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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:A Love Song for His Beloved
Text:Zephaniah 3:17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-05-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 46:1,5                                                                    

Ps 51:2,4

Reading – Hosea 2:1-15; Zephaniah 3:1-20

Ps 85:1,2

Sermon – Zephaniah 3:17

Hy 14:1,9,10

Hy 15:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, imagine that you’ve met a very special person. It’s a person you quickly grow to love—within a couple years, it’s the one you’ll marry. Probably we all can picture this very human event: meeting someone, falling in love, becoming husband and wife. There’s a lot of joy in this great gift! But then a terrible thing happens: there is unfaithfulness. Your spouse, with whom you made promises of love and commitment, breaks the precious bond of marriage and commits adultery.

Think for a moment of what you’ll do. According to God’s Word, you could ask for a divorce. Probably few would criticize you if you did. But you don’t separate and walk away. Instead, you take back your unfaithful spouse, and you renew your love. You forgive and seek full restoration. You don’t let what’s happened bring the relationship to ruin. And somehow your marriage survives, with a new and deeper joy.

Imagine the miracle of such a thing. And now consider how this is our story. It’s the story of God and his covenant people. It’s the tale of an adulterous wife, but also a faithful husband who amazingly keeps on loving.

The same story is at the heart of our passage, Zephaniah 3:17. Though his people stray, God brings them back. Though they sin stubbornly, God pardons. Not to say that their unfaithfulness is never dealt with, or that God overlooks it. Actually, most of Zephaniah is about judgment, the coming day of the Lord. He’ll punish Judah, and they’ll feel sin’s consequence. But through judgment and salvation, our God shows who He is, a gracious LORD and loving husband. I preach God’s Word to you on this theme,

The LORD our God is in our midst:

  1. He saves us with his might
  2. He quiets us with his love
  3. He rejoices over us with singing

 

1) He saves us with his might: If you read through the minor prophets here at the end of the Old Testament, you’ll notice a pattern. After they bring a stern message of rebuke, the LORD’s prophets often end on a happier note. After clouds and gloom, they finish with a bright message of salvation. That’s how Zephaniah too, brings his book to a close, speaking of a sure hope beyond the misery.

Verse 17 begins, “The LORD your God is in your midst.” Now, let’s understand that even these promising words might have made the people of Judah cringe. You’d think it’s good news if God is in your midst—but for Judah, they weren’t sure that they wanted this. Why not? Their ears were still ringing with many hard words from the prophet. If the LORD was in their midst, then it must be for judgment. If He was among them, it could only be to punish.

“I will stretch out my hand against Judah,” God had said in Zephaniah 1:4, “and against all who live in Jerusalem.” This was the hand of chastisement, not of warm embrace and comfort. Then in 1:14 Zephaniah cried out a warning: “The great day of the LORD is near; it is near and hastens quickly.” Yes, for Judah the nearness of God could only spell judgment, it spoke of a looming condemnation.

What had Judah done to receive such treatment? How could this husband handle his beloved with such anger? It’s a startling picture, but how deeply God’s people deserved it! This was just and right.

Chapter 1:1 says that Zephaniah ministered during the time of Josiah, king of Judah. You may remember that Josiah ended up being a godly king, yet it wasn’t always that way. Not until later in his reign did he try to reform the land. Until that time, Judah was overrun with idolatry and injustice. The place was given over to the worship of idols and great wickedness.

So throughout this short book, we hear plenty about Judah’s unfaithfulness. Like in chapter 1, where Zephaniah speaks about those who “worship the host of heaven on the housetops; those who worship and swear oaths by the LORD, but who also swear by Milcom” (1:5). The church back then thought nothing of mixing in true religion and false. Despite the LORD’s goodness toward them, Judah actively chased many other gods.

God could tolerate this spiritual adultery only for so long. Only so many times could God  watch his people walk away with a new lover, with her latest boyfriend. The LORD our God is a jealous God: that is to say, He yearns for us intensely and wants our exclusive loyalty. This is why Zephaniah says in 1:18, “The whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy.”

And it was devoured. God sent invaders upon his people. If you want to know what that invasion was like, listen to Zephaniah’s words, “That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress … a day of trumpet and alarm against the fortified cities and against the high towers” (1:15-16). Judah’s defenses crumbled before the marauding Scythians, the plundering Egyptians, and then the conquering Babylonians. They swept over Israel like an unstoppable river: cities destroyed, blood poured out like water, the land laid waste.

So when Zephaniah tells them that this great LORD is in their midst, Judah surely cringes. They cowered at this God, the “Mighty One” (3:17). In fact, the Hebrew word there usually describes a warrior on a field of battle: strong, fierce, and resolute—someone you wouldn’t want to cross. “The righteous judge is in your midst! Your God is a mighty warrior!” It’s no wonder the prophet tells the people in the verse before, “Do not fear… Let not your hands be weak” (3:16). Because they did fear, and rightly so. Judah had earned every bit of his wrath.

Beloved, don’t read this text at arm’s length, as if none of this really applies to us. Remember how this is the condition of every sinner before the throne of God. Each and every sinner should tremble before God’s searching eye and his all-knowing spirit.

