Reverend Anthony R. Locke
August 28st, 2011 www.FirstPresTucker.org
at the First Presbyterian Church of Tucker
Click HERE for the Zephaniah Sermon Series. Sermon # 6
Zephaniah 1:15-18 English Standard Version
1 Gather together, yes, gather, O shameless nation,
2 before the decree takes effect —before the day passes away like chaff— before there comes upon you the burning anger of the Lord, before there comes upon you the day of the anger of the Lord.
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.
4 For Gaza shall be deserted, and Ashkelon shall become a desolation; Ashdod’s people shall be driven out at noon, and Ekron shall be uprooted.
During the week of Pentecost, also called the Jewish Feast of Harvest, when the Jews were enjoying their happiest period of worship and celebration, Zephaniah takes his turn leading worship. He stands at the lectern, and reads, not from Moses or the Psalms, but he reads his own prophetic words, God’s words of warning, calling the people of God to repentance.
Zephaniah prays to be taken seriously. This weekend NJ Governor Chris Christie warned people to get off the beach because hurricane Irene was bearing down on their State. Teenagers were standing on the boardwalk hoping to get sprayed by the waves. One wave, caught on tape, crashed over the boardwalk and swept half a dozen people out to sea.
God’s storm will scatter and destroy sinners. Zephaniah 1:2 The storm of God’s anger will sweep away everything.
So Zephaniah calls the people of God to gather for a new purpose, to repent.
But, Israel was already gathered to celebrate God’s favor. The crops were bountiful, the wars had ceased, a young Josiah was King and hope filled the hearts of the Jewish people. They envisioned years of blessing and increase. Consumer outlook was high.
We also might be tempted to take the words of Zephaniah with a grain of salt. If we have our health, if we can pay our bills and sustain a comfortable lifestyle, then the Biblical warnings to repent might seem like incendiary rhetoric. Why get all upset at fire and brimstone preaching? What right does Zephaniah have to interrupt our happy worship with this negative language?
But Jesus gave the same message. Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! Israel did repent, and under Josiah the words of Zephaniah were taken very seriously.
Gather together, yes, gather. What sort of worship event is God suggesting? Coffee and prayer? Songs, Bible study and personal testimony? God is calling the Church together for corporate and personal repentance. Why?
Because the Church has become shameless. O shameless nation. If we are unable to blush at the sin within the church, then we are in need of repentance.
Are we unable to blush at sin? Is there sin in the church or at our community back door?
The average church ignores unmarried couples living together. The average church sits idle when church members divorce. It’s like we have torn Matthew 18 out of our Bibles. Biblical church discipline is a lost art.
We have adopted the culture’s attitude toward sin. We don’t feel ashamed that our community is afflicted by drugs and godlessness. We shrug off the problems around us.
Israel was unable to blush for her sins.
The verse could also be translated Gather, O nation not desired, or gather you unwanted people.
God tells us the truth. There’s no reason that God should love sinful people. We are not loved by the Father outside of Jesus Christ. God didn’t send Jesus to the cross because we were so adorable.
Sin is ugly. It’s offensive. God doesn’t owe us anything but His wrath. Are you surprised?
Imagine Zephaniah standing up in your church between worship songs and telling your church this message. Is this radical speech? Is it within the scope of the rest of scripture, or is this just a rogue verse?
Let’s read God’s words to Moses on this subject. The people of God worshipped improperly with a golden calf. Moses stood between the sinful people and a holy God to make intercession. How did God respond?
Exodus 32:30-34 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” 31 So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.”
Most folks expect God to melt and not punish sinners. Won’t God overlook their sin?
33 But the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book. 34 But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.
This is where we ended last weeks sermon. God will not bend the rules when He comes to judge sinners. God will not go gentle. God will not dilute His wrath or diminish the fires of Hell. God will show no mercy on that day. If we want mercy, then we have to receive it now. These are the days of His patience.
This is why Zephaniah presses so passionately his appeal in verse 2, before the decree takes effect —before the day passes away like chaff— before there comes upon you the burning anger of the Lord, before there comes upon you the day of the anger of the Lord.
Before the hurricane hits, there is only one response that God seeks from our hearts.
Verse 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.
Let me handle verse 4 and then we will spend the rest of our time on verse 3.
In verse 4 Zephaniah lets us know that the enemies of Israel will get God’s undiluted wrath. Ekron will be ruined beyond hope. Ashdod won’t be able to defend itself, even in the full light of day: high noon. The lush and comfortable city of Ashkelon will be ruined. Even Gaza, a city that nations still fight and fight to occupy, will be voluntarily deserted.
