Please read Joel 3:17-21, Revelation 21: 1-5 and 22: 1-6 and then pray;
O Lord God, we give you thanks for the prophecy of Joel. As we come to the final scene, keep us and guide us always through your glorious presence within us, for the honour and praise of Jesus. Amen!
Today we are going to look at what is the biggest compliment you can give to a Church, and to what is the greatest blessing that can and will be experienced by redeemed humanity.
It is fascinating to see how the authors within the bible are inspired by the Spirit to end their writings. How does the prophet Joel choose to end his prophecy? He chooses to finish on the highest of highs!
The Lord dwells in Zion! (3:21)
The prophet closes his prophecy with a firm declaration and affirmation concerning the dwelling place of God – the place God chooses to make His home. The dwelling place of God is in fact the dominant and controlling theme of this entire final section. Notice that the final section of the prophecy beginning at verse 17 begins with this theme.
Then you will KNOW, that I, the Lord your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill. (3:17)
What we will see here is that this most perceptive and inspired prophet ends his prophecy on the same note that the entire story of the bible ends on. Turn to the final two chapters of the prophecy of John in Revelation – and you discover this;
Now the dwelling place of God is with men, and he will live with them. (Revelation 21:3)
Joel’s prophecy which started alarmingly with the terrible and terrifying devastation caused by an historically unprecedented locust plague (1:2-4), finally concludes with the ultimate high, which is the fact that God now dwells with his people. The people now enjoy the presence of their God with all the accompanying abundant and rich blessings, blessings which include new wine which endlessly drips, free flowing milk, and constantly running and splashing clear water. (3:18)
Let us take a few moments, as I end this series of sermons on the prophecy of Joel, to meditate upon these final uplifting words in this prophecy, and see how they apply to the Church of Jesus Christ today and in every age and every place; the Lord dwells in Zion!
So let us begin by asking a question. What comes into your mind when you think of the word “Zion”? Joel says on two occasions in this final section that God dwells “in Zion”. So, where or what is Zion? You will find well over 100 references to Zion in the bible. Those references start in 2 Samuel 5 where we are taught that King David captured the “fortress of Zion” from the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5:7) and made it his home, renaming the place “the City of David”. So initially, Zion was fortress on a hill, which became David’s home in his new capital city. King David lived and reigned on Zion’s hill.
David soon brought the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God’s presence and power, to Zion. He set up a special Tent to house it. (2 Samuel 6:17). The Ark entered Zion to the sound of loud jubilation and dancing in the streets. God’s presence was welcomed and celebrated. When David’s son and heir Solomon became king, he built the magnificent temple on another one of the hills of Jerusalem – Mount Moriah. The name Zion was then extended to include the Temple area as well, but it also developed into a concept that included the whole of Jerusalem and its people. In the end, Zion referred to a community of people just as much as it referred to the city and hills in Jerusalem. We have the people of Zion, the sons and daughters of Zion, the community of Zion, but still with the important idea that this was God’s home, God’s special dwelling place. (Psalm 48, Psalm 133)
In the New Testament, there are not nearly as many references to Zion, but the ones that there are, speak of Zion as the community of God’s redeemed people. This is of course a community made up of Gentiles as well as Jews. Zion is the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22), the new Jerusalem where Jesus is King of his redeemed community. (Revelation 14:1 f) God has set or installed his resurrected and ascended King, his own Son, on Zion’s hill. (Psalm 2:6) Zion is now seen as God’s redeemed Church in heaven and on earth – the Church triumphant (in heaven) and the Church militant (on earth). The Christian on earth can sing, “Saviour, if of Zion’s city, I, through grace, a member am.” (John Newton)
Joel emphasised that the highest and greatest point of God’s amazing and gracious work of restoration, was the restoration of his very own Presence among and with his people. Joel had spoken firstly about the restoration of the land and the renewing of Israel’s agricultural life and prosperity. (2:18-27) This was the first blessing after the people had offered sincere repentance. Secondly, Joel spoke of the spiritual renewal and awakening of the people through the divine outpouring of the Spirit. (2:28-32) Thirdly, Joel spoke of the just punishment of God on malicious enemies as part of the restoration work. (3:1-16) And now, finally we have complete restoration. God dwells with them!
