Preparing for the Solemn Assembly

Bible Book: Joel  2 : 12-19
Subject: Church; Revival; Renewal; Christian Living

What kind of vision do you have for Eastside Baptist Church? Do you see Eastside as a rather large church, tucked away in a cozy little neighborhood on Lower Roswell Road in East Cobb County that will continue to reach a few hundred people each year and minister to the needs of the community?

Or do you see Eastside Baptist Church increasing in character and stature, and in favor with God, and in favor with man?

We are living in one of the greatest metropolitan areas of the world. The opportunity is here. We’re on the threshold of the greatest challenge that God has given a church. “The fields are white unto harvest.” All around us there are hurts that need to be healed; there are hearts that need to be lifted; there are homes that need our help; there are human beings who need to be loved; there are hundreds of thousands of people who need to be saved.

Folks, I’m telling you that our opportunity is unlimited. Have you ever thought about the number of ministries that are coming to locate their headquarters here in Atlanta? I suppose the most recent one is John Maxwell and his InJoy Ministry. It is apparent to me that God wants to do something in this great metroplex. And I cannot help but believe that He wants our church to be one of the mighty instruments in His hand to point this city and this world in the paths of righteousness.

But let me tell you a verse that has been haunting me for some time. It is Psalm 66:18. I want to read this verse the way God has impressed it upon my heart. I believe this is a verse for us as a church. Listen, the psalmist says, “If we regard iniquity in our hearts, the Lord will not...” Listen, church, God never glosses over sin, but always judges sin. His eyes are too pure to behold iniquity. And I believe, in this verse, God is saying that if we regard iniquity in our hearts there are certain things He will not do because He cannot do them. It would be inconsistent with His nature to do them. He is longing to bless, but if there is sin in the camp, He simply will not bless. He will not be able to do what He wants to do. He will not be able to do what He longs to do.

In the day of the prophet Joel, God was not able to do what He wanted to do because of the sins of the people -- and I’m talking about the people of the Lord, the people who lived in Jerusalem and Judea. In fact, let’s think for a few moments about

I. The People of the Lord

In Joel’s day, the people of the Lord were in the midst of national turmoil. They lived in a day of calamity and crisis. In fact, the prophesy of Joel was prompted by a memorable disaster of nature. Among other things, Judah was devastated by an invasion of locusts. The prophet describes it very early in his writing. Look in Joel 1:4 (read).

Now, here was a disaster enough to paralyze the whole of life. The markets and shops and the villages were idle. The shelves were empty. Food was scarce. The cattle were dying for want of pasture and water. The ground was stripped bare. Organized society had collapsed. Temple worship services were suspended. Life was desolate.

In the second chapter of Joel’s prophecy, those days were described as “dark and gloomy.” It was a “time of clouds and thick darkness.” To the Jews of Jerusalem and Judea, nature had shown a frightening, unfriendly face. Some cursed nature; others cursed the weather, or their luck, or the locusts. Many were at the point of cursing God. The land was in the grip of despair. There was a deadly want of faith and a tragic lack of vital religion. The Jewish people were reviling God and beginning to cast a dark shadow upon their religious heritage.

It was at this point that Joel prayed, “Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?” (Joel 2:17). One of the translations puts it like this: “Dear God, spare your people. Do not leave your heritage to be taunted, to become a thing to be scorned among the pagans.”

In other words, Joel is saying, “I’m tired of all these pagans saying, ‘You claim to be God’s people. Where is your miracle-working God who led you out of Egypt and through the Red Sea and into the Promised Land? Where is the Lord God of Moses? Where is the Lord God of David and Solomon? Where is the Lord God of Elijah?’”

You see, the peril of the land was not so much in the fact that natural calamities had ruined the physical state of the nation, but that faithfulness and indifference toward God had ruined the spiritual state of the nation. Judah had become the object of scorn and ridicule. You know, in America today we Christians are not persecuted nearly as much as we are ridiculed.

And more and more the church and Christianity in America is being held up as an object of scorn and ridicule. There was a time when we could well expect that from the Communist Party in America and the American Association of Atheists and other such groups. But today the ridicule is coming from practically every corner of our society.

Let me give you a recent example. ABC has just announced that this fall it will unveil a new series that guarantees to offend Christians from coast to coast. The new television program is called “Nothing Sacred.” It is a drama scheduled to premiere on Thursday, September 25, at 8 p.m. “Nothing Sacred” is about a young priest known as Father Ray who is a perpetual doubter in God’s existence, even sometimes praying to legendary blues musicians. He is a frequent contemplator of his past sexual experiences. He urges a young pregnant girl to follow her own conscience regarding abortion, and he openly questions God’s work in the world.

Father Ray also has some interesting friends on his inner city church staff, including an atheist and a feminist nun who insists on praying to “our mother in heaven.” Father Ray also has a closeted homosexual priest comrade who is suffering from AIDS.

The creator of this series is David Manson, and this is what he says of Father Ray: “He questions the voice of God, he urges God’s silence, he is very funny, irreverent and profane...we’re unrepentant about the choices we’ve made for the show.”

Now, folks, I have not said anything about the Walt Disney Company that owns ABC, and the reason I haven’t said anything about it is because I like Mickey Mouse. Last year we took our granddaughter to Walt Disney World. And quite frankly, I had mixed emotions about the Southern Baptist Convention boycott of the Disney Corporation at the Southern Baptist Convention in June, because I really did not see how you could just boycott Disney when so much of the movie industry and so much of television is corrupt. When Disney and ABC begins to proclaim that nothing is sacred, and when they begin to ridicule Christianity, it’s really getting close to home.

Dr. Adrian Rogers was talking about the Walt Disney Corporation in a sermon, and he said, “I feel like we have been deserted by an old friend, by someone that we could trust to provide a wholesome message to our children and to the families of America.”

He said, “You know, it’s one thing to find a rattlesnake in the woods, but it’s another thing to find a rattlesnake on the playground.”

But, you see, the world has observed that the church is an organization about like any organization. And perhaps the ridicule has come because the world has not seen the church produce any supernatural works -- and that is meant to be normal for the church -- the supernatural that is. So the world has concluded that the church is too sick to save itself, much less the world. They have declared that God is dead and they have turned to the educators and the psychiatrist and the scientists and the welfare institutions and the government for help.

But, you know, I’m not disturbed so much by the crowd that says that God is dead. The Bible took care of that a long time ago, for it declares that “the fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.” But I am concerned about those who say that God is not dead, and then go on to live as though He were dead. This is the problem with a lot of the people of the Lord.

I am literally appalled at the sins of Christians, the littleness of Christians, the depths to which some professing Christians will stoop to have their own way. If ever there was a time for personal examination in our churches, it is now.

And let me remind you that there is no little sin. Every sin is an abomination to God. Every sin quenches the Spirit. Every sin is a stumbling block to success and a barricade to blessing.

I heard about a little rat that caused a dike to collapse in England recently. After the rodent had burrowed through the embankment of a canal, water began seeping through. Slowly, but surely, the original trickle became a sizable stream. Soon one bank collapsed and a 40-foot breakthrough let the water pour out in torrents. Three million gallons of water escaped. The canal was drained for 7 miles. More than one million fish were swept away and a 20-foot gorge was channeled through a nearby field.

It took 60 men with bulldozers three weeks to shift 30,000 tons of soil and repair the damages. As one tiny rat caused the tremendous harm, so Ecclesiastes 9:18 says, “One sinner destroyeth much good.”

In the Bible you will read the story of a man by the name of Akin. Akin stole a wedge of gold, a Babylonian garment and some silver and hid them in his tent. By taking these spoils of battle, he disobeyed God. Because of his disobedience, the whole nation was defeated in battle.

Because of the sin of Jonah in rebelling against the Lord, the entire ship with all of its crew and passengers was destined for doom and death. Only when Jonah was thrown overboard was the ship, along with its people, spared.

So, you see, the sin of just one person can stem the flow of God’s blessing. The rebellion of just one can hinder the flood tide of revival from sweeping through a church.

A school teacher was telling about a very personable little boy by the name of Ronnie. Ronnie was very lovable and always a perfect little gentleman. He made splendid grades in his daily work, but became highly nervous when taking tests. One particular day after she had written the arithmetic problems for the test on the blackboard, the teacher went back to her desk. A few moments later she thought of Ronnie and looked over at him. Sure enough, his chin was quivering and tears were not far away. She got up and walked to the back of the room and then came down the aisle and stopped behind him. It took just a glance to see the mistakes he had made. She sat down by him and nudged him with her elbow and said, “Ronnie, did you add this?”

His face reddened a little as he said, “O, I forgot.”

She looked at the next one, put her finger on a figure and said, “Ronnie, did you subtract this one?”

Without a word, he corrected it.

Then as she nudged him again and got up to leave, she said, “Ronnie, don’t forget to divide the next one.”

Are not our lives very much like Ronnie’s test paper. We forget to add some of the things our Master wants us to do. We fail to subtract some of the jealousies, some of the resentments that we should have gotten rid of a long time ago. We haven’t divided with the Lord our abilities, our talents, and our time as we ought.

Consequently, our sins have become a curse upon us. The sins of God’s people have become the greatest hindrance to the flow of His richest blessings. We need to remember that the Bible says, “If we regard iniquity in our hearts, the Lord will not...”

But let us consider not only the people of the Lord, let us consider

II. The Power of the Lord

If you carefully read the book of Joel, you will come to the conclusion that Joel portrays God as majestic and awesome and powerful and holy. In fact, the name “Joel” means “Jehovah is God.”

