Expository Sermon on Joel 1 – 2
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 9/24/2022
©2022 by Maylan Schurch
To watch this entire worship service, click the link just below:
Please open your Bibles to Acts chapter 2.
In a couple of minutes we’ll actually be heading over to the Old Testament book of Joel. But we need to start in Acts 2.
Most of you know that this year I’m reading through the Bible, end to end, and each Sabbath preaching on one of the passages that show up in that week’s reading range. You can always keep up by looking in your bulletin where the following week’s ranges printed.
In each of these sermons, I’ve been trying to discover more about the heart of God – which is why this sermon series is called “Finding the Heart of God.” I can find at least three truths about God’s heart in Joel, and there are probably more. But first we need to listen as the apostle Peter, in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, quotes several verses from Joel.
It’s basically a month and a half after Jesus was crucified, and the Jesus-believers, who number a hundred and twenty at this point, are gathered together. And suddenly, something unusual happens.
Acts 2:1 – 4 [NKJV]: When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
And we know that these are real human languages, because their incredulous listeners list those languages in the next few verses. And then down in verses 12 and 13 we discover two opinions about this miracle
Verses 12 – 13: So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?” Others mocking said, “They are full of new wine.”
You hear these kinds of viewpoints these days, when people are discussing serious issues. One group asked serious questions and are humble enough not to have the answers right away. The other group – without carefully considering what just happened – makes something up, even if it makes no sense.
A couple of weeks ago I read an article by a journalist, who said that journalists are trained to try to understand and report on both sides of an issue. But this journalist said that that’s true when people on both sides of the issue are doing some reasonable, serious thinking. But sometimes all there is, is a sensible side of an issue, and a frankly silly side. You can tell who the people are on the silly side because they make a lot of assertions – often sarcastically and loudly and angrily – but offer little or no proof that their ideas are true.
But back in Acts 2, the disciple Peter, disposes of the “silly” side with a single sentence.
Verses 14 – 15: But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.
Of course the multilingual people aren’t drunk. Not only is it too early in the day, but getting drunk does not cause you to speak in real world languages you weren’t trained in.
The point was that this is the Day of Pentecost, and thousands and thousands of devout Jewish believers have traveled a long way for this feast. And what better way to get the truth about Jesus into their years than speaking in the beloved accents of their mother tongues.
Now, watch what Peter does next. Watch who he quotes.
Verses 16 – 21: But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above And signs in the earth beneath: Blood and fire and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved.’
By the way, put some kind of marker – maybe your bulletin or maybe the Communication Card if you haven’t used it – right here in Acts 2, because we’ll come back here briefly later.
It’s interesting to me that after his quick sermon introduction, Peter starts quoting Joel. And the reason he starts quoting Joel is the prophecy that God would pour out his Spirit “in the last days.”
Peter’s listeners knew Joel’s three chapters very well, just as they knew all of the other books of the Bible. And the part about the Lord pouring out His Spirit now had greater credibility, because they knew the prophecy, and now they had seen it happen.
And of course, there is still a lot of that prophecy left to be fulfilled. For example, there is no indication that at that point anybody saw those celestial signs Joel mentioned.
But there, on the day of Pentecost, at that very crucial opportunity, Peter chooses to begin with the prophet Joel.
The book of Joel was within this past week’s reading range for our read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan, and as I studied this book, I asked myself, “What could this book possibly say to us?” Sure, there are a few “quotable quotes” in the book, like Peter’s quoting how the Lord would pour out His Spirit.
There’s also one of my dad’s favorite texts, Joel 2:25: “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten.” Dad had gone through some really tough years as a Great Depression teenager. He had missed a lot of opportunities that wealthier kids had been able to take advantage of.
Also, in Joel 3:9, there is a sentence which was borrowed for a contemporary Christian song: “Let the weak say, ‘I am strong.’”
But what if you read Job all the way through? Is there anything there we can pick up for our encouragement during the week ahead?
I’m sure there are many ways to look at Joel, but I’d like to focus on what I think we can learn about the heart of God by looking at that book. Just last night I was reading an article from the online edition of Christianity Today. The article was about a mini-denomination of churches that were high-pressured and spiritually abusive to their members. A lot of people have left these churches over the years, and one member looks back on how the leaders shaped his view of God. He said:
“I viewed God as this incredibly sensitive, temperamental, judgmental being. I’m one sin away from him dropping the hammer and smiting me, because that’s what my leaders were representing to me.”
God is not like this, of course, and I think will find that out as we spend the next few minutes in Joel. I believe the book of Joel opens God’s heart for us. And I can find three truths which I believe God’s heart is saying to us. Let me show you the ones I found, and you can see what you think.
If you’re using the Andrews Study Bible this morning, you’ll find that the introduction to Joel tells us that it’s not clear exactly when Joel wrote his prophecies. Other prophets might date their prophecies to specific events, or the kings who happened to be ruling at the time they wrote, but not Joel.
But even though we don’t know details, I believe we can catch glimpses of God’s heart. Let’s go on a treasure hunt.
