Message from Sunday, December 16th, 2018
"God's Advent Promises"
Zephaniah 3: 14-20
I’m sure most of us don’t know that Zephaniah is a book in the Bible. Maybe the only time we ever came across it was when we had to memorize its place among the books of the Old Testament for confirmation class. I bet if I asked each of us to name any book of the Bible, none of us would raise his/her hand and say Zephaniah.
Even though Zephaniah isn’t very well known, it is an inspired book of the Bible. God inspired the prophet Zephaniah, who lived around the time of Jeremiah the prophet, to write the prophecy that we have before us. So, I thought it would very worthwhile for us to take a look at this text.
We’re all aware—at least I hope we are—that we are in the season of Advent which emphasizes the first and second comings of Jesus Christ. The word advent means “coming.” Our focus is on preparing for the birth of Jesus Christ and His coming again, a second time, when He will gather all Christians together in His kingdom. I’d like to touch on both of Jesus’ first and second comings into our world.
I realize that our text was written to the Israelites. It was intended to give them hope and comfort in their difficult situation. The Northern Kingdom had been destroyed. (If we remember, the nation of Israel had split into two nations after the death of King Solomon.) The Jews of that nation had been scattered. The Southern Kingdom was on the verge of destruction. The Jews of that kingdom were uncertain of their future. It wasn’t a good time for the Jews back then. Zephaniah’s words came to them at the right time.
Even though this text was originally written to the Israelites, it applies to us as well. We may not be physical descendants of Abraham, the father of the Jews, but we are citizens of the new Israel. In the New Testament, the Christian church is regarded as the new Israel. We Christians gathered here belong to the New Testament church and therefore are part of the new Israel. So since we belong to the new Israel, this text applies to us. Again, we may not be physical descendants of Abraham, but we are Israelites, so to speak, because of our belief in God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. So this text is for us.
In verse 14 we are encouraged to sing and shout. What about? we may ask. We have to look at verse 15, where it says God has taken away our punishment and has turned back our enemy.
What punishment and enemy is Zephaniah talking about? In our case, it means eternal death and the devil. When we came into this world we received the punishment of eternal damnation. I know this is hard for some of us to grasp. We think that a person has to do something wrong first before he/she is punished. What did we do wrong when we came into the world? Nothing that we can remember, right? So that’s why it’s difficult for us to grasp what I’ve just said in terms of our receiving the punishment of eternal damnation at our birth. But the Bible tells us that we were conceived in sin which means we were born sinful, separated from God. This is the punishment that was pronounced upon the entire human race. We wouldn’t know this if this weren’t told to us in God’s word.
But verse 15 says that this punishment has been removed. We are no longer destined for eternal damnation. The Lord took that punishment away from us at our baptism. And He did so because Jesus took on our sin when He went to the cross and rose from the dead. That was the reason He came into our world the first time—to take away our punishment. Now we are destined to live with Him forever.
Our enemy the devil has been defeated. He has been turned back, as verse 15 of our text says. He continues to wish us harm, but he has no power over us. He can’t hurt us. He’s been turned away for good. This means that he doesn’t stand in the way of our entering into God’s kingdom. God doesn’t listen to his accusations. I don’t know if we realize this or not but one of the things the devil does is accuse us before the Lord. He tries to convince God that we don’t deserve eternal life because of our sinfulness. But we can rejoice that we are worthy because of what Jesus has done for us. God clothes us with Jesus’ righteousness which makes us pure and holy and worthy to be in God'’ presence.
Verse 17 assures us that God is with us right now. He calms us with His love. We certainly need all the love we can get from our Lord. I don’t care how strong and cool we may think we are, we all need to be valued and loved. We don’t always get this from people, but we always do from the Lord. If no one ever loves us, we can always be sure that God does. And no one understands us better than the Lord. We need to be reminded of this often because there are times when we feel sorry for ourselves. No one loves us. No one cares about us. But this isn’t true. The Lord certainly does. The next time we feel all alone and uncared for, remember verse 17 of our text which says, “The Lord your God is with you.”
Verse 17 and the verses following reveal what God intends to do when He comes a second time. Verse 19 is quite specific. God says that He will deal with all who have oppressed us, which means He plans to execute His justice. Everyone will eventually have to give an account before the Lord, even those who have made life difficult for us. Those who think they are getting away with something when they cause us trouble aren’t getting away with anything. God’s justice will prevail.
Verse 19 then says that God will rescue the lame. This is wonderful news for those who have a disability in this life. They will not be stuck with it forever. Those who are deaf will hear again. Those who are blind will see again. Those who cannot walk will jump for joy. God intends to deliver those with disabilities when He comes again.
God will gather into one place all Christians. Christians have been scattered all over the world, and some experience persecution simply because they confess Jesus Christ as their Lord. But a day is coming when the persecution will cease. God will gather all His children to Himself in His kingdom where there will be only peace.
God will also remove all division among Christians. We’re all well aware of the many different denominations in the world. Christians argue among themselves and even persecute one another. But that will end once Jesus comes again.
Often times we consider this world to be our home. We have really set up shop on the earth. It’s as if we plan to be here for a very long time. But I would encourage us to reconsider our thoughts on what this world really means to us. Let me put it plainly: this world is not our home. We shouldn’t regard it as such. Our dwelling on earth is only temporary.
In verse 20, the last verse of our text from Zephaniah, God says, “at that time I will bring you home.” Home in this verse is clearly not the earth. God is going to bring us to where our real home is, and that is on the new earth that God intends to create. When is this going to take place? When Jesus comes a second time. This is what we have to look forward to. I would encourage us to hang on to this promise from God. When we feel depressed over all the evil that is going on in the world, let’s remember the joy that will be ours when Jesus appears again.
I hope we now see how this passage from Zephaniah pertains to us. God has removed our punishment of eternal damnation when Jesus came the first time. Jesus was born in our world to die and rise from the dead for the forgiveness of our sins, which means life eternal.
Jesus is going to come again, a second time to execute His justice, to deliver those with disabilities from those disabilities, and to gather us in His kingdom. May we rejoice during this time of Avent as we wait for God to fulfill these wonderful promises.