God Sings Over You (Zephaniah)

Before I get started this morning, I want us to take a 5-minute break to give everyone enough time to find the book of Zephaniah in your Bibles. Seriously, though, I’m going to guess that most of you are not all that familiar with Zephaniah. It’s not a book that Christians usually read when they’re doing their morning devotionals.

One of the reasons that I think Zephaniah is ignored is because most of its three chapters are spent talking about God’s judgment against sinners. And, let’s be honest, we just don’t enjoy reading that kind of stuff. In fact, I’ve often heard people dismiss God’s judgment by saying, “I believe that God is a God of love, and I just don’t believe that God would ever judge anyone, except for maybe the very worst of the worst sinners.”

Or, others will say, “I have trouble believing in the Old Testament God of judgment. I rather focus on the God of the New Testament as manifested in Jesus Christ, because he would never condemn anyone.” Which is an interesting thing to say because Jesus said more about hell than anyone else in the Bible.

The entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, reveals a God who will bring judgment against sinners, but who shows mercy to those who repent of their sins and commit their lives to God in faithful obedience.

As Paul wrote in Romans 2, “Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:4-5).

So, the message of a coming Day of Judgment is certainly a biblical topic, but Zephaniah just goes on and on for almost three chapters, describing in great detail what that coming judgment was going to look like for Israel and all the surrounding nations. In chapter 1, he says,

“That terrible day of the Lord is near.
Swiftly it comes—
a day of bitter tears,
a day when even strong men will cry out.
It will be a day when the Lord’s anger is poured out—
a day of terrible distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and desolation,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness.” (Zephaniah 1:14-16, NLT)

I think it’s easy to see why Zephaniah isn’t usually found in everybody’s list of favorite Bible verses. But after almost three chapters of talking about God’s judgment, Zephaniah changes his tone at the end, and he closes out his message by talking about God’s love. And it’s those few verses that I want to focus on this morning.

Now, as I said, there are many people who will question the reality of God’s judgment, but I don’t think there are many Christians who would deny that. We all know that the Day of the Lord is coming, a day when Jesus will return and we will all have to give an account of ourselves to God. We all believe that.

But, while we believe in a coming judgment, I suspect there are many of us here this morning who question the love of God. Now you would probably insist that you are not one of those people, that you truly believe in God’s love. You can even quote John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…” Surely, everyone believes in the love of God. At the very least, all Christians believe in God’s love. But I’d have to disagree. And again, I suspect that there are some of us here this morning who question the love of God.

I’ll explain what I mean by that as we take a look at Zephaniah chapter 3. But before we do that, let’s take an overview of the entire book of Zephaniah. I’ve already warned you, there’s a lot of judgment in this book. But, after that, I’ll be back to talk about the love of God, and why it is that so many of you doubt it.

Watch VIDEO (Zephaniah)

In Zephaniah 3, I want to begin reading in verse 14, but our focus this morning is going to be on verse 17.

“Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
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.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“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.” (Zephaniah 3:14-17)

This morning, I want you to think about something that I believe that has the ability to change your life forever. And that may sound like a little bit of hype, but I don’t think that it is. Let me ask you this: “What would your life look like, what would your relationship with others look like, how would your view of yourself change, if you were to be thoroughly convinced not merely that God loves you but that God takes great delight in you?”

Would that not be life-changing? And I’m not just talking about believing in your head that God loves you, but feeling in the depths of your soul the affection and the delight that God has for you as a son or a daughter.

You may wonder how that would change your life. Think about how much time and energy we spend trying to get other people to like us, to think highly of us, to respect us. Or the energy we spend trying to hide from others the real you, the real me, lest they see us and not want anything to do with us. And all the anxiety that we feel in that process.

Think about how carefully we craft our public image, trying to make sure that others see only what we want them to see. We create this façade because we don’t want to feel the embarrassment of being known and exposed. Think about the time and the energy we devote to covering up the embarrassment of our mistakes, the shame, the disappointment.

Think of all the time and the money and the resources we spend creating a life that we think will give us value and meaning. And the reason we do all of these things is because we have a need to feel that we’re loved, a need to feel like we’re someone important, someone who matters. And we spend all this time and energy trying to find someone in this world who can give us the affirmation we need.

But, if we could truly come to know what God’s Word teaches us, that we don’t have to look anywhere else around us for that love and affirmation because God has already given it to us. Think about what it would mean to be able to let go of all those habits that consume so much of our time and energy, and cause us such anxiety. All of that can change once you come to know and to feel and to experience the affection that God has for you as his child.

But, to do that, you first need to understand something about God. You don’t start where most people start. Most people start by taking a look at themselves and focusing on self-improvement. In fact, if you were to go to a counselor and voice your concerns, that counselor would probably tell you that you need to focus on you. If you want to feel better, first you need to lose some weight, buy some new clothes, improve your relationship skills, get some new friends, but above all else, start believing in yourself. But I’m here to tell you this morning that that just doesn’t work. In fact, that only adds to the façade.

