The Church Needs Repentance - Joel 1:13-20
Some of you might remember the 2003 Major League Baseball playoffs, even if you’re not a baseball fan.
The Cubs were playing the Marlins when a foul ball was hit and Moises Alou had an opportunity to catch it, when a fan, named Steve Bartman tried to catch it and interfered on the play. The clip of Alou slamming his glove down was played over and over again.
When that happened the Cubs were up 3-0 in the 8th inning but ultimately lost the game along with the series.
Needless to say, Steve Bartman was the scapegoat. He was the reason the Cubs didn’t make it to the World Series in 2003.
The Cubs poor play for the remainder of that game and the series was irrelevant. It was all Steve Bartman’s fault.
In many ways his story is easy to relate to. We’ve all been in a position where we wanted to pass the buck. We wanted to blame someone else when really the blame should have been laid at our own feet.
We’ll make excuses, have long explanations, because at the end of the day we want to shift the blame to something or someone else.
We want to absolve ourselves of responsibility. We don’t want to accept the blame for anything.
Because accepting responsibility and blame often means admitting that you were wrong.
We live in a society that encourages denial, “doubling down,” blame shifting.
Admitting that you were wrong is never easy, and confessing your sin to God and others is even harder.
But it’s foundational to the Christian life. You have to repent and place your faith in Christ in order to be a Christian, but repentance doesn’t end there. The Christian life is a life of repentance.
You and I, as members of collective church, must separate ourselves from the world by being a people that repents easily, sincerely, and often.
We see this in Joel 1:13-20 and learn three things about repentance.
First, believers need to repent privately (v. 13).
Second, believers need to repent corporately (v. 14).
And lastly, believers need to repent and return to the Lord (vv. 15-20).
You can follow along with these three points on page 6 of your worship guide.
BELIEVERS NEED REPENT PRIVATELY (V. 13)
A major theme of last week’s sermon was judgment. God is judging his people in chapter 1 and we’re never told why. Perhaps this is so we’ll learn more about God than ourselves as people.
Pastor Stacey preached on verses 2-12 and what we learned from those verses is that the locusts were understood as the instrument of God’s judgment. The locusts destroyed their crops which created a famine and killed their livestock. But really it wasn’t the locusts that destroyed everything - it was God.
They needed to pay careful attention to Joel’s prophetic warning. They were experiencing the wrath of God through the locust plague, but God will often increase the severity of his judgment in order to draw them back to Himself.
Joel 1:13-20 is the fallout from God’s judgment. How will they respond to God’s judgment? Will the respond in anger and refuse to repent? Or will they repent for their apathy toward the Lord.
Their land was destroyed by locusts, but it could be just the beginning of God’s judgment.
And already, there isn’t a person who isn’t impacted by God’s judgment.
In fact, every area of life is affected by God’s judgment. Look at some verses in Chapter 1 with me.
Verse 5, the drunkards mourn.
The people mourn in verses 8-9.
Verses 11-12 the farmers mourn.
The priests mourn in verse 13.
Then in verses 15-20, there’s the lament itself.
Low society mourns, the agricultural community mourns, along with all people including the religious community. Everyone mourned.
So the people of God were forced to answer this question: How are we going respond to God’s judgment? What are we going to do?
It reminds me of 2 Chronicles 16:12 which says,
“In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians.”
Asa’s feet were diseased and the disease was worsening and rather than turning to the Lord he turned to physicians.
He was experiencing the judgment of God in his feet. The disease in Asa’s feet was the instrument of God’s judgment. And as he continued to ignore God and turn to other things his disease worsened.
There’s a strong parallel here with Joel 1:13-20.
The people of God were just discovering the disease in their feet, so to speak and they needed to repent.
They needed to repent of their sin, turn from it, and return to the Lord.
They needed to recognize the vapidness of their sin and the eternal pleasure only found in the Lord. When you read verses 13-20, you’ll notice that the word repentance isn’t mentioned.
Neither is a phrase like “confess your sin” or something along those lines. But there are signs of repentance in verses 13-20.
God through the prophet Joel tells them to “put on sackcloth and lament” in verse 13. A garment of sackcloth was a physical sign of repentance. It was like wearing burlap - not the most comfortable material.
But it wasn’t just make them uncomfortable. The external signs should represent what was going on in their hearts.
Each individual needed to repent of their sin and turn from it.
Not merely ascent to wrongdoing. Not simply admitting that you made a mistake.
Repentance is expressing a deep sorrow in your soul over your sin turning from it to embrace Christ.
I also find it interesting that the priests and ministers were the ones that are told to lead the people in repentance. The misery and discomfort they felt on their skin from the sackcloth is what they should have felt in their penitent heart. Those that were leading God’s people in worship were the ones leading the people in repentance.
