The Lord has loved his people - Malachi 1:1-5

This is a sermon by Malcolm Peters from the Riverside Church service on 20th January 2008.

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I was speaking to someone recently who was adopted as a baby.  And when she was older, she was told that she’d been adopted.  And later still, she was given the opportunity to trace her natural parents.    But this particular lady said:  why would I want to.  Mum is my real mum - her adopted mum that is.  She nursed me, provided for me and loved me when I was an unlovable stroppy teenager.  I know that mum loves me and always will and the fact that I’m adopted makes no difference. 

It’s a heart warming story.  But sadly it’s not always the case.    In some cultures, children are adopted by families who need an extra pair of hands around the house, or in the fields or the family business.  And in such families, love can be in short supply:  if the child’s behaviour gets out of hand or they’re not up to the job they were adopted for, then it’s back to the orphanage they go.    For many adopted children, there’s often a nagging:  do my parents really love me?


And what’s true in human families is also true in spiritual families.  As God’s people, we’ve all been adopted into His family;  into His family of the Trinity that is;  but also into His family of the church – our fellow adopted brothers and sisters that is.  

But I wonder if you’ve ever doubted whether God really loves you?  Maybe there’s been a sudden issue in your life, an accident, ill health or bereavement;  maybe some other difficulty in your family or problem at work.  Maybe you’re just physically, emotionally or spiritually worn down by the everyday realities of life in this busy and demanding world. 
You may not have even stepped back and thought about it this bluntly;  you’ve probably never mentioned it to anyone else;  but deep down, you’re doubting whether God really loves you;  did He really ever love me in the first place? 

Think back to the Christmas hype.  It’s only a few weeks ago.  Think of all those promises in the traditional Christmas readings:  a coming king in David’s line who'd always be on the throne;  Immanuel – God with us in a new way that would blow our hearts and minds;  an end to war and bloodshed – leading to peace on earth and everlasting goodwill. 

Well in the middle of January, the hype’s all gone hasn’t it?  And what about those Christmas promises?  Were they just hype too?  Like the adverts for everything else in the run up to Christmas.  Buy this product, and it will change your life.  But in the cold light of day, does it really do what it says on the tin?  Does God really love me? 

And that’s the central issue in the book of Malachi which we’ll be looking at this term.  So if you’re not already there, pl turn with me to Mal 1:2 on p [891/        ]:

Mal 1:2   I have loved you," says the LORD.   "But you ask, 'How have you loved us?'

God’s people in Malachi’s day doubted God’s love for them.  Even when God tells them:  “I have loved you”,  they immediate dismiss it.   

Background

So what’s happened?   How has the relationship between God and His people become so fragile.  Well if you we here last July, then you’ll have a head start.  Because last July we looked at the book of Haggai.  And Haggai was about 100 years before Malachi.  

So as you can see from the [handout/ screen], about 1000 earlier, Moses had written the book of Deuteronomy.  And in that book, the Lord had promised His people blessings, if they obeyed Him.  But curses of they disobeyed Him.  And as we saw in our family services last year, the ultimate curse was the exile.    And just as He’d promised, in 586BC, God used the Babylonians to send His people into exile. 

But God also promised that the exile would only last for 70 years, so in 538BC, the Persian King Cyrus conquered Babylon.  And the Persians allowed all the exiles to go home.   The Lord was fulfilling His promises.   Promises to restore and bless His people.

And that’s what the book of Haggai was all about.  The Lord encouraging His people to get on with the job of rebuilding the temple.   But the point was that through Haggai, the Lord wasn’t just talking about rebuilding the temple.  He wasn’t even just promising a return to the glory days of King David.  No God was promising a whole new world order.  A new world order where God’s people would be on top.    A time when the new Governor or King in David’s line would rule the world.  And for the Lord’s people there would be peace;  lasting peace;  eternal peace.   a new beginning that was in a totally different league to everything that had gone before. 

