ZEPHANIAH 3:14-20 - How Great Our Joy!

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the Incarnation of Christ guarantees your eternal joy

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Christmas is a hard holiday to spend alone. It’s a holiday that lends itself to being together—with family, friends, loved ones, spouses, children—but for a lot of people this Christmas will be marked more by who isn’t there than who is there. And for some, that separation is no fault of their own; whether something as mundane as having to a work shift over Christmas Day, to kids whose Dad is overseas on military deployment, to a child or spouse who has passed away, there will be an empty seat at Christmas dinner and an empty spot around the tree on Christmas morning. And that’s a hard thing. Some of the joy of the day will be lost because of that empty space.
Some folks will be separated from loved ones this Christmas through circumstances that are no fault of their own. And there are others who are isolated and alone this Christmas because they have isolated themselves through the consequences of their own behavior or attitudes. Maybe they’ve burned their bridges with their family, maybe their family wants them to be there but they are in the grip of some bitterness or envy or anger that keeps them away. Maybe they have driven themselves so far into self-destructive sin that nobody wants them to show up. Or perhaps someone else’s sin has driven you away from them; their violence or hatred or dissension means that you are not welcome there, and you have no place to go at Christmas.
All of this is another way of saying that it is hard to celebrate Christmas here in this fallen, sinful world. The consequences of sin that brought death into the world overlays our Christmas celebrations with a layer of grief and loss; the consequences of sin that isolate us from one another and from God makes it hard to enter into the “tidings of comfort and joy” that this season is supposed to bring us.
I don’t know where you are this morning as you anticipate Christmas Day 2021—I don’t know how the consequences of living in this fallen world might be dampening your joy this season. But our text this morning gives you a very clear command to
Zephaniah 3:14 (ESV)
14 Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Even in the midst of the brokenness and sin that weighs you down, even in the midst of the heaviness of spirit that you wrestle with because of the consequences of sin that have devastated your life, there is real and lasting joy for you this Christmas. What I want to show you from these verses this morning is that the very essence of Christmas—the Incarnation of Jesus Christ—is the both the basis of and the fuel for your everlasting joy in God:
The Incarnation of Christ GUARANTEES your REAL and LASTING JOY
As we get started, the first thing I want to do is unpack that word “Incarnation”. The word itself comes from the Latin word “carne”, meaning “flesh”. (If you’ve ever had chili con carne, you’ve had “chili with meat”). So the word itself literally means “enfleshment”—to become flesh. We say it this way because this is precisely what John’s Gospel says—we read earlier this morning in worship:
John 1:14 (ESV)
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The incarnation of Jesus Christ is one of the absolute non-negotiable truths of the Christian faith—it is a first-order issue. If you do not affirm this truth, there is no meaningful sense in which you can call yourself a Christian at all.
The Incarnation: The eternal Second Person of the Trinity took on HUMANITY in the person of Jesus Christ; He is both FULLY GOD and FULLY MAN
The essential core of Christmas—the whole reason for the holiday—is to celebrate the arrival of Jesus Christ in the flesh with us.
I believe the Book of Zephaniah sets up a wonderful picture of the joy that comes from the presence of God in our midst—look again at the verses we read a few moments ago:
Zephaniah 3:14–15 (ESV)
14 Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! 15 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.
These verses come at the end of a book that is full of pronouncements of judgment on God’s people for breaking their covenant with God—it was written about thirty years before Nebuchadnezzar and his armies would sweep through and destroy Jerusalem and take the people into captivity.
In Chapter 1, God lays out His charges against the people for breaking His covenant, separating themselves from Him, burning their bridges” by going and worshipping other gods:
Zephaniah 1:4, 7 (ESV)
4 “I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off from this place the remnant of Baal and the name of the idolatrous priests along with the priests... 7 Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near...
And in Chapter 2, God makes it clear that He is not just bringing judgment against Judah and Jerusalem for breaking their covenant with Him, but He is bringing all of the nations to account for their disobedience. God’s covenant people are being judged, but even those nations around them are guilty before God:
Zephaniah 2:4–5 (ESV)
4 For Gaza shall be deserted, and Ashkelon shall become a desolation; Ashdod’s people shall be driven out at noon, and Ekron shall be uprooted. 5 Woe to you inhabitants of the seacoast, you nation of the Cherethites! The word of the Lord is against you, O Canaan, land of the Philistines; and I will destroy you until no inhabitant is left.
In Chapter 3, Zephaniah returns to pronouncing God’s judgment on Jerusalem again, and then sums up His statement of all of the judgments to that point in the book in verse 8:
Zephaniah 3:8 (ESV)
8 “Therefore wait for me,” declares the Lord, “for the day when I rise up to seize the prey. For my decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation, all my burning anger; for in the fire of my jealousy all the earth shall be consumed.
God’s anger and jealousy are poured out on rebellious and wicked kingdoms—His people have broken their part of His covenant to worship and obey Him, and so He is keeping His part of the covenant to punish them in His wrath.
But then, all of a sudden, the tone shifts wildly starting in verse 9—let me read verses 8-9 together so that you can see the break between them:
Zephaniah 3:8–9 (ESV)
8 “Therefore wait for me,” declares the Lord, “for the day when I rise up to seize the prey. For my decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation, all my burning anger; for in the fire of my jealousy all the earth shall be consumed. 9 “For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord.
Do you hear that? Where did that shift come from? One verse earlier, God is announcing that He is pouring out His wrath and indignation on all the kingdoms that have broken faith with Him and have rebelled against Him in their wickedness. And then He turns around and promises to “change their speech to a pure speech” so that they can call on His Name and serve Him, that they will “not be put to shame because of the deeds by which you rebelled against Me” (Zephaniah 3:11).
How in the world can a righteous and holy God suddenly declare that you will “not be put to shame because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against Him?” What is it that will cause Him to grant forgiveness and restoration to His rebellious people? Because the day will come when The LORD Himself will be in their midst!
Zephaniah 3:14–15 (ESV)
14 Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! 15 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.
Not exalted above you, not separated by the thick veil and darkness, not standing in judgment over you for your sin but in your midst… The people will be able to rejoice and exult and sing with all their heart because the LORD will be with them. He is

