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Twenty–Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Mike Moffitt, November 15, 2020

The Day of the Lord, Part 2

Text: Zephaniah 1:7; 12–18

Many years ago, my father started a Saturday morning prayer meeting for men. They would gather at 7:00 a.m. to pray and worship in the conference room of a company owned by one of the men, then all would go to “Famous Anthony’s” for breakfast together. Famous A’s had an amazing breakfast menu.

This went on for approximately 15 years and at one time there were 12–14 men every week. It was a powerful time of prayer and praise and those men grew in the Lord together and shared their deepest needs with one another. If one person had a financial need the others would seek to provide for him. If one had a tragedy or setback in his life, the group would gather around that one in love and support.

There was real diversity in the group. They ranged from the General Manager of ITT Night Vision to the janitor at a local Methodist church. There also was racial diversity which can always happen when Jesus is the focus of the group. When I was in town I often went with my father to these meetings and before long I was one of the gang.

In my opinion, the one problem they had would show up when there was a medical problem. Whenever someone spoke of something being wrong in their health, they would confess that it was temporary and claim the healing promised by God. At various times different men were diagnosed with various ailments and two of them had cancer. It was considered unfaithful to God’s promises to accept the fact that it might be terminal, you had to believe that you were already healed in the here and now. To say anything else was considered a lack of faith in God who had promised in Isaiah 53:5,

…he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

We ended up having some lively discussions on this topic as I usually suggested that we live in a fallen world and the passage does not guarantee perfect health for believers during the present age, but Christ will completely heal his people when he raises them from the dead in glorified bodies. The Apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:24,

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

This speaks of a present reality that could mean healing now, but certainly will be fully realized in the future event of the Day of the Lord.

Does God still heal the sick? Yes, he does, and when that happens it is glorious but for many, if not most, it is in their entrance into the Kingdom of God, a future event. For that group of men that loved the Lord and each other with real passion and commitment the problem came when the two men that had cancer died, and the one man who always insisted that we should all be healed now developed a serious eye condition that ended up being permanent.

They learned that God moves through each and every trial or tribulation to conform us to the image of Christ. Those in Christ will eventually all be completely healed in body, mind and spirit because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In that little prayer group, one by one each of the men passed away until the group stopped meeting. However, by God’s grace they discovered the joy of walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death with each other and finding the presence of the Lord there.

For those who are Christ-followers, God always shows up in love and mercy no matter how dire and painful the situation. I love Psalm 30:11–12,

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; 
        you have loosed my sackcloth
        and clothed me with gladness, 
that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
        O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

I told you this story because often people neglect to deal with those passages that are frightening, that bring conviction of sin, or suggest that God’s people will suffer in this life. It’s understandable that each of us would prefer that everything in our present situation would be pleasant and full of nothing but joy and gladness. However, that is not the current reality, nor has it ever been in this fallen world. But even in these times of great trouble, God would have us find joy and the peace of God only found in Jesus Christ our Lord. This is in spite of what is clearly going on throughout this land.

We have seen examples from God’s word over the past few months of the disciples rejoicing, praising God, and singing hymns even while chained to the floor in a dank and filthy prison. They set a precedent for how the followers of Christ should face whatever comes their way. As the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:11–13,

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

I believe that today, we are experiencing a time of God’s judgment upon this country and even around the world. The Bible has much to say about such times because God would have his people pay attention to his warnings as well as his promises of blessings, where some can be for now and others in the age to come.

Last week we looked at Amos 5:18–24. Amos was asking the people of Israel why they were looking forward to the Day of the Lord? The Day of the Lord refers to that time when God will come as King to judge his enemies and bless his faithful people. Often this is in reference to the Second coming of Christ and the day of judgment. The term is used 25 times in the scriptures. It can refer to the final event in history when Jesus returns or times when God will move to accomplish judgment on the nations and his people Israel and Judah. Amos was referring to the day of the Lord where God was coming to judge evil, but the evil, in this case, existed in Israel itself. Israel failed to keep the commands of God and they fell away from covenant faithfulness and instead became an apostate nation living under the judgment of God.

Amos prophesied to the Northern Kingdom (Israel) because their future was so dark and bleak. They were looking forward to the time when God would come as King to judge his enemies and bless his faithful people. They had become so confident and arrogant as to their relationship with God that they were looking forward to the “Day of the Lord.” They assumed that it would be to their benefit because they failed to understand that their flagrant violations of the covenant actually made them enemies of God—the object of his wrath.

