Friday, February 11, 2011

"Wait for the Lord" - Zeph. 3:8

(a few people have asked for my chapel address in written form - of course this is not verbatim, but these are the notes I used)

What are you supposed to say to a family who is watching their most beloved patriarch slowly die in the hospital? The doctors perform multiple surgeries and procedures in an effort to save his life, but he remains unconscious for weeks. Prayers have been lifted up to God for him by half of the brotherhood, but still no resolution. Nothing but a shadow of your hero attached to a breathing machine remains. And so, you wait.
What are you supposed to pray for when your grandmother resides at the nursing home alone? Her husband of 60 years has passed away. She has lived a full life. She has no prospects here. Every time you visit her tears roll down her face while she asks, “Why won’t God just take me home?” She is longing to die. She wants to be with God and with her husband. But there is nothing you can do but hold her hand. And so, you wait.
What are you supposed to take consolation in when you are a young person striving to find that special someone? You see all of your other friends pairing up. You have been patient, not willing to sacrifice your faith for a relationship. You have ended other relationships you knew would not be a source of strength for your future. Yet you find yourself falling further and further away from your dreams. And so, you wait.
What are you supposed to understand when you and your spouse have been trying to become parents for years, while others in the world abort their pregnancies? You read in the newspaper about another newborn left in a duffle bag at the airport. Friends of yours who are parents constantly complain about the rigors of child-rearing, and yet you would give anything to experience that kind of challenge. You have prayed. You have seen doctors. You have exhausted all of the pregnancy methods and fertility technology. The years are passing, and your time is running out. And so, you wait.
What are you supposed to believe when you get a phone call that shakes your entire world? You are still young, but the doctor says that dreaded word, “cancer.” You have a wife and small children who are depending on you to guide and support them. There are no promises from the medical field. You endure surgeries, tests, radiation treatments, and more tests – a cycle that never seems to end. How do you adjust to the reality that you are not in control? You try to live from day to day with hope, yet no guarantees for your future can be granted. And so, you wait.
“I waited patiently, and…then He turned to me and…” (Psalm 40:1-4)

But Judah was not trusting in the Lord. The nation of Judah had been sinning for decades. The southern tribes of God’s people were 60 years removed from the reign of Hezekiah, having been led most recently by the wicked kings Manasseh and Amon. The Biblical record states, “So Manasseh seduced Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord had destroyed before the children of Israel.” (2 Chronicles 33:9) Of Amon it is written, “But he did evil in the sight of the Lord, as his father Manasseh had done; for Amon sacrificed to all the carved images which his father Manasseh had made, and served them” (2 Chronicles 33:22). Now, in the place of these ungodly men, a mere child by the name of Josiah is placed upon the throne. In this difficult time God called Zephaniah, one of King Hezekiah’s descendants, to prophesy to Judah.
One Bible Survey suggests these 3 major doctrines being presented in the book - 1) God is sovereign over all nations. God is still above the Jews who have become complacent and think that God will not act (1:12). God is still in power and a time will come when no comfort or deliverance will be found in silver and gold (1:18). God will humble, even to desolation, every society that boasts securely that they have arrived, who say there is nobody else but them (2:15). 2) The wicked will be punished and the righteous will be vindicated on the day of judgment. 3) God blesses those who repent and trust in Him. (2:3) – “Seek the LORD, all you meek of the earth, who have upheld His justice. Seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden in the day of the LORD's anger.”

Zephaniah’s message was not pretty. Chapter One is a proclamation of God’s fierce judgment upon the whole earth (1:2-3) – “"I will utterly consume everything from the face of the land," Says the LORD; I will consume man and beast; I will consume the birds of the heavens, The fish of the sea, And the stumbling blocks along with the wicked. I will cut off man from the face of the land," Says the LORD.” Specifically, God pronounces his punishment upon the nation of Judah for their idolatry and iniquity. The priests had attempted to straddle the fence, calling upon Jehovah and upon Molech. They had decided to worship nature and the constellations..the political leadership in Judah was completely corrupt...and so The day coming to Judah is thus described, “That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastation and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet and alarm…” (Zephaniah 1:15-16a).
Chapter Two extends the coming judgment to the nations surrounding Judah. God was going to make the heathen pay for their influence among his people. God points West, East, South, and then North…Zephaniah’s prophecy includes the picture of these godless cities being laid waste to the point that in the near future birds would build nests and wild herds would find a place of rest where their capitals and pillars once stood. Note specifically these words from Jehovah, “The Lord will be awesome against them; for He will famish all the gods of the earth, and to Him shall bow down, each in its place, all the lands of the nations” (Zephaniah 2:11 [English Standard Version]).
In the final chapter of this short book (3:2), Zephaniah explains the four reasons why Judah had fallen. Jerusalem should have been righteous, but she was rebellious. She should have been pure, but she had become polluted. She should have been a blessing, but instead she was oppressing. Preach this sermon..WHAT’S WRONG WITH JERUSALEM?(Zeph. 3:2) (this is our current culture) One, it was a problem of duty, she had not obeyed the voice of God. Two, it was a disregard for discipline, she had not received correction. Three, it was a refusal of dependence, she had not trusted the Lord. Four, it was an absence of desire, she had not drawn near to her God. (from back to front, we can note the progression of falling away) If we have no desire for God, and thus no relationship, how is it that we will ever trust Him? If we do not trust God as a Father, how can we ever receive His loving discipline? If we refuse God’s direction for our lives, there is no doubt that we will never come close to being His obedient children.
“She has not obeyed His voice, She has not received correction; She has not trusted in the LORD, She has not drawn near to her God.”(3:2)

