12 “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
13 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.
The book of Joel is only three chapters long, but for such a short book it contains a great deal. Go to The Bible Project and watch the six minutes and forty-eight seconds of video for an interesting summary of the this book. Joel is called a minor prophet because he wrote so little, but do not let the shortness of the book fool you.
The verses today reflect a common theme in the Bible, God’s interest in His people’s hearts. All too often the people of the Old Testament (and the New Testament) would put on a show of piety – a rendering of garments or putting on sackcloth and sitting in the dust or ashes while putting dust on their heads. Consider when Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh
6 When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
Sometimes this rendering of the garments reflected real repentance, but other times it was simply a show with no change of heart. So God is being very explicit through Joel – He wants to see a real change of heart so we read Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God. And just prior to that He says return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.
Instead of providing a lot of background on the context of these verses, I would ask you, and myself, when you turn to God in prayer or worship or joy or tears, is it with all your heart? God is not interested in a show of repentance. No, He is only interested in us truly turning to Him and giving up our evil ways and violence as the king of Nineveh called upon his people to do. God is saying the same thing through Joel to Israel and the world – to us.
He is so serious about us – each and every one of us – turning to Him with our hearts He sent His Son.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. 11 He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. 12 Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
He sent His Son for us. Will we rend our hearts and repent and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior?