Zephaniah, chapter three, the prophets message of God’s anger and wrath have given way to the joy of God. We look to the reading of God’s word if you join me in prayer. Blessed are you, holy God. In Jesus Christ, your light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Blessed are you, God of light. We ask you to shine in our lives with the light of Christ that we might give you praise through Him, who lives and reigns with you in the Holy Spirit now and forever. Amen. Beginning in verse 14, sing aloud, O daughter of Zion, shout, O Israel, be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. The Lord has taken away the judgments against you. He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst. You shall never again fear evil. On that day, it should 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 rejoiceice over you with gladness. He will quiet you by his love. He will rejoiceice over you with loud singing.
I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival so that you will no longer suffer reproach. Behold, at that time, I will deal with all your oppressors, and I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time, I will bring you in. At that time when I gather you together, for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord. The word of the Lord. Can you say it again? We think of our happiness all the time, or our lack of it. It’s first and foremost in our thoughts because we are first and foremost in our thoughts. No doubt you’ve heard someone say, God just wants me to be happy. It never is followed by anything good. God just wants me to be happy, so I left my wife and ran away with a Vegas dancer. No one ever says, God just wants me to be happy, so I decided I’m going to spend the next three days in prayer and Thanksgiving for goodness.
I’ve not heard anyone do that. But do we ever ask the question, what would make God happy? Have you ever thought about God’s happiness? Sadly, we’re too busy thinking about ourselves. Thoughts like God exists for my happiness. God exists to fix my problems to make sure that I have a fulfilled life. We are so self-centered at heart that we don’t even consider His joy that we might exist to make much of Him. Because the Lord is a God of great joy who delights in saving His people, we then are called to join in the celebration of restoration. It’s often the case that people who have only a cursory knowledge of the Bible think that God in the Old Testament is rather grumpy, like the Queen of Hearts and Alice in Wonderland. What? They painted the roses red off with their heads as if God is just out there waiting for some reason to be able to punish us, to think that he has these tedious rules. He’s constantly threatening to punish people. And then by the time of Jesus, he seems to relax a little and get a little friendlier. That’s often the view that people have.
At times, even the Israelis felt like this too. In the Book of Numbers, after the great rebellion led by Kora and the punishment that followed, the people complained to Moses and they said, We will die. We’re lost. All of us are lost. Anyone who comes close to the tavernacle to the Lord will die. We’re all going to die. That view of God, how easy that is for us to adopt. But let’s consider the gladness of God. And we see that starting here in Zephaniah with this psalm of God’s joy, the psalm or a song even. For two chapters, Zephaniah has given us a one, two punch of judgments upon the nations and upon Israel. And in chapter three, verse 9, it gives way to the hope of a new creation, a new nation that the Lord is going to make. The hope of a changed heart where they sincerely and humbly follow after the Lord, eager to love others. And now we hear in verse 14. Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion. Shout, O Israel. Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. This is a verse of superlatives. Sing, shout, be glad, rejoiceice.
Why the excitement? What’s the celebration? And we’re told, verse 15, The Lord has taken away the judgments against you. He has cleared away your enemies. 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 Ozian. Let not your hands grow weak. Now, Israel is a nation on the verge of destruction, captivity. As they look around, they have really good reasons to be afraid. Assyria has just wiped out the northern kingdom of Israel, gone, destroyed, deported. The Babylonians are about to do the same to the southern kingdom of Judah. They’re powerless to stop these tsunamis of conquering armies in front of them. Disease. But the calamities were the result of a greater calamity of their wayward and their sinful hearts. Judgment, in fact, was coming, but the ever-merciful Lord was promising that his love for his people would have the last word. And then we get something quite unexpected in verse 17. The Lord, your God, is in your midst. A mighty one who will save, who will rejoice over you with his gladness. He will quiet you by his love.
He will rejoice over you with loud singing. Again, we’re flooded with superlatives of repetition. God in your midst, he will save you. He will rejoice over you. He will quiet your heart. He will sing joyfully over you. That’s not expected. So that question comes, what makes God glad? It’s redeeming and loving his people. Our gladness, our happiness is always centered selfishly around us. God’s gladness looks out to the well-being of His people. You’ve heard me say this before, God is the only one who can say, Your greatest and highest good is to worship me, and not be cosmic narcissism. Why? Because His love looks out to others beyond himself. It isn’t selfish. That’s why you hold the doctrine of the Trinity at such a premium. The father loves the son, the son loves the father, and the Holy Spirit communicates the bond of love between them. Within God himself, he is self giving, a sacrificial love that delights in sharing with another. It’s a guy that’s theologian James Torrance. He said, God is love and has his true being in communion and mutual indwelling. The gladness of God is found in sharing himself. It delights God to redeem and to restore his people.
