Jilted lover - Malachi 1:1-14
One of the films that was very popular a few years ago was the film 'The Truman Show', which was shown again just recently on BBC 1. The film is about a man called Truman who lives and works in a seaside town in America. The town is idyllic with a beautiful beach and lovely houses, and Truman has a great life- he has a stunning wife, a good job, a nice house, and loyal friends. The only problem is that the whole thing is a sham. The whole of Truman's life, his job, his friends, the town, even his wife, has been set up by a TV company which has taken reality TV to its extreme by actually filming a man's life right from when he was a baby. Truman himself doesn't know this, because he is that baby who has now grown up. He just assumes his life is ordinary like everyone else, but the fact is his life is a sham. Everything in the town actually revolves around him, because everyone wants to know what Truman will do next. There are TV cameras everywhere, unbeknown to him, and his entire life is being watched by millions of TV viewers across the world. And the film chronicles Truman's gradual discovery that what he thinks is reality is actually an enormous TV studio somewhere in America. What seems so good on the outside is in reality a hollow fake when you scratch beneath the surface.
Now today we begin a new sermon series on Malachi, and Malachi's burden is that the people of God are living lives which though they look great on the outside, whilst they seem to be committed to God and faithful in their worship, yet in reality are religious shams. And the reason for this gap between their outward appearances and their inward spiritual reality is that they are apathetic. They are spiritually complacent.
Now Israel was God's loved and chosen people. God had promised to Israel that he would be their God and they would be their people. It was a beautiful marriage. A sovereign loving God and a people whom God loved. And like all marriages it was expected that there would be giving on both sides. God had given Israel a land and people and he had blessed them. But Israel had not kept her side of the marriage. She had flirted with other gods, in fact she had well are truly committed adultery. And despite God trying to woo his bride back, Israel had repeatedly failed God and let him down. And the result, which God had warned of time and time again, was that Israel was eventually overrun by Babylonian invaders and her country, her Temple, and most of her people had been destroyed. That was all in the 6th century BC. But God had let left his bride to rot in Babylon for ever. As he had done before from Egypt, God rescued his people and brought them back from exile back to their land. And gradually Israel restored her Temple, under the watchful eyes of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, she restored her city and she began to recover.
All that was some time ago. Now, in the mid fifth century BC, about 80 years after Israel had come back from Babylon, things seemed OK. The Temple rites were up and running, the priests were doing their job, the worship services were continuing. Surely everything was good again. But that was not how Malachi saw it. You see whilst on the face of it the country looked great and the spiritual health of the nation seemed good, yet the reality was very different. What was the problem? The cold chill of apathy had set in. Spiritual complacency had taken hold. And Malachi saw it all in crystal clear Technicolor. The people and their leaders were going through the motions, but that was all they were doing. The whole thing was a sham. And the reason? The reason was this people had lost their passion for God. They had lost their first love. They were cold hearted. And if truth be told they were really no better than pagans. Such was their practical atheism. Whilst they said the believed in God, yet by their actions they showed where their hearts truly lay. They'd lost touch with the living God.
So God sends his prophet, Malachi, to speak to the people; in fact his name means 'my messenger'. God sends him to this loveless, passionless people, and both urges them and warns them to come back to God. Malachi referred to his message as a burden from the Lord. That's what that word 'oracle' in verse 1 really means. Malachi is literally burdened by the Lord to pass on this message. Such is the urgency and importance of this message. And his message could be summed up in 3 vv 6-7: 'I, the Lord, do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord Almighty.' So what Malachi does is to remind the people of God what God is like and then to urge them to repent and come back to this loving and awesome God. God will not stand for lax, hollow, half hearted faith. It's just won't wash with God. So repent of it and come back to the true and living God. That's Malachi's burden.
And it is a danger for every church in every generation to suffer from this horrible disease of spiritual complacency. It is possible even for a church like ours to be keen on the outside, to put on lots of meetings, to have contact with many non Christians, to be involved in the university and the schools and to be reaching out to young families, and yet to have a heart which is cold to God. There is a serious danger for us of spiritual complacency, of gradually becoming apathetic in our relationship to God, of simply becoming bored of spiritual things and tired and weary. We might be sound, yet we could be sound asleep. Whilst on the outside we may be OK, yet in our hearts we are as dry as the Gobi desert, and as cold as the Polar ice caps.
Martin Luther, the sixteenth century Reformer, once had a dream in which he pictured the devil listening to reports from his agents on how they were doing in trying to oppose the gospel and destroy men's souls. The first agent said: 'A company of Christians was crossing the desert and I set some lions on them and they devoured them.' 'Fool,' said the devil. 'You may have killed their bodies, but their souls were saved. It's their souls I'm after.' A second agent said: 'Some Christians were sailing across the seas and I caused their boat to sink in a storm, killing them all.' 'Fool,' said the devil. 'You may have killed their bodies, but their souls were saved. It's their souls I'm after.' But a third agent came to the devil and said: 'For ten years, I have been trying to cast a church goer into a deep sleep, and I have at last succeeded.' 'Excellent,' said the devil. And the bells of hell rang with triumph.
You see if one generation enthusiastically embraces the gospel through a period of revival and serves God with passion, then the next can easily take the gospel for granted and the passion wane. They can be sound, but sound asleep. Until in the third generation the gospel is actually denied. And you could argue that we in our land are somewhere between stages two and three. Christians assume the gospel nowadays, and are in danger in the next generation of denying it. We don't need to fight for truth any more. We can meet freely together on Sundays. We are not persecuted in any serious way. We're comfortable. But the danger is, that along with this comfort comes cosy complacency. A slow loss of the passion for God, and a slow waning of our spiritual fervour. And it can happen to anyone. Have you ever felt the pressure to give up, to tone down your keenness? Because quite frankly it is often hard to be keen. And the danger for us too is that we will lose touch with the living God. Like Truman, the danger is our spiritual lives will be seen to be make believe.
So over the next few weeks, we're going to listen to God's messenger Malachi, a man with a burden from God. And if we find that his message is uncomfortable, it is only because God loves us and longs for us to be passionate about him. It's only because he cannot tolerate half heartedness in his people. He longs to have every part of us. So let's turn to the first of Malachi's messages to us in chapter 1, and we'll find he has three things to say to us:
1) Rejoice in God's Love for You (Vv 1-5)
2) Realize God's Warnings to You (Vv 6-14)
3) Remember God is King over You (Vv 6-14)
1) Rejoice in God's Love for You (Vv 1-5)
So Malachi's first message to us is rejoice in God's love for you. Verse 1: 'An oracle: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi. 'I have loved you,' says the Lord.' Now we might think this is a very surprising way to begin a sermon. I mean, surely Malachi should be weighing in with his criticisms and biting comments. But no, what the people need to hear first and foremost is that God loves them. And actually if the fact that God loves them is clear, then their half heartedness towards him is all the more terrible. I have loved you, says the Lord. And the problem was that the people were doubting God's love. 'How have you loved us,' they replied. Often in Malachi the people argue back to God, and this is the first instance. And there could have been some evidence to confirm their doubts. Because though they were back in the land, yet all the wonderful prophecies they'd heard about the nations pouring into the Temple, about God being with his people as before, about the Temple being a wonderful place, all these prophecies simply didn't materialize. Yes, they'd built the Temple, but it wasn't a patch on the old one. Yes, they were in the land, but there wasn't the mass influx of people that was spoken of. And to cap it all they were still a governed people. They didn't have independence. So if they wanted it there was enough to confirm their doubts over whether God really loved them.
