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"Joy at God’s Deliverance FOR Us and Delight IN Us"

Dec.16/18 3rd of Advent - Zeph.3:14-20

PRIDE’S PITFALL: WHAT’S WRONG WITH BRAGGING RIGHTS?

God’s instruction is available to us in His word, inspired Holy Scripture. His teaching is for our good, to spare us problems and pitfalls that accompany sin. Some make the Bible an acronym: “B-I-B-L-E, Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth”. One of its central lessons is that we need to learn to admit our limitations and let God be God, instead of supposing WE qualify for the job! Prov.16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Behaving in a proud way can set us up for a nasty downfall, a rude awakening to our own limitations.

             It’s deer season – some catch them with bows; some with guns; and, unfortunately, some with their bumpers and windshields! Those who succeed in hunting may be tempted, if they’re a bit proud, to brag about what a fine animal they bagged. But that can land them in their own trap...

             Bruce Morrow found himself in a heap of trouble. He won the Texas Big Game Awards of 1995-96 by entering a twelve-point set of deer antlers. He said he shot the buck in South Texas. Prosecutors however said he didn't bag it, he bought it, and he lied when he filled out the entry form for the state-run contest. Morrow went on trial in Austin on three charges of tampering with a government record. If convicted, he would get two years in jail. All this for a contest that paid no monetary prize, only bragging rights!

             Ah, the high price of pride. It can also tempt us to act smarter than we really are, for the sake of making a favourable impression. A certain young man took his date to a very chic Italian restaurant in an effort to impress her. After sipping some fine wine, he picked up the menu and proceeded to order – as if he came there all the time and actually knew what he was doing. "We'll have the 'Guiseppe Spomdalucci,'" he said. "Sorry, sir," said the waiter – "That's the proprietor." (!)

             Today is the 3rd Sunday of Advent, traditionally linked to JOY. Our Bible passage from Zephaniah suggests that we can find joy both in God’s DELIVERANCE FOR us, and His DELIGHT IN us. But to truly rejoice requires humility, letting go our pride, acknowledging our need of our Saviour Jesus, letting Him be Lord in our life – instead of proudly trying to run our own show.

JOY – OR JUDGMENT?

It’s tempting to pounce into the last half of the last chapter of the book of Zephaniah and just focus on the part that talks about JOY, but that would mean ignoring the context of all the rest of the book. So let’s fill in the setting. Zephaniah tells us he was the great-grandson of good King Hezekiah, and prophesied during the reign of King Josiah of Judah (604-609 BC); he prophesies the destruction of Nineveh, capital of Assyria, which happened in 612 BC, so we can likely narrow down the timeframe a bit more to between say 640-620 BC. Samaria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians about a hundred years earlier, 722 BC. In the south, wicked King Manasseh had reigned 55 years following Zephaniah the prophet’s great-grandfather Hezekiah (697-642 BC). Conditions had really gone downhill morally in the country of Judah under Manasseh’s leadership. New Bible Dictionary summarizes that there was “a time of religious retrogression...a syncretism of Baalism, a cult of Astarte at the ‘high places’, astral worship, with spiritism and divination.His long reign was bloody and reactionary, and notorious for the introduction of illegal altars into the Temple courts, and ‘the passing of his sons through the fire’ in the valley of the son of Hinnom.”

             God was obviously upset with the state of affairs; much of the first couple of chapters of Zephaniah prophesies destruction of Israel, Jerusalem, and surrounding areas for rebelling against God. Some people may have been getting richer during Manasseh’s long reign, but oppression and deceit were rampant. So the prophet warns of God’s WRATH, fierce anger, and jealousy. 1:15,18, 2:2, 3:8 – “That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin...Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD’s wrath.In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed...before the fierce anger of the LORD comes upon you, before the day of the LORD’s wrath comes upon you...I have decided to assemble the nations, to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them— all my fierce anger. The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger.”

             Note it’s not just about wrath and anger, but jealous anger – as if somebody’s intruding in upon God’s relationship with His people and luring His bride away, to be unfaithful. Somebody’s horning in on the gal that’s rightfully His, stirring up His jealousy, rightfully, because the one who was precious to Him is being drawn away.