Two things need to be stressed about this restored Presence of God in Zion – among his people. Firstly, this would be something that would be known. (to the people of God and to their enemies)
Then you will KNOW, that I, the Lord your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill. (3:17 – see also 2:27)
There would be no doubt about the felt, known and experienced Presence of God. The people would be very aware and conscious of the Lord’s Presence among them. The abundant blessings would represent firm evidence of this. New wine, milk, water – all flowing super-abundantly. Secondly, the dwelling of God amongst them would be continuous, constant, uninterrupted, gloriously sustained. The Lord dwells in Zion means that the Lord’s dwelling with be permanent, secure and unspoilt. There will never be interruptions or unwelcome invasions from enemies. (3:17b). This is a continuing Presence and therefore an everlasting blessing.
What we have here in Joel is therefore, directly connected with the perfection of Eden in the past, and the new heavens, new earth and new Jerusalem of the future. This is most obvious in the way that Joel introduces us to a fountain that will flow out of the Lord’s house. (3:18b) This image brings to mind the river that watered the garden of Eden and eventually separated into four headwaters. (Genesis 2:10) It also reminds us of what the Psalmist described as a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the place where the Most High dwells. (Psalm 46:4). It brings to mind prophecies from Ezekiel (47:1) speaking about water coming from underneath and out of the Temple, and Zechariah where we hear of water flowing out of Jerusalem. (Zechariah 14:8). But it also resonates with all the we have in the final chapters of Revelation.
Here the apostle John “sees” a new heaven and a new earth. John sees the Holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming out of heaven from God. But this new Jerusalem is not primarily material but communal – it is a people – because it is a people who make up a beautifully dressed bride. It is the redeemed people of God. (Read Revelation 21:1-3) But the highlight and the greatest feature of all this brilliant newness is that now the dwelling place of God is with men, and he will live with them forever. (Revelation 21:3) No greater blessing can be bestowed than this!
Because God dwells fully and constantly with his people – all pain, sorrow, weeping and death is ended. Such things that have dominated the old order have now vanished for ever. And as well as the Presence of God being so dominant and evident, there is also John notes, the river of the water of life, clear as crystal, which flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb. (Revelation 22:1-2). This beautiful and powerful river that flows from God the Father and God the Son has three special features:
- Its quality. It is crystal clear. It is entirely pure and health-giving.
- Its source. It is divine – from the Father and the Son – from the reign/throne of God.
- Its position. It flows right down the middle – therefore dominating and affecting everything.
The river waters and everlastingly sustains “the tree of life” which grows on both sides of the river. The eternal life and totality of healing mean that there can be no curse, there can be no sin, suffering, pain, sorrow or death. No invasion of anything foreign to the holiness of God. This is the Kingdom of God in all its fullness and glory. The dwelling place of God is now with man and the river of eternal life runs forever. This is the eternal promised land – the land that drips with new wine, that flows with milk (and honey), that experiences all the blessings of the centrally placed river of life. (Joel 3:18) Hymn writers marvel at this reality;
See the springs of living waters,
springing from eternal love,
well supply thy sons and daughters
and all fear of want remove,
who can faint, while such a river
ever flows their thirst to assuage?
grace which like the Lord, the giver
never fails from age to age.
This verse of course comes from the hymn written by John Newton entitled, “Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God.
John Newton, the converted slave trader, knew that the Lord dwells in Zion. (Joel 3: 17, 21) and that there is a river whose stream make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. (Psalm 46:4). He believed and rejoiced in the fountain that flows from the Lord’s house, which can easily water the driest of valleys or ravines, and which supplies eternal refreshment and life to the people of God. God’s children are amply supplied and richly blessed.
There is one other further truth to marvel at before we close. This picture and idea of the Lord dwelling with his people and the river of life is not simply or merely true for the Lord’s people after death, and of when Christ returns with the fullness of his reign (kingdom), when the new heaven and new earth will be finally and fully established. No! This idea of God dwelling with his people is also for now, for this life, in this present age.
What is clear from the bible and from Christian experience and testimony is that eternal life starts now, in this life, in this decaying world. The Kingdom is present now not just in the future, and it is present in human hearts. Eternal life does not begin after death but now in the present. It is a present God-given gift and reality for those who receive Christ as Saviour and Lord, the One installed on Zion’s hill as King! As Jesus taught and explained, “the kingdom of God is within you (now)” (Luke 17:20-21)
As Christians we become the dwelling place of God now not later. Jesus said that if anyone loves and obeys him, my Father will love him, and WE (Father and Son) will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14:23) God comes to dwell in us now – in this life – in this world with all its pressures and problems. The Presence is with us and in us now! Joel 3:21 is our present reality and known experience. Paul spoke of “Christ in you – the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27). He also spoke about Christians as presently being the “temples of the Holy Spirit”, both individually and corporately. (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19, Ephesians 2:22). God dwelling in each saint, and all saints together, united through his love, become the very dwelling place of God. This is the Church. The community of saints in which God presently dwells.
