Prophet Zephaniah. As we begin advent, we are going to do so by looking from the vantage point of the prophets. They point us as a people of God forward to the coming of the Messiah. And Zephaniah is a short and a compact summary of their message. We look to the reading of God’s word, if you please join me in prayer. Father of all mercies, Lord, in Your word, endless glory shines forth. And Your words guide our steps. They give discernment to those who seek you. So we ask that you grant that we find new beauties and an ever-increasing light in them this day. You are our divine instructor and gracious Lord. Be forever near to us. Teach us to love your word, to view our savior here for us in his name that we do pray. Amen. Beginning in chapter 1, verse 1, this is an abridged version. I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth, declares the Lord. I will sweep away man and beast. I will sweep away the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea and the rubble with the wicked. I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth, declares the Lord.
I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and I will cut off from this place the remnant of the all and the name of the idolatious priests along with the priest. Those who bow down on the roofs to the hosts of the heavens, those who bow down and swear to the Lord and yet swear by Malcolm, those who have turned back from following the Lord, who do not seek the Lord or inquire of him. At that time, I will search Jerusalem with lamps and I will punish the men who are complacent. Those who say in their hearts, the Lord will not do good nor will he do ill. I will bring distress on mankind so that they shall walk like the blind because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood should be poured out like dust and their flesh like dung. In the fire of his jealousy, all the earth shall be consumed. For a full and sudden end, he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth. Gather together, yes, gather, o, shameless nation, before the decree takes effect, before the day passes away like shaft, before there comes upon you the burning anger of the Lord, before there comes upon you the day of the anger of the Lord.
Seek the Lord, all you humble the land, who do His commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility. Perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the Lord. The word of the Lord, you please be seated. Why is F. And. He was one of the prophets who ministered just before Jerusalem was destroyed and God’s people were taking into exile in Babylon. Probably more prominent in Zephaniah than the other prophets is the theme of the day of the Lord, that great day representing God’s final and complete judgment upon the Earth. Now, when world events are more turbulent like they are now, people start talking about the last days. This is it. It’s got to be it. Just look at what’s happening around the world. It could be. But in the words of the great theologian, Billy Joel, We didn’t start the fire. It was always burning since the world’s been turning. And we see this recorded in the Bible. From the fall of man to the fall of Jerusalem to the crucifixion, it’s been burning. But we also see, along with this, God breaking into history, breaking in with a great hope that He brings and His promises of, I will be your God and you will be my people.
We also follow then, in this same history, God’s breaking into its creation with sorrow and judgment. In the day that you eat of it, you will surely die. The godly son, Abel, murdered by his brother Cain, the righteous Noah and the total devastation of the wicked by the flood. Abraham, the man of faith, and then the destruction of Sodom and Gamora. Repeatedly, we see justice and mercy intermixed. The creation of Israel as a covenant nation, the mighty, saving acts to the Lord and bringing them out of the slavery of Egypt, even as he brought his judgment upon that nation. And this new nation becomes later a kingdom. And what we see from the very inception of Israel is a complete inability, unwillingness to follow the Lord with all their heart. And the prophets came repeatedly, calling Israel back to a faithfulfulness to their relationship with their Lord. Now, as we think of this, one of the mistakes that we can make when we look at the prophets today is that we treat them like a hidden code that we have to decipher in order to figure out the end times. No, we take their message on their own terms, their own history.
And then we trace this forward to Christ Jesus himself. He is the fulfillment of God’s revelation. In Jesus, God’s mercy and judgment, they kiss. In Jesus, the fire is consumed and will ultimately stop. Because the holy God will judge all humanity. He has brought His mercy to us in His son who bore the weight of that judgment. And we must believe in the one that He has sent, or we will face the Lord Almighty on our own particular merits rather than His. God does not reveal Himself to us in generalities, but He comes in the particular events of the history of His people. And the book of Zephaniah, it begins with this sweeping statement of God’s wrath and judgment. But he presents this to us as the great and the terrible day of the Lord, a particular moment in history. But he begins as this overall judgment narrative. I will utterly sweep everything away from the face of the earth. I will sweep away every man and beast. I will cut off from mankind from the face of the earth, declares the Lord. There are strong parallels with Matthew’s Gospel and Zephaniah. Jesus repeatedly spoke of this coming judgment of all the earth.
