Blessings of Repentance, Part Two
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, December 26, 2004
Copyright © 2004, P. G. Mathew
"Then the Lord will be jealous for his land and take pity on his people." - Joel 2:18
The condition for divine blessings, both material and spiritual, is wholehearted, authentic repentance. This principle, which is always operative in the life of God's church, was revealed by God himself to Solomon when he prayed for God's blessing on the temple. The Lord told him, "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 sins and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14). Isaiah also speaks of this promise, saying, "Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon" (Isaiah 55:6-7). Repentance is always the basis for divine blessings.
During the days of the prophet Joel, God chastised his sinful people by sending a plague of locusts and a severe drought. The land was devastated, and God's people were without wine, oil, bread, fruits, grass, or water. We are told even the wild animals were panting and the cattle began to moan. God knows how to humble proud people. He knows what pressure should be applied to turn us around. But God chastises only his people in this way. He lets others go their own way.
The prophet exhorted the people to repent of their sins and find mercy by returning to God in faith. All the people assembled at the temple, including infants (2:16). One commentator noted that everyone, including the infants, were fasting and crying before the Lord. They prayed and became contrite in spirit, calling upon God to forgive their sins and heal their land, according to God's own gracious promise.
God Answers the Prayers of His People
God responded to this genuine, heart-rending repentance of his people, just as he said he would. Unlike man, God is faithful to his word. "Let God be true, and every man a liar" (Romans 3:4). That is why we can fully trust this promise: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31).
Our text today begins, "Then the Lord . . ." Take note of the word "then." In response to the true repentance and prayer of faith of his people, God answered their prayers. But he does so only when they truly repent. We cannot fool God by pretending to repent, for God looks at our hearts. He is the heart-knower. He is not impressed by our external acts of piety.
"Then the Lord will be jealous for his land. . . ." God was very jealous when his people abandoned their true husband, the covenant Lord. But once they repented, he was then eager to help them. God's jealousy is that of a loving husband. He will help his people speedily, effectually, and fully when they abandon idolatry and return to him in faithfulness.
Verse 18 continues, "and take pity on his people." What we seek is not justice but pity and mercy, for justice only lands us in eternal hell. Because of his great love and rich mercy, God deals with us in grace. But notice, it says God will take pity on "his people." Joel 3:2 says, "I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will enter into judgment against them concerning my inheritance, my people Israel, for they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land. They cast lots for my people. . ." (italics added). Some are his people, but many are not. The question is, are you one of God's people?
God Provides for Our Material Needs
How did God show pity on his people? By providing for them. Our God is Jehovah Jireh, the One who provides for both our material and spiritual needs. As physical beings, we have need of physical things: food, clothing, housing, medicine, cars, and the like. He who provides for the birds and animals will especially provide for his people. He chastises them with locusts and drought to lead them to repentance, and those who repent he truly blesses.
How does God provide for our physical needs? First, he destroys the locusts and our other enemies. It is he who sent them, and now he destroys them. In Joel 2:20 the Lord says, "I will drive the northern army far from you, pushing it into a parched and barren land, with its front columns going into the eastern sea and those in the rear into the western sea. And its stench will go up; its smell will rise." We need security, and God gives it to us by destroying our enemies. We cannot do this; God must.
Second, the Lord comforts us. In verse 21 he says, "Be not afraid, O land," and again in verse 22, "Be not afraid, O wild animals." In verse 23 God tells his people, "Be glad, O people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God."
We are told in chapter one that joy was completely taken away from God's people because of their sin. There was no food to eat, no wine to drink, and no grain or oil for sacrifices. But now, because of their repentance, the joy was back. Only those who repent of their sins can rejoice truly; all other joy is false. And those who repent will not be afraid; they shall rejoice, saying, "God has destroyed our enemies, so we have nothing to fear. Our God provides for all our needs!"
So verse 23 says, "Be glad, O people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given you the autumn rains in righteousness. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before." It is God who sends us rain, and it is God who withholds it from us. Because the people repented, the rains came in their proper time-the autumn rains in October and December, so the people could cultivate their fields and plant the seed, and the spring rains in March and April to water the crops until harvest. It was not Baal sending the rain, but the Lord God of heaven and earth. He sent it based on the repentance of his people in accordance with his own promise: "I will forgive their sins and heal their land."