In Luke 15, Jesus tells us there is great joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. Speaking of Israel’s redemption, we read in Isaiah 62, As a bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God shall rejoiceice over you. And then of that promise of restoration in Isaiah looking at the very end, chapter 65, To see how it would create a new heaven and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind but be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create. For I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people to be a joy. I appreciate John Piper’s thoughts here. He said, God does not do good to you out of constraint or out of coercion. He’s free. And in his freedom, he overflows in joy to do good. He exults over you with loud singing. He goes on to say, The people who will experience the fulfillment of this promise in chapter three are the ones who obey the three-fold call back in chapter two, seek the Lord, seek righteousness, seek humility. Therefore, humility, which takes refuge in God. Or as we should say today, humility, which takes refuge in the death of Jesus for our sins, is not only the way of escape from divine wrath, it’s even more a way of entrance into divine joy.
God and his love delights in redeeming His people. Then in the midst of that, He promises to redeem. He promises to restore. We see in verse 18, this restoration, I will gather those who mourn for the festivals so that you will no longer suffer reproach. Now, verse 18 is rather obscure in the Hebrew. You’ll find a wide variety of translations. But we’ve seen this repeated theme in Zephaniah, where the Lordsat on the cross, he tetherefore has come and has come and has come, and he threatheth his people from all the nations. And it carries them into the next verse. Behold, at that time, I will deal with all your oppressors, and I will save the lame, gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. We’ve asked that question, what gladens God? Reversed and asked, what darkens his joy? Scripture fills that out, of course, in many ways, but one that repeatedly comes up, and we see here is violence and oppression darken the joy of God. Verse 19, behold, at that time, I will deal with all your oppressors. Scripture speaks a great deal about violence and oppression.
Back in verse 1 of chapter 3, Zephaniah actually rebuked God’s people, rebuked Jerusalem. He said, Woe to you, who are rebellious and defiled, the oppressing city. That’s what marked God’s people, they were an oppressing city. The clear message of the prophets against God’s people is the violence and the oppression that they had done to others, especially the weak and the powerless. We read of his promise, redemption for these very ones who are so easily crushed. I will save the lame. I will gather the outcaste. I will change their shame into praise and renown. And this new people that God creates, the redeemed of the Lord, it is to be a hallmark, a defining feature that there is a firm and clear stand against oppression and violence. Oppression kills joy. Dominaring others darkens God’s delight. Well, what does that look like for most of us? Certainly, a parent who crushes the spirit of a child, someone who imposes their will or ill mood on an entire family, a student wanting to embarrass or bully another, being self-asserting, demanding, pugnacious, a tyranny over others in the home or workplace. God hates oppression, and through the rule and reign of Jesus, He’s going to bring it completely to an end.
For in his redeemed people, He promises. Verse 20, At that time, I will bring you in. At that time when I gather you together, for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord. No doubt that was a word of great encouragement to those Jews who would soon be taken away into their exile. But it’s promised, it looks beyond their day to a future fulfillment that completes the message of hope and promise. Again, we see that near and far aspect of Biblical prophecy. In that phrase, the day of the Lord or at that time, it’s showing us both a near and a far. Jesus coming was not a one day event. It was during his life. The incarnation of Jesus, the first Christmas morning was a gift from God that needed 33 years or so to fulfill. So when we think of living between the advanced, we are in one sense, living in the day of the Lord. Even while we wait for its final completion, it’s not a one and done. Charles Spurgeon, he remarks on this. He said, The fulfillment of divine promise is not the exhaustion of it.
When a man gives you a promise and keeps it, there’s an end to his promise. But not so with God. When he keeps His word to the full, he’s just begun. He’s prepared to keep it and keep it and keep it forever and ever. That’s what the Lord does with His promises. Here again, these promises in verse 17, The Lord your God is in your midst now and forever. A mighty one who will save now and forever. He will rejoice over you with gladness now and forever. He will quiet you by his love now and forever. He will rejoice over you with loud singing now and forever. He doesn’t exhaust his promise. It continues. He’s not some omnipotent but grumpy, quid of hearts who’s just waiting to lop off your head at the least provocation. He’s the mighty one who will redeem and who will restore. He’s the one who removed the judgment against His people. The creator of the universe, Almighty God, who is from everlasting to everlasting, he takes joy, he takes pleasure in restoring his people through his son. We hear in the Gospels at Jesus baptism, Luke 3, that the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove and a voice came from heaven saying, You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.