In the prophets, we see a near and a far perspective. There was a nearness of fulfillment of judgment that also pointed to the farther the completion of all judgment at the very end. And that’s intermixed. And this message of judgment that so many today find unbearable. How dare God judge me? That statement is nothing new. In 1939, in the sermon on Zephaniah, British Minister, William Bowen, he compared Zephaniah 1:2 to John 3:16. So on the one hand, I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth. For God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. And then Bowen said this, he said, There is surely nothing in Jesus teaching to justify the supposition that He would endorse such a prophecy of general extermination. Now, Bowen’s response is one that’s very familiar with this. Current logic runs like this: Jesus is nice, judgment is not nice. Therefore, Jesus is opposed to judgment. And then it comes with this unassailable argument, the God I worship would never do something that terrible. It’d be that unloving. England, 1939. What came next?
Nazi Germany, World War II, the Holocaust came right after this great message of the incompatibility of God’s judgment and the words of Jesus. How did that great evil come to an end? As one scholar notes, Elizabeth Ackermyer, she said, By being swept away from the face of the earth. That’s how that evil came to end. It was swept away. And even a cursory reading of the Gospels will show us that Jesus spoke a great deal about judgment. Now, Zephaniah, a minister during the reign of a good and godly king, Josiah, where there was great reform taking place. And his reign was sandwiched between the fall of that northern kingdom and then the southern kingdom of Judah, somewhere around 630 BC. And we see repeatedly in the life of Israel, the king reflected the people and the people reflected the king. So Josiah’s grandfather, father. Just before his time, we read of this summary, King Manassah. And Manassah built altars to idol in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, In Jerusalem, I will put my name. He built alters for all the hosts of heaven and the two courts of the house of the Lord, and he burned his son as an offering.
He used fortune telling and oments, and he dealt with mediums and with necromancers. This is a long culmination of Israel being far worse than the nations that the Lord drove out for them to possess the land. In Zephaniah, he comes into the midst of this complete, total collapse, and there’s this bit of respite, but it’s not enough. And he spirals in in verses 1 and 3 from this outer rim to an inner core. He begins with this total destruction, the whole creation coming under the broad statement of judgment, and then he narrows it. The wide angle to the narrow to the zoom lens in verse 4, I will stretch out my hand against Judah in the havenants of Jerusalem. That would have been a shock to the people of God. Verse 7, Be silent before the Lord for the day of the Lord is near. For them, the day of the Lord was viewed as that great day when God would wipe out all their enemies, but not them. That’s always been the response of religious people. I’m better than those people. So God has to bless me. But God, he goes and He, through the prophet, he’s going right into the inner heart of what’s taking place.
In verse 5, he said, Those who bow down on the roofs through the host of heaven, those who bow down and swear to the Lord and yet swear by Malcolm, those who have turned back following the Lord, who do not seek or inquire of the Lord. Because at that time, I will search, verse 12, Jerusalem with lamps. I will punish those who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, The Lord will not do good nor will he do ill. Now, there was no real let up in religious observants. People were still going to the temple. They were still offering to God, but it was mixed. Israel’s approach to worship back then is often like people today. God likes what I like. So God must be okay with it. Those who say in their hearts, The Lord will not do good nor will he do ill. That’s what we see. There’s a complacency. It’s just indifferent to the Lord. It could be you’re being agnostic, atheistic, or just functionally so, indifferent. Makes no tangible change to who you are in your life. It’s self-focused, it’s self-centered. Maybe show up and do a little queue time, but ultimately it’s about me.
