Zephaniah 3:14-20 Not judgment but Joy
I really do not want to sound pessimistic. I understand that during this time of the year there is a cultural expectation to be joyful and merry and happy, bah humbug. No, really, this time of the year, when we celebrate the coming of Jesus into the world, can be a very difficult time for many people. Perhaps things are going great for you. Good, I am glad for you. However, you need to be aware that there is a multitude of human needs and prob1ems just waiting to invade your peace and bring grief to your life. After all, if you believe the Bible you understand we live in a cursed world. We live in a world awaiting redemption. We live in a world waiting for the return of Jesus.
I am pretty sure that despite the smiles and declaration of “fine”, many of us have things in our life that are not so fine. Some of us face worries having to do with economic, family, or physical difficulties.
Some of us are carrying burdens of anger, confused priorities, or unresolved doubts. Some have deep hurts. Some are depressed and some are just ready to give up.
Yet we come and gather in this building dedicated to hope. Why, why do we gather? Is it because God is dead? No, it is because God lives!
We gather because Jesus, who tried as a traitor, was crucified as a criminal, died as despondent, buried as a blunder, came forth as a conquer, arose as an advocate, and was vindicated as the victor. We gather to worship God incarnate, God resurrected, and God who is Immanuel God with us. This is why we come.It matters not what burdens we carry, what situations we face, we are here to worship the living God of strength and power whose Spirit desires to flow into us and from us to a world that needs what we have been given.
Yes, evil does seem to have too many opportunities to steal our joy, to get a foothold in our lives. And yes, there will be times in our lives in which the enemy seems to have the upper hand (I know this all too well from personal experience), and this can affect our spiritual growth, but this is not the last word. We who are faithful have a promise, “for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” (1 Jn. 5:4 NIV)
So as God’s children we should say, God is great, God is good, and thus we have hope as we should. This is the message Zephaniah gives to God’s people.
In the passage from Zephaniah, the prophet is speaking to a people who have strayed away from God and have instead turned to idolatry. They are a people who have replaced the morality of God for the morality of pleasure and superstition. They are a people who are soon going to lose the land, their freedom, and some their very lives. Extremely difficult days are on the way.
Zephaniah’s words were of warning, words of worry, words of woe. Yet they are also words of hope. Zephaniah received from God a word of hope, a word meant to bring happiness in the heaviness of the moment. Words that were intended to strengthen their souls.
However, since the difficulties had not yet brought suffering and pain, many people let the prophet’s message go in one ear and out the other. Soon, however, these words would be needed and heeded.
I do not have to be a prophet to tell you that difficult days, much more difficult than now, are coming our way. Covid-19 has given us a small taste. Global warming, a new arms race between the superpowers, the seduction of the church by political powers, the rapid increase of violent crimes, and a moral outlook that embraces depravity and encourages salacious living is easy for all to see. Oh yes, unless there is a miraculous revival and renewal in our hearts, the church, in our country, and in the world dark days, very dark days are on the horizon.
Yet, in the midst of the coming darkness, there is a very powerful light. A light that can give us the reason for celebration. A light that calls us to consecration and light that gives us consolation during the struggles yet to come. It is through the words of the prophet that we can find hope in our hearts and strength in our souls.
First, in our passage, we find in the words of the prophet a reason for celebration. The prophet tells the people to shout and rejoice. Why should they shout and rejoice? Because of God’s forgiveness and the promised deliverance through the divine presence.
And while this promise to those living under the old covenant it is also a promise to us under the new covenant given to us by Jesus. This prophecy, this fore and forth telling God’s word, can and does apply to us.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.2 (Phil. 4:4 NRS). But how, how can we rejoice when things are no good at all? Why, because we have a promise from God. God promises to forgive. God promises to defeat our enemies (our real enemies- the authorities, the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. -Eph. 6:12 CSB). God promises to remove our fears and restore us. I for one can rejoice when I let these words soak into my heart.
This call to rejoice is founded upon words of consecration. Consecration means to set apart, to designate as holy. Zephaniah tells the people God “will renew you in his love.” (Zeph. 3:17 NRS).
If there is one thing I have learned in all my years of serving, seeking, and surrendering to God is that God does love me. God has created me and set me apart along with every other human being. We were created to be holy. We, of all of creation, have been set apart to walk with God. We will not always face the tragedies and sorrows, the grief and pain, the fears, and frustrations of this life. We are meant for more. The Scripture tells us of how God consecrates us, “The same Spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children. But if we are children, we are also heirs. We are God’s heirs and fellow heirs with Christ if we really suffer with him so that we can also be glorified with him. I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us. (Rom. 8:16-18 CEB)
These are not just words of consecration but also they are words of consolation. Listen again to verses 19-20. “I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD.” (Zeph. 3:19-20 NRS)
We may think of consolation as a prize given to those who did not win. The word means there is a source of comfort in a time of suffering, grief, and or disappointment. You did not win so you are given a consolation. However, when God gives consolation it is has nothing to do with not coming in first. It has everything to do with the promise of salvation, the promise of restoration, and the reality of restoration that comes only from God’s love and grace.
Let us not forget Zephaniah’s words to us. Circumstances change. Situations change. God does not change. God has told us Jesus will come for the faithful. We can be assured that he will.