The Father loves to reveal the son. The Son loves to reveal the Father. The Holy Spirit loves to open our eyes to see the love of the Father and the Son. And you and I then are gathered by God as His people to share in and multiply this joy of revealing Jesus to others. This joy of loving others. Tying this all together. James Torrance, again, argues that one of the greatest problems that we have is a one-sided view of the individual as a person, individual rights, individual thoughts, autonomy, my rights, my life, my liberty, my pursuit of happiness. He goes on, he says, Two such individuals can legally contract together in marriage, but soon find their marriage on the rocks as they claim individual rights to realize their own potential or see the other as simply there to meet their own needs. Doesn’t that sound all familiar to us? Isn’t that where we get, God just wants me to be happy? Because it’s all about me. Me, me, me. Torrance goes on. He says, The relationship disintegrates because there’s no real covenant love, no mutual self giving, receiving, no inter-dwelling unity, no deep, intimate communion.
For you and I to have true and abiding joy, we must be joined to the Father through the Son. We are invited to enter into this cosmic dance of self giving, of sacrificing and serving others. That is where our joy is found. If I have plugged these Christmas lights, they go dark. That simple. They don’t have power in themselves. If you are not plugged into Jesus, you don’t have light. The light comes from Him, He is the source. We must be plugged into Him to have and experience that light. You will not walk in true joy or true happiness until them, until you are connected to Christ. And your delight will be in following him. Paradoxically, if you are wanting to have true life, you must be willing to lay it down. Think about that for a minute. Zephaniah paints a picture of the Lord’s return that removes fear. But so many start reading in times, books are talking about that. And what do they do? They get afraid. They bunker down and are fearful of the world around them. But Zephaniah, he tells God’s people, don’t be afraid, don’t have fear, be free to love and to serve one another.
Look out and away from yourself. Because it’s the Lord who is going to restore your fortunes in the end. Jesus told his disciples before his death in John 16, he said, You also have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. And what did they do? They had this joy as they went into a hostile world to spread the love of Christ. They suffered and were put to death by those they were trying to reach because of the joy of God. One of the things we struggle with, particularly as Americans, there’s this idea again that God’s out there to make my life better. You can come to Christ and it may make your life seemingly worse in this life because of the persecution you might face. And it doesn’t mean that being nice and kind and loving to people that they will return it. Like, Well, I’m not doing that anymore. It doesn’t work. What doesn’t work? An expectation that you should be rewarded for the love of Christ given to someone else? The expectation is that I am plugged into Jesus and I get to shine His joy and brightness, period.
However, their failure to receive that is not up to me. And if their failure to receive it doesn’t mean I turn it off because they’re unworthy of it. I think we’ve clearly seen there’s not a one of us worthy of the love of Christ, of God’s redeeming work. It’s a gift of grace. And because of that, we then can extend that to others with joyful hearts, with no expectation of what the return will be. It may make things worse at times. It may not. But either way, we are called to bring gladness to God as a fulfillment of His promises to the people. Our lives centered around Him is what gives us true life. Nobody is telling us to lay down our lives, to sacrifice for somebody else, to give and extend into someone else’s life as a means of personal happiness and fulfillment. And are they happy? No, because you weren’t made for that. You weren’t made to be selfish. You were made to reflect God whose image you were created. And this God has made you for joy in himself. And it’s only in our self-focused centredness that we lose sight of this.
That it is indeed better to give than to receive. That we demonstrate love by laying down our lives for others. So that Jesus is most glorified. God. When we are most satisfied in Him, pray with me. Father, all of this is so much a work of your supernatural spirit. Father, we pray and ask that that he would continue to open our eyes to your goodness, to your gladness. And Father, we ask that you would forgive us where we have continued to assert ourselves. Father, we have put our own desires above others. Father, help us to see that, help us to root it out. That your spirit, he would have his way with us, that he would continue to reveal the love that you have for your son, the love that your son has for you. Father, help us to live that out in communion with one another, with the world around us. Lord, that you would take joy and the restoration that you bring to your promises here, in us this day. And this, we would pray and ask through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Discaimer: This sermon text was generated by an automated transcription service.