God Restores

Real people who live real lives have experienced real pain. There are pains that we face that feel to us as though we can never be whole again. The loss of a loved one, the experience of abuse, the humiliation of a failure, all these can leave a person feeling irreparably broken and hopeless.

In the days of the prophet Joel, the people of Judah may well have felt broken beyond repair. The southern kingdom had sinned against the Lord and experienced his judgment. They faced crop failure, locust plague, and enemy armies. Their land was desolate. Their hope seemed dashed.

But God called the nation to return to him. He invited confession and repentance. And God promised restoration. This is beautiful; don’t miss it.

Joel 2:25-27

25 I will restore to you the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent among you.
26 “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.

God promised to restore the years that the locusts had eaten. Sense the beauty there. The people were damaged. They were damaged from their own sin against the Lord. They were damaged by the cruel actions of others who hurt them. But God says that he will restore.

Can he? Of course God can. The Lord can heal a land. The Lord can grow crops where crops had failed. The Lord can bring a harvest that goes beyond the loss of the years. And the Lord can help the people worship him again.

The Lord also promises the people a future. Notice that twice in verses 26-27, God says that they will not experience this shame any longer. God not only can fix the land, he can bear away the shame from the people.

This is lovely in the context of Old Testament Judah. It is infinitely more lovely in the work of Jesus Christ. We, like Judah, have sinned against God. We, like Judah, have been sinned against by evil people and a hostile world. We have been hurt. We have experienced shame. We have lost days, months, even years.

But God can restore. He can take from us our guilt and shame. This is part of what Jesus came to do. Jesus bore the shame of the cross in order to cover our shame in his perfection. Jesus took the wrath of God for sin so that we could have our sins covered by his righteousness. Jesus rose from the grave to show us that there is life after shame, life after guilt, life after death in his perfect grace.

Perhaps you have hurt. Perhaps you have guilt and shame. Perhaps you have done wrong. Perhaps you have wronged others. Run to Jesus. He is your only hope. He covers the guilt of those who come to him. He bears away the shame of those who come to him. He understands your pain more than you could ever imagine. He can heal. He can bring new growth. Jesus can restore the years the locusts have eaten.

Church Discipline Has More than One Goal

It seems that we discuss church discipline more commonly today than we did a few decades ago in the American church. This, of course, is a good thing. After all, it has been said that a true church is a body where the word is preached, the sacraments are administered, and where discipline is applied. And it has also been affirmed that, when discipline departs, so does the church.

If you talk about church discipline, the most common place you will find a person turn in the Bible is Matthew 18, and for good reason. There the Lord Jesus gave us a pattern for discussion inside the church when one member is wronged by another. It is the pattern that most know. WE go talk to the person privately. If they will not repent, we go with witnesses—perhaps church leaders. If they still will not repent, we make their sin known to the body. And if they still will not repent, we treat them as a tax collector or unbeliever. It is a simple and fairly clear process.

But Matthew 18 is not the only passage on church discipline in the Scriptures. A faithful minister will also point the people of God to Galatians 6 which speaks of restoring a wayward brother gently and guarding our own hearts in the process. We will look to 1 Corinthians 5 for an example of strong discipline being affirmed for a man who is unrepentantly sexually immoral. We will turn to 2 Corinthians 2 for a picture of a church being called to forgive and restore a repentant sinner. And, as Paul closes 2 Corinthians, we see a couple of lines that must remind us of the goal of church discipline. Yes, we do all we do for the glory of God. Yes, we battle for the purity of the church and the honor of Christ. But we also do church discipline for the sake of restoring fallen brothers and sisters in Christ.

2 Corinthians 13 :9, 11 – 9 For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for…. 11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

In a letter that includes a strong focus on the issues relating to church discipline among other things, as Paul wraps up, twice he points out that his heart, his aim, his goal is restoration. Paul says that he prays to see the fallen restored, and he wants the church to make restoration her aim as well.

When you consider church discipline, then, remember that restoration is central. We do not take delight in dropping the hammer on somebody who is failing in their Christian walk. Instead, we call on those who are wayward to return. We must call firmly, as continuing in sin may well be a sign that a person is not at all saved. But we call lovingly, because we know that God can bring a sinner back from the brink of destruction. Our goal is not to win a battle. Our goal is to win a brother.