All Roads Lead To Jesus - Zephaniah

Zephaniah – Jesus is the Mighty Warrior Who Saves
Reading: Zephaniah 1:7-16

We have never had a better time to stop and think about our loyalties and purpose than we do right now at this point in history. Our lives have been slowed down to a grinding halt. Through this pandemic, I have had plenty of time to wrestle with my objects of worship and where those objects might take me. Many people that I know both inside and outside of the church are not concerned with their final destiny. They just sort of approach life believing that somehow it will all work out in the end. They jump from one experience to the next as a distraction to either convince themselves that this is all there is or try to ignore the nagging feeling that this life is not all there is.

What if the judgment is coming? What if Jesus was right when he told the crowds that one day there would be great joy and great judgment? What if we are the like the crowds that left Jesus for other pursuits when he spoke of such things? Where are we headed? And if there is judgment, what will happen to me on that day?

Zephaniah was a prophet who struggled through these kinds of questions 600 years or so before Jesus. His words to Judah are full of judgment and wrath and are especially interesting when we consider the time period in which he ministered. By his tone, we would expect that Judah was in open rebellion against God. Yet, Zephaniah wrote during a period of spiritual revival during the reign of King Josiah. Those who were in rebellion and under God’s judgment were undercover.

Josiah was the son of Manasseh. Manasseh was the son of the good King Hezekiah. Hezekiah had reformed the Southern Kingdom of Judah and protected Judah from the Assyrians while destroying the shrines to false gods and bringing God’s people back into the worship of Yahweh. His son, Manasseh, had other plans as the longest-reigning king in Israel’s storied history. He reversed all that his father had done and not only allowed the worship of false gods but encouraged it by rebuilding and bringing back the shrines and holy places of foreign religions.

During his rule, his relativistic “freedom of religion” was very among the people of Judah and drew the ire of the prophets. Isaiah, Habakkuk, Nahum, and now Zephaniah spoke out against the covenant-breaking king and as a result, were wildly unpopular with the king and with the people. The king persecuted any prophet that spoke against his relativistic reforms.

But then Manasseh had a change of heart when he was imprisoned by the Assyrian king for his disloyalty. Sometime during his imprisonment, Manasseh broke and turned to the Lord. He realized his sin and he repented. When he was set free, he ordered all of the shrines and temples to foreign gods be destroyed and that only Yahweh was to be worshipped in Judah.

After his death, his son King Josiah became king and there was a revival throughout Judah as they returned to the Covenant they had made with Yahweh. It was during this time that Zephaniah prophesied. One would think that his words would be uplifting and optimistic. Instead, Zephaniah prophesied that the Day of the Lord was coming, and, on that day, there would be a great and just judgment of God’s people.

Zephaniah wrote,

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, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements.

According to Zephaniah, on The Day of the Lord, God would come as a warrior and no one would be able to stand against His wrath and judgment. I wonder if there were many in Judah who thought Zephaniah had actually been hearing from God. Hadn’t he witnessed the great spiritual revival? Manasseh had repented. His son, Josiah, was doing things right. The people returned to Yahweh. Surely, Zephaniah had been mistaken. But everything that Zephaniah said came to pass when Babylon was used by God to exercise his judgment in 586 B.C. It was a great and terrible day of holy and just judgment.

Even in the midst of the judgment, there was hope. In the verses leading up to the description of God’s wrath, Zephaniah wrote,

Be silent before the Lord GOD! For the day of the LORD is near;
the LORD has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests.

In these words, we see a glimpse of Jesus Christ as not only a mighty warrior who brings the judgment of God, but as a mighty warrior who saves God’s people from the judgment that their sins deserve. In the midst of judgment, God has prepared a sacrifice and through that sacrifice, he has set his people apart for salvation. Just as God would save a remnant of Judah from the judgment of exile, so too Jesus was the sacrifice that would save God’s repentant people from his righteous and holy wrath.

It is not difficult to see the modern church in the people of Judah during the time of Zephaniah. There were good things happening. There were spiritual awakenings and reforms. But there were also those who were still under the influence of the sin of Manasseh and worshipping false gods. There were many who saw some worth in following Yahweh and keeping his covenant, but they were also following after false gods and practicing false religions. This group of people must have been shocked at the words of Zephaniah. They were fractured in their fealty to God.

The American church is fractured in its fealty to Jesus. We have choices to make. Will we follow Jesus even if that leads us into a place of powerlessness on this earth, or will we use worldly means, arguments, and tactics to hold onto our power? Will we live fearfully and succumb to the demands of our relativistic culture or will we remain loyal to Jesus’ call of the Gospel to love our enemies, to bless those who persecute us, to clothe the naked, to fight injustice, and to care for our neighbors?

Judah learned that they could not live in both the fractured world of relativistic worship and fealty to Yahweh. They could either live as the world around them demanded or they could live and walk in the fear of the Lord. Judah would have been encouraged by the words of Zephaniah in that God had promised a remnant would be saved. This remnant would be saved through the sacrifice that God provided. On this side of the cross, we know that this sacrifice is God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

In the Bible, “The Day of the Lord” has different meanings depending on the context. Sometimes it means a day of judgment. Other times it means a day of joy for the righteous. Sometimes this day is an event that was close at hand, and other times it is referring to the last day in history.

Jesus brought all of these ideas together when he spoke of the Day of the Lord. According to Jesus, this day will be both a day of judgment and of joy. This day, according to Jesus, is a day that is both close at hand for us, and also a day that we will experience together with the rest of humankind on the last day of history. Each of us is headed toward the day of the Lord whether by death or the coming of Christ.

Why is it that we choose to live our lives with fractured fealty to God? There are many reasons, but the root of the reason is that we pretend that this life is all there is. We act as if God’s judgment will pass over us because we will be judged by our own definitions of morality. We are playing the part of God.

Of course, those outside of the church and those who deny Christ as Savior would have reason to believe in their own minds that they will not be judged by a God that they do not believe in. But what about the inside of the church? For it is the people inside the faith to which Zephaniah was writing. The Day of the Lord is coming for us as well as the rest of the world. It will not matter that we have spent all of our days inside of the church if we have not lived authentic lives in worship of Jesus Christ. Zephaniah was calling out those who looked like followers of God and believed they were followers of God but had been unwilling to truly submit themselves to his rule and covenant.

Where will the Day of the Lord find us when it does come?

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