Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Everyone Accountable

My Life Group lesson from March 8 ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

Last weekend, the top five movies were "Focus," "Kingsmen: The Secret Service," "Spongebob Squarepants," 50 Shades of Gray" and "The Lazarus Effect." In four weeks, "50 Shades" has earned over $150 million.

QUESTION - What do you believe the most watched movies reveal about our society? Does it say something about the acceptance of sinful behavior in our culture?

Today we are going to talk about Zephaniah prophesying about the sins of the Israelites.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

We are studying the Minor Prophets the next three months. Last week we talked about Nahum. This week we're moving on to Zephaniah.

*** Zephaniah most likely prophesied around 625 B.C. He traces his genealogy back 4 generations to King Hezekiah (ca. 715–686 B.C.), standing alone among the prophets descended from royal blood.

*** Ten of Israel's tribes were already defeated and deported by the Assyrians 100 years earlier.

*** The Assyrians pressured the Southern Kingdom of Judah as well and the kings adopted the pagan values and idol-gods of foreign peoples, imposing those values and idol-gods on Judah (see 2 Kings 21:1-9).

*** King Josiah reigned as king of Judah (640–609 B.C.) and steered the Jews to a return to the worship of the true God. Zephaniah’s ministry overlapped with the early years of King Josiah’s reign. In fact, it is possible that Zephaniah’s prophecies helped lead to King Josiah’s conversion and the revival that started. But the evil kings before Josiah (55 years) had had such an effect on Judah that it never recovered. Josiah’s reforms were too late and didn’t outlast his life.

*** Zephaniah presents an unambiguous denunciation of sin and warning of imminent judgment on Judah. Zephaniah’s message on the Day of the Lord warned Judah that the final days were near, through divine judgment at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, ca. 605–586 B.C.

JUDGMENT ENCOMPASSES EVERYONE (Zeph. 1:1-3)

1 The word of the LORD that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah son of Amon, king of Judah. 2 I will completely sweep away everything from the face of the earth—this is the LORD’s declaration. 3 I will sweep away man and animal; I will sweep away the birds of the sky and the fish of the sea, and the ruins along with the wicked. I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth. This is the LORD’s declaration.

*** The End Is Near!

--- How do people today usually respond to "The end-is-near!" messages? (If someone today posted such an ominous threat on a social media site, the authorities would probably run an immediate background check on the person!)

--- Zephaniah is describing the Day of the Lord.

--- In Matthew 24:42 Jesus says that we don't now what day the Lord is coming. So the end could be near. Might not. Depends on what you mean by "near."

*** The Word of the Lord.

--- Zephaniah didn't come up with this on his own. This book is a prophecy of the words of God, revealed to a human messenger.

--- Zephaniah’s opening message from the Lord was dark and threatening.

*** Verse 2 contains three features that make the prophet’s declaration especially ominous.

1) The Promise came directly from the Lord. If the Sovereign Creator says something will happen, it will happen.

--- Isaiah 55:10-11 - 10 For just as rain and snow fall from heaven and do not return there without saturating the earth and making it germinate and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, 11 so My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do.

2) The Lord promised that His judgment would be thorough. No detail will be missed. Everything on His list will be dealt with.

3) Third, the Lord described the worldwide extent of His judgment. Many prophecies in the Old Testament were narrowly focused. They dealt with a specific individual, group, city, or nation. Not so this prophecy. Its scope was as broad as the planet and included everything from the face of the earth.

*** Because of God’s goodness, He will not ignore the wickedness of people. While He wants all to find grace and mercy in His Son, a day of judgment is coming.

THE DANGER OF SPIRITUAL COMPROMISE (ZEPH. 1:4-6)

4 I will stretch out My hand against Judah and against all the residents of Jerusalem. I will cut off every vestige of Baal from this place, the names of the pagan priests along with the priests; 5 those who bow in worship on the rooftops to the heavenly host; those who bow and pledge loyalty to the LORD but also pledge loyalty to Milcom; 6 and those who turn back from following the LORD, who do not seek the LORD or inquire of Him.