There’s a clear implication from verse 13: your pastor should lead and model repentance. Does he repent quickly and easily? Or is he hard hearted? Does he believe a genuine rebuke is an attack on his character?
I recently heard a story about a seminary professor, many years ago, that walked away from the Bible’s inability to error, and was placed under church discipline at the General Assembly of the PCA, the largest governing body in our denomination.
Many folks were outraged at this man and for good reason. The inability for the Bible to error is a key tenet of what we believe as Christians. If we cannot trust the Bible, then there is no Christianity. Needless to say, this was the talk of the entire Assembly. Everyone knew what he had said and everyone was talking about it.
The man that was telling the story shared that later that evening he saw only one man begging him to repent. To my knowledge the individual never repented.
He couldn’t repent. He dug his heels in.
Too often, when someone has an honest to goodness criticism, our first reaction is to get defensive when it should be repentance.
I’m speaking for myself; I find repentance very difficult. It’s not natural.
Many of you, I’m sure, already do this, but pray for your pastor. Pray that when we inevitably sin we’ll repent quickly and return to the Lord. That repentance won’t be something that we simply pay lip service to, but that we’ll follow through and repent at the appropriate times as well.
Here’s the caveat: Just as your pastor should be penitent, so should you.
The people of God couldn’t even give an offering to the Lord because their land had been completely devastated by the locust horde. All they could do was wail and cry out to the Lord.
Has the weight of God’s hand ever been so heavy upon you that all you could do is simply wail and cry out to him?
Sin is what drives you away from God. The easier sin becomes the more cold and calloused your heart becomes toward the Lord. Sin will create a chasm between you and him. Is there any sin that is pulling you away from God? Or is your heart hardened toward him?
Repent and turn back to the Lord.
Not only does God desire individuals to repent, at times he desires corporate repentance.
BELIEVERS NEED TO REPENT CORPORATELY (V. 14)
In verse 14, Joel tells them that they need to gather a solemn fast for “all the inhabitants.” They needed to include everyone in this fast.
Verse 14 is a call to a corporate, national fast.
This fast was simply a way for the entire nation to stop all regular activities, acknowledge God’s judgment, and repent.
They needed recognize that it’s only God that sustains you, not your food. It’s the God of all creation that allows crops to yield. It’s not the sun, water, and soil. God creates the circumstances that allow crops to grow.
That’s why the locust plague was such a big deal. It was God’s judgment and they needed to repent as a nation.
But verse 14 raises an interesting question: Does it contradict the words of Jesus in Matthew chapter 6:17-18?
Jesus said, But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
A nation can’t fast in secret. Does a corporate fast contradict Jesus’s words of fasting in secret?
No!, because it’s always been about your heart. Why are you fasting? What is the motive behind your fast?
Here in Joel 1:14 it’s about acknowledging God’s judgment and expressing repentance. The fast that Joel was calling the people to would have been very sincere.
At the beginning of that section in Matthew 6, Jesus begins by saying,
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”
He’s warning against a self-exalting motivation for fasting.
John Piper wrote a book on fasting called A Hunger for God and in it he said,
“Jesus is testing the reality of God in our lives. Do we really have a hunger for God himself, or a hunger for human admiration? Oh, how easy it is to do religious things if other people are watching! Preaching, praying, attending church, reading the Bible, acts of kindness, and charity - they all take on a certain pleasantness of the ego if we know that others will find out about them and think well of us. It is a deadly addiction for esteem that we have (71).”
The people of God were fasting in response to the locust plague. God wanted them to repent of sin and return to him.
In the 16th and 17th centuries the Puritans called the Church of England to repentance over their doctrinal deviation, heresies, and corruption. The Church of England was not honoring God.
What ended up happening was something very different. The created a document called the Act of Uniformity that would force all of the Puritan pastors out of ministry. There was a monumental day when the Church of England decided to eject all pastors and ministers that would not fall into line. Historically, it’s called the Great Ejection.
All of this happened simply because the Church of England had abandoned the faith and been challenged to repent by the Puritans.
As Presbyterians we see a direct connections between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Church. The New Testament Church is a fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham to make his posterity as numerous as the stars. That’s why Paul says in Galatians 3, “if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.”
In other words, if you’re a believer, in Christ, then you’re one of Abraham’s true offspring.
So why am I telling you this?
Well, if it was appropriate for all of Judah to repent, then it’s appropriate for the collective church to repent. Churches, both individual congregations and entire denominations, that have turned from the truth of God’s word need to repent.
I’m not sure if you noticed, but a major theme from our congregational reading, Psalm 123 and Psalm 124, was repentance. Together we read, “...so our eyes look to the LORD our God till he has mercy upon us.”
