It’s a call to change and welcome the righteous Lord who will change us, gathering those who are estranged, baptising in the Holy Spirit and giving the joy of His salvation in place of anxiety
OT: Zephaniah 3:14-20 — God rejoices in gathering His alienated ones
With OT: Isaiah 12:2-6 — Song of Praise
NT gospel: Luke 3:7-18 — It’s a call to change for the righteous Lord who baptises in the Holy Spirit and in fire
NT letter: Philippians 4:4-7 — Let anxiety turn to rejoicing in the Lord’s goodness
Theme: Christ’s coming is a call for change
OT: Zephaniah 3:14-20 – God rejoices in gathering His alienated ones
God’s wrath over man’s rebellion becomes mercy for all who turn to Christ
14-15 Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away your punishment, He has turned back your enemy.
“Be glad and rejoice” — reversing the pronouncement of woe and wrath earlier in the chapter. A remnant arises again to find God’s favour.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm.
“Taken away your punishment” – stated as if judgment day had already happened. God removes His wrath and lifts the curse of transgression through Christ.
• For further study, read Romans 5:9, Rom. 8:1, Gal.. 3:13-14.
“The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you” – for Israel, the true king was always the Lord, Yahweh. Other rulers were to represent Him. The NT uses this title of Jesus in John 1:49, Matt. 27:42 and John seems to apply this at Jesus’ Triumphal Entry, John 12:13.
16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp.
“Hands hang limp” – do not be discouraged.
17 “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in His love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
“The Mighty Warrior” – Yahweh is the supreme Commander, Psalm 24:8.
“Will… delight in you” – like a bridegroom with his bride, Isaiah 62:4-5, Isaiah 65:18-19. Zephaniah was possibly a disciple of Isaiah who shared something of the same vision. His message is that when God’s people seek Him, Zeph. 3:12-13, and rejoice in their trust in Him, vv.14-15 above, the Lord’s delight resounds.
18 “I will remove [or gather] from you all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals, which is a burden and reproach for you.
“All who mourn over the loss” — a difficult verse. The context esp. vv.19-20 below suggests this is God’s promise to make things right, removing those who remain rebels to God’s truth, and also gathering and bringing back those driven from Jerusalem by oppressors.
19 “At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you.
I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honour in every land where they have suffered shame.
20 “At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honour and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes [bring back your captives] before your very eyes,” says the Lord.
“I will rescue… gather… give honour and praise” — special favour for those who have held on to faith through the deprivation and shame of exile. Yahweh’s justice will shine on t6he very ones who the oppressive majority abused.
• For further study, read Zeph.1:9; 2:3, 3:1–2, 3:5, 3:12, Ezek. 34:21.
SUMMARY This week’s theme of ‘Be Prepared’ starts with a passage that is set in the context of God’s wrath and judgment, intended to bring awareness and correction to Jerusalem, called “the city of oppressors”. Following the inevitable punishment, a refining takes place and God delights in those that remain, who have kept faith in Him.
APPLICATION In our world, we can see where God’s judgment for ‘doing our own thing’ has resulted in a dramatic fall in church attendance and prosperity. Perhaps it’s needed, so that we wake up and think again about whose church it really is, and whether it is God the Father and His Son Jesus that we love, or is it the form and tradition that we are attached to. The bottom line is that God is good, He loves us and He has a real purpose for all of us – and so some discipline is also a measure of His love.
QUESTION What does God want from us as a faith community, that might conflict with what we want?
Luke 3:7-18 – It’s a call to change and live by God’s good values
John calls for a new attitude before God at the coming of the righteous Lord
7-9 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptised by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe has been laid to the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
“Vipers” — in their attitudes and action the rebellious ones have become the seed of the Serpent, Gen. 3:15. These vipers are the ones who turned the Way of the Lord into crooked roads, Isaiah 59:5, 8.
“We have Abraham”— the erroneous and somewhat arrogant belief of some Jews who believed that descent from Abraham was their assurance of salvation, John 8:33-39, Acts 7:2.
“The axe… tree… good fruit” – genuine faith produces the good fruit of repentance to embrace righteous, just and generous-spirited living.
10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
“Shirts” – long tunic undergarments.
12-13 Even tax collectors came to be baptised. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” He told them.
14 Then some soldiers asked Him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely — be content with your pay.”
“Soldiers” – not Roman but guards employed by Herod Antipas to protect the tax collectors. John preaches honesty in place of the extortion that was routinely practised.
