November 16 2014 Sermon
ESV Zephaniah 1:7 aBe silent before the Lord GOD! For bthe day of the LORD is near; cthe LORD has prepared a sacrifice and dconsecrated his guests. 8 And on the day of the LORD’s sacrifice– a”I will punish the officials and the king’s sons and ball who array themselves in foreign attire. 9 On that day I will punish everyone awho leaps over the threshold, and those who fill their master’s1 house with violence and fraud. 10 “On that day,” declares the LORD, “a cry will be heard from athe Fish Gate, ba wail from cthe Second Quarter, a loud crash from the hills. 11 aWail, O inhabitants of the Mortar! For all the traders1 are no more; all who weigh out silver are cut off. 12 At that time aI will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men bwho are complacent,1 cthose who say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good, nor will he do ill.’ 13 Their goods shall be aplundered, and their houses laid waste. bThough they build houses, they shall not inhabit them; cthough they plant vineyards, they shall not drink wine from them.” 14 aThe great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter; bthe mighty man cries aloud there. 15 aA day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of bruin and devastation, ca day of darkness and gloom, da day of clouds and thick darkness, 16 aa day of trumpet blast and battle cry bagainst the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements.
If we see a man on the street holding a sign that says “The end is near!” he might make us feel uneasy and uncomfortable. But in the end we would probably pass him off as some sort of a lunatic. But what are we to do when we come to church today and hear in the Old Testament Reading that “the day of the Lord is near”? In the description of this “day of wrath” by the prophet Zephaniah, there is plenty to distress and trouble us. Destruction and devastation. Anguish and wailing. Darkness and death. What’s even more unnerving is that God himself will bring this punishment.
That’s right there in the Old Testament Reading. But . . . it is the Old Testament Reading. This day of wrath is the Old Testament “day of Lord.”
We’re certainly glad this Old Testament “day of the Lord” is just that—Old Testament—aren’t we! This day will be brutal (vv 7–16)! The word punishment is used several times. Quite unlike the idea many have today that God is a loving God who would never punish anyone. Many today think of God as non-judgmental, tolerant, overlooking people’s sins and faults, just wanting people to get along with each other. They say in their hearts, “The Lord will not do good nor will he do ill.” Or we perhaps think that the word judgment doesn’t apply to us Christians. That is only for non-Christians. The bad people. That we are off the hook. But then we look at the text more closely and realize that God was talking here to his own people. To Jerusalem. His chosen people of Israel. These were the people of God, not the pagans, not the sinners, not the unbelievers.
So then, which part of this description makes you cringe most? Is it the wailing (vv 10–11), the goods plundered (v 13a), the houses laid waste (v 13b)? Is it the ruin, the devastation, the darkness, the gloom (v 15)? Or is it the word “punish” used over and over again?
Zephaniah is seeing a coming day when God’s Old Testament people, Judah, would receive the just verdict for their faithlessness. A day when God’s wrath will give them exactly what they deserve for their idolatry, complacency, vanity. And this day was not far off for Zephaniah. It happened exactly as he said just a few short years after he prophesied this. The Babylonians did all this to Jerusalem in 606 BC, in 598, and, with finality, in 586 bc. This is God’s righteous vengeance on a sinful people, God’s Old Testament people, Judah! You might feel sorry for them, but when you read the rest of the Old Testament account you come to realize they really did deserve this. Just as we do today. We may hope that God will be tolerant with us and overlook our faults and sins, but when we really are honest with ourselves, we have to admit, we do indeed deserve punishment. We’re just too proud to admit it.
So glad this day of wrath is in the Old Testament. So glad this was a punishment only for Judah. Today we look forward to the New Testament “day of the Lord”! Christ’s second coming! That will be a good day for us. But wait a minute! Look back a couple of verses before our text (1:2–3). “I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord. “I will sweep away man and beast, I will sweep away the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, and the rubble with the wicked. I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord. The Lord will sweep away “everything” from the earth. Including all of mankind! This is more than just the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem. This is more than just being taken into exile. This is bigger than just destroying Jerusalem, or burning the temple. This is a worldwide, cosmic event that will affect all of creation. This is beginning to sound more and more like how Jesus described the end of the world.
