Zephaniah is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Hebrew Bible: he gets no respect. He is the minor prophet whose little three-chapter book is sandwiched between Habakkuk and Haggai – if anyone can find them.
Have you ever heard a sermon on a passage from Zephaniah? Probably not. My computer contains an archive of almost every sermon I have written in the past 15 years – and Zephaniah is quoted only once. None
of his prophecy was ever the subject of any of my sermons.
So we are breaking new ground today: a series of sermons – a very short series – on Zephaniah’s prophecy. And we begin today with chapter one, verse one through chapter two, verse 3. Just listen – and hear the Word of God:
[Read Zephaniah 1:1-2:3]
Some harsh words for the people of Judah and Jerusalem. Ironically, this message came through Zephaniah during the reign of King Josiah – one of the most faithful of the kings of Judah. II Kings 22:2 tells us, “He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and walked in all the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.”
Josiah became king at the age of eight. In 622 BC – when he was 26 – he ordered some much-needed repairs to the Temple in Jerusalem. At some point during the work, the High Priest Hilkiah found what he called “the Book of the Law.” It may have been the book of Deuteronomy, or the entire Torah, or other sacred writings – but what we do know is that it moved Josiah to tear his robes in grief. He realized that he and his people had not been obeying God’s law, and that God must be furious with them.
Josiah called all the leaders of Judah to the Temple, where he read the Book of the Covenant to them and renewed the covenant with God. He had the Temple officials do a thorough housecleaning – removing all traces of pagan worship from the Temple. Then he got rid of the pagan priests and all their sacred places in Judah. Finally, he ordered the people of Judah to celebrate the Passover for the first time in about four hundred years.
In spite of the great revival that came about during Josiah’s reign – along comes Zephaniah, warning of destruction to come upon the kingdom and its capital city of Jerusalem. From chapter one, verse two:
“’I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth,’ declares the LORD.” And from chapter 1, verse 15: “That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness …”
Why would God send such a terrifying message just as Judah is starting a golden age of faithfulness? II Kings 23:26 tells us, “Nevertheless, the LORD did not turn away from the heat of His fierce anger …”
Because God knew the revival would not last. Judah’s spiritual state relied too heavily on a single human being – the king. Good kings kept the people faithful. Evil kings led them astray. And when Josiah was mortally wounded in a battle with the Egyptian pharaoh Neco, the people of Judah anointed Josiah’s son Jeho-ahaz as king. And II Kings 23 tells us, “… he did evil in the eyes of the LORD.”
After all of Josiah’s work to restore the worship of the one true and living God throughout his kingdom – things went back to their usual idolatrous state just twelve years later. The revival didn’t last. It couldn’t – because it depended upon one person, and that person could not be depended upon.
Nevertheless, God had a plan for revival – a perfect plan for a perfect revival. This one also depended upon one person – a king – but that King is the only One who can be depended upon. That King also serves as a priest. We read about Him in Hebrews 7:23-28:
[Read Hebrews 7:23-28]
Of course, that priest and king is Jesus. In Jesus, God made revival permanent. We no longer need the complex sacrificial system from the Book of the Law – repeated over and over to keep us sinless. In Jesus, we are truly revived – because we are saved completely by His once-and-for-all-time sacrifice on the cross. God has given to Jesus a people – the Church – and nothing and no one can take us from Him.
That’s why we no longer need godly leaders to keep us godly. Ideally, we should have godly leaders – but their faithfulness or lack of faithfulness does not set the tone for all of us, at least here in America. There certainly are some advantages to the separation of Church and State – especially should we get utterly godless leaders someday. We remain free to love and to serve our Lord Jesus Christ.
That said, we have experienced major periods of revival in the history of Church and in American history – including the Reformation, the three (or four) Great Awakenings, the Jesus Movement, and the Charismatic Movement. Each was marked by increased interest in God’s Word and in personal devotion to Jesus Christ. But with each succeeding generation after those revivals, the fire died down.
Why does that happen? Some parents don’t pass along the message to the kids. Some kids (maybe all of them) tend to think that nothing their parents do or believe is worth making their own. And as a message is passed along, it loses its initial power.
So it is certainly appropriate to pray that God will send another revival now.
But that pattern will continue until Jesus returns: revivals that come and go like the tides. At that time, the greatest and last revival will take place. The dead will be raised – didn’t I say that would be the greatest revive-all? And as Paul wrote to the Philippian Christians:
“at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
What a revival that will be, when Jesus gathers His people together to be in His presence forever. That will be the revival that lasts.