And is God's love for us not something you and I are sometimes tempted to doubt? Does God really love me? I have suffered so much recently. Does God really love me? I've not been able to find the job I want despite countless attempts. Does God still love me? My relationships with others seem to be so difficult. Does God really love me? But God's answer both to Israel and to us, is a resounding yes. And Malachi gives us the fact of God's love and the evidence for it.
a) The Fact of God's Love- God's love is a fact, says Malachi. 'I have loved you' says the Lord. These are God's words. It's a fact. God loved his people. This is covenant love, his personal love. I the awesome God of the universe who holds the nations in the palms of my hands, I have loved you. And it's a specific love. I have loved you. God loves individuals. Hear these words this morning. God says to us. I have loved you. I heard just recently of a wise pastor giving his younger colleague a piece of good advice. 'Always remember, he said, that a root of many pastoral problems is that people don't realise how much God loves them.' And any pastor who has been in the job a long time will I guess agree. Failure to realise how much God loves you, that he cares for you so much, leads to all sorts of spiritual problems. But where's the evidence we say? In fact it's what the Israelites say: 'How have you loved us,' they say in verse 2. So God gives them the evidence.
b) The Evidence for God's Love- First he says you need to look back. Verses 2-3: ''Was not Esau Jacob's brother?' the Lord says. 'Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I
have hated.'' The story of Jacob and Esau is told in Genesis 27, and though Esau was the older, God chose to carry the promised line of Abraham, Jacob's grandfather, through Jacob. He didn't deserve it, but God set his love on Jacob not the older brother Esau. Jacob, not Esau, became the founding father of Israel. And nor was it because of anything Jacob had done. It was sheer grace. Jacob was just as much a scoundrel as Esau, but God chose Jacob, and he set his love upon him. So God tells the Israelites of Malachi's day to look back at their history. God has set his love on them, but not others. So the prophet Jeremiah can say that God has loved Israel with an everlasting love.
But what does it mean that God hated Esau? Surely that sounds arbitrary and callous? Well compared to the love that God shows Jacob, then it is hate. Often the Bible puts things in very stark terms to make a point. So Jesus can say that love for him means hating our family, not literally, but our family will be second to Christ. Compared to this type of love everything else appears as hate. But at the end of the day there is something mysterious about God's love. Only he knows why he loved Jacob and not Esau. And in the Bible, the fact of God's love for his people is always meant as a great encouragement. So the people are to look back and see God setting his love on them through Jacob.
But they are also to look around and see how God has dealt with Israel's enemies. Verse 3: 'But Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals. Edom may say, 'Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.' But this is what the Lord Almighty says: 'They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord. You will see it with your own eyes and say, 'Great is the Lord, even beyond the borders of Israel!'' The Edomites were the descendants of Esau and they had forever opposed Israel, and the final insult came when they helped the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem. But God won't stand for that. He will crush Israel's enemy, and even if the Edomites try and rebuild their city, God won't let them do it. And if you read the prophet Obadiah, you'll see that that is exactly what happened. For God is a great God and his name will be honoured among the nations. It should be clear to Israel now that God loves them very much indeed. For they are God's chosen people, and loved by God's sheer grace.
And if it should be clear to Israel, then it should be crystal clear to us. For God has performed a far greater rescue for us, which the Exodus and the Exile looked forward to, the cross of Christ. 'For God so loved the world, that he sent his one and only Son into the world that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.' Do you want to know how much God loves you? Look at the cross. Do you want to know if God cares for you personally, and has a thought for you today? Look at the cross. See Jesus' arms outstretched for you, see his hand pierced for you. See his head bleeding for you. For it's in the cross of Jesus that we see God's precious love for us.
You may know the story of the Archbishop of Paris. Tourists were going round the cathedral in Paris and they stopped in front of a painting of the crucifixion. And the bishop happened along at that moment and he said: 'Actually there's a story behind that painting. There was a gang of street kids, tough kids, and they would only let new members join their gang if they completed a tough challenge. Now one boy wanted to join so his challenge was come into this cathedral, and stand before this painting of Jesus. And in front of his friends and anyone else who happened to be there, he was to shout out loud at the painting of Jesus: 'Jesus Christ you died for me, and I do not care.' Well the boy came in, he thought it would be easy enough to do, the gang was around him, various other people in the building were there as well, And he started out 'Jesus Christ, you died for meand he couldn't bring himself to say the rest.' Well one of the tourists said, 'How did you know that?' And the bishop said: 'I know it because I was that boy.' Israel had no reason to doubt God's love. And nor do we have good reason to doubt the love of God when we look at the cross. So rejoice in God's love for you.