In verse 19 the Lord says, "I am sending you grain, new wine and oil, enough to satisfy you fully." Yes, we may plant and water, but it is God who gives the increase. Notice, he gives us enough to satisfy, not to stuff ourselves. God meets our need, not our greed. The Bible says if we have food and clothing, we should be content therewith (1 Timothy 6:8).
In verse 24 we read, "The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil." This is God's favor to us; he is the source of all our physical blessings.
Not only does God provide for his people, but he also provides for the needs of all his creation. Verse 22 says, "Be not afraid, O wild animals, for the open pastures are becoming green." God hears the cry of the wild animals, as well as that of the cattle and sheep. When man sins, animals as well as all creation suffers. But when man repents, the animals are happy, because God provides for them also.
God Removes Our Shame
When we sin, we are filled with shame. When Israel sinned, God punished them until even the pagans asked, "Where is their God?" (v. 17). It seemed that God was not able to take care of his people. But now that shame was removed. Our shame is his shame; he removes it and glorifies us that he may be glorified in us. So in verse 19 God promises his people: "Never again will I make you an object of scorn to the nations."
Verse 26 says, "Never again will my people be shamed." What gives us shame? Sin and guilt-at least it ought to. Modern man likes to parade his sin and glory in it. But sin is shame. I hope that we will bring the concept of shame back into our society so that those who sin will be looked upon with shame. It is a shame to disobey God. It is a shame to be lazy. It is a shame to fornicate. It is a shame to tell lies. Great shame results from sin and guilt and God alone can remove it.
Not only does God remove our shame, but in verse 25 we find another great cause for rejoicing. There God declares, "I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten-the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm-my great army that I sent among you." What an amazing promise! God is saying, "I will restore your losses." Before we came to know the Lord Jesus Christ, our entire life was loss, even though we did not recognize it as such until after we became Christians. Not only that, even as Christians we sometimes waste our life in sin. That too is loss. But now, based on our true repentance, God says, "I will pay back all your losses." This should give us great joy. Everything will be paid back to us, exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or imagine. So, people of God, do not worry about what happened in the past. All the losses of the past will be restored to you. We can rejoice in that!
The Purpose of Blessing
What is the grand purpose of these blessings of God to his people? The answer is found in verse 26: "You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you."
This grand purpose is also stated in Deuteronomy 8:10-11: "When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God." The problem with the people of Israel was that when they had received plenty from God, they would forget God. Instead of praising the covenant Lord who blessed them, they praised themselves and their idols. But God meets our materials needs so that we may praise and worship him. Filled with thanksgiving, we should exclaim with Joel, "Surely the Lord has done great things" (vv. 20 and 21).
In verse 27 we read, "Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other." Amazingly, when God meets our needs, we often act like the people of Israel and turn away from him. We become arrogant and refuse to listen to him, until he does something to bring us back. But there is a better way to respond, which is to worship, praise, and serve God all the days of our life. When we do so, God's good pleasure will rest upon us. God wants all of his creation to know him as the eternal God and source of all blessing. If we fail to do so, he will make himself known to us. This is his divine purpose and determination. God will never let anyone live without knowing him. The choice is whether we know him as Savior or as Judge.
I hope we will understand that idols are not gods; they are lies who cannot save anyone. Only the covenant God of Israel is the Sovereign Lord. And by God's mercy, he has brought us to know him as Savior.
God Provides for Our Spiritual Needs
"I Will Pour out My Spirit"
In addition to material blessings, God also gives us spiritual blessings. We are not just animals; man is body and spirit. To Moses God said, "Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 8:3). Second Timothy 3:16-17 says, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."
The question is, how can a sinful man repent and believe in God, and worship and serve him only? The answer can only be another sovereign "I will." In verse 28 God says, "And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people," meaning on the elect of all races, genders, ranks, and ages. These people shall all receive the knowledge of God, and they shall begin to prophesy.
