The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
August 6, 2017
“Let the nations be roused; let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat, for there I will sit to judge all the nations on every side. Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow—so great is their wickedness! Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars no longer shine. The LORD will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble. But the LORD will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.” (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Picture yourself in these scenarios:
You are a senior in high school. You know that you want to go to college, you just aren’t sure where. You have applied at a number of different schools and you have been accepted at all of them. You put it off and put it off and put it off but now you can’t wait any longer. It’s decision time!
You have a job offer from a well established company. You know that if you accept this job offer it will mean that initially you will have to take a substantial cut in pay. On the flip side, you know that if you accept this job offer the opportunities for both advancing your career and having long-term job security seem to be better with the other company. Finally, you have to make up your mind. It’s decision time!
You are standing in the voting booth. For months you have carefully researched the various positions of each candidate. You have gone back and forth as to how you will vote. Now you can’t wait any longer. It’s decision time!
There are many moments in our lives, my friends, when we are required to make a decision. Some of those decisions are not really all that important and some of those decisions are immensely important. Some of those decisions impact only ourselves and some of those decisions impact the people around us. Some of those decisions have short-term consequences and some have long-term consequences. None of those decisions, however, even begin to compare to the decision that is described here in our text for this morning. Today the Lord Himself reminds us through His servant Joel that a very special day is coming. While we do not know when that day will arrive we are assured of this: When it comes it will be— Decision Time!
The prophet Joel is one of those individuals in the Bible whom we really don’t have a great deal of information about. Because his book expresses a great deal of concern for Judah and Jerusalem we think that Joel probably lived and worked in the Southern Kingdom. But there are a couple of things that we do know for sure. One thing we know for sure is that the name Joel means, “Jehovah is God.” This is a beautiful name for a prophet of the Lord. Idolatry had become widespread in the land of Judah. And so at a time when many people openly acknowledged and worshiped false gods, Joel sought to re-focus the people’s hearts and minds on the fact that there is only one true God. He is the LORD, Jehovah, the great I AM, the God of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
We also know from the book of Joel that the land of Judah had not only been overrun by a plague of locusts, but it was also experiencing a severe drought. Joel then used these two devastating events to call God’s people to repentance. As a prophet of the Lord Joel reminded the people that the devastation that Judah was experiencing was nothing compared to what will happen on “the great and dreadful day of the LORD” (Joel 2:31). While many people may turn their back on the true God and run after all kinds of false gods, while people may spend their entire life ignoring or rejecting the LORD, Joel reminded them that the day is surely coming when all people will know that the LORD— Jehovah— is God! When that day arrives it will be: Decision time!
As Joel describes this Decision time he draws on both the history of God’s people as well as the daily life of God’s people. We hear him say in our text, “’Let the nations be roused; let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat, for there I will sit to judge all the nations on every side. Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow— so great is their wickedness!’ Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.”
Jehoshaphat was the fourth king of Judah. His name means, “the LORD judges.” Jehoshaphat’s shining moment came when Judah was attacked by a coalition of the Moabites, the Ammonites and some of the Meunites. Jehoshaphat faithfully turned to the LORD for guidance and for help. The LORD told Jehoshaphat not to worry. The king was to take Judah’s army to the desert of Jeruel but they would not have to fight their enemies. Through His prophet the LORD said to Jehoshaphat, “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours but God’s” (2 Chronicles 20:15). The LORD then caused the Moabites, the Ammonites and the Meunites to turn against each other. When Jehoshaphat and the army of Judah arrived at the Pass of Ziz at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel they found all their enemies dead! From that day forward the “Valley of Jehoshaphat,” the “Valley of the LORD’s judgment,” became a symbol of how the LORD God crushes all His enemies.
Joel also pictures the crushing defeat of God’s enemies by using a very common event in the lives of God’s people— the harvesting and trampling of grapes. Joel reminded God’s people that just as the newly harvested grapes are trampled in the winepress so also the peoples of the earth will one day be “harvested” and the enemies of God will be “trampled.” The Lord Jesus used a similar picture in our Gospel reading for today (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). The Apostle John paints a similar picture in the book of Revelation (14:14-20). The point that is being emphasized in all of these pictures is that Judgment Day equals: Decision time! When the Lord Jesus Christ returns to this earth as the Judge of the living and the dead, the multitudes of all the people who have ever lived on the face of this earth will be gathered before Him and a decision will be made! That truth then raises two questions doesn’t it. Question #1 is: Who will make this decision? Question #2 is: Upon what basis will this decision be made?
