An Unexpected Eternity

Why Have Hope?  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Have you ever imagined what eternity will be like? Zephaniah 3:9-20 teaches us that it's different than what we'd naturally expect.

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Have you ever imagined what eternity will be like? Let’s begin with the length of eternity. Picture a beach where each pebble of sand represents 100 years. Now imagine that beach having no end.
How does that image make you feel? Excited? Uneasy?
Ecclesiastes indicates that there is a watermark of eternity imprinted upon each of our hearts. Ecclesiastes 3:11
Ecclesiastes 3:11 (ESV)
He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
Did you catch that last part? God has put eternity into each persons heart, but on our own, we cannot figure out what eternity will be like. But this reality hasn’t stopped us from trying.
John Lennon imagined erasing eternity in his famous song, “Imagine”,
“Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. No hell below us. Above us, only sky. Imagine all the people. Livin’ for today.”
He got one thing right in this song. It is easy to imagine life without eternity. Many people are living their lives on earth as if there is no eternal consequence. But it is not leading to the result of unity and peace that John predicted. People are hopeless and unhappy. Life with no eternity is life without purpose. The bad guys get away with it. The poor are never restored. The pleasures of this life never satisfied.
But why would he, or anyone, want to imagine existence with no eternity? One of the reasons, is because we are woefully misguided on what eternity will be like.
I have heard eternity described as a continual worship session. I like singing, but man, that’s a long Sunday service.
I have seen eternity painted as naked babies sitting on clouds. Don’t get me wrong, I like relaxing, but at some point I want to be active.
What if eternity isn’t what we expect? What if the reality of eternity is beyond anything our best songwriters could imagine?
We need God’s help to uncover the fullness of hope that awaits us, who belong to him. In tonight’s passage, we will uncover four unexpected realities about eternity.

1. God will restore unity and purpose.

9 For I will then restore
pure speech to the peoples
so that all of them may call
on the name of the Lord
and serve him with a single purpose.
10 From beyond the rivers of Cush
my supplicants, my dispersed people,
will bring an offering to me.
The title of this sermon series is “why have hope”? Until this point in the book of Zephaniah, we find little reason for the people to have hope. They felt like God didn’t care. They were using their words to pray to false God’s and share false ideas. They were broken and divided.
As a result of their rebellion, God made it clear that they were going to be disciplined by being taken into exile. But in the vision of them returning, there seems to be a great reversal.
The people are using their words to build up. They are all praying to the one true God. They are unified in their mission and service to one leader- God himself. They have purpose and unity.
How did this happen?
I believe the exile changed them. Their challenges made them stronger. Their pain purified their purpose.
Biblically, we cannot give you hope for any desire in this life. We cannot promise that your life will be easy. We cannot promise that America will be a good place to live 50 years from now, or 5 years from now. We cannot promise that you will be rich and famous.
But if you belong to God, we can promise that you will never be alone. We can promise you that you will find your purpose. And you will enjoy these blessings forever.
Now you may think, how does that help me pass high school? How does that help me enter into a healthy marriage?
If you know that your eternity is secure and satisfying, you will be free to have hope no matter what happens during your brief life knowing that something better is coming.
When your current friend group is plagued with drama and division, you can dream about the day when you will be fully supported by those around you.
When you are confused about what to do with your life, you can imagine the joy you will feel when all you have to worry about is enjoying God.
You will forever belong to a community that is unified and filled with meaning.
And you will discover that God doesn’t just care about the group, he cares about the individual.

2. God will replace shame with honor.

There are two types of shameless people in the world. Those who are shameless because their conscience has become callous. Simply put, they are shameless because they don’t care. They have traded their dignity and honor for the cheap value of fleeting pleasures.
The second group of shameless people, have no shame because they know they are forgiven. They are confident, not because they have no regrets, but because their regrets have been redeemed.
Through his love, God will turn the first group into the second.
11 On that day you will not be put to shame
because of everything you have done
in rebelling against me.
In the beginning of the book they had lost all dignity. Now, God was going to restore their honor by forgiving them. He can do the same for you.
If you believe the gospel, you can transfer from the first shameless group to the second shameless group. Not because you haven’t rebelled against God, but because God has redeemed you!
For then I will remove
from among you your jubilant, arrogant people,
and you will never again be haughty
on my holy mountain.
12 I will leave
a meek and humble people among you,
and they will take refuge in the name of the Lord.
When the Babylonians conquered people groups and took captives, they would capture the young, rich, and able. But they would leave the poor behind. When God establishes the new reality of eternal life, he is going to remove the prideful and keep the humble.
What is the difference between those who will spend eternity enjoying God and those who will be tormented by separation? It is not that one group is good and the other group is bad. This passage makes clear, God is not going to shame his people, despite their rebellion. We all have rebellious tendencies. So what is the difference?
Humble trust in God.
One group pridefully believes that they don’t need God, so God will give them up to their false belief.
The other group, despite their rebellious tendencies, humbly see’s their need for God. And as a result, they are free to remain with and enjoy him forever.
We all belong to the rebels, but you have a choice of pridefully living for yourself or humbly trusting in God.
Will you shamelessly live in sin or live free from the shame of your regrets?

