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4501 Waller Rd E
Tacoma, Washington
INI
The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
November 15, 2015
Ascension Lutheran Church, Tacoma WA
Paul Naumann, Pastor

IT'S NOT TOO LATE
Joel 2:12-14

To Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. Our text for today is found in Joel 2:12-14, as follows (NIV):

'Even now,' declares the LORD, 'return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.' Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing-- grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God. So far the text.

In the Name of Jesus Christ, Who even now invites us to partake of His redemption, Dear Fellow Redeemed,

It was the famous American general Douglas Macarthur who said, "In war all tragedy can be summarized in two words, 'too late.' Too late perceiving, too late preparing for danger." No doubt he was right. If the Confederate army had arrived at Gettysburg six hours earlier than it did, there might now be two Americas rather than one. If the British invaders had arrived at the Gallipoli Peninsula even a few hours before they did, there would have been no Turkish reinforcements barring their way, and WW I might have been shortened by two years and millions of lives. If Hitler hadn't delayed a crucial 24 hours before sending his Stuka dive bombers to the beaches of Dunkirk, his conquests might have gone on and on, rather than ending as they did in shameful ignominy in a bunker in Berlin. They all had one thing in common: they were too late.

When you and I are too late for something, it's normally not as great a tragedy as this. Usually it's simply a matter of rescheduling an appointment that we missed, or apologizing to the hosts of a dinner party, or resigning ourselves to having missed the first five minutes of the movie. But there's one area in your life - and the life of every human being, - where delay can be fatal. And that's repenting of our sins and turning to God for salvation. Maybe you've been delaying dealing with certain sins in your life. Maybe you haven't been taking them seriously enough. Or perhaps you feel the other way - like it's already too late. Like you've gone past the point of no return and that nothing can save you now. Never fear! In this morning's text we hear from the prophet Joel, and his message is great news:

IT'S NOT TOO LATE
I. …to repent of your sins
II. … to trust in God's grace
III. …to expect His blessing.


The prophet Joel lived and worked in the southern kingdom of Judah. Like the other prophets, God sent him to call a wayward nation to repentance. In the verses leading up to our text, Joel describes the divine chastisement that the people had brought upon themselves because of their idolatry. A terrible plague of locusts had descended on the land. Of course, locust infestations were not uncommon in the ancient Near East, as you'll know if you read much in the Old Testament. But this one was different. This was an event of catastrophic proportions. As the book of Joel opens, the elders were called in and asked if any could ever remember a more severe situation than this. None of them could. This would be a benchmark catastrophe for generations to come.

Picture in your mind the land destroyed, peeled of every green plant by armies of huge grasshoppers. Joel writes, The land is like the Garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness. …What the chewing locust left, the swarming locus has eaten, what the swarming locust left, the crawling locust has eaten; And what the crawling locust left, the consuming locust has eaten.

The locusts did more than consume the crops -- they completely destroyed the economy. This very naturally brought despair to the people. How would you feel? We've been going through some tough economic times in this country lately, but nothing compared to the hardship they endured. How would you feel if something happened that took away your income for a whole year, and threatened to impoverish your family for years to come? If not kill you altogether: starvation was a real possibility. When the people looked around them they saw nothing but empty fields and pastures; trees stripped of leaves and bark. There wasn't much, really, that Joel needed to add. The devastated landscape was the more eloquent than any sermon he could preach. Here was proof for a stubborn and idolatrous people that sin does have consequences, that God will not be mocked, that rebellion against the Lord leads to nothing but bitter woe.

It was late. To the people of Judah it may have seemed like it was too late. The damage was done. The future seemed to hold only despair and death. But what was Joel's message to the people? IT'S NOT TOO LATE. It's not to late to repent of your sins. 'Even now,' declares the LORD, 'return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.'

Repentance was called for. But Joel made it clear that a half-hearted repentance would not do. Return…with fasting and weeping and mourning.' Rend your heart and not your garments. You know how important repentance is to the Christian faith - you can't have sat beneath this pulpit for many weeks without learning that. But what kind of repentance do you exhibit over your sins? A half-hearted, mumbled prayer now and again? A vague feeling that you really haven't been the person you ought to have been? Are you like those Pharisees who made their faces look sad on purpose, so that that people would think they were repentant? Are you like Caiaphas, who went through the formality of tearing his garment even as he was condemning the Son of God to death? Joel says, Rend your heart and not your garments. Let your repentance be sincere. If you need any help, review the Ten Commandments and hear the thunder of God's Law against your sin. The Bible says, "A broken and a contrite heart, these O God you will not despise."

Repentance is called for. Grace is available. But you should know that there is a limit. The tale is told of Saxon king who put down a rebellion in a distant province of his kingdom. When the battle was over, the captured rebels were paraded before his castle. The king placed a burning candle in the archway of the castle and announced that all who had rebelled would be spared if they would put down their arms and take an oath of loyalty to the king. Clemency and mercy were offered, but the offer was limited to the life of the candle.

It's late. Is it too late for you? Is the candle still burning, or has it gone out? You need an answer! Because it's an awful feeling when you suddenly realize you've passed the point of no return. When the arrow is released and you can see it speeding toward its target, and realize that there is nothing you can do to get it back. When you accelerate through the yellow light -- and then hear screeching tires approach from the side. Have you ever had that feeling over your sin? Where the act has been committed and now follows the terrible consequences, and the haunting remorse and guilt. That's one of the worst things there is. But it's not the worst. Imagine if you will how the lost will feel on the Day of Judgment. Imagine the horrified realization, the sudden remorse, the hopeless despair! To suddenly realize that one's time of grace is past and your opportunities have all been squandered. When it truly is too late. When you finally realize how much you need Jesus, but it's too late to receive Him. Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. -- Mt 25:41.

The hour is late. Judgment is coming; it may lie even now at the door. Is it too late? No! Joel's message is that it's not too late to turn to God in repentance. And it's not too late to trust in His grace.

Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. At this point the people of Judah might have wondered, What's the use? The drought and locusts have left us devastated. What hope is left? But then you have to remember what kind of God our true God is. He is gracious and compassionate. Compassionate is an interesting word. It comes from the Hebrew word for womb. It pictures the powerful bond of love that exists between a mother and her child. Surely there's no stronger love in the world than that, is there? There is - it's the love that our compassionate God has for us. For the Lord says through Isaiah, "Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, but I will not forget you." -- Is 49:15.

God is also "slow to anger." In other words, He has a very long fuse. His patience and kindness are greater than anything we can imagine. In fact, His patience is so great, Peter tells us, that unbelievers sometimes mistake God's patience for indifference. God patiently puts up with so much evil in our world so that more and more people can be saved.

God is merciful and God is patient. But there was one day - a dark Friday on a hill outside Jerusalem - when His mercy and patience ran out. There, the devastation was more severe than any plague of locusts or any other judgment ever to befall this earth. For on that day the only truly innocent Person who ever lived became the solitary object of God's anger over sin. On Calvary's cross, Jesus passed the point of no return. There God charged Him with the sins of all people. There God condemned Him to endure the very torments of hell on the cross. His only beloved Son cried out, My God, My God, Why have You forsaken Me? No one had ever seen a sight like this before because no one on earth has ever witnessed the full fury of God's anger over sin.

Ironically, the very reason it happened is because God is so merciful and patient. Rather than punishing us for our sins, God placed them on the shoulders of Jesus and punished Him. Rather than lose patience with us, God lost patience with Jesus in our place. And when He rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, Jesus proved once and for all that it is not too late. As long as you are alive, there is still forgiveness to be had for you. Behold, NOW is the accepted time. NOW is the day of salvation. -- 2 Cor 6:2.. Come to Jesus now, don't wait. If your sins are great, don't be afraid. For Scripture says, Where sin abounded, there grace abounded much more. It's not too late to trust in God's grace.

Finally, it's not too late to expect God's blessing. What do you tell someone whose livelihood has just been wiped out? As they look around and see everything they worked for and depended on destroyed? On April 25 Nepal was struck with a devastating earthquake, killing over 9000 and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. Several members of our Himalayan Church of the Lutheran Confession were killed, and many HCLC members lost all their earthly possessions. It's hard for us, in this prosperous country, to even imagine what that would be like. But it wasn't hard for the people of Judah - they experienced it. They saw their crops ruined , their land barren and their hopes shattered. Well, what did Joel tell them? Return to the Lord... For who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing-- grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God.

There is a brief Hebrew phrase in this verse that I wish we all could memorize. It's me yodeyah -- "Who knows?" You hear that phrase a lot, don't you? "Do you think the Seahawks will win tonight?" "Who knows?" -But you seldom hear that phrase uttered in faith. In reality, when spoken by a believer, it can be the answer to so many of life's questions, and it's a great answer. How is the Lord going to bail me out of the latest problem I've brought upon myself? Who knows? All I know is that He will. What kind of blessings will the Lord pour into my life tomorrow, and next week, and next year? Who knows? All I know is that He will, and that His bounty and His generosity will take my breath away. It always has in the past!

Paul asks, He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?. --Rom 8:32. God has already given His only Son for you. He has already forgiven you your every sin. What other great blessings does He have in store for you? Who knows? The sky's the limit! He has promised that He will make all things work together for your eternal good. Even when your problem is self-inflicted, God has both the power and love to make things ultimately work out for your good. The locusts left behind them nothing but desolation, but when the Lord enters with His grace, He always leaves behind an abundant blessing. God not only forgives us, He blots our transgressions from the record, and fills our lives with blessing. Praise God that, for Jesus' sake, God's eternal book now contains no record at all of your sin. Instead, all it contains is a reservation, in your name, for the eternal mansions of heaven!

The pioneering American poet, John Greenleaf Whittier, once said, "Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: 'It might have been!'" How sad that so many people around us are moving blindly toward eternal Judgment, without Christ and without hope. What bitter and terrible regret and despair will be theirs on the Last Day! But how wonderful it is that God has opened our eyes! How wonderful that God has revealed to us the way of salvation and eternal life in the face of our Savior Jesus! Because of what Jesus did on Calvary, you and I will never ever have to say those sad and bitter words, "It might have been." And what a wonderful opportunity we, the rescued, now have to extend the hand of rescue to others! It's not too late. Let us work while it is day, for the night comes when no man can work. Even now, it's not too late! Let's carry to our friends and neighbors, our acquaintances and our coworkers, the Good News that the Holy Spirit has planted in our hearts. Let's tell them: "Even now, even for you, it's not too late! To repent of your sins, to trust in God's grace, and to expect - in Jesus Christ - the very richest blessings imaginable! It's not too late. AMEN.