October 25, 2008

The Valley of Decision - Oct 26 , 2008

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, Amen. Our text this morning comes from the third chapter of the Old Testament book of Joel, beginning with the ninth verse, as follows:

Joel 3:9-17 (NKJV)

9 Proclaim this among the nations:
“Prepare for war!
Wake up the mighty men,
Let all the men of war draw near,
Let them come up.
10 Beat your plowshares into swords
And your pruning hooks into spears;
Let the weak say, ‘I am strong.’”
11 Assemble and come, all you nations,
And gather together all around.
Cause Your mighty ones to go down there, O LORD.
12 “Let the nations be wakened, and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat;
For there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations.
13 Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.
Come, go down;
For the winepress is full,
The vats overflow—
For their wickedness is great.”
14 Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision!
For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.
15 The sun and moon will grow dark,
And the stars will diminish their brightness.
16 The LORD also will roar from Zion,
And utter His voice from Jerusalem;
The heavens and earth will shake;
But the LORD will be a shelter for His people,
And the strength of the children of Israel.
17 “So you shall know that I am the LORD your God,
Dwelling in Zion My holy mountain.
Then Jerusalem shall be holy,
And no aliens shall ever pass through her again.”

These are the Words. In Christ Jesus, our Shelter and our Refuge, Dear Fellow Redeemed,

Americans have fought battles in many famous valleys - Valley Forge, the valley of the Somme in France, the Ruhr Valley in Germany. But no battle is more famous among Americans than the one that took place in a quiet valley near the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The date was July 3, 1863. As the hot noon sun beat down on the soldiers of the Confederacy, they looked across a shallow valley at the Union army on the opposite ridge. Soon their commanders would order them to charge into that narrow valley and attack the Union positions. Not even the generals knew it yet, but the decisive battle of the Civil War was about to be fought. Fifty thousand men would give their lives to decide a single question: would America be split into two separate countries, or would it remain united? This narrow space between two ridges was the place where that question would be answered. It was the valley of decision.

The orders were given, and the battle raged. Heavy losses were incurred on both sides, but when the smoke cleared, the rebels had been driven back. It was the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. From this fateful valley the South would retreat, moving inevitably toward their ultimate defeat at Appomattox Courthouse some 23 months later.

Our text today describes another critical valley. It's a valley that exists nowhere on earth but in the mind of the prophet Joel. He prophesies the terrible conflict that will rage between the forces of the ungodly and the believers, and he sees the outcome of the battle as clearly as if it had already happened. The "Valley of Decision" he foresees is Judgment Day. Here the decision of the Lord will finally be pronounced, and that decision will be irrevocable for time and for eternity! With the prophet Joel, then, let's look ahead to --


I. We'll have to fight our way into it
II. There we'll see the defeat of the ungodly
III. There we'll see victory for the believers

Every human being on earth is heading for the VALLEY OF DECISION, whether he knows it or not. We Christians know it, although (as we discussed last week) the fact tends to slip our minds once in a while. The truth is that we're marching like a mighty army toward the Day of Judgment. Every night, as
the old hymn reminds us, we "pitch our moving tents a day's march nearer home;" we're 24 hours closer to the moment when Jesus will return to earth to judge the nations. And, like an army, every inch of the way we travel is fraught with fighting and struggle against the forces that oppose our faith in this world. It has always been that way, and it will always be that way.

We're headed for THE VALLEY OF DECISION all right, but we'll have to fight our way into it!. Joel saw that, way back in the Old Testament, hundreds of years before Jesus was even born. He saw the tremendous struggle that the New Testament believers of all ages would come up against in their long march toward Judgment Day. He saw the enemies of the cross -- but he wasn't afraid of them. Just the opposite - he sends out a challenge to the foes of the Church: Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up. Do your worst, he says! Make every tool you've got into a weapon and gang up on the believers - that won't change the final outcome.

As it turns out, those enemies didn't need much encouragement from Joel. In every century, the forces of the ungodly have battled the believers. The Apostle Paul told the Christians to expect it; he said, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God." Acts 14:22. The road to heaven isn't an easy one. We have to fight.

"Even in America?" you ask. "Even in 2008?" The answer is yes, especially in America, and especially in 2008! The troops we're battling against in our day aren't the kind you can see. Our government is constitutionally obligated to protect our religious freedom, not persecute it. That’s one of the tremendous blessings for which we will thank God here this Thursday morning. But that still leaves us Christians with a battle to fight. A different kind of battle and a much harder one, because our enemies aren't the kind that you can get your hands on. We're fighting a general drift toward ungodliness in our society. In our own homes we're fighting the shabby ethics and loose attitudes toward morality that come at us in waves over the television set. We're fighting against a scientific community that says Creation is a myth, that teaches our kids that humans have evolved, over billions of years, from lower life forms. We're fighting a culture where dishonest executives and lawyers and brokers are demonstrating that "greed is good," that stealing is all right if you don't get caught, and that the almighty dollar is god. Some of the Christians’ worst enemies are the false teachers we're fighting against - the people of other denominations who disobey God’s holy Word and then hide their errors under the sheep's' clothing of religiosity. They tell us not to worry so much about what the Bible teaches. "You stuffy Lutherans!" they say. "Don't make such a big deal about pure doctrine! Let your guard down! Forget about the world to come - join in with us, and we'll make this world a better place to live in."

