Anticipating the Final Day - Joel 3:1-12

Many of us grew up reading the stories or watching cartoons of Winnie the Pooh, a stuffed bear who comes to life in the imagination of a little boy named Christopher Robin. Winnie the Pooh was famous for his love of honey: always looking forward to more of it. In 1928, author A.A. Milne, who created Winnie the Pooh, wrote a collection of stories he called “The House at Pooh Corner.” And in one of those stories, Christopher Robin is talking with Pooh, and he says, “What do you like doing best in the world, Pooh?" Milne writes, "Well," said Pooh, ‘what I like best…’ and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called.

Anticipating the Final Day - Joel 3:1-12

We know what that moment is called. We call it “the anticipation.” I’ve heard it said that we always need something to look forward to, whether a vacation, or a treat or reward of some kind. It energizes you and helps you push through difficult circumstances, because coupled with anticipation is hope. As Joel wraps up his prophetic book, he leaves the people of Judah with a message of hope. He describes something they can anticipate. You have various things in your life that you look forward to, things that you anticipate in the coming days, months or years – even later on today. But here at the end of Joel, he urges the people, and us today, to anticipate something very unique. The end of history. The New Testament reveals that it is the Day  of the second coming of Jesus Christ, when he returns to judge sin and make all things new.

It’s something that believers in Jesus should look forward to. But it can seem far away and unimportant in light of the issues of the present day. And so we tend to underestimate the value of anticipating that Day. But as we anticipate it, God changes us within. Looking forward to that Day produces a life that increasingly glorifies God now. So for that reason, we should meditate on the events of that Day and let God use the anticipation, and the hope that comes with it, to shape our lives. But how does anticipation of that final Day shape our lives in the present?

Two ways:
First, Because God will avenge every wrong toward us and Him on that Day, we can humble ourselves and cast our anxieties on Him now. (v.1-16a)
And also, because God will remove every barrier between us and Him on that Day, we can discipline ourselves and run our race for Him now. (v.16b-21)

So may God build within us great anticipation for that Day as we consider these together. Look with me at these first 16 verses. (v.1-16a)

Verse [1] describes the last day. It says that “at that time” God will “restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem” and he will “gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.” to “enter into judgment with them there.” Earlier in Joel, he called this “the great and awesome Day of the LORD.” We use the word “awesome” a lot nowadays.  We probably overuse it. “Hey wanna get lunch tomorrow? Sure, that’d be awesome!” But the meaning, especially when Joel uses the word, refers to something that causes a person to stand in awe with an overwhelming sense of wonder and amazement. It’s no small, everyday thing. It inspires reverence for God, and even strikes fear into our hearts.

It’s a jaw-dropper. As with other apocalyptic or “end-times” writings in the Bible, Joel uses imagery to depict the events. It is no doubt a real event, but figurative language is used to describe it. Here, specifically, “the valley of Jehoshaphat.” What is that Well, we know that on the last day, as 2 Corinthians 5 states, [10] we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” And in Matthew 25, Jesus says, [31] “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. [32] Before him will be gathered all the nations.”

So the last day will be a judicial proceeding. The nations, all the people of the world, stand before the throne for God’s judgment. Geographically, there are guesses as to where this “valley of Jehoshaphat” would have been, but there is no record of the place. However, there was a King Jehoshaphat. He was a king of Judah, so those receiving Joel’s message would be familiar with him. Both references to him in the Scriptures, 1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 20, have a common theme: people cannot escape the judgment of God. The valley of Jehoshaphat is the place where no one will avoid the LORD’s final decision. In fact, later, verse 14 calls it “the valley of decision.” But not the decision of the people. For the people, at this point in history, there is no more decision making.

When a person is on trial and comes before the judge after both sides have made their case and the judge has privately deliberated, the judge gives the decision.
The defendant is simply there to receive the decision. That is the case here.

What is God’s decision? “The nations” you see in verse 2, are brought before God in judgment, “because they have scattered (God’s people)…divided up (the) land, [3]…cast lots for (the) people, and…committed gross atrocities. This refers first to those who would invade Judah, but ultimately to those who do not know and worship the one true God. Many are brutal, intentionally cruel, selfish, and uncaring toward their fellow man. Notice the LORD’s response in verse 4: “What are you to me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the regions of Philistia? Are you paying me back for something?

Joel calls out these nations who were voluntary enemies of Judah at the time. God takes the wrongs done against Judah as wrongs done against himself. We saw earlier in Joel that God would employ these foreign nations for his judgment of Judah because of Judah’s sin and their rejection of God, and that while God would be fulfilling his holy plans, these foreign nations would be acting according their sinful desires, and they would deserve God’s judgment for what they did by their own decision.

Now God is leveling his judgment toward them for those awful things. In verses 5-8, God recounts the things they’ve done and states that he will do to them as they had done to the Judeans. God is specific here. Again, this is figurative language describing an event for which words would fall short. It’s an apocalyptic event. What the nations receive, what they will get “swiftly and speedily,” is “payback” so to speak. It will be payback in line with what they’ve done. The punishment will fit the crime.  The punishment will be just and deserved. Revelation 22 describes the return of Christ, as he says, [11] Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” [12] “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.”

It’s often thought that God’s punishment for sin is excessive. “Why eternal punishment? Isn’t that unfair? After sometime, wouldn’t the sins be paid for?” Well, think of it like this: though someone spends an amount of time in punishment, they are no less a sinner in hell than they were on earth, even after 1 or 5 years or more. More sin incurs more punishment.

Now Joel continues this glimpse at the apocalypse by describing it as other prophets do: as a great battle. Verses 9-11 describe how God tells the nations to give him their best shot. The LORD God Almighty lets the nations know that if they want to make war, they can make war. They can make war with him. In Exodus 15, Moses writes, [3] The LORD is a man of war.” And he is on the side of the people he has redeemed, because the wrong has been done to both them and him. Verse 1 says God will enter into judgment of the nations “on behalf of” his people. Verse 9 says that the last day will be like a great, final showdown. 

Imagine a bully who picks on a small child simply just because he can. He torments the little boy. But then, the little boy’s big brother shows up. He’s far and away bigger than the bully. And he says to the bully, “Oh you want to be tough? You want to fight? Ok - fight me then. Show me what you’ve got.”

On that final Day, life as we know it will be over. Notice verse [10] “Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears;” No more farming, no more harvesting, no more ordinary working and living. It’s the end. And God will defend all his people. Joel writes, “let the weak say, “I am a warrior.” Isn’t it commonplace to see the strong and godless push around the weak who follow Jesus?

Not on that day. Verse [11] Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there. Bring down your warriors, O LORD. [12] Let the nations stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. Then we see more metaphorical language. Verse 13 describes it as a great harvest. Revelation 14 also describes it as a harvest. With farming, there’s a long wait for the harvest to come, but when it’s time to harvest, farmers have a small window of time to get it done. That have to get out right away. 

On the last Day, Jesus comes to reap. When that Day comes, it’s too late to change your ways. There is no more returning to the LORD, no more repentance.  It’s harvest Day; it’s battle Day. Revelation 16 describes the war, calling it the “battle on the great day of God the Almighty.” None will escape. Notice verse [14], Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The Day involves the entire universe – sun, moon, and stars go dark. And [16] The LORD roars from Zion (the mountain on which Jerusalem stands, 
the place of the temple, of God’s holy presence with his people), The LORD roars from Zion and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake.

Repeatedly in Scripture (Revelation, Isaiah, Ephesians) the word of God, the speech of the LORD, is described as a sharp sword. Revelation 19 says on that Day, “[15] From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.” And so God avenges every wrong done as one done to him personally.

How does this affect our lives now, knowing that God will avenge every wrong? 1 Peter 5 says, [6] Humble yourselves…under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, [7] casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” We can humble ourselves, both in good times and bad because we know that in his providence, God is ultimately in control of all of our circumstances. We admit we aren’t in ultimate control. The time at which God may exalt you might not be until the last day. Things may get better for you, or they may not. They may work out like you want; they may not. But we can cast our anxieties on him because he wins in the end. He destroys all corruption in the end. He wipes away every tear and punishes every sin.

He remove all of our pain. We shouldn’t think that God doesn’t care about us or about what happens to us, because what happens to us happens to him. People may seem to be getting away with everything, but they are not. We don’t have to seek revenge. The Lord will repay. God’s judgment will be swift and speedy. And he understands our suffering. We see that in the sufferings of Jesus for our sake. What is it that causes you anxiety now? Is it fear of the future? Take heart - God is Lord of the future, and he’s already there. Is it discontentment with your life? God has ordained for you to be where you are. God had promised to work in and around you where you are for his glory and your joy. Let’s look now at these last verses. 

