When you think of God, what comes to mind? For many he seems distant, remote, impersonal, unknowable. And that is tragic because until we know who God is, we can never know ourselves, or our purpose in life. In our series ‘Christ in all the Scriptures’ we have been discovering that the he is central to every book of the Bible. We’ve had a taster for the Bible study Jesus gave the disciples:
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)
Zephaniah has been called “The Compendium of all prophecy”. Zephaniah points to what the Gospels proclaim: Jesus is our Lord and Saviour, he is our Judge, our Prophet, our High Priest and King. And because he fulfills these roles on our behalf, wonder of wonders, he can be our friend too. There are three great themes in Zephaniah. The Day of the Lord (Zephaniah 1); The People of the Lord (Zephaniah 2); The Name of the Lord (Zephaniah 3).
Zephaniah and the Day of the Lord Jesus from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.
1. The Day of the Lord
Zephaniah mentions the Day of the Lord, seven times, more times in fact than any other prophet.
“I will bring such distress on all people that they will grope about like those who are blind, because they have sinned against the Lord…Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath.”In the fire of his jealousy the whole earth will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live on the earth.” (Zephaniah 1:17-18)
Zephaniah’s apocalyptic language can only find its fulfillment in the great ‘Day’ of the wrath of the Lamb, described in Revelation 6.
“Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains… “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (Revelation 6:15-17)
But how could people know if the prophet was sent from God? Moses explained how to tell.
“If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.” (Deuteronomy 18:22)
Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of Josiah (640-608BC). He insisted that a day of judgment was near for Judah on account of her sins. He urged them to seek the Lord while there was still time. He had partial success because King Josiah’s reforms led to spiritual revival around 622BC. Josiah had the Bible read publicly and urged the people to obey God’s law. In 2 Kings 23, we read this obituary,
“Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.” (2 Kings 23:25)
But sadly, Josiah’s personal transformation was not heeded by all his people, for the next verses tells us:
“Nevertheless, the Lord did not turn away from the heat of his fierce anger, which burned against Judah… So the Lord said, “I will remove Judah also from my presence as I removed Israel, and I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose, and this temple, about which I said, ‘My Name shall be there.’” (2 Kings 23:26-27).
The Day of the Lord, which Zephaniah warned of, did indeed come upon the Southern Kingdom. They were carried off into exile. But there is here a glimpse of another dimension to the Day of the Lord.
“Be silent before the Sovereign Lord, for the day of the Lord is near. The Lord has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited.” (Zephaniah 1:7)
Who provided the sacrifice? And how many? The Lord has prepared one sacrifice that consecrates those invited. Hebrews 10 explains the difference between the sacrifices offered continuously by the priests and the one sacrifice that superseded them, offered for all people, for all time, by the Lord.
“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves… Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me… Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:1-12)
That is why Zephaniah urges:
“Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.” (Zephaniah 2:3)
But there is yet one more dimension to the Day of the Lord. It does not simply refer to an event in ancient history, or just to an event in the distant future.
The Day of the Lord is also today. Zephaniah tells us,
“Morning by morning he dispenses his justice, and every new day he does not fail, yet the unrighteous know no shame.” (Zephaniah 3:5)
This is precisely what the Apostle Paul warns,
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them… so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:18-20)
And that is why the writer to Hebrews insists:
“… as the Holy Spirit says “Today, if you hear his voice,do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion… See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” (Hebrews 3:7-8, 12-13)
On the Day of the Lord, there is only one place to find refuge. It was, is and will be a day of judgment for sinners, but a day of deliverance for those who trust in Jesus death in our place. The Day of the Lord.
2. The People of the Lord
The second great theme of Zephaniah is the People of the Lord. In Zephaniah 2:1, he tells his people to gather together. He tells them to gather together, as the Ekklesia, the church, because this is where God’s voice is heard, where his Word is taught, his gifts are employed and his people built up. The church is intended to be a place of learning, the place of encouragement, the place of shelter.
“Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.” (Zephaniah 2:2)
And Zephaniah is not talking about national Israel but the ‘remnant of Israel’ (Zephaniah 3:12) Nor is he talking only about God’s Jewish church in Jerusalem and Judea but his ‘scattered people’ (3:10) and ‘the exiles’ (3:19). Indeed, in 3:11, Zephaniah looks forward to the day when other nationalities will come to know the One True God, and be grafted into the one people of God.
“The Lord will be awesome to them when he destroys all the gods of the earth. Distant nations will bow down to him, all of them in their own lands.’ (Zephaniah 2:11)
Christ’s church, then as now, comprise many nationalities. The Day of the Lord. The People of the Lord.
3. The Name of the Lord
Despite the imminent Day of the Lord, there is hope for the people of the Lord who call on the name of the Lord. In chapter 3, God makes this promise.
“Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him shoulder to shoulder.” (Zephaniah 3:9)
Ironically, Zephaniah’s strongest criticisms are for the leaders who should have known better:
“Woe to the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled. Her officials within her are roaring lions; her rulers are evening wolves, who leave nothing for the morning. Her prophets are unprincipled; they are treacherous people. Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law.” (Zephaniah 3:1-4)
That is why the Lord Jesus came to fulfill these roles.
He comes as Judge
“The Lord within her is righteous; he does no wrong. Morning by morning he dispenses his justice, and every new day he does not fail.” (Zephaniah 3:5)
He comes as Prophet
“Therefore, wait for me”, declares the Lord, I will stand up to testify” (Zephaniah 3:8)
He comes as King
“The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm.” (Zephaniah 3:15)
He comes as Saviour
“The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)
If John 3:16-17 summarises the gospel in the New Testament, Zephaniah 3:16-17 summarise the gospel in the Old Testament. Do you realize God has emotions and feelings? They are not like ours. His passion is pure. His heart beats with warmth and affection toward His children. Every phrase in this verse should encourage you. It is an antidote to doubts, depression and despair. Rick Duncan, says there are at least five profound truths in this one verse about how passionately in love God is with you.
3.1 Jesus is with you
You can’t see him or feel him but Jesus is with you. He feels what you feel, is at work where you work, lives where you live, relaxes where you relax, and shops where … well maybe not. God is not “out there” somewhere. He is here. When we get that into our heads and hearts, it makes all the difference. Look at how this verse starts… “The Lord your God is with you” (Zephaniah 3:17). With you, yes with you!
Jesus said the same thing over and over again.
“I will be with you always” (Matthew 28:20)
“I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you” (John 14:18)
“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14:23)
That is what his very name means – “Emmanuel, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23). Believe me, Jesus is near you to love you, support you, assist you, strengthen you. He’s that close. Jesus is with you. Not only that,
3.2 Jesus saves you
“The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.” (Zephaniah 3:17)
Rick Duncan asks, “Are you facing struggles in your marriage, with your children, on the job? Are you in a battle that you think you can’t win? Look at what our verse says about this One who loves us. “the mighty Warrior who saves.” He is the prevailing One, the all-conquering Hero. If you’ll turn the battle of your life over to Him, He’ll do for you what you can’t do for yourself. What do you need to be saved from? What trial? What relationship? What hurt? What past? What temptation? What problem? He doesn’t want you to face it by yourself. He wants to exert His mighty power to save you. He saves freely, fully, and finally. He saves from sin, from Satan, from self.” Jesus is indeed the “Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6). Jesus is with you. Jesus saves you.
3.3 Jesus delights in you
Some of us go to work everyday and wonder if our boss even notices us, if they really want us there. Some grew up in homes where love was conditional on good behavior. Maybe your parents said, “You’ll never amount to anything.” For others, it’s been a long time since you heard anyone say “I love you”. “your special”, “your important to me.”