             What’s intruding upon the Jewish people’s affections that would lure them away from true worship? We can categorize the competition chiefly under 3 headings: Idols (or impostors); power; and self. And we begin to see that this dynamic wasn’t just true back then, it happens still today, in our culture.

             The idols (or, impostors – not true gods) include Baal worshipers (1:4), astrologers - those who worship the starry host (1:5), and hypocrites or the compromisers or duplicitous – those who swear by both Yahweh and Molech (that god to whom children were sacrificed in the flames; 1:5). Some people were superstitious, avoiding stepping on the threshold of the doorway, perhaps in deference to the Philistine god Dagon (1:9; cf 1Sam 5:5).

             The names may have changed, but people still worship similar idols today. Baal and Astarte were fertility gods: much media is slanted sexually today, and people gobble it up, marriages are wrecked by infidelity. Astrology is popular – when was the last time you saw someone share their horoscope? And unfortunately religious folk still compromise, feigning worship of God on Sunday but during the week greed and lust and the idols of materialism govern their choices.

             God’s judgment is also aimed at those craving power in Zephaniah’s time. 1:8 “I will punish the princes and the king’s sons...” 1:11 “...all your merchants will be wiped out, all who trade with silver will be ruined...” 1:17f “I will bring distress on the people and they will walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD...Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD’s wrath.” 3:1,3 “Woe to the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled!...Her officials are roaring lions, her rulers are evening wolves, who leave nothing for the morning.”

             Those who are powerful now, who are wealthy now, if they have oppressed others to obtain their wealth and lands – will someday answer to Him who is more powerful still.

             Those who worship idols; those who are corruptly powerful; the third category God seems to be preparing judgment for is those who are SELFISH. They have rejected God’s leadership for their lives and are charting their own independent course. 1:6 “[I will cut off from this place...] those who turn back from following the LORD and neither seek the LORD nor inquire of him.” 1:9 “...all...who fill the temple of their gods with violence and deceit.” 1:12 “At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, ‘The LORD will do nothing, either good or bad.’” In other words, today we might hear it said – “God is irrelevant – we can just leave Him out of the equation altogether.”

             If we put self first, we are PROUD. And it becomes easy to look down on those who seem to need religion for a ‘crutch’. 2:10 “This is what they will get in return for their pride, for insulting and mocking the people of the LORD Almighty.” Now, 2:15 is about Nineveh, capital of Assyria, about 7 centuries before Christ; but does this not describe much of Western society today? What do you think? 2:15 “This is the carefree city that lived in safety. She said to herself, "I am, and there is none besides me."” As if to say, “Who needs God?! I’m my own self-made person.The world revolves around me.” Such a proud selfish attitude results in rebellion, and refusal to acknowledge God. 3:2 “She obeys no one, she accepts no correction.She does not trust in the LORD, she does not draw near to her God.” Again, in 3:11 those who are proud are the targets of God’s judgment: “On that day...I will remove from this city those who rejoice in their pride.Never again will you be haughty on my holy hill.”

             The dictionary definition of “haughty” on vocabulary.com says, “Someone who is haughty is arrogant and full of pride.When you're haughty, you have a big attitude and act like you're better than other people.A haughty person acts superior and looks down on others...The word even sounds a little like its meaning: it's hard to say haughty without sounding like you have an attitude.” Do you know anybody like that? Do you want to spend one millisecond more around them than you absolutely have to?

             Idolaters - power-hungry - those who are selfish: God’s anger and jealousy is directed at such folk. This is a theme in both Old and New Testaments. Ps.101:5 “...whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure.” Prov 16:5 “The LORD detests all the proud of heart.Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.” Romans 12:16 “Live in harmony with one another.Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.Do not be conceited.” 1Corinthians 13:4 “Love...does not boast, it is not proud.” James 4:6 contrasts Jesus’ way of grace with pride: “But he gives us more grace.That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."”

             Being puffed up is a good thing when it comes to croissants and Pillsbury rolls in the oven – but it’s pretty obnoxious and intolerable in people’s attitude.

DIFFERENTIATING GOD’S DELIVERANCE AND DELIGHT

With that as backdrop, we can now turn to today’s Scripture reading and see, by contrast, those who God desires to save and protect rather than destroy. For these people, God’s coming brings rejoicing and preservation instead of judgment and destruction. Through faith in Jesus, we can begin to appreciate not only His DELIVERANCE FOR us, but also His DELIGHT IN us. 3:14 “Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem!”

