God’s Joy and Restoration
Good morning! If you can grab a Bible, I invite you to turn to Zephaniah 3. Today is the third Sunday of Advent, where we have been looking back in remembrance at the first coming of Jesus while simultaneously looking forward to the second coming of Jesus.
In Advent, we look back at when God sent His Son to take on flesh and to live the perfect, sinless life that we were originally created to live, but had failed to live, and to die the death we deserved to die, satisfying the wrath of God against sin as our substitute, so that anyone who turns away from their sins and puts their faith in Jesus will be saved.
But in Advent, we also look forward to when Jesus will come again, when He will fully and finally restore all things, and when there will be no more sin and no more death, for those things will have passed away.
And what this means for us, and Advent reminds us of this, is that we are somewhere in the middle of this tension between Jesus having already come and Jesus coming again. And it is a tension. Even though we have been saved from the penalty of sin, the presence of sin is still here. We still struggle with the effects of sin in the world. There is still injustice and pain and sorrow and death. The devil is still alive and well in the world.
So, in one sense, we celebrate the glorious realities that we have already been given by God in Christ, but then, we are still longing and anticipating for when Christ will return to fully consummate them—to bring them to completion.
But while this certainly is a tension for us, what we need to realize is that we are in this privileged position, living on this side of the death and resurrection of Jesus, to be able to look in Scripture and see how all of it points to Jesus.
When the prophets in the Old Testament are prophesying that the Messiah would be born of a virgin in an obscure place called Bethlehem, and how this Messiah would bear our sin and suffer in our place, and that He would be raised from the dead, we can look back and be like, “That’s pointing to Jesus.” The prophets didn’t have the kind of privilege to look back. They could only look forward.
What was once a mystery to them has been revealed to each one of us living on this side of the cross. But that also doesn’t give us license to criticize them for not knowing what we know. We can’t be like, “How did you not know that Jesus was the Messiah? It’s so clear.” They didn’t know then what we know now.
And so, though we are in the middle of this tension between Jesus’ first and second comings, we are also in this privileged position to be able to look back at what Jesus has brought about in His first coming and what Jesus is still going to do when He comes again.
And in the first week of Advent, we looked at the Advent theme of hope, and how we often put our hopes in people or things that ultimately disappoint us, but how we have a God who is the source of hope and who supplies it in abundance.
And in the second week of Advent, we looked at the Advent theme of love, and how the culture’s view of love is romantic and cheap and easy, but how the unconditional love of God is more fulfilling and more real than that.
And this morning, we are going to be looking at the Advent theme of joy. And our text for this morning is taken from the book of Zephaniah. Now, you might have never read Zephaniah before today, you might not have even known that there was such a book of the Bible, but what God has to say to us through Zephaniah is full of joy.
And I feel like joy is something we need to be reminded of, this time of year, because with everyone getting in the Christmas spirit, we are almost expected to be of good cheer, but for many of us, this might be a struggle.
For example, I have seasonal depression, and what that means is that the winter months are long and dreary for me. I got a treadmill a couple of years ago, just so that I could exercise during the winter months, because I was dying inside. I would get to January and I would just not have anything left in the tank. I was to the point where I was struggling to find joy in my life.
And maybe this is where you are at, as well. Maybe you are in a season of life, and it doesn’t even need to be winter, but just a season of life, where you are struggling to find joy in your life.
Maybe you or a loved one is going through some health issues, and you aren’t sure if this is going to be your last Christmas with them. Maybe you are struggling to find meaning in your work. Maybe you have a family gathering coming up that you know is going to suck whatever joy you might have, out of you.
And if this is where you are at, this morning, what Zephaniah is going to say to us is that we can take great joy in the God who takes joy in us.
Now, if you know nothing about the prophet, Zephaniah, one of the things he mentions more consistently than any other prophet in the Old Testament is the day of the Lord. Throughout the Old Testament prophets, you see this warning of a coming judgment, where God will simultaneously bring justice on His enemies and will save His people. And it was called the “day of the Lord.”
The problem was that the people of Israel, God’s chosen people, had become just as corrupt as the nations around them. They were prideful. They had failed to trust in God. They had acted shamelessly. They had not repented of their sin.
And so, God says, in Zephaniah 3:8, “My decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation, all my burning anger; for in the fire of my jealousy all the earth shall be consumed.”
