“The Day of the LORD” is a recurring theme in the prophets (see also Isaiah 2:6-22; Joel 2:1-11, and others). It refers to a time in which the LORD will first punish Israel and then the nations. After this, judgement will give way to mercy. The book of Zephaniah unfolds in this same three-part manner:
- Judgement upon God’s people (chapter 1)
- Judgement upon the nations (chapter 2)
- Restoration for the remnant (chapter 3)
The part of the book of Zephaniah where our text is contains another intense description, like last week, of the coming wrath of the Lord against both Judah and the other nations. Here, instead of the darkness of Amos 5, we will focus on how Zephaniah describes the wrath of God for all, and the restoration found in the saving, purifying power of God’s grace (3:9-20).
There are two parts of our text we will need to focus on for this sermon and then we will have to pull in one text from greater context of the book itself to make the gospel turn. First, we will need to draw out how the day of the Lord is a “day of wrath” (verse 15). To do this, I suggest a single image of the cup of wrath like El Greco’s “Agony in the Garden” or “Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane” by Sebastiano Conca. In these paintings Christ is being handed something from Heaven. It is a cup of wrath, which He accepts from the Father, for His will to be done on the day Jesus took the very real and sincere wrath for sin at the cross for all peoples. God’s sincere wrath for sin is something we see clearly in our text. The image of the cup of wrath will help us have a way to process that truth.
What makes this image powerful is the way in which the cup is handed over to Jesus at Gethsemane. He is given this cup in the same way a hero is given a divine weapon to fight evil in the old stories. In fact, many paintings will depict the angels holding all the instruments of Jesus’ crucifixion like an arsenal to fight sin and evil. Look at “Christ in The Garden of Gethsemane Surrounded by Angels Carrying Symbols of The Passion” by Guido Reni. Here, every implement of the passion is being granted from Heaven to fight sin and suffer God’s wrath so your salvation could be accomplished. What a powerful image to talk about Jesus fulfilling this prophecy for us.
If you want to dedicate a little more development to the idea of the cup of wrath, there is no better commentary available to analyze this idea than Paul Raabe’s “Obadiah Commentary” in the Anchor Commentary series. In it, he comments how the cup of wrath:
“...unlike some metaphors that are more superficial and ornamental, the metaphor of drinking the cup of wrath is a profound, insight-provoking example. It intends to give insight into the more intangible mystery of divine wrath through the window of the more concrete and better-known symbol of drinking wine. Such a profound metaphor cannot adequately be treated from an impartial and objective distance. Nor can it be paraphrased without losing much of its impact and power. Only by entering into the symbol, only by seeing, imagining, and feeling the physical experience evoked by the symbol can one gain insight into the subject. In the metaphor of “drinking the cup of Yahweh’s wrath,” the tenor or subject is one’s experience of divine wrath, and the vehicle or symbol is drinking a cup of wine. Thus, experiencing Yahweh’s wrath is like drinking a wine cup. Readers are invited to see what it is like to receive divine wrath.”
This insight, coupled together with the fact that Jesus took the cup of wrath (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42) and the “day of wrath” for us on the cross, makes the image a powerful one in proclaiming Law and Gospel.
In Zephaniah, God would fight against sin and sinners on a “day of wrath” which we call the Day of the Lord. But he would fight in a particular way. Just look at Zephaniah 1:8. The Day of the Lord will be the “day of the Lord’s sacrifice.” That is how He will handle wrath and sin, by bloodshed and sacrifice. These words in Zephaniah stand in sharp contrast to what the Judeans were doing and what the Lord will do. They have been worshipping other gods and not seeking the Lord. This image of sacrifice, as it is tied to death and bloodshed, paints a graphic image of the day of the Lord. Sacrifice also means purification though. So, the Day of the Lord will be one where sin is punished, and the remnant is purified.
That is how He will handle wrath and sin, by bloodshed and sacrifice.
Which leads to the text we need to pull into our reading. The end of Zephaniah has a gospel turn that will tie the image of the cup of wrath and the idea of sacrifice for sin and purification together with the glorious resurrection of not just a people but of the Lord’s Messiah, which means life and salvation for all.
“On that day you shall not be put to shame because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord, Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: ‘Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise. At that time, I will bring you in, the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth’” (Zephaniah 3:11-12, 14-17, 19-20).
This closing section concludes the joyous reversal of the Day of the Lord. The Lord saves His people who are no longer an object of wrath or scorn.
Since we are developing an image at the beginning of the text that pushes through the rest of the sermon using El Greco’s “Agony in the Garden” or “Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane” by Sebastiano Conca, I suggest using an Image Based Structure. More specifically, the Central Image format would work well here.
“This sermon structure uses a single image throughout the sermon and fosters devotional contemplation of an image (in this case it would be the cup of wrath from the Father that Jesus would drink down to the dregs on the Day of the Lord).
In the opening of the sermon, the preacher displays the image for the hearers (El Greco’s “Agony in the Garden” or “Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane” by Sebastiano Conca). The preacher then uses that image as a source for continuing devotional contemplation throughout the sermon. The image serves as a lens through which one views the textual exposition, the theological confession, the evangelical proclamation, and the hearer interpretation of the sermon. Having a single image lends coherence to the sermon.
As the preacher returns to the image periodically throughout the sermon, he may approach it in one of two ways: Through a single focus or a multiple focus.
With a single focus, the image remains the same throughout the sermon. The preacher may approach that image from one perspective (for example, viewing the image from the perspective of angels equipping Jesus for His passion) or the preacher may approach that image from a variety of perspectives (for example, viewing the same image from the perspective of Jesus at Gethsemane, the angels who are equipping Jesus for His passion, and the Father), but the image itself remains the same.
If approaching the image from one perspective, the sermon can reinforce a single theme in a variety of situations. For example, the first encounter with the image can establish a theme and then, as the preacher uses the image again in the sermon, it can locate that theme in relation to the text and greater story of salvation and then, later, in relation to the hearers.”
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Zephaniah 1:7-16.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Zephaniah 1:7-16.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Zephaniah 1:7-16.
Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!
Lectionary Podcast- Dr. Jeffrey Pulse Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Zephaniah 1:7-16.
 Here is a link to an example: http://emuseum.toledomuseum.org/objects/54729/the-agony-in-the-garden
 Here is a link to an example: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b7/Sebastiano_Conca_-_Christ_in_the_Garden_of_Gethsemane_-_WGA05175.jpg
 Paul R. Raabe. Obadiah: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, vol. 24D, Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 2008. 207.
 Comments for this particular sermon are added in parenthesis: https://concordiatheology.org/sermon-structs/dynamic/imagistic-structures/central-image/