             Let’s look first at God’s DELIVERANCE outlined here. 3:15 “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.” In the prophet’s time, a fierce horse-mounted people called the SCYTHIANS came from southern Russia and thrust south along the Mediterranean, destroying Philistine cities and advancing as far as Egypt before Pharaoh ‘bought them off’. So Judah was spared their attack. Zephaniah may also be recalling how the Assyrian army threatened Jerusalem in the time of his great-grandfather King Hezekiah, but 185,000 soldiers were suddenly killed and the city was delivered. In 612 BC, Nineveh itself was sacked by the Babylonians. This great imperial capital was so erased from the landscape that its location was unknown until discovered by modern excavators.

             How has God delivered us who believe in Jesus? 2Tim 1:10 “...our Savior, Christ Jesus...has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

             Another instance of deliverance is in Zeph 3:19, “At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you...” Does Jesus help those who are oppressed? Acts 10:38 NRSV “...God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; ...he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”

             Zeph 3:19 continues, “I will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered...” Jesus healed many people during His ministry. Even afterwards, the apostles carried on this ministry of deliverance, for example the man crippled from birth who was laid every day at a gate of the Temple. Acts 3:6-8 recalls, “Then Peter said, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.” Whether through our bodies’ natural processes, or with medical or supernatural help, the Lord still mercifully brings the deliverance of physical healing today. I heard of a woman whose shoulder was healed during a worship time here not long ago, praise God!

             Zephaniah continues in 3:19, “I will give them praise and honor in every land where they were put to shame.” Does God bring honour to those who give their lives to Christ? The Apostle Paul writes about such on the Day of Judgment – not those who are self-seeking and reject the truth; see Romans 2:8-10, “But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”

             And in 3:20 Zephaniah speaks of God’s gathering of those who are scattered to other lands by their enemies; He would bring them back to Israel. 3:20 “At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home.” And He DID bring them back after Jerusalem fell in 586 BC and they were exiled to Babylon, 70 years later. Does God have a permanent home waiting for us who trust in Jesus? He promised His disciples in John 14:2-3, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” Also Revelation 21:3 describes heaven this way: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” That’s the best thing about heaven – not harps or streets of gold, but God’s presence with us.

             Those are ALL aspects of God’s DELIVERANCE FOR us. But this passage talks about something even more incredible: God’s DELIGHT IN us. God loves YOU for YOU! Let’s park a moment on 3:17... “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” NLT “For the Lord your God is living among you.He is a mighty saviour.He will take delight in you with gladness.With his love, he will calm all your fears.He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” One moment the prophet is picturing one “might to save”, NRSV “a warrior who gives victory” – then the image shifts to one singing a love song over His Beloved, the one He rejoices in, delights in with gladness. So precious! When you give your life to Jesus, the spiritual ugliness is washed away, you are made clean and new and alive, filled with God’s Holy Spirit, His gifts & fruit kindled fresh inside you. Gone is sin’s scumminess, the shame and guilt. Your Creator and Redeemer finds you altogether beautiful, totally worthy to be celebrated, feted. Because the Father loves the Son’s reflection He sees in you.

             Ps 147:11 “the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” He gets excited about you! Jesus gave us a word-picture of this rejoicing in the parable of the shepherd’s finding one lost sheep: “And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’”

             Never forget how precious you are to God. He exults in you as His dearly-loved child!

             So, it’s important to love God not JUST for His DELIVERANCE – what He can do for us; but even more because of Who He is, seeing us for who we are becoming by His grace through Christ. Rejoice that He DELIGHTS IN you. Don’t just worship Him for what He can do for you – that’s missing the point.

HUMILITY KEY TO KINGDOM LIVING

Pride “goes before a fall”, as we’ve seen. Sometimes people tend to be proud and boastful in an attempt to make up for a sense of insecurity, they’re trying to impress upon others they really ARE adequate. But truly great people tend to be surprisingly humble. Who in the Old Testament would be considered greater than Moses, for example? But Numbers 12:3 adds as a sort of sidenote, “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.”

