The Lord Your God is in your midst, a mighty One Who will save – Zephaniah 3:17a (ESV)
Two times within a very short space of this prophecy to Judah during the reign of King Josiah, the author uses language that speaks of the Lord, the King, our God, being in the midst of His people. It is a crucial and important declaration. Not only was it a message of hope for a people, Israel, who were being informed of a coming exile (conquered by the Babylonians) that would conclude with an exodus (partial restoration under the Persians), but it is also the present reality of the covenant people of God, who dwell in a world in which Jesus has been inaugurated as King and is at work in this world through the church, by the Spirit, for saving, for healing, for renewal, and for restoration, as He shares the eternal life of Resurrection power with those who demonstrate faith through the confession of their belief in Him as Lord and King. In this Kingdom of the Lord Jesus as the Christ, His covenant people, those who recognize Him as their King, who carry out the covenant of that faith by living according to that very Gospel message, and who conscientiously make disciples that will also live out the covenant call to be a light to the world through sacrifice, have been charged with and empowered to the service and expansion of the dominion of that Kingdom through selfless acts of sacrificial love and mercy.
These acts of love and mercy, which engender hope and spread the knowledge of Jesus’ Lordship, make possible the rooting and working of faith and subsequent belief through the proclamation of the Gospel, as they are the natural attendants of that proclamation. These acts are performed through the sharing of the life of the age to come (Resurrection power) by God through the Spirit, in the ongoing evidential manifestation of the covenant faithfulness of that creative, providential, and covenant God, as He works through the beings that He created in His image to bless all peoples and continue to establish His Kingdom on earth. These efforts, however, as noble and proper and restorative in the service of creation they may be, will not be without opposition. The power of darkness will rage against the coming of the light, as God’s covenant people seek to fulfill their covenantal duty to be a light to the nations. Nevertheless, God instructs His people to “let not your hands grow weak” (3:16b).
Why should the people of the covenant, the people of the Gospel’s confession, not let their hands grow weak---not grow weary in well doing? Quite simply, because “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty One Who will save.” Israel’s God Who created all things, Who holds the world in His hands, Who enters in to lift us up from the bonds of death so as to engage us as His ambassadors and royal emissaries in His covenant plans, is in our midst, gifting us with the privilege of sharing in His plans and purpose and demonstrating the might of His salvation as it touches the whole of the creation. What greater reason do we need?
He will save. What does that mean? The prophet writes, “He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing” (3:17b). The Lord our God, the King, Who is the giver of all things, will rejoice over His people. In that rejoicing, He will give the gift of His gladness so as to make us glad, but only in and through Him and through our faithful service according to His covenant. When His wrath is deserved because we stand outside His covenant, and through our daily actions of rebellion against what it is that God intended for the creatures of His image, actually serve to bring further corruption into this world that God created for His good, stand in enmity against Him, God demonstrates His love for us through Christ dying for us (Romans 5:8). Should this not make us stand in dumbstruck bewilderment, quieted by His love? Not only does He exult over the covenant people that He is restoring and delivering from the exile of the effects of faithlessness and rebellion, doing so with singing, but He allows us to see the evidences of the working of His Spirit, when selfless acts of love and mercy are performed as if being performed for the King, so as to make it possible for us to exult in Him with a spirit of praise and thanksgiving and celebration of Him and of His faithful working.
When were these things accomplished? Ultimately, Israel had to look forward to see them accomplished in the One Who was to be their King, their deliverer, who we recognize as Jesus the Messiah. Today, we look back and acknowledge this to be so. When Jesus began to reign, with this reign begun through His work on the cross and sealed by His Resurrection, the Creator God said to His people, I have “cleared away your enemies” (3:15b). Because the Christ reigned victorious over the enemies of mankind and the creation, and because mankind and the creation reigns victorious over those same enemies through espousal of belief in Him and its attendant allegiance to His ways, then it is true that His people need “never again fear evil” (3:15d). At the cross, our God said “I will deal with all your oppressors” (3:19b), and so He did.
In His work of restoration through Christ and the people of the Christ, God fulfills His promise to “save the lame and gather the outcast” (3:19c), creating a kingdom and a people for service to Him. God promised to “change their shame,” the shame of their corruption of rebellion, “into praise and renown in all the earth” (3:19d), thereby giving Himself the vehicle in and through which He fulfills His covenant to bless those who bless His people and to curse those who curse His people; and above all, to empower His people, as ambassadors and royal emissaries, to be the people by which all the world is blessed.
Because of the cross and the empty grave, we know that God has fulfilled His promise that “At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together,” doing this to make His people, and Himself by extension, “renowned and praised among all the people of the earth” (3:20a). This renown and praise is as a result of what God has done when He faithfully worked to “restore your fortunes before your eyes” (3:20b), creating a people, through the renewal of the eternal life (the life of the age to come) of union with Christ (confession of Jesus as Lord and participation in His body the church), that are and will be everything that God desired those that He created in His image to be.