The only way we will ever begin to see improvement is by understanding something about God. But first, we’re going to have to get past a roadblock. Because there is a discrepancy in the lives of many Christian men and women. The boldest declaration that we make about God publicly, many of us privately doubt. And it has to do with God’s love.

We all know that God is love, that God’s love is foundational to everything in this universe. It’s why God created us and blessed us. It’s why Jesus went to the cross, it’s why God prepared a place for us to live eternally. All of it is explained by the fact that God is love. And as I said earlier, all of us can quote John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…” And we will tell people, “Isn’t that good news? God loves everyone!”

But even as we publicly declare God’s love for others, we privately doubt his love when it comes to our own personal relationship with God. It’s not that we deny God’s love. We want it to be true and we will tell others that it’s true for them, but when it comes to us, we’re not so sure about that. God loves the world, yes. And God loves everyone, yes. But sometimes I question whether God loves me, because I sometimes feel very unlovable.

If I were to ask you to write down one word to describe what you think God says when he thinks about you, what would you write down? What’s the one word that God says when he looks down and sees you? Some of you might say, “Yuk!”. When God looks at me, he’s disgusted, he repulsed, or at the very least, he’s disappointed. What if I could tell you, by the authority of God’s word, that if you are a child of God, God looks at you, he takes great delight in you and when he sees you, he breaks out singing!

You may say, “Alan, you don’t know me.” And the truth is, I don’t know many of you all that well. You’re thinking, “You see the outside, the external, the public persona. You don’t see my heart, you don’t see all those things that I struggle with. You’ve never been around me when I’ve failed, asked forgiveness, and then failed again ten seconds later. You don’t know how poor of a wife or husband I’ve been. You’ve never seen me blow it with my kids, losing my temper.

But here’s the thing. I don’t have to know you that well. I just need to know God. Because God does know us, and he tells us, that in spite of what he sees, he takes delight in us and he sings over us. Now that doesn’t mean that God isn’t grieved by our sins. He is. If God were indifferent toward our failures and our sin, it would mean that he doesn’t love us, he doesn’t care. It’s because he cares that he’s grieved.

But, when God sees the sin in our lives, he doesn’t cast us aside and tell us to go get cleaned up and come back later and then he’ll tolerate us for a little while, and show us a little affection. No, he takes great delight in us.

And perhaps one of the reasons that we don’t enjoy being in the presence of God as much as we ought to is because we don’t think God enjoys being in our presence. I mean, think about it. Do you take great delight and joy in being around someone who thinks you’re a jerk? No! In fact, if there’s someone who doesn’t think very highly of you, you try away from them as much as you can. You don’t take pleasure in being around someone who doesn’t take pleasure in being around you.

So, think about what that does for us if we think God doesn’t enjoy being around us. If we think God is disappointed in us, if we think God is frustrated with us, it makes us want to stay away from God.

The problem is, we think we have to be a delight to ourselves before we can be a delight to God. And the truth is, most of us aren’t a delight to ourselves. Because we know what we’re really like. We know the hypocrisy in our lives. We know the sin that no one else can see. We know how much of a struggle it is to have a spiritual focus in this world.

And so, all my life, I’ve always believed that God is love, and maybe I’ve even accepted the fact that God loves me, but there are times when I’ve had trouble believing that God likes me. I think he tolerates me. I think he puts up with me. But I have a hard time believing that God actually enjoys being around me.

But one of the greatest benefits of being a child of God is having a relationship with God where we can enjoy being with him and he enjoys being with us.

So, let’s look together at Zephaniah 3:17. And I pray that God will do more than just persuade you intellectually that these things are true. I pray that God will help you to be able to feel these truths in your heart. Because that’s something I can’t do. I can help explain these truths, but if your life is going to be changed by the reality of this truth, that’s something that God’s Spirit is going to have to do, and I pray that he will.

“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.” (Zephaniah 3:17)

I want you to notice three things that this verse tells us about God. We’re going to look briefly at the first two and then focus on the third one.

1. God’s Presence — “The Lord your God is in your midst”

I could preach a whole lesson on this beautiful thought. It’s really a summary of the story of the Bible, how God wants to be with us and he wants us to be with him. My favorite description of heaven is found in Revelation 21:3, “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.”

More than any other blessing we have received from God, we should rejoice that “The Lord your God is in your midst.”

2. God’s Power – “A mighty one who will save”

What good would it do to have God present with us if he was weak, if he wasn’t able to do anything for us? But our God is powerful, he has the ability to deal with any problem we may face.