Verse 4 is the same message as 1 Peter 4:18 And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
We are put on notice that we can’t even imagine how bad things will get for the sinner. The ungodly will stand before the wrath of God unprepared. They will be exposed as the enemies of God. The Bible says that they will be literally cast into Hell fire. That’s verse 4.
Most people have never considered the absolute destruction wrought by God’s hurricane of wrath against sin. Hurricane Irene was 500 miles wide. Imagine a category five hurricane hitting your hometown without advance notice. How do you run away from that? You don’t.
God loves us enough to share this fire and brimstone preaching to make us fear God.
We should be shocked that we are saved. It should blow our minds that a sinner, like us, can escape God’s judgment on sin. The storm is that big, that dark, and that swift.
God tells us in Zephaniah that judgment is coming, but that a door for salvation, an escape, is open for the humble and repentant. The message of Zephaniah is the message of the Gospel.
The Old Testament is full of New Testament Gospel preaching – and vice versa.
Joel 2:12-18 “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. 14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?
God calls us to seek salvation through faith in Christ. We must look to Jesus and persevere in a life of humility and faith. This is in contrast to the religious of Zephaniah’s day listed in verse Zephaniah 1:6 those who have turned back from following the Lord, who do not seek the Lord or inquire of him.
True faith perseveres. This is not the same as a “once saved, always saved” explanation. While some truth resides in bumper-sticker theology, it isn’t the fullness of the doctrine.
The Bible teaches that those who turn back from following the Lord have no assurance from scripture that they will be safe when the hurricane of God’s wrath comes. They might be saved, but they are given no assurances.
Those who have a profession of faith in Christ, but don’t seek the Lord, are not given the right to claim the promises of peace. If we go to church, yet we have no personal interest in daily fellowship with Jesus, then we do not have any assurances that we are sheep. We might be goats.
The Bible says repeatedly and very clearly that all liars go to Hell. If we feel no shame when we lie, if we feel no shame when we speak with shades of truth, when we utter white lies, or lies that protect other’s feelings, then we are a shameless nation without the assurance of safety from God’s wrath.
The assurance of our salvation grows in our hearts as we grow in Christlikeness. Without good works our faith is dead. If our faith is NOT supported by a life which is being transformed by Christ, then we have NO RIGHT to assume that we hold the eternal promises of the Gospel.
This is the message of the Bible. Zephaniah hopes we will hear this message and repent.
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.
Amos spoke the same message. Amos 5:15 Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
The assurance of our salvation grows in our hearts as we hate sin, love good, and work for justice within our community. If we are not doing these things, then we have no assurance that we are in Christ and safe from the storm of God’s wrath. Like Israel, we need a fresh repentance.
There is one more item we need to discuss out of these verses. Why do the prophets keep suggesting that there is ambiguity in the Gospel? Why do they say that we might be saved?
This is the sermon title. Perhaps you will be hidden. Why is it not definitive?
John Calvin provides the best commentary in my opinion. He gives a couple answers. “This phrase (1) does not imply doubt of the deliverance of the godly, but (2) expresses the difficulty of it, as well (3) that the ungodly may see the certainty of their doom, as also (4) that the faithful may value the more the grace of God in their case.
Our salvation is (1) absolute in Christ, but (2) it came at great difficulty. The odds were not in our favor. It’s the same thought as 1 Peter 4:18 And “If the righteous is (2) scarcely saved, (3) what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
This does not mean that the blood of Jesus barely gets us into the heavenly threshold, rather, that our salvation is mind-blowing. It is (4) Amazing Grace. Dark is the stain that we cannot hide, what can avail to wash it away? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
Let me illustrate the ambiguity in our text again using hurricane Irene from this weekend. The New Jersey Governor told people to get off the beach and out of the path of the storm. His message was get off the beach and you will be safe.
What if he had inserted this ambiguity into his language and said, evacuate off the beach, and perhaps you will survive.
Perhaps! Really? The storm is so bad that even with advance notice we might not escape? The language of ambiguity motivates people into frantic action. This is how we should feel as we rush to gather together to repent.
The moment of our judgment is fast approaching. These are the days set aside by the Father for our salvation. The days of God’s patience will soon be past (verse 2). We must be living humble and godly lives if we are to expect that we should escape the storm of God’s wrath.
Prophets like Zephaniah help us get ready.
They take us on a guided tour. We walk with God’s man into the darkness of the storm and realize the dangerous condition of our soul. The more we stare into the darkness of the approaching storm, the more motivated we will be to abandon our complacent and comfortable disposition and run for the hills.
Let us run to Jesus. The storm is too big. The waves are too high. Our sins have left a dark stain upon our soul. But look, there is flowing a crimson tide, whiter than snow we may be today!
Let us hold fast to our confession of faith. Let us hold fast to Christ. Perhaps we also will escape the day of God’s terrible judgment. Amen.
 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.