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Zephaniah 1 sermon here.

Zephaniah 2 sermon here.

Zephaniah prophesied during Josiah's reign - years leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586BC.  The Babylonian army was about to sack the city of God, to destroy the temple of God and to carry into exile the people of God.  And Zephaniah rightly thinks to himself – if the city of God, the house of God and the people of God aren’t safe from destruction, then nothing is safe.  If the very house of God is going to be judged, then the whole world will one day be judged.  And so this national crisis that Zephaniah faced made him think of the global crisis we will all face when the LORD judges the earth.

The whole world is heading for the flames (Zeph 1:18; 3:8).  And these flames are the LORD's jealous love (cf Song 8:6)- see more on the jealous judgement of God here.

For the proud, who stand alone in the face of the coming judgement, this will be a judging, consuming fire.  For those who are sheltered by the LORD who hides (Zephaniah means the LORD hides), these flames will only refine and bring us into the sunshine of His love.

In Zephaniah 3:9-20 we see Refining (v9-13); Rejoicing (v14-17) and Restoration (v18-20).

These verses are some of the most extraordinary depictions of our future hope ever written.  From the deepest depths to the highest heights, Zephaniah takes us through law to gospel.  He shows us our utter hopelessness in ourselves and then, in this passage, proclaims our glorious future in Christ.

We usually live in the dreary middle, thinking our badness is not that bad and our God and His future is not that good.  Zephaniah tells us the truth.  And once we have faced the realities of our helplessness he will blow us away even more by the LORD's overwhelming love.

Our biggest battle in the Christian life is to trust the LORD's love for us - sinners though we undoubtedly are.  Zephaniah will urge us to renounce ourselves - our badness and our goodness.  And to simply allow God's blazing love to shine on us in all His glory!

Zephaniah 3 sermon audio here.

Text below...

...continue reading "Zephaniah 3 sermon"

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Not justice.

Jealousy.

Judgement and jealousy come together so often in the bible:

Ex 20:5; 34:14; Deut 4:24; 5:9; 6:15; 29:20; 32:16,21; Josh 24:19; 1 Kings 14:22; Ps 78:58; 79:5; Is 9:7; 26:11; 37:32; 42:13; 59:17; Ezek 5:13; 8:3ff; 16:38,42; 23:25; 35:11; 36:5; 36:6; 38:19; Joel 2:18; Zeph 1:18; 3:8; Zech 1:14; 8:2,3; 1 Cor 10:22; Heb 10:27

In fact Jealousy is at the very heart of the LORD's character:

Exodus 34:14 Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

Song of Solomon 8:6 ...Love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD.

Jealousy is the very Name and Flame of the LORD!

We baulk at this, having only negative connotations for 'jealousy'.  But...

a) The word in Hebrew and Greek can as well be translated zeal (in fact in Greek it is zelos!  See the way it's used in Rom 10:2 or Phil 3:6 for instance).  In Hebrew it is derived from the word for 'red'.  It's the idea of hot-blooded commitment.

b) The bible has all sorts of examples of good jealousy on a human level (e.g. 2 Cor 7:7,11; 9:2; 11:2)

c) Jealous love is - first of all - good, appropriate, hot-blooded, protective, possessive zealous ardour.  Only secondarily does it imply opposition to rivals.  And the existence of negative jealousy (e.g. Gal 5:20) is in fact a perversion of true jealous love.  It is a zeal but not according to knowledge.

d) This is a good example of how all love must include a righteous jealousy or it's not true love.

So the God who is love is a Jealous God.  That is His original and all-pervading nature.

Secondarily this implies a certain stance towards rivals - towards those who would threaten, steal, oppose or belittle His love.  But this is absolutely secondary.  Originally and to His very depths, God is love and the flame of His passion is the sunshine of His love.

However if and when rivals appear, that same flame will burn but with markedly different consequences:

Zephaniah 1:18 In the fire of His jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for He will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth.

Zephaniah 3:8 In the fire of my jealousy all the earth shall be consumed.

The whole world is headed for the flames.  God will be all in all when He consumes the world.  For those hidden by the LORD (Zephaniah means 'The LORD Hides') they will experience the sunshine of His love - as Zephaniah 3 goes on to describe.  For those who stand apart from their Refuge it will be a judging, ravaging fire.

Same flames - very different experience.

"How can a God of love judge?" cries the outraged sceptic.

Well there should be outrage in that question.  But it shouldn't be outrage towards God.  The great tragedy is that there are rivals to the love of God.

As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?  (Ezekiel 33:11)

Judgement is not necessary as though the flames burn brighter when the wicked are fuel.  That would be like saying that jealous marital love requires adultery.  No.  Judgement is the strange and alien work of the LORD (Isaiah 28:21).  But, when confronted with rivals, it's the work of the LORD who burns with love.

It shoud be very obvious from this that love and judgement are not incompatible.

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1

Not justice.

Jealousy.

Judgement and jealousy come together so often in the bible:

Ex 20:5; 34:14; Deut 4:24; 5:9; 6:15; 29:20; 32:16,21; Josh 24:19; 1 Kings 14:22; Ps 78:58; 79:5; Is 9:7; 26:11; 37:32; 42:13; 59:17; Ezek 5:13; 8:3ff; 16:38,42; 23:25; 35:11; 36:5; 36:6; 38:19; Joel 2:18; Zeph 1:18; 3:8; Zech 1:14; 8:2,3; 1 Cor 10:22; Heb 10:27

In fact Jealousy is at the very heart of the LORD's character:

Exodus 34:14 Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

Song of Solomon 8:6 ...Love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD.

Jealousy is the very Name and Flame of the LORD!

We baulk at this, having only negative connotations for 'jealousy'.  But...

a) The word in Hebrew and Greek can as well be translated zeal (in fact in Greek it is zelos!  See the way it's used in Rom 10:2 or Phil 3:6 for instance).  In Hebrew it is derived from the word for 'red'.  It's the idea of hot-blooded commitment.

b) The bible has all sorts of examples of good jealousy on a human level (e.g. 2 Cor 7:7,11; 9:2; 11:2)

c) Jealous love is - first of all - good, appropriate, hot-blooded, protective, possessive zealous ardour.  Only secondarily does it imply opposition to rivals.  And the existence of negative jealousy (e.g. Gal 5:20) is in fact a perversion of true jealous love.  It is a zeal but not according to knowledge.

d) This is a good example of how all love must include a righteous jealousy or it's not true love.

So the God who is love is a Jealous God.  That is His original and all-pervading nature.

Secondarily this implies a certain stance towards rivals - towards those who would threaten, steal, oppose or belittle His love.  But this is absolutely secondary.  Originally and to His very depths, God is love and the flame of His passion is the sunshine of His love.

However if and when rivals appear, that same flame will burn but with markedly different consequences:

Zephaniah 1:18 In the fire of His jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for He will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth.

Zephaniah 3:8 In the fire of my jealousy all the earth shall be consumed.

The whole world is headed for the flames.  God will be all in all when He consumes the world.  For those hidden by the LORD (Zephaniah means 'The LORD Hides') they will experience the sunshine of His love - as Zephaniah 3 goes on to describe.  For those who stand apart from their Refuge it will be a judging, ravaging fire.

Same flames - very different experience.

"How can a God of love judge?" cries the outraged sceptic.

Well there should be outrage in that question.  But it shouldn't be outrage towards God.  The great tragedy is that there are rivals to the love of God.

As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?  (Ezekiel 33:11)

Judgement is not necessary as though the flames burn brighter when the wicked are fuel.  That would be like saying that jealous marital love requires adultery.  No.  Judgement is the strange and alien work of the LORD (Isaiah 28:21).  But, when confronted with rivals, it's the work of the LORD who burns with love.

It shoud be very obvious from this that love and judgement are not incompatible.

