Scripture Reading: Joel 1:1-14, Isaiah 17:10-11, Acts 2:17-21
Have you ever done something that was honestly deplorable, something you felt desperate to take back as soon as it was done? Even the memory of it can grind you down and make your fingers ache with regret. Shakespeare calls this “an expense of spirit in a waste of shame.”
The Minor Prophets show us the result of expending our energy to pursue sin: a locust-eaten wasteland of emptiness and shame. Joel’s assessment of sin is bleak: “Indeed, human joy has dried up” (Joel 1:12). It’s a prophecy similar to that of the other prophets. In a nutshell, he’s saying: “you have forgotten the God of your salvation”—repent and return (Isaiah 17:10).
But instead of just handing it to us in a nutshell, God shows us in sobering terms the plagues, wrath, and judgment that come from our sin. It is utterly devastating. When I read these words I know deep in my bones I can’t shoulder the weight of such miserable punishment. I can’t take my sins back.
Igor Stravinksy devastatingly said, “Sins cannot be undone, only forgiven.” He’s right. We can’t unsay and undo the shameful things we’ve done. But the minor prophets give us real hope. The judgment for our sins is massive, but that is precisely the judgment Jesus paid on our behalf.
God the Father levies judgment against us because of our sin, and then takes that punishment on His own shoulders in the person of Christ. The tsunami of judgment that reared up and threatened to obliterate us splashes harmlessly back into the ocean because of Christ Jesus.
When we read prophecy, it’s important to ask ourselves, What did it mean to them then? and What does it mean for us now? Joel was preaching a specific message to Israel in the midst of a locust crisis, and he is also preaching to us in the midst of our own crises, today. But in this case, his message is really the same: repent and return to your first love.
Then and now, God is in a relationship with His people, censuring our sins with judgment, calling us to repentance, and extending His forgiveness. He is actively doing it all, all the time. We can respond by crying out to Him with deep thankfulness.
Lord, we cry out to you. Forgive us, and teach us to forgive.