Sunday School Lessons
Commentary by Walter Albritton
In Times of Trouble We Do Well to Repent and Turn to the Lord
Joel 1 and 2
Key Verses: Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. – Joel – 13
It matters not that the scholars have little to tell us about the prophet Joel. Exactly when he lived remains a mystery. What matters is his message, and what a message Joel gives us!
Joel paints an awesome picture of the Sovereign God. His image is not of a kindly grandfather God who rocks in the heavens; the God of whom Joel speaks is the Mighty God who rules heaven and earth and holds his children accountable for their behavior.
Joel’s God is the God of judgment. He is in charge of everything. Displeased by the sins of his people, he will use the locusts to get the attention of the Israelites. Fruitful lands will become a desolate wilderness as the judgment of God descends upon the land and the people.
The God of Joel, however, is not merely a doomsayer. His message is a wake-up call to the people, like the blowing of a trumpet, sounding an alarm to repent or face the devastating judgment of God. Mercy is available through genuine repentance.
Repentance must be more than feeling sorry that our sins “have found us out.” Tears are not enough. Ripping our clothes may impress our friends, but not God. He requires that we rend our hearts, as David did, so that our hearts are broken with the pain of having sinned against God. True repentance results in “a broken and a contrite heart.”
Since I am a sports enthusiast, I love to find an illustration in athletics that helps us understand principles of the Kingdom. Lloyd M. Pelfrey, in his commentary, offers one of the best I have found:
in the 1989 basketball season,
“Robinson felt awful about costing his team the game, but his sorrow went beyond feelings. He changed his behavior, adding one hundred extra foul shots after each practice for the rest of the season.
later Rumeal Robinson stepped to the foul line again. There were just three
seconds left in overtime in the game that would decide the national
championship. This time he was ready. Swish
went the first shot. Swish went the
second. Two made free throws made
“Rumeal Robinson demonstrated an important element of genuine repentance. Repentance is not just regret. It is a change of mind and heart that leads to a change in behavior. Genuine sorrow motivated him to work so that he would never make that mistake again.”
This story helps us to explain true repentance, but we must add to it the insight of Joel. Will power is not enough. Only the Spirit of God can make us new people who are pleasing to God.
When we are willing to stand before God, naked in our sins, and having no merit of own, then he mercifully accepts us, redeems us, and empowers us to live in obedience. Joel helps us to see that the great desire of God is to bless us, not punish us.
We need so much to help people see that God as Joel saw Him: “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness….” Many people feel that their sin is too great for God to forgive them, that they have no hope of receiving God’s mercy. For such people, we have Good News!
It is never too late to turn to the Lord and be bathed in his forgiveness. No one is ever so “dirty” that the blood of Jesus cannot wash away the stain of sin.
The way to forgiveness remains the same as when Joel sounded the trumpet: There must be genuine repentance coupled with a wholehearted desire for God’s mercy. The key is in the words, “with all your heart.”
When, with all our heart, we desire nothing more than to be forgiven so that we may serve God faithfully, then God still stands ready to “pour out” His Spirit upon us and welcome us home.
Such mercy is too great to be ignored. We who teach and preach the precious Gospel must blow the trumpet where we live and serve, and invite the hopeless to find grace instead of everlasting punishment. May this be our prayer:
“Gracious, loving Father, pour out your Spirit upon me this very moment. Guide me to help some person to truly repent of sin, embrace your mercy, and find sweet forgiveness by trusting Christ as Savior. In His dear Name, Amen.” + + + +