Today’s selected reading is found in the Old Testament prophetic book of Joel, and more specifically, is found in the first chapter of the book. The prophetic book of Joel opens up with the word of the Lord coming unto Joel—Joel who was the son of Pethuel. Within the first verse we discover the source of the prophetic revelation, which was indeed the word of the Lord—a word which came specifically from the Lord of hosts directly to the prophet Joel. This particular prophetic book opens up by revealing the word of the Lord which came to Joel, but then immediately transitions in the second verse to the call to hear—“Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land” (Joel 1:2). Immediately following the revelation of the source of the prophetic word, as well as the recipient of the word, we find the Lord calling for a hearing within the land. THE CALL TO HEAR WITHIN THE LAND. When you read the second verse of this chapter, we find the Lord calling for the old men within the land to hear—and not only for the old men to hear, but also for the inhabitants of the land to give ear. Before the prophetic word was even released from the prophet Joel, the Lord of hosts sought to immediately arrest and captivate their attention by calling for them to hear and give ear. What’s more, is that the prophet Joel immediately begins to draw their attention to the reality and magnitude of what was in fact taking place within their days and within their generation. When the second verse draws to a close, it does so with the prophet Joel asking the inhabitants of the land—“Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?” This question is actually quite interesting and remarkable when you take the time to consider it, for that which the prophet was seeking to reveal to the inhabitants of the land was that there was something that was taking place within their generation that had not happened in times past or in previous generations. If the first reality the prophet sought to bring the inhabitants of the land to was giving ear to the message he had been given from the Lord, the second reality was a call to examine the events of that generation and actually see if anything like what they were experiencing had happened or taken place before.
If you move ahead to the second chapter of this same prophetic book, you will uncover a powerful prophetic word that helps explain and reveal the nature of the events that would not only unfold in the days to come, but were indeed beginning to be manifested during those days. The second chapter of the prophetic book of Joel begins and opens up with these words regarding what Scripture repeatedly refers to as “the day of the Lord.” Consider if you will the words and language that is found in the second chapter of this prophetic book—“Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord cometh, for it is nigh at hand; a day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains: a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations” (Joel 2:1-2). Immediately following the question of examination regarding the events that were unfolding within that generation, the prophet Joel would go on to instruct the inhabitants of the land to “tell ye your children of it, and let you children tell their children, and their children another generation” (Joel 1:3). Please pay close attention to what is being stated here in this passage of Scripture, not only was the Lord calling the inhabitants of the land to examine the events that were unfolding within that generation, but he was also calling on the inhabitants of the land to make future generations aware of what was taking place within that generation. The events that were unfolding within that generation were of such an explosive and significant nature that such events had not taken place in any generation prior to that one. The prophet Jeremiah was calling for the inhabitants of that land to pay attention to what was unfolding before them, and to not only look to the past to what had taken place in the past, but to also look toward the future and see what could possibly take place in future generations.
ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION TO THE EVENTS UNFOLDING WITHIN YOUR GENERATION? What’s so incredibly powerful about this particular passage is that within it we uncover the tremendous need to pay attention to the events that were unfolding within that generation, and to understand—and not only understand, but also discern the times in which they were living. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which Jesus spoke concerning the discerning of times, and being actively aware of what was taking place within the generation. IN the sixteenth chapter of the New Testament book of Matthew we find Jesus speaking directly to the awareness and discernment of the times in which one was living, and spoke directly to the Pharisees and the Sadducees within His generation. “The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desire him that He would shew them a sign from heaven. He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hyporcrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And He left them and departed” (Matthew 16:1-4). I am also reminded of the words which were recorded in the Old Testament book of First Chronicles concerning those men who were a part of the army of Israel who fought under David king of Israel. In the twelfth chapter of the book of First Chronicles we find a description of those men who were under the reign of David—not only as inhabitants and citizens of the land, but also as soldiers who were a part of the army. One such group and section of the army was the sons of Issachar, whom Scripture revealed something incredibly powerful. In the thirty-second verse of the twelfth chapter we read these words—“And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and their brethren were at their commandment” (1 Chronicles 12:32).
When speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees Jesus revealed something that was absolutely incredible, for Jesus actually indicted and denounced them for being able to discern the weather of the day, but they could not discern the signs of the times. When the Pharisees and Sadducees came unto Jesus, they came unto Him tempting by asking for a sign from heaven. In response to their request and temptation, Jesus proceeded to indict and condemn them their inability to discern the times in which they were living. The Pharisees and Sadducees that were present during Jesus’ generation demanded a sign on more than one occasion, yet what Jesus actually expressed as being the greater of the two needs was not so much to receive a sign, but to discern the times. Tell me—what good is receiving a sign if you still can’t discern the times? DISCERNING THE GENERATION! DISCERNING THE GENERATION IN WHICH YOU LIVE! There is something incredibly profound we encounter just prior to Jesus betrayal and subsequent trial and crucifixion—an event that is centered upon Jesus’ sitting outside of the city of Jerusalem. In the twenty-third chapter of the New Testament book of Matthew we find a tremendous indictment and word of condemnation toward and against the Pharisees and Sadducees which were present in the midst of Jesus’ generation. Towards the end of the indictment, we find Jesus expressing tremendous sorrow concerning that particular generation—words that can directly apply to generations which have proceeded after the one into which He had been sent. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 23:37-39). There is another passage that is found in the nineteenth chapter of the New Testament book of Luke that helps express this reality even further, for it is within we find Jesus drawing near to and approaching the city of Jerusalem. Consider if you will the language that is recorded beginning with the forty-first verse of this particular passage—“And when He was come near, he beheld the city and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thin eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation” (Luke 19:41-44).
UNABLE TO DISCERN THE TIMES! UNABLE TO DISCERN THE TIME OF THY VISITATION! Jesus’ words to the Pharisees concerning the discerning of the times, as well as His words concerning their inability to understand the time of their visitation are directly connected and related with each other, for the generation Jesus was sent to could not understand the time of their visitation. When we find Jesus sitting and overlooking the city of Jerusalem and weeping over it, we find Him doing so because He knew that they were completely oblivious to the time of their visitation. The generation which Jesus came unto and was sent to was a generation that could not discern the signs of the times, and were unable to recognize and understand the hour and time of their visitation. In fact, you will read Jesus proclaiming unto that generation, saying, “If thou hadst known.” Please pay close attention to this, for these words provide a tremendous indictment within this generation. IF YOU HAD ONLY KNOWN! IF YOU HAD ONLY BEEN PAYING ATTENTION! IF YOU HAD ONLY BEEN LISTENING! IF YOU HAD ONLY BEEN WATCHING! I can’t help but hear the Spirit of the Lord speaking to this generation and pleading with this generation to rise up and to begin listening to that which is taking place within and upon the earth. I can’t help but get the strongest sense that the Spirit of the Lord is pleading with this generation to begin watching and paying attention to the events which are unfolding before them—events which had not occurred in generations before. The question I can’t help but wonder as I sit here right now is how many men and women within this generation are actually listening and paying attention to what is taking place within and upon the earth. How many men and women are actually watching and paying attention to that which is taking place and unfolding before our very eyes? Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem—not only because they could not discern the times, but also because they did not understand the time of their visitation. There is a tremendous part of me that believes that two of the greatest needs we have in this generation is centered upon our discerning the times, and our understanding the time of our visitation. In this final generation, I believe with everything inside of me that we desperately need “sons of Issachar”—those who are not only aware of the times in which we are living, but also understand the times, and know what ought to be done.
When I read and consider the reality surrounding the sons of Issachar, I can’t help but consider the reality that there is not only a great need to understand the times, but with that understanding should inevitably come a knowledge of what ought to be done. John the Baptist understood the times in which he was sent, and He emphatically proclaimed and declared what ought to be done during that generation. In the third chapter of the New Testament book of Luke we find an account regarding the ministry of John the Baptist, and his declaration to those who came unto him—a declaration that revealed unto them concerning the days and generation in which they were living, and what was needed from them. “Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: ever tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. Then came also the publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, master, what shall we do? And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you. And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:7-14). When John the Baptist emerged on to the scene and engaged in public ministry, he not only recognized and understood the times, but he understood what needed to be done. What I absolutely love about this particular passage in the book of Luke is that when John was asked what should be done within the generation, he didn’t even blink or bat an eye. John the Baptist didn’t even skip or miss a beat when it came to expressing what was needed during that generation.
