Thursday, September 4, 2014

"GOD's plan for Judah and Jerusalem … prepare to be amazed!"

Day #251:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - September 5th

Scripture Reading:  Joel 1 - 3 …

In the days prior to Jesus' birth God sent prophets to foretell the future and to call a remnant in Israel to repentance.  John the Baptist came to prepare the way for the Lord by preaching repentance.  Jesus preached, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matthew 4:17).  As the prophets spoke of the future God revealed things that were about to take place and things that would take place in the days prior to Jesus' return.  They spoke often of "the day of the Lord," a time of judgment, when God would pour out His wrath on the nations surrounding Jerusalem.  While many try to "spiritualize" these predictions of coming judgment or ignore them completely, God's Word speaks truth and everything that God has spoken through the prophets either HAS taken place or WILL take place.

Some within the church today pray for revival … an admirable goal, or at least so it would seem.  But what IS revival?  True revival is not having evangelistic meetings, but rather, an awakening among those who claim to be the people of God … a powerful move of the Spirit causing people to humble themselves before God and to repent, to turn back, to return to the Lord, turning away from idolatry and serving the living God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  God's judgment is about to fall on the earth as never before in the history of mankind and millions are "playing church," failing to warn those who make a mockery of God that all is not well in our world and within the church.

When Joel proclaims to the elders of Judah, "Has anything like this ever happened in your days or in the days of your forefathers?" (1:2), he is not talking about something good, he is talking about judgment from God.  The land was being destroyed … "surely the joy of mankind is withered away" (1:12).  So Joel brings God's message:  "Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly.  …  For the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty" (1:14-15).  God's judgment does not come unannounced.  God sends His messengers to call people to repentance, but the message goes unheard by most because their hearts are hard and their minds are closed.

So God declares, "Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill.  Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming.  It is close at hand - a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness" (2:1-2).  Such a day lies yet in the future.  All former judgments that God brought upon Israel and Judah and upon the nations of the world pale in comparison to what is yet to come.  But do you hear about this in most churches today?  Do you even hear about sin or a call to repentance?  Listen!!  What do you hear?  Is it not like the time when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the tablets of the Law written by the very finger of God … yet he heard the sound of laughter and revelry as the people of Israel danced around the golden calf?!!!

The "day of the LORD" WILL come.  The earth will shake (yes, literally!), the sky will tremble, the sun and moon will be darkened and the voice of the LORD will thunder at the head of His army (2:10-11).  "The day of the LORD is great; it is dreadful.  Who can endure it?" (2:11).  Still God called, then and now, to those who would be given "ears to hear":  "Even now, return to Me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.  Rend your heart and not your garments.  Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love" (2:12-13).

We who believe today know something the people in Joel's day did not know - we know that God sent a Savior and that the only way to avoid God's judgment is to place our faith in Him.  A small number, a remnant, heard God's voice and confessed their sin and received His forgiveness and they trusted God's promises, but the nation around them was destroyed.  That was then.  God speaks through Joel of another time … a time when He will bring blessing to Zion (Jerusalem) and to Judah and Israel.  "In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all nations … I will enter into judgment against them" (3:1-2).

You and I may promise things and forget what we have promised or have insufficient power to make our promises happen … but not God.  God says that He will "repay you for the years the locusts had eaten" (2:25), the days when Jerusalem and Judah and Israel have been oppressed.  "You will praise the name of the LORD your God, who has worked wonders for you … then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the LORD your God, and that there is no other" (2:26-27).  Then Joel speaks about the time when the Spirit of God will be poured out on all people (2:28).  Peter quotes these verses in Acts 2:17-21, stating that what happened on the day of Pentecost was in fulfillment of these words spoken by Joel centuries earlier.

While the Spirit was poured out on Pentecost, that was only the beginning of the fulfillment of all that God was predicting.  God will bring the nations into Israel (not a stretch of the imagination!) and there He will pour out His wrath.  He even singles out "Tyre and Sidon" (Lebanon) and "regions of Philistia" (the Gaza strip), declaring, "I will swiftly and speedily return on your own heads what you have done" (3:4).  God has a really good memory and He does not forget how the nations treated Israel in the past … or in the present.  While there will be a time when Jesus reigns and the nations "beat their swords into plowshares," (Isaiah 2:4), this will be a time when they "beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears" (3:10).

"There I will sit to judge all the nations on every side.  Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.  come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full" (3:12-13).  We know this is yet future because the Apostle John writes of a future "harvest" of the earth in Revelation 14:18-19, as the angel swings his sickle on the earth and throws the armies of the nations "into the great winepress of God's wrath."  How can those charged with preaching and teaching God's Word today avoid these truths and fail to call people to repentance??  It is only then that the offer of God's forgiveness through faith in the work of His Son Jesus Christ on the cross is welcomed with overwhelming thanksgiving!!  It is only in the context of hearing the judgment we deserve that we rejoice in the grace and compassion and mercy of God in sending us a Savior who is Christ the Lord!!

"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 … BUT the LORD will be a refuge for His people, a stronghold for the people of Israel" (3:16).  In a future day, perhaps very soon, God will stand for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as the nations of the world come against them.  All that is predicted in the prophets will take place, as God has spoken.  "Then you will know that I, the LORD your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill.  Jerusalem will be holy; never again will foreigners invade her" (3:17).  This prophecy has not yet been fulfilled … but it will be.  "Egypt will be desolate, Edom (southern Jordan) a desert waste, because of violence done to the people of Judah" (3:19).

But "Judah will be inhabited forever and Jerusalem through all generations.  Their bloodguilt, which I have not pardoned, I will pardon … the LORD dwells in Zion!" (3:21).  No power, no ruler, no nation can stop what God has decreed.  As He has declared, so it will happen.  Only those whom He has chosen will find refuge in Him and by His grace He has made a way for sinners like you and me to come to Him.  He provided the blood of the Lamb, the perfect sacrifice for sin, in Jesus Christ, and through faith in Him we will be saved!  Yes, "everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the LORD calls" (2:32).

Have you called on the name of the LORD?  Have you placed your faith, your hope in the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob … the God who makes promises and keeps them?!!  Know today that the "day of the LORD" is approaching swiftly, when God will pour out His just judgment upon all mankind, and only those who have found refuge in the mercy of God in Jesus will be spared.  It is this message that the Church has been called to proclaim since Jesus ascended into heaven, for only those who repent and believe will be saved.  Let those who have been called by God and delivered from the darkness of sin through Jesus Christ rejoice in Him and live to testify of His grace and compassion, calling sinners to repentance.  Perhaps someone who is reading these words will be confronted with the reality of their sin and guilt before the holy God and be moved to repent and believe.

To that end, pray with me for the Word of God to bear fruit until we hear the trumpets sound and the "day of the LORD" begins.  God has promised that we who believe will not face His wrath (I Thessalonians 5:9).  Praise God for His grace and live to worship Him, for He is worthy of our praise!! God has a plan for Judah and Jerusalem ... prepare to be amazed!!

"LORD God Almighty, the God of Israel, I thank You for revealing Your plan for Israel and for the world in Your Word.  As I witness the rise of evil all around me, I take refuge in Your promises that evil will be overcome in the day of the LORD, as Your judgment falls upon those who do not know You and who do not acknowledge the reign of Your Son, Jesus Christ.  My hope is in You.  Keep me strong as I rest in the truth of Your Word, that I may fight against evil and call others to repent, to turn to You and find that Your grace is sufficient.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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