2011 07 24

God’s Big Plan for His People

Reverend Anthony R. Locke

July 24th, 2011  www.FirstPresTucker.org

at the First Presbyterian Church of Tucker

Click HERE for the Zephaniah Sermon Series. Sermon # 2

Zephaniah 1:4-6            Sermon Series in Zephaniah # 02          English Standard Version

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.”[1]

God made a covenant with Adam that offered life and blessings if humanity obeyed or death and a curse if they disobeyed.

Verses 2 and 3 explain that because of disobedience the creation covenant will be uncreated.

But where is the message to the church? What happens to God’s people? Do we get a pass?

1 Peter 4:7 says For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

The outcome for those who do not obey the Gospel was that they were buried in the rubble of the creation in one huge eternal destruction. Bu that was last week’s message.

This week Zephaniah tells us God’s Big Plans for the people of God.

The consequences for sin were already wreaking havoc on God’s people.

The northern territory of Israel was destroyed and in captivity. Judah was the southern tribe and Jerusalem was the capital city. God’s people living in this chosen city assumed that God would never bring consequences to the place He loved the most.

In Genesis 49:10 God promised that The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

Most of the Jews figured God would never abandon Israel and certainly not Jerusalem. God promised to dwelled there until the Messiah appeared.

The Jews never considered that God would judge His people before He judged the sins of the Gentile nations. Wouldn’t God’s people get off easier?

The answer to that is easy. No. Listen to Romans 2:9. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

When God arises from His slumber of patience toward sinners, He deals with every sin as it presents itself. And if God abides with His people, as God abided with Israel at Jerusalem, then the sins God purges first are the ones in His own back yard, sin in the lives of His people.

How does God deal with sin in the lives of His children? Can we get thrown out of God’s family?

God never throws anyone out of the unconditional promises of salvation.

So why the warnings from the prophets? Because while the covenants are unconditional from God the Father to God the Son, our inclusion and possession of those promises is conditional upon us repenting and living holy lives by faith.

Last week we discussed that effectual repentance only flows from a heart that breaks in sorrow as it considers the suffering of Jesus on the cross.

True tears of repentance flow from a broken heart over the injustice of the cross where Jesus justly paid for my sin debt. The wages of sin is death and Jesus paid sin’s debt with His own death on the cross that I deserved.

If I don’t hate sin and if I don’t yearn to enjoy the fellowship of God’s people, then that is a sign that I never repented.

And if I have never repented unto newness of life, then while I might participate in the life of the church, I do not participate in the life of Christ. If I am marked as a believer, yet if I am living like the world, then I have no assurance that I am saved. This is called the assurance of salvation.

The covenant of grace is unconditional to Jesus and if we are in Christ by faith then we are eternally safe.

But if love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are not increasing then I have no assurance I am safe. And, if  wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust envy and gluttony are increasing then I have reason to believe that my profession of faith in Christ is not unto salvation.

This is why the prophets issued their warnings.

As we learned last week, God has Big Plans to end this Creation so that He can roll out a new one. The utter destruction is only scary if we are not ready.

God also has Big Plans for the People of God and the purifying fire of His holiness is only scary if we are not living holy. Let’s now look specifically at our text.

God says that He will stretch out His hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem

God turns the rubble and the wicked together in one mass grave of Hell, but the activity of God in verses 4-6 serves only to remove what makes His people unclean. It sounds negative, but the message is actually very positive. God is purifying His people.

A Sovereign God has determined that the Bride of Christ will be glorious on her wedding day.

Ephesians 5:25-27 Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

We call this sanctification. God is a sovereign Lord over sinners, and God is a sovereign Lord over saints.

And God will use earthly trouble to drag us down the road of sanctification.

And Zephaniah reminds us that the strong outstretched hand of God is our only hope of sanctification. We should respond to the gentle hands of the Shepherd leading us, but if not, then the strong hand of our Father will put us back in place.

That’s good news friends. Praise God that He loves us enough to set us back in our place. Loving fathers do that. They don’t allow bad habits to become defining character qualities.

How could we pray for God’s strong hand?

We should pray that God would stretch out His hand against the sin of our “Christian Nation”, and with Fatherly correction get our country back on the path of righteousness and true holiness.

