First Responders

Joel 1:13-20

When God brings calamity on a people, who should take lead in responding to / addressing it? Trend over last couple generations in this country – look to government for leadership in responding to disaster; same holds true for church, too. There is FEMA, Dept. of Homeland Security, to begin the list – time after time those who profess Christianity have as default go-to source an agency at some level of government. Extends to non-crisis issues as well, the stuff of everyday life. Two organizations come quickly to mind: Jerry Falwell and Moral Majority, James Dobson and Focus on the Family – primary emphasis on political or judicial solution to all sorts of issues.

Day after murder of 5 police officers in Dallas, amid all media frenzy, article headline got my attention: Who Can Heal America? Stephen Collinson, CNN, 07/08/16

“…despite all the calls for unity, the prayers offered and the platitudes voiced, there are few signs yet that any candidate, lawmaker, law enforcement leader, or civil rights campaigner has mustered the trust and respect of voters needed to knit a mournful nation together and freshen the stale national debate on race and violence.”

Question we must ask: is this approach to life and circumstances God would have his people to use? Does Bible have anything to say on the subject? If so, what? Text makes answer to that question clear – clergy, not politicians, should be first responders. Church, not government, has that primary responsibility. This coming through prophet at time when monarchy in place in Israel for 230+ years, government in disarray in both Israel and Judah – corruption, intrigue, murder, power struggles. Great-grandmother Jezebel, grandmother Athaliah who murdered all but Joash, father assassinated by Jehu’s (king of Israel) order. Not a far ways from current political and social conditions, eh?

Whether duty is heeded or not, Christ’s church has responsibility to exercise leadership in showing proper response to God. In last few generations, 50 years anyway, approach of church to surrounding community has changed dramatically. Back in shop days, be asked “how’s it going?” Response: “you want me to tell truth or make you feel good?” Evangelical church used to tell truth knowing would make some people feel bad, maybe even offend them. Now church tries to make people feel good, hoping to somewhere down the road sneak in truth little by little. Try to give people what they want, then later give what they need. Problem is – giving what they want widens gap between sinner and God, further blinds and de-sensitizes to real need. Need to be more concerned about offending God than whether proclaiming truth offends people.

A. lead the way v.13-14

who: spiritual leaders (13a)

God’s standard for leaders: godly character way more important than skills – Titus 1:6-9, v.6-9a address character, v.9b skill of exhortation/persuasion

effective spiritual leaders pleasing to God must first have exemplary lives – Phil. 3:17Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.”

point is not that spiritual leaders are perfect, but exemplary – serving as good pattern, including how to deal biblically with both success and failure

not a new requirement in NT, were expectations for priests in OT – specific rituals, things that would disqualify from holding office: laver Ex. 40:32 “Whenever they went into the tabernacle of meeting, and when they came near the altar, they washed, as the LORD had commanded Moses.”

also Lev. 21, character qualities first, then physical requirements for those who served as priests; esp. v.6 – “They shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God, for they offer the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and the bread of their God; therefore they shall be holy.”

God expected leaders leading followers would follow leader well – spiritual leaders to be leading followers of God, should be following God well themselves… making sure their own spiritual house is in order first

why: you can see the signs (13b)

spiritual leaders should be first responders… first to catch on there’s a problem – have vantage point, perspective of both people and truth

should be connected enough with people’s personal lives to recognize signs of problem; should also be aware of cultural issues

in this case: offerings are down, what’s up? what is source of the change – limited to one wealthy family? local economy? national circumstances?

obvious in Joel’s case – national calamity devastated entire nation and its economy, impact on every household incl. church

church ought to be concerned about both state of love for God and love for neighbor – if neighbor’s sinfulness putting others at risk, regardless of scope, church must be involved

not talking about social activism, rather the church following her mandate to equip Christ-followers to live godly

I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” 1 Tim. 3:15

what: lead in right religion (14)

no question what Joel has in mind – draw entire community together for demonstration, sit-in, protest, civil disobedience…not

bring everyone together before God and cry out to HIM for help – in time of calamity especially (but not only) should seek God first, individually and corporately

people being who they are, not likely on their own to come together for corporate prayer and repentance – must be led

B. the Day is near v.15-18

it’ll come from God (15)

don’t like to think about calamity coming here, do want it to happen there! and really don’t want to give God the credit

think about history – same Flood that destroyed earth floated the Ark that saved Noah and family… great judgment included great mercy

have been number of “days” when God has visited portions of his creation with judgment – was not superstition in old days to view calamity that way

it’s been announced (16)

“minor” calamities are announcements of the big one – just like seismic activity warns of possible volcanic eruption, also warn of God’s coming judgment

every “warning” is evidence / display of God’s mercy – could have given no warnings at all until The End

instead, each warning is opportunity – have reason to talk about sin and evil, God’s plan to deal with it… at Calvary, at the Final Day

it’ll be really bad (17-18)

may be “localized” day of the Lord like Israel experienced, may also be the Big One – either way, will be far worse than the warnings

present experience is bad, locusts did quite a job – no comparison with the one coming; yet… situation not hopeless

have bookends of v.14, v.19-20 and theme of crying out to Yahweh – still legitimate hope of mercy and deliverance

shouldn’t hold back informing others of how bad it will be – Bible tells us what to expect, so did Jesus: he used hell as deterrent, not heaven as attractant

it’s at hand

if was within sight in Joel’s day, we’re almost 3000 years closer to final day he spoke of in chapter 3

makes it more imperative we respond to warning tremors in way that pleases God… redeeming the time, using to fullest advantage

is true that God is sovereign over all things including salvation – no one in hell because we were too slow, too stumbling in speech… not excuse to be lazy

if really take God, what he said seriously, will be intentional in our living and witnessing – looking for and using opportunities

C. here’s an example v.19-20

I cry out (19)

prophet recognizes source of calamity, proper response to it – not only exhorts others, expresses own dependence on God

sets example himself like expects of religious leaders – also encourages others to do right thing when see public figure

beasts cry out (20)

not just people who depend on God, animals get caught in cross-fire and cry out to God; is it any wonder they long for redemption too (Rom. 8:22)

serves as rebuke to rational creatures – if dumb beasts know enough to cry to God for help, human beings certainly ought to do same

both cry out to God

just to re-emphasize where we started – they don’t cry out to human helpers but God alone as their only hope

cry out for God’s help for themselves, for others afflicted by present calamity, especially for those in danger of future judgment

and so should you

when calamity occurs, God’s people should be first responders – personally and corporately crying out to God for help, encouraging others to do same

applies to calamities of all shapes and sizes, personal to national – should bring us to knees first, not as after-thought

as God’s people, we should be leading the way in response to hardship, affliction, evil actions by evil people – all in total dependence on God

 

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