And the people of Haggai's day took God at his word and got on with the job.  And understanding this basic historical outline of the OT really helps us to understand and apply the OT.  And if you want a basic reference guide to that history, then pick one of these Bible Timeline leaflets from the Info Stand or even better buy a copy of that book Tina was reviewing earlier.  [The leaflets are free and the book’s a bargain at £6.]    But back to the time on the [handout/ screen].    4 years after those prophesies in Haggai, the Temple was completed.    But then what?

Well despite God’s promises about a better and more glorious temple, the new temple was small, tacky and cheap.   No gold -  the budget wouldn’t stretch that far.  Compared to the previous temple, it was a Tesco value sort of temple. But at least the temple had been rebuilt.  Because the rest of Jerusalem was still in ruins.  The walls were a mess;  and like some of the council estates in East Hull, loads of the houses in Jerusalem were empty or derelict.    Lots of Jews hadn’t even come back from Babylon;  given the choice, lots of them had decided to stay on – probably better job prospects there.   Because the economy was a bit ropy as well back in Israel;  not dire, but not the best.  And not helped by the huge federal taxes the province was expected to pay the Persians for their protection and all that.  Israel was a tiny insignificant province of the mighty Persian Empire.  No king, just a Governor appointed by the Persians.  And a bit like some of our career politicians, some of the governors were a bit dodgy to say the least.   

And so the years and the decades rolled on.  We’ve built the temple for you, God’s people were saying.  So what about your promises?  Promises of a return to the glory days and an even better world.  Because the realty nearly a century later was very different.    As the old saying goes, once bitten twice shy.  When you think someone’s word is unreliable, then you’re less likely to believe them aren’t you?

“I have loved you” says the Lord.      “Yeah right”, said the people in response.  How’s that then?  How have you loved us?  Look at the mess we’re in.  We’re not being taken in by all that nonsense again.  On ya bike. 

And so coming back to Mal 1, in the rest of v2-5, we see God patiently answering such doubts.  He could have said: “go to your bedroom – how dare you speak to me like that”.  Or grown-up words to that effect.  Be He doesn’t;  he responds like a loving parent.  OK   - you think I’ve given up on you and don't love you any more. OK I’ll prove it to you. 
And so in v2b & 3 He remind them that He’s always had a special plan for His people
And in v4&5 He explains that He protects His people by destroying their enemies

1. The Lord’s always had a special plan for His people (v2b-3)

So then first of all in v2b & 3 the Lord has always had a special plan for His people.    Let’s look at those verses again:

Mal 1:1b:  “"Was not Esau Jacob's brother?" the LORD says. "Yet I have loved Jacob, 3 but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals."


And instantly we recoil at that don’t we?   God hating someone;  how can that be right?  Isn’t God the perfect example of love?  Well yes he is.  And unlike our warped understanding of love, God’s love is perfect.  So perfect that He’s totally opposed to sin.  And so He must oppose, hate even, both sin and those who commit sin. 

And so we must be more careful with the cliché that God hates the sin but loves the sinner.    God does love His people as we’ll see.  But at the same time, the Lord hates both sin and those who commit sin. 
And so it was with Edom, the nation that came from Easu.    If you know your Bible history, then you’ll know that Isaac and Rebecca had a pair of twins:  Easu and Jacob.  Esau was the oldest.  Legally and culturally, Esau was the one who should have inherited His father’s property;  his father’s blessing.  But Esau sold his birthright for a single meal.  For a bowl of soup, Easu chucked away his inheritance;  tossed aside his Father’s blessing. 

But God was still gracious to Esau.  Just like his younger brother, the Lord gave Easu a large family;  a large family that grew into nation.  The nation of Edom.  And just like Israel, the Lord provided the nation of Edom with a land to live in;  the mountainous region to the south of Israel. 

In the book of Deuteronomy, the nation of Israel was specially commanded not to hate the Edomites:  ‘they are your brothers’ the Lord told them.  So how did Edom respond?

Well when the Lord brought the Israelites up out of Egypt, through the Red Sea and onto the promised land, they needed to go though the land of Edom to get there.  They even agreed to stick to the main road and pay for any water they drank on the way through.  But Edom said no.    One foot in our land and we’ll slaughter you, was the response.  Maybe that puts your family feuds over Christmas into perspective!

But 1000 years later, nothing had changed.  When Babylon was attacking Israel, the Edomites didn’t come to the rescue.    They didn’t even look away and pretend it wasn’t happening.  No they looked on and rejoiced over Jerusalem’s destruction.  And like the Chinese handing back anyone they catch escaping from N Korea, when the Edomites caught their brother Israelites fleeing from Jerusalem, they handed them over to the Babylonians to almost certain death.  And when the Babylonians has finished trashing Jerusalem, the Edomites went in, carried off anything of value and smashed up what was left.  Just like a toddler ripping up his brother’s painting.  Except we’re talking about morally responsible grown-ups. 

And God wasn’t happy.  In fact God was hopping mad.  Through His prophets, God had warned the Edomites not to do such things.  He’d commanded them to repent.  But they’d ignored Him.    And so The Lord allowed the Arabs to invade Edom and turn their fertile mountainous country into a wasteland.  As he puts it in v3: 

“Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals."

God’s hatred of Esau was His totally justified punishment of their sin.  Their ignoring His laws.  Their ignoring their God-given consciences.  Their complete lack of repentance.  Edom’s punishment was 100% deserved.  And God was 100% justified in imposing the death sentence. 

But there’s a problems with God’s justice.    Because God isn’t like one of Robert Mugabe’s judges.  No God’s impartial;  fair;  totally just.  And there’s a  problem with that:  because Jacob was just as much a sinner as Esau.  Jacob was a liar and a cheat.    And the nation of Israel hadn’t been any better than Edom.  They’d rejected the Lord and His word.  And so God had sent them into exile.  God had used the Babylonians to turn the mountains of Israel into a wasteland as well. 

In a moral universe, it’s good news that God is just.  But for individual sinners, God’s justice has dire consequences.  Eternal consequences in fact.  Because the destruction of both Israel and Edom are pictures of the final judgment to come;  pictures of hell if you like.

So where does that leave us then?   What about God’s special plan for His people;  his eternal plan? 

Well think back to those promises to Jacob and Esau’s grandfather;  the promises to Abraham:  the promise of people & land but most important of all, the promise of blessing. 

Like Isaac, Abraham had 2 sons:  Ishmael & Isaac.  But even though Ishmael was Abraham’s first child, God said that His promises, His covenant blessing that is, God promises would carry on through Isaac.    And it was the same with Easu and Jacob.  Back in Gen chapter 25 while she was still pregnant the Lord had spoken to Rebecca and said:

Gen 25: 23 Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated;  one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger."



The older will serve the younger Rebecca was told in this Word from the Lord.  Esau the oldest will loose out to Jacob the youngest.   Just like Isaac and Ishmael, the younger son was the son of the promise; the one through whom God’s covenant promises would be established and continued.    And remember, God made this promises before the twins were even born. 

Keep a finger in Mal and turn Rom 9 on  p[ 1054/          ].  Look at v10 

Rom 9: 10Not only that, but Rebecca’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. 11Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God's purpose in election might stand: 12not by works but by him who calls—she was told, "The older will serve the younger." 13Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."[e]   

The problem with God’s perfect justice, as Paul has already explained in Romans, is that none of us match up to His perfect standard. 

There is no one righteous, not even one;  ……..
There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

Like both Easu and Jacob, we all deserve God just punishment for our sins.    But God has always had a special plan for His people.  A plan to save them from their sins and rescue them from His judgment.  A plan that somehow protects them from God’s just hatred of them and their sin.

‘I have loved you’ says the Lord to His people Israel.   I have always loved you.  And I will keep my promises to your forefather Abraham.  Promises that were only fully realised through Abraham’s ultimate offspring:  the Lord Jesus.    The One who was punished in the place of His people as he was abandoned by His heavenly father;  they one who died the death penalty we all deserved for our sin and rejection of our Creator.  The one who literally went to hell and back so His people could be justly forgiven. 

