Sometimes we are faced with making difficult decisions. Macartney relates how an officer was discussing with General Grant about an upcoming order. The officer pointed out the huge cost and asked if the general was sure he was right. To this Grant replied, "No, I am not; but in war anything is better than indecision. We must decide. If I am wrong, we shall soon find it out, but not to decide may ruin everything."
These verses from Joel talk about a time in Israelís history when they were challenged to make a decision and obey the Lord. We may be facing a great time of decision in Americaís history. There are many people searching for answers and many churches are at a crossroads as to how they will meet the challenges of these new seekers. I believe these verses can help Christians to decide which way to go in the future.
It may be true that there are two sides to every question, but it is also true that there are two sides to a sheet of flypaper, and it makes a big difference to the fly which side he chooses.
Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the wine press is full. The vats overflow, for their wickedness is great.
Joel is speaking of a time of judgement on Israel. But I want to look at these words and see how they apply to our church, our society, and our ministry today. In Joelís day the wickedness was great. Today, we are seeing senseless violence and wanton killing as we have never seen before. In a recent article in Christianity Today some of the students who were eyewitnesses to the slaying at Columbine High School described how when the killers entered the library they could feel the presence of evil. Because of what has been happening in America, many are searching for answers and many are looking to God.
This verse tells us that the harvest is ripe and the wine press is full. Many are ready to turn their lives over to God. What is the church doing to get out the message? What is the church doing to reach out to those who are seeking? Let us be ready share our faith with others.
This is the time of year here in the valley when the raisins are drying in the vineyards. There is period of a few weeks when if any significant rain comes, the raisins will be ruined. It is necessary for the grape grower to spend the time wisely during the harvest time or his crop will be lost. All the raisins must be dried before the rains come. A spiritual harvest time is beginning. There are souls ripe for gathering. They are confused over violence, they are frightened about the future, and they are searching for answers. We must be willing to get to work. The time of the harvest is now.
Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.
The result of the present turmoil and confusion is that many are in the valley of decision wondering which way to go. They look at our leaders and see moral bankruptcy and insincere promises. They look at our institutions and see failure and weakness. They look to the future and see no answers. Godís Spirit is leading them into the valley of decision. God wants them to choose him. God wants them to turn their lives over to Christ. There are multitudes in Merced who are searching. Will we help them make their decision? Will we reach out a helping hand? Will we show them the way to forgiveness, to hope, to joy? David Russel points out, "The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn." Let us show people the crimson bridge that leads to Calvary.
The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.
When I was growing up, there was great concern about a nuclear war. There was the tension of the Cold War between two super-powers in the world scene. But today the Cold War is over. It has been replaced by a proliferation of small countries with nuclear capability and a world full of terrorist bands and disturbing causes. The young people today look at the government and they are told that it is a good possibility there will be no Social Security nor any Medicare for them when they reach retirement age. The future looks gloomy and it seems the outlook is hopeless.
And the Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth shake. But the Lord is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel.
But those who are willing to turn to God have hope. The Lord is a refuge and a stronghold to his people. In a world of hopelessness we carry the message of hope. God will be with us and take care of us. Though others may fail us, and though our government may disappoint us, there is one who will never forsake us. God is with us. When he speaks, the heavens and the earth shake. I believe there is a great shaking thatís taking place. God is speaking to hearts and to lives. The message is, "Donít despair, donít give up, donít be overwhelmed by the darkness. God is pouring his Spirit out on earth to bring in a great harvest. Multitudes are in the valley of decision searching for answers. Lift up your eyes to God. He is your refuge. He is your stronghold."
Gray and Adams comments, "If you are beginning to despair of ever emerging from the clouds that overshadow you, search your life for the sin that is devouring that immortal assurance of victory given to every soul that will serve God by obedience to his law; look for the causes of your defeat, not in your inheritance nor in your surroundings, but in yourself. Victory lies within reach of every true life; at all costs set yourself to win it."
So you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who dwell in Zion, my holy mountain. And Jerusalem shall be holy and strangers shall never again pass through it.
Verse 17 tells us what will happen at the end time when Christ establishes his earthly kingdom here on earth. Today, Godís holy mountain is the temple of the church. The Christian church has come under great attack recently. Some consider the church irrelevant. Others consider it out-dated. The church is viewed with scorn. Christians are attacked for their beliefs. And some would like to wipe out the influence of the churches altogether. The church has been trampled upon, ministers have been derided, and Christians have been ignored. But God says his church will be holy once again. Strangers will not trample on it and treat it with contempt.
Thatís because God is sending a great revival to America once again. People are searching for answers and the church has the message if it will only break its silence and speak out to the community. When I first became minister here at this church, some of you told me our church was the "best kept secret in the city." That may have been true. But it was also true of too many churches here in our city, and in our state, and our nation. It is time for Christians to rise up to share the gospel message once again. It is time for us to allow our church to be a holy influence in our community once again. It is time to reach out to the multitudes in the valley of decision.
And in that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the stream beds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord and water the valley of Shittim.
Once again we see Joelís prophecy referring to events that will happen after Christ returns to this earth. But I believe God is also calling Christian churches to be the ones today sending out sweet wine and milk and a stream and a fountain.
For too long churches have been content reserving the waters of their well for their own use. God wants there to be a fountain coming forth from the house of the Lord. Notice from verse 18 that the fountain was to flow and water the valley. We live in the San Joaquin Valley. Is there a fountain flowing from this house of God to water our valley?
There are four things that are mentioned in verse 18 - sweet wine, milk, water, and a fountain.
The mountains shall drip sweet wine. Wine almost always represents the Holy Spirit in scripture. Do people see Godís Spirit in our church, in our lives? Are we doing the work of the Holy Spirit in our community? Let us be willing to drip sweet wine by sharing with others.
The hills shall flow with milk. The milk of Godís word must be proclaimed. Let us not be afraid to share the teachings from the Bible. Let us be willing to take a stand for morality. And let us not only proclaim Godís word but also live Godís word.
The stream beds shall flow with water. Water is cleansing. Our influence in the community should have a cleansing effect. Our lives should display holy principles and righteous behavior. We should not only refuse to participate in unethical practices, but we should also gently let others know we thing the practice is wrong. The church has been silent too long. Immorality and wickedness has flourished. In past decades the church has taken a stand against drunkenness, against pornography, against immorality, against oppression, and against discrimination. Let us once again proclaim Godís word to our community.
And a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord. Let us be part of that fountain. Let us be willing to share our faith and spread out into our neighborhoods. Let us be willing to help those who are hurting, to comfort those who are in sorrow, and to encourage those in despair. Let us be a fountain spreading the good news of the gospel. Let us no longer keep our secret hidden behind these four walls of the sanctuary. Let us be a fountain flowing out from the house of the Lord!
This study on Joel 3:13-18 © 1999 by David Humpal, all rights reserved.
Macartneyís Illustrations pg. 91 © 1946, Abingdon Press, slightly edited
Article about Columbine High School from Christianity Today, October, 1999
Gray and Adams Bible Commentary, vol. 3, pg. 754, Zondervan Publishing House