The KJV and NASB translations of this passage use the word "delivered" instead of "saved." Indeed, Peter expanded the word to "saved" in his reading of the passage in Acts 2, so later translators altered the Old Testament to match Peter's interpretation. What is the difference between "delivered" and "saved?" Well, "saved" is broader. We picture a hand plucking a brand from the fire. But where does the brand then go? "Delivered" implies a transition from one side of a crisis to another. Someone is being delivered TO THE OTHER SIDE of a danger.
What is this danger? What are we delivered FROM? Let's look at the previous verses:
2:30 I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke.
2:31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes.
Blood is the life substance within living things. This verse says it will be on the OUTSIDE, as if life were being turned inside out, UNDONE so to speak. Fire is the transition of a substance of function, something solid, into ashes and gas. Once again we have UNcreation. However, the sun, which is always burning, is going to turn to darkness, its own turning inside out, its own uncreation. When does the moon look like blood? When gases and smoke are in the air. This description of the Day of the Lord coming is not a pretty sight. What we have is a time where everything that was created is uncreated and will be no more.
We probably won't live to see that day, but that doesn't mean that the day doesn't apply to us. Each of us is going to die, and death is the same kind of transition into uncreation. Each of us will have a personal "Day of the Lord." God says here through Joel that he is going to deliver us through this uncreation to the other side of it. The creator of the universe, who created EVERYTHING, is going to UNCREATE everything, and yet he will deliver us through that uncreation to the other side, as created beings who have not been uncreated.
Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be delivered. Everyone will be delivered? No. Only those who call on the name of the Lord will be delivered. Mother Theresa will be delivered, surely. Surely, if she called on the name of the Lord, she will be delivered. Hitler? If Hitler called on the name of the Lord, then yes, but he probably did not call on the name of the Lord. Ghandi? If he called on the name of the Lord, then yes.
Well, what IS calling on the name of the Lord? Calling on the name of the Lord is praying. The word is also present tense: "calls." It is a continuous call. Whoever is continually praying to the Lord will be delivered. Something that we have all been working with in our congregation is the Jesus prayer. It's a simple prayer that encapsulates the entire Gospel within it: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." This simple prayer can be learned to the point where one can be continually calling on God, even when he or she is doing other things.
Here is the text from our Gospel reading today:
18:9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:
18:10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
18:11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
18:12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.'
18:13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'
18:14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."
Who is the one who is going to be delivered? The tax collector. He is merely saying the Jesus prayer. The Pharisee is not calling on the name of the Lord. He is only praising himself. Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Who is the Lord? Yahweh, the creator God, the great I AM. Not Buddha. Not Vishnu. Not Zeus. Not a tree. Not the devil. Not an angel. Not a person. Not a celebrity. Not a politician. Only the creator God can deliver us, and so only his name is to be called upon.
And he has given us the name by which we are to be saved: Jesus Christ. The name actually means, "he saves." The Hebrew word is Jeshua, translated into Greek as Iesus, and into our modern language as Jesus. Joshua in the Old Testament, delivered God's people from one side of the Jordan River to the other side, into the promised land.
So, whoever calls continually on the name of the Lord will be delivered. Whoever continually prays to Jesus Christ will be saved. This sounds like the easiest thing in the world, but at the same time, to continually pray to God sounds impossible. Also, our fallen nature refuses to pray to the Lord. We don't WANT to call on the name of Jesus. We resist with every fiber of our being. Does this mean that we shall not be delivered after all?
The good news is also in the last verse of the Joel passage:
Joel 2:32: Then everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.
Those who call on the name of the Lord are the ones whom the Lord calls. Yes, God is previous yet again, and his calling on our hearts comes first. He gives us his Spirit, who intercedes for us, calling on the name of the Lord when we are unable to. Listen to Romans 8:
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
The best news of all is here! God will not let us be lost in the uncreation. He calls us to call on him. We will not fail to call on the name of the Lord, because the Lord has called on us first. He has given us his Spirit, and the Spirit does the impossible work for us, so that we can make the transition from darkness to light, from destruction to salvation, from death into life. Lord Jesus deliver us!