December 16, 2018

Rev. Bernt P. Tweit



Epistle Lesson; Philippians 4:4-7

Gospel Lesson; Luke 3:7-18                        

Sermon Text; Zephaniah 3:14-17


Before our text for today, there are five countries, or five nations that are going to be pointed out.  God is going to speak words of judgment, and words of punishment against them.  In your mind's eye, I want you to picture this. 

-Judah, which is Israel, is the nation in the middle. 

Then, it is going to be the four kingdoms around them that are also going to be hearing this message of judgment. 

-To the west of Judah was Philistia.  They were on the Mediterranean seacoast. 

-To the south was Cush.  That is another name for Egypt. 

-To the east were two nations, Moab and Ammon. 

-To the north were the Assyrians. 

And so, in the first two chapters we hear these words of judgment, and destruction that God told Zephaniah to share with those five nations.  It begins with this one sentence, when God just generally says,

“I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth.”

The reason God was going to sweep away everything, all of these nations from the face of the earth was because of their arrogant pride.  He starts with Judah.  He talks to them about their arrogant pride. 

All the way back in the book of Genesis, God had said,

“The scepter shall not depart from Judah.”  

You and I know Jesus was going to come from Judah.  He was going to be the Messiah who would come to save us.  Judah knew this too, but they were not serving, they were not worshiping the true God of Israel, anymore.  They were now worshiping Baal.  They were now worshiping Asherah.  And, they were now worshiping Molech.  (Molech and the worship of Molech was this.  People were taking their living children, and sacrificing their living children to this false god, Molech.)  God was fed up with that, and He speaks this judgment and destruction against His own people, Judah.

God also speaks this judgment and destruction against Philistia.  That is the nation against the Mediterranean seacoast.  Probably the most well known person from Philistia was Goliath, the giant.  He was a Philistine who came from that area.  That is modern day Palestine, or the Gaza Strip.  God speaks His judgment against them.

God speaks His judgment and punishment against Egypt, or against Cush.  They were the ones who had held God's people captive in Egypt for four hundred years.  And so, this judgment and punishment comes upon them.

The punishment was going to come upon the Moabites, and the Ammonites.  Now, those two names might not ring a bell right now, but let's go back in history.  You remember Abraham, and you remember his nephew Lot.  Well, after God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot and his two daughters were survivors.  Lot's two daughters said, “We have nobody in which we can have husbands with.”  And so, they did something that was wrong.  The oldest daughter got pregnant by her dad, Lot.  The youngest daughter got pregnant by her dad, Lot.  They both had sons.  One whose name was Moab, and one whose name was Ben-ammi.  And so, the Moabites and the Ammonites were distant relatives of the people of Judah.  God was now speaking these words of judgment, and destruction against them.

And, God was now also speaking words of judgment, and destruction against Assyria, as well.  The Assyrians were the world super power of the time.  For five hundred years they ruled the world.  From 1100 BC, until about 600 BC (in round numbers) they were the world super power.  And, God was going to destroy them.  It was during the ministry of Zephaniah that the Babylonians came.  They did destroy the Assyrian Empire in the year 612 BC. 

Why did God do this?  It was because of the arrogant pride of each of those five nations. 

A little over one hundred years ago, the Titanic set sail.  On the day the Titanic was dropped into the water (this was May 31st, 1911) one of the employees of the White Star Lines saw the Titanic going into the water, and said a pretty famous quote.  “Not even God can sink this ship.” 

What are those words?  Those words are arrogant pride.  We all know what happened at the end of the story, with the Titanic.

God's Word for today, these words from Zephaniah are a reminder to us of our arrogant pride, and the arrogant pride that we, at times, have against other people, the arrogant pride that we share against God, our Heavenly Father.  Now the words we deserve to hear, words of destruction, because of our sins of arrogant pride. 

But now, we get to the time of our text.  We get to the end of the book of Zephaniah, and here are now words of comfort and hope that Zephaniah wants to share with God's people.  After this time of destruction has come, there would be a time of restoration.  And so, Zephaniah says,

“Listen, O daughter of Zion.  O Israel, O daughter of Jerusalem.” 

In the immediate sense, not only is he speaking with the people of his time, but he is also speaking to you, because we are the saved, the believers, the redeemed, the remnant.  But, when Zephaniah was proclaiming these words to the people of his day, (again, he was prophesying during the reign of Josiah, who was a good king), God's Word had been lost, before Josiah was king. 

God's Word was found.  And so, Josiah started to make some reforms.  Here are some of the reforms that took place in his day. 

-Josiah removed from the Temple of the Lord all of the articles made for Baal and Asherah, and all of their starry hosts.  He burned them outside of Jerusalem, in the fields of the Kidron Valley, and took the ashes to Bethel. 

-He did away with the pagan priests appointed by the kings of Judah to burn incense on the high places of the towns of Judah, and those around Jerusalem.  Those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun, and the moon, to the constellations, and the starry hosts. 

