THE DAY OF THE LORD IS NEAR
Last week we began to talk about the Day of the Lord. If you recall, the Day of the Lord is the last days when Jesus returns in glory to the earth to judge all of its inhabitants. There are certainly those Christians who look forward to that day and I suppose that, in some ways, we all look forward to it. But last week we learned that the Day of the Lord may not be quite what some of us think. It will not be a day of light but a day of darkness. It will not be a day of joy but of distress. In Amos, the word we read was woe. Amos 1:18 (NIV) said, “Woe to you who long for the day of the LORD! Why do you long for the day of the LORD? That day will be darkness not light.” And them Amos went on to describe what that might look like. But he also said something else that should cause us to pause. He told the people of Israel that God did not give a whiff about all the churchy things that they did. God didn’t care about their religions feasts and celebrations. God took no notice of their sacrifices and their worship songs. What God really cared about was not what they did but rather what was in their hearts. They could make all of the offerings they wanted and sing all of the songs of praise they could sing but if that didn’t result changed lives, it was all for naught.
The prophet Zephaniah continues with the same theme as Amos. But before we go on, I have to explain something that is key to understanding the Old Testament prophets. They were not writing to 21st century Christians. They were writing to the Jewish people in their day. In the case of Zephaniah, that’s somewhere around 600 B.C. All of the prophets addressed the very same thing, the unfaithfulness of the people and how they had turned away from God. The day of the LORD was the day of judgment when God would pour out his wrath on the unfaithfulness of the people. Some people think this sounds cruel because how could a God of love pour out wrath upon his people? God can do that because God is not only a God of love, God also is a God of justice and justice is sometimes not very pretty. In fact, sometimes justice is harsh. All of the prophets, including Amos last week and Zephaniah this week, warned the people to return to God in order to avoid the wrath of God.
But he makes it more immediate because he says that the day of the Lord is near. Zephaniah 1:7 (NIV) says,
“Be silent before the Sovereign LORD,
for the day of the LORD is near.
The LORD has prepared a sacrifice;
he has consecrated those he has invited.”
The day of the Lord is near. We’ve heard that ever since Jesus ascended to heaven after the crucifiction and resurrection. Every generation has understood those words to mean that Jesus was coming back in its lifetime. Even today, there are all sorts of people who are very willing to tell you that all the signs are lining up. Prophecy is about to be fulfilled. The time horizon is short. Jesus is coming soon. But every generation has found reason to think the same way. How is it any different now?
The truth is that it is no different all. The signs that the end of the world that people see today are no different than the ones they have always seen. So what’s all this stuff about the day of the Lord being near? That’s a great question. Let me try to answer it. The key to understanding what it means to say that the day of the Lord is near is to realize what the prophets were trying to achieve. And while what the prophets wrote was sometimes different, the common factor with all prophecy is that it was a call to return to God. That is, at its core, what prophecy is all about. Its focus is not to give people an idea of what the future will bring. Its focus is to return the people to faithfulness now. That means that prophecy is a warning: smarten up or else.
Does that mean that Zephaniah is mistaken when he said that the day of the Lord is near? Not at all. Like everyone else, he has no clear idea of when the day of the Lord will occur. This is confirmed in Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:36 (NIV) which say, “No one knows about the day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Only God the Father knows when Jesus will return in glory. No one else knows; not Amos or Zephaniah, not Tim Lahaye or Hal Lindsay or any other end times prognosticator, not you nor me nor anyone else. Why do I know that’s true? I know it’s true because that’s what the Bible says.
And because we don’t know when he will return, there is just as good of a chance that Jesus will come back tomorrow as any other times. And since Jesus is just as likely to come back tomorrow as he is to come back 1,000 years from now, the day of the Lord is indeed near. In fact, it is so near that we need to live and act as if it will be tomorrow or maybe tonight or may this morning before we sing the next song. We don’t know and that is why we have to assume that the day of the Lord is near.
Next, we discover in Zephaniah 1:12 (NIV) what, whenever it comes, the day of the Lord will mean:
“At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps
and punish those who are complacent,
who are like wine dregs,
who think, ‘The Lord will do nothing,
either good or bad,'”
When that day comes, whenever it will be, it will begin with a search. Zephaniah talks about a search of Jerusalem because those are the people he is addressing 2,600 years ago. But the same thing relates to us. When the day of the Lord comes, when Jesus returns in glory, every village, town and city will be searched with lamps. Why lamps? Because, as we learned last week, it will be a day of darkness. The lamps are necessary to break the darkness and find those who might hide away from the Lord.
But then comes the next phrase. God will search with lamps and will punish those who are complacent, who are like wine dregs. That’s the stuff that settles into the bottom of the wine casks, the stuff that gets thrown out, the garbage so to speak. The key word, however, is complacent. God will punish those who are complacent.
