25th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 28) LSB #’s 514 (tune 672), 511 (tune 621), 513 + (v. 5 of TLH 605)
Text – Zephaniah 1:8
And on the day of the Lord’s sacrifice – I will punish the officials & the king’s sons & all who array themselves in foreign attire.
WHAT ARE YOU WEARING TODAY?
In the last years of my dad’s life, it occurred several times that mom would wake up in the middle of the night & find her husband sitting on the edge of the bed, dressed in the suit that he normally wore to church. When she asked what he was doing, he’d say, “I’m going to die tonight & I want to be dressed for when the funeral home comes to take me.”
My dad had the stereotypical engineer personality, yet, wearing a suit for when the funeral home comes to take you is not very practical. They have a lot of work to do before you can be ‘dressed’ for your showing. However, my dad had it right, that it matters what clothes you are wearing when you die. It’s not true in a practical sense, but it is in a spiritual sense.
“And on the day of the Lord’s sacrifice – I will punish the officials & the king’s sons & all who array themselves in foreign attire.” As Zephaniah writes that, he’s not actually saying that wearing lederhosen is a sin. The point he is making is that wearing foreign attire was, in that context, a symptom of the sin underlying that choice.
In daily living, it’s important to recognize the difference between symptoms & underlying disease. If your heart & lungs are in poor condition, your skin may take on a blue tone. Covering the color of the skin with makeup will not address the problem. Blue skin is not the disease, but it is an accurate indicator that the heart & the lungs need to change.
The people of Judah wearing foreign attire was not the disease, but it was an accurate indicator of the underlying spiritual problem. In verses right before Zephaniah’s OT reading, God said, “I will stretch out my hand against… those who have turned back from following the Lord, who do not seek the Lord or inquire of Him.” (1:4 & 6 ESV) In verses after the sermon text, God says He will punish, “…those who fill their master’s house with violence & fraud… & men who are complacent…” (1:9 & 12 ESV) Disobeying God is the underlying spiritual problem. The men of Judah wearing foreign attire indicated their severe lack of devotion to the true God.
After the prophet Micah finished his work, there’s a long silence in recorded prophecy. Around 630 BC, the voice of God is heard again through Jeremiah, Nahum, Habakkuk & Zephaniah. The 70 years of silence corresponds roughly with the reign of Manasseh, who is known in Judah’s history as the worst of her kings.
His reign was marked by the introduction of idolatry on a grand scale, along with the emphasis of injustice & cruelty. Idolatry became so bad that during his reign a book of the law was either lost or destroyed. Around 20 years after the death of Manasseh, the high priest, Hilkiah, finds the book of the law (2 Kings 22:8) while repairs were being made to the temple.
Scholars today propose that it was the book of Deuteronomy that was found. Then, the good king, Josiah, gathered all the elders of Judah & Jerusalem. He gathered all the inhabitants of Jerusalem & the priests & the prophets, all the people, both small & great. He read to them that book. Zephaniah began his work early in the reign of Josiah.
The rebellious legacy of Manasseh still weighed heavily on the nation of Judah, poisoning the life its people, such that they wore the foreign clothing of pagan nations. Zephaniah confronted them with an uncompromising threat of judgment. Yet, that time is also marked by the rule of Josiah whose heart was penitent & who humbled himself before the Lord.
Zephaniah had words of comfort & hope for the repentant people of the land. He proclaimed radical words of judgment but also radical words of deliverance. He was given a vision that looked beyond the guilt of Manasseh, beyond the ineffective reforms of Josiah, to the coming King Jesus who would endure & accomplish all that Yahweh had prophesied. Once & for all, God would bring judgment & salvation in the one act of the cross. Zephaniah wrote to awaken both the holy fear & the complete trust which is the mark of all who wait for the day of which Zephaniah spoke – the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As a precursor to that judgment, God was going to punish “…the officials & the king’s sons & all who array themselves in foreign” clothing because those clothes were part & parcel of worshipping false gods. This idol worship disease swept through the king’s court & country under Manasseh, & persisted in the early reign of Josiah.
When the book of the law was found, king Josiah realized how wicked God’s chosen people had become. He tore his royal clothing & wept for his guilt & for the guilt of his people. What are you wearing today? Is your heart wearing the foreign robes of pride & arrogance, or is it wearing sackcloth & ashes?
The OT reading is not about joy & happiness. It’s about the coming destruction of Judah when Nebuchadnezzar conquers it & also destroys its capital city – Jerusalem. The line of David would no longer sit on an earthly throne. Not everyone with blue skin tone is dying of heart & lung disease. Not everyone wearing foreign clothing has rebelled against the Creator.
However, it is wise, even for God’s children, to take inventory of the spiritual clothing we are wearing. None of us know what day or what hour the funeral home will be coming to take us away. The writing of Zephaniah is meant to shatter all of our complacent security. It is meant to purify our hope by purging away all of our self-centered dreams.
Zephaniah’s proclamation of the Day of the Lord is a powerful & moving call to repentance. The NT takes up that thought with great vigor & centers it in Jesus Christ. The Day of the Lord is the Day of Jesus Christ on the cross of Golgotha. Whatever sorrows & suffering you endure, they officially became temporary on that day. Whatever heartache & pain is suffocating your ability to persevere, it officially became temporary on the Day of the Lord. God chose to take on all of mankind’s sorrows & suffering, heartache & pain, in the flesh of His Son, in order to make it temporary for the sheep who hear His voice & follow Him.
For anyone who rejects the voice of the Savior, their sorrows & suffering, heartaches & pain will become permanent. That message is difficult to hear, whether it confronts you personally, or whether it confronts someone that you love. However, taking sin & judgment seriously, helps us to understand forgiveness & eternal life in profoundly new ways.
The Scripture readings for these last Sundays of the church year take sin & judgment very seriously. And yet, they are not a cry to shape up or ship out. We read them in order that we recognize the inevitability of the Day of the Lord against all fallen creation, but especially focused on His special creature, the human race.
Jesus took on human flesh that He might take our place before the judgment throne. He would receive the punishment that you & I deserve. Yet, central to His role is that He would rise from the death of judgment to establish the new creation & the eternal life that is ours in Christ. That good news is what enables us to honestly confront the bad news of our personal sin.
When Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath on the cross, besides receiving the punishment for our sin, He was also purifying everyone who puts their trust in Him. He was making us pure & clean & holy in God’s sight. As Isaiah wrote:
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness…” (61:10 ESV) Rumor is that some members took Austin shopping yesterday to buy new clothes for his baptism, but those are clothes that will eventually wear out. They are only temporary & as Holy Scripture says, things like moth & rust will eventually destroy all of our earthly possessions. The Holy Spirit also made sure that Austin has some new clothing to wear, & that is the robe of righteousness that Jesus Christ has placed upon him. That robe covers all of his sins so God only sees, in Austin, the holiness of Jesus Christ.
Each morning, as we awaken to a new day, it is wise to remember our baptism; to remember exactly what we are wearing as we go through the daily interactions we have with everyone around us. In the spiritual sense, it absolutely does matter, for all of eternity, what you are wearing when you die.
Thanks be to Jesus; He has given us that robe of righteousness. Amen.
Herald, sound the note of judgment, warning us of right & wrong, turning us from sin & sadness till once more we sing the song. Herald, sound the note of pardon – those repenting are forgiven; God receives His wayward children, & to them new life is given. Herald, sound the note of triumph; Christ has come to share our life, bringing God’s own love & power, granting victory in the strife. Sound the trumpet! Tell the message: Christ, the Savior king, is come! Amen. LSB 511:1, 3-4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet