Return to the Lord your God

Joel 2:1-2; 12-17.

(1) Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming. It is close at hand– {2} a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness. Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was of old nor ever will be in ages to come. {12} ‘Even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ {13} Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. {14} Who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing– grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God. {15} Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. {16} Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber. {17} Let the priests, who minister before the LORD, weep between the temple porch and the altar. Let them say, ‘Spare your people, O LORD. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?”

As we begin this Lenten season, God through the prophet Joel sends out the call to us, to wake up: to sound the alarm: we are facing a very serious situation: Which on the face of it has dire consequences. The day of the Lord is coming; and in fact, we are reminded that it is close at hand; and that most people are not ready or prepared for it. So it is going to be a day of darkness and gloom: a day of clouds and darkness. A day of destruction as has never been seen before: A day when many people will be wiped out – caste into Hell. So wake up – sound the alarm bells – because that day is near at hand.
But, ho hum – everybody goes back to sleep: they hit the snooze alarm. What’s the big deal! Who cares? I have got other things to do and think about. I’m busy and all the rest.

No, wake up! Wake up! This is God – the Lord’s – call. This is important stuff. It is not some media beat up or some panic merchant talking about some insignificant issue. This is God Almighty himself telling us to wake up – to sound the alarm bells. There is not much time left and unless there is an urgent change of heart, the destruction that will take place will be unprecedented. Remember, here the Lord himself is trying stir us into action: to wake us up from our apathy and make us aware of the seriousness of the situation of life that we are facing and the destruction that will befall us if there is no change of heart. In a sense, he is saying that here is a last chance to avert this impending doom.
Even now, he says – even now – return to me: return to me with all your heart; with fasting and weeping and mourning. Please; please, come back: Take this message and me seriously, and do it recognising the seriousness of the issue, and the harm and the devastation that you are bringing on yourselves. Return to me; he says. Come back! Come back now, before it is too late.

So this Lenten season rend your hearts and not your garments. Be fair dinkum about God and the Christian life. Now is not the time for outward show. It is not simply a matter of church attendance, finances, and a few good deeds. We need to recognise that at the core of our being there is a serious problem: Our hearts are not where they should be; they are focussed inwards and not upwards, and so there is a serious need for a change for the better. Tear your heart open, because it is a matter that is too grave and too important. Remember this is a life and death issue, and we are facing death and destruction if we do not take God and his Word seriously: and we deserve nothing less if that be the case.

Let us all heed the call here to return to the Lord our God, for he is gracious and compassionate; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He does relent from sending calamity, and yes, he wants to help us and save us. His love for us is such that does not want to give us a hard time or destroy us. Even though we don’t deserve it, he still cares about us and wants better for us. There is still hope.

Look God has changed his mind before; on a number of occasions. Think of Jonah and the people of Nineveh for instance. When they realized what was about to happen to them because of their waywardness, they repented: they sincerely turned their backs on their former ways, with great sorrow. And we hear that God did not bring the calamity on them that he had promised. So let us return to Lord our God, while we still have an opportunity: who knows, he may turn and have pity on us and leave behind a blessing, so that we can again give thanks to our God.

Let us gather together everyone, so that we can call on the Lord our God to spare us: To call on him so that he does not wipe us out, and give further evidence for others to ridicule Christianity, and continue to say that obviously this God of ours is not for real. Look what he has done to us. No, let us call on him to help us; to save us; and make us the people that he wants us to be again: Imploring him to restore us again as his people: as people who look to him as their Lord and saviour.

This Lenten season let us heed our Lord’s message here. Let the alarm bells ring to stir us out of our complacency, and to remind us again that we cannot take the Lord our God for granted and ignore the fact that his day of judgement is coming; soon. Then he will deal with those who continue to place their trust in themselves or elsewhere other than the Lord Jesus Christ; as he must, once and for all.

So let us hear his call to return to him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; cut to the heart because of our sins; sorrowful for our waywardness; yet knowing that he is a gracious and compassionate God who loves us immensely: so much so in fact that he sent own Son into our world to take that punishment we deserve for our sin, on himself: So that we can have forgiveness and the assurance of salvation.
Knowing that he has died and risen again for our forgiveness and salvation, let us return to him with confidence. Yes deeply aware and sorrowful for our waywardness and sin, which brought about Jesus’ death on the cross, but with that assurance that he is slow to anger and abounding in his steadfast love toward us.

Then may we again confidently, give our gracious God thanks and praise for all of his goodness, and that we then also go forward with this message that others may look and say, Yes, here is their God also. A holy and awesome God: one who is above all and over all: gracious and compassionate. Here is that One who is truly the only real God there is. Yes, may we all take him seriously and give our all to him.
May God’s Holy Spirit be with us all this Lenten season, and draw us all back into his loving fellowship, so that the day of the Lord may be a day of rejoicing for us his people. God be with you all this Lenten season. AMEN.

Pastor Roger Atze

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