Left by ourselves, we’re all heading for the wastelands of Edom.  But to His covenant people, the New Israel, the church of the firstborn:  The Lord says:  I have loved you.  Always have and always will.  Someone else has taken the punishment you deserve so that you don’t have too.  Never forget that.  I have loved you.  And that love cost me my only Son.

2. God protects His people by destroying their enemies (v4-5)

I have loved you says the Lord.  How?  Well first of all in v2b&3 we’ve seen that the Lord has always had a special plan for His people.  But then in v4&5, we’ve got the second proof:  The Lord demonstrates the love for His people by destroying their enemies.  The Lord protects His people by destroying their enemies. 

Look with me at v4:

 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. 5 You will see it with your own eyes and say, 'Great is the LORD -even beyond the borders of Israel!'

Now I’m sure you can’t imagine it, but sometimes my children a naughty and get sent to the naughty step.  And after a few minutes, I go and talk to them about what they’ve done.  But sometimes there’s an immediate act of defiance:  they eyes get rolled to heaven or the tongue comes out.  But whatever it is, the message is:  I’m not at all sorry for what I’ve done and I’m not going to listen to a word you say. 

And that’s how the Edomites were treating God.  God had punished them by turning their land into a desert.   But instead of repentance, they stuck their tongue out: 

"Though we’ve been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins."

Oh no you won’t says God.  There’ll be no return from exile for Edom.    And that’s a promise.    You will see it with your own eyes, he predict to His people Israel;  and when you see this promise fulfilled, then you’ll praise the Lord. 

And we know from history, that’s what happened.  The remnant of Edom was eventually wiped out;  the nation of Edom was obliterated from world history.  So why the difference?  Why did God promised Israel would return from exile after 70 years, but eternal destruction for Edom? 


Well it all comes back to those promises to Abraham. 
Again, keep a finger in Mal and flip back to Gen 12 on p [10/     ]
 
"I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you;  I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.  3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

In our FS we focused on the 3 main aspects of the promise:  people, land and blessing.  But there’s more isn’t there.  God promises to curse those who curse His people.  Or as we’ve seen in Malachi, God demonstrates love for His people by protecting them from their enemies; how does he protect His people:  God destroys or curses their enemies. 

And it’s the same for God’s people today.  God loves and protects His people.  How?  By destroying their enemies.   So who are our enemies today you might be asking?   Well Jesus made it clear that are enemies are no longer flesh and blood like the Edomites, but the spiritual forces of evil:  the Devil and his agents.  And the NT makes it clear that by His death on the cross, Jesus was tying Satan up and ultimately destroying Him.    If you like, the cross condemned Satan to a cell on death row.  Satan has been defeated and when Jesus returns, Satan will be finished off once for all.  No doubt about it. 

But Satan’s not our greatest enemy.  Not our greatest enemy is our decaying bodies and the death we all face.  On the cross Jesus defeated evil and Satan.  But by His resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday he has destroyed death itself and shown us the way to receive new bodies that will live forever in the eternal new creation.     

I have loved you says the Lord to His people.  I’ve always had a special plan for you.  And I will protect you from your enemies by destroying them.    The battle’s already been won and I’m just finishing off the mopping up operations.  It might be taking a couple of thousand years, but my concept of time is different to your.  As Take That would say:  have a little patience.   The eternal outcome is secure.  So do you get it now.  I have loved you.  What more could I do for you?



I have loved you says the Lord.  But the question is do you believe me.  Or after all I’ve done, are you still rolling your eyes to heaven and saying:  how have you loved me.    It’s probably the most important question you’ll ever have to answer.   Because how you respond shows whether you’re one of God’s people or one of His enemies facing certain  defeat.  I have loved you, says the Lord.  So what do you make of that?  Let’s have a few moments of refection before I close us in prayer. Let’s pray. 
 

Closing Prayer

Dear HF, thank you for loving your people and demonstrating that love so clearly.  Help us to response rightly to your love and so demonstrate that we really are your people, for our eternal safety, but your ultimate glory we pray.  Amen.

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