Think about a time when you were away from home for an extended period. You don’t have your own bed. You don’t have your own food. You don’t have your own bathroom. You don’t have all of the things that make up what you know as “home.” After a while you really being to long for home. I experienced this a little while back when I was activated with the Army. Three months living in Army housing, not being able to kiss my wife and play with my kids, not being with all of the comfort that comes with being home is a hard thing to do. But there is nothing like the feeling of returning home, of coming back to where you belong! The Bible talks about returning to where we belong.
In the book of Joel, the prophet addresses Israel in the midst of crisis. A horrible plague of locusts is devastating the land and Joel attributes the locusts to a spiritual cause. His message to Israel is that it is time to return to God. It is time to come home to where we belong.
12 Even now—this is the LORD’s declaration—turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning. 13 Tear your hearts, not just your clothes, and return to the LORD your God. For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, and He relents from sending disaster. 14 Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave a blessing behind Him, so you can offer grain and wine to the LORD your God. 15 Blow the horn in Zion! Announce a sacred fast; proclaim an assembly. 16 Gather the people; sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even those nursing at the breast. Let the groom leave his bedroom, and the bride her honeymoon chamber. 17 Let the priests, the LORD’s ministers, weep between the portico and the altar. Let them say: “Have pity on Your people, LORD, and do not make Your inheritance a disgrace, an object of scorn among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (Joel 2:12-17)
I believe God is pointing us towards home today. I believe that, no matter who we are or where we are, God wants us to move back home. He wants us to come back to where we belong. And Joel gives us three directives that reach out to us wherever we are. First, Joel tells us that It’s Never Too Late to Come Home. Look again at verse 12: “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping and mourning….” English translations miss the force of the Hebrew in the opening phrase “even now.” It is a strong adversative, a big “but” that cancels out and makes conditional the chaos of the Day of the Lord that the prophet just talked about. The locusts have ravaged Israel. The end is coming and is even in sight because Israel strayed from God’s path. But….even now…. “Come home,” is God’s cry. What none could have hoped or believed possible, God still invites you to the hope of salvation. God is signaling the possibility of a reversal of our sinful fortunes.
Sometimes we feel that we have strayed too far from God to ever return to Him. How could he let us back in the Kingdom? “Don’t you know what I’ve done? Don’t you see the chaos and damage in my life?” But, like His call to Israel, God beckons us to return. If we allow God to change us then we can escape the final judgment. If we allow God to change us then we can see the reversal of the devastation of sin in our lives. It is never to late to come home.
Second, Joel tells us that Returning to God Requires More Than an Outward Show – it Takes an Inward Change. Look again at verse 13: “And rend your heart and not your garments, Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness and relenting of evil.” Let there be the inward sorrow of heart, and not the mere outward manifestation of it by “rending the garment” When God led Israel through the conquest of Canaan, Israel lost a battle at Ai because of the greed and sin of Achan. Joshua did not know why they lost the battle and so showed an outward sign of humility and sorrow before God.
Sometimes, though, we go through outward shows of humility and repentance but we do not let that condition become a condition of our hearts! God doesn’t want an empty show, but a sincere turning of our hearts and lives. Turning towards God must be more than skin deep. I would venture to guess that all of us, at one time or another, have expressed sorrow but didn’t really mean it. If the heart is centered on God, faith and obedience will follow, for what comes out of the heart determines the whole manner of life. This is what Jesus talks about in the Gospel of Mark.
Where is your heart today?
The description of God in this verse (gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, etc.) is an ancient creed, showing up 8 times in the OT (also in Exodus, Numbers, Nehemiah, 2 Psalms, Jonah, and Nahum). Loving kindness is a translation of the Hebrew hesed – it has more the idea of action based on relationship. It is God’s action towards man because of the covenant relationship. If these are the characteristics of God, we should strive to make these our characteristics too! God has the right to punish, yet he offers grace, compassion, etc.
Joel’s final comment to us is that, when we come back to God, we need to Go Big or Go Home!. Look again at verse 15-17 ~ “Blow a trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, gather the people, sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and the nursing infants, Let the bridegroom come out of his room And the bride out of her bridal chamber….” Joel calls for a big deal in the return of Israel. Blow the horn. Announce. Gather the people. Weep before the Lord. These are strong words regarding gathering an entire nation together to mourn, weep, and repent! Israel needs to go big in its return.
To be sanctified is to be set apart for the purposes of God. The assembly isn’t only to relieve the people of the suffering under the plague, but to bring about God’s purposes for them. This isn’t about an insecure God protecting a shaky reputation. The sole purpose of Israel’s life (and ours) is to glorify God. When our lives are preserved and transformed, God’s power and mercy are magnified before the world.
It is never too late to come home. Returning to God requires more than an outward show – it takes an inward change. Finally, go big or go home. This is God’s call to Israel through the prophet Joel. This is God’s call to us in the midst of our own lives! In Luke 15, Jesus tells people a story about a lost son who finds his way home. And the son’s father, upon seeing the son walking home, rushes out to greet the boy and welcome him back. Our heavenly Father is no less excited and waiting expectantly for us to turn our backs to the world and begin walking home! Examine you life. How much chaos is there? Where have the locusts of sin and self left you barren and suffering? How has the spiritual drought left you thirsty and hungry for something more, for something real? God is waiting for you to come home. The entire point of the cross is so that you and I can be reconciled to God! Embrace the cross. Chris Tomlin writes in his song “Come Home Running,”
So come home running, His arms are open wide, His name is Jesus – He understands, He is the answer you are looking for, so come home running just as you are.
It’s never too late to go home…