.

Audio here

Ever since Genesis 3 we've had the sense that the world out there and our hearts in here are headed somewhere bad.  And it's not going to end well.

We've all got our doomsday stories.

And in the popular imagination there's nothing like a post-apocalyptic vision of a deserted city for grabbing our attention.  How many times has New York been destroyed on film?

Well Zephaniah is facing the destruction of Jerusalem and its imminent demise is making him think of the end of the world.  Because if the people of God and the city of God and the house of God are about to be judged - then nothing and no-one is safe.  The judgement of Jerusalem in the 6th century BC is a picture of the judgement of the whole world.

And so as Zephaniah thinks of global judgement, he paints his own picture of a deserted city.  In verse 13 he turns his attention to perhaps the world's greatest city of the day - Nineveh.  And he says this:

Look at v13

13 He will stretch out his hand against the north and destroy Assyria, leaving Nineveh utterly desolate and dry as the desert. 14 Flocks and herds will lie down there, creatures of every kind. The desert owl and the screech owl will roost on her columns. Their calls will echo through the windows, rubble will be in the doorways, the beams of cedar will be exposed. 15 This is the carefree city that lived in safety. She said to herself, "I am, and there is none besides me." What a ruin she has become, a lair for wild beasts! All who pass by her scoff and shake their fists.

It sounds just like one of those films.  But the bible insists that there IS a right fear of the end of the world.  Judgement is coming.  And all our human securities WILL be overturned.

Things can’t go on like this forever.  Life as we know it is moving towards judgement day.  And even just on an individual level, our own bodies are decaying and falling apart, the physical world is groaning beneath us.  And one day it will come crashing down.

Which means if you don’t like Zephaniah 2 and all the bible’s teaching on judgement – well I completely understand that.  It’s not meant to be pleasant reading.  It’s a bit like the fire alarm going off.  No-one likes the fire alarm going off.  Our smoke detector is very sensitive and it’ll go off the second I’ve burnt the toast.  That’s annoying and I usually then take the battery out of the alarm until I’m done cooking.  But I’d be stupid to take the battery out for good.  I’d be stupid to throw away the fire alarm.  And I’d be stupid to complain that the alarm was too loud and shrill for my liking.  It’s meant to be loud and shrill, it’s meant to be inconvenient, it’s meant to disturb people so that it saves lives.

And it’s the same with Scripture’s warnings.  But so often we’re like the person who takes out the battery and chucks it away.  We skip over the judgement stuff because it’s a bit loud and shrill.  Well it’s meant to be. But as disturbing and inconvenient as the fire alarm is – it’s nothing compared to the fire itself.  And compared to these warnings in the bible, they are nothing compared to the judgement they warn us of.  These warnings need to shock us out of our complacency and make us face reality.

There is a judgement, there is a reckoning, there is a last day, I will face Christ my Maker.  And you can’t escape judgement by throwing the bible away and more than you can escape a fire by chucking away the fire alarm.

But even if you do throw the bible away, the world will sell you its own doomsday stories.  Even without the bible you’ll still be told of catastrophic global warming and killer pandemics and the sun dying, the earth choking, the seas rising, the universe freezing.  And just on an individual level, you’ll still get a call from the doctor to say  “The results of the tests have come back, I think you’d better come into my surgery...”  Your body will still go into the ground and rot along with everyone you love.  You can’t escape judgement by throwing the bible away.  And no-one should call the bible primitive for talking about Armageddon. We’ve all got our judgement day stories.

...continue reading "Zephaniah 2:4-3:8 – sermon"

I'm trying to think of examples from films where the bad guy gets his comeuppance and we punch the air.

So Mark Wahlberg taking down Matt Damon in the Departed.

Or the camp commandant executed at the end of Schindler's List.

Or the dragon eating Lord Farquaad at the end of Shrek.

Any more?

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Zephaniah 1:1-2:3

Audio here

What is our hope for the world?  Many things threaten our planet and our lives, many dangers, many problems.  What is our hope for the world?

