Sermon for Easter Sunday, April 17, 2022

The Valley of Decision

Joel 3:1-16 and Mark 14:26-42

Joel 3:1–16 (NIV): 3 “In those days and at that time,

         when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem,

      2 I will gather all nations

         and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.

         There I will put them on trial *

         for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel,

         because they scattered my people among the nations

         and divided up my land.

      3 They cast lots for my people

         and traded boys for prostitutes;

         they sold girls for wine to drink.

4 “Now what have you against me, Tyre and Sidon and all you regions of Philistia? Are you repaying me for something I have done? If you are paying me back, I will swiftly and speedily return on your own heads what you have done. 5 For you took my silver and my gold and carried off my finest treasures to your temples. 6 You sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks, that you might send them far from their homeland.

7 “See, I am going to rouse them out of the places to which you sold them, and I will return on your own heads what you have done. 8 I will sell your sons and daughters to the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, a nation far away.” The LORD has spoken.

      9 Proclaim this among the nations:

         Prepare for war!

         Rouse the warriors!

         Let all the fighting men draw near and attack.

      10 Beat your plowshares into swords

         and your pruning hooks into spears.

         Let the weakling say,

         “I am strong!”

      11 Come quickly, all you nations from every side,

         and assemble there.

         Bring down your warriors, LORD!

      12 “Let the nations be roused;

         let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat,

         for there I will sit

         to judge all the nations on every side. *

      13 Swing the sickle,

         for the harvest is ripe.

         Come, trample the grapes,

         for the winepress is full

         and the vats overflow—

         so great is their wickedness!”

      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 be darkened,

         and the stars no longer shine.

      16 The LORD will roar from Zion

         and thunder from Jerusalem;

         the earth and the heavens will tremble.

         But the LORD will be a refuge for his people,

         a stronghold for the people of Israel.

*Boldface mine (PC)

This is a very popular portion of Old Testament Scripture that is wildly celebrated as “END OF THE WORLD” events.  Indeed, it is a very ugly picture.  However, I think Joel is promoting as more a blessing than a curse!  I purposely boldfaced two areas of Joel that are intriguing.  The mention of a valley name Jehoshaphat, also known as the Valley of Decision.  Now, if you were to read the word “Jehoshaphat” in Hebrew it is interpreted is as “Yahweh judges”.  This is significant and I am about to tell you why!

Mark 14:26–42 (NIV): 26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

27 “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written:

         “ ‘I will strike the shepherd,

         and the sheep will be scattered.’

28 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

29 Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”

30 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”

31 But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same.

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

39 Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. 40 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.

41 Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

The Gospel of Mark records Jesus’ travel after the Last Supper.  They left Jerusalem and headed towards the Mount of Olives and then Jesus takes Peter, James, and John to the Garden of Gethsemane.  For them to leave Jerusalem meant that they had to cross a territory that was called in Jesus’ time, the Kidron Valley. 

John 18:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.

The Kidron Valley was east of Jerusalem and this valley separation Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.  This is the very same location as the Valley of Jehoshaphat during the time of Joel, some 350 to 400 years before Jesus walked the earth.  Now Joel lived during the Medi-Persian reigns of Cyrus the Great and King Darius, but he also mentions the Greeks, who, by the way were led by Alexander the Great and conquered all of Mede and Persian Territories and Joel could have been alive to witness this.  During the time of Greek occupancy, names of some towns and territories changed, like for instance, Judah was changed to Judea and the Valley of Jehoshaphat was changed to the Kidron Valley.  Old Testament is recorded in Hebrew (well, for the most part) and the New Testament is recorded in Greek.

The Temple used this area of the Kidron Valley for a very important purpose and it is because of the stream that ran through it.  They used this stream to empty all the blood from their sacrifices in.  In fact, in just a few days, hundreds of priests would be sacrificing a quarter of a million lambs for Passover.  That’s a lot of blood.  They used the stream to dispose of it (blood mixed with water).  It was in this valley that Jesus had to make an important decision.  He makes that decision in Mark 14:36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Jesus made a serious decision in that valley, to fulfill the plan of laying down his life on a cross.  There were multitudes of people from many nationalities when Passover began in Jerusalem.  Greeks, Romans, Galileans, Egyptian, Medes, Persians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Judeans, every people who fought over and controlled this area.  There had been war in this area for so long and some were preparing for war in the day of Jesus. 

However, Jesus is at war within himself.  He wanted to avoid the cross.  That was his prayer, for the cup to pass.  His decision in the end was to fulfill the will of his Father.  It was not an easy decision.  He was tormented by it at the Last Supper and again in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He would be sacrificed, the perfect lamb of God, to conquer the power of sin.  The judgement upon all mankind now upon Jesus’ shoulders.  There was a spiritual war going on between God and the devil.  Both attempted to land fatal blows, yet both wanted the same thing up to this point, for Jesus to die.

Isn’t that how this all began, the serpent telling Adam and Eve that they wouldn’t die, to distrust God.  The devil twisted what God said, talking only about the physical and nothing about the spiritual.  God got back at the devil with this one.  Jesus obeyed his Father to the end so that attempt by Satan failed.  The only choice the devil had was to convince everyone else to kill Jesus and God knew that all along.  A judgement was coming, but not upon humanity yet, and not even on the devil yet, but is all had to deal with correcting a broken relationship with God.

The judgement of ALL sin fell on Jesus on the cross.  Listen to this:

Matthew 27:45–52 (NIV): 45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”

48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.

Hey, have I read this somewhere before?

  Joel 3:14 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 be darkened,

         and the stars no longer shine.

      16 The LORD will roar from Zion

         and thunder from Jerusalem;

         the earth and the heavens will tremble.

         But the LORD will be a refuge for his people,

         a stronghold for the people of Israel.

Also of note:

John 19:33–34 (NIV): 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.

There’s more:

Mark 15:39 (NLT): 39 When the Roman officer who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God!”

The Centurion decided.  Jesus decided.  God made a decision, a judgment that day.  That Temple curtain was torn from top to bottom.  God restored a direct connection to Heaven, something mankind hadn’t had since the Fall in the Garden of Eden.  Jesus, Emanuel, God with us again!  And by a majority judgement, we killed him!  God the Father, knowing our hearts, knowing we are like our father the devil, knew how we would react.  But He knew something that we didn’t and that happened three days later:

John 20:1–9 (NIV): 20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) (Underline mine)

John made a decision.  He believed but he didn’t understand yet, that happens later in the Book of Acts.

Jesus became judge for sin, who practiced no sinful deeds or thoughts.  Why?  So, we could be saved from ourselves.  So that we could get back what we had lost.  So that we could walk with God like Adam and even once did.  We are not alone any longer, God is with us.  We need to recognize the only way to communicate.  We must decide to follow Jesus!

Matthew 28:16–20 (NIV): 16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Out of the remaining 11 disciples, some had made a decision, some did not.  But no matter how they felt about him, Jesus would be with them (Emmanuel) till the very end.

Here we sit in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, the Kidron Valley, we are all in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus has brought us this far.  We are all in that Garden with a decision to make and Jesus went ahead and prayed about our decision:

John 17:20–26 (NIV): 20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

  24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

  25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

And finally:

John 20:24–29 (NIV): 24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

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