Love is a big topic in the world today. In fact, it is a big part of our identity. People identify themselves by who they love and who loves them, but this is relegated in our society to lust. Our culture is so incredibly shallow that people identify themselves by the lust of the flesh (homosexual, bisexual, etc.). Alas, this is the culture in which we live. But for those people who are believers, we are identified by who loves us: The God of the Universe.

Christian, you are loved by God.

Here in Zephaniah, we have a promise of both condemnation and redemption. God has and will bring destruction to the nations. God will bring destruction to His disobedient nation. God will destroy all those who are not His. But to those people who are His, He loves them and cherishes them and gives to them gloriously good things.

God is Love…And Holy: He Will Uphold His Righteousness (Zephaniah 3:1-8)

I have, on more than one occasion, had a discussion with someone about their eternal state. The question might be “where do you think you will go when you die?” or, “When you stand before God where do you think He’ll say you belong?” The question is simple. It’s about causing the person to think about what will happen when they die. The question is simple, straightforward, and if answered honestly, quite effective in causing a discussion about Heaven, Hell, and a relationship with Jesus. But the answers that I received time and time again were quite revealing.

The answers that I receive after this question most of the time fall into one of two categories. 1) I am a good person so God will let me into Heaven. 2) God is love and will forgive everyone. Both answers seem perfectly reasonable to the person that gives them. At the same time, neither of these answers have any grounding anywhere.

What we find in the Scriptures is that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). The only place that you will find this description is in two verses of 1 John chapter 4. It is in their, so I believe it. Do you know what else God is? He is holy (Psalm 77:13; 99:9). And what is it that is chanted before His throne by the angels? They are praising God because He is “holy, holy, holy” (Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 4:8). Why say it three times? Because He is very, very holy. With no exclamation point in the original language, repetition is how you put in the exclamation point. They declare night and day with intensity that God is holy. Why are God’s people supposed to be holy? Because God is holy (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2; 20:7; 1 Peter 1:16).

Holiness characterizes everything that God does. God is love, but His love is holy. And we see that here in Zephaniah 3.

Read Zephaniah 3:1-11.

God had already brought judgment to the surrounding nations. It should have been eye-opening to the people. They had God’s Word. They heard God’s judgments stated over and over. They witnessed God’s judgment falling upon other nations. They heard God’s judgments against them stated over and over. Yet, they did not heed what they saw all around them. God’s nation just kept on rebelling against God. And God would not just keep warning His people forever. He was coming.

The rebellion was far and wide within Jerusalem. And though nation’s had been cut off, even the priesthood was defaming God’s name. And then, God says the most amazing thing. “Therefore wait for me.” (Zephaniah 3:8). Depending on what had been stated before this it could be either horror or tremendous joy. Before this was God’s promise to bring justice and righteousness to His rebellious people after bringing it to the nations. This is the equivalent of “you wait for your father to com home”. God says, “you have sinned against me, therefore wait for me.”

There are a few things to recognize here. The Prophets of old had a weird view of what was going on. Have you ever looked at a mountain and it was just a blue shape in the distance while at the same time you could see mountains that were closer to you? That is sort of the way the prophets saw the things that would come. They saw in one picture what we see as a few different pictures. When is it that God will “gather nations,…assemble kingdoms….pour out on them indignation…all the earth will be devoured” (Zephaniah 3:8 NASB)

We are seeing in Zephaniah 3, two pictures at one time. First, we are seeing an immediate punishment that God is bringing to His people. At the same time, we are seeing the end times judgment that will devour all the Earth that we see discussed in the Book of Revelation and elsewhere in the New Testament. He telescopes out from the current event and gives us a view of what God is going to do in the future. God’s judgment is coming. He will rise up and cleanse the Earth of all unrighteousness. His judgment is coming.

People have rebelled against God. In our arrogance and pride we have imagined ourselves to be righteous on our own or that God would for some reason be pleased with us.  And on top of it all we’ve lived with little regard for God’s Word and God’s Law. We have broken His command and God says to us, “Therefore wait for Me”. We will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. This is no secret, it is all over the Scriptures.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”

2 Corinthians 5:10 NASB

40 “God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. 42 “And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. 43 “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”

Acts 10:40-43 NASB

12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is [the book] of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one [of them] according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Revelation 20:12-15 NASB

God is holy, and for all of you who are in rebellion against God, who have rejected the Savior God says, “therefore wait for Me.” (Zephaniah 3:8)

God is holy. The love of God is seen here as well, even thought it may be difficult to see right now. But when God judges it brings great joy to His people and the love of God is expressed in a beautiful way upon them.

God Is Gracious And Loves His People (Zephaniah 3:8-20)

Those in rebellion against God hear “Therefore wait for Me” as a promise of horror. But God’s people hear it as something quite different.

Read Zephaniah 3:8-20.