Let me give you Zephaniah’s answer.  What is our hope for the world?  Judgement.  Universal, inescapable, final judgement.  That is our HOPE for the world.  Interesting answer isn’t it?  But I think it’s really profound.  And if we understand it – really helpful.

...continue reading "Zephaniah 1 sermon"

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Mike Reeves talks about Adam and Christ in these great audios on sin and evil.  Once we frame creation and salvation as the story of two men we see things much clearer.

For one thing we're able to honour Christ not only as Substitute but also as Representative.  And we need both.

You see Christ drinks the cup so that - in one sense - we don't have to (Mark 10:38).  But in another sense we do drink the cup He drinks and are baptised with the baptism with which He is baptised (Mark 10:39).  He does die for us so that we do not face that same judging fire - this is His substitution.  But we also die in Him experiencing it as a purifying fire - this is His representation.

We tend to be good at 'substitution' talk but not so good at 'representation' talk.  Consider this fairly common way of conceiving salvation and judgement...

salvation-judgement1

Here the key players are the saved and the damned.  Christ is not in the picture.  But of course once we've set things up like this, Christ becomes extremely necessary.  But He's necessary in that the cross becomes the accounting tool required to balance the justice books.  Without the cross the story doesn't work.  So in that sense Christ is central.  But in effect, He's a peripheral figure only required because other factors are calling the shots.

When things are viewed like this, Christ is very much thought of as 'substitute' but not really 'representative'.  And, when the details are pressed, even His substitution will start to look very unlike the biblical portrait.

We need a better formulation.  We'll think of 1 Peter 4 and then tie this back to Adam and Christ.

In 1 Peter 4:17 it says that judgement begins with the house of God.  It doesn't say 'Judgement avoids the house of God.'  It begins there.  It begins with Christ, the true Temple of God.  It continues with the church, the temple of God in another sense.  But then it flows out to the world - God's house in yet another sense.

salvation-judgement2

Here humanity is judged.  And this is where Adam and Christ will be so helpful for us.

The LORD pronounces His curse on Adam.  And all humanity is in him.  "Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned." (Rom 5:12)  It is a universal judgement.  No exceptions.  The only path to salvation is the path through judgement.

But Adam is a type of the One to come (Rom 5:14).  He was only ever setting the scene for Christ to take centre stage.  And He does so, assuming the very humanity of Adam as substitute and representative.

salvation-judgement31

Here centre stage is not occupied by the two bodies of people (the damned and the saved).  What's driving everything is the two humanities (Adam and Christ).  And the former is expressly a type of the Latter.  And the Latter expressly assumes the fate of the former.  So that in all things Christ will have the preeminence! (Col 1:18)

These diagrams were originally used in a blog post on judgement and salvation in Isaiah and for a sermon on Isaiah 2:6-22 (listen here).

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Yesterday I heard yet another talk on 2 Corinthians 5 in which it was simply assumed that 'the judgement seat of Christ' (v10) is a believer-only judgement.  Now certainly the "we" includes believers - but why is it so rarely taught from this verse that the whole world is brought before Christ's throne?  Surely that's the context in which we evangelize the world (v11ff).

Instead I've heard many a time that Christ's judgement seat is the living room of His discipline rather than the court room of God's wrath.  It seems to be assumed that Christ's judgement seat is a rap over the knuckles for Christians.  (And this is our motivation for evangelism, rather than the world-wide fiery judgement of the living and the dead).  By implication do we think "God's judgement seat" would be the really scary one?  If Paul said "God's" instead of "Christ's" would we so readily take this as some form of 'judgement-lite'?  In short: is it cos we're Arians?

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Yesterday I heard yet another talk on 2 Corinthians 5 in which it was simply assumed that 'the judgement seat of Christ' (v10) is a believer-only judgement.  Now certainly the "we" includes believers - but why is it so rarely taught from this verse that the whole world is brought before Christ's throne?  Surely that's the context in which we evangelize the world (v11ff).

