Summary: Only by fearing sin now and trusting in Jesus' forgiveness will we enjoy an eternal life without fear.
When do you feel the most secure? Is it when you’re snuggled in bed with the covers pulled up to your chin and all the doors locked? Or do you feel most secure when Mom and Dad and your whole family are in the same room together gathered around the Christmas tree and enjoying one another’s company? Aren’t those the kind of moments you cherish and wish would never end? While moments like that may make us feel secure, there is no guarantee that we actually are secure. Someone could keel over with a heart attack during that family gathering. Or a robber might crash into our bedroom while we’re sleeping. In our Tweet from Heaven today, God does promise a time when there will be no fear. But only those who dread sin now and continue to seek God’s forgiveness will get to enjoy an eternal life with nothing to fear.
This is now our third sermon from the Old Testament book of Zephaniah. Last week we heard God turn his attention to the nations surrounding the Israelites to say that they would be judged. We spent some time pondering God’s startling announcement that Nineveh, one of the leading cities of the day would be decimated and its buildings left a ruins, and still are today. When the people of Jerusalem heard that pronouncement they must have thought: “It’s about time Lord. Nineveh is bad news. Give them what they deserve!” So when God continued to speak about judgment in Zephaniah 3, God’s people must have thought that he was further describing the hurt he would bring against Nineveh. God said: “Woe to the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled! 2 She obeys no one, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the LORD, she does not draw near to her God. 3 Her officials are roaring lions, her rulers are evening wolves, who leave nothing for the morning” (Zephaniah 3:1-3). God, however, was not describing Nineveh. He was actually talking about Jerusalem! He went on to say about that city: “Her prophets are arrogant; they are treacherous men. Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law…the unrighteous know no shame” (Zephaniah 3:4, 5b).
How startled the people of Jerusalem must have been when they realized that God was describing them and not the Ninevites. They were like people who come to church expecting the pastor to speak about how wicked the world is and how thankful we can be that we’re not like “those people.” But our Sunday mornings here together in church are not supposed to be rag sessions. Sure, I need to point out and warn against the sins of this world, but I am not much of a shepherd if I don’t point out sins “in here” - sins that we struggle with. A coach who points out the weaknesses of the opponent and gets his team to laugh at them has not done much to prepare his players for the upcoming game. If anything, he’s probably made his team less prepared since they will now be more apt to take their opponent lightly. No, a smart coach will pay more attention to the weaknesses of his team and work at removing them.
So what were the weaknesses, the sins with which the people of Jerusalem struggled? According to the Lord, this was a city that did not accept correction. God had sent many faithful prophets before Zephaniah but their message of repentance had been ignored. Are you someone who doesn’t accept correction very well? That’s a silly question. Of course you don’t accept correction well, and neither do I! By nature we are proud individuals who think that we have all the answers, and even if we don’t, we’d rather fake it than have someone tell us what to do!
This attitude is probably the most obvious in child-parent relationships. Children never like it when their parents tell them how to behave at the dinner table, or how to dress, or how to drive. But why won’t children just listen to their parents? Why, for example, bicker about having to clean your room? Why not just do it and get on with life? How much time and energy has been wasted by arguing rather than accepting correction? It’s all about pride isn’t it? Everyone wants to be the captain of his or her own life – even adults. But listen to what God warned his people. “…I will remove from this city those who rejoice in their pride” (Zephaniah 3:11b).
“Do not rejoice in your pride,” God warns. He could also have said: “Don’t revel in your stubbornness!” Stubbornness and pride are two sides of the same coin aren’t they? To be stubborn is to be rigid, like a piece of clay or play dough that has dried out. When the master potter tries to work with it, it breaks apart and it isn’t useful for anything but to be thrown out. God obviously doesn’t want us to be like that. He wants us to be humble and therefore pliable and open to correction, like a moist lump of clay that the master potter can shape into something useful and beautiful. What kind of piece of clay are you? Dried out and therefore rigid and not open to correction? Or are you humble and pliable, trusting that what will make you more beautiful and useful to others is listening to God when he gives direction and offers correction?