Living in the Ruins

Living in the Ruins

Prophet Zephaniah. Chapter two and three. We continue looking at the Zephaniah as we consider preparation for advent. Zephaniah was a prophet who ministered before the fall of Jerusalem. It’s a great destruction.

And this week we see again more of the bad news. Hope is around the corner, but it must come through the ruins. So we look to the reading God’s word. If you please, join me in prayer. Living God, we ask you to help us to hear your holy word that we may truly understand.

And Lord, in understanding we may believe, and believing we may follow in all faithfulness and obedience, seeking your glory and honor in all that we do. In this, we ask through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Starting there in chapter three, verse one in your bulletin. Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled the oppressing city. She listens to no voice. She accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord.

She does not draw near to the Lord, her God. Her officials within her are roaring lions. Her judges are evening wolves that leave nothing till the morning. Her prophets are fickle, treacherous men. Her priests profane what is holy.

They do violence to the law. The Lord within her is righteous. He does no injustice. Every morning he shows forth his justice. Each dawn he does not fail.

But the unjust knows no shame. I said, surely you will fear me. You will accept correction. Then your dwelling would not be cut off according to all that I have appointed against you. But all the more, they were eager to make all their deeds corrupt.

Therefore, wait for me, declares the Lord, for the day when I rise up to seize, to pray for my decision is to gather nations to assemble kingdoms to pour out upon them my indignation, all my burning anger. For in the fire of my jealousy, all the earth shall be consumed. The word of the Lord.

The Third Reich was the name Hitler gave to his new government in 1933. It meant the third empire and it anticipated a thousand year reign for Nazi Germany. It made it a little more than twelve years. Obliterated 1945. Lasting somewhat longer was the Soviet Union about 70 years or so.

So far we’re holding out 247 years here. But we know empires rise and fall. Nations come and they go. It’s difficult to keep all this in historical perspective, living in our own little time and place in history. If you’re under 40, probably under 45, it’s hard to describe you.

The emotional impact of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was such a big deal. Many here can remember the air raid drills in the like, fire drills. But different. There.

There was a duck and cover exercise where you would get under your desk and putting your hands over your head in preparation for the Russians dropping an atomic bomb nearby.

How is that going to help? Good question. But american schools thought it was important to do for at least 20 years. Kids today are always saying, you don’t understand the stresses I’m going through. Well, repeatedly for 20 years, we were told we were going to be vaporized if we didn’t go under our desk and put our hands over our head.

That was just a part of life. Or think of what December 8, 1941, must have seemed like for our nation, reeling after the attack against Pearl harbor, to remember that in any significant way, you’d probably be close to 90. But President Roosevelt, he signed the declaration of war on Germany, Italy, and the empire of Japan, and the whole world of war. It dominated their life, living day by day. Our current events, they loom large on the horizon before us.

Because our span of time is so brief, it’s easy to lose sight of the Lord’s sovereign hand over all the nations. It’s hard for us to live in the ruins of fallen humanity. But the rise and the fall of the nations are under the hand of God, and we must trust in his judgments and his timing and not lose heart. And as we look at Zephaniah, we see quite clearly that God rules the nations. If we look in chapter two, we’re going to see he’s pointing us to the four directions of the compass in terms of judgment.

And the nations that are mentioned here are the nations that are surrounding Israel, but they are symbolic of all the pagan nations. He’s talking about the total destruction of everything. And he’s giving a representative view here in verse four, he’s directing us to the west, for Gaza shall be deserted. AshkELON shall be a desolation. AshjoD’s people should be driven out at noon, and NecROn shall be uprooted.

Woe to you, the inhabitants of the seacos, you nation of cheruthites. The word of the Lord is against you, o CANaAN, land of the philistines, and I will destroy you until no inhabitant is left. To the west of IsraeL were the dreaded philistines who had for hundreds of years caused IsrAel such great grief. But by 604 BC, the babylonians effectively ended the philistines for good. They are obliterated from the record of humanity, absorbed into the nations around them, and then to the east.

In verse eight, I’ve heard the taunts of Moab and the vilings of the AMMonites, how they have taunted my people and made boasts against their territory. Therefore, as I live, declares the Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel, moab, shall become like Sodom, and the Amorites like Gomorrah, a land possessed by nettles, salt pits of vast waste. Forever the remnant of my people shall plunder them, and the survivors of my nations shall possess them. Now these nations go back to the time of Abraham, his nephew lot, at the destruction of Sodom. Gomorrah.