By the time of Zephaniah’s prophecy, Josiah had most likely made his initial reforms. The description of the sins in the book point to a date of writing that preceded Hilkiah’s discovery of the Book of the Law. Notwithstanding Josiah’s influence, it was too late for Judah. The nation soon turned back to the ways of the last two generations of evil.
But listen! According to his abundantly merciful nature, up from the midst of his impending discipline God offers a message of consolation and hope. Although the inhabitants of Judah are going to be taken captive for a season, Jehovah will eventually deliver his people from the hand of the enemy. The hinge on the door is 3:8 – it is the dividing point between devastation and deliverance, between wrath and restoration, between horror and hope. “‘Therefore wait for Me,’ says the Lord, ‘Until the day I rise up for plunder; My determination(ordinance, justice, decision of the court) is to gather the nations to My assembly of kingdoms, to pour on them My indignation, all My fierce anger; all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of My jealousy’” (Zephaniah 3:8).
The fallout from God’s wrath upon the enemies of Judah will result in their ultimate return to their God: They will once again call on the name of the Lord (3:9). They will bring their sacrifices to God (3:10). They will humble themselves before Jehovah (3:11). They will trust in the name of the Lord (3:12). They will speak the truth and refrain from iniquity (3:13). They will be glad and rejoice at the presence of God (3:14). They will be gathered together by the Lord and he will make for them a name among the inhabitants of the earth (3:19).

What is it, may I ask, that each one of us is really waiting for? We ARE ALL WAITING!
As I look out to this group of people…I know you have gathered for a reason, a reason deeper that maybe even you have considered…but you have been drawn in attempt to fulfill a need…

For years, mankind has proposed and tried to argue for an idea that we have inherited something from Adam…we know it is not sin (Ez. 18:20) – “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”
•Ever since Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden, something was missing…
•930 years of the garden’s call – did he ever try to go back?
•A remembrance passed from generation to generation…the gap between man and God being understood in actuality by God’s people, and reached for by godless forgetful people in diverse ways, seeking to fill the void in their lives.
Romans 8:19-23
Acts 17:26 – “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.”

What we are really waiting for is heaven…
An indescribable place…count up all of the joy and peace and happiness in your life, every special moment, every perfect feeling, all of the laughter, all of the love, all the comfort – now multiply this by infinity and understand that you have not even begun to comprehend what it will be like to live one second in God’s eternal home – full fellowship with God and even better than what Adam once knew – for His love will be ever more sweet being understood in its completeness as we gather ‘round the precious Lamb of God and praise Him forever!

And yet we keep waiting in this life…and the world is a land of many disappointments. But day by day we are learning that they are disappointments we so desperately need to experience.
•Two kinds of people, those who are humble, and those who will be humbled…

Until one has been tested, one cannot know true faith. Until one has been defeated, one cannot know genuine victory. Until one has been devastated, one cannot know of the activity of God’s providence in their life. Until one has been humbled, one cannot be raised to the higher plain of God’s eternal habitation.

Every tear you have ever shed, every moment of suffering you have ever endured, every struggle you have ever overcome, every painful moment in both body and spirit you have ever suffered, is only a reminder of the fact that you are waiting for something better that cannot yet be attained…

As long as the earth remains, we will wait in hospitals until our loved ones take their last breath. We will wait for unrealized dreams to come true. We will wait for relationships to develop that never materialize. We will wait for test results and get bad news that will cause us to number our days. We will wait for the continuing storms of our life to pass over until there is a temporary calm and the clouds begin to gather once more.

While we wait for these things…let’s not forget to WAIT FOR THE LORD…may we put our trust in God, and consider again what it is we are really waiting for…

Rom. 8:18 – “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

Zephaniah’s message is the reality of God’s judgment upon all men. For those who deny Him and live in sin, His anger will be justified, and the execution of His wrath will be complete. But for those who WAIT for Him there is a promise that is so great, no tongue can describe it. It is a promise so divine that the WHEN of its fulfillment does not matter…

Zeph. 3:17 – “The LORD your God in your midst, The Mighty One will save. He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing."
1 Cor. 2:9 – “But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him."

Adam’s desire is our desire. His promise is our promise. His hope is our hope. This is what we are waiting for….Heaven remains in our future…the WHEN of its fulfillment is irrelevant. The Lord your God is in your midst. The Mighty One will save…

And so, we wait…

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