Folks, I’m here to tell you that Jehovah is God; He is an awesome God. I was reading something recently that caused me to think about the majesty and the power of God.

Several years ago the newspaper reported that there were some astronomers who discovered the first known planet outside of our solar system. This particular planet orbits a dense star and is 12 times as massive as the earth. This planet lies in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius, and is really not very far from the center of the Milky Way.

The thing that astounded me was the observation that this new planet is somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 light years from the earth. Now, just to put that in perspective, a light year is 5.9 trillion miles. If there were some kind of super highway between here and this newly discovered planet, and you were able to get in your automobile and drive 55 mph every day, it would take you 367.7 billion years to get there.

The amazing thing is that God spoke it all into existence with a word. Though the heaven of the heavens cannot contain Him, yet He can come and dwell in my heart.

Now, I want to ask you something. Does this great God live in your heart today? He wants to come and live in your heart. Have you opened up your heart and your life to Jesus Christ? If you have not done that, you ought to do that. Just ask Him to come and dwell in your heart by the power of the Holy Spirit and you can be saved.

But I have another question. This question is for perhaps the great majority of the people who are here tonight -- for those of you who have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ in your heart. Do you sense the presence of God in your life right now?

A fellow said recently, “I know I am a Christian. I don’t have any doubt about that. But there is such a deadness in my spiritual life that it frightens me. It really does seem as if God has moved away. Perhaps He’s taken His hands off my life. Frankly, it scares me even to think about it.”

There are some of you here tonight who, if you were absolutely honest, would have to admit that the “glory,” that special sense of God’s presence -- is missing from your life. I want to say that the glory of God will be removed from your life any time that you are unwilling to come to terms with Him about any known sin.

If the definite sense of God’s presence is missing from your life, you should ask yourself these questions. Have I rejected the ways of God? Am I living in open contradiction to any of God’s known principles? Am I refusing to come to terms with God on any issue in my life? Is there anyone or anything in my life which takes precedence over God? What gets my greatest attention, my greatest time, and my greatest resources? What relationship do I treasure the most? Is there some object or activity that I actually value more than my relationship with God?

You see, dear friend, God is powerful. He is great. He is great in holiness; He is great in wisdom; He is great in redemption. He is also great in His judgment. The Bible says: “the Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:30b-31).

But having considered the people of the Lord and the power of the Lord, let us consider

III. The Prescription of the Lord

The sins of the Jewish people in Joel’s day brought on God’s judgment, and Judah experienced her “day of darkness and of gloominess” or “day of clouds and thick darkness.”

In many ways we are living in a day of darkness. We need to see the light of day. We need revival. And in our text we find the prescription of the Lord. Verse 12 is a good place to start if we would know the prescription for spiritual renewal; if we would know God’s terms for a vibrant, vital faith for renewal and restoration. Look in verses 12 and 13 of our text (read).

And then notice what he says in verses 15-17a (read).

What is going on here? What is a solemn assembly? What is the occasion for gathering the people together?

It was time for the people of Judah and Jerusalem to get right with God. It was a time for honesty. It was a time for confession.

Do you know what many Christians are like? They are like the little girl that I heard about. She knelt down by her bed one night and this was the substance of her prayer: “Lord, make me good, not too good, but just good enough so I won’t get a spanking.”

Now, I think there are many of us who are saying, “Lord, I just want somehow to hold my sin with one hand, but somehow to do some halfway job of repentance so I won’t get spanked. I want to go to heaven, I want to hold on to you with one hand, and I want to hold on to the world with my other hand.”

But, you see, what we need in our day, and what was so desperately needed in Joel’s day, was repentance. They were calling a solemn assembly in Jerusalem to encourage the people to repent and turn to God, and to become one in spirit and one in heart.


Recently a pastor friend attended a weekend prayer retreat with 45 other pastors in his city. On the first night, as he sat there, he was very skeptical about what could really happen among a group of pastors from different denominations. As a Baptist, he was very aware of the lingering animosity between his denomination and some of the area’s Pentecostal churches.

And they were going to serve communion that night. Before the communion, one of the Baptist pastors stood up and said, “I want to confess tonight that I stand here as a part of the Baptist denomination and I have to ask forgiveness of my Pentecostal brothers who are here. I fear we’ve done more than any other group in the city to quench the Spirit of God. If there is a Pentecostal brother willing to stand here at the communion table with me, I’d count it a privilege.” Moments later the Baptist pastor was joined at the communion table by a Pentecostal pastor. And this man, whom he had never met, said with humility, “Not only do I accept that apology, but I want to offer an apology on behalf of the Pentecostal church for the arrogance and the pride that somehow projects an attitude of superiority.”

And through that retreat, and through that experience, these two men became close friends, and they agreed to meet together to pray every Wednesday morning.

You see, it’s that kind of honesty and openness and confession and transparency that can produce unity and revival and the spiritual awakening for which our hearts long. Amen