Oh, wait! I think I'm thinking of the wrong song. Oh that's right! It's Noel, Noel. Yea, and Joel has nothing to do with Christmas. Or does he? Well, today we are moving right along through the minor prophets. We will be in the New Testament shortly and we will have loads of fun when we do. As far as our focus today, The Book of Joel, I have heard little about this book except for the verse: "Then afterward, I will pour out my spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. I will even pour out my spirit on male and female slaves in the those days." (Joel 2:28-29) Wow! He will even pour it out on the slaves. Did you hear that? Of, course many quote this verse during discussions of the "end times." Was this verse all about the end times? Was it meant for us today? Of course, the first argument against this being for our time (and as some would declare, only our time) is the fact that slavery is an accepted institution at the time this was written. It was even accepted throughout the New Testament. Clearly, this verse foresees the coming of a new age, a time of salvation. What we need to realize when reading this verse, or quoting it, is the depth of its meaning. It is God who will give the people a new heart and a new spirit. The source of this new spirit is God. Also, everyone is included in this outpouring. The young and the old, male and female, slave and free will all be recipients of the spirit. Now, for all those still protesting women having the right to preach I wonder, "would God give this outpouring to a woman and then tell her to be quiet?" Just something to consider. Oh, I know that there are probably tons of counter arguments, but... anyhow. There is much more dealt with in Joel than this one verse that is often quoted.
"The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off from the house of the Lord. The priests are in mourning, those who minister before the Lord." (Joel 1:9)
This verse follows the elaborate vision of a locus plague, which is a way to warn of the coming judgment of God. Joel could have likely been a priest. He is very concerned that the offerings were not coming in as expected. Why? Well, the land was not productive, therefore the people were not giving generously. Because of this the priests were not able to perform their duties. Of course, what folks may not realize is that this is still an issue today. "Oh, it should never be about the money," some argue. When I announced I was going into full time ministry I even heard, "I can't believe you're getting a full time salary to preach the gospel." I had to wonder if the same person, and those like this person, ever watch television preachers. I wonder if those who do not think ministers should get paid ever send into the television superstar (yes I said that) preachers. I wonder if they called John, Joel, Joyce, Jesse, and Jimmy (have you ever noticed how many television preachers have a first name that begins with "J"? I guess it's "J" for Jesus) and told them they were sick, if John, Joel, Joyce, Jesse, and Jimmy would visit them at the hospital?
The fact is, ministry takes money. No, I not talking about an elaborate salary and a condo on the lake and all that. Yes, it is true that one can witness to their faith without it costing a dime. Yet, there are so many other expenses that a church has to meet in order to do ministry. Therefore, I'm not just talking about the preacher and his her paycheck. No, think about all a church is to do. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, the imprisoned, minister to the needs of the people, etc...the list is endless. Then we have to have the right programs to bring folks in and to keep them. Plus, there are so many things we know we can do and want to do in order to make a difference in the community. Ministry involves more than just preaching a sermon on Sunday morning. To do it right, you have to have the means to do it. That is what Joel's lament is. He doesn't have the means to properly do ministry in the temple. What did he need? The offerings. Folks were not supplying the offerings for the sacrifices.
Is Joel writing about the end of the world? Yes, we can argue that. "Alas for that day! For the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty." (Joel 1:15) "Alas" could also mean "Watch out!" The same God who once unleashed his power to destroy Israel's enemies will now unleash that same power on Israel herself. But, disaster can be averted if the people will just repent.
There is no doubt that Joel is interested in the future events. "I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord." (Joel 2:30-31
This is certainly apocalyptic literature. Still today people are very fascinated with "the end of the world." We still look for signs and sometimes even joke; "It's the end of the world!" In fact, this morning when we had no cell service we decided we were doomed. Well, clearly the "end of the world" is no laughing matter. Unfortunately, I don't think we take it seriously enough. Why? Because we have cried wolf too many times. You know, every year someone predicts that the world will end on September....(Or another month, but mostly September) As soon as the last book by the television prophets hits the bargain shelf there is a new one detailing just how the end is gong to happen. In the '80's Gorbechev from Russia was the anti-Christ (he even had that distinct mark on his forehead. In the '90's it was someone else, then recently...well I won't even go into who all has been accused. I would suggest to you, that since some have cried wolf too many times, many refuse to take "the end of times" seriously. Should we? Yes! Always! But, in taking the end of times seriously we are also taking the work of the Lord seriously. We are concerned about the spiritual well-being of others.
Tomorrow we will take a look at one of my favorite "minor" prophets, Amos. Join me tomorrow. -Pastor Rick