One question I can’t help but think when sitting here right now is how many of us are truly sons after the order of Issachar. How many of us not only understand the times in which we are living, but we also understand what ought to be done? I am convinced that it’s not enough for us to simply understand the times, but to actually know what ought to be done in the midst of these times. Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem because they did not understand the time of their visitation, and I would dare position that it was precisely because they didn’t understand the time of their visitation that they did not understand or know what ought to be done. This is quite honestly what makes the questions which were asked of John the Baptist so incredibly important and powerful, for their questions centered upon what they should do in the midst of that generation. They heard the words which he had preached and proclaimed, and they watched as he baptized men and women in the waters of the Jordan River, and they sought to understand what was needed and required of them. I absolutely love that John the Baptist was able to emphatically and with authority proclaim unto them that which was needed from them within that generation. What’s more was that if they understood what was needed and required of them, they would then in turn be prepared to encounter the Messiah who was present among them within that generation. John the Baptist came preaching unto those within that generation a message that was centered upon the need for repentance and the manifestation of the kingdom of heaven and of God. Both John the Baptist and Jesus recognized and understood the days and times in which they were living, and understood that in order to be positioned correctly within that generation, there was a tremendous need for repentance. What’s more, is that the baptism of John was a baptism of repentance which positioned men and women—not only for the manifestation of the kingdom of heaven, but also to receive Jesus the Christ. There is a part of me that can’t help but wonder how many Pharisees would have considered getting baptize—either by John the Baptist or Jesus the Christ.
ARE YOU WILLING TO LAY ASIDE YOUR GARMENTS THAT YE MIGHT BE BAPTIZED? ARE YOU WILLING TO LAY ASIDE YOUR GARMENTS IN ORDER THAT YOU MIGHT FIND THAT PLACE OF REPENTANCE AND PREPARATION BEFORE THE LORD? Perhaps one of the thoughts that I find absolutely intriguing about the baptism of John the Baptist is that the Pharisees and Sadducees were present during that time. In fact, you will read of some of the Pharisees and the religious system of that day coming unto John the Baptist inquiring to his Idenity. Undoubtedly there were a number of Pharisees and religious leaders who knew and were aware of the ministry of John the Baptist, and of his preaching of repentance, and of the baptism of repentance. What I can’t get out of my mind is that I would venture to say that there were very few—if any—Pharisees, priests, scribes, elders and Saudducees who were willing to lay aside their garments and immerse themselves in the waters of baptism. When we consider the baptism of John we tend to think of it as being available only to common folk, and while this is true—it’s not entirely true. I am convinced that John’s baptism was available to all those present during that generation—from the Pharisee to the Sadducees, from the Roman soldier to the tax collector, from the priest to the prostitute, from the lame to the deaf, and so on and so forth. What I find myself thinking about is how many Roman soldiers were willing to lay aside their armor in order that they might immerse themselves in the waters of baptism. How many priests were willing to lay aside their garments in order that they might immerse themselves in the waters of baptism. What we must understand is that baptism wasn’t an Old Testament practice that men and women were accustom to practicing. The baptism of John was a precursor—a prelude and preparation if you will—to the reception of the Messiah and to the manifestation of the kingdom of heaven. With that being said, it is imperative that we recognize and understand that baptism was an invitation to all who would be wiling to accept it and give themselves over to it. John came preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins—something that was altogether new for those within that generation. Those who were present during that generation were not only about to experience the greatest visitation and manifestation any generation had experienced up until that time, and tragically, there were countless men and women from that generation who not only discerned the signs of the times, but who also didn’t understand the time of their visitation. There were priests who missed the time of their visitation because they weren’t wiling to lay and put side their garments and Roberts. There were Pharisees and Sadducees who missed the time of their visitation because they weren’t willing to lay aside their garments. There were Roman soldiers who missed the time of visitation because they were unwilling to lay aside their armor.
Lest we consider—even for a moment—that John’s baptism of repentance wasn’t available to the priests, or the Pharisees, or the Sadducees, we must take into consideration the third chapter of the gospel according to John. It is within that chapter where we uncover a man by the name of Nicodemus who was secretly a disciple of Jesus Christ, although he was a Pharisee. Lest we consider for a moment that Roman soldiers were not and could not be prepared for the manifestation of the kingdom of heaven, we must consider the Roman centurion who sent to Jesus in order to bring healing to his servant. What’s more, is that Matthew—although he was a Jew by heritage and lineage—was a Roman tax collector, and Matthew was chosen to be one of the disciples of Jesus. I am convinced that John’s baptism of repentance for the remission of sins was available to priest and Pharisee alike, as well as Roman soldier and tax collector alike. The question we are confronted with is whether or not we are willing to lay aside that which has defined us in order that we might experience the manifestation of the kingdom of heaven in our midst. I am convinced that the priests who ministered during Jesus’ day could have experienced baptism unto repentance just like any other man or woman who came unto John in the wilderness. Similarly, any one from among the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and elders could have experienced the baptism of John the baptism unto repentance through the immersion in water. It is a tragic and dangerous day when priests of the Lord are so caught up and consumed with their ministry before the Lord that they can’t see their need for repentance. It is a tragic and dangerous day when those within the religious community are so caught up and bound in their own self-righteousness, their own legalism, and their own hypocrisy, that they can’t see their need for repentance. It’s a tragic day when soldiers among us—those who may very well be perceived as being the strong and powerful ones among us—believe that they have absolutely no need for repentance before the Lord. I believe with all my heart that the priests could have laid aside their garments, the Pharisees could have laid aside their robes, and the soldiers could have laid aside their armor in order that they might experience the baptism of John unto repentance.