God moves on the nations bringing upon them His justice. His wrath and His anger are poured out upon the nations. But notice what happens because of His coming. The people are given

“For then I will give to the peoples purified lips, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord, to serve Him shoulder to shoulder”

Zephaniah 3:9 NASB

Have any of you been in a classroom before that was just terrible day to day? The whole class seemed disruptive and the teacher was frustrated. Then, one day, a person or group of people was gone and the class was pleasant, the teacher taught, and wasn’t frustrated. What happened? The wickedness was removed from the classroom. And the teacher was left to actually teach the students who remained. God regenerates believers and causes them to walk in His ways. And when the people in rebellion against God are removed, these purified lips are noticable.

Here we read that  the “proud, exulting ones” are removed and God’s people are “never again” arrogant in God’s presence (Zephaniah 3:11). The people who are left are those who have trusted in Christ, those who have faith in God. They are “humble and lowly” (Zephaniah 3:12). Why do they act humble and lowly, because they “take refuge in the name of the Lord”, or trusted in Him (Zephaniah 3:12). And God changes their behavior. In them there are no lies and deceit. There is no sin.

This is cause for rejoicing, and this is exactly what we read in Verse 14. It is a call for rejoicing, but why? Because God’s judgment has been removed (Zephaniah 3:15).

Christian, you are forgiven. God has removed His justice from you. The same day that brings terror and fear brings to us great joy. Christ will come and judge the Earth, and when He does He will bring to us sweet, sweet joy. “Do not be afraid” (V. 16).

Why should you not be afraid? Because God is with you and He prizes you.

“The LORD your God is in your midst,

A victorious warrior,

He will exult over you with joy,

He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.”

Zephaniah 3:17 NASB

This is amazing. The most beautiful person to watch during a wedding is obviously the bride. But the most interesting person to watch is the groom. Lots of time and money is spent on the bride because this is her moment. She will walk down the isle with all eyes on her. Next time you are at a wedding, take in the moment with the bride and then make sure to look at the groom. He will be staring at her in adoration. Silent as he watches her walk down the isle. Then, rejoicing over his wife, as they walk down the isle together. I hope you see the great love that God has for His people. He is with them, He exults over them with joy, He adoringly loves them, and He rejoices in that love.

Why is it that God can bring strict justice down upon some while showing this sort of love and adoration toward others? Why is it that some people are cast into the Lake of Fire while others are sung over with this great joy?

It is because of the cross of Christ. For those who are Christians, those who have trusted in Christ, God’s wrath was poured out on His Son.

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son [to be] the propitiation for our sins.”

1 John 4:10 NASB

A propitiation is a wrath bearing sacrifice. The wrath and justice of God that we deserve was poured out upon God the Son in our place. He bore our sin and our shame in our place. Now it is possible that God can rejoice over us and not do harm to His justice.

As John Stott put it,

“The cross demonstrates in equal vividness His (God’s justice in judging sin and His mercy in justifying the sinner.” – John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 2012, p. 207

John Stott, “The Cross of Christ”, 2012 p. 207

We go on to read that God will gather people who grieve about God’s Word not being kept, the reproach that fell upon them because of the rebellion of others truly was a burden to them. And now their shame is turned “into praise and renown in all the earth”. God saves. God rescues. God gives graciously and gloriously to His people.

I remember when I first began dating Amanda. I had gone on a few dates when I was in college at Arkansas Tech University. I didn’t have much money so I would apologize and say something like, “I’m sorry, I don’t have much money. Is Subway okay?” They would say, “Yes.” And, I wasn’t really putting out any effort…or money. Then Amanda came. I asked her to go out with me and I took her to the nice Italian Restaurant in town. I spent 3 times as much on our first date as I did any other date that I had gone on. I dressed nice. I cleaned the nasty old car that I had. I was just pouring it on. I really liked her. Then, still poor, I wanted to get engaged. I worked an extra job during the summer to pay for it. I gave her more than I gave anyone else or have given anyone else. I love her tremendously. And here we have God lavishing gifts upon His people. He has purchased their salvation, their forgiveness. He adores His people. He gives them peace. He gives them renown. He gives them fortune. God is pouring it on. He is giving and giving and giving and giving gloriously to His people.

Christian, you are loved. God has given so much to you. John Stott said it this way,

“But God in giving His Son gave Himself to die for His enemies, He gave everything to those who deserved nothing from Him.”-John Stott, Cross of Christ, 2012, p. 210

John Stott, “The Cross of Christ”, 2012, p. 210

God has given us so much. We deserved none of it. Yet, He lavishes His love and gifts upon His people. He rejoices over us. He loves us.

I can’t say the same for the unbeliever. Where are you in this story? You are not being sung over. God’s judgment has fallen and it has not gone so well for you. Trust in Christ. Turn to Him. Believe in Him. He has paid the price for rebellion in the death of His Son. Trust in Him.

R. Dwain Minor