Friday, October 19, 2007

The Message of Haggai

Consider Your Ways
The Message of the Prophet Haggai
How not to waste your life

Tonight we will be looking at the book of Haggai. Which can be pronounced either Hag-gy or Hag-a-i. One of the things that is especially neat about this book is that Haggai gives us a few dates so we know when he preached certain messages. One of them was actually preached on today’s date over 2,500 years ago. You might be wondering what relevance does a sermon that was preached 2,500 years ago have on your life today. What can a prophet of 2,500 years ago know about your life in the 21st century?

Have you ever felt discouraged? Have you ever felt that God was calling you to do something but you lacked the strength and courage to do it? Do you ever wonder why it seems that nothing works out for you? Do you ever feel empty or incomplete? Do you feel stretched in a million different ways and are longing for a single passion to live by? Do you wish that you could “just get with it” and not be so bogged down by sin? Do you ever have the feeling that everything is not going to work out? Do you ever wonder what the purpose is for life? Do you feel like throwing in the towel?

Haggai will address each of these issues in some way. His situation in some ways is similar to the world we live in. We will look briefly at his historical situation. . In 606 B.C. many of the Jews were taken into captivity. By 586 B.C. not only were the people taken into captivity but the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. But when the Persians defeated the Babylonians (and you can read about this in Ezra) in 539 events were set in motion for the Israelites to come back to their land. In 538 the people of God were stirred up to begin rebuilding the temple. But in 536 they stopped. They had actually completed the foundation but the Samaritans began stirring up trouble. This is why you see the Jewish opposition to the Samaritans in the New Testament. To make a long story short the Jews stopped building the temple. 16 years later a prophet by the name of Haggai comes onto the scene.
As I mentioned earlier one of the unique things about the book of Haggai is that we can figure out the exact date of his messages. We know that his first message was delivered on August 29th 520 B.C. So, by the time we hear from Haggai, the temple that was started in 538 has been sitting untouched for some 16 years. Why? The first thing Haggai is going to teach us will provide an answer.

I. Consider your priorities (1:1-11) August 29, 520 B.C.

The people of Haggai’s day remind me of a story I heard recently about a group of friends that went deer hunting and paired off in two’s for the day. That night one of the hunters returned alone, dragging an eight point buck but his partner Harry was nowhere to be found.
One of the hunters asked, “Where’s Harry?”
“Harry had a stroke of some kind. He’s a couple of miles back up the trail.”
“You left Harry laying there, and carried the deer back?”
“A tough call,” nodded the hunter, “but I figured no one is going to steal Harry.”

Now some of you might disagree with me, but this hunter had the wrong priorities. And that is the same case here in Haggai 1:1-11, wrong priorities.

The hypocrisy of wrong priorities (1:1-4)

If you notice in verse 2 the people are saying, “The time has not yet come, the time for the house of the Lord to be rebuilt. Now, why are they saying “the time has not yet come”? In essence what they are communicating is this; it is not the Lord’s will for us to rebuild right now. I think J. Vernon McGee adds to this point very nicely. He tells the story of a rebuilding program at his church in LA.

As McGee tells it, “The church in its long history had never been remodeled, and the seats, which numbered four thousand, were built to take care of people who lived fifty or sixty years ago. We discovered that people today are about 2 ½ inches wider than they were fifty years ago! We decided to put in new cushioned seats. Some of the very pious folks said, “We don’t feel that money should be spent for cushions. We should give that money to missions.” Now the majority of the people wanted the cushioned seats, and I did too, so I made a proposition to the congregation. I said, “There are so many people enthusiastic about remodeling that they are going to give enough money to cushion their seat and yours too, so those of you who don’t want to pay for cushioned seats can give you twenty-five dollars to missions. I hope that we can take an offering today for several hundred twenty-five dollar checks”. Well, there were very few twenty five dollar checks. Why? The truth was that the folk who were objecting to the cushioned seats never intended to give at all, and ‘missions instead of cushions’ was their excuse. But what they said was, “it isn’t God’s will to have cushioned seats. The time hasn’t come to remodel the church”.

That is really close to what the Israelites were saying. They were making excuses. The times were difficult. They would have to face opposition to build the temple. It would be hard work. Some even used prophecy to back their argument. They remembered Jeremiah and Ezekiel said it would be 70 years…well if the temple was destroyed in 586 then it will not be rebuilt until 516. But that is not what the prophecy was concerning. They were only using religious talk as an excuse, they did not intend to build.

And this is where God gets them. Notice verse 4. “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?” The people are saying, “it’s not time to build God’s house”, and God is saying, “so it is time to build up your house?” Now, I want us to notice something about the “paneled houses” that they are building. In order to have these paneled houses you would have to have cedar. There are two places the Israelites could have gotten their cedar. 1) Lebanon 2) from the stockpile that was to go towards building the temple. Either way it is a pretty bad deal. Either they were working really hard and putting all of their energy into building their own kingdom, or they are actually stealing from the Lord to build their own houses. We also need to know that living in a paneled house meant that you were living large. It means you are living in luxury.

So, just picture the scene for a moment and then we will try to place ourselves into this setting. The Lord’s house lies desolate, laid waste. The temple in the Old Testament meant God’s presence. When the temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 it symbolized a departure of God’s glory. So in essence what the Israelites are saying is that they care more about their own lives than about the presence and glory of God. Yet the people are living in beautifully adorned houses.

Now we know that in our time, the temple is no longer God’s dwelling place. We know from John that the temple is but a shadow of the indwelling presence of Christ, both through his incarnation and through the indwelling Holy Spirit. In one sense of the word, Christians are the dwelling place of God now.

So, let’s try to make this first point personal. Please try to resist the urge to think of the church as a building, the church is not a building the church is a body. Are you living in paneled houses while the Lord’s church lies desolate? Do not just think of money. Also think of time. Also think of the spiritual disciplines of your home.

It is amazing how often today we complain of not having enough time. It is so sad that many people do not minister because they do not have the “time”. Yet we have plenty of time after church on Sunday to watch a three hour football game. We do not have the time or energy to do personal evangelism, yet we always seem to find time for our hobbies. Americans spend about 5 hours per day engaged in some sort of leisure activity such as watch television. That amounts to about 35 hours per week. That’s almost a full-time job. Just imagine if we would turn off the television, music, computer, etc. even half of that time and spent our time that we “do not have” on knowing God or making Him known?

It always upsets me whenever you cannot come to youth group on Wednesday or Sunday because of some school activity or sports. Our priorities are all messed up. The school has a stranglehold on you and your coaches are dictating your schedule more than the Word of God. We are communicating that getting good grades, being a good student, being a star athlete, etc. is more important than being a man or woman of God. You say, but if I do not go I will get in trouble, I will get a bad grade; I will not get to play on the team. And you are probably right. But I ask is this perhaps what Jesus meant when He said a true disciple would deny Himself take up His cross and follow Him?