Yahweh himself performs the sweep, and it is a sweep of worldwide proportions. His judgment falls not only on Jerusalem and Judah at the hands of the Babylonians, but on all nations of the earth. He is not talking about an event in history, but an eschatological event, at the end of time. This great day of the Lord is a day of wrath and distress against all sin and against all sinners.
“The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” That’s not an Old Testament, historical, “day of the Lord.” This is the eschatological final judgment of all mankind at the end of the world. This is what St. Paul was talking about in our Epistle. This is very much the way Christ described his return in glory as Judge (Mt 24:29–30; 25:41).
God’s Law reveals sin and calls for repentance. The day of final judgment will come suddenly, like a thief at night. Sudden destruction will come. The lukewarm or complacent must wake up! You cannot afford to be unprepared like the 5 virgins who didn’t bring enough oil for their lamps. Or like the slothful servant who hid the talent and did not use it for the growth of his kingdom and was cast out into everlasting darkness. You must not become enemies of Christ by setting up gods for yourselves; gods such as money, wealth, knowledge, or power. You must not go on living for the things of this earth, because this earth has already been condemned. Yes, even you who are faithful must repent before the day of the Lord. Call upon his name in humility and seek his righteousness. The righteousness that he earned for you by pouring out his blood on the cross.
Christ’s return will be the ultimate fulfillment of the “day of the Lord.” Our text, the historical destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, is a picture of this! The historical events of the Old Testament are images, visual aids, to help us see and understand what is taking place in our spiritual, Christian lives today. The destruction of Jerusalem is a vivid demonstration of what the final day of judgment will be, but on a much larger scale that encompasses all the world and all mankind.
So, then, Christ’s second coming is the day of God’s wrath? It is the day of judgment. It is the day of absolute and total destruction. Yes . . . but . . . Christ Jesus changes everything for those believing in him. In his mercy God sent his own Son to bear the full weight of human sin, as well as its punishment. Sin has been punished already. The law has been kept in its entirety already. All this Christ did for you. Christ came to save and restore all people.
In our midst he came and walked and lived among us. He preached repentance and the forgiveness of sins. And He bore all that punishment as God stretched out his hand against him. He was abandoned into hell where he suffered the punishment for your sin. Everything of God’s wrath poured out on Judah in all the Old Testament accounts of punishment, exile, captivity, destruction, was poured out on Judah’s offspring, Jesus (v 15). Jesus was the sacrifice for us, consecrated to suffer death and condemnation in our place (v 7). It was Jesus who was swept from the face of the earth into the grave.
But from the grave he came back again to live among us. Then he ascended back into heaven and sits at the right hand of God and from there He reigns victorious over the heavens and the earth. All things have been placed under his feet. Not only all mankind, but all rulers, all principalities, all spiritual powers, including the powers of darkness. Yes, even Satan and the demons are subject to Jesus Christ today. He rules over them and has all power and authority over them.
Therefore, fear not, o little one. For Jesus is Lord over all. He is lord over your life and all circumstances. He is lord who takes care of you, who protects you, and who supplies all your needs.
But also important, he has promised to return. As we enter the last weeks of the church year, we focus on the coming of the Lord. The day of the Lord is coming. And yes, it will be a day of destruction and judgment. But for those who are in Christ it will be a day of salvation. The day of Christ’s coming is the day of the Lord’s redemption. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Judge who takes away the judgments against his people. To those on his right hand he will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
The Day of God’s Wrath at Sin
Is Also the Day of His Salvation through Christ.
What a great day that will be when we see before our eyes the Lord our God, the Mighty One who saves! This is cause for joy, loud singing, and exultation with a full heart. Christ the Lord comes into our midst! He has swept away our sins; he is victorious over death. His presence among us will leave no room for fear, no place for shame, no cause for misery, nothing but joy! Amen.