But we won't let our guard down, for we take very seriously the words of the writer to the Hebrews, "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering." 10:23. So, with the Lord's help, we will keep on fighting. We know where we came from, and we know where we're going. We're headed for THE VALLEY OF DECISION.

What will we see when we get there? When the Last Day dawns, what will our eyes behold? We'll see exactly what Joel saw in his mind's eye: the final defeat of the ungodly. In our text, we hear the Lord calling all the nations into the Valley of Jehoshaphat; literally, "the valley of the Lord's judgment." All the enemies of the Church will be there, standing in front of the Lord's throne of judgment. Every government that ever persecuted the Christians. Every heathen army that ever slaughtered the believers. And every individual who ever rejected the Gospel invitation and turned his hand against God's elect. All the people who turned away from Christ, who rejected the narrow path to heaven and instead got on the broad, easy interstate to hell. We'll be there to witness their destruction. And what a terrible sight it will be!

Eighty-five years ago, in World War I, Europe witnessed the advent of one of the deadliest inventions in history: the machine gun. While most generals were still using a tactic of the nineteenth century - the massed infantry attack - others were learning that such an attack could be easily defeated with just a few well-placed machine guns. The result was a blood bath. Row upon row of soldiers were ordered to charge the enemy trenches, and row upon row were cut down in a fusillade of deadly machine gun fire. Witnesses said that the men fell like rows of wheat cut down by a sickle. But as chilling as that image may be, it's nothing compared with the deadly efficiency with which the angels of the Lord will mow down the unbelievers on Judgment Day!

According to our text, the voice of the Lord will thunder to His servants, Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Cut down the unbelievers! They heard the Gospel, but they didn't believe it; they had a Savior, but they scorned Him. It will be a deadly harvest. Joel also uses the picture of grapes being trampled in the winepress of God's wrath. The ungodly will be utterly crushed and defeated, once and for all, and cast into hell to spend eternity weeping and grinding their teeth. Why? Because "...their wickedness is great." Because their lives were filled to overflowing with sin, and they rejected the one Person who, alone, could save them from those sins.

There is a salutary warning for us here, too: there, but for the grace of God, go all of us! Because by our nature, you and I are not one bit better than those who will be lost on the Day of Judgment. We’re sinners, just as they. So we Christians need to bear in mind and truly appreciate the fact that there is only one thing that stands between us and hell, and that’s the cross of Christ. The Apostle Peter reminds us that even the believers are “scarcely saved.” The writer to the Hebrews puts it in chilling terms, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” – Heb 2:3.

Yes, on Judgment Day we'll see the defeat of the ungodly, and what a sight it will be! Joel is breathless as he describes the vision: Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. 15 The sun and moon will grow dark, And the stars will diminish their brightness. 16 The LORD also will roar from Zion, And utter His voice from Jerusalem; The heavens and earth will shake. Yes, we'll hear God's thundering judgment on the unbelievers. It'll be just as Jesus described it in Matthew chapter 25: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels." Matt 25:41.

But in the middle of this terrible scene, we'll also witness something else. In the Valley of Decision, we'll see victory for the believers! The text goes on, …but the LORD will be a shelter for His people, And the strength of the children of Israel. As God's children, the true "Israel", we've got nothing to fear from the awesome cataclysm of Judgment Day. We have a Shelter, a protective Hiding Place that keeps us immune from the terrible wrath of God. Jesus is that Shelter and Hiding Place!

We have a law in our country that says a man can never be tried twice for the same crime. God has the same kind of law. Jesus was put on trial for our sin; He took our guilt upon Himself. Though He was innocent, God pronounced Him guilty. God allowed Him to bear our entire load of punishment on the cross. There Christ poured out His lifeblood to pay off the debt of our sin in full. For Jesus' sake, we have already heard God's verdict on us, and that verdict is "Not guilty!" And you can be certain of one thing my friends: our Lord won't allow us to be tried twice. For the unbelievers, yes - it will be "Judgment Day," a day of terrible defeat, a day of punishment. But for those of us who have put our trust in Jesus, it will be a day of sweetest victory, and nothing else!

Are you afraid when you think of how close that Day might be? Don't be afraid - be happy! That's what God gave you your faith for, so you can look forward to that Day with joy. Jesus already endured the hell. All that's left for you is the heaven. And if the Last Day should come today, or tomorrow, or Tuesday? Let it come. We're ready! Jesus tells us just how it will be: "There will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near!" Lk 21:25-28.

A certain general, on the morning of an important battle, once quoted these lines from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: "O that a man might know the end of this day's business ere it come! But it sufficeth that the day will end, and then the end is known." Countless military commanders and soldiers alike have wished that futile dream - that they could know the outcome of the battle before it began. We, the soldiers of the cross, are the only army that can truly say we do know the outcome of the battle ahead of time. We've looked into the Valley of Decision with the prophet Joel. We've got a hard struggle ahead of us, but we know that the Lord's final decision will spell defeat for the ungodly, and victory for Christ's believers. With our faith in Christ as our bright banner shining in the sun, we'll see the gates of that heavenly Jerusalem swing open to receive us into eternity. On that Day, says the Lord, "...shall ye know that I am the LORD your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more! Even so, come
quickly, Lord Jesus! AMEN.

-Pastor Paul Naumann

The peace which comes from God, which far exceeds all our understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

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