What does complacency mean? It refers to those who don’t take God and his judgment seriously. It refers to those who say, “It doesn’t matter what we do or say or think in this world because God isn’t going to do anything about it anyway. So just don’t worry about it. Do whatever you want and everything will work out just fine.” Really?
The people of Israel, to whom the Old Testament prophets spoke, thought that way and every time they did, every time they grew complacent thinking that God wouldn’t do anything about it, they discovered that they were wrong. In the case of Zephaniah, his prophecy was fulfilled when in 612 B.C. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was used by God to defeat Judah and destroy the holy city of Jerusalem. So much for complacency.
The parable of the talents that was read a few minutes ago is another story of what happens when people become complacent. A wealthy man goes away for while leaving three of his servants in change of part of his property. Each were given a certain amount of money to manage in the owner’s absence. Two of them used the money and put it to work making more. But the third servant buried his money in the ground so that when the owner returned there was nothing to show for it. Which of these three servants do you suppose was the complacent one? It was the one who did nothing with what he had been given. It’s not that he lost anything. He just didn’t do anything. He played it safe thinking that the owner wouldn’t give him a break because at least he had returned in full what he had received.
How wrong he was. Instead of rewarding him for not losing anything, the owner had him tossed out. Matthew 25:30 (NIV) describes where the owner says: “And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness (there’s that darkness again), where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The reason the servant was punished was because he didn’t do anything with what he had been given. He was complacent. The sense of the parable is that even if he had tried to do something with the money and had lost it all, the owner would have been easier on him because at least he had tried. Complacency is not the way of God. It is not the way of the cross. It will not be rewarded on the day of the Lord. In fact, it will be punished. Do not be complacent thinking that God does not care and God will not act. God does care and God act. That is Zephaniah’s message to us.
And then in Zephaniah 1:13 (NIV) we learn what God’s judgment will look like:
“Their wealth will be plundered,
their houses demolished.
They will build houses but not live in them;
they will plant vineyards but not drink the wine.”
That sounds more than a bit like the servant who did nothing with what the owner had given him. He lost everything. That is what happens here too. Zephaniah warns us that those who are complacent, who do not use their gifts for the purposes of God will have those thing taken from them in the last days. God’s judgment will happen and God’s justice will be swift and uncompromising.
But now comes the rest of passage. Zephaniah 1:14-18 (NIV) says this:
“The great day of the LORD is near –
near and coming quickly.
Listen! The cry on the day of the LORD will be bitter,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of trouble and ruin,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness.
a day of trumpet and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the corner towers.
I will bring distress on the people
and they will walk like blind men,
because they have sinned against the LORD.
Their blood will be poured out like dust
and their entrails like filth.
Neither their silver nor their gold
will be able to save them
on the day of the LORD’s wrath.
In the fire of his jealousy
the whole world will be consumed,
for he will make a sudden end
of all who live in the earth.”
Once again, Zephaniah is not speaking directly to us. He is speaking to the people of Jerusalem 2,600 years ago. And everything he prophesied came true when the Babylonian armies defeated Jerusalem. The gates of the city and the walls were torn down and the all of the people, rich and poor alike, were carted off into slavery in Babylon for the next seventy years. That’s what happened because of their complacency.
But although Zephaniah was not talking directly to us, his words still serve as a warning. Do not be complacent. For the end is coming. Jesus will return and when he comes, whenever that might be, we must be ready. He may not come for a thousand years but we have to live and act as if he will come tomorrow. As Zephaniah writes: “The great day of the LORD is near – near and coming quickly.” So don’t be complacent. Don’t think that how you live doesn’t matter. And don’t rest on your laurels because the end is coming. It is near and coming quickly.
EVERYONE WILL BE JUDGED
The other point that I want to make is this. Everyone will be judged. Everyone. On the day of the Lord every single person, male and female, young and old, rich and poor, regardless of your ethnic background, the colour of the skin or the language that you speak, everyone will be judged.
We don’t like to think that way because we think that only the sinners deserve judgment. But what happened in Jerusalem after Zephaniah’s prophecy? What happened was the then entire city was judged and taken off into captivity. From the prophet’s words it sounds like most of the people deserved what they got because they had failed miserably when it came to living the lives that God called them to live. They did not share their wealth. They did not help their neighbours. The hungry were left to fend for themselves and the naked were left to shiver in the streets. The homeless were given no shelter and the widows and orphans were abandoned. And so God’s judgment was that the city be destroyed. And it was.
But do you think that all of the people in the city we wicked? Should we assume that every last person was complacent? I don’t think so. I’m sure that there were people in Jerusalem who lived exactly the way God called them to live. They fulfilled the commandments. They shared their wealth with those in need. They fed the hungry, visited the lonely and comforted the broken hearted. They honoured God with all they did. And yet they too were caught up in the judgment. They too were carried off by the Babylonians along with the most vile sinners.
