At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, ‘The Lord will do nothing, either good or bad.’ Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished. Though they build houses, they will not live in them; though they plant vineyards, they will not drink the wine.”
The great day of the Lord is near- near and coming quickly. The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter; the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry. That day will be a day of wrath—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. Zephaniah 1:12-16 (NIV)
Old Testament prophets were sort of a buzz kill in their day. It seems everyone is minding their own business, doing their own thing, and maintaining the status quo, and then one of these guys shows up. Someone like an Isaiah or Jeremiah- or in the case of today’s verses, one of the minor prophets, Zephaniah- shows up and sounds a warning. Before the days of the printing press or telecommunication, God spoke to His people through the prophets. The prophets sounded the warning so that people might get it that things aren’t going according to God’s plan, and that God is making a way to change the pattern. When the prophets show up, the message is usually something like this:
Hey, people, wake up! God wants you to know that he’s not pleased with the status quo. God is a merciful God, but sometimes He needs to shake it up and get you on board with His program- for your own good. It’s time to examine ourselves and get on board with God’s plan, before it’s too late.
It’s easy to confuse being a Jesus follower with being someone nice. But Christian and nice are not always synonyms. Sometimes the most Christ-like thing to do doesn’t seem nice at all. Did Jesus look nice when He toppled the moneylenders’ tables in the synagogue? We want to visualize Jesus as the gentle Shepherd, almost as a milquetoast, and not as the Lion of Judah depicted in Revelation 5. Jesus is both the Good Shepherd and Almighty God, and sometimes we forget that His judgment is as real as His mercy.
We should be gentle and compassionate with each other and those around us, but gentleness and compassion are not the same as enabling others’ destructive behavior, or looking the other way at things we know are sinful and evil. This is hard because we are all sinners and hypocrites. We must be discerning, and should always examine ourselves first before taking on the sins and faults of others.
Zephaniah was talking about those of us who get complacent and satisfied with ourselves. We certainly believe in a gracious and merciful God, but we also need to understand that He has a purpose for us and that He expects our lives to honor Him. He does not expect us to sit around bragging about how great we are. How we treat others is a big part of trusting Jesus and relying on Him- are we really being loving (not necessarily nice) to those around us?
The prophets’ messages of judgment are not meant to scare us but to keep us aware and focused on who we belong to and who He created us to be.
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. Revelation 3:14-20 (NIV)
Are we as Jesus followers aware of our deep need for Jesus? The Laodicean church was called out because they were rather meh about God, and not aware of their need for Jesus. They thought they were self-reliant, but in truth they were not. We as a community of Jesus followers are nothing unless Jesus is the center of all we are and all we do.
Before we as Jesus followers can effectively reach out to the broader community, we need to reach out to Jesus constantly in prayers and petitions, we need to invite Him in, so He will bring us to repentance (which is simply for us to want to turn toward Him,) and ask for Him to shine His light on us so that He may make us more like Him.
Do we derive our identity and our being from Jesus? That is probably the biggest question we should ask when we encounter the doomy and gloomy messages from the prophets.
A wise Pastor once said: “Love God, and do what you want.” If we truly love God then it stands that we will want what He wants: for His Kingdom to be made as real here on earth as it is in heaven. It is a process and a journey that has both failures and triumphs. The good news is that Jesus is with us through it all.