Pastor Eric Schroeder - The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, August 14, 2022

Text: Zephaniah 3:14-20

Watch Service Video

It’s quite common that as time goes on, people start longing for “the good old days.” We can all get selective in our memories and romanticize the past, thinking back to all of our favorite times and lumping them all together into a vague notion of the kind of life we might wish we could have forever. When we were younger, we didn’t have all these bills to worry about, and we didn’t have all these aches and pains that we have accumulated over the years, and we weren’t so worried about running out of time all the time. So, in a lot of ways, life was simpler, and to a whole lot of people, that means life seemed better. So they long for “the good old days.”

Zephaniah was the last of the minor prophets before the Babylonians came in and carried out God’s harsh (but well-deserved) discipline of his people. The good old days of David and Solomon were long gone, and theirs was a nation in serious decline. They had been through some close calls in the past, enemies that had threatened and attacked and weakened their nation, but this time was going to be the real deal. Destruction was coming. This is how Zephaniah begins his words of prophecy in chapter 1.

“I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord.

“I will sweep away both man and beast; I will sweep away the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea— and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.”

“When I destroy all mankind on the face of the earth,” declares the Lord, “I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all who live in Jerusalem.

Complete judgment and total devastation, not just for one city or one nation, but all nations and every creature on earth—that’s the message of the first two and a half chapters of this three-chapter book of prophecy. Zephaniah prophesied the same time as the major prophet Jeremiah, and both of them are clear to point out that the Jews in particular aren’t going to be able to avoid God’s wrath; they can’t claim that because they were God’s chosen people and they had God’s temple in their city, they had some kind of disaster repellant or a spiritual “get out of jail free” card that would help them. God’s call to repentance was serious, and the people didn’t have much time to repent.

One of the problems, however, is that Zephaniah and Jeremiah weren’t the only voices the people were hearing. Our first reading was from Jeremiah, and there God says he knows about all the conflicting messages that the false prophets were spreading instead of his Word. Does that sound familiar to us at all? Perhaps these days we hear about more and more people who have a distrust for organized religion, and sadly, the majority of the time, we have to agree with them—those religions aren’t trustworthy at all. Even among churches that call themselves Christian, God’s Word isn’t the sole authority anymore; instead, the teachings of the church change with the whims of whatever is popular and accepted, and to many preachers, the most important thing is that people aren’t offended.

The end result of this kind of religion both in Zephaniah’s day and ours is that the Almighty God is greatly offended—not in the sense that his feelings are hurt, but his righteous anger and divine justice demand that he do something. So, instead of looking back to the “good old days,” God would have us look ahead and prepare for the Day of the Lord and the judgment that is coming for the whole world. All of us ought to pay attention to God’s Word, recognize our sins, and repent of them, humbly and honestly.

And when we do, we see his desire to save. We realize that so often we need God’s discipline to curb our sinful nature and correct our selfish ways; that never seems pleasant. But this is the beautiful part. Every time we confess our sins and turn back to God, he promises to do what we cannot. He assures us that he will forgive and restore us as his children. That’s the closing message of Zephaniah, the words we get to spend time applying today.

Here's how the section starts:

Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem!

The Lord has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm.

16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp.

17 The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.

He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you,

but will rejoice over you with singing.”

It’s such a stark contrast from how the book began and continued for the majority of Zephaniah’s message. What happened? Did God change his mind? Did he decide that their sin wasn’t a big deal all of a sudden, and maybe he had been too harsh? Not at all. When Zephaniah and the other prophets confronted the people with their sin, some people shut their ears. Some people dismissed God’s Word or twisted it for their own purposes. Some people heard it and assumed it wasn’t for them. And sadly, sooner or later, they all realized that every word was true.

But for those who listened intently, for those who admitted their guilt and submitted to God’s discipline, God had more to say. And despite the conditions of the world around them—despite the conditions of the world around us—it is a message of eternal hope and comfort, the promise of a future far greater than anything we’ve ever known. And none of it is because we deserve it. No, all we’ve earned is punishment from a Holy God. And yet this same Holy God is also a loving God who tells us to sing, be glad, and rejoice with all our hearts, because The Lord has taken away your punishment.

Even in Zephaniah’s day, God’s plan of salvation was so certain, it was as if it had already happened. 600 years after these words were first spoken, a Mighty Warrior was born as a baby in Bethlehem, and he…turned back our enemy by fighting off every temptation that we have ever fallen into. Then Jesus gave that spotless life on the cross as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. God’s holy wrath fell upon him in full measure, and now, washed in his blood, we hear these blessed words for his sake alone: “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” How beautiful is that thought! How is it possible, that God would smile on sinners like us? Once more, we can’t take any credit.

No, God gets all the praise and glory for what he graciously gives. Listen to the close of the book and how 8 times in 3 verses, God assures us that he will take care of our future.

18 I will remove from you all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals, which is a burden and reproach for you. 19 At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they have suffered shame.

20 At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,” says the Lord.

The good old days keep slipping further and further away in the rearview mirror, but the best days are yet to come. After 70 years of exile, God would restore his people to their homeland and remain faithful to his plan to send the Savior of all nations. Jesus took away our punishment by taking it on himself, and now God promises to take away everything that causes pain and suffering, grief and shame. Our Lord will return to gather us and bring us home for all eternity, and sin and death will never threaten us ever again.

Because of God’s promises to heal and restore his people, every single one of us can think back to the best times we’ve ever known, and know that our eternal future will be even better. We don’t have to live in the past, because no matter what our present circumstances, we can be sure that the Lord our God is with us, and he is a Mighty Warrior who saves. No matter what this broken world has taken from us along the way, God will restore life to what he always intended for his children, perfect joy that can never be taken away. All thanks and praise to Jesus for fulfilling God’s word, for defeating every enemy, and giving God reason to take delight in us now and forever for his sake. AMEN.