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Watch! The Day of the Lord is Coming

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Dear Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

I went to a summer camp for a couple of summers as a kid.  I enjoyed it, but I don’t think I was the easiest kid to have in a group. 

One year we went on a canoe trip, that night at the campfire the counsellor was answering questions about the Bible.  I asked if he thought that the destruction of the earth by fire – mentioned in the Bible – would be ignited by a nuclear bomb.  I don’t remember his answer – I think he was rather flummoxed – but I do know that many people have questions about the end of the world. 

I’ve heard people speculate on late-night radio that the hurricanes in the gulf, the earthquakes and tsunami in southern Asia, and the wars around the world prove that the end of the world is near.  They point to these events as the Lord’s punishment upon a sinful world and the beginning of God’s judgement against humankind. 

It’s not only eccentric radio personalities warding off dead-air in the middle of the night who have these questions.  I’ve met these questions and conversations on pastoral visits as well.  Do these natural disasters and wars and rumours of wars indicate that the Lord is returning soon? 

While we don’t know the time or date of the Lord’s return, I can say this for certain: The Lord’s return is closer now than it ever has been . .  . but we don’t know whether it will happen tonight or 400 years from now.  We just don’t know. 

Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica addresses some of these questions.  When he visited the town and first preached the gospel, Paul had taught them about the Lord’s return as Jesus had explained it to the apostles.  When Timothy brought Paul an update on the church plant, the believers in Thessalonica still had questions. 

So, when he writes to encourage the church, Paul explains that people who fall asleep (who die) before Christ returns will enjoy Christ’s return.  They will rise first and be caught up together with those still to meet the Lord in the air and live with the Lord forever – the last part of chapter 4.

In the first part of chapter 5, Paul admits that we don’t know when the day of the Lord is going to take place.  Life will continue completely normally and most of the world will be completely surprised on the Day of the Lord.  There will be no warning; the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 

Paul warns that the day of the Lord will be a terrible day for those who are unprepared.  That’s why we read from Zephaniah’s prophecy as well this morning.  It gives a frightening description of the coming of the Lord.  He will come with wrath and punishment. 

Zephaniah was preaching in the days of Josiah – at the same time as the prophet Jeremiah.  It was the best of times and the worst of times in the history of Judah – the temple was being restored and many people were worshipping in the temple, yet there were still significant numbers of people who worshiped idols.  Through the Holy Spirit, the prophets were able to see that things would not continue the way they were going; the Lord would act and defend his glory among his chosen people.  He had had enough!

These were the last days before the Babylon army came and captured Jerusalem, deporting the nobility into exile.  By the Holy Spirit’s leading Zephaniah pointed beyond the day of the Lord’s punishment on Jerusalem – he sees the day of the Lord’s punishment to the whole world: the day of the Lord which we still await. 

Zephaniah sees it coming – he sees the Lord’s might advancing right through the middle of Jerusalem, beginning in the north at the Fish Gate, coming through the new quarter, and right down the valley that held the market district.   

It’s as if you saw the Lord searching with a lamp from Pt. Weller down Niagara St. all the way through St. Catharines right down to St. Paul St. 

Both Paul and Zephaniah agree that the day of the Lord will involve destruction, distress, and doom.  Zephaniah writes: “I will bring distress on the people and they will walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord.” 

God will bring judgment upon those who live in darkness and sin:

In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed,

for he will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth.”

Our God is jealous – in him it is no sin – he deserves the adoration and praise of all people for he is our maker.  By his grace we live and move and have our being.  He expects our worship and is jealous of those who do not give him his due. 

The day of the Lord will be frightening for all who do not worship God or acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  They will see God in his glory and majesty, they will see his jealousy, and they will feel his anger that his creation does not acknowledge him as their Lord.  Before him every knee will bow and they will confess Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father – and they will feel grief that they had never recognized Jesus as Lord before.  That grief and regret will torment them throughout their separation from God’s goodness and grace. 

But you, brothers and sisters, will not experience that sadness.  For all who believe, the day of the Lord will be a day of rejoicing, for we will finally see our Lord and Saviour face to face. 

Paul writes about a different response among believers.  Because we belong to the day, because we have been filled with light, the day of the Lord that is dawning does not hold any threat.  The arrival of the great judge of the living and the dead is not fearsome – because the judge is also our Saviour – he’s paid the penalty. 

So we watch for his coming and anticipate his arrival.  We stand prepared from the day of the Lord so that he will not find us unprepared.

Since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.  

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