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.

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