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Zephaniah

God's Story in Scripture  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  39:33
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Colossians 3:21 says
Colossians 3:21 ESV
Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
but it doesn’t say
“Children do not provoke your parents to anger” or “do not exasperate your parents.”
And yet - as children - it seems like all of us at one time or another have done something to exasperate our parents.
If you grew up in a home where your mom was home with you all the time, did you ever hear these words?
“Wait till your father gets home...”
For some of us, a threat or promise like that meant that the heavy hand of discipline was coming - maybe in the form of a well-deserved spanking; maybe in the form of a grounding; maybe it was even simple the calm measured talk of disappointment.
For some of us, maybe the “threat” of dad coming home meant that it was just enough time for us to change our behavior and mom to forget how bad we’ve been. Then we can run to dad’s arms and be the sweet little child we knew we could be - in hopes that the discipline of dad was minimized.
For some of us, maybe we weren’t the bad child - but it was our sibling. The discipline of dad was a time of rejoicing because we knew that brother or sister would get what’s coming to them. He or she would make up for the pain caused to you.
The discipline of dad could have various outcomes - but it would loom large for a couple of hours until dad got home.
Today, as we dive into the book of Zephaniah - we’re not really talking about the discipline of day, but instead - the day of the Lord - a day of discipline, a day of judgment, a day of salvation.
Before we dive too far into the topic at hand, let’s briefly get introduced to Zephaniah - the book and the prophet.

Introducing Zephaniah

Like so many of the minor prophets, we don’t really know very much about Zephaniah the prophet. According to the opening verse, he served during the reign of Josiah, sometime between 640 and 609 BC. Josiah was very young when he became king - just 8 years old (2 Kings 22). Sometime during his reign, Josiah instituted several reforms which led the people of Judah back toward proper worship. Zephaniah doesn’t really give us any clues as to which side of those reforms he preached - especially since so much of his message focuses on “the day of the Lord.”
There is one other thing that we get to know about Zephaniah. Occasionally the prophets will tell us a bit about where they live or who their father was, but Zephaniah actually gives us about four generations of genealogy - including one man named Hezekiah. Many commentators believe that this reference to Hezekiah was likely the good king of Judah who served about a century earlier.
As we dive into the book of Zephaniah, one of the major themes that he addresses in “the day of the Lord.” In fact, in the short three chapters of this book Zephaniah references some aspect of the day of the Lord some 19 times. While he doesn’t always say those words, it’s clear that he is describing a great day. One of the things that is interesting about this day of the Lord is that it is manifested in three different ways. This may or may not be the same day - but it is the same God.
First of all, we see that...

The Day of the Lord is a day of judgment for Judah’s sins (1:2-18; 3:1-8)

The people of Judah had fallen away from God. They had turned their attention to their own wants and desires by worshiping other gods, by adopting other pagan practices, by taking what is not theirs and acting in violence. They had assumed that because God was patient, that he would not act.
Zephaniah 1:4–9 ESV
“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 Baal and the name of the idolatrous priests along with the priests, those who bow down on the roofs to the host of the heavens, those who bow down and swear to the Lord and yet swear by Milcom, those who have turned back from following the Lord, who do not seek the Lord or inquire of him.” Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests. And on the day of the Lord’s sacrifice— “I will punish the officials and the king’s sons and all who array themselves in foreign attire. On that day I will punish everyone who leaps over the threshold, and those who fill their master’s house with violence and fraud.
The people of Judah were rebelling and then engaging in syncretism - a mixing of pagan and biblical practices. In this verse 9 here - Zephaniah references leaping over thresholds. Some have assumed that this was an inclusion of a pagan superstition - a little like the childhood poem - “don’t step on a crack or you’ll break your mother’s back.”
As a result of their behavior, Zephaniah talks about the ramifications of this judgment - the wailing, the sorrow, the destruction - though he does not talk about the source of this judgment as other prophets have done.
In chapter 3, he addresses the sins of Judah a bit more - referring specifically to the city of Jerusalem.
Zephaniah 3:1–5 ESV
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 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.
Beloved, if you are a follower of Christ, how often have you and I refused to hear the correction of the Lord? How often have we preferred to hear our own version of right and wrong? How often have we intermingled worthless superstitions into our lives? When have we treated other people with treachery or inequity?
As people who bear the name of God on our lives through Jesus Christ, we represent Him to the world.
Part of the problem for the people of Judah is that the surrounding nations knew that these were God’s people. They were representing God to the other nations. And yet, instead of representing Him, they were compromising. They were intermingling pagan worship practices and idolatry into their daily lives. Rather than treating people with compassion and love as fellow image bearers, they were treating people treacherously.
When people look at your life and mine - without knowing we are Christians by our words, can they see it by our actions? Are we representing Him well?
The day of the Lord that Zephaniah prophesied was a day of reckoning for Judah’s sins.
In addition to being a day of judgment for Judah, we see that...

