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What if over this past year, you went to church every single Sunday? What if you sang all the songs, listened to all the sermons, and served on every ministry team? And what if God hated every bit of it? What if God would have rather shut the church doors then for you to have worshiped him in the way that you have for the last year? What if all your religious steps that you thought were appeasing God were actually angering him? This is exactly what the people of Israel come to find out in the book of Malachi.
From the very first verse, we know what kind of prophecy this book of Malachi is going to be. The word oracle sets the tone for everything that is to follow. The word means “burden”. From the beginning, there is a sense of heaviness to the message presented. The message of Malachi is heavy, hard, and convicting. Its designed to awaken the hearts and open the eyes of people who have drifted far away from the Lord. Its written for a people who stunningly have no idea just how far they actually have drifted. In fact, the whole book is structured according to six different disputations in which God accuses the people of a particular sin and they argue back with God. They make justifications, excuses, and arguments for why God’s accusation is actually unfounded.
Malachi 1:1-5 The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi. 2“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob 3 but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” 4 If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.’” 5 Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!”
God begins his prophecy in the book of Malachi with these words, “I have loved you.” It is a staggering thought that God Almighty would declare his love for Israel even after years of rebellion and sin. This is the last book in the Old Testament and we have all of Israel’s ugly history to look back on. If one thing is clear from the Old Testament, Israel was not very loveable. But if God’s declaration of love is staggering, Israel’s response is likewise shocking. They ask, “How have you loved us?”
They Fail to Recognize the Depth of God’s Love
Israel finds themselves asking the most audacious question that a child of God could ever ask. Perhaps it’s not such an audacious question for you though. Perhaps it is actually a quite familiar question. Has life every hit you so hard, that you look around and find no reason to believe that God has loved you at all? Have you ever looked around and seen all the pain, hurt, and heartache and asked where God was in all of this? Perhaps, like Israel, your expectations have not been met and God seems slow on his promises.
“How have you loved us?”
There are countless ways God could have responded to this question, but the way he responds is shockingly specific. He points his people back to the very beginning of their history and to the birth of Jacob and Esau. God recounts how he specifically and uniquely chose Jacob to be the father of the people of Israel through which God would establish the blessed family line. If you look back to the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25, you will remember that Jacob and Esau were twin brothers, but God sovereignly selected Jacob to receive the blessing of his Father. Now why in the world did God choose this as his argument to prove his love for the people of Israel? How did God argue his love for his people by saying, “Just look at the people that came from Esau” What does God’s judgment on Esau have to do with God’s love for the people of Israel?
God is making a very important point in regard to the nature of God’s love for his people. God’s love for Israel was a totally undeserved covenant love. God’s love for Israel was not a love based upon Israel’s loveliness. Esau was Jacob’s twin brother. In fact, Esau was born first so he was technically the oldest and according to custom the deserving brother of his father’s blessing. They had the same parents.They were both sinners and they both made pretty bad mistakes. A great nation came from the seed of Esau called the Edomites and a great nation came from the seed of Jacob called the Israelites. Both nations sinned greatly against God. Both nations suffered at the hands of their enemies, but only one nation had been redeemed, restored, and forgiven as God’s chosen people. Only one nation was returning to their land and being rebuilt after the recent Babylonian and Assyrian conquests.
God freely chose to bestow unique favor upon the family of Jacob when the family of Jacob deserved absolutely no more favor than anyone else. God is humbling his readers in this moment under the riches of God’s grace for them though they deserved none of it. God is taking away any reason for boasting. Every provision and protection ever experienced by Israel including the present moment where they are back in the promised land and safe from their enemies is simply a result of divine grace for a people who deserved God’s wrath. There is no nation that has earned God’s favor by good behavior. The Edomites received the judgment they earned and the Israelites for some reason were not receiving it. God showed them mercy simply because he is God and he had chosen to set his love upon them though they had been totally and entirely unlovable.
Why Does this Matter to Us?
This principle of God’s unmerited love is not a principle that stays in the Old Testament. May we as Christians never ask, “How has God loved me?” If you are a Christian saved from your sins by the grace of God you have been loved beyond measure totally set apart from any merit or worth of your own. I do not claim to understand with totality the ways God works in saving sinners, but this I know, I was lost but now I am found. I was blind but now I see. I have been saved by the grace of God alone totally independent of any good work done by me. There is no conceivable reason that I would be born to Christian parents and that I would have the opportunity to hear the Christian gospel at the age of eight. There is no conceivable reason why you were born in a day in age where you can read this post about God’s love with just the swipe of a finger and a click of a button. It’s all by his grace and its all for his glory. All Christians can say with the utmost humility the words of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 1.
Ephesians 1:3-8 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight
The beginning of sin for these Israelites, was their failure to see and savor the sovereign and gracious love of God poured out for them though they were totally and entirely undeserving of it. But their sin goes deeper still.
Malachi 1:6 A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’
Failure #2 They Failed to Recognize the Height of God’s Glory
God makes this comparison between two earthly relationships that demand honor and reverence – the father and the master. There is a natural reverence that any good father should receive even without him asking for it. He is the provider of the family, the protector of the family, the leader of the family, and the disciplinarian of the family. The same goes for the master of his servant. Masters hold the keys to the livelihood of their servants. If a servant is disobedient, or disrespectful, he may lose his job, his house, and life as he knows it. Masters, therefore, naturally demand a certain respect from their servants.