Instead I've heard many a time that Christ's judgement seat is the living room of His discipline rather than the court room of God's wrath.  It seems to be assumed that Christ's judgement seat is a rap over the knuckles for Christians.  (And this is our motivation for evangelism, rather than the world-wide fiery judgement of the living and the dead).  By implication do we think "God's judgement seat" would be the really scary one?  If Paul said "God's" instead of "Christ's" would we so readily take this as some form of 'judgement-lite'?  In short: is it cos we're Arians?

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Here are seven thoughts that occurred to me as I was studying Revelation 6 and the wrath of the Lamb.  This is the sermon I preached.  And here are my seven thoughts:

  1. This is not so much the anger of the great king against rebels. This is much much worse. This is the anger of the Lamb who was slain to save rebels. This is the anger of the meek and humble Saviour who stretched out His arms to a disobedient and obstinate people. This is the anger of the One who longed to gather His children under His wings but they were not willing. This is the anger of the bloody sacrifice who poured out His life just to redeem and forgive such people. Those who will be sent to hell have not only rebelled against a mighty King, they have trodden on the slain Lamb. They have spurned their only Saviour, who wept and sweated and bled for them. They have hated and trampled on Christ crucified.   And they will not stand on the great day of His wrath.
  2. The great day of His wrath comes after a long wait (Rev 6:17).  He is indeed 'slow to anger'. (Ex 34:6; Num 14:18; Neh 9:17; Ps 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Nahum 1:3; cf Rom 3:25; 2 Pet 3:9)  And both the anger and the slowness are good things. It would be terrible if the Father or the Son flew off into a rage without warning. But it would also be terrible if they never got angry - the evil of this world, and particularly the evil of rejecting Christ is damnable. So His wrath is a very good thing.
  3. We are meant to draw nearer to the wrathful Lamb, not flee further from Him.  It is the unbelievers who run from the Lamb in His anger (v15-17), it's the believers who run to Him.  (Cf Psalm 2:12).  As we read of His wrath we are tempted to draw back, but instead we should press closer, ask, seek and knock even more.  His anger should in fact make us draw nearer - if we do, we will find Him to be our Refuge.
  4. Anger is not the last word.  Revelation 6 clears the way for Revelation 7.  "Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.  After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence."  (Hosea 6:1-2)
  5. It's vital to see that the Father is not the only One angry at sin!  Sometimes we can imagine that the cross is an angry Father being placated by His Son who really isn't that bothered about sin.   "Jesus loves you, don't mind the Father, He's cranky!"  It's at this point that people suppose that true trinitarian theology is opposed to penal substitutionary atonement.  But no the Father and Son are not divided in their attitudes to sin.  The Son is Christ precisely because He loves righteousness and hates wickedness (Ps 45:7).  Rev 6:17 speaks of ‘their' wrath - Jesus is just as angry at sin as the Father. And He suffers in Himself the fullness of His own divine anger at sin.
  6. Chapters like Revelation 6 show us just how intense Christ's sufferings were. Here is the magnitude of the wrath which Jesus faced on the cross. The Lamb faced His own divine anger at sin - an anger that shakes the creation to its very foundations. When we read of Jesus sweating blood in the garden of Gethsemane and overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death, He is feeling in Himself the dread of all those who say to the mountains ‘Fall on us and hide us.' After studying Revelation 6 we should have a bigger picture not only of judgement day but also the cross.
  7. We are tempted to measure hell by our sins. Passages like this tell us to measure our sins by hell.  (Spurgeon used to say this often).  What do I mean? We tend to think of our sins as trifling matters and then we read about the terrible judgement of God and think it's over the top. That's backwards. We should read about the terrible judgement of God and then think - that's what my sin deserves. Don't measure hell by your sins, measure your sins by hell. And then rejoice that the Lamb intercepted His own wrath and hid you under His altar, the cross. (Rev 6:9)

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