Wednesday, February 22, 2023

A Wounded Savior for a Wounded People

 Joel 2:12-19

"Yet even now," declares the LORD, "Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping, and mourning; 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 lovingkindness, And relenting of evil.  Who knows whether He will not turn and relent, And leave a blessing behind Him, Even a grain offering and a libation For the LORD your God?  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.  Let the priests, the LORD'S ministers, Weep between the porch and the altar, And let them say, "Spare Thy people, O LORD, And do not make Thine inheritance a reproach, A byword among the nations. Why should they among the peoples say, ‘Where is their God?'"  Then the LORD will be zealous for His land, And will have pity on His people.  And the LORD will answer and say to His people, "Behold, I am going to send you grain, new wine, and oil, And you will be satisfied in full with them; And I will never again make you a reproach among the nations."

Sermon for Ash Wednesday                                                           2/22/23

A Wounded Savior for a Wounded People

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

This year our sermon series theme is based on the prophecy in Isaiah 53:5,  But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.  Our series theme is "He Was Wounded for Our Transgressions".

Lent is a penitential season.  It is a time for us to consider again how deep our need for a Savior is, and recalling our sins, and the great price they demanded, we should repent.  With that Lenten emphasis in mind, we will consider aspects of the wounds of Christ on our behalf.  We will examine how our sins have wounded Him or added to the suffering of the Passion of our Lord.  Tonight we consider the wounds of Christ under the theme, A Wounded Savior for a Wounded People.

The book of the prophet Joel is generally believed to have been written between the time of the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the final destruction of Jerusalem – in other words, between 721 B.C. and 585 B.C.   The situation in Judah is not too unlike our situation today - things are not going well, and people are frightened, and Joel is calling on the people to repent, in order that, possibly, God will relent from their troubles and they will find peace and prosperity again.

Scholars believe that among the problems the prophet Joel was facing was a famine caused by a swarm of locusts and drought and wildfires as a result.  Judah was no longer the great and glorious kingdom, but a small, relatively insignificant nation on the world scene, beset by neighboring countries and their expansionist plans, a struggling economy at home.

Remarkably, Joel begins this section of his text with an appeal from God and an offer of blessings:  "Yet even now," declares the LORD, "Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping, and mourning; And rend your heart and not your garments."  The implied promise is that if they humble themselves and repent sincerely - if they rend their hearts and not just their garments - that God will relent and turn from the troubles they have been experiencing and bless them with good.  So Joel writes, Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness, And relenting of evil.

The body of this prophecy is a detailed description of what true repentance might look like.  He calls the people to a fast – not to starving in the midst of a famine, but to setting aside the food they do have, for a time, and showing the depth of the sincerity of their repentance.  He calls for people of every age - he mentions the elders and he names the nursing babes.  He summons them to set aside their daily routines and the seemingly important things of their lives to return to their God, calling even the bridegroom from his wedding preparations, and the bride from her bridal chamber to come out and humble themselves and repent, and call upon the Lord for mercy.

For us, the call would be the same: set aside the ordinary business of life and repent!  He might focus on other things, on jobs or on trips to visit family or go to the doctor.  He would call us from our favorite activities, from any of the dozens of things that crowd our lives and slowly squeeze time for Bible study and prayer out of our days.  He would call us to gather and repent, that we, too, might see days of blessings and abundance again.

Except, our relationship with God is not a national covenant, and we ought not to be dealing with God for merely external goods.  We have an abundance, like almost no other time in history.  Oh, sure, a couple of years ago, the economy was clicking along, and people were more optimistic and people were enjoying their blessings.  Except they were not giving thanks as they surely ought to.  And they were taking the abundance for granted, as permission to accumulate toys and fancy clothes, and to take long trips and such-like.  Most didn't receive the blessings in order to serve the Lord more fully, or to help our less fortunate brother out.  We took it as a personal treat to be spent on our own pleasures.  We lived like kings – better than most kings in human history – and dreamed that it would go on for the rest of our lives.

Today things look spooky.  The economy is tanking.  Consumer confidence is down, inflation is getting worse, and gloom is dominating the national psyche.  For most of us, things haven't really changed - except our mood.  But we need to be aware that we depend on God's blessings, or else things can go really bad really fast.  Just as He did through Joel, God calls us to repent.  We need to set aside the ordinary things of life, and take time to confess our sins and sincerely ask God for forgiveness and blessing.

Chief of all the blessings we need is faith.  We need to remember the One who was prophesied, the One who was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities.  He bore our sins on the cross to rescue us, not from a bad economy or from the gloomy prospects of the future of America, but from our sins and from the condemnation we have so richly deserved.  We don't have to wait and wonder, as did the people of the time of Joel, to see if God will turn and bless us.  He has done it already!  He has forgiven us by the death and resurrection of Jesus, and has filled us with the hope of resurrection from our graves and of life everlasting with Him in glory.

Whether the economy rebounds or continues to sink, we have the final and ultimate questions answered already.  Perhaps God will raise up again the good life and we shall celebrate abundance in this life again, but even if He does not, we can celebrate forgiveness, life, and salvation!  As Job declared, "Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves, So do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.  For He inflicts pain, and gives relief; He wounds, and His hands also heal."

We are a wounded people, in need of the wounded Savior.  The difference between us and Him, however is that our wounds are self-inflicted, and although He bore them willingly, His wounds are ours – Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.

The hope of the people in Joel's time was that God would return prosperity and abundance to them.  Our hope is that He will sustain us in faith, forgive us our sins, and count us worthy for Christ's sake to be His holy people and serve Him here in time and there in eternity.  We know that He returned to bless them back then, and we can be confident that He will bless us now, for Christ's sake.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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