             When we are assured God DELIGHTS IN us, as we’ve just seen from Zephaniah, that quells our incessant self-doubts about our adequacy and frees us from the need to be proud or boastful in an attempt to ‘wow’ others and shore up our own shaky self-esteem. We are freed to be humble, to serve others, to rest in God’s steadfast love for us – we’ve nothing to “prove”.

             Zephaniah 2:3 tells us whom God is positively disposed towards, the people who need not fear His wrath and judgment: Zeph 2:3 “Seek the LORD, all you HUMBLE of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek HUMILITY; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD’s anger.” Submit to His ways, be obedient, do as He commands. Seek what’s right. But above all, seek HUMILITY. There’s a parallel here to Micah 6:8, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk HUMBLY with your God.”

             Chapter 3 of Zephaniah fleshes out a bit more some characteristics of the humble. 3:12 “But I will leave within you the meek and HUMBLE, who trust in the name of the LORD.” Are we trusting in God, or do we always have to have our own hands on the steering wheel? One symptom of pride is always having to be in control. When our life seems out of control, can we be humble and trust God to bring about His purposes for our life?

             Zeph 3:7, “I said to the city, ‘Surely you will fear me and accept correction!’ Then her dwelling would not be cut off, nor all my punishments come upon her. But they were still eager to act corruptly in all they did.” Correction - or corruption? James notes, Jas 3:6f “‘God opposes the proud gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves, then, to God.” Submission is a bit of a dirty word in today’s independence-vaunting culture; humility helps us submit and accept God’s correction. God disciplines those He loves (Heb 12:6 / Prov 3:12).

             Humility and a desire to seek righteousness will also flavour the way we talk. Zeph 3:13 “The remnant of Israel will do no wrong; they will speak no lies, nor will deceit be found in their mouths...”

             What has all this to do with Christmas? We see humility reflected in the Nativity story. Jesus’ mother Mary showed humility when she responded to the angel Gabriel’s announcement she would become pregnant and bear a son, Luke 1:38 “"I am the Lord’s servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said."” A bit later, her joy explodes in the song known as the Magnificat, where she sang: Lk 1:47f,52 “...my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the HUMBLE state of his servant.From now on all generations will call me blessed...He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the HUMBLE.”

             Also in the Nativity story, God chose humble shepherds to hear the news of the birth – shepherds were at the very bottom rung of the social order at that time. Yet they obediently hurried off to see the sight and proceeded to “spread the word” (Lk 2:17f). Are we humble enough to tell others about the Saviour born for them?

             Our Lord Jesus epitomized humility. What was Jesus’ definition of “greatness”? Once He had a boy stand amongst the disciples and said, Mt 18:4 “Therefore, whoever HUMBLES himself like this child IS THE GREATEST in the kingdom of heaven.”

             Christ’s invitation to us is found in Mt 11:28f, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I AM GENTLE AND HUMBLE IN HEART, and you will find rest for your souls.” Sometimes we need to stop our striving and let God be God – pause to bow before Him and make sure we are enthroning Him above all other priorities and impostors.

             Our ethic as Christ-followers should be shot through with humility. Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, Php 2:3 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in HUMILITY consider others better than yourselves.” Not selfie-style, “Look at ME!” but, count OTHERS better. Five short verse later Paul links this to Jesus’ own attitude, in His incarnation in human likeness: Php 2:8 “And being found in appearance as a man, he HUMBLED himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

BY THE WAY, I MIGHT HAVE BEEN PRESIDENT...

Last weekend my son Keith & I were in Missouri upon the request of his childhood best friend who invited us to attend his ordination into the Disciples of Christ denomination. It was an honour to be there. Before flying out Monday, Keith & I visited the 600-foot-high stainless-steel Gateway Arch, one of St.Louis’ most notable tourist attractions. It’s also known as Jefferson Expansion National Monument. The museum at the base of the arch celebrated then-President Thomas Jefferson’s foresight in acquiring the territory which greatly increased his nation’s land base and prospects.

             Thomas Jefferson wrote the epitaph for his own grave. It says, "Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia." Oh, by the way – he neglected to mention that he was once President of the United States!

             God knows who you are. What matters most to Him is not whether you were ever President or Prime Minister or even head of your class. What matters to Him is whether you humble yourself and come to him as a little child, ready to love Him with all your being. “He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Let’s pray.