Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Day of Distress

We're continuing our series in Zephaniah, and again, the prophet is promising darkness on the great and terrible day of the Lord. As we begin to look at Zephaniah 1:14-18, let's remember that the prophet is telescoping - there are two horizons in focus at the same time - the impending destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of Babylon, and the last day of the world, the Day of the Lord when time shall cease and Jesus will judge the world.

Verse 15 describes in vivid detail what the day will be like:

15 A 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,
16 a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the lofty battlements.

Wrath, distress, anguish, ruin, devastation, darkness, gloom, clouds, thick darkness, trumpet blast and battle cry. In the terrible sights and sounds of the battlefield, Zephaniah communicates what the day of judgement will be like. You see, most people have a hazy sense of (unfounded) hope that when you die, you automatically are welcomed into heaven, no matter how much of a scoundrel you were.

Yet Zephaniah doesn't allow for much of that false hope here. The warning is absolutely clear - darkness and ruin. Orange said that 'the future's bright, the future's Orange' - but Zephaniah's future is bleak.

Why is the future so bleak? Was Zephaniah just having a bad day and taking it out on everyone else? Surely God isn't like this? We have the fuzzy cuddly picture of God who is only ever and only always love, but Zephaniah is crystal clear in his vision of God - the holy God, the God who cannot abide sin - our sin.

17 I will bring distress on mankind,
so that they shall walk like the blind,
because they have sinned against the LORD;
their blood shall be poured out like dust,
and their flesh like dung.

The reason for this terrible day of the Lord, the outpouring of his wrath is because of our sin. God is perfectly justified in reacting this way, in acting in judgement, because of our rebellion and sin. Indeed, God's anger is his natural response to sin. Distress is coming to mankind. Our situation is serious.

Yet for many in the UK, and in the prosperous West, we think that we don't need to worry about anything - nothing can harm us, because of our wealth. That money is the cure to all our problems, the way to protect and secure us. Just look at the 'credit crunch' though - our money was no cure then - rather it was the very root of the problem, as many loved money and sought to make as much as possible, under volatile circumstances.

Zephaniah is under no illusions, though. Money will not be a help on that day:

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.

Neither silver nor gold will be much use to save and deliver when Jesus unleashes his wrath against sin. The one thing that many in our nations trust in, and it will be useless on that day. What a wake-up call, not just to the nations, but also to Christians - our money will not save us!

Can we not be awakened to see that money is a good servant but a poor master? That we can and should by all means use money to further the work of the gospel, but that it will never save us, nor anyone else.

As chapter 1 of Zephaniah ends, God promises to make a full end of all the inhabitants of the earth. The danger signs abound. The wrath of God is being revealed against all sin and sinfulness. Money will not save us. Later Zephaniah will speak further of how to be saved, how to escape the wrath, but for now, the mention of silver and gold not saving us brings to mind how Peter describes our salvation, our way of escaping the day of distress and destruction:

'Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.' (1 Peter 1:18-19)

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