I. The KING who has come to PARDON you Zephaniah 3:15)

Zephaniah 3:15 (ESV)
15 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.
All of the kings of Judah and Israel that had reigned in Jerusalem and Samaria during the days of the Divided Kingdoms, and even back to Solomon and David and Saul—those kings were merely representatives of the True King of Israel—YHWH Himself.
And this verse promises that the day would come when YHWH Himself would appear among them as their king! And when He appears in their midst, this verse says that He will do two things—“take away the judgments against you” and “clear away your enemies”. Why are the people called to rejoice? First, because
His JUSTICE has been SATISFIED (v. 15a)
When we read that the LORD in their midst has “taken away their judgments”, it doesn’t merely mean that He has “swept them under the rug”—He didn’t “take them away” in the sense that He ignores them or merely “sets them aside”. That would be a reason to mourn, and not rejoice, if your King merely winks at justice, and says of those crimes, “Don’t worry about it, it doesn’t really matter!”
No, the LORD who appears as King in your midst didn’t just “set aside” or postpone the judgment you deserve—He satisfied those judgments by His own death! The Incarnation of Jesus Christ meant that God in the flesh paid the penalty for your sins by the flesh He took on! When He cried out on the Cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30), He meant that there was no more judgment to pour out!
Hebrews 2:17 tells us that God the Son had to come in the flesh in order to satisfy the judgment of God that stood against you!
Hebrews 2:17 (ESV)
17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
The word “propitiation” here literally means “a sacrifice that takes away wrath”—as we love to sing in our worship, “And on the Cross / As Jesus died / The wrath of God / Was satisfied!
Shout for joy and sing and exult in the fact that your God has appeared in your midst—because it is the only way your judgments could be taken away!
The presence of God in the flesh in your midst means that your judgments have been taken away, and also that
Your ACCUSER has been SILENCED (v. 15b)
God promised His people through Zephaniah that someday He would “clear away their enemies”—in fact He did so a century later when they returned from their exile in Babylon, having been freed from their captivity and brought back to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple and the city.
But Christian, you have an even greater reason to rejoice and exult and sing for the joy of your King in your midst—the incarnation of Jesus Christ and His death, burial and resurrection from the dead mean that your Accuser, the devil, can no longer make his accusations against you stick!
Romans 8:34 (ESV)
34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Because Jesus came in the flesh and died and was raised, Satan’s accusations against you have lost their power! The wonderful moment recorded for us in Revelation 12, when Satan is “thrown out of court” and is no longer able to bring an accusation against you, Christian:
Revelation 12:10 (ESV)
10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.
He can stand across the street from the courthouse waving a sign and yelling through a bullhorn that he thinks you’re guilty, but his courtroom privileges have been revoked! He can no longer bring formal charges against you before God because Jesus Christ died and was raised for you!
The incarnation of Jesus Christ guarantees your real and lasting joy—He is the King who has come to pardon you, and He is