Because God will remove every barrier between us and Him on that Day, we can discipline ourselves and run our race for Him now. (v.16b-21)

Not everyone will be struck down on that final, awesome Day. This is yet another call to respond to God with repentance and faith. To return to him. Notice the last line of verse 16, “But the LORD is a refuge to his people” and a stronghold.” God is a place of shelter and safety in the final battle. Safety from what? Well, we saw last week that God’s people are“those whom the LORD calls.” And in Acts 2, the apostle Peter uses that phrase to describe those who turn from sin and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. In doing so, we find refuge. Not refuge from the nations, but refuge from the wrath of God. In eternity, we need God to protect us from God.  You heard that right. How can that be? R.A. Finlayson made a statement that is helpful here. Finlayson was a theology teacher, and a great Reformed writer and minister in Scotland. He’s well-known for having said this: “Hell is eternity in the presence of God.” You heard that correctly, but that’s not the whole statement. Listen closely. “Hell is eternity in the presence of God. Heaven in eternity in the presence of God with a mediator.”

A mediator stands between two parties and resolves a conflict. 1 Timothy 2 says, [5] “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” In eternity, there are two types of people:those who trust in the righteousness of Jesus, and those who trust in their own righteousness. Friends, your righteousness and my righteousness, will be no place of safety in the valley of decision before the judgment seat of almighty God. 2 Thessalonians 1 says that those without Jesus, “[9] will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” In that sense, God is absent from hell. But remember that one of God’s attributes is his omnipresence. He is, by definition, everywhere all the time. Hell will not belong to Satan.  Satan will not run hell.  Hell is the wrath of God against sin.

Jesus absorbed that wrath for us; that is why he suffered so on the cross. And in doing so, he removed the barrier of sin between us and God, and on the last day, he will destroy sin for good. Verse 17 tells us that God’s holiness will be evident to everyone on that day. When God gave the law to Moses, he made allowance for those from other nations to join Israel if they believed in him. Those “strangers” were welcome – they still are. In verse 17, these “strangers” are the foreign invaders who have done harm, destroying the people’s worship of God and making barriers between him and them. The LORD will remove them permanently. And in terms the people of Judah could understand, Joel describes that new earth. Verse [18] “the mountains shall drip sweet wine;” “the hills shall flow with milk,” “all the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water;” Remember the locust invasion that destroyed their crops and livelihood in Joel 1? Remember the invaders who would pillage and devastate the land in Joel 2?
All is restored on the final day. But restoration of land and its benefits would never be enough. There’s a little nod to all you “Greatest Showman” fans. No I won’t sing “Never Enough.”

Restoration of the land and its benefits could never fully satisfy God’s people. The people need more. We need more – more than God’s gifts. And in eternity with the living God, we get more. We get God himself in all his fullness. Look at the end of verse 18, “a fountain shall come forth from the house of the LORD
and water the Valley of Shittim.” What does that mean? The “valley of Shittim” was a dry, desert place. On the final day, the blessing of God will flow everywhere, even to those places that are the most barren and thirsty. This image comes back in Revelation 22, the final chapter of the Bible. The apostle John says, in his apocalyptic vision, that there will be a “river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God.” It’s the fulfillment of that promise running like a thread through the whole Bible: God will be with his people forever.  All the blessings and satisfaction flows from knowing and worshipping him. Yet those apart from him will not enjoy that blessing. Verse [19] mentions Egypt and Edom, the sworn enemies of God’s people. They represent all the enemies of the Church. 

Speaking of this verse, John Calvin writes, “God again confirms this truth, that he has such a concern for his Church, that he will avenge wrongs done to it. God, then, does not always come to our help when we are unjustly oppressed, though he has taken us under his protection; but he suffers us for a time to endure our evils; and yet the end will show, that we have been ever dear to him and precious in his sight.”

By allowing invaders to come in, God had essentially departed from Jerusalem. The people of Judah observed this. But verses 20-21 show God’s promise to return and remove forever all barriers between him and his people: “for the LORD dwells in Zion.”

How does this future removal of all barriers help us now? Hebrews 12 says, “let us…lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [2] looking to Jesus.” It takes discipline to run a race and finish it. That’s why Paul refers to the life of faith as a race. It isn’t easy. Like a runner, we must say “no” to certain things that would hinder us. We don’t often hear that we should tell ourselves “no.” Instead, we hear that we should indulge our desires, follow our hearts, do what feels right, even if it is sin. In the short term, that might seem like a good idea. But Christ died to remove the barrier of sin, to set us free from it. It’s difficult to say “no” to sinful desires, but as we mediate on all Christ has done and will one Day do to set us free, the Spirit strengthens us to say “no” to ungodliness and live by faith in the present. The barrier is gone – we can run the race now.

As we go to the table the morning, we see a picture of what Christ had done and will yet do in avenging every wrong and removing every barrier. Have you prayed to God, admitting you are a sinner, and trusting in Jesus Christ? If you have, can you rest daily in him alone, or do you use other things to get by? He suffered, He died, He rose, and he will return. And as we receive the bread and the cup, we anticipate that final Day until he comes.

Let’s pray together.