3. God will deliver us from fear.

Do you think you’ve lived a single day without fear? A single hour?
How often is our mind plagued with thoughts like? “Will I always be this disappointed? How can I know that the future will be better? I hope these people actually like me? Will feel this way forever?”
One day, all of those fears will be silent. They will have no credibility. Fear will have no power over us.
13 The remnant of Israel will no longer
do wrong or tell lies;
a deceitful tongue will not be found
in their mouths.
They will pasture and lie down,
with nothing to make them afraid.
Imagine that you’re a sheep being guided around by a good shepherd. Even though your shepherd is good, you still have wolves, water, and cliffs to worry about. But what if the shepherd is able to remove all the wolves, calm all of the waters, and replace briers with soft grassy beds? You would have nothing left to fear.
The reason we live so much of life afraid is because we try to shepherd ourselves. We think we have the speed to outrun wolves, but we get eaten by our issues. We think we know the way to green pastures, but we get tangled in the thorns of our own selfishness. One day, we will live forever in peace because we will be guided forever, by the perfect leader, God himself.
We will be totally absent from fear. And only one response will be fitting...
14 Sing for joy, Daughter Zion;
shout loudly, Israel!
Be glad and celebrate with all your heart,
Daughter Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has removed your punishment;
he has turned back your enemy.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is among you;
you need no longer fear harm.
16 On that day it will be said to Jerusalem:
“Do not fear;
Zion, do not let your hands grow weak.
When have you celebrated with all your heart? What makes you feel free enough to dance? I have been to enough weddings to know that two ingredients are necessary for people to feel free enough to dance: darkness and a crowd.
If people feel like their being watched, they’ll be too insecure. But if the song is fire, and the setting is right, they will dance.
During eternity, you will feel totally free, not because you are cloaked in darkness, but because you are wrapped in love. You will dance to the playlist of God’s salvation song.
17 The Lord your God is among you,
a warrior who saves.
He will rejoice over you with gladness.
He will quiet you in his love.
He will delight in you with singing.”
In ancient Israel, warriors who won in battle would return to the city with singing and dancing. They would have a victory party.
In this verse, God describes himself as the singer! And what victory is he rejoicing in? The fact that he won you. He will delight in you!
“If God sings, shall not we sing? He did not sing when he made the world. No; he looked upon it, and simply said that it was good. The angels sang, the sons of God shouted for joy: creation was very wonderful to them, but it was not much to God, who could have made thousands of worlds by his mere will. Creation could not make him sing… When all was done, and the Lord saw what became of it in the salvation of his redeemed, then he rejoiced.” (Spurgeon)
Do you believe this truth?
My parents wrote songs for me and each of my siblings to sing over us as we fell asleep each night. They understood that you become what you believe. Here was the song they sang over me, “Zachary, Zachary, you shall be a man of faith. Have faith in God, he’s on his throne. Have faith in God, he watches o’re his own. He cannot fail. He must prevail. So have faith in God, have faith in God.” During days when doubts arise in my heart, I meditate on the lyrics I feel asleep to as a child.
What do you think God feels about you? Disappointed? Angry? Indifferent? Those false ideas will not cause you to love him. That will cause you to be afraid or apathetic towards him.
What if you were bold enough to believe that God delights in you? That God loves you? That God is glad to call you his child? How happy? He sings about you. He sings over you.
Lastly, eternity will exceed our expectations when...

4. God will reverse all brokenness.

18 I will gather those who have been driven
from the appointed festivals;
they will be a tribute from you
and a reproach on her.
19 Yes, at that time
I will deal with all who oppress you.
Throughout the book of Zephaniah, the people of Judah wandered around looking for pleasure in the false God’s of foreign countries. In their wandering, they became lost. They were left out of celebrations designed to help them enjoy God. They were disciplined by God when he allowed their enemies to take them into exile.
But God wrote an unexpected ending. In the end, any who wronged Israel would be dealt with. His people would be invited back to their favorite celebrations.
When we sin, we are like the people of Judah wandering into foreign lands thinking that their false God’s will meet our needs. In the process of seeking freedom, we become enslaved by the very pleasures that promised life.
You thought the click would make you happy, now pornography has you feeling condemned.
You thought the gossip would make you look good, now you realized that it destroyed your friend group.
When we enter into eternal life with God, all of our temptations will be gone. You will no longer be haunted by the temptations that follow you every day.
I will save the lame and gather the outcasts;
I will make those who were disgraced
throughout the earth
receive praise and fame.
20 At that time I will bring you back,
yes, at the time I will gather you.
I will give you fame and praise
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes before your eyes.
There will be a great reversal. The persecuted will be praised. The spiritually poor will be rich. The outcasts will be the center of attention. Those who feel dirty will be clean.
Author C.S. Lewis knew of this coming reality. He once wrote, “remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. There are no ordinary people.”
If you belong to God, all of the brokenness you’ve ever experienced will be turned into beauty.
After tonight’s message, you may be thinking… “how is community, dignity, happiness, and justice unexpected? I have heard that eternity will be like this since I was a child.” Then I must ask you, “why are you living as one without hope? As long as you live for this world and ignore the next, you do not expect these things. You may be able to pass a theoretical test on eternity. But practically, you think these promises are too good to be true.
And they would be too good to be true, if it were not for one simple fact…
The Lord has spoken.
Four words that conclude this book.
God himself, the only one who is willing and able to provide this future for you, is the one who promised it. That leaves us with two options: either we disbelieve and claim that God is a lier or rebel against all of our presuppositions and boldly believe that eternity will be better than what we expect.
Imagine that there is a heaven. It is not easy to do. But it is possible. It is possible because God sent his son from heaven to live a sinless life, die as our justice satisfying substitute, and rose victorious over sin and death itself.
God promised eternal life to all who are bold enough to expect the unexpected, through faith in Jesus.
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