It is true that we do not experience the fullness of God’s presence now in the way we will in the future. But we do know and experience God living in us now by his Spirit, and this is our present joy and privilege as God’s adopted sons and daughters. We have heard Christ’s voice of invitation, opened the door our hearts and Jesus has come in to fellowship with us – to dwell in us. (Revelation 3:20). Our present fellowship and joy are with God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – making His home in our hearts. (1 John 1:3) And the river is already with us through the present reality of the Spirit, for Jesus said;
Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him. (John 7:38)
This presence of God within us now enables us to live triumphantly even through pandemics or persecutions or pressures of any kind. Imagine a Christian locked away in a cold, dark and damp prison cell in N Korea or Eritrea. They have been stripped of all possessions and all contact with loved ones. However, and here is the key point, they cannot be stripped of God’s presence inside and alongside them. The Presence of God cannot be taken away or banished or extinguished. Jesus said, “I am with you always – even to the end of the age.” God will never leave us or forsake no matter what the tribulations and trials. (Isaiah 43:2, Hebrews 13:5-6)
We have the enormous privilege as Christians of presently experiencing both the immediate Presence of God and his river of life through the Holy Spirit. And when we come together as Christians, as the Church of the living God, God’s Presence is amongst us and with us. We are blessed by His Presence in us both individually and corporately. We are the new Temple in which God dwells and moves by His blessed Spirit. (Ephesians 2:21-22)
That presence is particularly “felt”, recognised and experienced in our corporate worship. God dwells among us as we sing His praises, pray to Him, and as we are ope to receive His holy and life-giving Word and share holy communion. God especially inhabits the praises and worship of His people.
That divine Presence is also experienced in our Church fellowship and family life. His love and presence are made manifest through our loving and caring relationships and fellowship, through the way we live as the family of God where all are cared for, supported and cherished, whatever their age or background. When the early Church displayed such unity, depth of love and practical care in their fellowship – others sensed God’s holy presence and were attracted and touched by it. In Acts 5:13 f we read;
No-one else dared joined them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.
Outsiders sensed that something unique, special, powerful and holy existed in the Christian community which caused them to be strangely inquisitive and attracted, but also fearful. They were actually touched by the holy presence and grace of God in God’s dwelling place – his Church, his people, who are body of Christ on earth.
This is the biggest compliment that can be paid to any Church – when outsiders begin to notice and express their belief that God “is in that Church”, God “is present in that community”. When I became a Christian as a teenager, one of the main reasons I did so was because “I felt and experienced the presence of God” in the midst of Holme United Reformed Church in Bradford. I experienced God’s real presence, love and power. I wanted it! I wanted to join. I wanted this “presence of God”. The biggest compliment that could be paid to Christchurch is this;
The Lord dwells in Christchurch! (see Joel 3:21)
If people are genuinely experiencing God in our midst – then we are being the Church. Whether that experience comes through experiencing God in our worship, through our pastoral care and faithful prayers, in a coffee morning, in Boy’s Brigade, in our service and outreach into the community – it doesn’t matter. As long as people come to know that God dwells in the Christchurch Christian Community. I long for the time when person after person expresses the feeling and belief that “God is really among you”. (1 Corinthians 14:25b) The river of life is here! This has to be our longing and our vision and our goal. To show the community and the world that God dwells in Christchurch.
And after people have discovered that truth about Christchurch as a community, we pray that it will lead them to discover and enjoy that reality for themselves – that they too may consciously become the dwelling place of God, and drink from the river of life. We want people to discover for themselves that God’s presence is the “fountain of life” (Psalm 36:8-9) and that we can freely drink from God’s “river of delights”. We pray that others will come to know what Jesus describes as “the spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)
Finally, we can look forward to the great time, when in the new heaven and new earth, we not only fully, gloriously and permanently experience God’s dwelling among us and in us, but we also actually get to see God. At the moment, in this life, we see “but a poor reflection in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. (1 Corinthians 13:12). When speaking about his kingdom, Jesus taught that the pure in heart would see God. (Matthew 5:8) Revelation 22:4 reiterates this truth;
They will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
And from Revelation 21, the previous chapter;
And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God HIMSELF will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
And those final words from the prophecy of Joel – his great and final affirmation;
The Lord dwells in Zion!
And now to our infinitely great, awesome and holy God – be glory, honour, power and dominion for ever and ever. Amen!
(Revd Peter Clarkson 15.8.21)