This morning, I want to build off this idea we talked about last week, that following Jesus isn’t about avoiding something, it’s about becoming something.
The most famous verse in scripture is John 3:16; “For God so loved the world that he sent his son. Whoever believes in him will not perish but have ever lasting life”
And right after this verse is a verse that’s just as important; “God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.”
In other words, Jesus didn’t come into the world to get in your face and say, “Do you realize what you’ve done? You have made a complete mess of your life; you should be ashamed.”
But, God, through Jesus, came into this world to engage in our lives and to rescue us from ourselves.
What that means is that you can wake up every morning, regardless of what you’ve done or how you feel about yourself and know that God loves you.
But there’s a side of God’s character that seems to be in conflict with his love for us and that is his judgment against us, right?
When we hear stories of God’s judgment, we imagine this grouchy old dude who’s really ticked off at everyone and just wants them to suffer and so he creates rules and regulations and boundaries and expectations that are absolutely-impossible. There’s no room for grace. There’s no room for error.
It’s almost as if he sets us up for failure because he gets a lot of pleasure out of seeing us completely miss the mark because when we do . . . he gets to take us out; sometimes in the most creative ways.
And so we want to know . . . If God really “so loved the word”, then why would he judge.
But I want you to know that it is out of his love that God judges. When God sends hard times, he intends to pave the way for restoration and new hope. When he sends rain, he’s preparing the day for lush growth. God wants to create within us something that is beautiful.
Last week, I suggested that that thing God is creating with you is love that expresses itself in how we love and serve one another.
Today we’re going to meet a guy named Zephaniah, who shows up on the scene with a divine message of judgment as he pronounces devastation, desolation, and complete destruction.
And it’s my hope this morning that as we struggle through God’s judgment that we will be able to see more clearly God’s love and how he is creating within us something that is indeed beautiful.
Let’s pray before we jump in.
Zephaniah is a prophet who lived in the 7th Century BC, a time that the nation of Israel was losing its identity as the people of God.
Remember, the people of Israel had settled in Canaan after a very dramatic rescue from slavery in Egypt. And for over five hundred years they’d been making their home in the new land while grappling with this covenant relationship that God had established with them that they would be his people and he would be their God.
I don’t think I would be completely out of line to say . . . they weren’t doing a very good job
And although they would still go to the temple to offer the sacrifices that were required, they were just going through the motions. It didn’t really mean anything to them.
In fact, most of Israel had become indifferent about spiritual things and they saw God as so distant and so unreal that he wasn’t worth their time; going to the beach or cleaning your house was more exciting.
And on top of this indifference, they had incorporated the ideas of their neighbors . . . the gods they worshipped and the rituals they followed.
And so, Zephaniah comes with this message that God’s not very happy. In fact, he’s pretty ticked off and he is about to drop the hammer . . . he’s going to crush you like a bug and it’s not going to be pretty.
And he goes on for 2 and half chapters describing God’s judgment and wrath being dumped on them.
And if the story ended here, we’d be left with this sadness and distaste in our mouth because there’s just no hope and no glimmer of God’s love. We want more. There’s got to be more.
But in the midst of all of this judgment and devastation, a promise emerges . . . it’s a promise that we find throughout the entire story of God . . . it’s the promise of God’s restoration and redemption.
Sometimes when we think about redemption, we think of it as a ticket to get into heaven but what we see in Zephaniah is that God’s promise of redemption is so much bigger.
So, Zephaniah is dumping words of God’s wrath upon the people and they were getting ready to duck from thunderbolts from heaven, when all of a sudden Zephaniah surprises them by saying, “Sing. Shout aloud. Be glad and rejoice”
And they had to be thinking to themselves, “Serious, you’ve just told us all this stuff God’s about to do to us and you want us to be happy about it?”
But remember what we just said, when God sends hard times, he intends to pave the way for restoration and new hope. When he sends rain, he’s preparing the day for lush growth.
He’s telling them, yeah there’s punishment for what you’ve done and it’s really gonna hurt but God intends to set things right. He’s going to restore you and redeem you.
And in that redemption, God is going to purify their lips. You see, lips are used to worship and to give worth to things and these people were worshipping God at the same time they were worshipping the god’s of the other nations and so their words were becoming meaningless.
And so he’s giving them this word image of what it would look like if what’s going on inside showed up on your lips. It’s like they have scabs on them, cold sores, and they’re just kind of open and gaping.
And God says, “I’m going to purify your lips and bring you healing and restoration.”
