Sermon on Zephaniah 3:14-17
Text: Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem!
15 The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. 16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. 17 The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
At this holiday time of year, there are many gatherings in people’s homes. If you are hosting such a get-together, you want your house to look its best. You clean your house and put up your best decorations. As host you also want your guests to relax and have a good time. This morning we are going to see HOW A KING CLEANS HOUSE. 1. He Sweeps Away His Enemies. 2. He Lets His Guests Relax. 3. His Housekeeping Brings Rejoicing.
Our text is found in the book of Zephaniah. Very rarely do we turn our attention to this little book of three chapters. As a matter of fact, there is only one other time in our three-year cycle of Scripture lessons that we find a reading from Zephaniah. The book of Zephaniah was written as a denouncement of the way the nation of Judah had abandoned the true God for worshiping idols. Imagine being the prophet and having to tell your fellow countrymen that God was going to destroy them. No doubt, it pained Zephaniah because he knew what would happen to his country. As the chapters go on, however, God pronounces judgment on all of the nations that troubled Judah – Philistia, Moab, and Assyria, to name a few. Now, in this third chapter, God speaks of the restoration of Jerusalem. His message of law has been changed to one of love.
This is why we have this celebratory note on our text. We read in verses 15&16, “The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. On that day they will say to Jerusalem, ‘Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp.’” Here we find the reasons for this celebration. The first is that “The LORD has taken away your punishment.” (Verse 15) Here we think of how God restored Judah after her exile in Babylon. That would be over and done with. It is also a picture of the Savior who would come to take away our punishment. Each of us deserves God’s punishment because of our sins. Each of us sins every day. We think of the way that we treat others around us. There are the unkind words spoken to or about each other. There are the times when others need our help, but we very conveniently find something else to do. We may be smiling on the outside, but inwardly we want nothing to do with that person, and it’s a good thing that they don’t know what I’m thinking about them. If we think about the way that we treat others, we see that we do sin.
These are symptoms of what lies within us. The reason we sin against others is because we rebel against God. When we sin, we are putting ourselves on the level of God, saying what we want is far more important than what God wants. We make ourselves to be idols and God says, very clearly, that he will not accept second place. The penalty for this rebellion is eternal punishment.
However, as our text tells us, “The LORD has taken away your punishment.” (Verse 15) When Jesus was on the cross, he was taking the punishment of hell for us. He stood in our place and took all that we had coming to us. Because of what Jesus has done for us, we need not fear God’s punishment. We are saved because of what Jesus has done for us.
Verse 15 continues by saying, “He has turned back your enemy.” The word here translated “turned away,” might be better translated, “put out of the way” or “make clear.” It is what you do to things that are scattered about, like the task that you do before the Christmas company arrives. The Lord cleans away our enemies. The Lord has cleared away the enemies of sin, death and the devil. By his perfect life and death on the cross, sin’s guilt has been cleared from our lives. By his glorious resurrection, Jesus has cleared away death from our lives, so that the Christian can face the end of his earthly existence with confidence. He knows that he will be in heaven, when all is said and done. The Lord also cleared away the devil. Satan can, no longer, accuse us of sin, because Jesus paid for them all. Now, we can say ‘No’ to his temptations, rather than slavishly following them.
Because of our great Savior King’s work, we are told, “Do not fear. Do not let your hands hang limp.” (Verse 16) The latter part of this verse talks about what happens when someone is so afraid, they are paralyzed. They can’t move. There is no reason to fear. Now, don’t let those hands hang limp. Use those hands in service to the one who has freed you. The King has swept away all of your enemies.
After all of the preparations are done and your guests arrive, you want them to relax. You don’t want them to be uptight. You want them to have a good time. You want them to feel safe and secure, that they are among friends. So also, now that our King has finished sweeping away all enemies, he wants us, his guests, to relax.
We have every reason to relax. We read in verse 17, “The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.” What a comforting thought this is. No matter what may come our way, no matter the troubles or sorrows, God is with us. He does not abandon us at anytime, no matter how hard the times might be. We know that our God protects us. He will either keep trouble away from us, or if, in his wisdom, he allows some trouble to enter our lives, we know that he will deliver us from it in one way or another. We are also assured that, whatever things might come our way, God will use them for our benefit.
Sometimes, we might ask ourselves if this is really true. Can we trust that everything will work out for our benefit? Will we always be delivered from evil? The answer is a resounding ‘Yes!’ We know this because God has promised it. God keeps his promises. We may not be able to see it at the time, but we have God’s assurance that it was for our benefit and strengthening. It may seem as though troubles are always dogging us, but we have been delivered from many and we also know that, at the end of this life, we will be delivered from all of them when we enter the joys of heaven. Our Lord is a mighty warrior who conquers his enemies to save his people.
Yet, the Lord shows a different side to us. We do not see him only as a mighty warrior. We also behold him in his love and mercy. Again, we read in verse 17, “He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Our Lord is also gentle. The phrase “In his love he will no longer rebuke you” could also be translated “He will quiet you with his love.” When a little child is afraid of something, such as thunder and lightning, they may crawl into their mother’s laps. There they feel protected and safe. They may even fall asleep there, because all their fear’s have been taken away by their mother’s presence. That is the type of relationship we have with the Lord. He is there to protect and keep us. He is there to quiet our fears. We can relax because our Lord is near. To those things that would trouble us, he is a fierce warrior. When we face those troubles, he is our place of refuge and peace.
When we are relaxing at the home of a friend, we feel good. We are happy to be there. We sit and visit and laugh together. We enjoy our get-togethers. The prophet also calls upon us to rejoice because of our King’s housekeeping.
In verse 14, we read, “Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem!” When we read terms like “Daughter Zion” or “Israel” or “Daughter Jerusalem,” we need to realize that this is talking about believers. Many times in the Scriptures, God uses these pictures for his people. Here, he calls upon us to rejoice as the people of old would do when they welcomed home a conquering hero. We want to praise our Savior. How can we do so? Of course, one of the ways is mentioned here. We sing to God. Sing his praises, whether here in church or elsewhere. Sing and make music in your heart.
We also rejoice as we live for our God. We show our thankfulness for the salvation that has been given to us. We look for ways to serve him. We serve him in many ways. In our individual lives, we show the joy in our hearts, when we are with other people. Rather than speaking badly about others, we seek to protect and defend others. Rather than joining in the off-color stories or jokes, we want pure and decent words to come out of our mouths.
We also show our joy as we serve God in the church. We don’t look at serving the Lord in various capacities in the church as being a bother or a burden, chore or hardship. Rather, we see it as a privilege, a joy, an honor, an opportunity to show our love for God. As Paul reminds us in his epistle to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)
What a wonderful time of year we are in. This is true when there are many celebrations. As we celebrate, may we keep in mind the reason for this celebration. God sent his Son into the world to be our Savior. He has completed his work. Therefore, let us rejoice. Amen.
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