This is not as black and white as it seems. Sometimes the Lord might be calling you to be a missionary somewhere on Wednesday night. Sometimes you can not come to church Sunday morning because you stayed up all night with your drunken dad caring for him, witnessing to him, etc. There are exceptions, but they are few and far between. Simply ask yourself is my number one priority knowing Christ and making Him known?

For the Israelites it wasn’t, is it for you? If not, then I urge you to follow the people of God in what they did next. We read in Haggai 1:12-13 that the people obeyed the voice of God and they feared Him. In other words they left their comforts and started building the house of God.

The fruit of correct priorities

And we see the result. In verse 13 Haggai spoke the Lord’s message saying, “I am with you, declares the Lord”. There could be no more encouraging message for us today. We see then that the fruit of obeying God and repenting from our wrong priorities is that we like the Israelites will experience God’s presence. It is not that God is not always there. He is omnipresent. But even though God is there we do not experience his presence because our eyes are on everything else.
So, one of the blessings that God is giving them is to make his presence known and felt; to make himself known and felt in such a way they could not deny him. There could be no greater blessing that God could give us than his own presence.

And that is what the Israelites enjoyed as they were building the temple.

II. Do not quit (2:1-9) October 17, 520 BC

I don’t know about you but sometimes after I have an awesome experience with God shortly after I have a huge dead spot. I am not really sure why this is. Quite frequently on Thursday’s I am depressed, or Monday mornings if I preach on Sunday. It is something about the day after that leaves you empty and sometimes sullen. This is what had happened to the Israelites by October. Haggai second message in 2:1-9 was actually delivered 2, 527 years to the date. This is Haggai’s message of encouragement, telling the Israelites do not give up, do not quit.

Apparently they had been discouraged by their lack of progress; which is kind of silly because they had only been at it for a few months. In verse 3 God is asking some of the senior members, can you remember what the temple was like before it was destroyed? Do you remember the glory that was there? Look at it now! Is it not just as nothing! That would be discouraging.
Last week I felt something similar. Now it is nothing similar in magnitude, but to me it was pretty huge. I had spent about 4 hours working on a power point presentation to be delivered to the church concerning changes in our philosophy of youth ministry. You will probably see some of this in a few months. After working very hard on this, making it catchy, putting cool pictures, writing the perfect sentences, someone decided to borrow my laptop and got on something that locked up my computer. I had to do one of those hard restarts where you turn the power off, wait a few seconds and then restart it to make sure no serious damage has been incurred. As I do this I notice that my power point is gone. Normally it saves a recovered file. Not today. 4 hours of hard work and labor gone, and for some reason whenever this happens I get writer’s block, frustration and find it very difficult to redo what I had already completed. So, I had to scrap it and start over. Ughh!! Discouragement. I felt like giving up on the project all together. That is similar to the Israelites, some of them remembered the old temple in all of its splendor. And today they are looking at a pile of rubble and putting a few stones together for a foundation. How far they have to go, and how glorious it was a few years back.

Do you ever feel like that? Do you ever feel as if your world has come crashing down? Everything was going pretty well a few days ago and now it seems as if life is in ruins. Maybe on October 17, 2007 you need the same message that the Israelites did on October 17, 520 B.C. What is the message of God to you today? Be strong! Work, I am with you! That means press on. Do not give up. Do not quit but work knowing that God is with you. Pick up the pieces, start collecting stones and begin rebuilding the temple.

But you say, how? How can I move on? My life is shattered. And God says, remember my covenant! Remember my promise! Trust in me, look to what awaits you. And we think of some of the great promises of God in Scripture. Romans 8:1 assures us that we are no longer condemned. Romans 8:37-39 tells us that nothing can separate us from God’s great love. Romans 8:28 tells us that God works all things together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. We look forward to seeing that which no eye has seen or heard. We look forward to experiencing more of God. To the New Jerusalem. To being made holy. To being found in Christ. To be totally clean. To be in the presence of Jesus. All of these things God is saying are ours today and will be fully ours in the future. Therefore, He is telling us hang on. Hold on, trust in my promises you have not seen anything yet.

This is what we see in 2:9, “the latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former”. That means you have not seen anything yet. You are going to see something great in this place. Does this mean that the temple is going to be even greater and more beautiful? Maybe. It was quite beautiful. So, beautiful that the pagan Herod constructed a temple resembling it. But I do not think that is primarily what the Lord is talking about. I think he is talking about the glory that would one day reside in that very temple.

When we turn to the New Testament 500 years later we see a temple that is still standing. This is the one that Jesus Christ, the glorious God had stepped foot in. I think Haggai is pointing us to something greater. This temple is going to see more glory because it is some day going to have the footprints of Jesus on it. The peace that he will give “in this place” is more than likely a reference to Jesus who is our peace. So, just like in Haggai’s time God was saying, just wait, I have something really awesome prepared for you. So, God is saying to you today. Do not quit, hang in there and work! Do hard things! Be passionate and sold out for my kingdom, do not get frustrated! Remember, I am on my throne, remember I keep my covenant. So do not fear, My Spirit is with you, work!

III. Do not flirt with sin (2:10-19) December 18, 520 BC

A few months later we seem to have a problem. While the people are doing the work of God there appears to be sin in their midst. Maybe the people got discouraged and stopped again. Maybe that had gotten distracted by sin. Or maybe they were living double lives, serving God vigorously with one part of their lives and living a life of secret sin on the other. Perhaps he is urging them to look at a past event as an encouragement not to flirt with sin in the present. I am not certain. But God is going to call them out about sin in their lives.

He does this by asking a couple of questions to the priest. It will serve as a teaching tool for the people of Israel. God tells Haggai to go to the priests and ask them about the law. If someone carries holy meat and it touches other things do these other things become holy? In other words, if something holy touches something unholy does that make that unholy thing holy now? Can holiness be transferred by exposure? The answer is no. It does not make it holy.

Well then, what if someone who is unclean comes in contact with something, then does that make it unclean? The priest response is a resounding yes? To which the Lord says, “So it is with these people, and with this nation before me, and so with every work of their hands. And what they offer there is unclean!”

The point that is being made is that uncleanliness is more contagious than holiness. Imagine that I am a very fit and muscular stud; it should not be too hard to do (joking!). I have a clean bill of health, I work out every day, and I drip with healthiness. I can run miles at a time without getting out of breath. I am a fine specimen of man. But what if I encounter someone with a really bad cold or flu, worse yet what if I get bitten by a rabid badger. Does that badger all of a sudden get really healthy? No, I get rabies. You cannot make someone healthy by touching them, but you can be made unhealthy by getting bitten by a rabid badger.

