Joel 2, “Unless You Repent”

Intro: Luke 13:1-5 – There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? 3 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

  • This is an interesting event in a few ways. Luke is the only one who records this event. The murder of these Galileans by Pilate must have made all the papers. Although it is not recorded in secular history or scripture, the thought is that Pilate had actually sent a detachment of soldiers into the Temple and killed Jews who were in the act of offering a sacrifice to God. A tower fell and tragically killed 18 people. It certainly made the papers. An immediate question among the Jews would have been, why did God allow this to happen? (sound familiar?)
  • Many concluded, in popular fashion, that these men must have been great sinners. The common Jew borrowed the theology of Job’s friends. They may have also concluded that they were not so bad, since these terrible things had not happened to them.
  • Jesus debunks the common belief that those who suffered enormous tragedies were necessarily sinners who were being punished. Jesus corrects their faulty theology on both fronts
  •  “I tell you no” – they are not worse sinners than other Galileans
  • “But unless YOU repent YOU will likewise perish” – There was no solace to be gained by them because they had not suffered such things. They too could perish – UNLESS
  • This unless is the focus of our lesson today. We MUST repent.

I. Jesus and Repentance: “unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”Jesus’ words had a direct reference to the unbelief and disobedience of the Jewish nation in rejecting their Messiah. Jesus spoke more than once about the coming judgment against Israel and the coming destruction of Jerusalem. (Matt. 24).

A. Burton Coffman states that Israel is the “primary target” of these words. “These words mean that Israel would “perish in the same way that the Galileans did, that is, by the Roman sword.” (from Coffman’s Bible Commentary)

B. But Jesus’ call to repentance is directed to all men. John Wesley wrote… “it is a serious mistake to see God’s call to repentance as a directive for Israel alone. Christ was here stimulating “all thoughtful people to repentance facing the prospect of judgment.”

II. Joel and Repentance: Just as Jesus, Joel called upon his audience to consider seriously the implications of the tragedies that impact men. As we noticed last week, Joel’s prophecy describes a locust plague that that devastated the land of Judah. The prophet uses this disaster as their wake-up call to speak about the coming judgment of God against His enemies – Joel 2:1 – For the day of the Lord is coming, For it is at hand… 2:11 For the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; Who can endure it? Joel’s message to Judah was that God’s judgment against them was coming as ferociously as the locusts UNLESS:

A. “Turn to Me with all your heart” Read Joel 2:12-17 – 12 “Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” 13 So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm. 14 Who knows if He will turn and relent, And leave a blessing behind Him — A grain offering and a drink offering For the Lord your God? 15 Blow the trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly; 16 Gather the people, Sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and nursing babes; Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, And the bride from her dressing room. 17 Let the priests, who minister to the Lord, Weep between the porch and the altar; Let them say, “Spare Your people, O Lord, And do not give Your heritage to reproach, That the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'”

B. Before we look specifically at Joel’s call for repentance, I want to consider the word itself. What is repentance?

1. In the OT, the English word repent is from the Hebrew word NACHAM (naw-kham’) which is translated as comfort or repent depending on context.

–      It signifies a lamenting or grieving.

–      It is used mostly of God, and does not depict a relationship to sinful conduct as such. Gen. 6:6 – “It repented the Lord He had made man” – KJV) even here in Joel 2:13, 14 where it is translated as “relents” in the NKJV.

–      It denotes a change of the heart or disposition, a change of mind, a change of purpose, or an emphasis upon the change of one’s conduct (Vines)

–      It indicates the aroused emotions of God which prompt Him to a different course of dealing with the people. (ISBE)

a. SHUBH (Hebrew) – to turn; return. This is the word in Joel 2:13 – Turn to the Lord. ISBE says 3 things about this Hebrew word…

–      It implies a conscious, moral separation, and a personal decision to forsake sin and to enter into fellowship with God.

–      It is employed extensively with reference to man’s turning away from sin to righteousness (Jer. 3:14).

–      Both terms are also sometimes employed when the twofold idea of grief and altered relation is expressed, and are translated by “repent” and “return” (Ezek. 14:6; Hosea 12:6; Jonah 3:8)

2. In the NT, repent comes from the compound Greek word METANOEO: META = Change (like the metamorphosis of a butterfly) and NOEO = to perceive; from the root word NOUS = Mind (cf. Vine, Thayer) Again this word means to change one’s mind.