Joel 1:1 – 13: The word of the LORD that came to Joel the son of Pethuel. Hear this, you elders, And give ear, all you inhabitants of the land! Has anything like this happened in your days, Or even in the days of your fathers? Tell your children about it, Let your children tell their children, And their children another generation. What the chewing locust left, the swarming locust has eaten; What the swarming locust left, the crawling locust has eaten; And what the crawling locust left, the consuming locust has eaten. Awake, you drunkards, and weep; And wail, all you drinkers of wine, Because of the new wine, For it has been cut off from your mouth. For a nation has come up against My land, Strong, and without number; His teeth are the teeth of a lion, And he has the fangs of a fierce lion. He has laid waste My vine, And ruined My fig tree; He has stripped it bare and thrown it away; Its branches are made white. Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth For the husband of her youth. The grain offering and the drink offering Have been cut off from the house of the LORD; The priests mourn, who minister to the LORD. The field is wasted, The land mourns; For the grain is ruined, The new wine is dried up, The oil fails. Be ashamed, you farmers, Wail, you vinedressers, For the wheat and the barley; Because the harvest of the field has perished. The vine has dried up, And the fig tree has withered; The pomegranate tree, The palm tree also, And the apple tree— All the trees of the field are withered; Surely joy has withered away from the sons of men. Gird yourselves and lament, you priests; Wail, you who minister before the altar; Come, lie all night in sackcloth, You who minister to my God; For the grain offering and the drink offering Are withheld from the house of your God.
What exactly is going on here? I’m sure the people Joel was speaking these prophecies to completely understood them. Was this a locust invasion? That’s what it seems to be.
And why is Joel even mentioning this natural disaster? As the book goes along, Joel talks about a future “Day of the Lord,” which is a time of judgment. When Peter quoted Joel to the Pentecost people, he talked about the “coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. And he continued quoting, “And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:20, 21)
Okay. What does this have to do with the heart of God?
I believe that God’s heart is a parent’s heart. Jesus called God “Father” right around 200 times in all four Gospels total. If you’re a parent, you can understand God better than I can, because I’m not a parent.
If you’re taking sermon points, get ready to take down the first one. I believe that through Joel – and through many other Bible books – we learn this:
God has a heart which cares enough to say, “I’m warning you.”
Raise your hand if you ever had one of your parents, or somebody who was acting as a parent for you, say something like “I’m warning you.” Did any parent-figure say that to you?
Both my parents signalled that to me. Mom detested alcoholic drinks so fiercely that she would look us in the eye and say, “Don’t ever let me catch you drinking beer or anything else like that.” In other words, “I’m warning you.”
Why do parent say this? The conscientious parents do it out of fear. They deeply care about their children, and are filled with dread that something bad might happen to them. And sometimes they will speak severely, because the child can’t always feel the same mature horror that the parent feels, because they simply don’t have enough experience. So the parent hopes that the “I’m warning you” has enough force to deflect the child from danger.
Joel isn’t the only Bible book where God warns us about danger. God warned Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree. God warned Cain that his murderous thoughts might overpower him. God had Moses warn the Israelites to teach their children the stories about God’s love and protection. God warned the Israelites not to choose a human king. God warned David at one point not to take a census of the nation of Israel. God used Elijah to warn the nation not to continue to worship the God Baal.
Jesus laced His parables and preaching with warnings. He hoped that the thought of a millstone tied to someone’s neck would frighten everyone away from abusing children. Jesus relayed God’s parental warnings in very powerful ways.
So what we do, now that we know this? Well, mature people appreciate warnings. Don’t you like a warning better than a punishment? When the Washington State Patrol car turns on its scintillating red and blue lights behind you, don’t you hope that they will give you a warning rather than a punishment?
I believe that as we read through our Bibles – whether we are reading them through end-to-end, or whether we are focusing in on a particular book, or whether we are reading the verses in our Sabbath school lesson, we need to take these warnings to heart.
If you haven’t read through them recently, a great place to pick up some earnest warnings of Jesus is His own specific warnings to the Seven Churches of Revelation. The book of Revelation was written in probably 90 or 92 A.D., the last of the Bible books to be produced.
The first three chapters of Revelation show Jesus Himself, walking protectively among the seven churches, which symbolize God’s faithful people down through time. To each church Jesus gives a tailor-made warning, suited exactly to what they need.
And I’m sure if I asked people to raise their hands, you’d be able to tell me about times when a Bible verse, or a sermon, or a Sabbath school class discussion, or a passage from one of Ellen White’s books touched your heart and convicted you about something in your life. When God clearly says “I warn you,” we need to humbly listen and respond.
And there’s something else the parental heart of God says to us here in Joel. Let’s find out what it is starting in Joel, chapter 2, verse 17. Remember, God has already said “I’m warning you.” Listen as He gives us the next step.
Joel 2:12 – 17: “Now, therefore,” says the LORD, “Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm. Who knows if He will turn and relent, And leave a blessing behind Him— A grain offering and a drink offering For the LORD your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly; Gather the people, Sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and nursing babes; Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, And the bride from her dressing room. Let the priests, who minister to the LORD, Weep between the porch and the altar; Let them say, “Spare Your people, O LORD, And do not give Your heritage to reproach, That the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’ ”
Here comes Sermon Point Two.