II. The GOD who has come to DELIGHT in you (Zephaniah 3:16-17)

Look at verses 16-17:
Zephaniah 3:16–17 (ESV)
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. 17 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.
In verse 14 the people are called on to “sing” and “rejoice” and “exult” in God because He is present with them. And in verse 17 we see that God exults and sings and rejoices because He is present with them!!!
Do you see that? Let that sink in a moment—this verse says that when God comes into their midst it will cause Him to exult and sing and rejoice! I think sometimes we try to emphasize how much Jesus left behind when He “did leave His throne and His kingly crown” to come to earth as a man that we sometimes put a few extra eggs in the custard, as it were. We make it seem like Jesus was “slumming it” for 30 years, that His incarnation was something that He begrudgingly endured.
And while the Scriptures certainly tell us that “in the days of His flesh Jesus offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears” (Hebrews 5:7), and that He was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), this verse also tells us that there was a sense in which He delighted in His Incarnation because He delights in us! The LORD in our midst in the Person of Jesus Christ, the God Man, delights to love you! His delight in you means that
His GLADNESS in you will never FAIL (Ephesians 2:7)
It must be said that, here on this side of eternity, your rejoicing in what God has done for you through the work of the Incarnate Son of God is not always constant, is it? We are not always as glad in God as we ought to be, are we? (In fact, the case can probably be made that we have never rejoiced in God as fully as we should!)
But that is not the case with the LORD who has come into your midst! Jesus Christ rejoices over you perfectly! His gladness will never fail, His delight in you will never falter—either here on earth or in glory in Heaven!
In fact, because Jesus came to earth in human flesh, God’s delight in you is eternal! Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:7 that God will spend all of eternity showing us “the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus”—there it is again! Because of what Jesus did for you in His Incarnation as the God Man, God’s gladness in you will never fail!
He rejoices over you with gladness that will never fail, and Zephaniah 3:17 also says that He will “quiet you with His love”:
His LOVE for you will never FADE (Hebrews 10:17)
Some translations read here that “He is quieted” with love for you—the idea here seems to be that all of the charges against you are dropped for good—not only does your Enemy the devil no longer have a way to accuse you, but God Himself has “silenced” His charges against you—they are gone forever, swallowed up in the ocean of His love for you—as He says in Hebrews 10:17, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
Don’t pass this by lightly—consider this carefully: God is not secretly begrudging the fact that you became a Christian! He is not inwardly shaking His head that you’re a terrible excuse for a believer, and He can’t believe He has to put up with you. God does not look at you and regret that you somehow found a loophole and snuck your way into His grace—He exults over you with love that will never, ever fade!
There is a beautiful moment on the night Jesus was betrayed before His crucifixion, when He tells His disciples that He is going to prepare a place for them to come and live with Him forever. He says in John 14:3,
John 14:3 (ESV)
3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
Think of that—when He has your dwelling place ready, He isn’t just going to send for you! He isn’t just going to tell an angel to go back down there to earth and get you—He is coming for you Himself! He will gladly get up off His throne so He can come back here to this sorry old world and get you Himself!
Christian, your real and lasting joy is guaranteed because Jesus Christ became flesh and came and dwelt among us—He is the King who has come to pardon you, He is the God who has come to delight in you, and He is

