Major Learning From the Minors
Sermon 8: Zephaniah
Thirsting for a God of Protection
“I’ve got your back”, “Everything will be alright, I promise”, “Don’t worry, trust
me…” what do those statements have in common? These are all lines that we hear
on movies and TV said by people who do not have the power to do what they
promise. They are used so often because we desire stories with a saviour theme.
We thirst for a trustworthy saviour. We like it when the hero wins. Even in the
darkest of times (a third or more of the movie) we wait to see how the hero saves
them. Why is that? Why do we have such a tie to these stories? Could it be hard
wired from God as one more way for us to turn our eyes toward him?
This is forest fire season. Imagine if you would that you know that a fire was
coming in the next week and that you had a spray that could protect any item that it
was put on if the person believed that it had value. It has no value if you apply it to
something and the owner has not requested it. They have to ask for it. What
would you do? Who would you try to convince to request it? Would it be the
majority of people in your life who accepted this protection or the minority and
how would you feel once the fire came and those without the spray lost
everything? Jesus promises protection to those who choose him.
Today’s book from the Minor Prophets is Zephaniah and it is a short three chapter
writing to the people of Judah after the exile of the Northern Tribes and the city of
Samaria. Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk all write during the
Chaldean period during the time of good King Josiah. God is at work in the life of
Josiah but the people will soon turn away from God and they will go into exile as
well. Not everyone will face God’s wrath, a remnant of faithful people will be
spared. God will come in judgment and come as a protector as well. This is a
message that people thirst for today – the good news of God coming to save us in
the middle of the worst circumstances.
God provides an object lesson for the people to understand the remnant being
protected as he speaks to the people in exile through the prophet Ezekiel. This is
written after Zephaniah but it helps us understand who Zephaniah is writing to and
the promise given to them. Ezekiel 5:1-4 on page 1290 says “Now, son of man,
take a sharp sword and use it as a barber’s razor to shave your head and your
beard. Then take a set of scales and divide up the hair. 2 When the days of your
siege come to an end, burn a third of the hair with fire inside the city. Take a third
and strike it with the sword all around the city. And scatter a third to the wind. For
I will pursue them with drawn sword. 3 But take a few strands of hair and tuck
them away in the folds of your garment. 4 Again, take a few of these and throw
them into the fire and burn them up. A fire will spread from there to the whole
house of Israel.
Most of the people will be punished but the faithful remnant will be protected.
Most people today assume that people will bail them out if things get difficult. We
tend to assume that we do not have to be prepared ourselves because no one will
watch me suffer if they can do anything about it. This has a fundamental flaw
when we realize that it is God himself who is bringing the discipline and it is not
for anyone to step in the way and rescue us. Matthew 7:13-14 reminds us that
broad is the way to destruction and only a few will enter the narrow gate to
salvation. The duel message that God will allow punishment to the majority and
save His followers is true today and we have a natural thirst for a God who will
protect us during His judgment.
Our main focus will be in chapter 3 but I want to point out a few passages along
the way. Turn with me to Zephaniah chapter 1 on page 1462. Look at the scope of
the punishment in the first three verses:
The word of the LORD that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah,
the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, during the reign of Josiah son of Amon
king of Judah: 2 “I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth,”
declares the LORD. 3 “I will sweep away both men and animals; I will sweep
away the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. The wicked will have only heaps
of rubble when I cut off man from the face of the earth,” declares the LORD.
Does reading of this utter total destruction remind you of what Peter writes in 2
Peter 3:10-12?
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear
with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and
everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this
way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly
lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.”
Zephaniah 1:12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those
who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, ‘The LORD
will do nothing, either good or bad.’ People today will be surprised as well!
In 1:14-15 Zephaniah writes “The great day of the LORD is near— near and
coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the LORD will be bitter, the
shouting of the warrior there. 15 That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress
and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of
clouds and blackness,…” for the majority of people but not for everyone. Those
who have a protector will be kept safe through all of this.
Just like us today, Zephaniah shares God’s message that now is the time to be right
with the Lord. Did you take note of 2:1-3?
Gather together, gather together, O shameful nation, 2 before the appointed time
arrives and that day sweeps on like chaff, before the fierce anger of the LORD
comes upon you, before the day of the LORD'S wrath comes upon you. 3 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. The blessing to the remnant is mentioned in 2:7 “The Lord their
God will care for them; he will restore their fortunes.”
The faithful remnant hold onto the final words of God through his prophet
Zephaniah recorded in 3:11-20 and they provide encouragement and a reality
check for us today as well.
On that day you will not be put to shame for all the wrongs you have done to me,
because I will remove from this city those who rejoice in their pride. Never again
will you be haughty on my holy hill.
12 But I will leave within you the meek and humble, who trust in the name of the
LORD. 13 The remnant of Israel will do no wrong; they will speak no lies, nor will
deceit be found in their mouths. They will eat and lie down and no one will make
them afraid.”
What is the response to this good news?
14 Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all
your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem! 15 The LORD has taken away your
punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is
with you; never again will you fear any harm.
How can we respond when the judgment is happening around us?
16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your
hands hang limp. 17 The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He
will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice
over you with singing.”
18 “The sorrows for the appointed feasts I will remove from you; they are a burden
and a reproach to you. 19 At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you; I
will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered. I will give them
praise and honor in every land where they were put to shame. 20 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.
We thirst for a God who can protect us from the punishment that we deserve. This
is what grace is and God is gracious towards us because of the sacrificial work of
Jesus. He is the hero that saves the day and protects the people at great cost to
himself. Our privilege is to share the news that sin separates us from God,
judgment is coming, and now is the time to accept God’s grace and have our sins
removed by connecting to the blood of Jesus through our death, burial, and
resurrection to a new life in baptism.
The end is near! It is time to rejoice in the protection of our saviour and to invite
others to come to him for protection. Who will you invite this week?
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you
to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the
day of God and speed its coming.”
Next Week: Nahum – Thirsting for a God of Knowledge.