In Your Midst

Directly applying the words of Judah’s ancient prophets is a dicey proposition. And yet, those words not only apply to the near context of the original audience but can also speak to those whose hearts are turned towards Jesus. One such verse is found in the minor prophet Zephaniah. Minor in this case is not an indication of professional achievement, stature, or age. Simply an indication that Zephaniah’s book is much shorter than the “major” prophets of Isaiah and Jeremiah.

Zephaniah’s short book was written during the time of King Josiah’s reforms and before Judah’s exile to Babylon. It begins with dire warnings of God’s impending judgment, calls for all to repent from sin and turn back to God. Here’s the part I’m most interested in today. What are God’s attitude and response after His people return? Zephaniah wrote, “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.” (Zephaniah 3:17, ESV)

That is God’s attitude towards all who turn from their sin and towards Him. God is the mighty warrior who saves us. “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4–5, NASB95) But this overcoming is not because we’re suddenly fantastic people that know all the right answers, its because we simply believe in Jesus and what He has done for us. The next three things in Zephaniah’s prophecy tells us much about the heart and attitude of God.

Let’s consider for a moment our own reactions when someone wrongs us and then asks for our forgiveness. That offense colors everything even though we try to put it behind us. We trust that person less. We avoid entering into situations similar to the original conflict. Maybe we hold the offense over them in an “I’m better than you” kind of way. Or perhaps we gloat a bit with a well-placed “I told you so.”

Now, consider God’s attitude as shown in Zephaniah. He rejoices over you with gladness. He quiets you with His love. He exults over you with loud singing. This is a great grace. This is the response of a loving father after a child has turned from a rebellious path. It is a picture of a perfectly restored relationship. No finger-pointing, no holding something over someone, no lukewarm welcome. Just open-hearted acceptance and full-throated joy.

O how quickly our thoughts fly to the what-ifs. But stop and bask for a moment in the warmth of God’s embrace. He knows all of our sins and failures, including those we’ve yet to fall into. And still, He saves us and welcomes us into His joyful embrace. Hold on to that feeling. Sow that truth deeply. Tightly embrace that reality and know, beyond all doubt, that you are loved in Christ.

Dale Heinold
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