III. The SAVIOR who has come to RESTORE you (Zephaniah 3:18-20)

Look at verse 18:
Zephaniah 3:18 (ESV)
18 I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach.
This is a difficult verse to translate, but the most likely interpretation probably has to do with people who are for one reason or another “unclean” and unable to come to the feasts at the Temple (we read about various reasons someone would be disqualified from participating in the various feasts and forms of worship in Numbers 28-29).
But the Savior who has come into our midst in human flesh has come to gather you back into fellowship!
He brings an END to your EXILE (v. 18)
The Incarnation of Jesus Christ means that you have been set free from your exile! You no longer have to distance yourself from His people, there is no need to feel as though you “don’t belong” or are not welcome among God’s people—when Jesus came to earth as the God Man, God in human flesh, He came to seek and save the lost! He came to find that sheep that had wandered off, He came to receive that prodigal son back from his sin, He came to bring cleansed lepers back to their families, to give dead children back to their parents, to tear down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile! Rejoice because your Savior came in the flesh to bring an end to your exile!
And look further in verses 19-20:
Zephaniah 3:19–20 (ESV)
19 Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. 20 At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,” says the Lord.
Your Savior who has come to restore you brings an end to your exile and
He turns your SHAME into PRAISE (v. 19; cp. John 8:10)
Your guilt before God has been taken away by the Savior who came in the flesh into your midst—His body broken on that Cross paid the cost for your sin against God. And the shame of your sin, the shame that dogs you and won’t let you rest, the shame that tells you you’re not good enough to be in the company of other believers, the shame that tells you you’re “damaged goods” and aren’t worth anything—your Savior came in the flesh to deliver you from that shame!
In John’s Gospel we read of a woman who was dragged into the street from her bedroom where she had been in the middle of an adulterous encounter with a married man. The scribes and Pharisees—the upright and sanctimonious paragons of religious Jewish society—threw her at Jesus’ feet while He sat teaching in the outer court of the Temple. Humiliated and ashamed, probably either insufficiently dressed or perhaps naked, she huddled there in the middle of a circle of “righteous and upright” Jews who had only bothered with her in the first place because it was an opportunity to trap Jesus in a no-win situation: Say that she should be stoned for her crime and He would undercut His own message of forgiveness and redemption. Say that she should be set free and they can prosecute Him as a breaker of Moses’ Law.
With one statement, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7), Jesus took the wind out of their sails, and they all dropped their charge against her and slithered away, like the snakes that they were. And when they had all gone,
John 8:10–11 (ESV)
10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
He took away her shame and replaced it with praise—from cowering before her Judge ashamed of her sin to standing before Him to praise Him for His mercy—this is what Jesus Christ came in the flesh to do for you!
This is the engine that drives everything about Christmas! Every carol that we sing, every joyful reunion, every delight over every gift, every delicious course of Christmas dinner—all of it was purchased for you by the sacrifice of the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sin, freeing you from your exile and turning your shame into praise!
1 Peter 2:24 tells us
1 Peter 2:24 (ESV)
24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
Why is the Incarnation the heart of Christmas? Because the body that Jesus took on when He became flesh was the body that bore your sins on that Cross! It is the body that was broken so that you could be made whole, it was His body that was wounded so that you could be healedit was the body that rose three days later from the grave to give you the unassailable hope that the loved one you are missing this Christmas is alive together with Christ and you will someday see them again!
Sing aloud, Christian! Rejoice and exult with all your heart because Jesus Christ has come in the flesh and dwelt among us! And if you are here this morning apart from Christ; you have never called on Him for forgiveness and you are still in exile, you are still sunk in your guilt and shame, you are bearing the consequences of your sin—can’t you see here what great joy is being offered to you?
Where has all of your rebellion against God gotten you? Where has all of your worship of those little gods of sex and money and career and possessions and self-reliance got you? How many of their promises have they come through on for you? I’ll tell you—they’ve gotten you nothing but the wrath of God against you for worshipping them with your life instead of Him.
But here is the Good News for you today—you can call on Jesus Christ for forgiveness, and He has promised to answer!
John 1:12–13 (ESV)
12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
The LORD your God has come into your midst—and He has come to rescue you, to declare you not guilty, to bring you back from your exile, to delight in you with loud singing and exultation forever! Be done with your rebellion, be done with your sinful rejection of His grace offered to you this morning—come, and welcome to your Incarnate Savior, Jesus Christ!
Ephesians 3:20–21 (ESV)
20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.


What does the word “Incarnation” mean? Why do we say that the incarnation of Christ is the whole reason for celebrating Christmas?
Read Hebrews 2:17 again. According to this verse, why is it so important for Christians to affirm that Jesus Christ was completely man, that He was a flesh-and-blood human being? If Jesus only “appeared” to be human, would He have been able to do what this verse says?
Sometimes we make the assumption that Jesus’ Incarnation was burdensome or unpleasant for Him, some sort of “sentence” to be endured. What does Zephaniah 3:17 say about how Jesus spent His time among us during His life on earth? How does this verse give you joy as you follow and obey Him?
Think of someone you know who has been “exiled” by the consequences of sin—either their sin or someone else’s. Take some time this week and use Zephaniah 3:18-20 as a pattern for you to pray for them, that God will restore them to Himself and turn their shame into praise for Jesus Christ!
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