Would we not rejoice if God cut off the remnant of Baal and the name of the idolatrous priests along with the priests?

There are three categories of offenses from God’s people:

(1)              idolaters, who worship false gods

(2)              adulterers, who worship the true God but other false gods too, and

(3)              apostates, who have fallen away from worshiping God entirely.

All are condemned. The Lord makes no difference among these offenses. God will deal with the sins of these people and His hand will either set them straight or cast them together with the wicked.

God is a jealous God. We cannot love half-heartedly and think we are safe. We must have an undivided heart. The Ten Commandments say, You shall have no other gods before me (Exod. 20:3).

Many people profess to love Jesus, indeed they profess their love loudly, but they love others or other things more.

  • They love their sexual sins more than they love Jesus.
  • They love their money more than they love Jesus.
  • They love their reputation with the beautiful people too much to attempt to tell them about the Savior.

Is it possible to love the Lord like that? No it is not.

Jesus said that the first and greatest commandment was: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37; cf. Deut. 6:5).

Anything less than this is an offense against God and deserves God’s judgment.

There are six specific sins mentioned in these three short verses. The people of God were

  1. worshipping Baal,
  2. there were false priests,
  3. people who set their hope on the stars,
  4. people who combined worship to Jehovah with worship to Baal,
  5. backsliders and
  6. practical atheists

How many of these six sins are still active in the the people of God in our time?

Baal worship was the worst sin. Isn’t Baal worship dead? I don’t know anyone honoring Baal, but they worship his image. What was the image of Baal?

The worship of Baal is to live for a larger paycheck. Wherever people see bank balances, prosperity, a sound economy, productivity, and mounting exports as the essence of their security, Baal is worshiped.

And there are priests who tell us to live like this.

Ministers tell people to use religion to pursue a steady life, a good life, so they don’t ruin their pursuit of money by unethical choices.

It’s like telling Lindsey Lohan to get religion so her life will be better.

People counseled Tiger Woods that his life would have not gotten off track if he’d held religious commitments. But the life they are seeking to safeguard is a life in pursuit of earthly things with religion serving like the brakes of the car. Religion slows down destructive choices.

Religion was like a car airbag for Bill Clinton. It saved his career when he had a moral crash. He confessed his sins. He said he was sorry. He bit his lower lip and shed a tear. The media used religion to tell us all to forgive him and move on. Religion proved useful to pursue worldly things.

Seeking earthly things first is to worship at the image of Baal. Encouraging people to use religion to safeguard those earthly is to be a priest for Baal worship.

In 1996 I was in the largest church in the world in Seoul Korea. Inside the sanctuary, in large letters for everyone to see, is the verse 3 John 1:2 Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.

Inside the church entrance everyone has a card where they track their monthly paychecks. If they give money to the church then they should see the tracking of their paycheck increase.

And there are false priests teaching this inside the American church. Here in Dekalb we have ministers driving flashy cars and clothes to remind their members that they too will increase in earthy things if they give money to the church.

Zephaniah reminds us that God will not deal gentle with these false priests.

There are people in the church who think that the world is governed by chance and we must give honor to the gods of chance. If you want to get ahead you must pay some tribute to the lottery, you have to be aware of your horoscope, you must play the odds.

Church growth experts tell the Kingdom of God is expanded by a numbers game. Send out enough flyers, place enough ads, change the church in the right way and your numbers will increase. This is sin number three of looking at the stars and hoping to find a blessing.

The fourth offense in the church is syncretism. those who bow down and swear to the Lord and yet swear by Milcom. God’s people, led by Aaron, made an image of gold at the foot of Mt Sinai and worshipped Jehovah through a golden calf. How many of the local mega churches are worshipping Jesus through excessive modern methods of entertainment and technology?

God will purify out of His church all these things. Even us backsliders will get God’s hand of correction. Those within the church who say they follow God, and yet never inquire of Him through the Bible will also get a firm rebuke.

This is the summary of God’s Big Plans for the People of God. The Church will be purified. The Bride will be glorious. And we will be ready for Jesus to come again.

Even so, Come Lord Jesus.

[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.