In this passage we are faced with the reality of our sin against God and other people. In short, we are the problem; I am the problem. I cannot escape; the apostle makes it clear — with a litany of Old Testament citations carrying the full authority of “thus says the Lord.”
The passage as a whole stands as a fitting climax to this entire section which began in 1:18. Paul says that men are sinners—all of us—and held accountable to God. Here we stand, guilty and convicted. The somber weight of this passage should not be missed. Do not run to the peace of the gospel too quickly, lest you cheapen its message. First, take a good and prayerful look in the mirror of scripture and see if you are not there. Then, look to God for mercy. Then may he give us the same attitude we see in Copernicus: “I do not ask for the grace thou didst give to St. Paul; nor can I dare ask for the grace which thou didst grant to St. Peter; but, the mercy which thou didst show to the Dying Robber, that mercy, show to me.”
Having come to see ourselves against the infinite holiness of God and his immutable law in 1:18-3:20, we may then be eager to welcome the message of grace preached in 3:21-31, which Joel will be looking at next week.