New Creation, Exodus, and Kingdom

Scripture Focus: John 1.4, 29
4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Joel 2.12, 30-32a
12 “Even now,” declares the Lord, 
“return to me with all your heart, 
with fasting and weeping and mourning.” 

30 I will show wonders in the heavens 
and on the earth, 
blood and fire and billows of smoke. 
31 The sun will be turned to darkness 
and the moon to blood 
before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. 
32 And everyone who calls 
on the name of the Lord will be saved; 
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem 
there will be deliverance

Reflection: New Creation, Exodus, and Kingdom
By John Tillman

The gospels are uniquely marked by the character and style of their authors. 

Mark is like an on-the-scene reporter, chasing down the action and describing what just happened. Matthew is like a measured legal commentator, stating Jesus’ legal case as the Messiah in the Sunday New York Times. Luke, together with Acts, is like a Ken Burns documentary with investigative rigor and long, revealing conversations with experts. John is like an art-house film with heavy symbolism, strange camera angles, and asynchronous storytelling.

John carefully connects the beginning of his gospel with the beginning of Genesis and the story of the Exodus. He poetically quotes or imitates words, thoughts, and ideas from these texts. If these texts were songs, John would be singing his lyrics to the same melody. 

John’s gospel tells us that a new creation is beginning with light being spoken into the darkness. He tells us that a new exodus is beginning with a crushing defeat for the empire of death and a stunning escape through the depths of the sea—a common symbol of the grave.

The New Testament, and particularly the gospels, do not erase the Old Testament. If anything they turn up the volume and remix the message in a new way. Jesus said he came to “complete” not abolish the scriptures.

Today, called Good Friday in the church calendar, is a day when Jesus partly completed many Old Testament prophecies, including portions of Joel’s account of the Day of the Lord. 

Darkness, blood, earthquakes, resurrections, and the tearing of the curtain of the Temple all occurred during the crucifixion. These wonders upon the earth caught the attention of even the jaded executioners of Jesus. One centurion stood in front of Jesus when he died and seeing all that happened, proclaimed Jesus the righteous Son of God. (Matthew 27.54; Mark 15.39; Luke 23.47)

The darkness of Good Friday catches our attention, pulling our eyes off of anything that might distract us from the coming explosion of light that the resurrection will be. Joel says, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved…on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance…”

Let us stand, awestruck, before the cross today and say, “This is the righteous Son of God.” This is the beginning of the new creation, the new exodus, and the establishment of the kingdom of Heaven.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me and are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress? — Psalm 22.1

Today’s Readings
Joel 2 (Listen – 1:39)
John 1 (Listen -6:18)

This Weekend’s Readings
Joel 3 (Listen – 3:20)John 2 (Listen -3:02)
Amos 1 (Listen – 2:38)John 3 (Listen -4:41)

Read more about Unprecedented Spirit
The very Spirit promised in Joel and poured out in Acts is a deposit, a guarantee, of the inheritance God has for each of us in Christ.

Read more about Love in His Name
Jesus enters a world rightly his, a world he lovingly created, and a world he now prepares, lovingly, to save.

Unprecedented Peace

Scripture Focus: Joel 3.9-11
9 Proclaim this among the nations: 
Prepare for war! 
Rouse the warriors! 
Let all the fighting men draw near and attack. 
10 Beat your plowshares into swords 
and your pruning hooks into spears. 
Let the weakling say, 
“I am strong!” 
11 Come quickly, all you nations from every side, 
and assemble there. 

Reflection: Unprecedented Peace
By John Tillman

“Beat your plowshares into swords.” is part of a challenge God issues to the nations and it sounds like the taunts of brash pro-wrestlers. 

“Gather all your best warriors. You are all weak, compared to me! But for the moment, fool yourself and say ‘I’m strong.” Grab that plowshare. Make a sword out of it. Grab a metal chair and take your best shot. Weaponize everything. You want a fight? Come and get it..” — based on Joel 3.9-13

Sinful nations need few excuses to turn resources of cultivation into resources of destruction. Rather than plant and grow, they prefer to slash and burn and kill. With this sarcastic taunt, God turns them over to their sin. 

If there is one area in which humanity can be relied upon to spare no expense, it is war. Many nations, not just those of crackpot dictators, allow their populations to suffer or even starve in order to spend more on war. Even peaceful countries which go to war, lose any shyness about deficits. Going all in on war is the default setting.

This is also true in wars of rhetoric. We see this in our culture’s online dialogue. In desperation, every scrap of information is weaponized and our debt to truth is defaulted. We keep beating on conspiracies until we mistake them for a sword of truth.

One group which suffers when leaders dive anxiously into war is soldiers. Most veterans see their service as an honor and spend the majority of their time securing the peace. But honorable soldiers often die in service of dishonorable leadership.

“Beat your plowshares into swords” is not a call for God’s people to answer. This is why Isaiah and Micah both reverse Joel’s warlike taunt, making it a promise of peace, highlighting God’s incredible mercy and redemption. (Joel 3.10; Isaiah 2.4; Micah 4.3) God will put an end to war. 

This reversal is only possible because of Jesus. Without Jesus, we are at war and enemies with God. (Job 19.11; Psalm 68.21; Romans 5.10; Philippians 3.18; Colossians 1.21) Christ not only makes peace with us but makes us agents of peace. (Philippians 4.2-7) This unprecedented peace beyond all understanding, helps us intercede in conflict to make peace.

War is so entrenched in our culture. Violence so widely lauded as a solution. Christians can shine in darkness by clinging to our identity as people of peace.

May we beat our swords into plowshares.
May we make tools of destruction into implements of cultivation.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Rescue me from the hurtful sword and deliver me from the hand of foreign peoples,
Whose mouths speak deceitfully and whose right hand is raised in falsehood… — Psalm 144.11.12

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings

Joel 3 (Listen – 3:20)
Psalm 143 (Listen – 1:34)

Read more about Unexpected Contents of God’s Cup of Wrath
God punishes us, more often than not, by handing us the bottle of our bad choices and letting us drink up.

Read more about Transcendent Peace and Rest
This is a spiritual rest that can exist in the midst of strenuous activity. It is transcendent rest, that is unassailable by physical suffering.

Unprecedented Spirit

Scripture Focus: Joel 2.32
And everyone who calls 
on the name of the LORD will be saved; 
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem 
there will be deliverance, 
as the LORD has said, 
even among the survivors 
whom the LORD calls. 

Psalm 142.5
5 I cry to you, LORD; 
I say, “You are my refuge, 
my portion in the land of the living.” 

Acts 2.39
39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Reflection: Unprecedented Spirit
By John Tillman

When joyous prophets pour into the streets, people want to know why. This is especially true if this joy comes at a time of suffering, a time of oppression, and a time of sadness.
This was the situation in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit directed Peter to Joel to describe the experience of being filled with the Spirit of God and explain why men and women, sons and daughters, were prophesying in the streets. (Acts 2.2-21

Peter’s audience would have also been familiar with the locust images in Joel’s description of the Babylonian invasion. The Roman legions Peter’s contemporaries were familiar with would, perhaps be an even better visual match than the Babylonians had been for Joel’s images of locusts marching in perfect rows of chitinous, armored doom.

Joel’s prophecy was multilayered in meaning. It referred to the near future of the Babylonian invasion. It also foresaw the far future in which the Lord’s armies will destroy evil, dispelling and disposing of the armies of the opposing empires of this world. Afterward, God will cause growth and abundance to replace barrenness and want.  

God himself will repay the suffering caused by evil upon the earth. The explanation for the significance of this prophecy’s fulfillment is also a part of Peter’s Pentecost sermon. God’s victory over evil, his repayment for loss, and the coming of the Holy Spirit to all who call upon him are all direct outcomes of the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

The very Spirit promised in Joel and poured out in Acts is a deposit, a guarantee, of the inheritance God has for each of us in Christ. (2 Corinthians 1.22; 5.5; Ephesians 1.13-14)

No matter the disaster that seems to surround us or is on its way, there is time to turn to the Lord. There is a time when he will relent. There is always a time when the Lord will relent.

But relenting only comes after repenting. No matter what we have done in the past, up to and including murdering his only son, we can repent and return to God. And the time for repentance is now. It is always now. 

The pouring out of God’s Spirit comes after repentance. It always comes after repentance.

May that day be soon.

And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved… — Joel 2.32

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Remain in me, as I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, unless it remains part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches.” — John 15.4-5

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Joel 2 (Listen – 5:26)
Psalm 142 (Listen – 1:01)

Read more Rend Your Hearts
God will replace what is lost—including replacing our hearts of stone with the pierced-heart of Jesus.

Read more about The Radical Procedure of the Gospel
It’s lovely to think of God giving us a new heart and putting a new Spirit within us. But it is terrifying to admit to the diagnoses that would lead to such a radical procedure.


Scripture Focus: Joel 1.2-3
2 Hear this, you elders; 
listen, all who live in the land. 
Has anything like this ever happened in your days 
or in the days of your ancestors? 
3 Tell it to your children, 
and let your children tell it to their children, 
and their children to the next generation. 

Reflection: Unprecedented
By John Tillman

It’s unprecedented how often we’ve used the word “unprecedented” in the past few months. 

“Unprecedented” would fit well in Joel’s narrative. He described a plague of locusts unlike anything seen before…except it wasn’t quite. Joel seems to intentionally reference language similar to when God used locusts (and other plagues) to bring the people out of Egyptian slavery. He repeats that they should tell “their children and their children.” (Exodus 10.1-2

Joel senses that something has gone wrong. These locusts are sent against God’s people. Joel doesn’t waste time blaming the locusts. He knows the problem is in the hearts of the people.