3. Consider what repentance of not – some popular substitutes for actual repentance:

a. Repentance is not merely confession of guilt. When one confesses guilt it may be a sign of true repentance. But that is not always true. Pharaoh said, I have sinned, but he didn’t repent, because he continued to hold the Israelite nation in cruel bondage. King Saul said, I have sinned, but the attitudes that led him to disobedience still ruled his heart.

b. Repentance is not just remorse or sorrow. 2 Cor. 7:9-109 Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. Some folks are simply sorry they were caught. Godly sorrow is genuine regret over the moral guilt and consequence of your sin. It leads one to repentance. (Therefore sorrow is not repentance itself).

c. Repentance is not political reformation. A person may reform their life for various reasons. Not all of it is true repentance. A man reforms because his wife threatens to leave him. Someone joins a church because a rich aunt threatens to leave them out of her will. This is not repentance… It’s mere reformation. We must not think that political reformation, doing something to please others, is Biblical repentance. Genuine BIBLICAL repentance demands proper motive… It is born out of a consideration of my sin as it relates to God.

4. Genuine repentance (change of one’s mind) is evidenced by the fruit of obedience. When John preached the necessity of repentance to Israel in the wilderness of Judea, he was willing to judge some of those who came to him to be baptized by their fruits… Matthew 3:5-95 Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him 6 and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, 9 and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. He recognized that these religious leaders were not humbly coming to God with a mind to obey. They wanted to be baptized to exhibit their privileged position before God (Abraham as our Father).

C. Joel’s depiction of Repentance: The words of Joel provide a study of true repentance.

1. It is urgent – The beginning of 2:12 says “Yet even now…” in the NASB version. Joel is pointing to the urgency attached to God’s call for repentance of sin. When we realize the reality of the judgment of God, the truly penitent person will not rationalize away or delay his return to God. In Acts 2 it seems to indicate that the audience interrupted Peter’s sermon and wanted to know what they could do to get right with God again.

2. It is from the heart – the issue of sincerity is crucial in Joel’s call to repentance. Joel 2:12-13 – Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping, and mourning; 13 And rend your heart and not your garments. True repentance goes farther than fear of punishment and the confession of sin. God wants our heart, but more than that he wants all of our heart. Joel calls on them to go beyond an outward display of change (rending their garments) to a full inward change (rending their hearts). Notice that this rending of the heart is something they were called to do – it was not just an unbidden emotional response to Joel’s preaching or the fear of punishment. It was a commitment to follow through with obedient change.

a. The concept of a “whole heart” action is one of single minded devotion to the act. There are no ulterior motives or selfish purposes. It is unreserved – no turning back. It is a turning from sin because you sincerely want to turn from sin. Compare Paul’s instructions to slaves to their masters in Col 3:22 – Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God.

        • ex. – Éclairs in the refrigerator – committed to eating better – no sweets at all. But when he arrives home he notices that the chocolate éclairs that were purchased earlier on sitting on the counter. What a temptation! But it is a grand display of courage and a decision to change – He puts them away in the refrigerator! – True repentance in not having éclairs in the refrigerator.
        • After the people of Ephesus witnessed Paul working unusual miracles in their city – Acts 19:18-20 – And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. 19 Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed. – No turning back

b. Compare Joel’s depiction to the words of Ezekiel 33. Israel was despondent over the judgment of God against their sin (exile). They were pining away (v. 10) Ezek 33:11Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’

        • After indicating that they cannot trust in their past righteousness to save them in the face of judgment, Ezekiel calls on them to turn back to God. But what does that mean. Here is how he describes that… Ezek 33:14-15Again, when I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ if he turns from his sin and does what is lawful and right, 15 if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has stolen, and walks in the statutes of life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live; he shall not die.
        • if he turns from his sin and does what is lawful and right,
        •  if the wicked restores the pledge – (keeps his word, does what he has promised)
        •  gives back what he has stolen – (restitution of wrong)
        • and walks in the statutes of life without committing iniquity, (brings forth the fruit of obedience) he shall surely live; he shall not die.

4. It is based in true hope of God’s character. Joel 2:13For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness, And relenting of evil. Joel’s call to repentance is founded in the true nature of God. When we consider His graciousness, compassion, how He is slow to anger, how He abounds in lovingkindness, and will relent of evil, it should move us to humbly serve Him.

a. Praise God that He is not a vengeful, unloving God who looks forward to dealing out retribution! He holds out for us, wanting and waiting for our return. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

b. If you are alive today, you can repent. Thank God for the time He has given you to return to Him, but don’t presume upon His grace and providence. “He relents from doing harm,” but the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night. UNLESS you repent you will perish. This call is urgent. Repent while there is time.