Our hope is that when you read words like those you will consider the sin in your own life, the sins you committed over the last week so that we can repent as a corporate body of Christ.
Sometimes we’ll read a more explicit Confession of Sin and Assurance of Pardoning Grace to give us an opportunity to confess our sins individually and corporately.
Pray for your church. Pray for Good Shepherd. Pray that the Lord will give us the ability to repent sincerely as a collective body.
But it doesn’t stop there. All believers when they stray from the Lord need to repent and return to him.
BELIEVERS NEED TO REPENT AND RETURN TO THE LORD. (VV. 15-20)
In verse 15, we’re immediately confronted with the thematic phrase of the book of Joel which is “The day of the Lord.” This phrase is mentioned 18 times in prophetic literature but it occurs most frequently in the book of Joel and in Zephaniah.
Joel was warning the people because the locusts were simply a taste of the Day of the Lord. A more severe judgment was crouching just around the corner for the people of Judah.
But what exactly is the day of the Lord? The Day of the Lord is a day that brings devastation to the wicked but deliverance to those that turn to God. The day of the Lord ultimately points to a judgment day coming for the whole world in which all will have to make an account before God.
Interestingly, referring to judgment day Paul calls it the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Joel goes on to reinforce the fact that the day of the Lord is near in verses 16-18. The effects of the locust plague are everywhere.
Food joy and gladness are cut off from the house of the Lord in verse 16. Verse 17, the grain has been destroyed. And in verse 18, the beasts groan because the fields have withered away.
So the Day of the Lord has an immediate fulfillment in the impending judgment on the people of Judah, but has it’s ultimate fulfillment on the final judgment day when the Lord Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats.
So Joel is looking around at all the devastation caused by the locusts and saying, “look at what God has done, if we do not repent soon the Lord will judge us more severely.”
That’s why he says in verse 19, Verse 19, is key. Joel says, “To you O Lord, I call.” The point is obvious. There is absolutely no where to turn. Joel is lamenting their terrible circumstances. The devastation is from the Lord, but only the Lord can restore it.
Fire was a metaphor that describes the drought. Only the Lord is capable of restoring it all. Even the animals in verse 20 join in Joel’s cry to the Lord.
Why would God do something like this? Why would he make things go from bad to worse for them?
Because he loved them. Because he wanted them to repent and to return to him.
In the story of the prodigal son, the son had to hit absolute rock bottom before even considering returning to his Father. He was even considering eating even the pig slop.
But when the chips were down and his back was against the wall, he turned to his Father and repented.
He said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.”
And of course his father forgave him and welcomed him home with open arms.
It brings up an interesting question. Where do you turn when things are going poorly? Do you expect the government to do something? Do you expect education to fix all the problems we experience in this world?
Do you have to wait till you hit rock bottom before you call out to the Lord and return to him?
One day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Lord.
A real judgment day is coming where each person will have to stand before God and give an account for their actions.
But there is a major problem.
Humanity is broken. Our sin nature separates us from God. So each one of us needs to repent of our sin. Sin generally has consequences here on earth but more importantly it’s an assault on God himself.
It’s easy to admit your need to repent but difficult to actually do.
C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity even said, “Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death.”
Are you willing to kill a part of yourself?
Interestingly, Jesus demanded repentance. In Luke 13 Jesus says, “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” He isn’t simply speaking of bodily death. He’s talking about eternal torment in hell.
What’s fascinating about Jesus demanding repentance is that it’s only because of him you and I are able to repent.
Only by the blood of Jesus Christ are you able to repent and stand before a holy God guiltless. Without Jesus, there isn’t even an opportunity for repentance and forgiveness.
Have you repented of your sins and turned to Jesus Christ? If you’re a believer when was the last time you truly repented of your sin to the Lord?
This is the gospel message and it’s for the unbeliever and believer alike. The gospel message to the believer is like the rumble strip on the side of a road. Every Sunday is an opportunity for you to be rattled awake to the gospel.
In 1517, when Martin Luther famously nailed the 95 theses to Wittenburg door the first one read, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent”' (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
The Christian life is marked by repentance regular repentance to God and others. But repentance isn’t merely admitting you were wrong. It’s a deep sorrow within your soul and turning to Christ.
In many ways, repentance makes the Christian life so different from what the world values. The world values power, strength and confidence. But our Lord values repentance, forgiveness and humility.
How different is that in our current cultural climate? What kind of influence could the church have in the world if you and I were more willing to glorify God through repentance and a posture of humility than scoring temporary political point?
Through repentance our relationship with God is restored. Does God mean anything to you?
May you and I repent easily, sincerely, and often.