Haggai is saying it is the same thing with their disobedience. Haggai is saying that sin leads to utter devastation. You cannot dabble and flirt with sin and not expect it to lead to disaster. We could at this point go into a long discourse about some of the active sins that many of you are committing. You cannot expect to flirt with alcohol and drugs and things not come crashing down! Girls you cannot expect to flaunt yourself like a piece of meat and then desire to be treated any differently. Guys you cannot expect for your porn addiction to not catch up with you. You cannot expect to watch all this crap on television and in the movies and then not be affected by it. You cannot expect to expose yourself to horrible ungodly teaching and horrible worldview messages on television, school, the internet, school, etc. and not be touched. These are all true, and that is part of the message that Haggai has for us tonight.

But there is something more that Haggai is saying that we need to catch. What is the “big” sin that Haggai is confronting? Porn? Prostitution? Greed? Anger? Pride? Cussing? Homosexuality? None of these that you might think of. What their big sin is, is a wasted life, complacency. They are the pirates who do not do anything! They spent 16 years sitting on their butt building their own kingdom. You know what the biggest tragedy in many of your lives is! It is not that some of you are drinkers! That is horrible, wrong and God disapproves of it, and you should stop. But that is not the biggest tragedy. Is it that some of you struggle with lust and porn or flaunt yourself like a piece of meat? That is horrible, wrong and God disapproves of it, and you should stop. But that is not the biggest tragedy. Is it that some of you are plagued with anger, greed, and all sorts of other vices? Nope. Those are horrible, wrong and God disapproves of them, but not the biggest tragedy. You know what the biggest tragedy in many of your lives are, including mine? Do you really want to know? Our innocent T for Teen video games. Our not so bad television shows that we watch. Our obsession with the internet. Our hours that we spend innocently playing computer games. Our drive and passion to be the best football player, baseball player, water polo player on the planet.
John Piper tells of a story he found in Reader’s Digest of a couple who took an early retirement. The husband was 59 and she was 51. They had good jobs in the Northeast. “Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball, and collect shells…” Picture them before Christ, Piper says, on the great day of judgment. ‘Look, Lord. See my shells.’ That is a tragedy.

I ask you what are your sea shells. We need to give them up. If it means unplugging the television then we need to do it. If it means turning of the computer then we need to do it. If it means not listening to music then do it. This is what Haggai says is the tragedy. They wasted their lives instead of passionately living it for God. And therefore, it marred everything they touched. I ask you who are only half way passionate about Jesus, and only half way concerned with the things of God. When are you going to drop your stupid sea shells and live for the glory of God? When are you going to stop wasting your life and live for the glory of God?

The people of Israel stopped building their own kingdom and started being passionate about building God’s kingdom and the Lord said, from this day forward I will bless you. Because you were obedient and started again building my temple I am going to bless you. Listen to what Piper says about the rich fool of Luke 12:

I want you to listen to Piper’s comment on Luke 12 concerning the rich fool. And that is exactly what these Israelites in the paneled houses are, rich fools.

“Does not the OT promise that God will prosper the faithful? Indeed! God increases our yield so that by giving we can prove that our yield is not our God. God does not prosper a man’s business so that man can move from a Buick to a BMW. God prospers a business so that hundreds of unreached peoples can be reached with the gospel. He prospers a business so that 20 percent of the worlds’ population can move a step back from the [brink] of starvation…Too many people are shaped by the consumer culture than by the economics of Christ. They still operate on the simple rule: If you earned it, you deserve it. It’s yours; use it for your own material comfort.
He continues…”The evidence that many of our people are not rich toward God is how little they give and how much they own. Over the years God has prospered them. And by an almost irresistible law of consumer culture, they have bought bigger (and more) houses, newer (and more) cars, fancier (and more) clothes, and all manner of trinkets and gadgets and containers and devices and equipment to make life more fun”.
And he closes with this underlying principle, “The problem is not earning a lot. The problem is the constant accumulation of luxuries that are soon felt to be needs. If you want to be a conduit of God’s grace, you don’t have to be lined with gold. Copper will do.”

V. Look to the Messiah (2:20-23) December 18, 520

Our last point is very short and sweet. In the last verse Haggai says that he is going to bless Zerubbabel and he will sit on the throne and have authority. For God had chosen him! Now certainly this is talking about Zerubbabel the historical king of Israel. But the Lord is pointing us to something even greater. If you turn in your Bibles to Matthew 1:12 we will look at the genealogy of Jesus. See if any of these names sound familiar. “And after the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel. Now skip down 11 names and look at who you see. Jesus. Zerubabbel was Jesus’ grandfather (plus a bunch of great’s). This is the king who would sit on the throne. It is he who will shake the foundation of the world, it is he who will overthrow the chariots and the riders. It is he who will sit on the throne forever. It is he who will judge us. And it is for him that we should live our lives and not waste them. Jesus Christ is the single passion to live our lives by.

Earlier I asked you a bunch of questions. Have you ever felt like you lacked strength? Have you ever felt empty? Ever feel like you do not have purpose? Ever feel stretched in a million directions? Ever feel bogged down with sin? Ever feel like throwing in the towel?

Jesus is the answer. You will still get discouraged, life might actually be tougher. But it will not be wasted. Tonight you are urged to consider your ways. In closing I turn back to “now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. Why? Why is everything coming up empty? Because you are wasting your life. You are living your life to collect sea shells and they will never fill you! Christian this message is for you. I know you have Jesus, but are you experiencing Him to the fullest? Or are you wasting it too? “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord.” That is our single passion. To be people in whom the Lord can take pleasure and in whom He can be glorified. And that only happens through the blood of Jesus Christ on the Cross? Does He cover you?

I close with a poem.

Only one life,
‘Twill soon be past;
Only what’s done
for Christ will last.

Live for Jesus!

When God Doesn't Make Sense--Habakkuk

What to do when God doesn’t make sense?
The Message of the Prophet Habakkuk

Sermon Introduction:

Habakkuk asks some very serious questions. In fact it gets to one of the core questions that we ask of God and that is, “why”? Habakkuk is living in a time of much wickedness and it appears that God is just sitting idly by and not doing anything about it. So, Habakkuk is asking God if He is going to do anything about it. That is the story of Habakkuk, what is God going to do to preserve the righteous and punish the wicked. At its core it is a question of the problem of evil…how can a good God allow evil and suffering. My guess is that not many of you have thought that deeply. It is to our shame that we do not think deeply. You probably have many of the questions that I had whenever I was your age. The good news is that because God’s answer to Habakkuk is so deep it can answer all the other questions. And that is the beauty of going deep; it answers all the surface questions more effectively. So what are some of those questions that you have? Discuss.

Here are some of mine that I had whenever I was your age:

Why do girls always fall for the jerky guys and I’m alone on a Friday night?

Why do some people have parents that love each other, have money, etc. and my parents are broke and fight all the time? Are you going to do anything about this God?

And these are ones that I experienced from the other side of the coin. Why can some people not study and make good grades (like me) but I have to work my butt off just to make a B?

Why do some kids have parents who let them do anything (like mine) but mine are so strict?

What are yours?