Get this picture of an ointment or disinfectant – Chapstick - and God it’s putting it on our lips and disinfecting them so that the people can worship him in a way that’s meaningful.
And when you’ve been healed, you can serve me, shoulder to shoulder so that people from all corners of the earth can see what I’ve done in you and say to you, “Man, I want that in my life.”
You see, he wasn’t just purifying them so they can get this ticket to heaven. He’s purifying them so that they could become the people he always desired for them to be. So, “Sing, Shout, be glad and rejoice”
And then he goes on and says here’s the plan. God himself is going to dwell among you.
This place where God feels so distant and unreal, he is going to live.
And Zephaniah calls his presence a mighty warrior but he’s not a personal warrior that comes to help us accomplish whatever we desire.
- If I’m going to find a new job, I’ve got my mighty warrior who is going to bring me this job.
- If I want to get out of debt, I’ve got this mighty warrior who is going to get me out of debt.
- If I’m sick, there’s this mighty warrior who is going to get me healthy.
Yes, he’s a mighty warrior but He’s a mighty warrior toward what he is trying to accomplish in this world and that is to see people draw closer to God and get into right relationship with him.
And the way that’s going to happen is that this mighty warrior is going to take all of this wrath and punishment away from you.
And when this happens, all of the arrogance and pride will be removed from among you.
Pride and arrogance come when you think that you’ve done something to your credit and you want the world to know how awesome you are.
And God is saying, in that time of redemption you are going to recognize who you are before God. You’re going to realize that everything you’ve produced in your life is not enough to receive God’s grace.
And when you begin to see this, you’re going to get to a point in your life where you feel like you’ve messed up too much, strayed too far, and there’s no way God could possibly love you after all you’ve done. How could he possibly want to welcome you back into his comforting, healing arms?
But it’s in those moments that you’ll realize that God does love you despite all of that. He does want to welcome you back. He loves you in your weakness.
And so in the time of redemption we won’t boast in our greatness but instead boast in our weakness because it’s in our darkest, lowest, ugliest, most worthless moments that perfectly illustrate how great and merciful God is.
It’s not about being proud that we’re weak, it’s about being thankful that he could love us unconditionally.
Can you imagine what this was like for the people when they heard this? Despite how much they mess up, God will love them and redeem them and restore them into relationship with him.
I don’t think that they had to be told to rejoice. I think it was a natural bi product.
They were like, “Heck yeah, Sing. Shout aloud. Be glad and rejoice.” Their joy had to have been uncontainable and contagious.
But Zephaniah wasn’t done yet, he tells them, “You think you’re excited . . . your excitement and joy doesn’t even compare to the excitement and joy God will have in that day.”
Every time someone makes a commitment to God there will be a celebration in heaven. Whatever duties the heavenly angels have, they set aside and they party with live music and the lead singer is God.
That is so cool. Think of this picture, as we worship God and we give him glory in our lives, he sings over us. Imagine that. Imagine what this sounded like to those who heard those words.
God’s love is so much more than we could ever possibly conceive.
So . . . “Sing. Shout aloud. Be glad and rejoice”
Soon after this, Israel was wiped out, Jerusalem was ransacked and the temple was destroyed and only a remnant of people remained in exile but they held closely to these promises of God that someday God would set things right. Although it’s raining right now, there’s going to be a time of lush growth.
They were ready for more. There must be more.
400 years after this promise, God sent his son Jesus to the earth to walk among us and to live a life without sin and to make a journey that would take him to the cross where God would pour out his wrath upon him and on the cross he said, “It is finished” and with this God’s complete restoration and redemption was set into motion.
And today we are here in the middle of God’s restoration. He’s not finished with his work, there’s more to come. He’s still creating within us something that is beautiful.
I don’t know where you are with God.
- Maybe you feel that God is distant and unreal.
- Maybe you feel that there’s no way God could ever love you.
- Maybe you feel completely lost.
- Maybe you feel indifferent
- Maybe you’ve got a great relationship with God and you just want to “Sing. Shout aloud. Be glad and rejoice”
I don’t know but wherever you are, it doesn’t change who God is and it doesn’t change the passion he has to be in relationship with you.
Whatever place you find yourself, the good news is that there is always someone looking for you. And we need him to find us and to turn us around, so we can see ourselves as he sees us.
We need him to love us until turning to him is our only option. And when you do, let me tell you what’s gonna happen . . . heaven is gonna go crazy.
What we’re going to do now is sing, be glad, and rejoice. And then we’ll go into our time of communion.