There are those within the Christian church who believe that the decision is yours, the decision is mine. There are those who teach that each and every one of us must “decide” for ourselves. Either we can decide to invite God into our hearts, accept Him as our Lord and Savior, or we can decide to turn away from Him and reject Him as our Lord and Savior. The decision is ours. Is that what Joel is saying here in our text? No! Is that what Jesus was teaching in either the Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13) or in the account of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25)? No! Here in our text for today the Lord makes it very clear that the decision is His— not yours, not mine! “I will sit to judge all nations on every side,” says the LORD. God decides who will be trampled in the winepress of His wrath and who will not. God decides who are the sheep and who are the goats. God decides who are the weeds and who are the wheat. God decides who will be allowed to live in His eternal heavenly home and who will not. The decision is the Lord’s— not ours.
What basis will God use for making this eternally important decision? The basis for this decision is very clearly proclaimed on the pages of Scripture— including right here in the book of Joel. In Joel 2:31 we are told, “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” Remember, my friends, that the prophet Joel was speaking to people who were “calling upon” all different kinds of false gods. In many ways the nation of Judah in the days of Joel was not all that different from our nation today. But just as there is only one true God so also that one true God will decide who is saved and who is lost on the basis of what is in their heart, on the basis of one’s personal relationship with Him. Everyone who believes that the Lord is God, everyone who trusts in the Lord as their “refuge” and their “stronghold” as Joel describes Him here in our text, everyone who believes in their heart, confesses with their mouth and reveals in their life that Jesus is their Lord and Savior will be saved. Everyone else will endure the wrath of God’s justice for the rest of eternity.
Decision time! As the prophet Joel listened to and observed God’s people in his day and age he was compelled to remind them that one day, on “the great and dreadful day of the LORD,” God Himself would make a decision concerning their eternity. If the prophet Joel were to walk with you for a day, a week, a month, a year what message might he proclaim to you? As he listened to you speak, as he observed your life, as he looked at the way you treat the people around you would he feel compelled to remind you that the Lord is God? Or would it be obvious to him that the Lord is your “refute” and your “stronghold”? Is Sunday morning the only time that you openly profess that the Lord is God or is that a regular part of your everyday life? The fact that we are Christians is not based upon anything that you or I did, my friends— not even some “decision” that you or I made! We are the redeemed, justified and saved children of God purely on the basis of what God has done for us on the cross and purely on the basis of the gift of saving faith that God has created in our hearts through the power of His Holy Spirit as He works in us through His holy Word and Sacraments. Having said that, you and I decide each and every day whether we will continue to live in the light of the cross or whether we will turn our back on the Savior who loves us so very much that He was willing to die for us.
Living in the light of the cross, however, also means that like Joel here in our text you and I have been called and sent by the Lord Himself to proclaim His Truth to others. Contrary to popular opinion the Lord our God, the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth, is not tolerant of sin. Just as we cry out for justice every time we hear of a child who has been abused, every time we cry out for justice every time we hear about people being gunned down while they are at school or at work, so also God’s justice proclaims that sin— every sin— must be paid for in full! At the very same time, in His amazing grace God has promised the multitudes of people on the face of this earth that His perfect justice has been completely satisfied right there on the cross of Calvary’s hill. In His amazing grace God has promised the multitudes of people on the face of this earth that through faith in what His Son has done for us we have absolutely nothing to fear when Jesus “roars” back into the history of this world in all of His power, majesty and glory and gathers everyone— including us— into His “valley of decision.”
That is the beautiful message that you and I cling to, my friends. That is the glorious message that you and I have been given to freely share with others. That is the only message that we or anyone else can count on when the multitude of heavenly angels suddenly fill the skies and with the sound their trumpets announce to the multitudes of people on the face of the earth: It’s Decision Time!
To God be the glory!