By nature, we are all spiritually dead, and without the Holy Spirit coming upon us we can do nothing-we cannot repent, we cannot believe, we cannot obey God, we cannot pray, and we cannot call on the name of the Lord. But God does pour out his Spirit. In Zechariah 12:10 he tells us, "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him." That is exactly what happened in Acts 2. There Peter, speaking under the unction of the Holy Spirit, said, "This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross" (v. 23). "'Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.' When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?' Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins'" (vv. 36-38).
No one is able to repent and believe unless the Holy Spirit is poured out upon him. The Spirit of God must regenerate us, give us the gift of repentance, and enable us to trust savingly in the Messiah. The Spirit must open our minds and teach us spiritual truth. (PGM) The Spirit must enable us to worship God and serve him only. The Spirit must lead us daily in the way of righteousness and help us to resist the devil so that he will run from us. The Spirit must give us power to bear witness to Christ without fear or shame. We must be born again-born of the Spirit-to enter the kingdom of heaven.
So the Lord must first call us effectually that we may call upon the name of the Lord. This truth is clearly illustrated in Joel 2:32: "And 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." Salvation is among the remnant whom the Lord calls.
This is effectual calling. This is the Spirit of God coming upon us and causing us to be born again. He gives us spiritual sight, and we repent and believe. We love God and do his will by the enabling of the Holy Spirit. When the Lord spoke, the whole creation sprang into existence. Even so, when he calls his people, they will come. It is an interior call, which then causes us to call out to God. No one calls or prays until he experiences that deep, effectual call of God within him. But every person whom God has called powerfully in the depths of his being will call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.
"I Will Pardon"
The doctrine of total depravity states that all are sinners, especially in their thinking. Everyone born of Adam comes from the womb depraved, with a sin nature, and manifests sin. Just observe an infant as he grows up; you will see how quickly his sin nature manifests itself.
The last verse of Joel's prophecy speaks about the bloodguilt of the elect people of God. Joel 3:21 says, "Their bloodguilt, which I have not pardoned, I will pardon." We have two spiritual needs: the need for forgiveness and the need for righteousness. God provides for both of these needs. But the question is, if God is holy and just, how can he pardon our sin? It is utterly impossible for God to forgive human sin without a legal basis for doing so. That legal basis was disclosed to us in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, and its fulfillment is found in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-26). The Bible says that without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness of sins. When David's sin was forgiven, it was based on a propitiatory sacrifice, and, therefore, David was justified. Someone had to die and suffer the punishment for our sins before God could justly forgive our sins. That someone is the God/man Jesus Christ.
We are told in Joel 3:17, "Then you will know that I, the Lord your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill. Jerusalem will be holy. . . ." It was not holy before, but now it has been made holy, and the Lord himself will dwell there with his people, who have also been made holy. How did this holiness come about? Through the Son of God becoming flesh, living a perfect life, and dying for the sin of his people. The Lord's people are made holy and enabled to dwell with God because of the sacrificial death of the Messiah.
"I Will Sit to Judge"
Any moment, at any time, any one of us can slip into eternity, and then comes final judgment. God will bring all people to face him-everyone who ever lived on the face of the earth. So Joel 3:12 speaks of the final judgment: "Let the nations be roused; let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat, for there I will sit to judge all the nations on every side." Verse 14 says, "Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision!" The prophet saw vast multitudes assembling as God summoned them. They are standing before God, who is seated to judge. And if they are not believers in Christ, they will experience God's full wrath, because there is only one way to be saved-to trust in Jesus Christ who suffered the wrath for us. Those who do not trust in Christ must suffer God's wrath for all eternity.
Joel 3:16 says, "The Lord will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble." Here we see God's great wrath poured out on unbelievers in the day of judgment. Of course, those who are saved will be at the judgment also, for it is appointed for man once to die, and then comes the judgment. But notice the great contrast in destinies at the end of verse 16: "But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel." Why is their destiny so different from that of the unbelieving nations? Because they repented and trusted in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation. So the prophet declares in verses 21 and 22: "Surely the Lord has done great things for us!"
What About You?
