Sermon: Joel 3:12-16
Pentecost 9 - August 6, 2017 - Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
If you listen to the news you know there’s been a lot of drama at the White House the last couple of weeks. There have been a number of changes in leadership. Anthony Scaramucci was hired to be Director of Communications for the White House. It was assumed that he would be a no nonsense type of leader who would get the somewhat chaotic White House communications in good order. He spoke and appeared to be the kind of person who was capable of just that. He even said that while others in Washington will stab you in the back he was the kind of person who would deal with people from the front, face to face. I thought to myself, “I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of this Scaramucci guy.”
But things change quickly in Washington and at the White House. Pres. Trump hired Gen. John Kelly to be the Chief of Staff. He has a long and admirable career in the military as a Marine. Being a strict military kind of man it appears that Gen. Kelly felt Scaramucci would not fit into his chain of command very well, not to mention that Saramucci has a braggadocious and filthy mouth. So after eleven days as the White House Director of Communications Scaramucci was told that his services were no longer needed. Gen. Kelly seems like a no nonsense type of leader too, and I wouldn’t want to be on his wrong side either.
There’s someone else whose wrong side we don’t want to be on. That’s God. The prophet Joel writes in our text today about God’s judgment on the world, the final judgment. As Joel describes that time of judgment it becomes very clear that
WE DON’T WANT TO BE ON THE WRONG SIDE OF GOD
Other than what he writes in his prophecy we don’t know very much about the prophet Joel. His name means Jehovah is God or the LORD is God. He wrote his prophecy sometime between 700-400 B.C. One of the primary features of his book speaks about a devastating locust plague and drought.
Today if there’s a drought or the destruction of an entire crop in an area of our country it means prices will go up for that particular product, but we have plenty of other areas of the country or other nations that will supply our food. In Judah in Joel’s day a locust plague and drought meant there was practically no food. And Judah had few if any allies and friendly neighboring nations from which to get food. God was putting pressure on the people of Judah to repent of their sins and turn to him for his mercy and forgiveness.
And through the prophet Joel not only did the LORD want to get his people’s attention by a locust plague and drought he also tried to get their attention by warning them about the coming judgment. God is also trying to get our attention through these words. He wasn’t just speaking about judgment on Judah at that time in history. He’s also clearly warning us about the world-wide, eternal judgment that is to come on the last day.
Do you ever get tired of hearing about the judgment of God or the final judgment? Do you think the Bible speaks too much about God’s judgment? Or sometimes you might even begin to wonder, “When is this final judgment of God going to come?” The years go by. It’s been about 2500 years since Joel wrote these words about the final judgment. It’s been 2000 years since Jesus himself warned about the final judgment. Even people in the days of the Apostle Peter, maybe just thirty years after Jesus, were asking the same question: “Where is this ‘coming’ [this judgment] [Jesus] promised?”
Peter assured his readers in that 2nd letter, and Joel clearly reminds us in this prophecy, that God’s final judgment on the world, on the nations, is coming. He writes, “Let the nations be roused; let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat, for there I will sit to judge all the nations on every side.”
Valley of Jehoshaphat means valley of judgment. It’s likely not a geographical location, just a figurative expression of a time and place where God’s final judgment takes place.
What nations do you think deserve God’s judgment? We can go back into history, into biblical history, and think of Egypt, although God pretty thoroughly judged Egypt in the days of Moses. We could also mention Assyria, Babylon, and Rome, all nations and empires that rather harshly ruled Judah. In our relatively recent history we might mention Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.
And speaking of the White House our president has plenty of difficult decisions to make about nations like Iran, Syria, Russia, China, and North Korea. This last week we got the not so good news that North Korea probably has the capability of launching missals that could reach as far as Chicago or even New York City. Shouldn’t God’s judgment come down on North Korea or one of the other nations of the world that cause us trouble? Or what about God’s judgment on our own nation? There’s plenty of sin and unbelief within our own borders.
God will deal in his own time and way with nations that turn away from him or oppress their people and other nations. He’s always brought down those nations. But when God speaks about bringing judgment on the nations of the world he’s not so much speaking about specific nations but rather emphasizing that all the nations of the world, the whole world, will be subject to judgment.
That means all people will be subject to God’s judgment. That means you and I will be subject to God’s final judgment. In his letter to the Romans Paul writes, “We will all stand before God’s judgment seat. . . . So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.” How does it make you feel that you’ll stand before God himself in the judgment to give an account of yourself? I know that I can say that in that moment of judgment I don’t want to be on the wrong side of God.
Joel’s description of the final judgment is also not very comforting or reassuring. “Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow - so great is their wickedness.” These are familiar biblical images of the judgment of God. John the Baptist warned about God’s judgment in terms of the final harvest: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering the wheat into his barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Isaiah also uses the imagery in speaking of God’s judgment: “I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one was with me. I trampled them in my anger and trod them down in my wrath.” These words remind us all that we don’t want to be on the wrong side of God.
Joel’s description of Judgment Day doesn’t get any more pleasant: “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.” The prophet Daniel says those multitudes will include everyone who has ever lived: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”
Joel continues, “The sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars no longer shine. The LORD will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble.” Jesus quotes very similar word from Isaiah and adds his own warning: “Immediately after the distress of those days ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.”
Even the catastrophic signs in nature at the judgment are frightening enough to remind us that we don’t want to be on the wrong side of God now or in the judgment.
So are you on God’s wrong side or right side? We could say that sinners are always on God’s wrong side. Our sinful nature always feels like it’s on God’s wrong side. That’s why biblical descriptions of the judgment and God’s wrath do frighten us.
But Joel gives us some good news too in addition to the foreboding words of judgment: “But the LORD will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.” A refuge is a place of safety. It means being in a good place provided by God. It’s being on God’s right side. It’s means having God on our side.
God is a refuge, Joel says, for the people of Israel. In the Old Testament he was the refuge and God of the people of Israel. He brought them to the Promised Land. He gave them his Law and his word. He gave them the prophets. He forgave their sins.
In the New Testament we are God’s people of Israel. All believers in Jesus Christ are God’s true Israel. Jesus is our refuge. Jesus is our Savior. Jesus is our forgiveness. Jesus puts us on God’s right side. Jesus puts God on our side.
When you and I are standing before God in the judgment there’s really only one thing we can do: Plead for God’s mercy. Like the tax collector in Jesus’ parable we must say, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” And the good news is that “God has been merciful to us and given his only Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Obviously we don’t want to be on the wrong side of God. Because of Jesus we are not. We are on the right side of God. Remember that every day when you confess your sins. Remember that glorious truth every time you think of the coming judgment. You and I are not on the wrong side of God. Because of Jesus we are on the right side of God. Because of Jesus God is on our side. Amen.