Summary: What if you knew just how much God loves you? What would that mean to you; how would it change you?
In September of 2006, Sociologists from Baylor University released the results of a study looking into America's different views of God. The study included a Gallop survey, which identified four distinct views of God's personality and interaction with the world. Those who believe in:
• An Authoritarian God (31.4%) who is "angry at humanity's sins, engaged in every creature's life, and engaged in world affairs"
• A Benevolent God (23%) who is forgiving and accepting of anyone who repents
• A Critical God (16%) who "has his judgmental eye on the world, but will not intervene, to either punish or comfort"
• A Distant God (24.4%) who is more of a "cosmic force that launched the world then left it spinning on its own"
1. The survey tells us something about ourselves. It tells us that many believe God’s interest in us is largely academic.
A. Some think that God resentfully admits us into his Kingdom. That Christ, through a loophole in the OT law, convinced God to accept us against his will.
B. Others believe God cares about us, but doesn’t want to be involved in our everyday lives.
C. Still others believe God’s love is distant and impersonal; the words to a popular song a few years ago stated “God is watching us from a distance”.
2. Each of these is a misconception, brought about when we recognize the words of John 3:16 (for God so loved the world), but don’t characterize them. In other words, we know what the verse says, but it never affects us; we diminish God’s love for us in the name of humility.
[What if you knew just how much God loves you? What would that mean to you; how would it change your life? Stay with me this morning; I’m going to show you something spectacular; TWM to Zeph. 3.]
II. THE SETTING
1. Zephaniah was a 7th century BC prophet related to the royal family of Judah (the southern kingdom). His message condemns Judah’s leadership (including his own relatives?) and calls the people of Judah to repent before the arrival of God’s Day of Judgment.
2. We presume that the prophets delivered their messages by preaching; the prophetic books then, contain the carefully crafted essence of that preaching. If this is true of Zephaniah, he must have been a terribly unpopular preacher; the first 75% of the book deals with judgment, destruction and the end of the world, as his listeners knew it.
3. Things were bad in Judah; Zephaniah pronounces God’s judgment on the kingdom, its wicked political and religious leaders, and its wealthy citizens who exploited the poor. Things couldn’t get any worse; the people had abandoned God, rejecting his plan for their lives; they pursued their own interests with no regard for God at all.
4. We can imagine the people’s response to Zephaniah’s message of doom. Things were dismal until, at the end of his message, Zephaniah offers his listeners new hope: a reason to sing and to rejoice. Our interest this morning centers on this message of hope. After six “discourses of doom”, Zephaniah’s listeners are no doubt anxious for some good news.
[What if you knew just how much God loves you? What would that mean to you; how would it change your life? It means a lot to the people of Judah; let’s look at Zephaniah’s message of hope.]
III. A MESSAGE OF HOPE (3:14-15)
1. The LORD has taken away your punishment, and turned back your enemy. Judah’s sins are forgiven; their enemies will no longer dominate them, they are now under God’s protection. Why? Because the Lord, the King of Israel, is with them; never again will they fear any harm.
2. Imagine the comfort and hope the people get from this message. The messages of doom suddenly washed away by the Lord.
3. Now imagine the love God demonstrates in his promise to the people of Judah; a nation in terrible spiritual condition. They deserve God’s wrath. His judgment is completely justified; yet, in the midst of this spiritual crisis, God replaces judgment with salvation. That is love.
4. God offers you the same love; a love so great that he offers to meet you in the midst of your spiritual crisis, though you have rejected his plan in favor of your own interests. Despite your miserable past, God’s promise brings hope for the future.
[What if you knew just how much God loves you? What would that mean to you; how would it change your life? For the people of Judah, it was a reason to rejoice, and we share those reasons with them. Earlier, I promised to show you something spectacular; stay with me. . .look at vv. 16-17]
IV. REASONS TO REJOICE (3:16-17) Do not let your hands hang limp (do not be discouraged);