In Joel 2:17 the Israelites were told to pray, "Spare your people, O Lord," and in verse 14 Joel says, "Who knows? He may turn and have pity." Brothers and sisters, God has indeed shown us mercy. Not only has he spared us from destruction and provided us with plenty of material things to meet our physical needs, but in the fullness of time he sent us the most precious and generous gift of his own Son, the living Bread, to satisfy our spiritual hunger. God has pardoned our guilt and taken away our shame once for all. Jesus' death on the cross in our place is the basis for God's sparing us, forgiving all our bloodguilt, and sheltering us under his wings. As we read in Joel 3:16: "But the Lord will be a refuge for his people." He did not spare his own Son that he might spare his sons in him.
Not only that, God has restored to us all our losses in Jesus Christ. And above all, God has poured out his Holy Spirit in abundance upon us, and we have been made alive. We repented of our sins, trusted in the Messiah, and called upon the Lord because he first called us.
The dreaded day of the Lord shall soon come, and all shall be gathered in the Valley of Decision. It is not a valley, as some evangelists would say, in which one makes a decision for Christ. Oh, no; it is a valley where Christ makes decisions about people. Soon the Lord shall come in all his glory and power to judge the world. He came once in humiliation, but he is coming again in all his power and glory to judge. His enemies shall be condemned, but his elect remnant shall be spared. We too shall be spared if we have trusted in Jesus Christ, who suffered death and wrath in our place. He is our hiding place, our stronghold, our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Friends, the day of the Lord is near. It may be very near to some of us even today. We do not know what is going to happen; at any time we may die. The Sovereign Lord, the Lion of Judah, is about to roar. Who can abide that day? He who sent his Son to save his people will soon send him to be the almighty Judge of all. All creation shall know him, for this is the will of the Father. Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall honor him, either as Savior or as condemning Judge. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all human sin. His wrath falls either upon his Son in place of those who take refuge in him, or on every sinner who remains unrepentant. This must happen, and it is for God's own eternal glory, because he cannot let anyone flout his law without consequence. In the Valley of Decision God's sheep shall be separated from the goats, the believing from the unbelieving, the living from the dead. There shall be blessing and cursing, life and death, heaven and hell.
Friends, have you trusted in Christ? That is the question. Have you truly repented of your sins? If so, then do not fear, but be glad and rejoice greatly. But if you have not trusted in Christ the only Savior, know that now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation. Now you are hearing the voice of the Lord; do not harden your heart, but run and hide in Jesus Christ in saving faith.
In closing, let me relate a story originally given by Dr. Donald Barnhouse, and repeated by Dr. James M. Boice:
Years ago in California there was a farmer who had been growing fields of grain. The locomotives of those days burned coal and wood, and it often happened that as the trains passed through the countryside sparks from their stacks would ignite the fields and set them on fire. The farmer was aware of this. So he kept his eyes on the trains and on his fields. One day when the grain was ripe and ready for harvest, a train passed by. A short time later the farmer saw that the worst had happened. Off in the distance, upwind, there appeared a wisp of smoke. The farmer knew that his field was burning and that, unless he moved quickly, the fire would soon sweep down over the fields and destroy his entire crop. He rushed to the blaze. Part way there he stopped and started another fire that eventually produced a firewall across his acreage. The fire roared down, reached this break, and burned itself out.
Half the farmer's crop had been destroyed. The man walked dejectedly through the burned fields, wondering why this had happened to him. What purpose could God have in it? As he walked through the ashes thinking about these things he noticed the charred body of a hen that had been caught in the inferno. The farmer kicked it over, and when he did, five little chicks ran out from underneath it.
The Bible tells us that the wrath of God is as a consuming fire. Nevertheless, it need not touch those who are covered by the Lord Jesus Christ. There is refuge in Him. The full wrath of God is revealed at two points in history: at the final judgment, described by Joel and other biblical writers, and at the cross of Christ, where it has already been poured out for those who trust Jesus. If you wait until the final judgment, you will face it alone and be condemned by Jesus. If you take refuge in Christ, He has faced your judgment for you. The Bible says, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983], 129)
May God grant all of us the great privilege of repenting of our sins and receiving blessings from him. He said, "I will pardon," and he will do so on the basis of the death of his Son. The Lord has done great things for us and we rejoice in his goodness! May those who have not trusted in him do so today. Amen.
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Copyright © 2004, P. G. Mathew
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