December 12, 2021
Pastor Gunnar Ledermann
14 Sing, Daughter Zion;
shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
15 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.”
I spilled coffee on my keyboard because I was looking at the truck that I have been coveting drive by. I used one finger to communicate to other drivers last week on the road about how I felt their skill level was at changing lanes, and it was not the ‘you are number one’ finger. I posted public content that used derogatory words to describe a person and groups of people. If any of these describes you, then you would not want to be up in front admitting these things or admitting them while livestreaming. Examples like these and many more that you have done are things you do not want to share with others. You and I do not like boasting about our wrongs.
Even less than boasting or whispering what we have done wrong, we do not like someone else calling us out on what we have done wrong. John the Baptist did not shy away from calling out those who had done wrong. In Luke 3, we hear, 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. There were two groups of people who were going to John to be baptized. First, many Jews came to him and, 7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. The Jews were arrogant; they did not want to acknowledge their wrongs and sin, instead they relied on their connection to Abraham as the reason God would welcome them into heaven. John corrected them with the illustration that God could make children of Abraham out of stones if that was what he wanted. Instead, God wanted hearts that were humble and repentant.
Then, there were Gentiles came to John to be baptized. For example, 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” 13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. 14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” In ignorance, the Gentiles after being baptized did not know what their life of repentance was to look like. John simply told them to perform their normal daily activities with honesty treating others with love. Both the arrogant and ignorant needed to be called to repentance otherwise they would be lost and thrown into the fire as John preached, 9 “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” He warned them of the fires of God’s judgment in hell.
God used the Old Testament prophet Zephaniah to point out the fiery judgment he was going to bring on the whole world for its wickedness. In Zephaniah 1 verse 2, after introducing himself in verse 1, he gives these words, 2 “I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord. Zephaniah was called to be a prophet with a message about the Day of the Lord. These are days of judgment, some of which were specific, while others were fulfilled when Jesus died and rose, and will be fulfilled when he returns on Judgment Day at the end of time. Zephaniah is likely a prophet you are not familiar with, but his book is only three chapters and will take you less time to read than to figure out how to spell his name correctly. He served as a prophet a little before 600 BC, around the time of Jeremiah. He served the southern kingdom of Judah after the northern Kingdom of Israel had already been conquered by the Assyrians. His message breaks down easily into chapter one, a prophesy of the destruction of the world because the world does not recognize God, is unrepentant, boastful, arrogant and trusts in themselves. Then, chapter 2 prophesies judgments against individual nations. And chapter 3 opens with judgments against leaders such as officials, rulers, prophets and priests, then it turns to good news with the purification God’s his people, and then to the section we are considering from Zephaniah 3:14-17.
Though 2,600 years separate you from Zephaniah, the Word of God spoken through him was given for you. You are part of the wicked world doomed to destruction. You are also like the people Zephaniah and John the Baptist preached to who do not like hearing the only way to avoid God’s judgment and destruction. The only way to avoid judgment is to admit you are wrong. The way to be saved is to admit you cannot do anything to save yourself. You do not like that kind of vulnerability and honest confession that you deserve to be on the naughty list every year. This is repentance. Repentance in the fullest sense has three parts; admit you have done wrong, ask for forgiveness and avoid doing that wrong thing again.
As Christians, we can get tired of the fire and brimstone, sin and hell talk, and want a relationship with God where we only hear about and are given good things, a life of success, blessings, ease and peace. Honestly, if you want to know what that kind of life looks like in terms of Christmas and the year 2021, it looks like you taking a selfie next to a manger scene, smiling and writing, “Not sure why you went through all the trouble to come to earth, I got this.” as if you are not that bad and did not need Jesus to live a good, God pleasing life, suffer, die and be buried. You and I do not like to admit when we have done wrong. You and I do not like to acknowledge the fear and the guilt accumulated over a lifetime because it means facing God’s fiery judgment, the day you stand before God without excuse for doing wrong against him and others over and over.
Zephaniah describes God as a Mighty Warrior. In chapter 1, the Might Warrior brings 15 … a day of wrath—a day of distress and anguish…” against the unrepentant. Then, in chapter 3, we hear what the Might Warrior brings to the repentant, 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.” God, the Mighty Warrior, who strikes fear into the hearts of the arrogant and ignorant wicked, who has the power to create the heavens and the earth, and destroy them, is now the one who saves. God is the Mighty Warrior who has saved you. The Hebrew word here translated ‘saves’ is one of two words that make up the Old Testament name Joshua, which means ‘the Lord saves.’ And if you listen carefully, you can probably guess the Greek form of Joshua used in New Testament, Jesus.
God gave Zephaniah the promise that he would come as the Mighty Warrior to save his people. In this season of Advent, we hear again God’s promise to save us from judgment through the coming of our Savior. We hear in Matthew 1, 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The Mighty Warrior, Jesus, whose name means ‘saves’ came to save you. Jesus fought to save you by living a good life without any wrongs. Jesus lived his whole life without ever needing to repent of any sin. We hear that he was good in the eyes of God at his baptism in Matthew 3, 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Again, at his transfiguration in Matthew 17, 5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” This is how Jesus fought to save us, so that he could be the innocent sacrifice having all of God’s wrath poured out on him at the cross until he was dead. Thus, you have been saved and freed from any fear, guilt or punishment from God through your Savior Jesus as we hear in 2 Corinthians 5, 21 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Zephaniah described two ways people wait for the day of the Lord. Some wait with arrogance and ignorance, not recognizing their sin and need for God to save them. They will only find fear and punishment. You are the others who wait with repentance. You will find rejoicing on the day of the Lord. Zephaniah wrote, 14 “Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! 15 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.” Repentance does not stop at dwelling on your guilt and fear of punishment. It confesses sin in all its ugliness, but then rejoices in the forgiveness of Jesus. Paul describes the life of repentance, your life in Philippians 4, 4 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! … 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” As you wait for the day of the Lord, rejoice and be at peace.
You do not like admitting when you are wrong. It is tempting to grow tired of repentance, downplay sin and avoid speaking about the fires of hell. However, those who see themselves as God sees them recognize now as the time of repentance. But this time is short. On the Lord’s Day, on the day Jesus returns, he will bring you endless rejoicing. As Christmas approaches, give thanks when you see Jesus lying in the manger. He was born to save you, to take away your sin and fear replacing it with his good, perfect life and rejoicing. Cling to the Mighty Warrior who saved you, and you will stand in heaven while the Lord rejoices over those he has saved. Amen.