My favorite verse from the book of Joel, from the Old Testament, is 2:13. To understand it fully, you must understand the context. Joel points out the sin of Israel in that they have turned from worshipping the one true God to serving the gods of the peoples in the land. Thus, the curses of Deuteronomy 28 and following are about to fall upon them. He uses the powerful image of a plague of locusts that devastate the land at the time of harvest to picture the destruction that will fall upon the entire nation at the hands of their northern enemies. This destruction that’s coming is the result of God’s judgment on his people. But Joel calls them to repent. It’s not too late. He says, “Yet even now, declares the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.”

Ezekiel teaches us that God takes no delight in judging the wicked. Rather, He longs to extend grace and forgiveness to all. The only requirement is a “broken heart.” Rending of one’s clothing was an external display of grief, sorrow, regret, and remorse. To “rend your heart” signified inward, spiritual repentance and sorrow for sin. God’s primary requirement from sinners is given in Psalm 51:17. It says, “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” Ogilvie says, “One moving experience of reading the Bible in Hebrew is to see the word repent used both of people and of God and to realize that this word is used more often of God’s response to people than of people’s response to God. The word implies a complete change of direction or change of mind. When we turn from disobedience and return to the Lord, He changes His mind and direction from judgment to blessing. In this sense, the will of God is not immutable. He has given us the awesome responsibility of choice and takes our choices seriously, responding accordingly.”

The message I like most of all is the part that tells me it’s not too late. I have a print (19.95 on Amazon) of Rembrandt’s “Prodigal,” which pictures the repentant son returning from the faraway land where he squandered what he had been given by the father on sin and riotous living. Worn and haggard, He is on his knees before the father. The father is welcoming him home with open arms. The prodigal son waited until there were no more resources for him to squander before returning to the father. He expected just to be a servant in his father’s house, but his father would have none of that and welcomed him home as the son that he was. It wasn’t too late for him, and it wasn’t even too late for the thief on the cross. He only said a couple of things. He said that Jesus was innocent, and he and the other thief were getting what they deserved. Then, he asked Jesus to remember him when He entered into His kingdom. Jesus said, “It’s not too late for you. Today, you will be with me in my kingdom of Paradise.” The father of the prodigal son never gave up on his wayward son. God never gave up on the thief on the cross. God never gave up on his people, Israel either. He’ll never give up on you or me, either. Malachi reminds us, “Return to Me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts.” Malachi 3:7