Do you remember the way it felt—how excited you were—the last time something really amazing happened to you? You completed something monumental in your life. Got a job or promotion. Won a particularly important or grueling game. Received an award for something you achieved. Watched your favorite team or athlete accomplish greatness. Do you remember how happy, proud, encouraged, or pumped up you felt in the midst of such an occasion? Tonight, the Old Testament prophet Zephaniah seeks to encourage God’s people to be excited and encouraged concerning what God has done and will do for us.
SING, SHOUT, REJOICE, AND EXULT FOR ALL THE FULFILLED PROMISES THAT THE LORD WILL FULFILL!
Zephaniah speaks to a specific group of people: “the daughter of Zion, Israel, daughter of Jerusalem.” You’re among this group of people, because the prophet calls out to all who believe in Christ—those in the Old Testament age who trusted in Christ to come for salvation, and those of us in the New Testament age who trust in Christ who has come for salvation.
Zephaniah speaks to the faithful believers of his day, as they very soon will be driven into exile—forced from their homes, forced from their towns, cities, and villages, forced from the temple where God promised to dwell, and forced from the land which God had given them as He promised to Abraham. Zephaniah speaks an encouraging word of what God will do for His Old Testament people, and He prophesies as if it has already happened.
Zephaniah speaks an encouraging word of what God will do for you—God’s New Testament people, and He prophesies as if it has already happened, because… well… it has… and it will be. We can think of the promise of God as something that is fulfilled, and something that is yet to be fulfilled. Theologians call this reality both a “now” and a “not yet.”
Zephaniah begins with a call for you to praise the Lord: “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” Why? “The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.”
The Lord has taken away your judgments and cleared you of any wrongdoing. He has declared you not guilty of your sins against Him. You once owed the Lord a tremendous, unpayable debt—but He has forgiven that debt, cancelled it, and He absorbed the cost. With what? The precious blood and innocent suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ. By Christ’s suffering and death, the Lord has taken away the judgments—the curses—that He imposed against you, because the curses imposed against you were laid on Jesus for your sake.
In the same manner—the suffering, death, and resurrection of your Lord Jesus Christ—God has cleared away your enemies. He has won the war. He has secured the victory. He has triumphed in the grueling battle over your lives—defeating sin, death, and the devil. Christ has accomplished the mission of dying for sinners and opening the kingdom of heaven to all who believe. You’ve been redeemed from sin’s tyranny, delivered from death’s snare, and rescued from the devil’s accusations.
Likewise, through His suffering, death, and resurrection as the final, perfect sacrifice that atones us before God and reconciles us to God, we are at peace with God and are able to be in His midst, because our sins have been forgiven. We don’t need to fear God’s wrath over our sins. Neither do we need to fear anything else in all creation. The Lord is in our midst and protects us.
So why do we often not live like it? Why do we often act as though this isn’t true? Why are we so often less excited for Jesus than when our sports teams achieve worldly greatness?
Because even though that salvation has been accomplished, our eyes haven’t fully seen it and doubt creeps in. Christ has defeated sin, and yet we still bow to sin’s temptations. Christ has vanquished death, and yet we still watch friends and loved ones around us succumb to its power. Christ has triumphed over Satan, yet He still likes to spark doubts and accusations in our minds that we aren’t good enough. Christ has removed all reason to fear—yet we still are often afraid of what can happen to us, to our loved ones and friends. We may even fear God’s wrath when we sin. Our world doesn’t exist the way God intended. It’s violent; it’s cruel; it’s rebellious. Our bodies don’t work the way God created them. We experience difficulties and hardships of all kinds. And we don’t love and serve the Lord and our neighbors the way we should. So, for all of these reasons we aren’t always as filled with the exultant joy and singing as we should be.
Therefore, Zephaniah reminds us of everything that the Lord will do when He fully fulfills His promise. “On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem [it shall be said to the Church]: ‘Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing.’” On the one hand, Zephaniah declares what it will be like when His Old Testament people return to Jerusalem. On the other hand, these are the things that the Lord our God will do for you—and all His other people—at the resurrection on the last day… But… these are also things that the Lord our God does do for you right now!!!
The Lord is the mighty one who saves you, and promises to always save you. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” The Lord rejoices over you with gladness, for you belong to His family. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God; and so we are.” The Lord quiets you—calms your tears of sorrow—by His love. “Be still and know that I am God… He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” The Lord exults over you with loud singing: “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
The Lord our God promises even more to come for which we can sing, shout, rejoice, and exult. “‘I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach. Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,’ says the Lord.”
The Lord gathers those who mourn—mourn over sin and its consequences, mourn over suffering, mourn over death—for the festival—the festival of His body and blood in His Supper which is a foreshadowing of the Feast to come at the resurrection in the glory of His eternal kingdom. The Lord deals with your oppressors—sin, death, and the devil—through the forgiveness of sins He proclaims to you. What He says happens. So, if He says that your sins are forgiven—and they are—guess what? Your sins are forgiven. You are atoned—at one with the Lord, reconciled to your Creator. The Lord saves the lame and gathers the outcast, He sends out His servants to call them to the wedding feast and gives them a garment of righteousness—Holy Baptism—in which you are clothed with Christ Jesus your Savior.
Many of you feel shame because of your sins. Many of you feel shame because your bodies can’t do some of the things that God created human beings to do. The Lord changes these into praise because He covers your shame. Christ Jesus says to you, “You are not defined by the sins you have done. You are not defined by what your bodies can’t do. You are defined by what I have done and given to you. Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Instead of shame, you receive praise for the sake of Christ.
You are also renowned—that is—your name is honored. Probably not very many of us remember ancestors beyond our great grandparents. These names have come and gone and are forgotten. But God doesn’t forget the names of His people. Your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. You are remembered by Christ—who died for your sins and rose that you may have life. There’s not a better person to remember your name!
Last but not least—God has promised to restore your fortunes. For God’s Old Testament people, this meant a return to the land that God promised Abraham. In a wider context of salvation history, this promise will be fulfilled at the resurrection of the dead. While going to be with Jesus after death is a yay moment, it’s not the big one. Holy Scripture points to a bigger yay moment: the resurrection—when body and soul will be reunited and God’s people will be changed, receiving glorified bodies like Jesus did in His resurrection. That’s what you await.
There’s so much for you to sing, shout, rejoice, and exult in! And that day when all is fulfilled and you enter your eternal paradise at the final resurrection—that day there will be so much excitement and happiness that all God’s people will be filled with singing and rejoicing. Amen.