Zephaniah 2: 3; 3: 11-13 (Epiphany 4 – 2017)
“Seek the Lord with Humility”
Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD’s anger.
I would like to share a brief story about a young man who became king. It was a long time ago, long before Jesus was born. This young man was crowned when he was 8 years old. (I don’t know what you were doing when you were in third grade. I was glad to have C’s on my report card and not get picked last for a kick ball team at recess.) This young boy was the regal power of the southern kingdom of Judah. He did not know it at the time it, but the Lord’s great Temple in his city of Jerusalem was in need of great repair. More importantly the spiritual wellbeing of the people was in dire need of restoration. His father as king had ignored the Temple and the LORD. Instead, he led the people into ugly, idolatrous ways all throughout the kingdom.
The young boy grew. As he turned 16, spiritual advisors and faithful people had encouraged an extensive renovation of the Temple; carpenters, stone masons, volunteers, the whole thing. (At 16, I was navigating the awkward life of a sophomore boy away from home; how about you?) This young man was renovating Solomon’s Temple! During that renovation, the Book of the Law was found. We know this “Book” as the first five books of the Bible. When one of the workers found the Book he brought it to Hilkiah, the high priest, who brought it to the young king. The young man read the Words of the LORD. He realized how far away the people had been led astray. He tore his robes; the sign of repentance and humility. He remembered from his youth about the Lord’s anger burning against the people and how he was going to carry out destruction of the people and land. “I will remove from the city those who rejoice in their pride.”
His repentance was sincere. Through the high priest, and Huldah the prophetess, the young man inquired of the LORD what will happen to his people. The message from the LORD was that those who had not repented, but continued in the wicked ways, were still going to see destruction and death. The personal message to the young king was this: “Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken to against this place and its people … because you tore your robes and wept in my presence … your eyes will not see the disaster I am going to bring on this place” (2 Kings 22: 19-20).
The king grew spiritually through the reading of Word and gained wisdom from his advisors. While the Levites supervised the completion of the renovation, the young king, along with the priests, went out on a mission. At the age of 26 (I was just learning the ropes of marriage, parenting, and my 2nd year of ministry; how about you?) - he led a Godly surge throughout the land of Judah: tearing down, burning up, destroying, and even putting to death anything and anyone that had to do with his father’s idolatrous ways. When he returned he called for a Feast. This was not just any kind of feast: a Passover as in the Book of the Law. “The Passover had not been observed like this since the days of the prophet Samuel; and none of the kings of Israel had even celebrated such a Passover as did Josiah, with priests, the Levites and all Judah and Israel who were there with the people of Jerusalem.” (2 Chron. 35:18) 2 Kings mentions: “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did.” As Paul Harvey would say: “And now you know the rest of the story.” Yes! It was Josiah, the little boy king of Judah who was crowned at 8 years old.
I tell you that story to take us to Zephaniah. Zephaniah would have been one of the most audible prophets when Josiah was a boy. In other words, Josiah would have had Zephaniah as his first “pastor” and would have grown up with the sermon: “Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD’s anger.”
Zephaniah was sent by the LORD to tell the people that judgment was coming. It was inevitable. Other prophets, like Jeremiah and Habakkuk, would soon be saying the same thing. Some of this judgment would be carried out on Jerusalem in the time of Josiah. Peruse the first chapter and you will get the gist of this horrific Judgment. Yet, he was also led by the LORD to hold out the mercy of God in all its beauty. God was going to divide between those who would hold on to their idolatry and those who remained faithful. He would rescue those “who do no wrong, who speak no lies.” “They will eat and lie down and no one will make them afraid.” No one will make them afraid!
Josiah and all the faithful who listened to the prophets were spared. They sought the LORD in deep humility and repentance. The Lord’s Judgment did come. But the LORD had promised Josiah that he would be spared. Biblical historians believe that the immediate carrying out of this judgment was the surge of violent, horse-mounted Scythians from the north who trampled through Canaan (620 BC/ time of Josiah) running rampant through Judah, the city of Jerusalem, and eventually down to Egypt. Ultimately the LORD was pointing to the Babylonian captivity. For us the Day of the LORD is Judgment Day and the LORD means to turn our pride to humility as that Day draws closer and closer each day.
Pride comes easy to us all. Pride is the very nature of the devil who wanted God’s glory for himself. Pride is at the heart of all sins. Pride damages a healthy atmosphere in our secular lives. Pride damages a healthy spirit in congregational ministry. Pride keeps spouses and children from saying the things they need to say to one another: “I am sorry”; “I was wrong”; “I have sinned against God and you.” Pride can even keep us from forgiving those who do repent.
It seems to be a dying art sometimes. Is it fear of appearing vulnerable or weak? Is it the fear of being found out and “what will they think of me”? Our sinful nature does not trust that confession, humility, repentance over sin is the righteous and good thing to do. Pride ultimately keeps us from taking our sins to God in confession and prayer. Pride forgets that God already know all. Pride also forgets what David remembered in his confession: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise!” (Psalm 51:17).
Josiah had a mediator when he approached God in humility. He sent the high priest. We have a Mediator too. “We have one who speaks to the Father in our defense - Christ Jesus, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2: 1-2). Our Savior embraced humility. Our Savior lived humility. In his humility “he made himself nothing and became obedient to death, even death on cross” (Philippians 2: 6, 8). Jesus removes our fear of confession! It is because of Jesus that we don’t need to be afraid to humble ourselves before God and each other. He is the Righteousness that Zephaniah encourages us to seek. He is the Humble One that brings us true humility. He is the one who assures of God’s mercy. He is the one who answers confession of sins with the forgiveness he earned on Calvary.
Zephaniah was sent warn the wicked. His message gave courage to Josiah to confront the wickedness of his day, rather than ignore it. The Word strengthened the repentant hearts of those who joined Josiah in the fight against those things of his day which harmed his people spiritually. LORD, give us courage in our humility as we see that same wickedness rearing its ugly head in our day. LORD, give us wisdom to seek Righteous ways to lift up the humble and suppress the plans of the wicked! LORD, give us time and place speak and fight against the wicked, idolatrous ways of our times; in love for the lost, and in defense of the faithful, and in preparation for the Day of the Lord!
Toward the close of Zephaniah’s prophecy we see that mercy of God: “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” (3: 17) It is also because of the forgiveness in Christ, that we are driven to be humbly gracious with one another. In Christ we are liberated to take our sins to each other. We learn to know that our fellow believers will respond the way he has responded to us. What blessing it is when we humble ourselves, not only before our loving God, but before each other in Christ, and are forgiven!
In Christ, seek the Lord with humility. In Christ, say what needs to be said, even if it humbles you before others. In Christ, you will find a mercifully, forgiving God and safety in the Day of his Return! Amen.