Judgment and Joy
Zephaniah 3:15-17 (ESV)
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.”
Do you long for a world without evil and suffering? What must God do in order for that day to become reality?
I look around me and I mourn because of all of the sin, suffering, and evil that I see. I long for a world that is free of sadness and is pure joy instead. But in order for that to happen, evil has to be dealt with once and for all. You see, judgment and joy go together. We can’t have true, lasting joy until true, lasting judgment has occurred. God has to put evildoers away, lock them up, and throw away the key. Otherwise, our joy will always be threatened with the prospect of the return of evil.
The prophet Zephaniah knew this. He prophesied to the southern nation of Judah when evil and idolatry were rampant. Altars to Baal, Asherah poles (carved wooden idols), and molten images of pagan gods should have no place in a nation who knew the One True God. But idols, false prophets, and pagan priests were widespread during the reigns of evil kings Manasseh and Amon. But when Josiah became king around 640 B.C., he instituted spiritual reforms, destroyed pagan altars, and started a revival. It was during King Josiah’s reign that Zephaniah prophesied (around 630 B.C.). Unfortunately, Josiah was Judah’s last godly king. Even though he tried to eradicate idolatry and restore his nation to the Lord, he didn’t have the power to change human hearts bent on evil.
Zephaniah wrote to warn Judah to repent because judgment was near. He knew God must deal with sin. But he didn’t just prophecy against Judah. He warned that God would judge not only Judah but also Judah’s enemies. He also wrote that the “great day of the LORD is near” (1:14) in which he will judge all of mankind: “I will bring distress on mankind, so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the LORD; their blood shall be poured out like dust and their flesh like dung” (1:17).
Zephaniah’s main theme is that the “day of the Lord” is coming soon. Part of his prophecy was fulfilled when Judah fell to Babylon and when the surrounding nations, Israel’s enemies, were destroyed. But his prophecy will ultimately be fulfilled when Jesus returns to judge the entire world.
But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Zephaniah also predicted that Jerusalem would be restored. Again, this has a partial historical fulfillment when the exiles returned to Judah and began to rebuild. But we are awaiting its ultimate fulfillment when Jesus returns. “The day of Lord” will be a day of wrath and judgment for those who have rejected God. But it will be a day of salvation, blessing, and joy for those who have placed their trust in Him. This is our Scarlet Thread of redemption.
God must deal with sin. He is holy. Evil has to be eradicated once and for all. God’s enemies have to be cleared away in order for His people to experience joy. But it is a sobering thought that we also deserve to be punished. We have also sinned against God. We have been God’s enemy, too.
In today’s verses we read this hopeful message: “The LORD has taken away the judgments against you.” The Messiah, Jesus Christ, took the punishment that we deserved so that those of us who were once His enemies could be reconciled to Him and our relationship with Him restored (Romans 5:10). On judgment day, He will clear away our enemies and evil will never again be something that we have to fear. With evil gone, all we will have left to experience is pure joy, gladness, and peace in Him.
Friends, the “day of the Lord” is both a day of judgment and a day of joy. It is a day of suffering and a day of salvation. It just depends whose side you are on. Have you repented of your sin and returned to Him or have you persisted in your sin and rejected Him? Have you made the Lord your king or your enemy?
Lord, I know that You are holy and have every right to punish sin and evil. I confess that I have sinned against You but I trust that in Jesus Christ, you have taken away the judgment that I deserved. You are my God, mighty to save, and I know that in You, I no longer have to fear judgment or evil. Thank You for being the God of my salvation. You are my joy and my hope and I long for Your return. Amen.
~ Pastor Nat Crawford
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