When I’m asked this question I usually want the bad news first in the hopes that the good news will be so good that the bad won’t seem so bad.
Last Sunday someone told me that she found some of my old sermons on cassette and listened to a couple of them. I think that was the good news but I sensed that she was setting me up for some bad news. Sure enough, she then told me that the sermons were so long that her tape player stopped working!
A young son came running into the house and asked his mom if she wanted the good news or the bad news first. She opted for the bad news and so he gave it to her in excruciating detail. When she asked what the good news was, he said, “There isn’t any good news.” It’s easy to come to that conclusion when you study the Minor Prophets but I want to suggest that this isn’t entirely accurate. Tucked in the middle of some incredibly bad news we see God’s gracious hand reaching out to people with some really good news.
I heard about a pastor who was preaching on the Minor Prophets...all twelve of them in one sermon! After two hours he was only half-way through his message. Everyone was getting restless and most had stopped paying attention. After four hours, to everyone’s relief, he said “Finally...” It was almost over, they thought. Then to their horror, the Pastor said, “Oh my, I forgot about Micah...what shall we do with Micah?” One lady down in front couldn’t take it any longer. She stood up and said, “Hey, preacher! Micah can take my seat...I’m going home!”
Last week we learned from Micah that God expects us to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with Him. This morning we’re going to focus on just two of the twelve Minor Prophets – Joel and Zephaniah. Next week we’ll be in Haggai and then we’ll finish up with Malachi in two weeks. We’ll look at Joel and Zephaniah individually, starting with their bad news and ending with their good news. They both begin with news of judgment and conclude with notes of joy.
It’s not easy to outline the message of the prophets because these books are really anthologies of several sermons given over a period of years. With that said, when you study the prophets, a common pattern emerges. It looks something like this:
* Warning of impending judgment because of sinfulness (bad news)
* Description of the sin (bad news)
* Depiction of the coming judgment (bad news)
* A call for repentance (good news)
* A promise of future deliverance (good news)
Bad News in Joel
Joel is speaking to people who have become complacent and self-centered, taking God for granted. Things were going well, they had a lot of food, and many were just comfortably coasting along. And then a crisis hits. Joel comes on the scene to interpret the invasion of some locusts that had stripped the land. Look at 1:2: “Hear this, you elders; listen, all who live in the land. Has anything like this ever happened in your days or in the days of your forefathers?” A catastrophe has happened and Joel wants to make sure it gets their attention and wakes them from their spiritual slumber. Our country faced something like this after 9/11.
Joel describes the devastation in 1:4: “What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten.” Several waves of locusts have come and consumed everything. Do you ever feel like that? You get hit with one thing and then another situation slams you to the ground. And then you get clobbered again. The economy was devastated and everything in their culture was in crisis, much like ours is today.
In a sermon earlier this month called, “What is the Recession For?” John Piper lists some of God’s purposes behind this global problem (www.desiringgod.org).
* He intends for this recession to expose hidden sin and so bring us to repentance and cleansing.
* He intends to wake us up to the constant and desperate condition of the developing world where there is always and only recession of the worst kind.
* He intends to relocate the roots of our joy in his grace rather than in our goods, in his mercy rather than our money, in his worth rather than our wealth.