What confirms this reality all the more is a passage contained within the Old Testament that for many might be an obscure passage. In the fifth chapter of the Old Testament book of Second Kings we find the account of Naaman who was captain of the host of the king of Syria. The account records how Naaman was a great man with his master, and honourable, because the Lord had given deliverance unto Syria. What Scripture also tells us, however, was that while Naaman was a mighty man of valour, he was a leper. Scripture records how the Syrians had gone out in companies, and in the process had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid who waited on Naaman’s wife. What’s so incredible about this little maid was that she would be strategically placed in the midst of Gentiles, and from that place would help bring about Naaman’s healing. Listen to the words which she spoke unto Naaman’s wife—“Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! For he would recover him of his leprosy.” Scripture would record how Namaan would get the approval and blessing of the king to go unto Israel and unto the prophet Elisha in order that he might be recovered of his leprosy. Naaman came unto Elisha with horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. When Naaman arrived at the house of Elisha, Elisha sent a messenger unto him to go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and upon doing so, his flesh would come again to him, and he would be clean. At first Naaman wrestled with this concept, for he thought within himself that Elisha would come out unto him, stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place of the leprosy, and he would be cleansed. Oh, how many men and women among us find themselves experiencing this same mindset when they think of and perceive the acts and actions of the Lord. They expect the Lord to move and operate in one way, and yet that which he actually chooses to do is completely different. While it is true that Naaman at first refused to do what the prophet had commanded, but would later go down to the Jordan River according to the word of the Lord and dip himself seven times. There is not a doubt in my mind that in order to perform this act, Naaman would have had to lay aside at least some portion of his garments in order to place himself within the water. The reason I use this particular passage is because I am convinced that it reveals to us the powerful reality that both priest and Levite alike, both Pharisee and Sadducee alike, and both Roman centurion and tax collector alike could have laid aside their garments in order that they might enter into the baptism of John unto repentance for the remission of sins.
Now, I fully recognize that you might be reading this passage and thinking how any of this could have anything to do with the prophetic word that is found within the book of Joel, but the first chapter of this Old Testament book asks the inhabitants of the land to examine the events that were taking place within their generation, and to see if anything like it had happened in previous days and generations. The prophet would go on to speak of that which the palmerworm hath left the locust had eaten; and that which the locust hath left the cankerworm hath eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left the caterpillar hath eaten. IN the fifth verse the prophet goes on to speak of how the new wine was cut out from their mouth, while in the very next verse the prophet goes on to speak of a nation coming up upon the Lord’s land, strong and without number, whose teeth were the teeth of a lion, and which had the cheek teeth of a great lion. That which the prophet Joel was calling the inhabitants of the land to become aware of and pay attention is not on lay that the new wine had been cut off, and that the meat offering and the drink offering were cut off from the house of the Lord, but that there was an enemy and adversary—a nation strong and mighty—that was coming up upon the land. In other words, there was a great threat that was growing increasingly dangerous during that generation. The prophet was calling those present during that generation to examine what was taking place among them in that generation and from that place to find repentance before the Lord of hosts. I am convinced that what we read in this prophetic book is a powerful warning in this generation concerning that which is unfolding in our generation. The Spirit of the Lord is calling us to a place of not only understanding the time of visitation, but to also discern the signs of the times. There is a tremendous call for sons and daughters of Issachar to awaken in this generation, and to understand what ought to be done. What ought to be done is what I choose to conclude this writing with—“Gird yourselves, and lament, ye priests: howl, ye ministers of the altar: come, lie all night in sackcloth, ye ministers of my God: for the meat offering and the drink offering is withholden from the house of your God. Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry unto the Lord, Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty it shall come” (Joel 1:13-15). There is a tremendous beckoning and call in this generation to cry unto the Lord, to lie all night in sackcloth, to sanctify a fast, and to call a solemn assembly where we come together in repentance before the Lord. Let us this day lay aside any garments and robes that are keeping us from experiencing that which would bring us into the place where we experience the manifestation of the kingdom of God, and ultimately—prepare us for the soon coming and imminent return of Jesus the Christ.