Fortunately God has an answer for Habakkuk. Tonight’s sermon will be a little different, it will not be three separate points but we will follow Habakkuk as it is written…we will start with Habakkuk’s complaint, move to God’s answer, then discuss Habakkuk’s beef with God’s answer, God’s answer to Habakkuk’s beef, and then we will apply this by looking at the way Habakkuk responds and applies God’s final answer.

I. Habakkuk’s complaint

Habakkuk is a broken man. You can feel the passion in this verse; you can sense is hurt, you can identify with his cry. Have you ever wondered where God is? Have you ever cried with Habakkuk, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?”

Habakkuk is looking around and he sees nothing but evil. His own countrymen who should be following whole heartedly after the Lord are selling out to the nations. They are vile. Sometime during Habakkuk’s ministry one of his fellow prophets was murdered by the king. Perhaps this is why he cries, “violence”. Lord are you going to protect your servants? Why do faithful Christians still get cancer? Why do Christians get murdered by unbelievers? Why do God’s messengers die just like everyone else? Why do we still suffer? Habakkuk cries out to God and he sees no change. He pleads with God, heal Your land, bring revival, and bring about holiness. Nothing. Lord, create in your church a heart to serve you. Lord, bring about salvation. Habakkuk looks around and sees nothing but wickedness…no answer from God…no change…no punishment…no revival.

Then Habakkuk says, “why do you idly look at wrong”. It’s as if Habakkuk is saying, I thought you were holy God, I know you are holy God, how in the world are you sitting up on your throne permitting this? God do you not care about the slaughter of babies? Habakkuk is telling God how wicked his nation is and how it is increasing in wickedness and he wonders, “How can a holy God permit this”? Why are you not executing your justice God?

We probably miss this because we do not have the vision of God that Habakkuk has. He realizes that God is unflinchingly holy. He cannot be tainted with sin and his wrath goes out fiercely against it. God hates our sin. He hates our sinful hearts. Habakkuk knew this. Habakkuk knew that God’s character was holy. Therefore, because Habakkuk is living in an unholy time it messes with his theology. God is holy therefore you would think whenever people are unholy God would bring forth his justice and strike them dead…especially in Judah. But again Habakkuk sees nothing. It is as if God is sitting on his hands and letting the nations and Judah have their day in sin. And Habakkuk asks as we do, Lord what are you going to do about this sin in our land? What are you going to do about our wickedness?

Before we move on we need to understand something essential to this text. Habakkuk’s opening complaint is not against the foreign nations or for us his complaint is not against the world, it is against the injustice inside the fold of God, those who are believers. Habakkuk wants to know why God is permitting such sin within his own people. He is not asking, “How are you letting these flaming liberals get away with such sin? He is concerned with the people of Israel…or for us today…the church! God why do you not purge the sin from the church? And to this God is going to answer.

II. God’s response

As always God’s response is both comforting and shocking. He gets to the core of the issue. He does not answer the specifics of Habakkuk’s complaint but he gets to the heart. Habakkuk, do you want to know what I am going to do with the sin of Judah? Here you go Habakkuk, but you might want to be sitting down because what I am getting ready to do is utterly amazing. Are you ready for this…I am going to purge the sin out of the land of Judah. I am going to punish them. And I am going to do it with the Babylonians! Now I can tell by your lack of sigh’s and astonished, waah’s!?!?!? that you do not get the full thrust of this. This should be your response (show hamster video). The reason this is so utterly shocking is because God is going to use wicked people for his glory and to judge his own children. That is why God said they would be utterly amazed.

I’m not sure that you would find a sermon preached on, “The Man God uses” and it list these following qualities. Bitter. Hasty. Take things that are not theirs. Dreaded. Proud. Violent. Arrogant. Blasphemous. You would not expect to find these things in a list of the men God will use, but that is precisely what he is going to do. God is using godless men to accomplish his purposes. That does not sound right. This shows how awesome and amazing God is in His sovereignty. What is the last thing that the unbelieving Babylonians wanted to do? Submit to the lordship of God, they wanted to be God. Therefore, they became wicked and did just want their hearts wanted to do. Yet in all of this they were, even by their own desire, accomplishing the purpose of God.

This is a very difficult thing to understand and I do not claim to fully understand this. A wonderful place to see this tension is in Acts 4:27, “for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place”. Did Herod and Pontius do the very thing that they wanted to do? Yes. Did they want to do God’s will? No. Did they do God’s will? Yes. How? I have no idea, but all I know is that God in His beauty and infinite wisdom is able to allow us to freely make choices yet at the same time dictate those choices in such a way that we do what He has sovereignly planned. This is the same thing that happened with the Babylonians. Perhaps this does not set right with you. Perhaps it seems just weird and wrong that God would use a wicked person to accomplish His holy purposes. Maybe that makes it seem like God is evil. If that is the case then you are right here with Habakkuk. Habakkuk is upset by God’s response. He has another question or another complaint if you will.

III. Habakkuk’s beef with God’s answer

Verse 12 then turns back to Habakkuk’s response to God’s answer. He has a beef with what God is doing. To Habakkuk this does not make sense. He cites God’s character and His history and then looks at the Babylonians and says, “God this just does not match up”.

Habakkuk points us first to God’s character. Again Habakkuk cites God’s holy character but this time he is asking how in the world could a holy God look upon a sinful man and remain silent when this wicked guy swallows up those who are more righteous than he? Habakkuk was saying, God judge Judah, we are so sinful Lord. And then when God says I am going to judge Judah, and do it using the Babylonians, Habakkuk is perplexed. Judah is wicked, Judah is not doing what it should, but the Babylonians do not even acknowledge the Lord. They are idolaters. They aren’t even His children. How then can God use such wicked people to judge those who are less wicked? Can a holy God do that?

And we also see that Habakkuk points us to God’s history. You Lord are from everlasting to everlasting. You do not change God. You are THE God. You have always been there for us. It is in your nature to be a rock and a strong tower in a time of refuge, are you not there for us now? Are you going to now not be a rock for us?

And we know God that your great aim and passion is for the spreading of your glory and that your name might be great. How does this match up with what Habakkuk says of the Babylonians in verse 14-17? Habakkuk is portraying the people of the earth (including Judah) as merely fish in the sea that are helpless before these mighty Babylonians. They are going to drag them up with their dragnet and destroy them. Then the Babylonians are going to make and offering and begin worshipping their nets and fishing tackle, because it is because of these things that they have their luxury. This is a reference to their weapons, horses, and awesome military power. They are basically worshipping themselves. Rather than worshipping God they are going to be worshipping idols; whether it be themselves or the gifts of luxury themselves they are NOT worshipping God. Therefore, Habakkuk is perplexed and appalled. God you say you are passionate about worship, and I know this is your history but it appears that you could care less about your worship. You are using these blasphemers who are going to give credit to their false gods to judge us who would worship you with victory. God you are not looking good here.

Do you hear your complaint in Habakkuk’s? Why do you let the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer? Moreover how are you using the wicked to judge us? Should they not be judged? Should this not be reversed? Use some of the examples given earlier.

