One of the central themes of the Minor Prophets is the Day of the Lord. It shows up explicitly for the first time in Joel. In Scripture, the Day of the Lord refers to the time in which God breaks into human history, revealing himself and manifesting the fullness of who he is. The Day of the Lord is a day of salvation for God’s people, the day when he delivers them from oppression and bondage. So you might think that God’s people would be eagerly anticipating the Day of the Lord. And sometimes they do.
But in Joel, the Day of the Lord is not something to look forward to; it’s something to fear and lament.
Alas for the day!
For the day of the Lord is near,
and as destruction from the Almighty it comes. (Joel 1:15)
Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming; it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! (Joel 2:1-2)
The Day of the Lord is not just about salvation; it’s about judgment. In fact, it’s about salvation through judgment. God saves his people by judging his enemies (and theirs). But what if God’s people have become his enemies? What if, because of their sin and rebellion, God’s people are the ones to be crushed, the ones to be destroyed?
Now, many of us recoil from the biblical notion of God’s judgment. We don’t like the Judging God. We want the Nice God, who only intrudes into our lives to bring us sweetness and light. And generally, this is owing to a failure of our imagination. We can’t imagine that we’re so bad that such judgment is necessary. Far easier to believe that we are alright, that our failures and sins are no big deal, that for God to punish us for what we’ve done would be a massive overreaction. If we retain the notion of judgment at all, we reserve it for the really big sinners: the terrorists, the mass murderers, the rapists. I’ll have more to say about that later in the sermon.
For now, I just want to note that at this church, we’re not content with the Nice God. We embrace the God who saves through judgment, because that’s the only God there is. And we remind ourselves of this every Sunday. We gather together each week on the Day of the Lord, the Lord’s Day. Every Sunday is a mini-Lord’s Day, when God breaks into our normal time to meet with us and show us who he is. And every service, right here at the front end, we remember the Lord’s judgment against our sin which he poured out, not on us, but on Christ on the cross. We may not blow a trumpet, but we do call a solemn assembly and gather the people. We set apart a time for us as a people to return to the Lord, to rend our hearts, to confess our sins to God.
No, we are not content with the Nice God. We seek the God who is a consuming fire, who burns up all that opposes him. We seek the Judging God because it is only against the backdrop of that judgment that we can know the glory and beauty of his grace and mercy in Christ.
This reminds us of our need to confess our sins, so let’s seek him together now.
Prayer of Confession
Our Father and God, we live in a world that is schizophrenic about judgment. On the one hand, our culture hates the idea of judgment. As a people, we are committed to tolerance and non-judgmentalism. At the same time, we can’t help but make judgments. Who could deny that our culture is filled with accusations, condemnations, indictments, judgments? We collect grievances like young boys collect baseball cards. We profess our tolerance in the same breath that we denounce and condemn those we deem intolerant. We judge the judgmental and pat ourselves on the back for our high-mindedness. This hypocrisy is a great evil.
What’s more, Father, as your covenant people, we too shrink back from any notion of your judgment. Like the faithless priests in the book of Ezekiel, we say, “Peace, peace” when there is no peace. We apologize for your judgments, feeling a sense of shame that we believe such outdated and harsh things. Forgive us for being falsely judgmental and for being ashamed of your judgments. Help us to see that when you bring judgment, that is not a sign of things going wrong, but of you putting things right. Be gracious and merciful to us, O God. Abound in steadfast love toward us, your people. Spare your people and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations.
We know, Father, that if we in the church regard sin in our own midst or in our own hearts, our prayers will be ineffectual. So we confess our individual sins to you now.
Assurance of Pardon
According to Joel, the Lord’s Day is great and very awesome; who can endure it? If God should mark iniquity, who could stand? And yet, here you are, standing in the midst of God’s judgment on this Lord’s Day. How is this possible? Only by the blood of Jesus. You have confessed your sins. You have acknowledged your iniquity. Therefore, by the authority of Jesus Christ, and as a minister of his gospel, I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.