In other words, Israel is about to find themselves on the wrong end of the day of the Lord. Now, if that was where the prophecy ended, we wouldn’t expect to leave her any more joyful than when we entered. But by the grace and mercy of God that’s not where the prophecy ends.
So, if you have your Bibles opened to Zephaniah 3, we are going to read verses 14-20. “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! 15 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. 16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: ‘Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. 17 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. 18 I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach. 19 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. 20 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 good news for the people of Israel is that God will not ultimately consume them with the fire of His anger. They will not get what they deserve. God would be just in giving Israel what they deserve, but that’s what we read. Instead, Israel can rejoice and sing and shout, why? Because verse 15 says, “The Lord has taken away the judgments against you.” God is just, but He is also gracious.
And here is one of those instances where we can look back and see how this points to Jesus. Zephaniah has no idea how this prophecy is going to be fulfilled. He’s just excited to know that God is taking away the judgments against Israel.
Last week, we looked at Romans 5, and how all of humanity is described as weak, ungodly sinners, who are enemies of Almighty God. This is who we all are by nature. We do not obey the Law of God as we ought, and in fact, we openly rebel against God. And what this means is that we are rightfully deserving of eternal judgment for our crimes against a holy God. That’s the reality for all of us.
But then, we read, in Romans 5:8, that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
And we see that this is what Zephaniah is pointing toward, without even realizing it. He’s pointing to the future time when Jesus would take the judgment that we deserved, upon Himself, so that anyone who puts their trust and confidence in Jesus’ work on the cross don’t get what they deserve. There is no punishment reserved for them. It’s been removed. It’s been taken away from them. They are no longer a lawbreaker and a rebel against God. This is what you have received now in Christ, if you have put your faith in Him.
But Zephaniah is also pointing to another future time when Jesus would come again with all the armies of heaven to make war on the earth and to strike down the nations. And for those who are found in Christ, they will be spared on the day of the Lord when God will bring judgment upon the earth.
Romans 8:1 says that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” You’re free, Christian, both now and in the future, because of what Christ has done for you. So, sing loud and shout and rejoice, for the Lord has taken away the judgments against you. Isn’t that glorious?
We are in this privileged position where we can see how all of this unfolds in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. But lest, we begin to become prideful of our position, Zephaniah reminds us who is at the center of all of this.
Look at verse 15. Zephaniah says, “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. 16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: ‘Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. 17 The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save.’”
Turn over to John 1. All throughout Scripture, you read about our Creator God coming up with ways to dwell with His Creation. In the beginning, mankind enjoyed fellowship with God in the Garden of Eden. He was in their midst and they would walk together in the Garden. But mankind’s sin would dissolve the fellowship mankind had with God.
But God’s grace would overcome mankind’s sin, as God would command His people to build a Tabernacle, and later a Temple. where His presence would dwell. And this would suffice for a time. But then, in John 1:1, we read that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And if you jump down to John 1:14, it says that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
And what we’re seeing here is that the Temple and the Tabernacle were ways that God’s presence would dwell with His people. But John tells us that the Son of God would go so far as dwell bodily among us. Colossians 2:9 says that “in him,” that is, in Jesus, “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.”
In fact, in Matthew 1:23, we are told that “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which means, ‘God with us.’” Jesus is given the name that means that God is dwelling with His people.
And here again, the prophet Zephaniah is looking ahead to a future time when God would dwell in the midst of His people. And I don’t know whether or not he had this in mind, where God Himself would dwell bodily among them, but we can look back and celebrate that this is Jesus.
In the Person of Jesus Christ, God came into the world and He got dirty and He felt pain and He experienced sorrow. How encouraging is it to know that God isn’t just some ethereal Being in the sky who wound the clock and just let things work themselves out without any involvement from Himself, but that He actually entered into His Creation and made His dwelling among us?
That’s glorious, in and of itself. But then, God takes it a step further. As Jesus’ ministry was coming to an end, Jesus’ disciples were starting to get anxious that they wouldn’t have Jesus with them for much longer. And so, Jesus tells His disciples that when He goes back to the Father, He will send the Holy Spirit, who, Jesus says, in John 14:16, will “be with you forever.” And Jesus goes on to say, in verse 17, “You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
Think about that: God is not only making His dwelling among His people, He is making His dwelling in His people. We have the Spirit of Almighty God in us. We are the Temple in which God Himself has chosen to dwell. What a glorious reality that we experience now in Christ.