Therefore Habakkuk is going to camp out and wait for God’s answer. There is something to be said for that. First of all it is not as if the Lord is displeased with our sincere questions and wanting to understand Him more. And we should take the posture of Habakkuk when we are confused; we should sit at the Lord’s feet and wait for Him to answer.

IV. God answers Habakkuk’s beef

We have no clue how long Habakkuk had to wait for the Lord’s answer. It could have been hours, days, month, or even years. But we do know that God answers. And his answer is one of the most significant in all of the Old Testament. Therefore, God tells Habakkuk to right it down and make it simple. Put it on a billboard so that those who are running by could even see the answer. And wait for it. It might take awhile to be fulfilled, but wait for it. It will certainly happen. And just like on a billboard Habakkuk pens God’s mighty words, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” God is declaring that those who are proud and puffed up with pride like the Babylonians will certainly die—but those who have faith will live. In the context that means that God is calling Habakkuk to trust him. In a world that is seemingly controlled by the Babylonians (or those in our day like them) you must hang on and trust in God in the midst of disaster…you must live by faith.

Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted in the New Testament 3 times. One that is especially important is Romans 1:17 where Paul says that this is what the gospel is revealed as, “the righteous shall live by faith”. You are made right with God by grace through faith! It is through a belief and trust in God that we are made right with Him. And this is what God is revealing to Habakkuk. The Babylonians are going to be judged and if you trust in me and look to me as your rock and your Redeemer though they die and though you might be dealt difficult times you will live. Some 100 years after Habakkuk’s message it came true for the Babylonians. They were defeated by the Persians and their mighty empire came crashing down—they were judged and destroyed. But the message still rings true today, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Or to again use the words of Habakkuk, “the righteous will live by faith”.

Notice how God does not ever specifically answer Habakkuk’s questions. He just says trust me and you will live. He lets Habakkuk know that the Babylonians will be judged, their being used by God is only temporary and they will be judged for their wickedness, pride, and blasphemy. This is sufficient for Habakkuk. And Habakkuk begins to expound upon this through oracles of Woe. In other words proclamations of “you’re in trouble Babylon”. He mentions 5 different areas where the Babylonians are going to be judged and we will only mention them in passing because we need to move on to the last section to see Habakkuk’s response as well as ours.

1) Those that plunder others will themselves be plundered.
2) Those who seek security and economic gain at the expense of others will be condemned
3) Those who seek to further their own kingdom by unholy means will be brought low, and those who seek their own glory will bow at the glory of the Lord.
4) Those that humiliate and shame others will themselves be shamed.
5) Those that trust in idols will become like them, dead and nothing.

Those that we have just described are examples of those who are puffed up and living for their own glory. They are not the righteous. Therefore they will not live, they will perish. Only those who live by faith will live.

V. Habakkuk’s set position (response) and ours

What does it look like to live by faith? Habakkuk gives us an example in his prayer, he gives us advice on what to do when we do not understand God, he shows us how to live by faith.

1) Remember
In 3:2 Habakkuk is reminding himself of the mighty works of God. He remembers the stories of God leading his people out of Egypt, of parting the Red Sea, of crossing the Jordan, of David slaying Goliath, of God coming down in fire to consume the false prophets of Baal and to show himself real in the life of Elijah. The Old Testament is full of stories of God’s faithfulness. Habakkuk is remember his history. Perhaps we would do well to look at the history of God in the Old and New Testament. It reminds us that he is faithful. But we can also look in our own life. Remember your salvation? Remember those times when God came through? Remember those marvelous times when you knew for certain that God was real? Do you remember his mighty deeds?

Also it does us well to be like Habakkuk and remember and meditate upon the great purpose of God. God’s purpose is not to exalt you and me. So Habakkuk is quietly praying before the Lord, “let your will be done” display your glory. Make your glory known. But God remember mercy as you execute your plan. Don’t forget us. We want to see you again. And that is precisely what God does in verse 3-15. God shows himself—it is what is called a theophany, an appearance of God.

2) Rest in God’s character

God is really big. That is what you can learn from 3:3-15. He displays his character in these verses. Remember that Habakkuk was wondering how God could still be holy and use unholy men. In this verse God appears to Habakkuk as “The Holy One”. Thus showing Habakkuk, “I’m still holy and will always be holy…nothing can taint my holiness”. This means that God is good, nothing He does is motivated from evil—but it all flows from the goodness of God therefore we can trust Him, that His plans are good.

The Lord also reveals himself to be powerful, or omnipotent if you will. This lets us rest in the fact that God is fully able to accomplish all that He intends to do. With just a look at the mountains he causes them to crumble before Him. What then makes us think that He does not have power to save us? God is more than able to deal with not only the sin of Judah and the arrogance of Babylon but also our sin and the arrogance of those who oppose Him.

We also learn from this theophany that God is sovereign. God is in control. The same God who controls the rivers, the mountains, the sun, the moon, the stars, has more than enough power and control to be in charge of my life. God is holy, he is powerful, and he is in control. Therefore, we can rest in Him in difficult times.

3) Remain still until God speaks

This seems to be Habakkuk’s response. He sits still and waits for the Lord. He cries out to God, and he sits and waits until God delivers. What awesome faith this takes. How often do we do the opposite, we cry out to God in prayer and then instead of remaining quiet until God moves we go out and try to help Him along. Yet Scripture admonishes us to be still, to wait upon the Lord. And this is precisely what Habakkuk does and it is what we should do. Whenever you do not understand what God is doing, you should cry out to God and then remain still until he answers. This is what Habakkuk does in 3:16, “I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us.” This means that Habakkuk knows that difficult times are coming and he is not denying the fact that he is scared. But yet he is going to remain still and wait on God, because he knows that God will eventually come through.

4) Rejoice in God’s salvation
In 3:8 Habakkuk asks, why do you demonstrate your lordship for us to see? Verse 13 provides for us an answer, “You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed. You crushed the head of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck.” Habakkuk knows that God is going to come through and eventually save his people from the grip of the Babylonians, but something more is being said here. This is pointing us to Jesus.

Our enemy is not Babylon. Our enemy is not Osama Bin Laden. Our enemy is not flesh and blood. Our enemy is Satan and the bondage he holds us in because of our sin. Therefore, Jesus Christ came to earth, “he went out” for the salvation of His people and He took our place and died to take the wrath of God away from us. He took God’s wrath that was upon us and placed it on Himself. Then when God raised Him from the dead it took the power of sin and death out of the hands of Satan. He no longer has a hold on us. We no longer have to fear death nor do we have to partake in the wrath of God poured out against sin. All of this because of what Jesus has done. He has crushed the head of the wicked.

Therefore, we must rejoice in His great salvation. And we see this awesome prayer of faith in Habakkuk 3:17-19. “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the LORD, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” Can you pray that prayer? Can you say along with Habakkuk and Job, “Though he slay me yet will I trust him?”