*** Zephaniah prophesies about God’s judgment on Judah.

--- For God to pronounce judgment against His chosen people, the Hebrews must have done something horribly wrong.

--- Judah? Gone. The Holy City of Jerusalem and King Solomon's magnificent temple? Gone.

*** God lists specific sins for which the Hebrew people were guilty.

--- The people worshiped Baal and other pagan cults.

--- The people bowed down to the "heavenly host," which probably referred to the sun, moon and stars.

--- They practiced spiritual adultery, mixing Jewish practices with beliefs from different religions such as Milcom, the national god of Ammon.

--- There were spiritual quitters who stopped following the Lord, and broken off all contact, backsliding so much they couldn't even see the top anymore.

--- In addition, 2 Kings chapter 21 talks about how King Manasseh did "evil in the eyes of the Lord." Among the sins Zephariah mentioned, verse 6 says that Manasseh "sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced divination, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists."

*** QUESTION - Are we as Christians accountable for the things embraced by our society? Surely there were many Israelites who were obedient to God, but they found their lives in ruin as well when the Assyrians, then the Babylonians conquered the kingdoms of Israel.

A DAY OF RECKONING IS COMING (ZEPH. 1:7-11)

7 Be silent in the presence of the Lord GOD, for the Day of the LORD is near. Indeed, the LORD has prepared a sacrifice; He has consecrated His guests. 8 On the day of the LORD’s sacrifice I will punish the officials, the king’s sons, and all who are dressed in foreign clothing. 9 On that day I will punish all who skip over the threshold, who fill their master’s house with violence and deceit. 10 On that day—this is the LORD’s declaration—there will be an outcry from the Fish Gate, a wailing from the Second District, and a loud crashing from the hills. 11 Wail, you residents of the Hollow, for all the merchants will be silenced; all those loaded with silver will be cut off.

*** v. 7 - Silence speaks volumes.

--- Even though the people were doomed, they still were commanded to keep a respectful silence before God acted to demonstrate His overwhelming greatness.

--- Jerusalem was to be the sacrifice, and His guests were the Babylonian armies coming to conquer and destroy the city in the coming years.

*** v. 8-9 - Zephaniah paints another picture of how God will clearly judge people.

--- Officers and sons of the king were killed. Those who dressed nicely were killed or taken. The pagans were doomed. Hypocrites and enemies of God were marked for destruction.

*** v. 10-11 - The people will cry for mercy.

--- When the judgment came, panic and terror ruled. Wailing and howling would be heard all over Jerusalem. No part would be spared, not the Fish Gate (a market area), not the Second District (a residential area), not even those on the high ground of the hills

*** Lessons for today.

--- The prophecies of Zephaniah remind us that we are all accountable to God. We who follow Jesus Christ must resist the pressure to conform to religious pluralism or secularism. We must maintain devotion to Christ as the only Way, the Truth, and the Life (see John 14:6).

TAKE AWAY POINTS

To start today we talked about the top-grossing movies of today and how they seem to show our culture embracing and even celebrating sin.

What are some of the most common sinful activities taking place in the world today? In your community? Perhaps in your own life? (Idolatry? Adultery? Using the Lord's name in vain? Envy?)

What do you think motivates people to live as though no one will ever hold them accountable for their actions?

The author of Hebrews reminds us that “no creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account” (Heb. 4:13). In Jesus Christ, believers no longer have to dread their accountability before a holy God.

What are some ways that we can “push back” against this embracing of sin?

*** As a believer, how can you show that you take seriously your accountability before God for your sins yet rejoice in the peace, forgiveness, and new life that you have in Christ?

*** Take time this week to prayerfully consider the sins in your lives. Place your trust in God to forgive you and develop a plan to ensure lasting change.

*** Know Jesus more intimately by focusing on practicing the disciplines that lead to spiritual growth.

*** Ask yourself and God, how does your life demonstrate that you are trusting in Jesus alone for your salvation? What needs to change in your life in light of the truth that Jesus is the only way of salvation?

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