Summary: Heartfelt-repentance over empty ritual is needed
“Sound the Trumpet!”
Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Remember the sales slogan for Morton Salt? “When it rains, it pours.” Sometimes that’s true with blessings, and it’s often true with calamities. In Joel we see how God uses a devastating plague of locusts to bring His wayward people to repentance. In Bible days people ate locusts, but locusts ate their crops and caused havoc. God has some interesting ways of getting our attention. He then promises to heal the land, if they repent. What will it take for us to turn to God and take Him seriously? Sometimes it takes an army of locusts. What needs to happen for us to accept and obey God? Joel took a trumpet in hand and (in 2:1) sounded an alarm.
We know very little about Joel. His name means “Jehovah is God”. Scholars think he may have been a priest from Jerusalem because of his detailed references to the Temple. Joel is sometimes called the “prophet of Pentecost” because he tells of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (3:28-32). Peter quotes Joel, announcing that the Spirit is available to all who call on the Lord. (Acts 2). Some people think the Old Testament is silent regarding the Holy Spirit; Joel provides one of several references to the Spirit of God, which upholds the doctrine of the Trinity and the unity of Scripture.
Joel condemns empty, ritualistic ritual. I saw a movie in which a family were arguing during a liturgical service, then automatically they responded, “And also be with you.” In chapter 2 the prophet warns, “Rend your heart and not your garments” (vs 13). Repentance was often demonstrated in Bible days by loud weeping, wailing, by covering one’s head with ashes and by tearing one’s clothes. It looked impressive, but it was often an outward, insincere show. Joel is saying, “Let your broken heart show your sorrow; tearing your clothes is not enough.” God knows whether we’re really sorry or just pretending. It’s OK to mourn over sin, as long as we’re sincere. Joel is condemning insincere repentance.
Jesus says the same thing as Joel in His Sermon on the Mount (Mt 6). Giving to the poor, prayer and fasting were important signs of our relationship with God, but God sees our heart. Jesus points out that some people are charitable only because it makes them look good publicly. If we go to church to impress people, we’re missing the blessing and we’re being hypocritical. It is what we think and believe, our motives, our reasons for doing good that counts with God. He sees within us—our thinking, feeling, our desires…He knows if we’re genuine believers or not.
The prophet Joel issues a trumpet call to repent (2:1). If I were teaching a class (instead of preaching), I’d ask you for a definition of the word repentance. What DOES it mean to repent? 2:13 provides a vivid description: “rend your hearts...return to the Lord” There we have it, the 2 elements of repentance—-sorrow and a change of direction. We repent when our hearts are broken by our sin, when we realize how our wrongdoing, our offenses, is what led Christ to the cross. And when we see the enormity of our iniquity, we turn-—we begin to walk in a new direction, with new goals. We surrender to the Lordship of Christ. We were living for self; now we’re living for God, and for His glory. In sorrow, we turn from sin and self to Christ. If we reject salvation, we turn our backs on eternal life…but God is waiting to forgive. Like the father of the Prodigal Son, He waits for us to return with open arms and a heart filled with compassion.
Though repentance initially leads us to God, repentance is also an attitude and action that continues throughout our lives. Whenever we fail, whenever we sin, we are called upon to repent as the Holy Spirit convicts us of our transgressions. True repentance is admitting that what God says is true, and because it is true, we change our minds about our sins and about the Savior. Unbelievers call evil good and good evil. Holiness is seeing life through the eyes and mind of Christ. It’s been said, “Religion is giving God what He wants.” How religious are we? If we’re not devoted to God and His will, our religion needs adjustments. I’ve heard people say over and over, “I don’t have time for God.” All that means is that other things are more important. Joel tells us in ch 1 to “wake up” (5), “mourn” (8) and “despair” (11) until we journey back to God.
What keeps us from repentance? We’re not moved to repent-—maybe we need a trumpet blast like the one Joel gave Israel, or some locusts, something to wake us up from our apathy. Part of our problem is that we value freedom too much. James Bond has a license to kill; we think being American gives us a license to sin. Freedom and liberty are not excuses to live lawlessly. Maybe there should be a Statue of Responsibility in San Francisco Bay to balance the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor.