The Sun Shall be Turned to Darkness
This morning, I am writing this sermon in a coffee shop waiting for the great total eclipse of 2017. At this location, it will be total for a few seconds. Everyone is mixed with both a sense of excitement and well as fear. Eclipse viewing glasses are selling for high prices, if you can find them. This is supposed to be a once in a lifetime event. So far, the skies are pretty clear, just a little haze. But clouds can form here in the summer at a moment’s notice. It would be terrible for all who have flocked here from outside the zone of the eclipse and filled up our hotels here that their view might be dashed by even a stray cloud.
Eclipses have always been a mixture of wonder and fear. Many have seen it as a sign of impending doom. When the timing of eclipses could not be calculated, one could see how frightening the experience of the sun going out in the middle of the day might be. It has raised enough hysteria here, even in our age where we know it has been coming for decades. Total eclipses of the sun are rare events in which the sun is turned into darkness. Lunar eclipses are more frequent where the moon turns blood red. This too, has been a source of wonder and fear.
The prophet Joel lived several centuries before Christ. The Lord used the occasion of a plague of locusts as an object lesson for Judah. There are several insects which were called in locusts in Joel’s day, and perhaps there was more than one plague of them. Locusts devastate every green thing. This meant the crops would be destroyed, and famine would result. Like an eclipse, the appearance of them was a portent of disaster.
The Lord told Joel to prophesy to the people that the LORD was upset with his people, and the plague was a call for them to repent and turn to the LORD. He calls on the priests to intercede at the altar for the sins of the people and call on Him to spare the people. It is a shame that the LORD has to bring these things about to wake up the wicked. But the evil of the locust plague could become the opportunity for restoration.
We also know from Scripture, that the prophets also spoke messages which referred to future events. They themselves may or may not have known this, but the Spirit of God who knows the future used them to prophesy the future. This is the case of the passage in Joel we are studying. It says that the events starting in verse 28 would occur in the last of days. These days would not be the days of Joel. We know that Peter quotes this passage in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost as showing the descent of the Holy Spirit was a fulfillment of part of this passage. The church was not drunk on wine, but filled with the Spirit. Here the fulfillment was several hundred years later than the utterance. Young men and women would prophesy and ream visions. The Bible says that God does nothing without revealing it first to His prophets.
But when we look at this passage, there seems to be events that still await fulfillment. We are not aware of any eclipse on the Day of Pentecost to serve as a sign. We know the heavens were open, and fire fell upon the tongues of the believers. This was an astonishing display of God’s power, but no eclipse as far as we know. Of course, God can make the sun dark any time it pleases Him. This he had recently done for three hours as Jesus was on the cross. This certainly was not a solar eclipse as we know it. I A total solar eclipse under the most favorable conditions is less than 10 minutes, and today’s eclipse will be only about 3 minutes a few miles north of here. One might also note that Jesus was crucified at Passover which would have been full moon, and solar eclipses can only occur at new moon.Eclipses can be predicted, but the hand of God can not.
The prophet Joel says that the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the day the Lord returns. It becomes a warning, but also a promise. In the midst of catastrophic judgment, there is a promise to everyone who repents and calls upon the LORD shall be saved. In the middle of doom, they will be snatched from the fire.
Of course, speculation about this day Joel prophesies about has been the source of much speculation. These and other Biblical prophecies have been applied to events in the days of their interpreters. Of course, in bad times, it seems easy to map the signs to the times and say that this indeed is the day of the fulfillment of Joel. One could think in the days of St. Augustin that there were many of the signs. The barbarians like clouds of locusts had descended upon the Roman Empire and sacked even Rome itself. The Vandals were advancing on Augustin’s own home city of Hippo. Surely this looked like the end. It was for the Roman Empire, perhaps, but this was not the end of time.
The eastern half of the Roman Empire would survive in diminishing form for another thousand years. Some had seen this as the end of time and the return of the LORD. But they were wrong.
A couple of hundred years later in the reign of Justinian the Great, the sun became darker. The moon became blood red. The cooler temperatures invited the Bubonic Plague. Surely this was the end of time with the city full of the sick and dying. Scientists think that this phenomenon was the result of the explosion of Krakatoa, similar to the devastating eruption of the 1880’s. The dust was so thick that much of the sun’s light was blocked and the moon turned blood red. They would call this a natural disaster. It can’t be predicted like an eclipse. We don’t know God’s hand in this. God is sovereign over all the universe and nothing is by chance. But this did not turn out to be the event that Joel prophesied about.
