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Wrath, Preservation, and Presence | Zephaniah 1-3

As preached by Zach Thompson.

"Whose delight are you seeking?"

1) God's wrath against sin is sovereign, complete, and indiscriminate (1:1-3:8).

2) God's remnant will return to him and be preserved (2:1-3, 2:7, 2:9b).

3) God's purity, presence, peace, and joy await all who are preserved (3:9-20).

Zephaniah 1-3 | Wrath, Preservation, and Presence

Good morning Christ Fellowship!

This morning, we’ll be continuing our series through the Minor Prophets. We’ll be in book of Zephaniah this morning. If you haven’t turned there yet, please make your way there.

As we move that way, I want to start with a brief review on what the Day of the Lord is. The book of Zephaniah, uses the language of the Day of the Lord throughout, so I think it is worth reviewing.

The Day of the Lord is a concept we see throughout Scripture, but especially in the prophets. It refers to a day when God’s justice finds satisfaction. There are little “d” days of the Lord all throughout history–days like when the allies invaded Berlin during WWII. And there are little “d” days of the Lord referred to throughout scripture. But there is also a capital “D” Day of the Lord. This is an eschatological term. It refers to that final day of Judgment when every sin will be laid bare and God’s justice will find full satisfaction. After that day, every promise of God will find its consummation. So the Day of the Lord is something to be dreaded by those who are subject to judgment, but it is something to be anticipated by those who belong to God.

For our public reading this morning, we will read all of chapter 1.

Zephaniah 1:1-18.

“The word of the LORD that came to Zephaniah the son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah.

2 “I will utterly sweep away everything

from the face of the earth,” declares the LORD.

3 “I will sweep away man and beast;

I will sweep away the birds of the heavens

and the fish of the sea,

and the rubble with the wicked.

I will cut off mankind

from the face of the earth,” declares the LORD.

4 “I will stretch out my hand against Judah

and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem;

and I will cut off from this place the remnant of Baal

and the name of the idolatrous priests along with the priests,

5 those who bow down on the roofs

to the host of the heavens,

those who bow down and swear to the LORD

and yet swear by Milcom,

6 those who have turned back from following the LORD,

who do not seek the LORD or inquire of him.”

7 Be silent before the Lord GOD!

For the day of the LORD is near;

the LORD has prepared a sacrifice

and consecrated his guests.

8 And on the day of the LORD’s sacrifice—

“I will punish the officials and the king’s sons

and all who array themselves in foreign attire.

9 On that day I will punish

everyone who leaps over the threshold,

and those who fill their master’s house

with violence and fraud.

10 “On that day,” declares the LORD,

“a cry will be heard from the Fish Gate,

a wail from the Second Quarter,

a loud crash from the hills.

11 Wail, O inhabitants of the Mortar!

For all the traders are no more;

all who weigh out silver are cut off.

12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,

and I will punish the men

who are complacent,

those who say in their hearts,

‘The LORD will not do good,

nor will he do ill.’

13 Their goods shall be plundered,

and their houses laid waste.

Though they build houses,

they shall not inhabit them;

though they plant vineyards,

they shall not drink wine from them.”

14 The great day of the LORD is near,

near and hastening fast;

the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter;

the mighty man cries aloud there.

15 A day of wrath is that day,

a day of distress and anguish,

a day of ruin and devastation,

a day of darkness and gloom,

a day of clouds and thick darkness,

16 a day of trumpet blast and battle cry

against the fortified cities

and against the lofty battlements.

17 I will bring distress on mankind,

so that they shall walk like the blind,

because they have sinned against the LORD;

their blood shall be poured out like dust,

and their flesh like dung.

18 Neither their silver nor their gold

shall be able to deliver them

on the day of the wrath of the LORD.

In the fire of his jealousy,

all the earth shall be consumed;

for a full and sudden end

he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.”

Let’s Pray.

As we’ve worked through the minor prophets, we’ve been following the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. By the time of Zephaniah, the Northern kingdom of Israel had already been exiled for more than 100 years.

The first verse gives us a brief introduction to the prophet and the time he wrote. Look there again.

“The word of the Lord that came to Zephaniah the son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah.”

This is one of the few prophets who tells us his genealogy. And he doesn’t just share this because he thought it would be cool. He wants us to know something. He is one of the descendents of Hezekiah.

Hezekiah was the last righteous king in Judah. This prophet is of royal blood. He isn’t in the royal line of Kings, but he is the descendent of a king.

Zephaniah isn’t just bragging. He wants us to remember something. The very last thing that God promised Hezekiah was that Judah would be deported, and that all of the goods of his kingdom would belong to another kingdom. God promised Hezekiah that it wouldn’t happen in his lifetime, but it would happen to his descendants.

And here is his descendent–Zephaniah– prophesying that the Day of the Lord has come.

And he tells us that it has come in the days of Josiah. This is significant because Josiah was one of the most righteous kings who ruled over Judah. In 2 Kings, it says that his heart was like his father David. That he was wholly committed to the ways of the Lord. He implemented reforms across the kingdom. The high places were torn down. The Passover was reinstituted. The temple was repaired.

But still we have this prophecy of Zephaniah. Why?

We’ll talk about this more today, but the short answer is that their hearts were so steeped in idolatry that removing the high places didn’t cleanse their idolatrous hearts, and God showed Zephaniah the writing on the wall.

And Zephaniah wastes no time in getting straight to the point.

And this is his point.

  1. God’s wrath against sin is sovereign, complete, and indiscriminate (1:1-3:8).

God never ignores sin. This is the clear theme for most of Zephaniah.

In sword play, there is a common practice of something called testing blows. At the beginning of the duel, you attack your opponent with a few easily defended strikes in order to see how they will respond. In some circles, this is apparently the customary beginning of a duel so that each opponent can gauge the skill of the other before beginning. It’s part of the form of the duel. In those circles, everyone expects it to happen.

The book of Zephaniah is like a swordsman who drops his sword, walks over to his opponent, and punches him in the face.

Most of the other Minor prophets will spend a few words saying something like “Hear, O Israel,” or “Thus says the Lord.”

Zephaniah doesn’t have time for that. In verse 2, he just jumps right in.

“I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth, declares the Lord.”

And with that he begins to make this point that God’s wrath is sovereign, complete, and indiscriminate.

God is sovereign, all-knowing justice, he knows every sin; he doesn’t make exceptions to his holiness; and he has power to address every single wrong doing.

God’s justice will always find satisfaction. God never ignores sin. He might delay punishment, but he never simply ignores it.

The wages of sin is death–no exceptions.

This is demonstrated in verses 1:1-6. It reads like a reversal of the creation narrative. Look at it again. God is going to sweep away everything from the face of the earth–man and beast, the birds of the heavens, the fish of the sea, the rubble and the wicked. Mankind will be cut off.

God is making a claim that only God can make. The God who sovereignly spoke all of this good creation into existence–this God is making a promise. He will sweep it all away.

And after this, he makes it clear who he is speaking to. Look in verse 4. “I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”

God is speaking to the people who claim his name.

Judah had become like a presumptuous child. They assumed that because God had delayed punishment that he wouldn’t punish at all. They assumed that they would get special treatment among the peoples, but God makes himself clear.

Judah would be judged.

The wailing–the promises of devastation and futility and darkness and gloom and battle cries.

All of it was for Judah. The so-called people of God.

Why? Why would God so severely punish his people?

Because the people of Judah had become indistinguishable from the nations.

They didn’t care because they didn’t believe the promise of God.

1:12, “At that time. I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘the Lord will not do good, nor will he do ill.’”

This is the spirit of our age. Isn’t it? Complacency about God defines our culture.

That’s why people all around us think that it doesn’t matter whether God is eternal or created. Just get along.

This is what’s behind how he describes Judah in 1:5-6, “those who bow down on the roofs to the host of the heavens, those who bow down and swear to the Lord and yet swear by Milcom, those who have turned back from following the Lord, who do not seek the Lord or inquire of him.”

He talks about two groups there. Those who worship God plus another God. And those who have totally turned their back on God. And notice this. He doesn’t make a distinction between them.

Being inclusive of other religions is not the goal of humanity.

In God’s eyes, to share worship with another God is the same as not being worshiped at all. Both are worthy of his wrath.

But in both cases, Judah didn’t care.

Stop and consider this for a moment. When you hear that God hates something, do you care? Do you respond?

I know God said that he hates adultery, but I’m just going to indulge in this one more time. I know God hates a lying tongue, but I’ll just shade the truth, and he won’t mind. I know God rejoices in unity, but if I share this gossip, he won’t be too disappointed. He understands.

These are lies.

Hear the word of the Lord and respond. Don’t be complacent.

In 1991, a research institute in the Philippines issued multiple warnings about the potential for a major eruption in Mount Pinatubo. The government conducted mass evacuations and made evacuation shelters. But some believed that this was all blown out of proportion. Others had cultural and religious beliefs that caused them to stay.

On June 15, 1991, Mount Pinatubo erupted in one of the largest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century.

Entire villages were buried. And even for those who weren’t buried alive, the intense heat and toxic gasses caused severe respiratory problems and burns. More than 800 people died.

They thought the warning wasn’t real.

Don’t ignore the warning of God. The wages of sin is death.

In chapter 2, God proclaims judgment against the nations who were neighbors to Judah, then at the beginning of chapter 3, God includes Jerusalem in that list of nations to be judged. It’s as if Jerusalem were just one more nation among the other nations

In their complacency, Judah had become indistinguishable from the other nations.

And God is promising that he is going to treat them like other nations. Look in 3:8. “Therefore wait for me,” declares the LORD, “for the day when I rise up to seize the prey. For my decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation, all my burning anger; for in the fire of my jealousy all the earth shall be consumed.”

They were indistinguishable from the nations around them, and they would be judged like the nations around them.

What should we make of this?

At minimum, here is one thing we should take away here. Being labeled a Christian will not spare you from God’s wrath.

Take a hard look at yourself.

The New Testament gives us warning after warning. 1 John 2:19, “They went out from among us because they were not of us.” Hebrews 10:26-27, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”

Or consider Romans 2:3-5, “Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”

I’m not pointing to these to tell you that you lose your salvation because you sin. God holds onto those who are his. But if your life is totally indistinguishable from the world around you, you need to ask the question. Do I even belong to Christ? This is the warning we offer every week when we take the Lord’s supper. Discern the body. Do you really belong to the Lord?

Because if you don’t, then Hebrews tells us that there is only a fearful expectation of Judgment. So turn to Christ and trust in truth, not just in word. Throw yourself on his mercy.

And this is our next point.

  1. God’s remnant will turn to him and be preserved (2:1-3; 7, 9b).

In Zephaniah, this is a foregone conclusion. Those who belong to God will listen to his voice and turn to him, and they will find respite.

Look in 2:3. “Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, who do his just commands; seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the LORD.”

Skip down to verse 7. “The seacoast shall become the possession of the remnant of the house of Judah, on which they shall graze, and in the houses of Ashkelon they shall lie down at evening. For the LORD their God will be mindful of them and restore their fortunes.”

Then finally look down in verse 9, when the Lord is speaking to Moab he says. “The remnant of my people shall plunder them, and the survivors of my nation shall possess them.”

Even as God cycles through these nations and proclaims judgment, he has his remnant in his mind.

But there is something missing here that you would probably expect. God doesn’t give a way out of this consequence.

Repentance will not negate the consequences. The nation is already too far gone. The hearts of the people won’t be turned.

And so, His remnant will walk through the same discipline that everyone else did. Even if they repent, there is still consequence. Even if they weren’t one of the idolaters, they still walk through the same hardship that the entire people endure.

You probably know something of the story of Corrie Ten Boom. During WWII, she and her family used their home to hide Jews who were being shipped to camps by the Nazis. Before the war, their family was faithful. They would read the Bible together and sing psalms every night. They didn’t deserve the life they were forced to lead.

But they understood that trusting God didn’t mean they were spared hardship. It meant that He sustained them through it.

Corrie’s Father died alone in a prison hospital. Her sister died in the hospital ward of a concentration camp. Corrie herself only survived because of a clerical error. She was accidently released a week before she was supposed to go to the gas chambers.

But through all of that, she tells a story of the Lord reorienting their painful circumstances for the sake of his glory. Corrie shared the gospel with the man who was sent to manipulate and interrogate her. The Lord burdened her sister’s heart to pray with joy for the same guards who would beat them every day. They smuggled a Bible into the concentration camp, and it became a light to everyone they bunked with. They held nightly worship services on the same days that they saw people trudged off to die in mass graves.

And even to the point of death, the Lord preserved them because they were his.

Being in Christ does not mean we will never sail in the storm. It means we have an anchor.

Being in Christ doesn’t mean that we will never have consequences for our sin. It means that we have a hope that supersedes worldly consequences.

Consider the earthly consequences that give you pause.

Are you scared of what your boss will think? Are you concerned that someone close to you will never think of you the same? Is there a sin that you are scared to admit and deal with?

These are earthly consequences. Turn to the Lord and secure a greater peace.

And if you aren’t willing to run to the Lord for shelter, then you need to ask the question. What shelter are you running to?

Are you sheltering in a relationship? Or in your business? Or your income? Or your retirement account?

On the day of the Lord, there will only be one shelter— the Lord. And everything else will be proven false. Broken canes that we lean on only for them to crack and impale our hands.

But God’s remnant isn’t only preserved for this life. God makes another promise in Zephaniah.

  1. God’s purity, presence, peace, and joy await all who are preserved. (3:9-20)

Look in 3:9

“For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples

to a pure speech,

that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD

and serve him with one accord.

10 From beyond the rivers of Cush

my worshipers, the daughter of my dispersed ones,

shall bring my offering.

11 “On that day you shall not be put to shame

because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me;

for then I will remove from your midst

your proudly exultant ones,

and you shall no longer be haughty

in my holy mountain.

12 But I will leave in your midst

a people humble and lowly.

They shall seek refuge in the name of the LORD,

13 those who are left in Israel;

they shall do no injustice

and speak no lies,

nor shall there be found in their mouth

a deceitful tongue.

For they shall graze and lie down,

and none shall make them afraid.”

There is so much here.

These verses contain so many beautiful promises for us.

And in Christ, all of them are ours. They are secured, and we can hold to them as we link arms and walk toward them together.

Our worship will be pure. Every trace of fear will be gone because we will be a people humble and lowly. The last will be first and the first will be last. Shame won’t exist any more. There won’t be any more lies. There won’t even be reasons to lie.

We’ll be like sheep in a world where predators don’t exist. Verse 13 “they shall graze and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.”

Do you feel weary? Are you ashamed of something that you can’t forget? Are you afraid that if the people around you really know you, that they will despise you or look down on you?

We look ahead to a day when none of this will even be a thought.

And we won’t only be free of fear and shame and pride.

Our existence will be characterized by joy. Look in 3:14-16.

“Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;

shout, O Israel!

Rejoice and exult with all your heart,

O daughter of Jerusalem!

15 The LORD has taken away the judgments against you;

he has cleared away your enemies.

The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst;

you shall never again fear evil.

16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:

“Fear not, O Zion;

let not your hands grow weak.”

Our fellowship with God will be unbroken and unhindered. Every judgment will be gone. Every enemy will be powerless. “Never again fear evil.”

But it’s not just all of those things. We will rejoice in God and revel in world he has made for us.

But the joy won’t only be ours. Look in 3:17.

17 The LORD your God is in your midst,

a mighty one who will save;

he will rejoice over you with gladness;

he will quiet you by his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing.

18 I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,

so that you will no longer suffer reproach.

19 Behold, at that time I will deal

with all your oppressors.

And I will save the lame

and gather the outcast,

and I will change their shame into praise

and renown in all the earth.

20 At that time I will bring you in,

at the time when I gather you together;

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.

This chapter doesn’t just foretell that we will rejoice in the Lord. The Lord will rejoice in us. We will be pleasing in His sight. We will be his delight. It says “He will exult over you with loud singing.”

This the type of joy a man has when he proposes and his bride accepts his proposal. It’s the uncontainable joy of new life entering the world.

This isn’t calm, cool, orderly singing. This is loud rejoicing from sheer pleasure and delight.

We will rejoice in him, and he will rejoice in us!

I hope this makes you excited. Because we look to a day when this will be right in front of us–a day when We’ll worship our savior Jesus face to face–and there will be peace and joy in his presence because he has made us pure.

But Christian listen, if you are trusting Christ, God already delights in you. You already bring joy to his heart.

This isn’t only a future promise. It’s today.

This is how we aim to live together as a church. We covenant together to walk in a manner worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven. We seek to live in accord with his word so that this would be a place without fear and without shame. A place of purity. A people among whom God is present. A people who sing and exult in our Lord with joy.

Praise be to God that Jesus died for all who would simply turn and trust him. God’s sovereign, complete, and indiscriminating wrath fell on him. Soak that in.

If you are trusting Jesus this morning, then the wrath of God that you deserve is satisfied.

If you haven’t trusted in Jesus today, then do it! God’s wrath is real, and the wages of sin is death, without exception.

But Jesus took our wage. He took our death and drank down cup of God’s wrath so that we can be reconciled to him!

Turn to him today and find forgiveness and peace.

Let’s pray.


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