Do you trust God even when things are difficult? Can you say, though I have no fun, though I have no food, though I see no light at the end of the tunnel, though I do not understand what is going on, I am going to sit here and wait on God and rejoice in His great salvation? In other words, can you say, If all I have is Jesus it is enough?

If you cannot honestly say that you need to cry out to God. We need to pray that God might show Himself and be the blazing center of our existence. If Jesus is not enough for you now, what makes you think He will be enough for you in heaven? If Jesus is not enough for you then what more do you want? You need to repent and believe. Cry out to God for His great salvation. Christian you need to pray for more of God in your life so that you can honestly say that Jesus is enough. Unbeliever, you need to repent of your self-righteousness and know that someday unless you repent God is going to humble you and bring you down. You need to forsake your idols and put your faith in Jesus.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Dancing Surgeon--Zephaniah

The Dancing Surgeon
The Message of the Prophet Zephaniah
How can we see God dance?

Sermon Introduction:

It was late at night in a suburban area of one of our great cities in America. A child lay restless in her bed. A man, with a very severe and stern look, quietly entered her bedroom and softly approached her bed. The moment the little girl saw him, a terrified look came over her face, and she began to scream. Her mother rushed into the room and went over to her. The trembling child threw her arms about her mother.
The man withdrew to a telephone, called someone, who was evidently an accomplice, and in a very soft voice made some sort of an arrangement. Hastily the man reentered the room, tore the child from the mother’s arms, and rushed out to a waiting car. The child was sobbing, and the man attempted to stifle her cries. He drove madly down street after street until he finally pulled up before a large, sinister, and foreboding-looking building. All was quiet, the building was partially dark, but there was one room upstairs ablaze with light.
The child was hurriedly taken inside, up to the lighted room, and put into the hands of the man with whom the conversation had been held over the telephone in the hallway. In turn, the child was handed over to another accomplice—this time a woman—and these two took her into an inner room. The man who had brought her was left outside in the hallway. Inside the room, the man plunged a gleaming, sharp knife into the vitals of that little child, and she lay as if she were dead.

You probably think I have just described an awful crime. Yet I have not. I have just described to you a very tender act of love. You will understand once I fill in some of the details. The little girl had been awakened in the night with a severe abdominal pain. She had been subject to such attacks before, and the doctor had told her parents to watch her very carefully. It was her father who had hurried into the room. When he saw the suffering of his little girl, eh went to the telephone, called the doctor, and arranged to meet him at the hospital. He then rushed the little girl down to the hospital and handed her over to the doctor who in turn entrusted the little girl to a surgeon to perform an emergency surgery.

Love sometimes requires surgery. Love sometimes means allowing someone you adore to endure hardship so as to fix a problem. The surgeon cannot perform his healing without first going through pain. As one commentator put it, “love places the eternal security and permanent welfare of the object of love above any transitory or temporary comfort or present pleasure down here upon this earth”. Tonight we are going to discover how to see God dance, but we will be surprised to learn that the dancing of the Lord, and our dancing only comes through the pain of the surgeons knife. Before we get to dance we must endure some surgery. Zephaniah will paint for us a beautiful picture of our disease that the surgeon must heal, how the surgeon will heal it, and then in the end we will see how we dance with God.

Zephaniah was written around the year 625 BC. You will notice in the first verse that he identifies himself and his family. One of the names I want to draw your attention to is the name Hezekiah. Hezekiah was a very godly king, and many believe it is this Hezekiah that is Zephaniah’s great-great grandfather. Hezekiah “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” and we can read about his reign as king in 2 Kings 18-20. But his son Manasseh was really wicked, he “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord”. He rebuilt all of the places of idol worship that Hezekiah had torn down. He even went so far as burning his own son as an offering to a pagan god. And we learn again from 2 Kings that Mannaseh did much evil in God’s sight and provoked him to anger. We read of this in 2 Kings 21:10-13. To make matters worse his son Amon followed after all of the bad things Mannaseh had done. He took all of his bad traits. He completely abandoned the Lord, and did not walk in the way of the Lord. Eventually his own people conspired against him and put him to death and made his 8 year old son Josiah king in his place. And it is during the reign of this king, Josiah, that the prophet Zephaniah ministers.
Because Zephaniah is more than likely of royal blood he would have probably been employed as a prophet in the king’s court. With Josiah being so young it is quite likely that Zephaniah would have been instrumental in the spiritual rearing of Josiah, but we do not know this for certain. Perhaps it is because of the way that the Lord used Zephaniah that Josiah was nothing like his father and grandfather but followed after his great-grandfather (Zephaniah’s too) Hezekiah. But the nation of Israel would still suffer the chastisement of God from the days of Mannaseh. Their sin would still be punished. The Lord explains better than I could,

“Thus says the Lord, behold, I will bring disaster upon this place and upon its inhabitants, all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken me and have made offerings to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore, my wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched”. (2 Kings 22:16-17)

In other words, sin will be punished. The story of Josiah is going to serve as a beautiful background for the message of Zephaniah. We are seeing here that God is going to deal with the disease—he is going to take out the cancer to heal the body. This same thing must happen in our lives—sin must be dealt with. God is going to deal with my sin; God is going to deal with your sin. It all must be dealt with. There will be no sin that goes unpunished and there will be no sin that is not purged from the kingdom of God. He is going to root out all sin in his kingdom. Zephaniah is going to show us in these first two chapters what our sin is. Then we will get to the dancing.

I. Zephaniah displays for us our disease

When I say “our” I need to make a distinction, or to put that another way I need to ask the question, ‘what our am I referring to”. The people of Israel had distinct issues, temptations and problems as the old covenant people of God. For instance they would be guilty for being like the Assyrians because God told them not to embrace the things of the foreign nations—because with their culture comes their gods. Therefore, to rid yourself of idolatry do not be like them. The foreign nations would not be guilty of this—their guilt is much different. I am making this distinction because it is one that Zephaniah and many of the other prophets make. And they make it to prove a point. Let’s take our pride for example because this is something that is mentioned of both Israel and the foreign nations. The point that Zephaniah is making by bringing up the sins of the nations is precisely this; if God punishes the nations, how much more severe His judgment of His people? But I want to take that one step further for us today as Christians, if this be the case with the people of God in the old covenant how much more guilty are we who live in the new covenant church?

So as we are looking through these various aspects of our disease I want you to try to analyze them and your own heart. Are you struggling with pride because you are an unbeliever and you have a sinful heart and not one that longs for the living God? Or are you struggling with pride because it is an abiding sin that still must be gutted out by the power of Christ and his gospel? Are you dealing with this sin as a believer or as an unbeliever? The root of our disease is the same but the surgery required is a little differently. Is this the original knee surgery that has to happen or is this a follow up surgery to get a few remaining bone spurs? Is this the first incision to open you up and remove the diseased heart and to give you a new one, or is this a surgery to open you up and take a look at your new heart and see if we need to make adjustments for your body to acclimate to its new heart?

