Second Reformed Church

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"God Will Restore Joy" Sermon: Zephaniah 3:9-20


“God Will Restore Joy”

[Zephaniah 3:9-20]

September 18, 2011 Second Reformed Church

            Is there hope for the sinner?  Is there any way to become right with God?  Or is the judgment we have seen over the past several weeks all there is?  Hopefully, we have also seen that God will restore His people in His time – we see that very explicitly this morning.

            Judah had been involved in idolatry – adultery against her Husband, God.  They were arguing that they could worship God and idols – other gods – and be faithful to the God Who brought them up out of the land of Egypt.  And God, through the prophet Zephaniah, exposed their sin and told them that judgment was coming.

            God’s Judgment was coming against His own people – His bride – Judah for the sin of adultery.  God’s Judgment was coming against the nations around Judah for attaching her and taking her into captivity.  And God’s Judgment was coming against Jerusalem and her leaders for abusing the people and corrupting the Holy.

            We concluded last week with God’s Promise that He would tear Jerusalem and her people apart like a wild animal and then bring down His Fire upon them.  If we had any doubt about whether this was for purification or for destruction, we need only to read verse nine, as we begin this morning’s text:

            “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.”

            God promises, as He tears them apart and pours down His Fire upon them – they would suffer in battle and in exile in Babylon – God would cleanse their mouths; God would purify their mouths.  This is symbolic of their whole person.

            James tells us, “How great a fire is set ablaze by such a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.  The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (James 3:5b-6, ESV).

            And Jesus said, “Hear and understand:  it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:10b-11, ESV).

            God knows the only way any of us will have clean mouths – clean speech – the only way we can be right with Him is if He cleanses us and makes us right with Him.  So God tells them that He will change their speech, so they will be able to call upon the Lord and serve Him.

            This is the same thing we see throughout the Scripture:  “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.  Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.  The venom of asps is under their lips.  Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.  Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.  There is not fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:10b-18, ESV).

            What is the solution?  “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ!” (Romans 7:25a, ESV).  “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1, ESV).

            “Yes, Judah and Jerusalem; I, your God, am sending you into captivity – punishing you for your sins.  But I, for My Own Reasons, have already decided to change you and bring you back to the land that I gave you.”  The work of salvation for Judah and Jerusalem and for the entire remnant that returned and still returns to God is God’s Work Alone.

            The remnant will return from Babylon and all over the earth; the remnant will turn and repent and believe savingly in the salvation that God Himself provides.

“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.”

What might Judah have expected – even if the great hope of return came to pass?  They might have been met with jeers and taunts from the nations:  “Where was your God when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed?  I bet you’re not so high and mighty now!  I bet you won’t say ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One God’ anymore!”

But God promised them that the mouths of the world will be shut; the remnant will not return in shame.  We know from the Scripture – and it is confirmed in secular history – that the remnant were not merely let go by Cyrus, the Emperor of Persia, but Cyrus sent them back with his blessing and with papers to protect them and to secure for them supplies to rebuild.  So God is known in their return as the Victor over the greatest kingdoms known up till that day.

God told them that He would remove the prideful and the arrogant from their midst; the remnant who returns will be humble and perfected by God.  But is that what really happened?  We read in Haggai and elsewhere that the remnant did return with all the support of Cyrus and Darius, but they quickly turned away from God and neglected the rebuilding of the Temple and the worship of God.

In reality, the remnant that returned did not become wholly humble and never prideful.  So, how are we to understand this?  We understand it on two levels – in fact, all of this text on two levels:  first, the Scripture must have something to do with the remnant who actually returned, so we understand this text to mean that they were comparatively pure – compared to the people who were taken into captivity out of Judah, they were pure – they were not perfect and holy, but they had received the Lord’s Discipline and were different people.  Second, we understand this to be referring to when Jesus returns for the remnant which is His Church, whom He will perfect and make holy, removing all possibility for sin from them in the New Erath and the New Jerusalem.

And this is what they will look like – comparatively when they first return, and ultimately, when Jesus returns:

“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.”

            God will be the Shepherd to His remnant.  They shall return to the land, and they will turn to the Lord and not to themselves or other nations or idols.  They will be just and truth-tellers; their tongues will be under control to the glory of God.  And God will lead them like sheep, providing for them in body, soul, spirit, and mind, and they will have no fear.

“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.”

            Judgment will be over, and God will restore joy to His people.  They will rejoice with all of their heart in their God for the Lord will take all of His Judgments away.  What does that mean?  That means the debt will be paid.  There will no longer be a judgment against them.

            They will find their true joy in being in the presence of God.  Their enemies will be gone, and since, God the King is in their midst, all fear will be gone as well.  Does this remind you of another passage?

John writes, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.’ He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4, ESV).

These things occurred comparatively with the remnant of Judah as they returned from the Medo-Persian Empire, but they will occur ultimately and completely for the entire remnant of God’s people when Jesus returns to restore the Creation.

“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.’”

This is really quite astounding – God addresses Zion – which another name for Jerusalem, and He tells her not to become idle.  The Kingdom is not just sitting around on a cloud.  Keep your hands strong – able to work.  And understand this:

God is your Savior.  God told them as He had said in the past that He would provide a savior for all those who would believe in Him, yet here it is clear that the Savior will be – and we know He is – God, Himself.  Jesus could not receive the Wrath of God and live if He were not God Himself.  God is the Savior.  You cannot earn your salvation.  You bring nothing to the table but sin.  But God has chosen, Himself, to provide salvation for His remnant – for His Own Reasons.

But listen to this:  they were told and we are told – God rejoices over us with gladness.  God is filled with joy and gladness that He has saved the remnant for Himself.  If you believe in Jesus Alone for salvation – God rejoices and is glad that He saved you.

Not only that, but God says He will quiet His remnant with His Love.  God cherishes His people like a bride, and He promises to do what is necessary to calm us down and give us comfort and hope in Him by way of His Love for us.

And not only that, but God says He will exult over His people with loud singing.  God sings loudly because He is so in love and so joy filled over His people and His salvation of them.

Of course God doesn’t have a physical body – except in the Person of the Son, but, can you picture a bridegroom – after the “I dos” of the wedding – shouting and singing and holding his bride, as though to never let her go.  Zephaniah says that is what God will do for the remnant.

“I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach.”

What is God saying?  Here God is saying that their salvation – the becoming holy of the remnant is a process.  There is confusion today in the Church about the different between justification and sanctification.  Justification is the one time legal declaration of “you are accounted as sinless – free to go.”  That is what Jesus secured when He cried out “It is finished,” on the cross.  Sanctification is a process by which God the Holy Spirit works in us to progressively make us holy – and which will only be accomplished in fact – totally – when Jesus returns.

“Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors.”

We read this promise again in the words of John, “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death’” (Revelation 21:5-8, ESV).

God removed oppressors – enemies – from Judah in a way He has never done or promised to any other nation; Israel is the only nation God ever called as His people.  But God promises the entire remnant of Earth that God will – upon His Return to earth – take care of our enemies and His – and cast them into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels – where they will be tormented for all of eternity.

And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise

 and renown in all the earth.”

            According to God’s Law, people with certain physical defects or diseases, or people who come from other countries, and women, were not allowed in the main sanctuary.  God says that He will remove all impediments to coming into His Presence for worship.

“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.

God tells Judah and Jerusalem that when the world sees what God is going to do to them – the slaughter that will occur – and then their being taken off into captivity – the world will think that God has cast them away and that they were – effectively – dead.  But God tells Judah and Jerusalem – the whole remnant of Israel – that God has a surprise for the nations.  God is going to bring the remnant back to the land and God is going to restore them – God is going to bring His dead bride back to life – so much so that the nations will praise them because they know that the God of Israel is the Only Real God.

What may we conclude?

First, we can conclude that God always keeps His Promises.  God keeps the Covenant.  God is always faithful.  No matter how often we turn away and do what is wrong in God’s Sight – if we have been saved by faith alone in Jesus Alone – we are God’s people forever and always, and, as Paul writes, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Second, we can conclude that God is passionately in love with all those who believe savingly in the Savior, Jesus Alone.  If you are a Christian – God is passionately, head-over-heels in love with you.  He is your husband, and He is working all things together so you will become perfect and holy, in the Image of His Son – our Brother – Jesus.

And third, we can conclude that in God’s Time, He will remove all evil and sin from the world and restore joy in His Kingdom – in the New Earth and the New Jerusalem – where we will be perfected and holy and glorified by our God and Savior, Jesus.

Let us pray:
            Almighty God and Savior, it is hard for us to receive Your Fatherly Discipline when we sin, but we thank You with great joy that You chose to take our sin upon Yourself and suffer for us, that we might be Your beloved, whom You will restore and glorify in the Kingdom which is to come.  Help us to live with that promise before us, that the day is soon coming when You will restore our fortunes to us, bringing us in and gathering us together, to make us renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, for You are our Treasure and the Hope of our Joy.  And it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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