Why would God do this? It’s because in the day of the Lord, all of the world will be judged, saint and sinner alike. That means everyone. That means the Christians will face the great tribulation that is talked about in Revelation. There will be no rapture to save us from the darkness. We will walk through it like everyone else.
And we will be tested. Here’s the reality with which most of us live. It’s not difficult to be a Christian in Canada in 2017. I know that there are those who attack our faith but we are still free to practice it. That’s not true of all Christians. There are places in the world where you can be imprisoned or even executed simply for being suspected of being a Christian. But that’s the case for us.
The tribulation on the day of the Lord will tell us how strong our faith is. It’s easy to have faith when everything is rosy. But what happens to faith when times get tough and darkness falls? What happens when, as Zephaniah wrote, we don’t live in our houses or enjoy the food from our gardens? Will we have faith when we are hungry and cold and scared to death? Those are good questions.
“The day of the Lord is near,” says Zephaniah. “It is near and coming quickly.” Will you be ready for it when it arrives or will God find you complacent? Do you believe that Jesus will come again? Do you believe that there is just as good of a chance that he will come tomorrow as 1,000 years from now? Are you living like that’s true? Think about it because judgment is coming and it will come at a time when you least expect it.
At this point, some of you are thinking, “Why did I come to church today? This is awful. Usually I feel better when worship is done. Now I’m just scared.” If that’s how you’re feeling than mission accomplished.
But don’t fear because the story is not over yet. For the past two weeks, I’ve been giving you the bad news, the news of darkness and distress and destruction. But that’s not the last chapter. Next week, the last week Sunday of the Church year, the Sunday before the beginning of Advent when we prepare for the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, I will share with you what the actual judgment means for Christians. And that, my brothers and sisters, is good news so come on back next week and hear what the prophet Ezekiel has to say.
Those who have ears, let them hear
what the Spirit says to the Church in the village of Cottam.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God, we thank you for our world, for its infinite varieties of people,
colours, races and culture, for endless opportunities for
making new relationships, venturing across new frontiers,
creating new things, discovering new truths,
healing the hurt and the broken.
Forgive us our narrowness of vision which only sees the clouds
and misses the rainbow.
We thank you for the gift of life shown to us in a baby. This morning we give thanks for Evelyn Dunn and Blake Morand. Bless these new families, children and parents, so that these babies may grow up in the love and knowledge of Jesus.
As we thank you for our abundance, we consider the poor of this world. They don’t have enough to eat. They have no security. How many of them don’t even know where they are going or what they will find when they get there? We give thanks for people who have the courage to enter that situation and try to make a difference. We pray, also, for our Canadian military personnel who are and will be involved in many international situations. May their presence assist in the process of healing and peace as they protect the vulnerable and innocent.
We pray for the sick, at home or in hospital. We think, especially, of Don, Sharon, Helen, Lyle and Lou-Anne. Grant them your Healing Spirit. Touch us all, O God, and heal our wounds, whatever they may be. Make us well in your sight. May we feel whole in our hearts.
May the mind of Christ our Saviour live in us day by day.
May the Word of God dwell richly in our hearts from hour to hour.
May the peace of God rule our lives in everything.
May the love of Jesus fill us as the waters fill the sea.
May we run the race before us, strong and brave to face the foe,
looking only toward Jesus as onward we go.
We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
November 19, 2017 / Pentecost 24 / Proper 28
Judges 4:1-7; Psalm 123; Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30
CALL TO WORSHIP
To you, O God, we lift up our eyes.
To you, O God, we give our praise.
The Lord’s mercy never ends.
The compassion of God is boundless.
Let us worship the One who gives us life.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Hear our prayers, O God of the Ages. Lend your ear to our worship. We come to you, lowly and unworthy as we are, knowing that, in Jesus Christ, we sing our praises to you as whole and forgiven people. Let the mountains shout your honour. May the valleys be lifted up to give you glory. Your Spirit moves where it will but you have chosen to breathe it over the face of Creation and into our lives. How can we thank you for your great mercy and compassion? Yet, we come. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Holy God, we are guilty of many sins. We sometimes hide our talents and keep them to ourselves. We fail to share the fruit of our abundance. Fear grips us and uncertainty hinders us. We hesitate to step out in faith because we are afraid to confront the gods of this world. God have mercy on us and forgive our shortcomings. We are only human, the work of your hand. Lead us home into the light of your love. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Brothers and sisters in Christ, in Jesus our sins are truly forgiven. May we walk in the certainty that our Saviour journeys beside us and has opened for us the gates of eternal life.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Accept our gifts, O God, for we bring them with joy and celebration. Use these offerings and our whole lives to encourage others to enter your Kingdom. May the Good News that we know be shared in our daily journey that hearts may be changed and the world transformed. Amen.
Let us walk forward in the light of God’s
love to shine into the darkest corners. Let us bring hope into the lives of the
hopeless and love into the presence of the unloved. We are all God’s children,
equipped for ministry. May each and every one of us touch the heart of someone
before we meet again.