A. We will look first at the unbelieving nations

Zephaniah levels charges against the nations primarily in chapter 2. He deals with different nations and their symptoms might be different but it appears that the root disease is still the same: pride, idolatry, and self-sufficiency. You can hear the pride in 2:8 how they have taunted the Lord and his people. The Lord says their root sin is their pride. This pride of the unbelieving nations still dwells in the hearts of all those who are unbelievers. There is pride in this place tonight, some of believers and some of unbelievers. Your cry is that of the Assyrians, “I am, and there is not one else”. It’s all about me. The dangerous thing about pride is that you probably do not think that you have it. Your only hope is that the Holy Spirit might speak to your heart tonight and let you see the wickedness of your pride. Your prideful heart that thinks you have it all together and your prideful spirit that thinks that it is all about you.

Pride is really the root of all sin. God hates all sin, but it seems from Scripture that God hates pride more than anything else. Listen to Proverbs 16:5, “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished”. Pride is so disgusting to God because it is when we sinful human beings seek the status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge our dependence upon Him. Pride is self-glorification and it is disgusting. If you are not clothed with Christ your pride will take on a much more serious tone. You will never fully acknowledge your dependence on God. You will always want to have something to give Him, something that you can do. Pride is disgusting and if you do not get rid of it God is going to destroy you. He is going to bring you low. You think you are amazing now, but someday you will be brought low. Someday you will bow before the Almighty King of kings and you will tremble. You will be brought to nothing. Or to use the language of Zephaniah, “The Lord will be awesome against them; for he will famish all the gods of the earth, and to him shall bow down, each in its place, all the lands of the nations.” Now, do not think those “gods” are only talking about little wooden idols. The heart of idolatry is pride—you are making a god of yourself. And this god will bow down, it will be brought low.

This second aspect probably does not need dealt with because if you can come to grips with the first one then you will probably see this second one, idolatry. The root of all idolatry is self-worship. Idolatry is making a god for self and failing to worship and submit to the true God. The foreign nations all did this, and for that reason God is going to destroy both the idol and the idolater. Perhaps you are too prideful to look at yourself and see that you are prideful. Maybe God will give you the grace to see your idolatry—can you see all of the things that you are worshiping and putting before Him? That is idolatry—and the root of it is self-glorification. This sin will not go unpunished.

B. God’s people

But what is the most striking about the book of Zephaniah is not that the nations are struggling with these things—that is an obvious. It is horrible, despicable, and they will be judged. What is striking about Zephaniah’s message is that the people of God are just as idolatrous. Remember what Manasseh did, he bowed to idols along with the living God. Amon became like an unbeliever, he totally abandoned the Lord. We see then that idolatry is also at the heart of God’s people. This is not merely a symptom that the unbeliever faces. Christian you too face pride.
1:4-6 is God saying that he is going to destroy and remove those idols—he is going to take away our pride.

I enjoyed studying 1:9 because it made no sense to me until I studied their culture. “On that day I will punish everyone who leaps over the threshold…” What in the world does that mean? The threshold was typically made of a single stone that spanned the doorway and was raised slightly above the door. Entryways in ancient culture were considered both sacred and vulnerable. Many superstitions held that if you stepped on the threshold it would allow evil spirits and the evil gods to gain admission. Some Middle Eastern countries still have these superstitions today. This reveals the depth of their idolatry. They go to such trouble and adhere to the most minute detail of superstition (making sure not to walk under a ladder, throwing salt on the floor, breaking a mirror, opening an umbrella in the house, etc.) yet they trample all over God’s Law and ignore the most fundamental aspects of it. I wonder if we do the same thing. Do you have any of these superstitions that you absolutely will not do, yet you trample on God’s Law daily?

We also see the Zephaniah is charging his people with having a love for the world. It is subtle so you might not pick it up in 1:8. “I will punish the officials and the king’s sons and all who array themselves in foreign attire”. Why did they wear foreign clothes? Because they wanted to be like Assyrians. They were in love with the things of the world. They wanted to be just like everybody else. They wanted to be cool like the Assyrians and the Egyptians. Yet the Lord told them to be distinct, just as he tells Christians today to be distinct. And I am not talking about a Christian subculture. I am not saying that God wants you to be different so therefore you need to only wear Jesus shirts and listen to Christian music and watch Christian movies and have only Christian friends. What the Lord is telling us is do not be in love with the world and the things of the world. Do not make an idol out of your cell phone. Do not be in love with your television. Do not look more like Paris Hilton than Jesus. Do not be more passionate about being a great baseball or football player than you are about reflecting and glorifying Jesus. If you want to be known by something if you want to look Christian, then Jesus says they will know you are Christians by your love. Love for the Lord and love for other believers and love for lost people. That is what your life needs to be about and not fitting in, not making sure you have the cool clothes or the cool gadgets. Do you not hear the words of John, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

Perhaps it is this love for the world which leads to our third thing: apathy. Listen to 1:12, “At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘The Lord will not do good, nor will he do ill’”. Where you see the word complacent you should actually see a phrase which says, “are thickening on the dregs [of their wine]”. But because that does not make sense we use the word that it means, complacent. This idea of a thickening of the dregs is a wine making term. In the wine-making process, fermented wine has to be poured from one vessel to another to separate the wine from the sediment. If the wine is allowed to settle too long, it thickens and is ruined. In other words God is searching out all those who are just sitting on their rear and settling down. We are comfortable I like the way things are, let’s not rock the boat. If I speak up I might be persecuted. If I get excited about Jesus people might think I am weird. Therefore, I am going to go to church on Wednesday’s and maybe Sunday’s but I am not going to be passionate about it every day of the week. I will not allow myself to be consumed by Jesus. I will only be a Christian when it is convenient. If it causes me to stand out, if it means I can’t go to a dance, if it means I can’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend, if it means I need to be more passionate about holiness than television, if it means that I have to do hard things, if it means I might not be popular then forget it. I want to be comfortable. Besides God doesn’t really care what I do. He’s not going to do good and he’s not going to do ill. That is living your life like a practical atheist. Do you do that? Do you live your life as if God doesn’t exist? What does your prayer life look like? How passionately do you pursue God in His word? How excited are you about serving the Lord in missions? How involved do you want to be in the life of the church? Or do you want to just be comfortable?

But we know the real problem. The real problem is not really these external things, it is what causes them. The real problem, the heart of the issue is an issue of the heart. This is the heart of Zephaniah’s charge in 3:1-2. “Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled, the oppressing city! She listens to no voice; she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the LORD; she does not draw near to God.” These for “no’s” are the real issue of the heart, both of the believer and the unbeliever. These are the things that God must cut out of our heart.

