Summary: The Lord will be awesome in judgment so make use of his awesome grace now!
“Ottawa Obliterated! Vancouver Vaporized! Edmonton Eradicated!” Can you imagine waking up to news headlines like that? Sure, you’ve come to expect such language describing the previous night’s Oilers’ game. But what if those headlines were not about the hockey teams that reside in those cities and how poorly they played the night before, but were news flashes about the cities themselves? Is it possible for such big population centers crammed full of condos and office highrises and the people who live and work in them to be obliterated, vaporized, and eradicated? But that’s exactly what God said would happen to the nations who surrounded the Israelites of old. The awesome Lord, the Lord of Hosts, sent a warning shot across the bow of those nations in our sermon text to tell them that their days were numbered. As we continue our Tweets from Heaven sermon series, we too will want to wake up to the warning the awesome Lord spoke through Zephaniah because one day our community will be obliterated, vaporized, and eradicated.
So what do you remember about the prophet Zephaniah from last week’s sermon? Do you recall the king under which he served? That was King Josiah. Was Josiah a good king or a bad one? He was a good king who sought to lead his nation back to the worship of the one true God. Josiah had limited success, however, and in last week’s sermon text we heard God thunder against those who had become complacent in their walk with him and were more interested in keeping up with the fads and fashions of the day rather than keeping up with their faith (Zeph. 1:8). God also spoke against those who were hedging their spiritual bets by worshipping the Lord while at the same time bowing down to the gods of the Canaanites (Zeph. 1:5).
It didn’t matter that these Israelites were God’s chosen people. If they did not humble themselves and seek the Lord wholeheartedly and take refuge in his forgiveness, they were going to suffer on “the Day of the Lord” – God’s title for Judgment Day in the book of Zephaniah. And neither does it matter that you are here in church this morning. That fact alone will not protect you on the Day of the Lord – not if the hour you spend here is quickly forgotten because you spend many more hours during the week pursuing the fads and fashions of this world.
But it’s hard to keep our focus on worshipping the Lord throughout the week isn’t it? I mean there’s this thing called life we have to get through. There are groceries to buy and put away; bathrooms to clean; cars to maintain; school projects that need completing; and doctor and dentist appointments to make. With daily chores like that who has the time to constantly think of the Lord and his will? The Israelites too had similar chores. Plus they were surrounded by nations that were hostile to them and were eager to destroy them. Still, the Israelites had every reason to remain fully devoted to the Lord. That’s because God promised to deal with those hostile nations. For example, God assured that the cities of the Philistines would be decimated. With a play on words in Hebrew he said something like “Ekron would be eradicated, and Ashdod would become ashes” (Zephaniah 2:4 – paraphrase). But God wasn’t just going to go after the Philistines and other local hoodlums like Moab and Ammon, he was also going to target the superpower of the day, Assyria. Listen to what Zephaniah said God would do to them. “He will stretch out his hand against the north and destroy Assyria, leaving Nineveh utterly desolate and dry as the desert. 14 Flocks and herds will lie down there, creatures of every kind. The desert owl and the screech owl will roost on her columns” (Zephaniah 2:13, 14).
Zephaniah spoke these words while Nineveh was still the thriving capital city of Assyria. Destruction wouldn’t come for another twenty years so what the prophet predicted must have sounded as far-fetched as if I were to predict that in twenty years New York City will be destroyed and the skyscrapers, the New York Stock Exchange, the Statue of Liberty, and countless highrise apartments and every other building will become the home of pigeons, rats, and feral cats and remain that way for centuries. But this is exactly what happened to Nineveh and that city is still in ruins today (though the “modern” city of Mosul lies across the river).
God’s prediction of judgment against Nineveh should serve as warning to each one of us because we can easily fall into the same sinful attitude that city was known for. According to Zephaniah the city of Nineveh was a “…carefree city that lived in safety. She said to herself, ‘I am, and there is none besides me’” (Zephaniah 2:15).