Summary: Zephaniah offers powerful hope for the future: hope of forgiveness, hope of freedom from fear, hope of salvation and hope of love
Sermon - Zephaniah 3 v14-20
How hopeful are you for the future? According to a survey of British people at the end of 2014 only 34% of us thought 2015 would be better than 2014 with 42% expecting it to be the same and 18% expecting it to be worse.
How hopeful are you for the future? Maybe the news we watch on TV each day discourages us. We hear of terrorism, desperate refugees, intractable civil wars, flash floods in the UK and overseas caused by unprecedented rainfall probably due to global warming. All of these events caused by mankind. Overall it's not a very hopeful picture.
The situation was not so different in the time of Zephaniah (a prophet who lived in Judah) , 600 years before Jesus was born. Just about a hundred years have gone by since the destruction of Israel, Judah’s sister kingdom to the north, and the ten tribes of Israel had been devastated by the Assyrians. Wiped out, never to appear again on the stage of history. Down in the south, centred around Jerusalem, huddled the two tribes that made up the Kingdom of Judah. Things had not been so good in Judah, either. Idolatry had run rampant. Cult prostitution and child sacrifice had crept in. Criminal activity was everywhere. Merchants cheated their customers. Widows suffered in poverty. Power was abused by those in authority. Everywhere things looked bleak. People were not hopeful.
But listen to what Zephaniah says
Sing, Daughter Zion;
shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
Daughter Jerusalem! (v14)
It must have seemed strange in these circumstances that Zephaniah tells his listeners and us to rejoice and be glad and shout aloud. Why?
Simply put, Zephaniah offers a profound and lasting hope in a troubled world.
1. Hope of Forgiveness
The LORD has taken away your punishment,
he has turned back your enemy.(v15a)
The people of Israel had wandered away from their God, they had been attracted by other gods, less demanding and more appealing. They turned to Baal god of storms when they worried that there would not be enough rain to feed their crops rather than turning to God. They built little mounds of earth about 4ft high on which they worshipped him. The Bible calls them high places and many times comments that the leaders of Israel turned a blind eye to these high places rather than forbidding them. They turned to Molek who demanded child sacrifice in the fire, in an attempt to please him so things would go well for them. The bible repeatedly forbids child sacrifice. Corruption had crept in, loan sharks were taking advantage of the poor. The people needed forgiveness for turning away from the living God to worship these idols.
We may not worship Baal or Molek, but we worship other more subtle idols, the gods of consumerism (I want it and want it now) hedonism (my pleasure is what counts) success (look how well I've done). There is still corruption, and oppression of the poor as Gods commands are ignored. These idols only bring illusory hope that fades as soon as we try to grasp hold of it .But they will draw us away from worship of the living God. We too need forgiveness for turning away from God to worship these idols.
God offers forgiveness to us today. For the Christian, we have received that forgiveness, although we continue to fall short and that is why we continue to confess our sins to Him. For the Non-Christian today the offer of full forgiveness in Jesus is there for you to take hold.
But what does that forgiveness look like?
Let me tell you about Maria and her daughter Christina. Longing to leave her poor Brazilian neighborhood, Christina wanted to see the world. Discontent with living at home having only a pallet on the floor, a washbasin, and a wood-burning stove, she dreamed of a better life in the city. One morning she ran away, breaking her mother’s heart. Her mother knew what life on the streets would be like for her young, attractive daughter, so Maria quickly packed to go find her daughter. On her way to the bus stop, she went to a shop to get one last thing—pictures. She sat in the photograph booth, closed the curtain, and spent all the money she could on pictures of herself. With her purse full of small black-and-white photos, she got on the next bus to Rio de Janeiro. Maria knew Christina had no way of earning money. She also knew that her daughter was too stubborn to give up. Maria began her search. Bars, hotels, nightclubs, any place with the reputation for street walkers or prostitutes. At each place she left her picture--taped on a bathroom mirror, tacked to a hotel bulletin board, or fastened to a corner phone booth. On the back of each photo she wrote a note. It wasn’t too long before Maria’s money and pictures ran out, and Maria had to go home. The tired mother cried as the bus began its long journey back to her small village. A few weeks later, Christina was coming down the stairs in a seedy hotel. Her young face was tired. Her brown eyes no longer danced with youth but spoke of pain and fear. Her laughter was broken. Her dream had become a nightmare. A thousand times she had longed to trade all those countless beds for her secure pallet. And yet the little village seemed too far away. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, her eyes noticed a familiar face. She looked again, and there on the lobby mirror was a small picture of her mother. Christina’s eyes burned and her throat tightened as she walked across the room and removed the small photo. Written on the back Maria had written this: "Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. Please come home." And Christina went home.