For instance, in the week that is just passed, did we really honour the LORD as He wants us to honour him? Have we truly loved the Lord of our life? Or did we keep ourselves busy by spending so much idle time with other lovers?

Just think about how offensive that is to God, when we treasure other things above him. What are the things that you count on to bring you joy, to give a feeling of security and value and worth? We devote so many of our thoughts to our own happiness. We devote so many minutes and hours to our own pleasures. We devote much energy to what suits us above all.

Sometimes we assume that God must be OK with it. We figure that God can tolerate our mixed allegiances, our divided attention, as long as we still read the Bible and pray every day. It’s just how it is: God lets us wander off with our idols for a good while each day until we come back to him and we ask for his forgiveness once more—it’s our divided loyalties.

But would we accept that in any other relationship? Think of a marriage, if you made a firm commitment to one person, but then you pursued other intimate relationships on the side: a boyfriend here, a mistress there, a prostitute when you’re working out of town. And then you expected your spouse to live with that, to accept it, because that’s just how it is. But of course a marriage doesn’t work that way! It needs whole-hearted love, requires exclusive love.

When there’s something we love more than Christ, it’s idolatry. It’s adultery. When there’s something we put ahead of Christ’s commandments—when we’d sooner listen to our desires and longings than to the Lord, that’s unfaithfulness.

And so there are times God humbles us. He’ll let us feel the consequence of sin, his displeasure. Have you been eaten up by guilt? Have you seen the ways in which our sin breaks down good and worthwhile things, takes all the joy out of them? This is God telling us that unfaithfulness only leads to misery, reminding us that sin will only destroy us.

But then see how Zephaniah continues: “This Mighty One will save” (3:17). Zephaniah announces the gospel that the great God is in our midst, but not to terrify. He is mighty, but no more to wreak havoc on the land. Don’t fear, God is here to save you. Instead of punishing, He’ll protect us and keep us for himself.

This gives a small glimpse of the greatness of God’s love. For the LORD really needs nothing. Even if He had no people of Judah back then who bore his Name, or no church who sang his praise on Sundays, God’s glory would be eternally complete. If God was “unmarried,” as it were, unattached to any human being, it’s not as if God would feel like He’s missing something. Yet the LORD desires a bond of love with his people: “The LORD your God [is] in your midst.” He will be among them, with them, for them. He is ours, and we are his.

Does this mean that judgment is off the table, out of the equation? In the Scripture, judgment and salvation are always two sides of the same coin. Because of who God is, you can’t have one without the other: salvation and judgment. One makes possible the other; one is meaningless without the other.

So our rebellion needs to be punished. If God simply ignores our unfaithfulness, the relationship will never be made right. The offense will just sit there and irritate and get inflamed, and be the cause of more resentment and accusation.

Judah got a little taste of God’s judgment when they went into exile, yet those seventy years could never be enough. The good news is that the fullness of God’s judgment is reserved for someone else. The gospel is that his judgment is reserved for Christ, his own Son. He was broken so that our bond with God can finally be restored and made whole.

Paul speaks of this restoration in Ephesians 5. There he’s talking about how husbands and wives should treat each other in marriage. But while he teaches on that topic, Paul has to mention an even greater love: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her” (vv 25-26). Christ was the Mighty One, the eternal and glorious Son of God himself. But He became like us, walked among us, and committed himself to us like a loving husband. Then He bought us with his precious blood. He poured it out, and gave himself for us—so we can get a new start.

 

2) He quiets us with his love: Have you ever needed to quiet someone? That’s not yelling at your kids to shut up for a while, or telling someone to get over their problems already. To quiet someone is to hear them out, and then respond to their concerns. Picture a loving husband doing that for his wife. She’s bothered by something, and she’s crying. She’s worried and stressed, like any of us can be. So a husband will quiet her, and speak to her in her trouble.

That’s a good image for Judah’s new hope. Despite everything that’s happened, in our text the LORD again embraces his people. Because God is so good, the LORD shows kindness. To his people who suffer, to his people who feel the effects of sin and expect a severe judgment, God declares his unfading affection. He says that “He will quiet [us] with his love” (3:17).

Let’s unpack what that means. The LORD our God, as our Saviour in Christ, imparts to us quietness or peace. This isn’t just about taking away the anxieties we have, the fears that keep us up at night. No, this kind of peace means God addresses the very worst issue of all: our sin, and the way it ruins everything else. God says that this central crisis can be laid to rest, and He tells us that it’s going to be all right.

For God can make it all right! The LORD affirms that the broken bond has been healed. He assures us that our unfaithfulness—as bad as it is, as repulsive, as chronic as it is—that all this has been covered in his sight. God declares that between him and his bride, things have been made whole. It’s his promise: “I will quiet you with my love.” Through his Word and his Spirit, God whispers in our ear, “Between us, all again is well.”

How good to hear these words! Think back to all the noise earlier in Zephaniah. In chapter 1, we hear the sirens of destruction, terrible cries of agony. Jerusalem is filled with the upheaval of violence and war: “The noise on the day of the LORD is bitter; there the mighty men shall cry out” (1:16). In like manner, sin always makes a terrible racket.