The Day of the Lord is a day of judgment for the nations (2:4-15)

One of the common threads among so many of the prophets is a message to surrounding nations - often called “oracles against nations.” Zephaniah is no different in that regard. In chapter 2, he calls out the nations on all sides of Judah - the people by the sea, the people in mountains, the people in the desert - all of them will give an account for how they have mistreated God’s people and how they have rejected God.
The words of woe for these nations are harsh and brutal. There is no clear timeline and no indication of how God will do this. The oracles simple reveal that judgment will be coming. A portion of the people of Judah will reap some benefit.
Consider what Zephaniah communicates to the people of Moab and Ammon. If you remember, these two nations are the descendents of an incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters. These nations had also refused to help the Israelites during the exodus and at different times became adversarial against God’s people.
Zephaniah 2:8–11 ESV
“I have heard the taunts of Moab and the revilings of the Ammonites, how they have taunted my people and made boasts against their territory. Therefore, as I live,” declares the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Moab shall become like Sodom, and the Ammonites like Gomorrah, a land possessed by nettles and salt pits, and a waste forever. The remnant of my people shall plunder them, and the survivors of my nation shall possess them.” This shall be their lot in return for their pride, because they taunted and boasted against the people of the Lord of hosts. 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 its place, all the lands of the nations.
This day of the Lord will be a day in which the evil actions of these foreign nations will be judged and punished.
Thirdly, Zephaniah shows that...

The day of the Lord is a day of salvation (3:9-20)

Now it seems to be rather strange the the day of the Lord would be a day of both wrath and salvation. It will be a day of punishment and peace. It seems like it is a day when both God’s people and others would have an opportunity to turn to Him.
Zephaniah 3:9–13 ESV
“For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord. From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshipers, the daughter of my dispersed ones, shall bring my offering. “On that day you shall not be put to shame because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain. But I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord, those who are left in Israel; they shall do no injustice and speak no lies, nor shall there be found in their mouth a deceitful tongue. For they shall graze and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.”
God says in these verses that he will leave a people “humble and lowly.” These are qualities that very few people want to exhibit or aspire to today - and yet these qualities are required for salvation. When we are humble enough to recognizing that we need to be saved - then we can.
In humility we acknowledge our sinfulness before God.
In humility we ask for forgiveness.
In humility we receive the forgiveness that God has offered through Jesus Christ.
In contrast - those who are proud have a difficult time acknowledging their need. They refuse to admit their fallenness. They refuse to receive the salvation from God.
Where are you in that spectrum. Have you humbled yourself before almighty God?
On Thursday, when I was picking up the produce, I was able to have a conversation with Rabbi Robert - this is the guy who came and shared about Hanukkah around Christmas time. He had received an early morning call, a man looking for a group of jews to pray with. Rabbi share the gospel with the man and pointed to OT scriptures that reveal about the Messiah and Jesus. This man would not hear any of it. In fact he called Bobby a heretic and other names. Finally, Bobby (Rabbi Robert) said to him - “at the end of time, when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord and you wonder why God won’t let you in to eternity with him - God may tell you, “I sent Bobby to share the truth of the Messiah with you and you refused - you were too proud to listen” - you’ll remember this day. Bobby said the man’s eyes widened, but he still would not humble himself and acknowledge his need for salvation.
Have you?
Maybe today is the day of your salvation. Call on him. If you don’t understand what all of this means - send me a message or talk to me after the service. I would love to open the word of God with you.
There is another element to the salvation aspect of the day of the Lord - it will be a day of rejoicing. Zephaniah concludes the book with what some people assume to be part of an ancient hymn.
Zephaniah 3:14–20 ESV
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; 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, 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. 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 the 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.
This day of salvation would be a special day for the people of Judah as their salvation would be a day of relief and restoration.
This day of the Lord is a great day. It is a day of judgment. It is a day of salvation.
Finally, let’s briefly consider

