A Lesson From Zephaniah
by Rev. Randy Brown
I’m glad you’re here this morning because I’ve got some good news for you. All week long, I’ve been thinking about what I wanted to share this morning and there’s good news. Before the good news, let me share with you some things that I think may be some bad news. I think we, as a culture, I think we, as a society, and sometimes we, as even the church, we have swallowed a lie and we’ve swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.
God, I think, sometimes, has gotten some bad press because sometimes, in our betrayal of God, or portrayal, rather, not betrayed, but portrait, in our painting of God, in our picture of what we think God is like, sometimes God comes across as someone who is selfish. I hear people say from time to time when tragedy occurs God needed another angel and God needed this and God needed that and that sometimes, God begrudgingly might, might, might let us into His Heaven. That’s not the God of the New Testament.
It’s God will, the Scripture tells us, that none should perish, but all should come to eternal life. God’s not out there to see how few people He can let into His Heaven. It’s God’s will that all would be inheriting eternal life. That’s why He came. The Gospel of John’s writer tells us, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” God is not begrudging anyone to come into His Kingdom.
I want to share with you something else today. If you’re here and you’ve come to be overwhelmed, if you’ve come looking to be overwhelmed, wishing that someone was head over heels in love with you, then you have come to the right place because God loves you and He’s head over heels in love with you. He’s committed to you. He sent His only son that whosoever, that includes us, that whosoever would believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. If we’ve come with those needs in our life this morning, we’ve come to the right place. It’s always the right place to come.
The Old Testament contains it and the New Testament explains it. Zephaniah 3:17 says that God has a great love for you and for me. We sing this time of the year, “It’s a holly jolly Christmas, it’s the best time of the year” or “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Sometimes, we come to places, even worship, and we just have that blue and blah feeling. Zephaniah has some good news for the Christmas blues.
See, four hundred years after the temple was built, God’s people had forgotten all about God and they grew cold toward Him. In the early part of the Book of Zephaniah, he begins to warn them that if they don’t clean up their act, in other words, and if they don’t come back to where they need to be, there’s calamity that’s on their way. There’s consequences if they do not seek the Lord. They began to heed that warning and they turned from their ways and God had an incredible, incredible gift for them. Zephaniah knew what that gift was, so as the people began to change, God took away the judgment. He took away the blues that they were experiencing.
We might want to say that God’s love is the gift that keeps on giving all year long and that God’s love is a passionate love. Not only a passionate love, but a personal love for you. God’s love is for the world, but God’s love is an individual love, too. The first thing that we see in this verse of Scripture if we unwrap this present that Zephaniah said that God was giving us is this: the Lord is with you, the Lord is with you. He is with you. Whether it’s at the office or at the house or at work or at labor or at leisure, God is with us. God is there with us. His name, His very name is Emmanuel and translated, that means God with us, with us in the midst of our struggle, in the midst of our journey. God is with us. There’s nowhere you can go that He’s not already there. God is pleased to be with us. He wants to be with us. He wants us to come into His presence. He wants us to allow Him to come into our presence. I love the passage as it’s translated in the Message translation which says God became flesh and moved into the neighborhood. Listen for that for a moment. God is not an absentee landlord. God is not some distant fault or ideology, but the word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood. Minnie Pearl used to say, “I’m just so proud to be here.” God has come to us where we are and God, that’s where He wants to be because He has an overwhelming, passionate love for you and for me. That’s what we celebrate this Christmas season.
Even in spite of bad things that happen to us, even in the midst of our sin, God does not stop loving you. He never has stopped loving you and He never will. The Psalmist put it like this, “yea, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the darkest valley, He will be with us.” He’s there when we can’t see Him. He’s there when we can’t feel Him. He’s there when our emotions play tricks on us. He’s there when we don’t have the answer to the questions that we’re facing in our life. He’s never left us alone. God moved into the neighborhood to be with us. He loves us. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is that He is a mighty warrior. What battles are you facing? What battles do you wake up and dread each day? Whatever those battles are, He’s there to direct you and to guide you and to give you strength to overcome whatever battles there are that you’re facing. Isaiah chapter 9 verse 6 calls Him “a Wonderful Counselor, a Mighty God.” The Mighty One. The Mighty One is translated the one who saves. He saves us from our trials, our hurts, our past.