And that’s always been the problem. It’s nothing new. And it’s because of this, Zephaniah says, The great day of the Lord is near, hastening fast. The sound of that day, the Lord is bitter. The mighty man cries aloud. Verse 15, A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness. A day of the trumpet blast, a battlecry against the fortified cities, I will bring distress on mankind so that they shall walk like the blind because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood shall be poured out like dust, their flesh like flesh, like tongue, in the fire of his jealousy, all the earth shall be consumed for a sudden and full end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth. You hear that? I think that’s harsh. What are we to make of that? Now, don’t let the highly poetic, apocalyptic language keep you from seeing the message. That vivid poetry, it speaks truth in a different way. What we see is there is a near and a far that are brought together in a single vision of the future.
And that takes place in the prophets. For Zephaniah’s Day, the destruction of Jerusalem wasn’t too far away. Yet these very particular acts of judgment on specific nations and peoples describe patterns that will one day come in completion on the end, the great day of the Lord. There’s patterns to that. So Jeff and I could speak of what was just around the corner and also what’s much further down the road. Every sweeping away participates in God’s ultimate judgment that is to come. We get pockets of it that come down upon human history at different times. This is what is understood in the New Testament as the day of the Lord, that final day, the second coming of Jesus. That one day, human history will find its culmination at his return, the return of the King. But then and now, judgment doesn’t stand on its own. We see, with that, a call to seek God. Chapter 2, gathered together, yes, gather, o shameless nation, before the decree takes effect, before the day passes away like chaff, before there comes upon you the burning anger of the Lord. A time to call and to seek, to turn. Now, there are many who do not like this language.
We’re uncomfortable with the idea that God really does hate our sin. And while, yes, it’s described in powerful metaphors, it doesn’t make it any less true. Think about it. We see this in John the Baptist, his call to repentance. He does so in the light of the imminent of the coming of God’s judgment at Matthew 3. There, John the Baptist, he said, You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Do not presume to save yourself. We have Abraham as our father. For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children from Abraham. Again, that’s the religious response. We’re part of God’s people, so we’re in. He said, don’t presume upon that. Even now, the ax is laid to the root of the tree, for every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance. He, speaking of the Messiah, speaking of Jesus, will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. In his winnowing fork is in his hand. He will clear his thrashing floor and gather his weed into the barn, but the chaff will burn with unquenchable fire.
Now, John the Baptist is the last of the Old Testament prophets. He’s speaking of the near and the far. As in Zephaniah’s Day, the city of Jerusalem would be utterly destroyed by the Romans 40 years after John is saying this. But he also speaks of the end. Here we sit, the first Sunday of Advent in this beautiful sanctuary, language of wrath and judgment, it seems so remote, so far removed from where we are right now. I’m sure in King Josiah’s Day, there’s those who thought, You know, Zephaniah, speaking of a far off time and place. From King Josiah’s death to the end of the city and the temple was 23 years. That all the messages of the prophet, when Zephaniah comes along, it’s just 23 years to the end. In sandwich between the fall of Jerusalem and the return of the Lord Jesus, we live now in a time of mercy and judgment. From the commonplace to the great events of war and carnage, we witnessed the precursors of that judgment. Scripture clearly tells us a day is coming, a final day, and we’re sitting between two events. And as always, it’s a call to a response.
Are you complacent? Those who say, The Lord will not do good nor we can do ill. Are you interested in seeing how Jesus then is all about making your life better? How faith can unlock the power of health and wealth and a better you now? See, that type of thinking is the same mixing of idolatry with worship of God. We can change the name of the idols. Nobody worth this bail today or asterisk by those names. But we do worship our idols under other names. What is our posture, our outlook, our demeanor in the midst of this? We see what it’s to be in verse 3. Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, who do his just commands, seek righteousness, seek humility. Perhaps you may be hidden in the day of the anger of the Lord. You see, the Lord alone is to be the focus, the pursuit of our lives. His commands are for our good, not our destruction. Do you believe that? Isn’t that the hard part? Don’t we typically think of God’s rules and commands as some an impediment to joy? Pastor John, I was just talking about this a couple of days ago.