15-16 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptise you with water. But One who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
“The Holy Spirit and fire” – a holy ‘drenching’ that will transform and purify, as fire exposes what is insubstantial and ‘combustible’. The Holy Spirit also reveals what is not of God including our self-deceptions.
17-18 “His winnowing fork is in His hand to clear His threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.
“Wheat… chaff” – the righteous versus the unrepentant. John’s theme throughout is on the need for a humility before God which brings with it a sincere dependence on God and a lifestyle of willingness to recognise and deal with everything in life which is not God’s way. “Winnowing fork” – John makes clear that judgment will come on all who do not repent, not just pagans.
“Proclaimed the good news” – John’s message heralded both the coming of a Saviour with joy and justice for all who would receive Him, but also a stark warning for those who would not.
IN PRACTICE The Jews were confident that they deserved favour from God because of their heritage, rather conveniently overlooking their Scriptures (Old Testament to us) speaking of rebellion and unbelief and the consequences which they suffered in exile. The hated (but for the most part, just and professional) Roman rule was just the latest of a number of occupations.
APPLICATION We live in a so-called Christian country and we might be part of the tiny minority who attend a Christian church and perhaps play our part in keeping it going. But has that given us a false sense of entitlement? This “be prepared” season is a good time to ask if we are holding on to what God actually wants us to let go of, so He is able to “do a new thing”, Isaiah 43:18-19. To be humble enough to let go of any sense of entitlement is definitely a good way to “be prepared”.
QUESTION What ‘new thing’ might God be doing? How are we holding back the change?
Philippians 4:4-7 – Where anxiety stalks, praise finds God’s peace
Knowing God through Jesus, brought near by the Holy Spirit, is to rejoice
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice!
“Rejoice… always” – the back-story here is a disagreement — we might say, a church split — serious enough for the parties to be named in a letter. The enemy’s strategy is always to find ways to cause disagreement and division, and the God-given remedy is the capacity that Christians have to extend grace, and find agreement. Rejoicing affirms that our focus is on God, not circumstances, and in that relationship His way becomes clear.
5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
“Gentleness” – the quality of Christlike generosity of spirit, especially required of church leaders, 1 Tim. 3:3, Titus 3:2.
“Near” – a reminder repeated elsewhere in the NT that the next great event in God’s salvation schedule is Christ’s return. The whole timespan from Christ’s coming at Bethlehem to the final consummation of the kingdom is “the last time”. For God, a thousand years are like a day, 2 Peter 3:8. “Near” or “at hand” also speaks of the Lord’s nearness in the prayer relationship, the presence of One poised to return.
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
“Do not be anxious”— because the Lord is near. Prayerful thanksgiving in every situation is the antidote to anxiety which makes way for God’s peace.
7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
“The peace of God” — the assurance of those who know their sins are forgiven and, receiving God’s love, can trust Him over and above their circumstances.
SUMMARY An exhortation to keep our relationship with the Lord, and our trust in Him, at the centre of what we express. The context is how to work through a dispute. Being conscious of the Lord nearness and expressing it in thanksgiving is a way of intentionally pledging agreement with heaven, against the enemy’s attempts to cause conflict and anxiety — and securing God’s peace and direction.
APPLICATION Anxieties abound in our complex and conflicted world — and everyone is looking for the people who can deal with doubt and fear by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving. A tall order? God has called us, as Christians, to live differently and has given us His Holy Spirit to empower us to do it. If we are known as those who “Rejoice always” because we know that God is good and near at hand, even when things are challenging, then that is a very attractive proposition.
QUESTION In difficult times, do I follow my feelings and opinions, or pray with thanksgiving that God’s perspective is higher and His goodness present?
PRAYER Lord, as I draw near to You in this season of preparation, I recognise that preparation involves change.
You are asking all of us to check our thoughts, consider our priorities, review our responses – and give them all to You!
Help me to let go of all that hinders, so I can grasp with both hands all You have for me that is life-giving.
In Jesus’ name and for His glory, Amen.
Also: Isaiah 12:2-6 – Song of Praise
2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord Himself, is my strength and my defence [or song]; He has become my salvation.
3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
4 In that day you will say: “Give praise to the Lord, proclaim His name; make known among the nations what He has done, and proclaim that His name is exalted.
5 “Sing to the Lord, for He has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world.
6 “Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”
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