Sunday, November 30, 2014

Day of distress, disaster, desolation, darkness

funnel cloud, wind
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Zephaniah 1:1-18

TO  CHEW ON: "The great day of the Lord is near …
That day is a day of wrath,
A day of trouble and distress,
A day of devastation and desolation
A day of darkness and gloominess
A day of clouds and thick darkness." Zephaniah 1:14,15

In the next three days we'll be reading the entire book of Zephaniah. It's written by Zephaniah, a princely prophet (a descendant of King Hezekiah) who was a contemporary of the prophets Jeremiah and Nahum. He prophesied during the reign of King Josiah.

King Josiah was the king of Judah who purged the land of idols and idolatrous priests and practices. During the cleaning of the temple, the priests of God found the Book of the Law. That led to the people again begin celebrating feasts like the Passover.

The feeling in the land was one of relief. The threat of the Assyrians was diminishing. Josiah's reforms led to a sense of complacency: All was again right between God and man in the Kingdom of Judah.
"Into this complacent atmosphere the devastating message (of Zephaniah) comes like a searing blast" writes Mary LaVonne Phillips in my Bible's introduction to Zephaniah (New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1231).
Why the doomful message when things were apparently going so well?

"In retrospect the reform was one of externals since the hearts of the people had not been changed" - Ibid.
Like many prophetic messages, Zephaniah's has three parts:
1. A pronouncement of judgment.
2. An appeal for repentance.
3. A promise of salvation.

It's easy to see that the part of the message we're reading today is the pronouncement of judgment. And lest we think predictions of "the day," or "the day of the Lord" or "judgment" are just in the Old Testament, consider these words from the mouths of:

Jesus: " 'He who rejects Me … the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day' " - John 12:48.

Paul: "But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" - Romans 2:5.

Jude: "And the angels … He has reserved in everlasting chains and darkness for the judgment of the great day" - Jude 1:6.

John: "For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand" - Revelation 6:17.

It's a message of coming judgment that is out-of-fashion for us moderns—even Bible-believing Christians. Hearing about judgment makes us squirmy and uneasy in the climate of the present evangelical world that emphasizes the love, grace, and mercy of God. But there it is in the Bible—an uncomfortable truth that we all must face.

There is a day of distress, devastation, desolation and darkness ahead. But thank God that is only the first part of the message!

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to view You realistically as not only the source of infinite, boundless love, but as Someone whose standards of purity and holiness demand a day of reckoning. Amen.

MORE: First Sunday of Advent

Today the church celebrates the first Sunday of Advent.

Today's liturgy begins with the following Collect:
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

ADVENT - a Wikipedia article that explains the history, customs and symbols of the Advent season

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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