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Read Zephaniah 3:14-20.

It’s a great scene. It’s a great promise. It’s a happy ending. God, the victorious warrior is singing and dancing among his people. Everyone is exulting! (What does that word mean?) But the path to this image goes through Zephaniah 1:2 – “I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth! Says the Lord.” How do you get from there to the singing and the joy? Are these even from the same prophet?

The Problem in Judah:
A little over 700 years before Christ was born, God’s people were divided into two nations. Judah and Jerusalem were in the south and everyone else was in the north. The folks in the north were invaded by the super-power of that age – a nation called Assyria. Since Judah and Jerusalem were spared the invasion and destruction, they were fairly confident that God was on their side. Over the next 100 years, the Judeans became intoxicated with that privilege. And the worst part of it was that they assumed that their own self-interested path to power and pleasure was God’s will. They thought that it was all a sign of God’s favor. So Zephaniah has come to alert them to the truth. He makes three observations: (1:4-6)

  1. They were passionate about other gods. They wouldn’t have used this word, but they had become idolatrous. It showed in the way they claimed to follow the Lord, but they would seek wisdom and guidance from the sun, moon, and stars on their rooftops. Anything to encourage luck and fortune. What’s the harm?

  2. They were pledging allegiance to God, but they were also pledging allegiance to other powers. It showed in the way they compromised their devotion to God. They believed that it was just good sense to do business with the likes of Assyria or Babylon or other kings. And if you have to worship their gods, well maybe that’s really just God – the Lord. Why would they compromise? For the sake of security. Security and self-preservation was so important to them and it showed in the way they sacrificed their children – the future generation that God had entrusted them with. They loved their lifestyle more than that.

  3. They were indifferent to God. They used to seek God. They used to worship God. But no longer. And it showed in their lack of expectations. They really didn’t expect to do anything good, or anything bad. In their own hearts they had tamed God. He became their mascot. He was the concept behind their cultural traditions. Really cool, but mostly harmless.

It’s this third problem that may be the root of the other two. If you don’t expect much from God, then how can you ever imagine exulting with God? How can you experience the joy of Zephaniah 3:14-20. If you don’t expect much from God, then why not seek pleasure, comfort and security in other options? Why not? Well, Judah did. And they found out that God is jealous. If we want to experience the joy of Zephaniah 3:14-20 then we have to walk through the rest of the prophecy too. We need to invite Zephaniah to preach to us also. Before we get to the exulting, we have to deal with the warning. Zephaniah 1:2 calls us to a righteousness that is the beginning of triumphant joy. It leads us through the refinement and cleansing that restores a relationship with a wild, jealous God. Because, if we want the joy, then we have to accept the tears. If we want the love, then we have to accept the awe of a God who really cares about what we do. A God who will not stand for us acting like his love doesn’t matter!

What Zephaniah is saying to us:

  1. We have sought comfort, pleasure, and meaning in sources other than God. We seek our fortune through fame, popularity, wealth. We seek wholeness through material things and these things – sometimes very good things – become addictions or powers that rule us but let us think that we are in control. It shows in our materialism. It shows in our weariness and stress. It shows in our lack of satisfaction. (Do you want a list? Porn, drugs, sex, gambling, shopping, spending, attention, food, astrology, sports, science, medicine, recreation ... some are socially acceptable, some are not, some are better and some are worse – we can even do it as a church by trusting in our programs and structures more than God’s spirit).
  2. We have sought security in powers other than God. It shows in out fear, our worry, our anxiety to be in control. It shows in the way we hover over our children and shape them into our own image rather than the image of God.
  3. We have lost the expectation of God really doing anything. And that shows up in our worship and our life. Is God just an author? Did he write a great book and leave us to figure it out? Or is he a living creator who is active and alive in our life and our life together. Well if he is more than an author, then where’s our expectation? Where’s our awe?
    1. Remember that God is a jealous God. He will not settle for a loveless marriage with us. The worse thing about a loveless, hollow marriage is that it has all the semblance of stability. The couple will always remain together and there is no threat of divorce, but there is a deadness beneath the surface because no one really cares. It would be better for them to have an argument, because at least that shows they care!
    2. God is not satisfied with our worship if we just plod through a pattern. It isn’t enough that we tick off five acts of worship. It isn’t enough that we are aCappella (or non-instrumental) – you cannot rest on that as being satisfactory. Read Ephesians 5:18 ... before we sing to one another in songs hymns and spiritual song we are to be filled with the Spirit!
    3. There are so many different options of improving our worship, but one will work without fail – Be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).
    4. The Spirit isn’t something we “work up.” It is a gift from Christ. When we were baptized we received the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). If it has been quenched, then fan it into flame.

Let’s proleptically start expecting that the image in Zephaniah 3 is our past and our present as well as our future.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 13 December 2009

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