Amos is giving a wake-up call to a people who had grown complacent and yet assumed that they were in right standing with God. He wanted them to see that they had no reason to rest when there was no evidence that God was pleased with them. Their apostasy had produced within them a spiritual blindness as to the real condition of their hearts toward God and they could not conceive of God sending anything but blessings to them.

Today we will consider the word of the Lord that came to Judah through the prophet Zephaniah. The prophet was sent by God to call the people of Jerusalem and Judah to repentance. God was going to send the armies of Babylon to bring severe judgment on Judah and many other nations because of their sins.

The first chapter is divided into two main parts. In 2–6 there is a very graphic depiction of the approaching judgment that was to include the known world through the Babylonian aggression. In verse four the prophet turns the focus on Judah and Jerusalem. God was sending the Babylonian army to destroy Jerusalem and sweep away everything that the people of Judah held dear. Like Israel, Judah had added the worship of Baal and Molech to their worship of the God of Israel. The worship of the Ammonite God Molech was especially reprehensible to God. The hideous ritual of child sacrifice through fire was a part of the worship practice. They had turned against God and now he assured them that he would turn against them.

Let’s read chapter 1 verse 7,

Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests

In essence, God is speaking to the king and to the people of Judah and telling them to “shut up” and listen. God was speaking and bringing a word of divine judgment. His presence was there in the word of his prophet, and judgment was coming. This should have been a time of reverence because the day of the Lord was to be a time of judgment against the enemies of God. At this point both Judah and Israel before them had shown themselves to be the enemies of God by worshipping the pagan gods of other nations. He compares the coming of the Lord in judgment of Judah to a sacrifice. The invited guests were likely the nation of Babylon, those who were to be instruments of divine judgment. Judah would themselves be the sacrificial offerings.

God is threatening Judah with a reversal of the created order. Ordinarily animals were offered as sacrifices and consumed in sacrificial meals. However, God is telling them that their bodies would become food for the animals as they lay slain by their conquerors. This isn’t the only time that God threatens this. Listen to Ezekiel 39:17–19,

As for you, son of man, thus says the Lord God: Speak to the birds of every sort and to all beasts of the field: ‘Assemble and come, gather from all around to the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you, a great sacrificial feast on the mountains of Israel, and you shall eat flesh and drink blood. 18You shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth—of rams, of lambs, and of he-goats, of bulls, all of them fat beasts of Bashan. 19And you shall eat fat till you are filled, and drink blood till you are drunk, at the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you.’

The Apostle John made the same reference in Revelation 19:17–19,

Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, 18to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” 19And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army.

Zephaniah's word from the Lord was not good news to those who chose to turn against God. This was serious business. Let’s read Zephaniah 1:12–13,

At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘The Lord will not do good, nor will he do ill.’ 13 Their goods shall be plundered, and their houses laid waste. Though they build houses, they shall not inhabit them; though they plant vineyards, they shall not drink wine from them.

God is speaking through the prophet addressing the king to the common laborer. God promises to seek out all those who are complacent and doubt that he will do anything. Their attitude and standing before God had become a matter of indifference to them. God was promising that he was removing everything from their lives that spoke of normalcy. All their goods would become the possession of their enemies. The houses they built would be lived in by others, even the wine they had made from the grapes they had grown would be the delight of their enemies, instead of themselves.

God, who had given them the Promised Land for their enjoyment and for the raising of their families, would take it back and for a time will give it to the pagan king of Babylon. This was to be the land set apart for the worship of the God of Israel where from the time of their birth the children would be taught of the glory and wonder of the creator God who had brought his chosen people out of the land of Egypt, and out of the bondage of slavery. Instead, they turned away from God and embraced the gods of other nations and the godless practices of their worship.

Since the Garden of Eden, it has been the practice of men to seek their own way apart from God. Edward Gibbon in his book, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, described the attitude towards religion in the last days of the Roman Empire – attitudes remarkably like our own today.

· The people regarded all religions as equally true.

· The philosophers regarded all religions as equally false.

· The politicians regarded all religions as equally useful.

Let’s read verses 14–15,

The great day of the Lord is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. 5A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation,  a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness,…

David Guzik in his commentary on Zephaniah makes this observation,

The term day of the LORD does not necessarily refer to one specific day; it speaks of “God’s time.” The idea is that now is the day of man, but the day of man will not last forever. One day, the Messiah will end the day of man and bring forth the day of the LORD.

In the remaining part of our passage from Zephaniah chapter one, God includes a pronouncement of judgment upon all the nations of the earth because they have sinned against the Lord. In verse 18,

Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the Lord. In the fire of his jealousy, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full and sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.