And that’s the rise of these two nations. And they had a long and bitter feud with IsrAEl. And notice how the Lord, he highlights their sin in verse ten. He says, this shall be their lot in return for their pride, because they taunted and they boasted against the people of the Lord of host. And then he directs us south.

You aLso, O CushIte, shall be slain by my sword. Could be speaking of Ethiopia. Likely has some tie to Egypt. Now he moves north. To the north is the greatest empire of the daY.

VeRse 13. And he will stretch out his hand against the north and destroy AssYria. He will make Nineveh a desolation, a dry waste like the desert. This is the exultant city that lives securely. That said, in her heart, I am and there is no one else.

What a desolation. She has become a lair for a wild beast. Everyone who passes by her hisses and shakes his fist. See the pride and the hubris here. They said, in her heart, I am, and there is no one else.

Very reminiscent of how the Lord speaks of himself in Isaiah 45. I am the Lord, and there is no other God. And the Lord would not let this boast go unchallenged. Verse eleven. It captures the Lord’s sentiment that the Lord will be awesome against them, for he will famish all the gods of the earth, and to him shall bow down, each in his place.

All the lands of the nations, the nations, which just simply means the peoples of the earth, they’re all in God’s hands. Nobody is going to get away with anything. Admittedly, it’s hard to know at specific moments exactly what’s going on and what the Lord is doing. The broad brushstrokes are clear for us to see over time, especially in hindsight. But this type of destruction that God is predicting upon all of the earth, even though there is a short destruction ahead for Jerusalem that’s going to take place, he’s speaking of this cataclysmic event of the end which is interdispersed throughout with selected acts of judgment.

In our own movies, we see depicted cities like New York abandoned, dystopia after some major disaster, wild animals running around and cars gutted out in the streets, empty husks of buildings standing. To see a ghost town of that size, it’s hard to imagine. New York City has about a 300 year history. And yet the ancient city of Nineveh was just that. At one point, it was the largest city of the ancient world, the capital of the whole empire of Assyria.

It had been inhabited for nearly 6000 years, and it was sacked 612 bc, and Assyria was no more. And so, as great as that desolation that many scholars even doubted it even existed, they thought it was just a stuff of legends and fables and myths until it actually became unearthed starting in 1842. Oh, there was a Nineveh in the Lord’s great drama of redemption. The universe is his stage. He’s the producer.

He’s the director. The nations are given their roles. Acts 17. We read from one man, he made all the nations that they should inhabit the whole earth. And he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.

All of that is under his hand. Well, what does that mean for us? It means that there can be times when you are living December 8, 1941, and all you see is catastrophe and ruin. You see a war in the Pacific, you see war in Europe, and nothing but uncertainty before you. It also means there might be times when you’re living in 1945, celebrating the victory over your enemies, a clear horizon, a new world filled with promise and wonder, set for the cold war parts and hiding under your desk.

But that’s also a part of it, isn’t it? It’s always mixed. It’s always mixed. We live amongst the runes, but the nations are in the Lord’s hand, and we are not to live in fear, but remain confident that the judge of all the earth will do right. From Calvin, speaking on the prophet Zephaniah, he said, the prophet reminds them that God is no idle spectator who only observes what takes place in the world.

There is a reward laid up for all the ungodly at times. Isn’t that a faith statement for us? At times? We see what’s going on in our life. We see what’s happening in the world.

You’re like, lord, aren’t you going to do something about this? Why are you just idly spectating? It can feel like that again. If you’re in the December 7 category in 1941, you’re looking around going, I don’t see how God is doing anything.

Four years later, there’s a Hallelujah chorus. But that’s life living in a fallen world. God’s acts of judgments come and they go at different times and places. And we know that is true in sure, even if at moments. We believe that simply by faith, because of what’s in front of us.

But we also know that people refuse to hear notice in chapter three, verses one to eight, it’s a judgment against God’s people. He has been speaking about the nations around them, and now he’s focusing in on them. He highlights four sins of Judah and four classes of people. Woe to her who’s rebellious and defile the oppressing city, Jerusalem. She listens to no voice.

She accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord. She does not draw near to her God.

Are not these the sins of pride that God destroyed the other nations for?

Won’t listen, won’t accept correction, refuses to trust, won’t draw near. And Israel should have known better. We see in verse three. Her officials within her are roaring lions. Her judges are evening wolves.

Her prophets are fickle, treacherous men. Her priests profane what is holy. They do violence to the law. It’s encapsulating all the leadership at every level. It’s no different than the nations around them.

But this does not change who God is. Verse five. The Lord within her is righteous. He does no injustice. Every morning he shows forth his justice.

Each dawn. He does not fail. But the unjust knows no shame. It’s the Lord’s people who should have known better, who’ve seen his mighty acts, who have seen the judgment that he has done upon the nations, who have his righteous decrees and laws.

But here they are, just like everyone else. And verse seven, I said, surely you’ll fear me. You will accept correction. Then your dwelling would not be cut off according to all that have appointed against you. But all the more they were eager to make all their deeds corrupt.

Therefore await for me, declares the Lord, for the day when I rise up to cease to pray. For my decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation, all my burning anger. For in the fire of my jealousy, all the earth shall be consumed speaking of this cataclysmic end of all things, even while just in front of them is simply the destruction of Jerusalem. But along the way will be judgments upon various nations, just like there has always been. Nations rise, nations fall.

God’s judgment can be seen the invisible hand of his providence. Through the works that are done. And it’s telling us a moment is coming when there will be a final consummation, when God will bring all things to its completed end. And we recognize we live between the advents, between Jesus’first coming and his second. We live here amongst the ruins.

Now, in verse nine, which we’ll look at next week, there’s this great shift from judgment to mercy. The Lord’s final word for his people is always mercy. But it doesn’t allow us to skip over the judgment. The great and the mighty things of mankind are always filled with this inherent decay and corruption. Our greatest civilizations come to such an utter end that later generations will question whether they existed or not.

We see this on a smaller scale.

The great homes of a generation or two ago are often fallen in complete ruin. Today, dilapidated the dens of criminals and drug users. And you look at them and go, wasn’t that glorious once? Wouldn’t that have been a great neighborhood? Have raised your kids, and it’s only a generation or two, and it’s something else.

And we see that in our own lives, too. We can look like a project for this old house. We want to send in norm and the whole crew because the second floor bathroom has fallen into the first floor kitchen. In our lives, we’re a mess. We know it.

It’s hard. There’s leaky faucets, blown fuses, our lives. It’s just hard to keep them connected very long. Very well. We reflect that, that corruption of humanity, of the things that we should also know better.

Not willing to receive correction, instruction, not drawing near to the Lord, but in these moments of difficulty, actually moving further away, struggling to trust in him. You see, it’s the same problems as yesterday plague us today. Humanity hasn’t changed that much. Got a new paint on the barn, but still the same barn. And notice the last part of verse nine, chapter two.

He condemns Moab and he says, the remnant of my people shall plunder them. The survivors of my nation shall possess them. And we hear echoes of Jesus’sermon on the mount. The meek, the gentle, shall inherit the earth.

The wicked will be displaced by God’s people. It’s a call to faithfulness, a call to repentance, that in the end, we know God wins. We know the blessing that he has upon those who bear his name, even as this calls now us to that faithfulness. And we certainly feel at times like we’re simply pawns on this great chessboard out there. So much happens in our world, in our country, that we have absolutely no control over, so much so that it can be troubling to us.

People try to respond in some way, to try to feel like we’re doing something by getting angry or doing something rash by words that we say and how we speak to people, how to gain back control over something that we don’t really have much chance to affect. But the world has always looked to the power pieces, and yet God uses the pawns. Greater glory comes to God through pawns because the power that he manifests is manifest in weakness. The world looks to strength and greatness, but not the father. He sent his son to a tiny political backwater, to Galilee, to an inconsequential family.

Jesus came as a seeming pawn onto the world stage. And the stage in which he was set was sort of like being in an eastern Montana. Grange hall wasn’t anything. And yet, for the people of his time and place, they were fearful, feeling forgotten by God, because what was on their screen, what was on their news channel, it was the Romans. The Romans.

The Romans. The Romans. My gosh, the Romans are terrible. Look everywhere. Romans.