The Israelites were intended to tell future generations how God brought plagues on Egypt that they would “know that I am the Lord.” (Exodus 10.1-2) They had been told to “ask about the former days” (Deuteronomy 4.32-40) to see if God had ever done anything so great for any people. But now it seems the future generations, settled comfortably in their own land, have forgotten the Lord. They have taken for granted the immense privilege and wealth they have as people chosen by God.

God, in judgment, institutes a fast through the destruction of the plague. The people had no food. The animals had no food. The priests themselves, who were fed by the offerings of the people, had no food because there was no food to be offered.

In response to unprecedented times, Joel encourages the people to enter into a time of unprecedented prayer and repentance. 

We, like Joel, should be able to sense when something has gone wrong. Christians should be sensitive to the Holy Spirit when unprecedented pressures, difficulties, and struggles arise. 

When we have forgotten our liberation from sin by Christ’s mercy, when we have been unfaithful to pass on the story of the gospel to the current generation, we may soon have a new story to pass on about the loving, yet terrible, discipline of God.

Not every crisis is a judgment. Some tragedies are simply the result of the fallen world and raging spiritual forces. But we would be wise to look first to our own hearts and our own sins for the cause rather than blaming outside forces or the sins of unbelievers. 

May we engage in unprecedented prayer, repentance, and service to others who are suffering. (Joel 1.13-14)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
“Because the needy are oppressed, and the poor cry out in misery, I will rise up,” says the Lord, “ And give them the help they long for.” — Psalm 12.5

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Joel 1 (Listen – 2:59)
Psalm 140-141 (Listen – 2:44)

Read more about Facing a Biblical Disaster
2020 has brought multiple disasters described as being of “biblical proportions.”

Read more about Apocalypse, How?
We have apocalypses all wrong. Apocalypsis, does not mean destruction or the end of anything…Jesus told his disciples that he would “apocalypse” the father to them.

Rend Your Hearts

Joel 2.12-13
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.

From John:
This weekend we read through the short book of Joel. Some books of the Bible are like towns off the beaten path that you only go to if you really want to. One of the benefits of a whole-Bible reading plan is not skipping over these uncommon destinations. Thank you for being a part of walking through God’s Word with our community.

Reflection: Rend Your Hearts
By John Tillman

Joel may be one of the least read books of the Bible, but other biblical authors certainly knew it well. In fact, Joel’s most famous passages are familiar because other biblical authors quote them or allude to them.

Joel is thought to be one of the early books of prophecy chronologically, and many other prophets pick up on Joel’s language, repeating the themes he introduces…
He speaks of The Day of the Lord as a dark day of judgement…
He speaks of the pouring out of God’s Spirit on men and women…
He foretells drought, a consuming fire, and a swarming, undefeatable army pictured as locusts, with God riding at the head of their columns…
He speaks of beating plowshares into swords and pruning hooks into spears. (A phrase which 100 years later Isaiah and his contemporary, Micah will reverse.)

Historians debate whether Joel’s locusts were allegorical or literal, but there is no doubt that the destruction comes from God in response to sin, and that this same God “relents from sending calamity.”

Joel tells people throughout Jerusalem to mourn and repent in traditional ways, which included to weep and to wail, to rend their garments and wear sackcloth. Then in chapter two he pivots, saying, “Rend your heart and not your garments.”

In ancient times, rending one’s clothing was a public sign of mourning or repentance. This formalized mourning might be due to the death of a family member, a personal crisis, or in response to more widespread events such as a national emergency or natural disaster.

Our modern world has nearly eliminated traditional social norms of mourning. Yet, we still use social media to engage in an approximate modern equivalent of rending one’s clothing. On many platforms our “cover” photos and profile photos are the outer garments that cover us and show the face we choose to the world. Like garments, they conceal and reveal. We can use them to feign happiness or signal our virtuous struggles and suffering.

Joel’s admonition is to go beyond public signals of mourning or confession. It is our heart that we must rend in mourning and confession, because God looks at the heart, not our outward appearance. When we rend our heart in community with others, we invite God’s power to work in us for redemption and restoration. As God speaks through Joel, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten…”

God will replace what is lost—including replacing our hearts of stone with the pierced-heart of Jesus.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
I call with my whole heart; answer me, O Lord, that I may keep your statutes. — Psalm 119.145

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Joel 1 (Listen – 2:59)
Psalm 140-141 (Listen – 2:44)

This Weekend’s Readings
Joel 2 (Listen – 5:26) Psalm 142 (Listen – 1:01)
Joel 3 (Listen – 3:20) Psalm 143 (Listen – 1:34)

Additional Reading
Read More about The Radical Procedure of the Gospel
It’s lovely to think of God giving us a new heart and putting a new Spirit within us. But it is terrifying to admit to the diagnoses that would lead to such a radical procedure.

Read More about Where Our Hearts Are
No matter how distracted we become, and no matter how often we misplace our hearts—serving gods of mammon, fashion, and culture—God won’t forget us. He stands ready for us to return to him.

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