Corporate Repentance (By Lory Mitton)
Text: Joel 1-3
Joel describes the despair resulting from a recent locust plague and compares it to an army invasion. He calls God’s people to mourn and fast and cry out to the Lord for relief. Joel then goes on to warn of another coming disaster on the Day of the Lord, which he says is close at hand. On this Day, an army, unprecedented in size and might, will come in unstoppable force and desolate the land.
Because of this, the Lord calls the people to “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning”. He says the people need to “rend their hearts” because His nature is to be gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love and they might encounter his pity and blessing. So, the people are called to host a “sacred assembly”; no one is to be left out: children, babies, newly-weds--everyone is to come together to weep in repentance. Then the Lord will pity his people and send new wine, oil and grain and drive away the army. The land will be restored and become green and fruit-bearing again. God will send the autumn and spring rains and there will be an abundance of harvest. The people will have plenty and will know it was the Lord who removed their shame.
Afterward, God will pour out His Spirit on all people and they will prophesy, dream and have visions and see signs on the earth and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
God will restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem and judge the nations that oppressed them. There will be war among multitudes but the Lord will be a refuge for his people. God will come and dwell in Zion and Judah will be inhabited forever and their bloodguilt will be pardoned.
There are several places in the Bible, besides the book of Joel, that speak of locust plague. In 2 Chronicles 7 we read about how the presence of the Lord has just filled the newly built temple in Jerusalem (this was the first temple built by Solomon). Then the Lord appeared to Solomon and said, “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
It’s no doubt that the original hearers of Joel’s prophesies should have recalled this historical promise to their nation. Locust plague is a consequence of sin in the land. When the people recognize their wrong-doing and corporately gather to repent and weep over their sin, this is when God will forgive and heal the land and bring restoration to his people.
Joel’s recorded prophesies call the people to gather with sacred intention to seek the Lord in true repentance with fasting and mourning—not just a show—but true heart-wrenching grief at the state of their sinful hearts and how far they have fallen from following their God. Joel’s words direct the people to do this for relief from the recent locust plague but he is also warning them of an even greater coming judgment on the Day of the Lord. God will relent from bringing judgment when the people demonstrate true repentance. And then His Spirit, His presence, like in the day of Solomon, will be poured out on the people so that they will see and hear from the Lord so that he can save them.
What about us today? Canada is currently experiencing heat wave, drought and the plague of Covid-19. Are there parallels from the book of Joel that may apply for us? Are there national sins in need of repentance? Might God be calling us also to gather and repent for the sins of our nation so that we can experience the renewed knowledge of God, relief from disaster and a fresh release of His presence?
Pray: Merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart and mind and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. In your mercy forgive what we have been, help us amend what we are, and direct what we shall be, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Song: Start Right Here by Casting Crowns
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In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.