God speaks of his jealousy which reveals his covenant love. He had redeemed a people for his own possession and because of that expected absolute loyalty. I can only imagine what it was like to hear the prophet declare these words to the king and people of Judah. The first part of the book that we considered should have been terrifying. In the beginning of chapter two God invites the people to gather together and humble themselves before the wrath and fierce anger of God comes upon them. If they would seek the Lord through repentance, perhaps God would relent and save them, but as most of us know they did not.

In Psalm 90, the prayer of Moses that we read this morning, we find the same frustration of the man of God with the people of God. This prayer of Moses was almost certainly written during the wilderness years on the way to Canaan. In all those years Israel lived in constant need of refuge, shelter, protection, and forgiveness. Though they dwelt in tents, Israel had God as their dwelling place, their refuge, and their protection but couldn’t see the blessing that was theirs. The Lord God of heaven and earth had chosen to bless them with his continual presence, how could that not be the most wonderful thing in the world? I guess it would depend on what you wanted to get by with.

The psalm begins with this great affirmation concerning the relation of man to God. Moses didn’t address God as Elohim the Mighty One, or as Jehovah, the Helper, but as Adonai—the Sovereign Lord, who “from everlasting to everlasting you are God (Elohim).” Moses is approaching Adonai, the Sovereign Lord proclaiming that from generation to generation you are the “mighty One.” He knew firsthand that the Sovereign Lord should be approached with love, but it would by necessity be accompanied with awe, respect and fear.

He had seen the Lord in his glory, and he knew that the Lord God was Holy, Holy, Holy, he is completely set apart from his creation, there is no one like Him. God was not to be fully comprehended and there was no way to measure his power, glory, majesty, wisdom, strength, love—or his wrath. This prayer is a touching appeal of Moses for God’s blessing on the members of the generation doomed to wander in the wilderness, and their children. Moses had seen the judgment of God turn man to dust from which he came. He saw it with the wicked in Egypt and with disobedient Israel. The eternal God who created all things was and is a God to be appropriately feared and respected by man. God knows every step and action of men and renders justice accordingly.

In the wilderness Moses and the people of Israel at times felt consumed by God’s anger and terrified by His wrath. It must have been crushing for Moses to see a whole generation melt away in the wilderness, dying away under the judgment of God.

Theologian Andrew Maclaren wrote,

We do not understand the full blessedness of believing that God is our asylum, till we understand that He is our asylum from all that is destructive…nor do we know the significance of the universal experience of decay and death, till we learn that it is not the result of our finite being, but of sin.

Moses' prayer is by a man who had come to see the disparity between the absolute purity, holiness and righteousness of God and the darkness to be found in the hearts of men and women. He had encountered on several occasions the mystery and glory of the God who created all things by the power of his word. He had seen God’s wrath poured out upon the Pharaoh of Egypt and his armies. He had seen God rescue Israel in absolutely miraculous ways from their enemies and had seen them respond by turning away from their rescuer. He had also experienced what can happen when a man encounters God and is transformed by that encounter. He knew the frustration of wanting the people under his care to know God as he did. So, he seeks to intercede between the justice of the Sovereign Lord and the sinfulness of God’s chosen people, Israel.

I love this prayer because it is based on the truth of who God is versus the truth of who Israel had become. There was no hope unless Israel would repent, and God would forgive them because of it. The justice of God demands that sin be dealt and there are only two ways that can happen.

1.) A person in their unbelief faces the God of justice and is condemned to Hell for all eternity. Justice dealt with.

2.) A person comes to Jesus Christ in repentance of their sins and puts their faith and trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and embrace him as Savior and Lord. Justice satisfied.

These are the only two options. In our Epistle reading from 1 Thessalonians 5:1–10, Paul reminds the church that the day of the Lord would come like a thief in the night. Game over—darkness loses, the light of Christ wins. No negotiations, no deals made, no hope apart from a relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul exhorts the church to be ready in 8–10,

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.

Just like last week in the parable of the 10 virgins in Matthew 25, we saw only five of the 10 were ready for the coming of the bridegroom. Carl Smith pointed out this past week that all ten were virgins, morally pure but that wasn’t enough to gain them entrance to the wedding feast. They had to be prepared to meet the bridegroom—they had to know him and what it took to be prepared to be in the wedding party.

In each of our scriptures this morning the message is the same. The Day of the Lord is coming, are you prepared?

Let’s pray.

©2020 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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