Summary: The prophet Zephaniah points us to the meaning of spiritual renewal
Today I want to begin with a question. How long has it been since you have felt God nudging you to follow him more closely? Some of you may have committed your life to Christ many years ago and you haven’t thought much about it since. Others may be struggling right now with the question of how to respond to God because, whether young or old, you know that he is speaking to you about making a change in your life. David Young says in his book, “Renewal is responding to divine nudging and leading.” (David Young, Springs of Living Water, 31) Is God nudging you toward a closer walk with him?
Many of you are aware that this congregation, has been participating in a spiritual renewal process called Springs of Living Water. The idea is that God is interested, not just in renewing one person here and another one there, but whole congregations, and there are steps we can take to discover where God is leading us.
That process has included the appointment of a renewal team, special Bible readings which many of you have followed, focused prayer, Sunday messages about spiritual disciplines, and meetings to talk about the strengths with which God has blessed this congregation. Our prayer is that these activities are drawing all of us closer to God and that God is nudging all of us to pray for renewal in the church.
From time to time throughout history the Christian church has been jolted out of complacency into spiritual revival, sometimes because of a traumatic event, sometimes because someone recognized the voice and leading of God.
One such revival started back in 1904, on the other side of the Atlantic. A young Welshman named Evan Roberts had been praying for 13 years for the Holy Spirit to control his life. He often awoke at 1:00 a.m. and prayed until 5:00 a.m. That was the beginning of the Welsh revival because God also used him to speak to others.
By all accounts, that revival drastically changed churches, homes, and even mines. According to the London Times, coal miners wrote out Bible verses and fastened them on the doors of the mine underground.
Profanity stopped. The horses in the coal mines became confused when the miners stopped kicking and cursing at them. Employers noticed a great improvement in the work produced by their employees. The Times observed that "The whole population had been suddenly stirred by a common impulse. Even football matches were postponed...quarrels between trade-union workmen and non-unionists had been made up. Many hardened sinners were converted.” (http://www.openheaven.com/library/history/wales.htm)
That revival spread throughout England, Ireland, and Scotland. And revival is still the prayer of many people in our churches even today.
The Old Testament prophet Zephaniah was one of God’s instruments in bringing renewal to God’s people back in the 7th century B.C. Remember that the land of Israel was divided into two parts: the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom. By 722 B.C. the Northern Kingdom had been occupied and overtaken by the armies of Assyria. Only the Southern Kingdom was left standing. Zephaniah’s message said that unless these people in the south repented and returned to God, the day was coming when they too would be lost. Just because they had survived Assyria’s attacks on the North didn’t mean they would be exempt from God’s judgment. Unfortunately, by 586 B.C. they also were wiped off the map.
Just before that happened, one person who took Zephaniah’s warning to heart was the king of Judah whose name was Josiah. He became king at the tender age of 8, but we read in II Kings 22 that he did what was right in the sight of the Lord. He instituted reforms and called people back to obedience to God’s law. In II Kings 23, we read this summary of his life, “There was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, soul and might.” Wouldn’t you like to have that kind of an epitaph written about you?
What was it about Zephaniah’s message that nudged this king toward spiritual revival? Today and next Sunday we want to focus on Zephaniah’s message not just for the Jews living in and around Jerusalem, but also for the church today.
Zephaniah’s Message. I invite you to keep your Bibles open because we are going to examine some of the language Zephaniah used in his message.
A few moments ago, when your heard the first seven verses from Chapter 1, you may have been startled by the harsh words of judgment you heard. These verses picture God as a Cosmic Housecleaner, sweeping away the dirt and filth of a sinful world. Verse 2 says, “I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth,” says the Lord. “The humans, the animals, the birds, the fish.” So much has gone wrong in God’s creation. The sinfulness of humans has dragged down the whole creation. That is not the kind of world God desires, so he is determined to rid the world of its evil. But, as we know, this word of judgment is not the last word, because this warning serves as the prelude to an invitation for God’s people to be spiritually renewed. He may be speaking to you this morning.