But Zephaniah is once again pointing to another future time. In Revelation 21, when Jesus has come again to make all things new, when there will be no more sin or sorrow or pain or death, God says, in verse 3, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
Zephaniah says, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save.” And we can look back and celebrate that this has been accomplished by Jesus when He first came, and we can look forward with longing and anticipation for when Jesus will come again and when we will forever be in God’s presence.
We can rejoice now that in that day we will always be with the Lord. There will never be a time when we will feel far from Him. There will never be seasonal depression. There will never be awkward and tense family dynamics. There will never be health issues. There will never be a time when we will struggle to find joy in our lives, because we will be in the presence of everlasting joy.
Look at the rest of verse 17. “He will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”
How many of us have ever thought about God singing over us? We think of Revelation 5, where the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders are singing the song, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
We think that we will be singing over God in His presence. In fact, when I was little, I used to think that, in heaven, we would be singing all the time. I thought that heaven was going to be this never-ending Gaither Gospel Hour. And I have nothing against the Gaither’s, but honestly, that frightened me a little bit as a kid, until I discovered that we will be doing more than that, so then I was alright.
But we sing praises to God. We sing songs that tell of His greatness and His majesty and His redeeming work. We will likely be singing this in heaven.
But here, we read that God actually sings, as well. He sings over His redeemed. He not only accepts us, restores us, and forgives us, He also takes joy in us. He rejoices in us. He exults over us with loud singing. This is a God who delights in His covenant people.
And before we start thinking that we are really something that other people need to be delighted in, look at Zephaniah 3:20. God says, “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.”
Who is making a renowned and praised people for Himself? That’s right, God is. There is no room for any boasting or pride here. What has been accomplished in us has been accomplished by God, not us. We are delighted in by God, because He is the One who is making us delightful. We aren’t naturally delightful.
And when we start to infringe on God’s glory like that, thinking that we deserve the title of renowned and praised, God tends to humble us, because do you know what we deserve? Judgment. But do you know what has been taken away from those who have put their faith in Christ? Judgment. We stand before God, holy and blameless, not because of us, but because of Jesus.
And so, we sing and we shout and we rejoice, because of the glorious realities that are true for us right now in Christ. Our judgment has been taken away. That’s a reality for us right now. We have no need to fear, because the Lord is in our midst, in fact, we have the Spirit of God in us. That’s a reality for us right now. We have a God who is mighty to save and who delights in us. That’s a reality for us right now.
Listen, God is not some cosmic killjoy who is out to ruin your fun. He’s not waiting for you to mess up so that He can be like, “I told you so. I knew you couldn’t do it.” He is not after begrudging submission. Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” That’s a God who is full of joy and who delights in His people. And we can take great joy in the God who takes joy in us.
Now, notice that I said joy and not happiness. Happiness is fleeting, but joy is lasting. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 6:10, the Apostle Paul says that you can experience joy in the midst of sorrow. What we’re after is not Christmas spirit, not the pursuit of happiness, but true, lasting joy.
It’s not simply putting on a brave face during the Christmas season, or whatever season of your life you are in, where you’re smiling on the outside but on the inside you’re dying. It’s acknowledging that we are strangers and exiles in this world, who are pleading for Christ to return to finish what He started, but that we also have much to rejoice over, in this space between.
Every Christmas, we are reminded that we are going to be disappointed. We’ll be frustrated with the selfishness of our children. We’ll have dinner with the family and we’ll open up presents and we’ll have a great time, maybe, and then everyone will go home. And we will inevitably be disappointed, because these are only shadows of something greater.
They were never intended to be the point of Christmas; they were always intended to point us to the true meaning of Christmas, and that is, that Jesus came and is coming again. And when Jesus comes again, and we are ushered into the presence of God, that day will be characterized, not merely by the celebration of people in their God, but by the celebration of God in His people.
We often sing the song, Joy to the World, around Christmas, but the truth is, Joy to the World isn’t a Christmas song; it’s a second Advent song. It’s pointing to the future time when there will be everlasting joy in the presence of God, because the King, Jesus Christ, has come. And in the space between, when everything is not how it will be when Christ returns, we can sing and shout and rejoice in what we have received now by God in Christ.
May we be a people who look back in celebration and who look forward in anticipation, but who find ourselves comforted right where we are in the space between, taking great joy in the God who takes joy in us. Let’s pray…