Mike Bullmore is the founding pastor of CrossWay Community Church in Bristol, WI. Mike served for 15 years as an associate professor of Homiletics and Pastoral Theology, as well as chairman of the Practical Theology Department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL.
Dr. Bullmore addressed the conference from Zephaniah 3:9-20.
The audio is available for download here. Video footage can be viewed below:
My notes follow:
[Dr. Bullmore opens reading from the beginning of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress]
I can imagine someone reading that and saying, “clearly the problem with that man is that book. What he needs to do is put it down and stop reading it… Just put that book down and pick up something else… there are magazines about celebrities and romance novels and… Christian, why would you keep reading that book unless it’s really true and all that other stuff was designed to keep you trapped in a make-believe world?”
Well, the book Christian is reading is, of course, the Bible. And this book, Zephaniah, could well be the book Christian was reading, because this book is a miniature version of [the Bible]. All the prophets are like this.
The Old Testament is pregnant with the gospel. Through progressive revelation, while the gospel is initially obscured, it becomes increasingly clear as you continue to read. The gospel is in utero, if you will, but all the parts are there.
What Zephaniah tells us is that God has provided salvation, and not just as an escape from God’s judgment, but as entrance into God’s joy. Zephaniah offers three steps:
1. There appears to be no hope. God says, “I will utterly sweep everything away from the face of the earth.” Why? Because of how the people of Judah and the people of the earth postured themselves. The people of Judah were succumbing to cultural pressure, becoming religious pluralists, bowing down to the suns and the stars… they included the LORD too so that no one would be offended, but God was very offended. They weren’t worshipping God, they were patronizing Him.
We were made for God, to trust in Him with all of our hearts… to say in every situation, “God I want to think, feel about this situation the way You would, so that how I live would please you.” But these do not seek the LORD or inquire of Him at all. They do not listen, they do not inquire (3:2). And so God sends the prophet Zephaniah.
God is absolutely just (Zeph. 3:5). He is absolutely holy, so when He sees this blatant idolatry, He is angry. He is full of wrath and He will judge. You know this happened to Judah… But that was just a foretaste of what was coming for all of unrepentant humanity. It will be a day of anguish, and wailing, and all mankind will be laid forth before the fire of God’s wrath. All of this judgment is due to one thing: Because they have sinned against the Lord (Zeph. 1:17). This announcement of Judgment is in this book for a reason. The very first truth about God to be denied is the doctrine of God’s judgment. The serpent said to Eve, “You will not surely die.” We want to think our sins are small and harmless, but God says, “I will bring judgment.” Zeph 3:8, God says, “Wait for me…” God is the greatest reality in the universe—but where have you placed God? There will be destruction for all who neglect, patronize or ignore the LORD. All mankind is under that judgment.
If step one doesn’t register with you, you will never hear step two. You’ll only say, “Stop reading that book.” And if you don’t hear and respond to step two and three, then you’ll be lost forever. Without hope in the world.
2. There appears to be a glimmer of hope. Look at Zeph 2:1. The judgment is directed not only to Judah, but to the nations as well. Judgment will come to the Philistines, to Edom, to Moab, Cush, Assyria… God is saying, there is no place for you to run from judgment, no one for you to go to for refuge save one: God.
The glory of the gospel is this: The one from whom we need to be saved is the one who saves us. When you realize that you really do need to be saved from a holy and righteous God, you begin to turn to other things to save you. But those won’t save. Instead, we need to say, “Lord be merciful to me, a sinner.” Zeph 3:12: But I will leave among you a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the LORD…”
3. The glimmer of hope will burst into a great and glorious rejoicing at the coming of God’s salvation. God saves. Those who have received God’s salvation, those who have sought refuge in His name—for all who through faith in Christ are inheritors of the promise—they are called to rejoice, to sing! This isn’t some kind of tame singing. To sing and shout and rejoice with all their hearts. And we have every reason to rejoice with all our hearts. No experience that might call us to sing and rejoice can compare…
We now can only grasp this now, we see through a glass darkly. But look, Zeph 3:15, we will fully realize there is no judgment for us. “The LORD has taken away the judgments against you.” What a beautiful statement of the heart of the gospel in this little so-called minor prophet. What a beautiful statement of the heart of the doctrine of justification. On the cross, Christ drained the cup of God’s wrath empty. And if we are in Christ, there is no judgment for us.
More than that, God will be among us. (Zeph 3:17)
Thirdly, we will realize there will be no more reason for fear. I wonder what that’s going to be like? No reason, no experience of fear. There’s no judgment, and your all-powerful King is there, and there is nothing to fear.
But more than that, God will be rejoicing over us in love on that day. When that work of redemption is done, when people from every tribe and tongue and nation, will God look out over us and somehow be disappointed in the fruit of that work? Will he look out at us and say, “Well, it is what it is…” No, He tells us, He wants us to know, He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will exult over you with loud singing. He will perfectly complete His work in us to make us spotless and blameless, and He will sing loudly. “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so your God shall rejoice over you.” And one day, when He brings us in, that rejoicing He is holding in His heart for you will break forth and you will experience the most amazing, delightful thing you’ve ever experienced. Yes, you will rejoice, but even greater than your joy will be God’s joy.
God’s heart is bigger than ours. And His heart is completely for us. When God’s work of redemption is done, God Himself will sing over us, “You are Mine!” and we will say, “And You are ours.”
We have these conversations about the exact content of the gospel… and they are helpful and clarifying, but our thoughts of the gospel, our preaching of the gospel, our personal treasuring of the gospel, should always include this consummation. God’s rejoicing over His people. Being with God and experiencing His joy… this is the point, isn’t it? Sometimes I’m afraid we forget to speak about this consummation. But it needs to be spoken. My we speak it and treasure it until it fills our souls with an anticipation of this moment. For God’s glory and our joy.