Dear Church Family,
“The great day of the Lord is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter, the warrior cries aloud there. That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom”
“The day of the Lord is near.” Well, these words from our Old Testament reading don’t seem to offer us much joy ahead! But fear not…this passage is worth digging into as there is much to be hopeful about when we understand what it is saying in the light and love of Jesus Christ.
I am not trying to over-dramatise the current world events we are living through – I am certainly not equating apocalyptic texts like this to “the end of the world” – at least not in the way the popular culture may depict it. But before we read it and pass it off as “problematic”, or not in keeping with how we understand the God of love, I wanted to offer these insights in order that we might grow in faith and understanding of just what God has done through his Son.
From the fall of humanity in Genesis 3, we have understood that there is going to be a judgement of all things - the day of the Lord. This is unavoidable and Zephaniah says as much in his book. Written at the time of the Babylonian invasion and captivity, we might assume the book is referring to the terrible events the people of Jerusalem went through in 600BC. Not only does he paint a picture of the coming judgment, Zephaniah tells the people it will begin with the religious - those in the very household of God. It is one of the most sobering chapters of the Bible because it doesn’t fit with the picture many of us have of judgement and justice. We tend to think that “bad” people will be judged and his “favourites” (us) will be OK. But Zephaniah is clear that no one avoids it.
So, what do we do about this? We should read on! There are only 3 chapters to the book, and it finishes in a way that shows us the Gospel with all its beauty and love.
“On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love.” Zephaniah 3:16-17
Who is this mighty warrior, in our midst? Who is the one who gives victory and renews us with his love? Jesus Christ. The cross of Christ is the place of judgement which no one can avoid. It is the place where Jesus, who is the true temple of God (the place where God and humanity both live) pours out his life as a “ransom for many”.
As Anglican Evangelist Glen Scrivener puts it:
“On the cross, He (Jesus) takes the judgement of God. Because judgement begins with the house of God. Good Friday was the day of the LORD come early. The cross was the Day of the LORD coming in the middle of history and falling on Christ, the Son of God.”
For those who have come to know and trust in Jesus, the sacrifice the Lord has prepared in Zephaniah 1:7 has already taken place – it was the Lord all along! The warrior’s cry in Zephaniah 1:14 has already gone out as Jesus breathed his last on the cross. The day of wrath, anguish and devastation in Zephaniah 1:15 has already happened on Good Friday. It all fell on Jesus. In other words, for those who have come to “be one” with Jesus, it’s already done. Jesus has taken on the judgement and pain that all creation will face, and he has put an end to death by doing so. He invites us to draw near to Him – to seek refuge from the storm with Him. That is why he is known as our Rock, our Redeemer, our Strong Tower, our Shelter and our present help in a time of need. The name Zephaniah literally means “the Lord hides”. In Christ, we are hidden from the judgement that is coming knowing that when it is all over, we have nothing to fear as we enter into his eternal glory. Perhaps the days ahead aren’t so dark after all…