1) No obedience. First of all, we do not want to obey God. At the core of our being, especially if you are an unbeliever, your heart’s cry is not obedience. I really want to follow one master and that is me. We “listen to no voice”. We do not want to listen to the voice of God. We might like some of the commandments but whenever it gets uncomfortable we do not want to listen to the voice of God. We arrogant and prideful and think that we know what is best therefore we will not obey our parents or other authorities that God has set in place—we know best. That is why we look at Scripture and interpret it how we want. We refuse to submit to it. We refuse to submit to the Lordship of Christ, and this is dangerous. It must be taken away. It must be dealt with. Christian let us fight passionately to be obedient to Christ in all things.

2) No correction. We are stubborn. We do not like to hear that we are messed up, therefore we do not accept correction. You would not accept the correction of a loving youth pastor sitting you down and sharing wisdom, hurt, etc. with you. You will listen with one ear and then let it exit through the other. Or your parents, God forbid you listen to them! You refuse to heed the correction that loving people give you because you are prideful. Even when the Lord disciplines you then you do not listen. Christian we must heed correction. There is an ounce of truth in about every criticism. We must not be so prideful to think that we do not have room for growth. Heed correction—from people and from the Lord.

3) No trust. Do you see the downward spiral? We start out by refusing to obey and to heed His correction and we want to go it alone. Then we develop in us a distrust for the Lord. Probably because as we are doing things on our own we develop a lie in us that says, “you can’t trust God”. Therefore we go further into idolatry. We push the Lord out and we develop lives that are patterned by not trusting in the Lord.

4) No enjoyment. Inevitably this leads to not drawing near to God. What does this phrase refer to? It simply means that we do not find our souls delight and love in God. We do not draw near to him for intimate fellowship and love. We want to find our joy in other places. Therefore we miss out on the delight that is God!

So what is God going to do about this? What is the surgeon going to do? How do we go from disaster to dancing?

II. Zephaniah points us to the cure

Zephaniah 1:2-3:7 are some of the most pointed and striking passages of judgment. Zephaniah 3:8-20 are some of the most beautiful and grace filled passages of Scripture. They reveal to us what God is going to do, what our response should be, and what God is going to do in response to His completed work.

First of all 3:8 is where the Lord begins to tell us to wait for him. This message is to Christians. Unbeliever you do not want to “wait” for this day. This day is bad for you. All of these blessings that we are speaking of do not apply to you. They can. But while you stay outside the people of God, until you are clothed with the righteousness of Christ these have no application. But to the Christian we are told to wait for the Lord, because He is going to deal with sin. To be honest I am not all that concerned about the Lord dealing with the sin in other people’s life. It stinks, it hurts them, it offends God, but I am not in a spot where I long to see sin purged from their lives. But I do long to see sin purged from my own life. I may not be longing to see Him judge the nations but I am anxiously anticipating the day when He ultimately wipes away every sin from my being. I anxiously await the day of verse 9 when the Lord will give me pure speech. Look at those things that God will do in verse 9-13. He is going to purify us, change us so that we sin no more. He is going to remove the prideful ones from among our midst. The temptations, the tempter and even our own prideful deeds. And he will leave within us a people who are humble and lowly. Those who will be left are those who seek refuge in the Lord.

Really the promise here is summed up in 3:15, our punishment is taken away and the Lord reigns as King. Looking back upon this text with the lens of the New Testament we know that our sin is ultimately taken away in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He has taken away sin, it is because of His sacrifice on the Cross that we have the forgiveness of sin. It is because of His sacrifice that we can have this promise. It is because of Jesus that God can dance. So, to answer our earlier question how can we see God dance? Only because of the work of Jesus. Look here with me at these beautiful verses, in fact 3:17 is one of my wife’s favorite verses in all of Scripture.

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Do you notice the sharp contrast between the first part of this book and the last section? We really mess it up. You can really see this in 3:7 and 3:8. 3:7 ends with, “but all the more they were eager to make all their deeds corrupt” and we expect when 3:8 begins with the words “therefore” that it is going to say therefore, “I am going to judge you, destroy you, annihilate you, punish you” but that is not what we are met with. “Therefore, wait for me…” I am going to deal with your sin. This is what he means in 3:17 when he says, I am a mighty warrior who will save. Some 650 years after he speaks these words through Zephaniah he does just that, he puts on human flesh and he comes and dies are criminal’s death and endures the wrath of God the Father for you and I. Therefore wait for me, I am going to deal with your sin and therefore save you. We are going to dance.

And because of his mighty work on the Cross he is able to have these 3 beautiful phrases of what God is going to do. He is going to rejoice over you with gladness, quiet us by his love, and exult over us with loud singing. So, here we have it God is dancing, exulting over, rejoicing in the once wretched-human being. God delights in you. What makes God dance? What make him bust out into a chorus more beautiful than anything the three tenors could muster? You. I do not understand this. Why would God be so passionately in love with someone like me? I have done nothing and there is nothing that I can do to earn this, yet to all those who seek refuge in Him He will exult over.

What then should be our response to this great God who is great and mighty in His love? The Scripture here offers us two things, actually commands. These are not mere suggestions-they are commands. 3:14 tells us “Sing aloud, shout, rejoice and exult with all your heart”. The word for heart can mean the mind, will, or emotions. I find it interesting that here it is referring to the emotions. Emotions are dangerous and deceptive, but here they are commanded. With your entire emotions dance! Rejoice! Exult! Praise! Desire! Get excited about! Do not worry about this command—if you really get the gospel it will come natural. If you do not dance, if you cannot help but smile, rejoice, and exult then there is a good chance that you do not understand the gospel. Does this mean you will always smile? No. Sometimes you will cry. Sometimes it will be tears of joy, sometimes it will be tears of sadness. Sometimes it will be a quiet peace. But if you have never rejoiced and exulted—you probably do not feel the gospel.

And the last thing that we are commanded to do is repent and turn to the living God. Zephaniah does not use those exact words but he gets close in 2:3 when he tells us to seek the Lord, to seek righteousness and seek humility. But we can see this very thing lived out in the life of Josiah. I said earlier that we would return to the story of Josiah. The good king and we will close with Him. What did Josiah do? He crushed idols. He went through the whole land of Israel and if he saw and idol he kicked it down and burned it. He was passionate about ripping sin out of the land. He repented and turned to the living God. He restored the Passover. He sought passionately after God. And what is the result of our repenting and seeking the Lord as our refuge?

Look with me at 1:8 when the Lord is leveling a judgment against the land. Notice someone that is missing, the King. Josiah is not mentioned in the judgment. Because God told Josiah, even though I am going to destroy this land and purge sin from its midst because you have turned to me, repented and sought me as your refuge I will not destroy you but you will die in peace. You will be gathered up to me in peace—you will not see this destruction. And this same promise is given to us. Notice how Zephaniah begins with utterly sweeping everything away. The surgeon is taking his scalpel and removing sin from the land. And notice how it ends, restoration and healing. And we see in 3 that in that day we will call upon the name of the Lord and we will seek our refuge in Him and we will be saved. For we will graze and lie down, and none shall be afraid. We will rejoice and enjoy the Lord fully. How we should long for that day.