The Day of the Lord and the Sovereignty of God

Last week, when we considered the book of Habakkuk, one of the major elements was God’s sovereignty. For Habakkuk, God’s sovereignty was manifested in the way that God raised up a wicked, foreign nation to bring judgment on Judah. We began to wrestle with the concepts of God’s sovereign will and activity over events.
This week, as Zephaniah raises the issue of the day of the Lord, it sort of begs the question - what gives God the right to judge people, especially foreign people or people who do not claim to be his?
We might begin to understand the concept of God judging his covenant people - because they broke covenant with Him, but what about people who don’t even know Him? Will God judge them? Are they subject to the same standards?
Abraham Kuyper, a 19th and 20th century theologian famously said:
"there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!”
(Bratt, 354)
What Kuyper seems to be addressing is the concept that not only does God’s sovereignty impact His actions and ours, but His divine rule over all things.
Think about it like this. If I were to travel to Kenya for an extended period of time. I would still be a citizen of the United States, but being a guest or even a resident alien of Kenya - I would be subject to their laws. I would be within their sovereign boundaries and under their sovereign rule - even though I am not a citizen of that nation. If I broke a Kenyan law, I could be punished there - and would deserve it.
The same is true in the Universe. All that exists is God’s.
Psalm 89:11 ESV
The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.
Psalm 24:1–2 ESV
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.
He is the standard of holiness and perfection. It is completely his prerogative when he chooses for the “day of the Lord” to happen. It could be today. It could be tomorrow. It could be in a thousand years or more. Everyone - whether they are God’s covenant people who have been saved by grace or those who have rejected His free gift of grace - everyone will have to give an account on that great day of the Lord.
We looked at this verse a couple of weeks ago - but it is important to keep in mind:
Hebrews 9:27–28 ESV
And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
You see, God has already had a “great day of the Lord.” It was on that day on calvary nearly 2000 years ago when He allowed His wrath for our sin to be poured out on His perfect son - Jesus Christ. That day of wrath - on God’s people and all nations - was a day of salvation for all humanity.
For those to turn and put their faith and trust in Jesus’ finished work on the cross - they will still face that day of judgment. They will still give an account for their lives, but the verdict is already determined...
Paid In Full
Declared Righteous
If you’ve not yet confessed your sin and asked God to include your sin what Jesus did on the cross, then your verdict is also determined...
Condemned
John 3:18 ESV
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
We are all, as citizens of this planet, under the sovereign rule of God and accountable to his holiness. But remember...
Romans 10:13 ESV
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Will you call on the name of the Lord? Will you allow your verdict to be sealed by His sacrifice?

The Lord’s Supper

Today, as we close our time together, we’re going to be taking a few moments to recognize what Jesus has done for us by observing the Lord’s Supper.
Sources:
Bratt, J. D. “Kuyper, Abraham.” Edited by Timothy Larsen, D. W. Bebbington, Mark A. Noll, and Steve Carter. Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003.
Craigie, Peter C., The Old Testament: It’s Background, Growth, and Content (Abington, Nashville, 1987)
Crossway Bibles. The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008.
Dever, Mark, The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made, (Crossway, Wheaton, 2006)
Longman III, Tremper; Raymond B. Dillard; An Introduction to the Old Testament, 2nd Ed. (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2006)
McConville, Gordon. Exploring the Old Testament: The Prophets. Vol. 4. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2002.
Pink, Arthur W. The Sovereignty of God. Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot, 1949.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the Old Testament. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1993.
Willmington, H. L. The Outline Bible. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999.
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