Summary: God’s justice brings punishment, but God’s mercy brings forgiveness, to the point of repaying our sins for blessings. What a God!
Joel 2:18-27 – Receiving Mercy for Making Messes
Once there was a pastor who was such a golf addict that one Sunday he called in sick and went golfing instead. Two angels were above him on the golf course, discussing the situation. One angel said, “You just wait. I’m gonna punish him good for this.” The other angel just floated back to see what would happen. The pastor stepped up to the first tee where he promptly whacked the ball 300 yards straight down the middle of the fairway. Since he had never driven the ball more than 200 yards, he couldn’t believe it. Yet, there it was. And his luck continued. Long drives on every hole, perfect putting. By the ninth hole he was six under par and was playing near-perfect golf. The fellow was walking on air. He wound up with an amazing 61, about 30 strokes under his usual game. The one angel looked at the other and said, “Wait a minute. I thought you were going to punish him.” The other angel smiled and said, “That is punishment. I mean, who’s he gonna tell?”
Ah, heavenly punishment. If only it were all as pleasant as this. Today we will take a look at a fairly uncomfortable topic – God’s punishment. And I hope through it all that we will get a fresh glimpse of God’s mercy too. Turn with me to the book of Joel.
Now, the nation of Israel was in hard shape. The prophet Joel was giving messages from God to the people at a time when they were prosperous and complacent. They had been taking God for granted. They had turned to self-centeredness, idolatry and sin. They may have begun well enough, but their spiritual focus was lost. They were not turning to God, but away from Him.
And God wanted to get their attention. He wanted them to realize that all the good things they had were from Him. And what the Lord gives, He can take away. So He did. God caused a plague of locusts – hungry grasshoppers – to devour the land. And they did. Joel 1:4 – they ate everything. And what was left of the land was as barren and harsh as the condition of the people’s hearts.
And if we were honest, we would likely say that there have been times in our lives when we felt barren. Picture this scene in v8-12. This is a picture of disaster. Wasteland. Emptiness. Shame. Dryness. Depression. Despair. Have you ever been there? And v12 sums it all up. The joy of mankind has withered away.
Joy is not just an emotion, but is a condition. Joy is knowing that God is in control, so you might as well find hope in that. Joy is resting easy in His arms. Joy comes trusting Him, even in hard times. Joy is a security in Him. Joy is an inner smile when all around times look grim.
Joy is possible to have even in barren droughts.
But their joy had faded. The Israelites had put their joy in things, in situations, in stuff. And it had vanished. Folks, our God is indeed a jealous God. He wants your sole attention and focus. He does not want competition. And I heard someone say once, that if He doesn’t remove the competition, then He’ll make you not enjoy it. So sometimes He takes away the stuff we love ahead of Him. But sometimes we go through barren times because God has removed the joy from the stuff we’ve been putting ahead of Him. The loss of joy in our lives is usually the result of loving something else too much.
So if you are here today, and nothing makes you happy, and nothing satisfies you, its because you have set other things before Him. And He taking the joy away from them to get your attention.
That is how the punishment of God works. The ultimate form of God’s punishment is hell. Those who chose anything but God in this life will get anything but God in the next as well. But for us here, now, God’s punishment is usually leaving us to ourselves. Allowing our joy to fade. Withdrawing His presence from our lives. Allowing our sins to take their toll on us. You have heard it said about AIDS. You have heard it said about September 11, 2001. Are these curses or punishment from God?
Well, yes and no. No, in that God does not delight in the innocent suffering. No, in that it was evil people who sometimes do evil things. But yes, in that God allowed things to happen. And yes, that because God has set up natural laws, and if they are broken, there will be consequences. God really did say, one man and one woman, no more, for as long as you both shall live. If this rule were never broken again, HIV and AIDS would be wiped out perhaps in 20 years.