Based on: Joel 3:12-16
What you think about your birthday? Is it something you look forward to every year? Or is it something you dread? Either way, for as long as you live your birthday will come every year. It is inescapable, isn’t it? The same is true of God’s judgment. It is inescapable. Another illustration as we talk about God’s judgment on the final day is the punishment you knew you would receive as a child when you did something wrong. If your father was a disciplinarian you probably dreaded those words, “Just wait until your father gets home.”
Today the readings from Scripture talk of God’s judgment on the last day. Through the prophet Joel, God assures us that his judgment is coming. This judgment is inescapable. This judgment on the day that it comes will be awful for many and a reason to be full of awe for some.
In the lesson that our sermon is based on there are a couple of references to a decision. The multitudes are to be judged and are gathered into a valley of decision. The nations are called together in the Valley of Jehoshaphat. The Valley of Jehoshaphat is a reference to the time when God made a decision for his people, Judah, and destroyed their enemy in a valley as they were marching on Jerusalem. On judgment day God will again make a decision. He will draw a line and divide believer and unbeliever. That one decision will mean the difference between eternal life and eternal torment for us.
God promises that this decision will come one day. Like your birthday, which you cannot avoid for as long as you’re alive, you cannot avoid God’s judgment because you are a part of his creation. God says, “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.” Perhaps at first that sounds like a suggestion, but if we look at the verse right before that God says, “Come quickly, all you nations from every side, and assemble there.” God will command all nations to appear before him. No one will be able to opt out.
God continues with pictures of the harvest. “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!" When the fruit is ripe you have to harvest it. You can’t let it wait. You can be certain that when the time comes for the world to be judged, God will not let it wait. God’s judgment has to come because the wickedness of this world is so great.
God’s judgment is inescapable, but the people of this world want to avoid it. One of the reasons that the theory of evolution is so popular is because people are consciously trying to avoid the fact that they have the creator and that this creator will one day pass judgment on them. Why do think that the subject of death and what happens after death is so uncomfortable for many people? It is because death is not a natural part of life. God did not create Adam and Eve so they would die. No, death is a reminder that we disobey the God who created us.
Even we, as Christians, who know that God’s judgment is coming, don’t often think about the end of the world or the end of our own lives? If we forget to pay a bill, the bank is kind enough to remind us, over and over again if necessary, until we pay it. In God’s Word, God tells us over and over again that this day of judgment is coming. God gives us these warnings in love. Perhaps sometimes these warnings go by unnoticed, but when we take them to heart they make a difference in our lives.
Knowing that God will come again in judgment, and not just having that fact in your mind, but also trusting that God will keep his promise, will change our priorities. We will see every funeral that takes place here at St. John’s as a reminder that God will one day call us out of this life. We will want to make sure our relationship with God is a good one. We will repent of offenses against God as Joel called Israel to do earlier in his book.
We will want to hear over and over again about our Savior Jesus Christ. We will want to hear that Jesus lead a perfect life here on this earth and that he died in our place, suffering the punishment we deserved. We know that it is on the basis of his life and death that God will one day make his decision about us. You see, Jesus placed himself under God’s judgment of guilt and of wrath so that we could be under God’s judgment of not guilty and of blessing and eternal life.
Knowing that God’s judgment is inescapable makes outreach that much more important. We know that many people in which we come in contact are people who will not end up on the side of blessing when it comes to God’s decision on judgment day. We know God’s solution to that problem and God has commanded us to share it. Not only is it God’s command, but it is our privilege, because by telling others about their Savior Jesus we are rescuing them from death. We are saving their eternal soul. To use the illustration that Jesus gave us in the parable today, God can turn those weeds sown by Satan into wheat.
Whether we want it to come or not, God’s judgment is coming. If we are like the world and we pretend not to care that it is coming or we try to defy God’s judgment, it will be an awful day. For the Christian, however, it will be a day to make us full of awe. Just look at how that day as described.
God says, “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!” In the verse before this God commands the whole earth together around him. Now God makes a bold statement that only He can make. It is as if he is saying to the whole world, “Just let the nation’s come to oppose me. Perhaps you nations think that if you ban together you can defy me, but I am ready for you. I will sit in judgment over you and I will cut you down like wheat and crush you like grapes.”
When God comes to judge the earth he will come with his power and might. It will be terrifying. God says, “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.” Have you ever had someone scream at you? It is unpleasant isn’t it? How much less pleasant will it be when God in righteous judgment roars at the unbeliever? That day will be too terrifying for any of us. Joel even says, “the day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?” The answer is no one can endure that day.
And that is why God ends with this comfort, “But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.” To the same degree that God causes despair and hopelessness in the hearts of the unbeliever, he will also create peace and comfort and hope in the hearts of his children. On this terrifying and awful day of decision, the Christian will have God himself as his refuge and stronghold. We know that this is only because of Jesus Christ, only because Christ has removed our guilt, that we are not among those who we are being cut down like wheat and crushed like grapes. That fact will fill all our hearts with awe on that last day.
We know that God’s decision is coming. It will not be a pleasant event for most of this world. It will be a terrifying event, but we have God’s protection. We already know what his decision, his judgment, is concerning us. His decision is to give us the blessings of eternal life with him because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.