For we can be troubled by the loud shouting of temptation all around us, every day: “Why not try this? You deserve it! Click here. Buy me. Drink deeply. Don’t hold back! Because you’ll be happier.” This is all the noise of the devil’s best efforts.

Or every day your conscience might be yelling its shrill accusations: “You’re guilty. You’re worthless. You’re hopeless. Why would God even bother with you?”

Or there may be voices of doubt that ring in our heads, “Did God really say that He loved you? Did God really give his Word? Is it really worth it to follow Christ?”

The world we live in just adds to the racket with all its distractions and diversions. So much information, so many conflicting opinions, so much noise and commotion. We can get overwhelmed by everything that’s going on, all the time.

But if you’re listening, God quiets you with his love. God puts our hearts at ease, He calms our fears, He quiets us. God listens to us in prayer, and God responds to our prayers. And for all the answers that God can give us, if you condensed each and every one, it would amount to this: God answers us by pointing us to himself. He points us to his faithfulness. He points us to his goodness, his mercy and power. He points us to his sovereign rule over all: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Instead of noise, now there’s quiet. Instead of the shouting of spiritual warfare, or the accusations of guilt, or the confusion of false teaching, we can have peace. We don’t have to listen to Satan’s lies. There’s no need to give ear to the whispers of doubt. For the LORD quiets us with his love in Christ. If you have ears to hear, this is his message: “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in all the earth!”

It’s striking that this is what God does in Hosea 2 as well. He quiets his oppressed people with tender mercy. After humbling his wife for her unfaithfulness, notice the way in which God brings her back: “I will allure her, [I] will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her” (v 14). Just when you thought they were headed for divorce court, God takes her in his arms. He brings us to a quiet place, speaks tenderly, lets us know that He loves us.

We’ve been saying a lot about God’s great love. But what about us? What about our response to all this affection and care? It’s like in a marriage: the love can’t flow in just one direction only. You can’t receive and receive and take, and never answer with any affection of your own. Love is built on a true communion of spirit. So as love comes to us from God, it must also go from us to God. Love him! Learn to find delight in him! Admire his beauty! Hunger and thirst for him, as the One who alone can satisfy.

It probably happens to each of us that we stop delighting in God, saying or showing that we love him. Can’t our relationship with God “lose its spark” at times? Does God still excite us? Does He still amaze us? Like in the days when a young man or a young woman swept us off our feet, does God often return to our thoughts, morning ‘til evening? Or do we take God for granted?

Think of what Jesus says to one of the churches in the book of Revelation. He calls the church to keep alive the spark: “I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent, and do the things you did at first” (2:4-5). Don’t forsake your first love.

You began to love God and trust God, even as a child, as a young person, or in a period of hardship and loss. You began with God, now continue. Keep alive your love for him! Listen to him again. Speak with him. Spend time with him. Be quiet enough that you can hear God’s clear and loving words to you in his Word. Then God will rejoice over us with song.

 

3) He rejoices over us with singing: There’s a sweet quietness that fills the air after God has taken away our guilt and silenced the accusations. And in the stillness, the Lord begins to sing. Now, I suspect that not many of us husbands have sung to our wives. It’s not unheard of, but I think it is rare. This beautiful thing God will do for his people: “He will rejoice over you with singing” (3:17).

That’s a remarkable image of our God. Our God isn’t a cold and distant being, a detached god who can barely smile. He’s not empty of passion or feeling. No, God rejoices over his people. He treasures them. Scripture tells us so often that we’re the objects of God’s affection and his concern, the people close to his heart.

That God is so joyful is quite a change. For remember how there’s been a lot of grief. On our account, God has been deeply pained. He’s been hurt to the core by our sin. His love has been mocked. Instead of a happy song, we might expect God to sing the blues. But God rejoices that He’s able to take his people back.

So God breaks out in song. Once more, God portrays himself in a human way, so we understand the depths of his care. God sings. And what does He sing? He sings of his rekindled love through Christ. He sings of his newfound delight in his covenant people. He sings about his people, sinners forgiven and renewed and devoted to him. This is how God always meant things to be. So God sings a love song for his beloved.

And as God celebrates what has been remade and restored, guess what our response is? What should our response be? To sing! “I will sing of the great love of the LORD!” For the LORD our God has given every reason to rejoice. He’s kept his promise of a Saviour, and He generously sends heavenly gifts. God sings, and we’re called to join our voices with his, with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.

So we see just before our text Zephaniah calling every believer to sing and be glad: “Sing, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away your judgments, He has cast out your enemy” (3:14-15). Rejoice in the love of God! Instead of weeping or staying silent, rejoice in this love of God. Rejoice that Christ has brought you back to God your Maker, who calls us his own, his own spotless and precious bride.

That’s the shining light we see right at the end of Zephaniah’s prophecy. It’s our sure hope for the future: “At that time, I will bring you back; even at the time I gather you” (3:20). For the sake of Christ, God our husband will bring us home. He’ll quiet us with his love, and rejoice over us with singing. Be sure of this love!

And then love him in return. Love this God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and love him with all your strength!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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