I’m writing a commentary at the moment. It’s in the Reading the Bible Today series put out by the Sydney Anglican Press (a bit like an Australian version of the Bible Speaks Today series). I’ve already written a commentary in that series on the book of Numbers. Now I’m writing one on the 7th century prophets: Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. These 7thcentury prophets have some beautiful words of comfort in them. Habakkuk says that even if all the world around him falls apart, he will still trust in God, for nothing can take away our salvation:
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” Habakkuk 3:17-18
Zephaniah similarly has some wonderful words at the end of his book. God will rejoice with singing over the people he has saved. What an amazing truth:
“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
Wonderful words. But most of what the 7thcentury prophets have to say is about judgement. There’s an endless array of verses I could quote. Here’s just a few from the first chapter of Zephaniah:
“I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord. “I will sweep away man and beast; I will sweep away the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, and the rubble with the wicked. I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord.” Zephaniah 1:2-3
“Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the Lord. In the fire of his jealousy, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full and sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.” Zephaniah 1:18
In fact book after book in the Old Testament is about God’s judgement. And it’s not the case that the Old Testament is about God’s judgement and the New Testament is about God’s grace and love. In the New Testament Jesus and the apostles often speak of the day of judgement and of Hell. So when was the last time you heard a sermon on God’s judgement? When was the last time you heard a sermon for that matter on Nahum, or Habakkuk, or Zephaniah?
Many of our churches these days, in an effort to be ‘seeker-sensitive’, in an effort to reach out to people of our culture, do not preach systematically through the Bible. Often our churches preach on topics of interest. With such an approach to preaching, who is going to preach on God’s judgement? Who is going to preach on Nahum, or Habakkuk, or Zephaniah, if we are not systematically working our way through the whole Bible?
Preaching systematically through the Bible will mean that God will set the agenda for our preaching program, not us. He will pick the topic to preach on, not us. There is nothing wrong with preaching on topics. However when I preach on a topic of my interest and choosing I am preaching what I want to say. When I preach systematically through the Bible, God will open up to me all sorts of topics that I would never have thought about preaching, and I will preach on the topics God is interested in. And that will include the topic of judgment.
God must really want Christians to hear about judgement! It’s there in so much in the Bible – book after book. How much more will I fear God rightly when I hear this topic of God’s judgement. How much more will I love God’s salvation through Jesus when I hear this topic. I deserve to face the full wrath of God at my sin, but Jesus took God’s wrath on himself in my place on the cross. What great news! However, I won’t hear this news much if I don’t preach systematically through the Bible.
Many churches today don’t preach on God’s judgment. No doubt one reason among many is that so many of our churches no longer preach the whole counsel of God by systematically preaching through the books of the Bible.