Thursday, December 8, 2011

Meditations on Zephaniah (3)

Zephaniah 3

If the people of Judah in particular those in Jerusalem were relieved after hearing about how God will punish their enemies, they were in for a shock as God has not finished with them yet. Verse 3 depicts what we would term as a failed state where there is a complete breakdown in the institutions of governance. Instead of governing, they became tools of oppression. In verse 4 we see that the spiritual leaders were as bad as the civil leaders. All these happens because they have rebelled against God in ignoring Him, not trusting Him and distancing themselves from Him (vv.1-2).

In contrast to the sick condition of the people of Judah, Zephaniah reveals a God who is both righteous and just (v.5). In addition, He is a God who is compassionate by warning the people through His acts in history if only they are willing to learn (vv. 6-7). Verses 6 and 7 are strikingly similar to Amos 4:6-11 where God brought about one after another natural disasters and military defeat in the hope that the people of the northern kingdom, Israel, will repent. However, all these are met with the almost heartbreaking refrain, “yet you did not return to me” making God’s judgment inevitable. It was the same in the case of Judah (v.8).

The Psalmist says “ The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps. 103:8). Yes, slow to anger but not without anger. We need to be sensitive to the Spirit’s prompting and examine ourselves daily to see if we have in any way fallen away. Make David’s prayer in Ps. 139:23-24 our daily prayer. We take comfort in having a Father who will discipline us lovingly and not capriciously. We know that we will always be forewarned if only we are open to God’s leading.

Verse 9 marks the turning point of Zephaniah. God’s marvelous grace is revealed here. Left alone, we will never repent. Repentance starts with the work of God in the people themselves. The ten “I wills” from verses 9-20 shows God’s resoluteness in restoring His people.

The prophecy of Zephaniah starts with a message of judgment and ends with a message of hope and restoration. It reveals a God who is righteous and just, who will not tolerate sin but yet at the same time full of grace and mercy. Wrath and love met at the cross of Jesus Christ. Justice and mercy became reconciled at Calvary.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Meditations on Zephaniah (2)

Zephaniah 2

It would seem that there was still hope even after the terrible judgment that was going to befall Judah is pronounced. There may still be those who are obedient and humble. They are told to seek righteousness and humility so that they may escape the coming calamity. They are the remnant. Throughout church history, we learn that in its darkness hour, God still preserves His remnant, those who have yet bow down to ‘Baal’.

Post Tenebras Lux – After Darkness, Light. That was the motto of the Protestant Reformation. God remains faithful. He never allows His people to be forever in bondage even though sometimes it was His people themselves that put themselves in bondage. Geographical and spiritual exile does not last forever. The Jews returned from the exile to rebuild the temple and walls of Jerusalem. In God’s providence, the bondage to the corrupt institutional church of the Middle Ages was broken through the rediscovering of crucial doctrinal truths.

In spite of being judged, God still considered Judah, ‘my people’ (v.8) and ‘ the people of the LORD of hosts’ (v.10). This conveys a sense of affection. What more now, the church, a people purchased by the blood of Christ.

Even as God’s own people are being judged, those who are their enemies, who attacked them, who taunted or mocked them are not spared either. The totality or completeness of God’s judgment against these nations can be seen from their geographical areas. The west is covered by those from the seacoast, Moab and Amon are located east of the Jordan, Cush is at the south and the mighty Assyria is north of Judah.

The church has had its external enemies too whether in the form of a particular individual, group, religion or ideology. The church is still standing though some of its enemies are already history. It is only a little more than two decades ago that the Berlin collapsed, paving the way for the eventual collapse of Communism, one of the foremost anti-Christian ideologies since the birth of the church. Judgment has arrived.

Malaysian Christians of late have been facing pressures from certain quarters. The Al-Kitab is still technically banned and considered a threat to national security, the right to use of “Allah” to address God is still pending in the court, churches have been torched, we have been accused of conspiring to make Malaysia a Christian nation and just recently a church has been raided by the Muslim religious authority on the suspicion of converting Muslims to Christianity.

We can take comfort from Zephaniah who reveals to us a God who is sovereign over all the nations and peoples. He is the one we worship and trust.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Meditations on Zephaniah

Zephaniah 1

Few months ago, many of us watched with horror and awe live images of the tsunami devastating the northern parts of Japan. We saw how buildings, cars, boats and almost everything else that stood in the way of the tsunami being swept away like those Hollywood movies. But this was not a movie. It was real.

Now perhaps we can appreciate the opening words of the prophecy of Zephaniah where the Lord declares that He ‘will utterly sweep away everything on the face of the earth’ (v.2). Perhaps it will be many times worst than the tsunami in Japan. Man and beast will be swept away. So will birds of the heavens and fish of the sea (v.3), reversing the order of creation as pointed out by some commentators.

Although in the subsequent chapter, other nations will be judged, the focus here in this chapter is judgment is going to fall on God’s own covenant people. Some of them have become outright idolatrous, some practices syncretism whereas others just could not even be bothered with God or have become what one commentator terms as ‘practical atheists’. They were caught up chasing after material things and spirituality is the last thing on their mind. In their hearts, God is as good as dead (v.12).

What is amazing is the above happened during the time of King Josiah’s reform. It is evident that the rot that started with Josiah’s grandfather, Manasseh has become irreversible. Josiah’s reform was only able to postpone the inevitable. The judgment that Zephaniah prophesied against Judah and Jerusalem came to pass a mere twenty two years after Josiah’s death when Jerusalem was sacked by the Babylonians and most of its inhabitants were exiled.

God’s wrath and judgment is a topic which most preachers would avoid nowadays. What we often hear is about the love of God and therapeutic sermons which are meant to massage our egos. And we wonder why there is no revival. We forget that Jonathan Edwards’ vivid image of an angry God holding sinners over the pit of hell like a spider or some loathsome insect was instrumental in leading people to repentance and ushered in the Great Awakening in America.

For Richard Niebuhr, the god of liberal Protestantism is “a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without cross.” A God without wrath will make Christ’s death meaningless (1 John 4:10).

Let us now be silent before the Lord. Let us examine our hearts. Let us repent and ask for forgiveness.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

42 Years of God's Amazing Grace

This is my maiden post. I've created this blog nine months ago. When I finished with this post, I would have turned 42. 42 years of amazing grace. The title of my blog is a slightly plagiarized version of Adrian Plass' book, The sacred diary of Adrian Plass, aged 37 1/2. I read it many years ago and found it exceedingly hilarious. He has written some other funny books as well as serious books. One theme that runs through his books even the funny ones is brokenness. We are messed up people. We will meet all sort of weird and messed up characters in his books.

Well, it's exactly 12 midnight now. Happy Birthday to me! As I reflect on these 42 years of amazing grace, I just remember this beautiful hymn

I know not why God’s wondrous grace
To me He hath made known,
Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
Redeemed me for His own.

Refrain

But I know Whom I have believ├Ęd,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.

I know not how this saving faith
To me He did impart,
Nor how believing in His Word
Wrought peace within my heart.

Refrain

I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convincing us of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
Creating faith in Him.

Refrain

I know not what of good or ill
May be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days,
Before His face I see.

Refrain

I know not when my Lord may come,
At night or noonday fair,
Nor if I walk the vale with Him,
Or meet Him in the air.

Refrain

There are echoes of TULIP in this hymn.

So no matter I messed up I am, the Father who has elected me unconditionally, the Son who has died for me, his elect, the Spirit who has applied what the Son has accomplished in my life, this Triune God will preserve me unto life everlasting. Amen.