2) Realize God's Warnings to You (Vv 6-14)
But secondly, Malachi says to us realize God's warnings. And the people's behaviour in Malachi's time was nothing short of outrageous. And it was all the more despicable in the light of God's covenant love for them. And the heart of their problem was that they were spiritually complacent. Their public worship revealed a serious problem in their hearts. So in verses 6-14 he outlines the dangerous nature of their spiritual complacency. He begins in verse 6 by getting the people on his side: 'A son honours his father, and a servant his master.' Well that seems fairly straight forward doesn't it? We can all agree with that, and no doubt the people could too. But then Malachi sticks the knife in. ''If I am a father, where is the honour due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?' says the Lord Almighty. 'It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name.' You may agree on principle, but you're not doing it to me. And it would have come like a bolt out of the blue to the people. You people who think you're doing so well. You're actually dishonouring me by your disgraceful worship. And it's the priests, as leaders of the people who get the full brunt, the people themselves are not let off the hook. So how are they dishonouring God? In fact they themselves ask God: 'How have we shown contempt for my name?' Well in at least two ways, two ways in which we too can shown God contempt.
a) Painless Worship- First their contempt for God was seen in their painless worship. Verse 6: 'But you ask, 'How have we shown contempt for your name?' You place defiled food on my altar. But you ask, 'How have we defiled you?' 'By saying that the Lord's table is contemptible. When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong?' The way these Israelites were showing God contempt was by bringing defiled sacrifices to the altar of God, God's table as Malachi calls it. You see the law said that when the people brought sacrifices to God, they should be the best. They should not be sick or diseased animals, they should be perfect. No animals with broken legs, no animals with skin infections and sores. No, God wanted the best. But what are the people doing? They are fobbing off on God their second rate animals, like some Del Boy character trying to pull a fast one on God. So someone has some old goat which is blind in one eye and lame in one leg, and they say, 'Oh that will do for the sacrifice. We don't want to give up our best do we?' The irony was that they were offering unsacrificial sacrifices! And such an attitude was an offence to God. It was contemptible in his eyes.
Malachi gives his own illustration in verse 8: ''Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?' says the Lord Almighty.' It was law that the people would give food to the governor. So you can picture the scene. The governor has had a stressful day at the office and he comes home to a warm bath and a nice meal. And as his butler lifts up the lid and says, 'Complements of the people of Israel, Sir,' the governor sees before him a maggot infested, lice ridden leg of lamb. There's no way you'd do that, would you, says Malachi. So why on earth do you do that to God? Think how thoughtless you're being. Or to bring it up to date, the Queen invites you to one of her garden parties in the summer. And you spend hours getting ready, you buy a new suit and a new dress for the wife, you make sure you get there on tie, you behave with utmost respect to the Queen. Now if we do that to our earthly monarch, then why are we so slow to do it to our heavenly King. Malachi's message is painfully relevant to us. It's the sin of giving God the fag ends. The fag ends of our time, the fag ends of our talents, the fag ends of our money. After everything else is taken care of, then we'll give a moment's thought to God. Of course we'd never say it, but doesn't Malachi's warning ring bells for us? Is not our worship, which in NT terms means the whole of our lives, often painless? Does God not get second best much of the time? If so, then Malachi warns us that we're showing contempt for God's name.