You think of the laws of God as, This is given to keep me from having fun. What I have to do is repress my fun long enough until Jesus come back to where I die. Is that what God has for His people? The joy of the Lord is our strength. God’s commands are for our good, for human flourishing. Not to kill happiness. How happy are we? Look at the world around us and all the people running to unfetter themselves from God. Are we a happy world? Would you describe the world as a happy place? Not by what I watch on the news. God’s commands are for our good, not our destruction. And when we do, we live in a time and a place where it’s, do what makes you happy. Listen to your own heart. Be authentic. And Jeremiah 17 says to the heart is deceitful above all things beyond here. Who can understand it? I like this song from several years back, a very popular song. Listen to your heart. Listen to your heart when he’s calling you. Listen to your heart. There’s nothing else you can do. That’s a fun song to listen to.
It is a terrible idea to live by. Don’t listen to your heart. Listen to what God has spoken to us in the personal work of His son, who is the full revelation, who says, Follow me. Are you upset with God who judges? We will be judged by our own words, our own judgments. Our own words are enough to condemn us. For all those who can’t stand God’s judgment, just think of the recording of the things that you have said to other people to judge them. Because as you have spoken, it will be spoken to you. That alone is enough to condemn our own hearts. God’s very own people have been shown to be unwilling, unable to love Him with all their hearts, soul, mind, and strength. And so the father swept away his own son in judgment so that we would receive his mercy, a new heart, a new spirit within us. Christmas is the celebration of God not sitting idly by doing nothing neither good nor ill. Christmas is a celebration of God’s mercy that has broken into history, that we’re not locked in a death spiral of human misery and depravity. He’s not just letting us bottom out.
And coming back and forth with prophetic words to call His people back to themselves. And we see the crash and call back and crash. Once for all, He has revealed. He’s revealed Himself and his purposes in his son. And we celebrate that. We’re not reenacting Christmas here, we’re celebrating the event that has come that has changed the world forever, even as we’re sandwiched between the times. And in the midst of that, Jesus comes and he says, Follow me. My yoke is easy, my burden is light. It’s not do whatever you want, it’s follow me. Obey my commands. My commands are for your good. Let me lead you to the Father. That is what Christmas is calling us to. That is the joy that we have. That is the words of truth that we enter into a world that’s been living on its own in misery for so long because of a refusal to acknowledge the God of creation. Whose very existence they depend on. You and I now are called in the midst of that to be a light, the light of truth of God’s judgment and mercy. We don’t separate those. We don’t take one part that we find unpalatable in our age to talk about this part.
We bring those together in the personal work of God through Jesus. So that we look at a world around us that right now is reeling. How do you not see what happened in Gaza and the death and the destruction that occurred in Israel? I think how do we’re be living in the time and the place that we do after hundreds and hundreds and thousands of years of education, of technology, of human betterment? And that’s where we are. We need Jesus. We don’t need a political savior. We don’t need more education and more thoughtfulness and sentiments that my prayers are with you in a vague way. We need Jesus. In the midst of that, God is calling you and I to follow him, to give up everything in full pursuit of Him, that nothing in your life that blocks between you and Him, that He’s going to allow it to stay because it is our death, not our good, to strip those things away. Even as we look to the coming of Jesus, when all things will be made right, when all things will be made new, here we are. Seek the Lord, you humble of the land.
That word comes to us afresh right now. A call to repentance, a call to joy. A call to the celebration of the first coming in anticipation of the next. Pray with me. Father, indeed, we thank you. Your judgments are just, your ways are true, and none of us would stand. Father, apart from your mercy, we pray and ask Lord God for your mercy to continue to be revealed to us through your son, Jesus. Father, that you would enable us to follow you, turn our hearts back towards you. Lord, that you would be the ultimate pursuit of our hearts. And Father, we pray and ask that you would bring your son soon. There’s so much misery. Father, help us then to enter into it as your agents. For those who bear Your name, Father, to bring relief where we can, joy where possible. And Lord, at all times, the truth of Your word. We pray and ask this all through Jesus, our risen savior, Amen. Please stand as we sing together.
Disclaimer: Automated Sermon Transcription