Romans. That’s all they saw, that’s all they heard. And they knew and wanted God to come and to wipe them out. And so many of them missed God’s good gift to them in the midst of it because they were looking for something else, felt forgotten, felt lost, and they were hoping for greater things. And Jesus wasn’t one of them.

That fear, it can grip our hearts. Think about it. There is a whole industry now which is relatively new that has emerged for people building and living in doomsday bunkers. Why is that? People wanting to be isolated from their neighbors, prepared to make it alone to the end, is a means of combating fear, demonstrating that maybe if God’s going to sit idly by, but I’m sure not, I’m going to take matters in my own hands.

Yet Jesus came into the midst of a world filled with chaos, danger, the Romans. And he engaged his neighbors. He went right in, not only to live for them, but then to die for them. He came to refine his people, to send them as ambassadors into the world. And so he does for us.

He sends us as pawns to turn the power brokers upside down. Through his grace and his mercy, the Lord has always saved a remnant for himself, a remnant that will take possession of the nations, but they will do so through meekness, through gentleness, a refusal to take up the weapons of the world, to dominate and to oppress others. You see, Jesus is both a word of hope and a word of judgment.

The very last prophet, Malachi, in chapter three, speaks of John the Baptist. But more there we read, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way for me. Then suddenly, the lord you are seeking will come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you desire will come, says the Lord Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming?

Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire.

And we see that the first coming of Jesus. And, of course, John and others were expecting Jesus come and final judgment to be mashed together. And yet we look, and it’s like, oh, they’re far apart. What looks like a singular event is really quite distant. And that was confusing for God’s people.

Because that refiner’s fire came, and it was Jesus who stepped into it. It was he who took the judgment of God in the place of wicked people who refuse to accept correction, who refuse to trust, who refuse to draw near it turned everything upside down. And from that event, we see that he is coming again. And when he returns for the second time, we will see the bookends, everything collapse. There will be a final judgment.

There will be a day of judgment for the living and the dead. And in this intervening time, you and I are called to trust in the midst of uncertainty. With a meekness and a dependence upon him that’s radically different from that of the world. That you have been put into this drama of redemption. In one part, in your time, in your place in history, to do what God has called you to do.

And not to live in fear of what’s happening in those other places. To be dominated by such an overwhelming sense of doom and urgency. That you cannot affect. If you live long enough, and you who’ve lived longer, know this. The screen saver changes.

There’s always something. It’s always the Romans. It’s always the Romans. Well, that changes to something else. All the stuff, you see, if the Lord tarries will be something different in a few more years, I don’t know what it’s going to look like.

We’re not hiding under our desk anymore. But the threat of atomic annihilation hasn’t gone away.

We see these things and these events, and in the midst of them, God is calling us. The faithfulness to pursue him. To accept correction, not to live any way that we want. Not thinking that it doesn’t matter. God’s just doing his thing, and he doesn’t care.

No, he cares deeply. He sent his son, and his son has sent you. And I to go into the world as pawns of powerlessness.

That does not sit well, I think, particularly with the american ethos. But people in general called us to go into the world in his power and his strength, but in our weakness.

That’s what Christmas tells us about. That’s what advent prepares our hearts for as we’re waiting for the second return, that we are his ambassadors to go and to do just that into a world that has always been collapsing, rising and falling, the glorious ruins around us, the wonders of new civilizations and empires, and they fall and crash, giving way to another, one that will not turn itself towards her creator.

And we are put here to be those ambassadors, to be those who point to Jesus, the hope of the nations, that they will stream to him in the last days, which we are a part of. Pray with me.

Father, indeed, we thank you for the compassion that you have shown us, the generosity of your mercy. And, Father, we also confess, we struggle with our fears. We struggle with our anxieties. We struggle wondering if you are doing anything about it. But, Lord, we confess that as sin.

And we ask that you would continue to uphold us, Father, that you would continue to open our eyes to the eyes of faith, to see beyond the headlines. We ask, Father, that you would bring glory to your son through your people. And, and, Father, that you would fill us with hope and in anticipation, afresh and anew this day of the mighty things you are doing through a very weak people. And this we pray and ask through Jesus, our risen lord. Amen.

We stand together as we sing.

Disclaimer: Automated Sermon Transcription