We can go to the Reformation and the difficult times there. There had been several rounds of plague just before the Reformation. The church was utterly corrupt. Petty wars between kings in which even the pope was involved ravaged the land. The peasants were at the verge of starvation. The Turks were knocking at the door and soon much of Eastern Europe was under their control.
In the midst of this awful scene five hundred years ago this year, a marvelous thing happened. God raised up new prophetic voices starting with Martin Luther. These reformers called for the return of the biblical and apostolic faith in much the same way Joel called upon the people of Judah to repent and be saved from destruction. In the midst of sorrows, new life was given to a remnant of the church. Through fiery struggles, these brave witnesses who often paid with their bodies burning at some stake or other horrific torture and death, prevailed over much of northern Europe.
Many including Luther thought that the times they lived in was the end time. The Pope was the Antichrist, and the church of Rome on its seven hills the Great Harlot of Revelation. But even though this was a wakeup call and caused the repentance and salvation of countless numbers of people, this was not the end time predicted by Joel either.
Some saw the first world war to be the eschatological “war to end all wars.” But those who had believed that the Kingdom of God would be the result of people getting it right, were wrong. Amillennial theology can wrongly be applied to the gospel of human progress. It will take more than “telling the story to the nations” to bring God’s kingdom about. It will have to be the act of God himself. Just like no stone for the family altar in Old Testament was to be worked with a tool, not a stone of the New Jerusalem will be of human effort unless it be the work of Jesus who is both perfect human and sovereign God.
So we have been subjected in our days by all the prophecy pundits who try to interpret Joel and other prophetic texts. They tak about the rising of the nation of Israel. They try to identify Gog and Magog. They try to predict Armageddon. Will they be and more successful than their predecessors? I am not accusing anyone of insincerity. I will even grant that many of the ones who got it wrong before were sincerely wrong.
So when will the final part of Joel’s prophecy be fulfilled? If you ask me, God only knows. But I am certain that they will be fulfilled in God’s way in His season. All of these other times which looked so much like the time of the end still served a purpose. It reminds us that Jesus is coming both as Savior as well as Judge. It will not be on a predictable timetable like the eclipse which is even now beginning to start. I haven’t noticed any darkening yet, even though the timetable here says that the moon is starting to block the sun. so far it is business as usual. But soon it will become pitch dark. We know when in this case, and the fact that this sermon is published will be proof that we survived it. That this eclipse which has been the focus of so much attention will not be the end of time.
The Bible says the LORD will return at a time we think not. It will be business as usual. There will be marrying and giving in marriage. There will be wars and rumors of wars, as there always has been. People will be abusing their servants. Sin and iniquity will abound as always. There will also be Hananiah and the false prosperity prophets. Nothing new under the Sun. God has always had people who weep at the altars praying for a wayward humanity, that God might spare us undeserving sinners. We implore all who hear to believe on Jesus Christ. Call upon his name and be saved. He who suffered rejection and crucifixion by the hands of sinners, He who hung on the cross for our sins, He who bore the wrath of God during six hours on the cross and three of darkness, He upon whom the Day of the Lord fell in judgment, He is also the one who was raised from the dead on the third day. This is the Jesus who is coming again.
Are you ready? The prophet Amos corrects the false assumption of the religious of his day that the Day of the Lord was the day in which Israel’s enemies would perish and Israel rule victorious. No, he said that it would be a day of darkness and not light for them. Jesus follow up with the warning to Israel of His day “Unless you repent, you will likewise perish.”
Days like this eclipse serve as a warning sign to us that His day is coming and to be ready. It is a time for fasting and prayer. It is time for intercession. The sign is not that of the rainbow which is God’s promise to humanity that He would never destroy the earth by flood again. But the bible says this time it will be fire. The elements will melt with fervent heat. This is the global warming from which we should take warning. Who will be able to abide in the Day of His coming. For the refiner’s fire is coming in which even the sons of Levi shall be purified.
Take advantage of the time while it is still called day, for the time of darkness draws near even as I have started to notice the darkening of the skies. It is like a rainy day out there even though it isn’t cloudy. I know it will soon be dark. But the light shall soon return. And it is my hope in Jesus that darkness shall be turned to light. I look forward to the coming of His marvelous kingdom. Praise be to God! Call upon His name!