Psalm 34:18 says, “He is near to the brokenhearted and He saves those who have crushed spirits.” He comes to us as a mighty warrior. If we’ll allow Him to, He will see us through whatever test so that we were going to have the testimony. He is the one who will give us the victory. Sometimes, we have to go through the hard times though, but we’re never promised that we’ll always have it easy, but we’ve always been promised that He is with us and that He has overcome. He will allow us to be overcomers. The Scripture says that, “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”
The third thing that this passage of Scripture says to us is that “He delights in you.” God delights in you. You know what that word delight means? It means that He’s happy about you. It means that He thinks about you all the time. It means that He’s proud of you. It means that you bring Him pleasure. He delights in you. We live in such a negative world. Don’t you need to be lifted just a little? He delights in you. There are children who are told every day, “You’ll never amount to nothing.” That’s not what God wants to say to them. He delights in them. There are spouses who are told every day, “I don’t know why I ever married you.” That’s not what God wants. God delights in you. You’ve heard me say this before, but He loves you so much that if God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. That’s how much God loves you.
As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will God rejoice over you. Why? Because you’re so lovable? Uh-uh. That’s not the reason. Because you’ve got it all together? Come on. Most of us, if we got it all together, we forget where we put it, so that’s not why God loves us. He loves us because that’s His nature. There’s nothing you can do to stop God from loving you. Hear me. Doesn’t matter what you’ve done, where you’ve been. That doesn’t stop God from loving you. Let me say it another way. God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t change it. Just accept it and live in His love.
The next thing we see in this passage of Scripture is that in His love, He no longer rebukes us. Have you ever tried to measure up? You ever tried to be good enough? How’d that work for you? Doesn’t work very good, does it? You remember a few years ago when Rudy Kailas was here and he talked about growing up, he always tried to measure up and he never was good enough? We don’t have to be good enough. God accepts us and loves us just like we are. There are children across this community who get A’s and B’s on their report card. Instead of celebrating, someone will say, “Well, why didn’t you get all A’s?” They never said that to me. I’ll let you interpret that how you want to. They brag on them, but they stab them in the back.
You remember seeing a picture or maybe you’ve experienced it, your children were young and they were tired, they’d had a long day and you just held them in your arms until they went to sleep. They rested there. That’s what God desires for each of us. Now, I know for you Type A personalities that have to always be constantly on the move, it’s not easy to sit still. I understand that, but just let God hold you in His love and rest in His love. He delights in you.
A lot’s been talked about this week with a Dolly Parton movie. I remember the one last year that was out and how much that movie really portrayed that she was made fun of and she was laughed at, but the day came when that was over and she was restored. That’s what God wants to do to us. God never rebukes us. God never laughs at us. God restores us. That’s the kind of love that God has for each of us.
Then the last thing that this verse tells us is that, “He rejoices over you with singing.” Has anyone ever written a love song for you? God has. God starts out in the Book of Zephaniah, He’s talked about His strength. Then all of a sudden, God becomes silent in the Book of Zephaniah. Then before it’s over, He’s singing and He’s singing with rejoicing over you. What does God’s voice sound like? You can hear God’s voice in all kinds of places. You can hear God’s voice in the thunderous roar at Niagara Falls. You can hear God’s voice in a gentle stream. You can hear God’s voice at the deafening noise of a volcano. You can hear God’s voice in the purring of a kitten. You can hear God’s voice in a hurricane. You can hear God’s voice in the blowing wind of a snowstorm. God’s voice is always there. What’s He singing about? He’s singing about you.
Five times in this one verse He tells us that He’s singing and rejoicing over us. Why? Because you’ve got beautiful eyes and beautiful hair? No. You got radiant skin tone? No, that’s not the reason. He’s singing over you because He loves you, pure and simple. That’s what makes God’s day is thinking about how much He loves you. He loves you enough that a baby came to the world and that baby became a man or that baby became a boy. That boy became a man and He entered into the world that you and I might have life and that we might have it abundantly.
I hope you today that you will, if you have not also already done so, that you will receive this love, receive it into your heart and into your life. Receive the truth of it, that God loves you, pure and simple. That’s the reason for the season, that God loves you. He rejoices over you with singing. If you came here this morning needing to know – am I loved or not – let me assure you God loves you. That’s what the Book says and the Book never lies.