Good evening. Let me begin by saying that I do count it a great privilege to preach God’s Word to you tonight, First Presbyterian Church Jackson, Mississippi. 2011, my wife and I, we moved to Jackson so that I could study at Reformed Theological Seminary, and since that move First Pres. has been our home and you have been our spiritual family and I want to thank you for that. Tonight I want to open up Zephaniah chapter 3 and looking at verses 9 through 20. So if you would now, take your pew Bible and turn to page 790; you can find this evening’s passage.
Now before we read God’s Word, let me offer a little overview of the book of Zephaniah. The book of Zephaniah is really intense. In the first chapter it opens with a description of the wrath of God whereby creation itself is reversed, as God pours out His wrath on sin. Nearly two-thirds of the book is consumed with the prophetic concept of the Day of the Lord being a day of judgment. So the book of Zephaniah is filled with some of the scariest depictions of the wrath of God towards sin and sinners. But, in what we are about to read tonight in verse 14, Zephaniah calls the people of God to celebration. He calls them to rejoice. He calls them to sing God’s praises. Why is that? Well at the end of Zephaniah, the short book, we see that for God’s elect, we see for those who humble themselves and seek the Lord and repent of sin, the Day of the Lord is not just a day of judgment but it is a day of salvation and restoration and redemption. So the book is intense in wrath, but it’s also intense in describing the love of God. As the apostle Paul put it, “consider the severity and the kindness of God.” Zephaniah paints this picture in order that his original hearers would seek the Lord. Would you pray with me now as we consider the kindness of God tonight that it would stir our hearts to seek Him?
Our great God, You are holy in Your wrath and You are gentle in Your goodness. We come here tonight hurting. We come here tonight aware of the ways we come up short. My prayer is that Your Spirit would help us to hear Your Word, give us eyes to see, to apply, to be encouraged and edified and built up that we may be like Your Son and live for Your glory. And it’s in Jesus’ name we pray.
Now hear the Word of God from Zephaniah chapter 3, beginning in verse 9 through verse 20:
“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. From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshipers, the daughter of my dispersed ones, shall bring my offering. ‘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. But I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord, 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.’
Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! 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. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: ‘Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. 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. I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach. 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. 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.”
Amen, and that ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its truth on all of our hearts.
Longing for Jesus
You know the saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”? It’s when you’re separated from someone you love you realize how much you really love them, oftentimes. A couple of months after Emily and I were married, a tragedy struck the nation of Haiti. You remember the earthquake in early 2010? So less than a year after being newlyweds, I decided to go on a mission trip to Haiti. Post-Haiti, post-earthquake, there’s not a lot of access to FaceTime and Skype, so here we are, camping outside, and in the middle of the night hearing voodoo drums come out of the trees and I’m just thinking, “I’m never going to see her again! That’s it! This was it! This was the worst decision ever!” And I remember just missing her so much. And you know you’re there, you’re not getting proper showers, and you’re getting on a plane and traveling, and I don’t know what I smelled like but when she met me at three o’clock in the morning at the airport it was the greatest sight in the world. I just missed her so much. And it’s not just romantic relationships. You have friends that you miss. You have friends that are close to you; there are people who are dear to you. That the time away reminds you just how much you really care for them; how much you love them. There’s people who know how to push your buttons, they know how to make you laugh like no one else can make you laugh, they know the deep belly gut laugh where you’re embarrassing yourself in the middle of the restaurant. There’s people that we long to be with.
There’s things that we miss. This is the time of year where, if you’re like me, what are you missing? Men, you’re missing football this time of year. You might be missing hunting season. There’s any number of things that you miss. When you miss something it’s an indication of how much you love it. When was the last time that you thought to yourself, “I miss Jesus”? When was the last time that you longed to spend some quality time with Him? Is your heart excited about coming together for worship? I’m reminded of the passage in Revelation 2:4 where Jesus tells the church at Ephesus, “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love that you had at first.” Tonight has your faith become a chore? Has it become lackluster? And at this point we can go two ways. I can remind you that it is a command to love God. God’s Word commands us to love Him. But where does that leave us if we just go with the command? What I’d hope to do, the other approach is to persuade you of the love of Jesus as we see it in Zephaniah chapter 3, persuade you of His love for you in order that you and I might be better equipped to obey the command to “Love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Because if you’re persuaded of His love for you, you will not be able to be complacent in your love for Him.
Commenting on Zephaniah chapter 3, John Calvin gives several reasons why we are not persuaded of the love of God. He says first we are prone to unbelief, second Satan will try to deceive us; finally Calvin suggests that Christians in his day have the same problem that Christians in our day have. It’s that they get distracted from the Word of God. He says that when we get distracted from the Word of God then we’re no longer persuaded of God’s love for us. I love the example that, if you were here in the early morning service, that Brian Sorgenfrei, he was going through different people and he was saying, “If you’re struggling with this, God still loves you.” And then he did one where I got the wife elbow where it’s like, “That’s you.” And I was like, “I know it’s me!” Where he said the guy who’s more interested in watching Sports Center than reading his Bible. I said, “Yep, read my mail right there.” We all get distracted, we get pulled away, and we become complacent. Our love wanes, sometimes just quite simply because we forget how much God loves us.
So what I want us to do if focus in on this passage in order to be persuaded of God’s love. And we’re not going to deal with all of 9 through 20 in Zephaniah chapter 3. I really just want to focus in on verses 14 through 17. And our prayer is that as we see here Zephaniah gives a portrait of the King of Kings we would be renewed in the joy of our salvation. So here are our three take-aways tonight that I want us to see and we’ll just lay these out in the beginning. The Lord is a King who is mighty to save. That’s the first thing. The second thing is the Lord is a King whose love is unmatched. And the final and third thing that I want us to see from Zephaniah 3:14-17 is the Lord is a King whose kingdom is here and is still to come.
I. The Lord is a King who is Mighty to Save
Look with me now at verses 15 and 17 - the Lord is a King who is mighty to save. Zephaniah’s ministry took place somewhere between 640 BC and 609 BC. It was during the days of King Josiah. Zephaniah was raised in the southern kingdom of Judah and during his lifetime Judah was under the oppression of the Assyrians. Probably as a child he grew up during the apostasy of the previous two kings, Manasseh and Amon. But during the reign of King Josiah in 621 BC, the Bible tells us that the Book of the Law was rediscovered. It was most likely the book of Deuteronomy. It was probably that it was hidden during the apostasy of the previous kings and as Josiah is taking the throne as a righteous king probably a faithful scribe or priest brings the Book of the Law out of hiding so that it wouldn’t be destroyed under the previous evil kings. So as Josiah hears God’s Word read, he repents and he leads the nation in spiritual reformation. And Zephaniah was his counterpart. He brought the prophetic element to the reformation that was coming to God’s people as they were calling back, being called back to covenant faithfulness with their Lord. Zephaniah was working with Josiah and they saw great gains. And compared to his predecessors, Josiah was a great king. The Bible says he was the last righteous king, but his reforms did not last. He was not able to completely eradicate the rebellion, the deep-rooted idolatry, the spiritual syncretism and the complacency of Judah. Both of his sons who ruled after him returned to the apostasy of the previous kings. In less than a generation after Josiah and Zephaniah, Judah, like Israel, receives the condemnation for breaking covenant with God. Judah is conquered by their enemies, they’re removed from the land, they’re exiled in Babylon. The temple is destroyed, the kingly line of David comes to a screeching halt.
Ruling with Grace and Justice
Zephaniah’s first hearers, as they hear him talk about this king, they will soon become fully aware that a human king can only take you so far, that even the best of human kings cannot save. But here he gives us a picture of a king who brings salvation and restoration and redemption to the people of God. Look at verse 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.” God will redeem and restore His people and He will do it through a king. Now the identity of the King, we’re not left to guess. We’re told right there smack in the middle of verse 15. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst.” If you look there, LORD is in all capitals. That’s one of the ways that the English translators let us know that the Hebrew word that they’re translating is the word, “Yahweh.” We have one English word for Lord; there’s two Hebrew words - Adonai and Yahweh. Yahweh is the covenant name of God that God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. Recall - God is commissioning Moses, sending him to go to Pharaoh to say, “Let My people go,” and Moses says, “Why is Pharaoh going to listen to me? What am I going to say if he says, ‘Who sent me?’” He says, “Tell him Yahweh sent you. Tell him Yahweh sent you.” And Yahweh delivers the people of Israel, Abraham’s descendants, from their bondage in slavery in Egypt. Yahweh, with a strong arm, delivers them from the tyrant Pharaoh. Alec Motyer points out that “In Exodus we see that there are two sides to the name Yahweh. For Israel, the name Yahweh means salvation, but for Egypt it means judgment.” Motyer explains, “He is by nature a God of holy wrath and a God of holy hope and these are inseparable components of His deity.” King Yahweh’s sovereign rule is terrifying to His enemies but that is not the only way that Yahweh exercises His sovereign rule.
And here at the end of Zephaniah we see that He exercises His sovereign rule in grace. He exercised a gracious sovereign rule. And beginning in verse 15 it says He “has taken away the judgments against you.” Now this is important to realize that Yahweh didn’t just have a personality change or come to an “Ah-ha” moment and say that “Sin doesn’t bother Me anymore. I’m just going to look past it and be a nicer, kinder, gentler God.” No, the King will not simply overlook sin. His holiness will not allow it. The debt from sin owed to the King will be satisfied but here we are told that it is the King who removes the judgments, it is the King who takes it away, but in Zephaniah we’re not told much more than that. We’re not told much more than it’s the King who takes away the judgments. There’s no further explanation. We’re just given the proclamation that there will be a King who will take away the judgments against God’s people.
The LORD in Your Midst
Furthermore, unlike some of the other prophets, it’s hard to see where the Messiah falls in here in Zephaniah chapter 3. It’s not immediately apparent on our first reading. Well where Zephaniah leaves off, Isaiah and the apostle John both help us. Isaiah and the apostle John help us understand how there could be a King who is holy but also gracious, who takes away the judgments against His people. Zephaniah is writing looking back on Isaiah’s prophecy, particularly Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the Messiah in Isaiah chapter 10 verse 6. You’re familiar with this passage. We learn that the Messiah who will sit on the throne of David will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” And as we look at Zephaniah 3:17, the first couple phrases, “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save,” what is Zephaniah doing? He is echoing Isaiah’s announcement that the Messiah will be called “Mighty God.” He will be the mighty one, the mighty Savior. So Isaiah helps us understand how this King will take away the judgments. He will do it as the Messiah.
In Christ Alone
But John takes us a little bit further - John, looking back at Zephaniah’s prophecy. It’s in John chapter 12 verses 12 through 19 considering Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus is, as you recall, a week away from His crucifixion, and He arrives and He is welcomed into the city. And He’s met with praise and the crowds are declaring Him to be the King of Israel. In John 12:14-15 the apostle tells us, “And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, ‘Fear not, O daughter of Zion; behold your king is coming sitting on a donkey’s colt.’” The quote is bringing together two different Old Testament passages, Zechariah 9:9 - “Daughter of Zion, behold your King is coming, sitting on the donkey’s colt.” But the first part that John references, “Fear not,” is not found in Zechariah; it’s found here in Zephaniah 3:16. Look there again with me. “On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: ‘Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak.’” Fear not, O Zion. John goes on to say in chapter 12 verse 16 of his gospel, “His disciples did not understand these things at first but when Jesus has been glorified then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.” John is telling us that Jesus is King Yahweh, the King Yahweh that Zephaniah spoke of. So how does King Jesus take away our judgment? He bore it on the cross. This side of the cross we can better understand that Zephaniah is not talking about two different gods - one of wrath and one of mercy - but it is at the cross that the holiness and the love of God met as the Son of God bore the wrath of God for sins. As Romans 3:26 says, that “God is just and the justifier.” John tells us more clearly what Isaiah and Zephaniah were indicating - that only the God-Man, Jesus the Son of God, can be the King who can fulfill the promises of salvation. Only Jesus can fulfill God’s promise of salvation.
And I must ask you tonight - on the Day of Judgment, what are you trusting in? Does your conscience bear witness to your guilt? Have you trusted in King Jesus to take away your judgment? Or do you find yourself seeking out distractions, entertainment, career and pursuits in order to distract yourself from the state of your soul? The invitation tonight is to come to King Jesus and trust that He is mighty to save and receive forgiveness. But what is the purpose of King Jesus taking away the judgments against His people? In verses 15 and 17, it’s so that He may dwell in their midst. Look back there at verse 15, halfway through - “The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.” And in verse 17, the beginning, “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save.” God’s dwelling among His people is central to His purpose of redemption. The King wants to take away your judgment as verification that you have been at peace with the sovereign, to affirm that reconciliation has been accomplished, and if you’re trusting in King Jesus tonight you belong in His presence and He desires to be in your presence. You belong in His presence. No matter what the week before looked like, no matter if you did that thing that you said you would never do again, if you’re trusting in King Jesus He has borne your judgment and you belong in His presence. The Lord is a King who is mighty to save.
II. The Lord is a King whose Love is Unmatched
Verse 17, the second thing I want us to see - the Lord is a King whose love is unmatched. The Lord’s working of redemption is not only a duty but it is also His delight. O. Palmer Robertson calls Zephaniah 3:17 the John 3:16 of the Old Testament. The last three lines of verse 17 - it’s a poem of personal love. Let me read it again for us. “He will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” In verse 14 it’s the people of God who are told to rejoice in the Lord, who are told to sing, to exalt in Him. And now the tables have turned and now it’s the King who is rejoicing in His people. The Lord is the source of joy for His people but in this short poem we see that the King finds joy in His people. Jesus is your mighty Redeemer who delights in you. The Lord takes joy in the redeemed. Think about how this would have landed with the early readers of Zephaniah. They were unfaithful people. They had not been faithful to their covenant Lord. They had been promiscuous and they have been mingling the worship of Yahweh with idolatry and eventually that adultery against their Lord will end up in their exile. And now Zephaniah’s pointing them to a hope and promise, a reconciliation that an undeserving people will become a bride to the bridegroom.
God's All-Absorbing Love
Now the second to last verse demands a little more attention in verse 17 - the second to last line, excuse me. “He will quiet you by his love.” He will quiet you by His love. What does that mean? Well one thing, typically in the Old Testament when the love of God is referenced it’s the Hebrew word, “hesed,” which is God’s covenant, unfailing love. But in this verse it’s a different Hebrew word for love. It’s the word, “ahava.” And the best example of “ahava” love is a love story between Jacob and Rachel in Genesis 29. Jacob sees Rachel and falls in love with her from the moment he saw her. And get this, he worked seven years hard labor to take her hand in marriage. And at the end of the seven years, listen to what Genesis 29:20 says - “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” Because of the ahava he had for her. And Zephaniah is telling us this is the type of love that the Lord has for His redeemed. Consider the ahava of King Jesus. Seven years of hard labor was nothing. He left His throne in heaven, became an infant, He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried because of His passionate love for His people.
But the verse also says that we are quieted by his love. And the word quiet there is not an adjective but it’s a verb and the subject of the verb is God. The New American Standard translation gets at what’s in the original saying, “He will be quiet in his love.” So it’s saying that God will be quiet in His love over His people. And this is hard. It’s a difficult translation. It’s not necessarily that the grammar is difficult in the original but it’s the implications of saying that God is quiet in His love over us. It’s giving the picture of God begin absorbed and contemplating how much He loves you, God being completely taken in by the contemplation of His redeemed. And the problem is not the ability of God to love but it’s the object of God’s love. Because it’s one thing for the transcendent God to delight in His creation, but to have this all absorbing love for redeemed sinners blows our mind. Charles Spurgeon on this passage advises us, “Remember the silence of Jesus and expound this text whereby.” And he goes on to point to Jesus’ trial and crucifixion where He did not say a word because of “the joy set before him, willing to endure the cross despising the shame.” Isaiah 53:7 says, “Like a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” The quietness of the love of God speaks of the depth of His love and the depth of His love cannot be restrained.
Believer in Jesus tonight, no matter what your relationship status on social media says, there is a love for you that is unmatched. Married person who’s in a marriage that isn’t exactly what you always hoped it to be, there is a love for you that is unmatched. Maybe you have lost the love of your life and you feel incapable of picking up the pieces and moving on. There is a love for you that is unmatched. Maybe you are still single and thought you should have found a spouse by now because that’s what everyone keeps telling you and as the years go by you wonder if you ever will, there is a love for you that is unmatched. Maybe close friends have betrayed you and let you down and you feel all alone. There is a love for you that is unmatched. King Jesus has a love for you that is unmatched. As Matthew Henry put it, “God doesn’t just love you; He loves to love you.” Let me say it again. “God doesn’t just love you; He loves to love you.” Romans 5:8 says, “But God showed his love for us in while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” His passionate love for the saints existed for them before they were saints. Before you had any desire for God, He demonstrated His love for you. 1 John 4:10 - “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He has loved us and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins.” The cross is the display of God’s love. The confirmation of God’s love is not in your current circumstances but the surety of His love is the cross of Jesus Christ. Believer in Christ, do not look at your trial, do not look at the tragedies of this life and question the love of God. But instead look to the cross of King Jesus and know the depths of His love.
III. The Lord is a King whose Kingdom is Here and Still to Come
Finally, in verses 14 and 16, how might we respond? Well I entitled this last point - The Lord is a King whose kingdom is here and still to come. The Lord is a King whose kingdom is here and still to come. God loves you now but there’s more fullness of that experience that will come one day. See, Zephaniah’s oracle of salvation here to close out his book goes beyond just Israel’s one day being released from exile. Ultimately he’s pointing his audience and he’s pointing the reader, he’s pointing you and I to the new heavens and the new earth. As one commentator put it, “God created with His Word and He will recreate with singing.” The fullness of His reign is yet to come. There is a tension of being part of God’s kingdom of grace now and waiting for the King to come in glory. And at this point, Zephaniah in verse 14 and verse 16 instructs us on how to live as we await the return of the King. Verse 14, “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” As we are looking to the one who loves us more than anyone else and longing for His return, we are to be a people of exuberant praise. Exuberant praise does not mean music style. It doesn’t mean turning the volume up to 11. It means rejoicing in the Lord from the heart. And where does that come from? Where is the motive of that praise? It’s being persuaded of the depths of His love for you, that the King would take the place of the rebel. So in the midst of the battlefield that is life in this world, we are to be a people of exuberant praise knowing that the conquering King who loves us is returning.
The next thing - that we are to be fearless in our service of the King. Look at verse 16 - “On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak.” Weak hands in the Bible represent a neglected duty and service. Zephaniah is calling God’s people into the service of the King. And how do we go about that service? We serve like the King. Because He is the reigning King who has redeemed us and taken away our judgments, we boldly join Him in His mission and we serve like Him, motivated by love. John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.” Laying down our lives for others in the time between the times, rejoicing in the great love of the King. Let me pray for us.
Our great God and Savior, our heavenly Father, wise are Your ways, wise is Your plan of redemption. Thank You for providing the solution to our sin and condemnation by bearing the judgment in Your Son. We rejoice and celebrate Him as our King and may we begin to plumb the depths of His great love for us as You sing over us. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
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