Standing Before God

Zephaniah 1:4-7

“I will stretch out my hand against Judah
    and against all who live in Jerusalem.
I will destroy every remnant of Baal worship in this place,
    the very names of the idolatrous priests—
those who bow down on the roofs
    to worship the starry host,
those who bow down and swear by the Lord
    and who also swear by Molek,
those who turn back from following the Lord
    and neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him.”
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.

Dear friends in Christ,

In the life of a little child, one of the most frightening things experienced in their young life is the deserving wrath of fury and judgment coming from a mom or a dad.  I experienced it in my life was when I was much younger when I had to stand before my mom when I was about to get into trouble.  You see, my mom had these “Gone with the Wind” figurines from Avon.  It never failed, as many times as she told my brother and I not to touch them … they would end up broken when she left us home alone.  More specifically Rhett would be broken.  Poor Rhett.  He never did anything to me or my brother, but that hat he is holding, I can’t begin to tell you how many times we broke that thing off.  If we had time and knew where the super glue was, my brother and I would try to fix him before Mom got home hoping and praying that she wouldn’t notice … but somehow she always did.  Let me tell you, my mom is a very loving and gracious person and would do anything for us kids, … but to stand there before her hoping and praying that she didn’t know what I did was one of the most frightening things I’ve ever experienced.  The fearing for my life was even more frightening if she found out that we broke poor Rhett’s hat off days later.

As we enter into these last weekends of the church year, the readings typically assigned for these weekends get more and more dismal.  They get more and more frightening.  Especially readings like we have this morning from the prophet Zephaniah in our Old Testament reading.  If you read through the Old Testament prophets, there is a lot of talk about the “Day of the LORD.”  This great “Day of the LORD” is thought by the Israelite people to be a great day, a day where God will pour out numerous blessings, blessings upon blessings.  This “Day of the LORD” was believed to be a day of success, a day of prosperity, a national victory with a massive amount of celebrations.  However, that isn’t what is portrayed to us in the reading from Zephaniah this morning.

Zephaniah’s view of this great “Day of the LORD” is quite the opposite of what the Israelite people are expecting.  Instead of a day of prosperity with blessings upon blessings, Zephaniah’s view is quite dismal and rather frightening.  His view is actually quite destructive.  The day he describes is a day that is full of wrath, distress, and anguish.  It is full of trouble, ruin, darkness and gloom.  It is a day which the people will not want to experience.  Zephaniah’s description of the “Day of the LORD” reminds me much of the different times I had to stand before my mom after we broke off poor Rhett’s hat.  Now I didn’t expect her to be happy by any means, but the wrath of an angry mom is not something you try to put up a defense against.  It is best to just stand there and be quiet because the more I tried to talk back and defend myself, the more trouble I found myself in.

And the same is true with God.  God through Zephaniah calls out those who bow down on the roofs to worship the starry host, those who bow down and swear by the LORD and who also swear by Molech, those who turn back from following the LORD and neither seek the LORD nor inquire of him (1:5-6).  God is taking His children who bow down and worship the stars, who bow down and say they worship the LORD but really are worshipping these false gods that they made up … God is taking those who have completely turned their back on the LORD and don’t inquire of him … God is taking these children of His and is lining them up in front of Him much like my mom lined my brother and I up in front of her when she realized we had broken poor Rhett.

As the children of Israel try to defend themselves … they say things like, “But Lord, we’re not as bad as that nation over there” or “But Lord, it was just one time” or “But Lord, we promise, if you give us another chance, we’ll never do it again.”

But what does our reading from Zephaniah say, “be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near” (1:7).  As the people stand before God, God doesn’t want hear their excuses.  God doesn’t want to hear them try to defend themselves because He has heard it all before.  He heard from it from them when they were in the Promised Land worshipping false gods!  He heard it from them when they were wandering in the wilderness when they took matters into their own hands and grumbled against God and how He was taking care of them!  The thing is, the Israelites never do better.  Oh they may correct their ways for a little while, but when things are going well for them they slide right back into their old ways of neglecting God and those around them.  They neglect God really hoping and praying that He doesn’t find out what they had done.  They may even go so far as to try to fix their problem on their own hoping that it just goes away, that it just disappears.  But as they try to defend themselves, they are told by God to simply be silent.  Be silent for He already knows what they have done and He has heard and seen enough.

That feeling is how I it felt standing before my mom when she found out Rhett’s hat had been broken off for the umpteenth time.  No matter what excuse I made, no matter how much I tried to defend myself or blame it on my brother … she knew it would probably happen again.  The best thing for me to do was to stand there and be silent.  Stand there and be silent and take the punishment that I was about to receive.

And sadly … each of us are no better than any of the Israelites.  The things which God calls out the Israelites on … those are the same things we do.  Zephaniah says that people would bow down on their rooftops and worship the stars.  People announce and confess their devotion to Christ while at the same time relying on horoscopes or fortune-tellers to guide them or help determine what the future holds.  Zephaniah says that people would bow down and worship God, but then they would go home and worship the idols they made, they would worship their things, their possessions, themselves.  We come here to God’s house and we sing praises to God and pray to Him, but what do we do when we leave here?  Do we go home and lift up the false gods of our pride, our things, ourselves?  In the midst of good times, Zephaniah tells us that the Israelites didn’t seek out God or inquire of Him.  In the midst of our good times, we are quick to give ourselves pats on the back.  But when things turn sour, we question if God really loves me, we question if He really cares about me.

To all this … God says, “Be silent.”  “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” (Zeph. 1:7).  As you and I live in these end times, the great “Day of the LORD” is near and is coming at a time which we will not expect.  A day is coming when all, whether they believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior or not will stand before Him.  They will stand before God and say things like, “But Lord, I’m not as bad as that person over there” or “But Lord, it was just one time” or “But Lord, I promise, if you give me another chance, I’ll never do it again.”  But as we and others try to make excuses for all the things which we’ve done, God will simply say “Be silent.”

And the reality of it is that the only thing one can do as they stand before God is acknowledge the sins which they committed and ask Him for forgiveness.  In Zephaniah’s day, this was done through what was called the fellowship offering.  A person would bring an animal to the sanctuary, confess their sins over that animal’s head, and give it to the priest to be sacrificed.  In this offering, a piece of the meat of the sacrificed animal was given back to the worshiper.  And then that meat was shared with the worshiper’s family, friends, and other invited guests.  Their eating of the sacrificial meat together signified their happy fellowship with the LORD.

But God has a prepared a different kind of sacrifice for you and me.  As we gather before God and one another, we make confession of the sins we have committed.  We don’t make excuses for them, we just confess them.  As we confess those sins, God hears our confession and He forgives us of our sins.  The proof of this forgiveness is found not in the return of a sacrificed animal, but in the sacrifice of all sacrifices.  Through the selfless, sinless sacrifice of Jesus, through his body given for you and through his blood shed for you … you are forgiven of all of your sins.  And through Christ’s resurrection the promise of eternal life with him is given to you.

As the great “Day of the LORD” approaches, we don’t stand around and wait in fear.  We don’t stand before God on that last day like I did before my mom wondering what kind of punishment I was about to receive.  For you who believe that Jesus is your Lord and Savior, the last the day, the great “Day of the LORD” is not a day to be afraid of, but a day of great anticipation.  A day of great anticipation because the trials and tribulations of this world, the heartache and pain of this world will be gone forever.  The great “Day of the LORD” will be a truly glorious day for the beloved children of God as they will get to live with forever in the glorious riches of the new heaven and the new earth forever and ever.  Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever.  Amen.