Well if that’s you today, you really need – to know what God thinks about you. “He will take great delight in you” (Zephaniah 3:17). Not just ‘delight’ but ‘great delight’. He hasn’t just saved us. He’s actually delighted with us. Two words here. Rejoice (sus) – to exult. And gladness (simchah) – mirth. It’s like He’s at a party dancing because of us. Is that overstated? I don’t think so.
“as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.” (Isaiah 52:5).
Does He delight in you because you are so lovable? No. Does He delight in us because we are so “together”? No. He delights in us because of Christ and what He’s done for you. We have been washed and made new by the blood of Jesus. Yes, He’s holy. And yes, He disciplines his children. And we should never presume upon His grace. But at the end of the day, know that in Christ Jesus, God delights in you. God not only loves you, he likes you too. Jesus is with you. Jesus saves you. Jesus delights in you.
3:4 Jesus rejoices over you
Maybe you grew up in a home where expectations were high…too high. When you brought home your school reports with mostly B’s and C’s, your mum or your dad couldn’t find it in themselves to say, “Well done!” Instead, they asked, “Why didn’t you get all A’s?” You were never good enough, smart enough, athletic enough. So, you’ve spent the rest of your life insecure about your worth – knowing you don’t measure up. So, you try hard… too hard.
And you’re on the verge of burnout. You wish you could just give up and give in. But you can’t. Listen, if that’s you, you need to read Zephaniah 3:17 again,
“in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you”. (Zephaniah 3:17).
Did you see that? ‘rejoice’? Say it again, ‘rejoice over you’ Duncan again, “Those of us who are type As need to learn to rest in His love. Those of us who are competitive need to learn to be quieted by His love. Those of us who strive and sweat and strain to make things happen need to learn to be calmed by His love. Those of us who set the bar high, jump over it, and set it even higher need to learn to be content in His love. Cease striving. Because of Jesus, there’s nothing we can do to make Him love us more and nothing we can do to make Him love us less.” Jesus is with you. Jesus saves you. Jesus delights in you. Jesus rejoices over you. And wait for it…
3.5 Jesus sings about you
Anyone ever written a love song to you? God has. In this verse, God’s love moves him to song.
“in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)
And this is not just singing in the bath, this is loud singing before the angels in heaven. Loud singing. It’s “rinnah” – a ringing cry, joyful shouting. What is it about us that causes God to sing? It’s not your blue eyes and blond hair. Its not your green eyes and brown hair. Its not your hazel eyes and no hair. He sings over you because of what Jesus has done in you and for you.We tend to equate worship with singing praise to God –but here God says he sings about us too. If He rejoices over us, then how much more should we rejoice in Him? God’s love ought to give us joy – joy unspeakable, inexpressible joy. If our God is joyful over us, how can we not be joyful in praise of him. If you don’t feel worshipful don’t blame the musicians.
Zephaniah has shown us in one single verse that Jesus is with you. Jesus saves you. Jesus delights in you. Jesus rejoices over you. Jesus sings about you. He loves you that much.
Jesus brings us into a right relationship with God our Father. Jesus bestows upon us his Holy Spirit, to be with us forever. We are no longer lost, no longer blind, no longer stained, no longer orphans. The Name of our Lord reveals the nature of our Lord. It is indeed the name above all names.
“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)
Zephaniah’s prophecy closes with seven beautiful ”I wills” of what the Lord promises to do for us.
“I will remove from you all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals…At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they have suffered shame. At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,” says the Lord.” (Zephaniah 3:18-20)
The most important words in the marriage service are the two little words, which the couple say to each other, “I will”. And the two most important words in the gospel are those which Jesus our Bridegroom says to us, “I will”. How have you responded? How will you respond today? Lets pray.
This sermon series was inspired by and is based on A.M. Hodgkin, Christ in All the Scriptures. The text of the book is also accessible free on line here.
I am also indebted to Michael Goodfellow, Jon Daniels, Wes Richard, David Stewart and especially Rick Duncan, for their inspirational sermons on Zephaniah found on www.sermoncentral.com