-He took the Asherah Pole from the Temple of the Lord to the Kidron Valley outside of Jerusalem, and burned it there.  He ground it to powder, and scattered the dust over the graves of the common people. 

-He also torn down the quarters of the male shrine prostitutes, which were in the Temple of the Lord, and where woman did weaving for Asherah. 

And so, because of the prophesies of the ministry of Zephaniah, these reforms were now taking place in Judah.  And so, Zephaniah speaks words of comfort to God's people, as he addresses them, “Zion, daughter of Jerusalem and Zion.”  These are words he now speaks to them.  He doesn't say it just once, but he says it in four different ways, as our text for today says. 

“Sing out...” 

“Shout aloud...” 

“Be glad and rejoice.” 

And so, what is it the people could sing out about?  What is it that they could shout aloud about, and they could be glad in, and rejoice?

It was because somebody was coming.  Somebody was coming to be their Savior, and somebody was coming to be their Redeemer.  Zephaniah puts it this way. 

“The Lord has removed the judgment against you.

He has turned back your enemy.”

“He has removed that judgment from you.  God no longer sees your arrogant pride.”

I know many of you are getting ready to celebrate Christmas with your families.  And, a number of you are going to be hosting that Christmas celebration at your house.  Just a small, little picture of this is what you do, in preparation for your family to come.  You clean the house, don't you?  You get it ready for guests to come.  Well, that is just a small picture of what Zephaniah is talking about.  The Lord has removed this judgment against you.  He has cast things aside.  Think of the cleaning you are going to be doing in the next week, in preparation of Christmas.  What are you doing?  You are casting things aside.  You are getting things ready for your guests to come. 
One of the hymns we sing at Christmastime is a reminder of this, as well, where our sin is cast aside.  In verse four of the hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, we sing:

O holy Child of Bethlehem,

Descend to us we pray.

Cast out our sin

and enter in

Be born in us today.


We hear the Christmas Angels,

The great glad tidings tell

O come to us.

Abide with us.

Our Lord, Immanuel.


And so, don't be afraid.  Don't give up, because,

“the Lord, is in your midst!” 

In Zephaniah's day there was going to be judgment and destruction coming upon them.  But, the Lord holds out hope to them, because the Lord was in their midst.

We can say the same thing today.  Don't give up hope.  Be of good cheer, because,

“the Lord, is in your midst!” 

Yes, we have sinned against Him, because of our arrogant pride.  But, God in His love for us, sent Jesus.  Jesus came to be your Savior, and mine.  Jesus came to be your Redeemer, and mine.  And, at Christmastime, we are reminded of the baby who was born, and placed in the manger.  True Man, and true God, coming in the flesh to do what we couldn't do for ourselves, in saving us.  Jesus did everything necessary for our salvation.  He suffered for us.  He died for us.  He rose for us, so that we could have eternal life in Heaven.

In a book entitled, “Messy Spirituality” there was an illustration written about a woman whose name was Margaret.  When Margaret was younger, she was a student in a classroom.  Oftentimes, she was tardy for class.  The teacher wanted to make a point of shaming Margaret for her coming tardy many times.  One time, when Margaret was tardy, the teacher told her to stand at the front of the class.  She told the 25 students in the class to come up to the blackboard behind her, and to write very shameful, and harmful things.  And so, they wrote things like:  “Margaret is dumb.”  “Margaret is stupid.”  “Margaret is ugly.”

As Margaret grew up, and forty years went past, she was anxious a lot of the time.  She was nervous a lot of the time, because of what had happened to her in that classroom, when she was young.  She would even have nervous breakdowns, and periods of depression, because of what had happened that day.

She visited psychiatrists, and she visited counselors.  Her time with her counselor was about up, when the counselor said, “Just say one more time what happened that day.  I want you to say everybody's name.  I want you to say what they looked like.  And, I want you to say what they wrote on that blackboard.”
And so, she recounted all twenty five of them, all of their names, what they looked like that day, and all of the shameful, hurtful things they had written on the blackboard. 

After she finished all twenty five, the counselor said, “There is one more person you did not mention.”
She said, “No, I listed all twenty five of them.”
The counselor said, “There is one more person.  This Person is going up to the teacher, and getting a piece of chalk.  This Person is going up to the blackboard, and this Person is now taking an eraser, and erasing everything that is up on the blackboard.  This person is now writing, 'Margaret is beautiful.'  'Margaret is loved.'  'Margaret is redeemed.'”
You know who that Person is.  That Person is Jesus.  That Person is the One who removed those judgments against Margaret.

Well, guess what?  That is the same Person who has removed the judgment against you, and against me.  Jesus has removed the judgment that we deserve, because of our arrogant pride.  He came as a substitute.  He came to take our place.  He was born in the flesh.  But, Jesus is no longer a baby.  Jesus continues to come to us in Word, and Sacrament.  And we prepare our hearts, and our minds for the day when Jesus will come again, as our Judge.

During the remainder of this Advent Season, and as we prepare ourselves for Christmas, we thank God, Jesus has come, and the rejoicing we now have over the Savior who was born for us!