b) Contemptible Worship- But Malachi also warns the people and us of contemptible worship. Verse 12: 'But you profane [my name] by saying of the Lord's table, 'It is defiled,' and of its food, 'It is contemptible.' And you say, 'What a burden!' and you sniff at it contemptuously,' says the Lord Almighty.' Malachi reveals what is going on inside the people's hearts. They find the whole worship of God a burden. The whole thing is tiresome and contemptible in their eyes. It was as if they were turning their noses up at God and just saying, in their actions, 'I find the whole thing rather dull. Quite frankly, God I'd prefer to be doing something else.' By bringing defiled animals they were, if you'll forgive the analogy, sticking their fingers up at God. We just don't care. We just can't be bothered. Again none of them were probably saying this, but their actions revealed where their hearts lay. And it wasn't as if Malachi was getting heated up about the legal fine points of the sacrificial system. No, he was far more worried about their hearts.
And if we are not careful, we can be guilty of this same horrific sin. Take our Sunday gatherings as an example. Let's examine our hearts and motives when we gather on Sundays. Is it all just a bit too mundane, a bit lethargic? Is your heart not in it? Do you go away thinking that was a bit flat and boring? Or could it be that really the heart of the problem is just that, your heart? One man came up to a vicar as he was about to preach and said: 'I hope you've got a good one for us today vicar.' To which the vicar replied, 'Only as good as you've prayed for?' Do you prepare yourselves to meet with God's people, perhaps reading through the passage of the sermon? Do you pray before hand that God would speak to you, that you'd be able to encourage others by your presence and words?Worship which costs us nothing benefits us nothing. It's very easy to go through the motions, but for our hearts to be cold as stone. And when we contemptuously turn our noses up at God, it is deeply offensive to him. It's the attitude which says: 'Do I have to give up my Sunday's to go to church?' Do I have to give up my time to help with this group or serve in this way? Why should I? And do you know what God would say to that attitude. It's a terrible discovery to make in verse 10: ''Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,' says the Lord Almighty, 'and I will accept no offering from your hands.'' Your attitude stinks so much, says God, that I would prefer it if you'd not bothered to come. I'd prefer it if you shut the church and lock the doors. If you're going to give me half hearted, weak willed worship, then you can forget it. That's what God's messenger, Malachi, is saying. Let us examine ourselves lest we too fall into that terrible position of offering contemptible worship. Malachi urges us to realize God's warnings to us. For we too are in danger of showing contempt for God's name through painless and contemptible worship.
3) Remember God is King over You (Vv 6-14)
So what is the antidote to showing God contempt in our worship. What is the antidote to spiritual complacency. Well that's Malachi's third point, which we'll look at very briefly, and that is to remember that God is King over you. You see a sure fire way to stop ourselves falling into spiritual apathy and spiritual complacency is to remember what an awesome God our God is. And Malachi mentions this four times in this first chapter. And it seems that this was another thing the people had forgotten. They had forgotten that the God who loved them was also the God of the whole world. Verse 5: 'You will see it with your own eyes and say, 'Great is the Lord -even beyond the
borders of Israel!'' In verse 11 we get it twice: ''My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,' says the Lord Almighty.' And in verse 14, in the face of rank hypocrisy: ''Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but
then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,' says the Lord
Almighty, 'and my name is to be feared among the nations.'' The root cause of the people's spiritual apathy and complacency is that they had forgotten who it was that they were worshiping. And it's ours too. It's just so easy to forgot how great a God our God is. A poverty in worship springs from a poverty in knowing God. So hear the challenge and vow to get to know this great God better. This God is the great King, the one who holds the nations like a drop in the bucket, the one who can send sinners to hell, the one who lives for eternity, the great King before whom we will one day stand.
Is that your God? Well if so, then put aside all spiritual apathy and spiritual complacency and come back to the true and living God. Rejoice that this awesome holy God loves you. Realize his terrible warnings which he gives to those who are giving him second best, who treat him worse then some petty earthly monarch. And remember that this God is our King, the one before whom one day we will all appear. What does God say: 'I the Lord do not changeto me, and I will return to you.'
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