3. God’s Passion –” he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing”

As I said, I think most Christians go through life convinced that God is upset with us, or disappointed in us. But Zephaniah tells us, contrary to what you may think, God is always in your midst, he is always working on your behalf, and God is always singing over you with great joy and delight.

Notice the three phrases here.

(1) “He will rejoice over you with gladness”

Listen to the way a couple of other translations translate this: “He will take great delight in you” (NIV), “he will take joyful delight in you” (ISV).

It’s interesting that back in verse 14, we’re told to rejoice over the fact that God is with us. And now, here in verse 17, it’s God who is rejoicing because he gets to be with us. And the same word is used in both verses. We’re rejoicing in God, God is rejoicing in us.

That word, “rejoicing” tells us what is going on inside the heart of God. What in the world could possibly create that kind of emotion in the heart of the Creator? Is he looking at the stars he created, saying, “Look what a great job I did!? Or the expanse of the oceans, or the grandeur of the mountains, or all the variety of animals he created?

No, that’s not what gives God such great joy. God rejoices with great joy over broken, weak struggling men and women like you and me who have been redeemed by blood of Jesus Christ. That’s what causes God’s heart to sing. That’s what he rejoices over.

We have such a hard time getting our minds around this. But there are so many images in the Old Testament that make it clear. Listen to Isaiah 62:

“You shall be called My Delight…
for the Lord delights in you…
As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Isaiah 62:4-5)

As a preacher, I’ve had the privilege of presiding at a number of wedding ceremonies, and I’ve watched many times as the bridegroom looks at his bride as she walks down the aisle. There are few things in life that are filled with such joy. And God says, “That’s how I feel about you all the time.”

Those of you who are married know that there’s something about honeymoon love, honeymoon affections, when you first get married and you want that feeling to last forever. But then, you discover that your mate has some quirky habits, they don’t pick their clothes up, and body shape changes over time. And the love may deepen but that honeymoon intensity begins to fade. But not with God. For God, the honeymoon never ends. That love, that affection, that excitement that he feels when he looks at you is always there. That’s the kind of love that God has for you and me!

So, first, God will rejoice over you with gladness. Then, second,

(2) He will quiet you by his love.

There’s a little bit of ambiguity in the Hebrew language here. Some translations say that God will become quiet. And if that’s true, it’s almost as if God is rendered speechless by his people because of his love. It’s like mother looking at that newborn baby in her arms. To say anything would ruin the moment. That’s possible.

Or this phrase could be translated, “he quiets you by his love.” And, if so, then I think the point is that God does something for some of you are saying, “This is baloney. It’s not true. That the God of the universe could actually feel that way about me.” And God says, “Shh! Be quiet.” His love silences all of our arguments, our objections. He pacifies us, he quiets us in his love.

And then, we come to third thing, which is the most remarkable one of all. The one that absolutely boggles the mind. Not only does God rejoice over us with gladness, and not only does he quiet us with his love.

(3) He will exult over you with loud singing”

Not just singing. With LOUD singing. Have you ever thought about why we sing in worship? Why don’t we just put words up on a screen and recite them together. Why sing? Because there’s something about singing that expresses our thoughts, our feelings, our emotions, is away that merely talking can’t accomplish. We sing in order to give vent to that emotional energy deep down inside.

And Zephaniah says that when God looks down at you, he starts singing at the top of his lungs. Some of you parents put their children to bed at night singing over them. Many of us were put to bed at night by our parents as they sang over us. And to think that the God of the universe sings over us all the time! God looks at you and me and he sings LOUDLY in joy and in great delight.

And even as I read this verse, there are some of you who have this raging pushback in your heads saying, “Maybe that’s true of others, but not me. If you only knew this, you wouldn’t be saying this. If you knew me the way I know me.” And, as I said earlier, I don’t, but God does. We somehow think God’s knowledge of us keeps him from taking delight in us.

But God knows every part of me, all my failures, all my fears, all the stupid things I do. And then God says, “I know you, I know how weak you are, but it doesn’t change the fact that I dearly love you.”

I know there are some people who have trouble accepting the fact that God loves them this much. Because they’ve had people tell them they love them, maybe even a spouse who walked out, maybe a parent, a child, a friend, a co-worker. What makes God’s love any different?

Paul tells us in Romans 5:8 that, “God shows his love – God shows his love — for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” In I John 3:16, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us.”

Nothing could prove God’s love more. So, if you find yourself saying, “I’d like to believe what Zephaniah said and it would change my life if I could only be sure…”, you need to see that your heavenly Father had a love so intense that he would give up everything for you.

So, this morning, get rid of all those doubts that you have about whether God really loves you, and listen to Zephaniah:

“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.” (Zephaniah 3:17)

And once we truly believe that our God truly loves us that much and that he takes such great delight in us, we can stop looking for that affirmation in the world around us. I promise, it will change your life when you truly believe, in your soul, that God sings over you with great joy.

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