The beginning of Joel chapter two is not going to be high on anyone’s favorite verses of the Bible list. It is a passage preparing Israel for God’s coming judgment against them because of their sins.
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come. (Joel 2:1-2)
Joel is announcing God’s judgment on the people. Although the people have returned from exile they are still committing some of the same sins that led to exile in the first place. God will not leave the guilty unpunished. God will not ignore the sins of the nation. God’s wrath is real. The day of the Lord is coming, and no one will be able to stand when it does.
Admittedly, we don’t like this type of language. Maybe it’s because many of us grew up in a harsh, legalistic religious environment that felt more fearful than joyful that we have jettisoned judgment for something more appealing. We have run to grace, and jumped with both feet into the deep waters of God’s mercy and forgiveness. We know we can’t earn salvation and so we’ve quit trying, instead accepting the peace and joy that comes from knowing that God’s love abounds for all people.
Yet I wonder if we’ve allowed the pendulum to swing too far. I wonder if we’ve become so enamored with grace that we’ve forgotten the fear of the Lord. That yes the blood of Jesus covers a multitude of sins, but it does not mean we can live however we want to. But Joel comes to remind us that God’s judgment is real and our sins will lead to our destruction. The day of the Lord is coming, and who can stand in that day.
Maybe the reason we don’t want to talk about God’s judgement is that we don’t want to admit that we are still the chief of sinners. We don’t want to admit that even after all that God has done for us, even after the Son has died on the cross for our sins, even after God became flesh and lived among us so that we could see God’s glory, we still sin. We still fail everyday. And with each sin we crucify the Son all over again. With each sin we drive a wedge in between us and God. With each sin God grieves over our rebellion. And with each sin, the righteous judgement of God comes closer and closer.
Yet even now there is hope. Even now, in the face of our impending doom brought about because of our sins, God offers hope.
Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. (Joel 2:12-13)
God says that even though judgment is coming, it is not the end, there is hope for the future. Even now, when it seems all hope is lost, God offers a way out. God offers forgiveness for those who seek the Lord with all their heart. God offers forgiveness for those who admit their mistakes and cry to the Lord for mercy.God offers forgiveness for those who mourn their own sinfulness; whose hearts are torn because of the lives they have lived. God offers forgiveness because the Lord is gracious and mercifully – slow to anger, but abounding in love. Who knows but the Lord may just relent and choose to save instead of destroy. Not because of our goodness, but because of the goodness of the Lord.
Our sins deserve judgment. Our sins deserve punishment. The day of the Lord is coming. Yet even now there is hope when we return to the Lord with all our heart.