God has a heart which cares enough to say, “I’m warning you.” And then He says, “How sorry are you?”
Has any parent here ever wondered whether their child was truly sorry about something they needed to be sorry about?
One of my favorite apps has nothing whatever to do with parenting, as far as I know. I think I’ve actually tried to show it to you before, but couldn’t get it to work. But I’ll show it to you now. It’s called the Productivity Challenge Timer. It’s based on the “Pomodoro” principle, the idea that 25 minutes is a good length of time to keep your mind focused on a project you’re working on. Then you take a five minute break, and then go back to another “Pomodoro” or 25-minute segment.
What makes this my favorite app in this area is that it’s timer actually ticks, with a loud, ominous clicking. This is wonderful to keep me focused. It drives Shelley crazy – she says that it would never work for her. But it works for me.
Another fun thing about this app is that it actually ranks you according to how many “Pomodoro’s” – those 25-minute work segments – you have completed.
There are lots of levels, but I’ll just mention a few. If you’re a faithful user of the app, you can become a “valuable asset.” If you start to slip and not do as much timed work, you can become a “demoralized drone.” A little further down you have “Persistent slacker,” and finally the “Unrepentant slacker.”
I actually turned on this app yesterday timed myself doing something, and I discovered that I was at the bottom rung. I was an “unrepentant slacker!” I must hasten to tell you that this is not because I don’t do a lot of work, but because I didn’t obsessively use this app while doing that work.
Here’s why I brought up this app. This app is trying to shame me into using that ticking timer more often. It wants to make me feel sorry that I’m slacking off.
But am I really sorry? No, when I see that “unrepentant slacker” label, I snicker. I’m not sorry. I do get work done – but I’ve discovered that not everything needs a ticking timer to validate it.
Here in Joel 2, the Lord is doing what He can to make His people really sorry for their sins. In verse 13, he says “So rend your heart, and not your garments.” In those days, to show your shock or grief, you actually ripped your clothes. But God said, “Don’t tear your clothes, tear your hearts.” Let’s read the whole verse again:
Verse 13: So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm.
Now, if you would be so kind, find that marker you left in Acts 2 because we’re going back there for a moment. (But don’t lose your place in Joel.)
Remember, Peter began by quoting from Joel. But then he immediately turns to the topic of Jesus.
Acts 2:22 – 24: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.
Now, we’re about to watch a whole lot of people become truly, repentantly sorry. I’m not sure if Peter had planned to make verse 36 his sermon’s conclusion, but that’s what the people decided it was.
Verse 36: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Remember, the Holy Spirit is at work among these people. Listen as they respond:
Verse 37: Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
Have you given any thought recently about what you need to be sorry for? The Holy Spirit can gently soften our hearts and reveal to us the sorrow that God often feels about us.
The book of Joel begins with warnings, but once God senses our true sorrow for sin, He assures us that our repentance is matched by His forgiveness. And it’s important for us to think seriously about our souls. These are troublesome times. This week I heard a threat I hadn’t heard for decades – the possibility that Russia might use nuclear weapons in its fight against Ukraine. It was just a hint, but a definite threat.
Remember September 11, 2001? Do you remember where you were when you heard about the bombing of the Twin Towers? Do you remember wondering if other terrorist disasters would follow one by one? Would we be under martial law?
This is where Bible books like Joel are very helpful. We see a God who is concerned about us, who knows we need repentance and reconsecration to Him, but who then rushes in with truly parental encouragement.
And God’s heart has something more to challenge us with. Back once more to Joel 2. Remember, Joel was written in the context of disaster. Locusts have stripped all the vegetation bare.
But notice the Lord’s encouragement:
Joel 2:21 – 27: Fear not, O land; Be glad and rejoice, For the LORD has done marvelous things! Do not be afraid, you beasts of the field; For the open pastures are springing up, And the tree bears its fruit; The fig tree and the vine yield their strength. Be glad then, you children of Zion, And rejoice in the LORD your God; For He has given you the former rain faithfully, And He will cause the rain to come down for you— The former rain, And the latter rain in the first month. The threshing floors shall be full of wheat, And the vats shall overflow with new wine and oil. “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, The crawling locust, The consuming locust, And the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, And praise the name of the LORD your God, Who has dealt wondrously with you; And My people shall never be put to shame. Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: I am the LORD your God And there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame.
That is God’s message to the people in Joel’s time. And He has even greater promises for us – new heavens and a new earth, and the privilege of living forever in His presence.
In fact, let’s lay down one more sermon point, to end on an encouraging note.
God has a heart which cares enough to say, “I’m warning you.” And then He says, “How sorry are you?” And finally, “Can you trust Me to carry you through?”
That’s the message of our closing song. It not only reminds us of the times we are living in, but tells us what we can do to survive them. Let’s stand and sing it together.
“We Are Living, We Are Dwelling . . . .”