Having established these earthly positions that naturally demand honor, God asks these piercing questions, “If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear?” The implication is that God is the ultimate father and he is the ultimate master of the universe yet he is receiving no honor from his people. God accuses the priests of despising his name. To despise in this context means to think lightly of or to make contempt. The priests were guilty of making little of God’s name as if he was not glorious at all.
This failure is foundational to understanding how sin works because this is where sin starts – the belittlement of God. When you fail to see God as glorious you will inevitably begin to view something else as more glorious, and you will pursue that something to your own destruction. The great purpose for which we and the world were created is the glorification of God and the great sin of which we are all guilty is the de-glorification of God.
God sets out through the prophet Malachi to show just how ridiculous it is to make little of God. Even in the word usage that Malachi uses to describe God’s name throughout chapter 1, we find these incomparable concepts of God’s divine glory. Eight times in chapter 1 God is referred to as “the Lord of hosts” That word “hosts” is used in the Old Testament as a descriptor of three major things: armies, angels, and stars.
John Piper comments.
“What Malachi wants us to see and feel is that our Father in heaven has infinite authority in the universe. He can wield any and all armies on the earth to accomplish his purposes among the nations, whether they know it or not, He has myriads of unstoppable angels who do his bidding flawlessly and never fail in their errands. And he has appointed every star in the universe its position. He holds them in place – all trillion trillion of them – and he calls them by name.
-John Piper, Sermon on Malachi 1, desiringgod.org.
In Malachi, God is the father of all things, the master of all things, the Lord of armies, the Lord of angels, the Lord of stars, and finally, he is the great King of the nations.
Malachi 1:11 For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.
Malachi 1:14 For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.
There is coming a day where every single nation across the planet will recognize God as the rightful King of the nations and he will be worshipped as the Lord of hosts. It is this Lord of hosts, the King of Nations, that the priests are despising. They are out of step with the course of history which will ultimately end with God’s glory lifted up for all to see and they don’t even realize that they are despising God’s name.
These first 2 failures were inward realities. They failed to see and savor the love of God and the glory of God, but what follows are the outward expressions of their inner sin. God goes on to point them to the outward sin symptoms of their inward sin infection. Sins that we see are almost always symptoms of sins that are deep within. For these Israelites, the sin infection was in the heart that failed to recognize God’s love and God’s glory. But now God turns to the outward expressions of those inward sins. God hears their question, “How have we despised you?” and its as if God says, “Well I’m glad you asked”
Malachi 1:7-14 By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised. 8 When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts. 9 And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts. 10 Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. 11 For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. 12 But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised. 13 But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord. 14 Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.
Symptom #1 – Their Worship Illustrated How Little Value God Was to Them
God had ordained in the Old Testament that he be worshipped by way of animal sacrifices. Animals were valuable assets. Animals were food, they were valuable for trade, they were tools for survival, and they were the livelihood of the family. But as an act of worship, God had called his people to sacrifice their best to God. By sacrificing what was most valuable to God in the temple, they declared God to be most valuable. By sacrificing resources they relied upon for survival, they declared God to be most reliable.Their worship was designed to be God-glorifying because it was through their worship that God was made known to be glorious and trustworthy!
Over time, their worship was no longer an overflow of how loving and glorious they believed God to be. Over time, it became just another task they had to get done. Their worship became outward religious activity with no inward spiritual awe of God. Because it ceased to be an overflow of their worshipping hearts God no longer got the best. He got the leftovers.
Instead of making sacrifices that illustrated God’s infinite worth, they made sacrifices that were really no sacrifices at all. They gave God only what they could spare. They gave God only what did not cost them anything. They gave to God as long as it did not inconvenience them or cause any discomfort. They gave blind animals that could not pull carts to tread the grain. They gave sick animals that were no good for eating anyway. In the process, they were defeating the purpose of worship altogether. In fact, their worship had the opposite effect of the designed purpose. This worship did not make God look glorious, rather it made God look of no value at all. Having healthy sheep they could count on was more important to the people than God.
Translate this unacceptable worship into our day and our lives over the past year. God no longer commands his people to make animal sacrifice, but he does command his people to worship through many God-ordained avenues. The question we must ask ourselves is what our lives over the past year said about the God we claimed to serve? How did you spend your time, money, and talents? What were your priorities? If someone were to examine your life over the last year would they say that the God you serve is glorious? Would they say that he is worthy of great sacrifice? Would they say that he is trustworthy? Or would they say that your God is an inconvenient additive to an already busy life? Is your obedience totally contingent upon whether it inconveniences you or not?
In a culture obsessed with convenience, comfort, and security it is very difficult to worship a Jesus you said things like, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk. 9:23). Christianity spreads like wildfire in countries undergoing severe persecution because worshipping God comes at great cost in those countries. If worshipping this God is worth the cost of your life, then the unbelievers begin to recognize that this God must be worthy of worship.
What does my obedience and worship say about how much I value the God I claim to worship? Maybe you can answer that question with a long list of all the good religious things you did, but remember God is not after the material things. God doesn’t need perfect adherence to religious activity. He is after your heart. He is after worship that overflows from a heart that is in awe of Him!
Malachi 1:13 But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord.
Symptom #2 Their Worship Was a Wearisome Task.
What does it mean that their worship was a wearisome task? It means that worship was a hardship. It was a burden. It was boring. Translated into our day, this may look like grumbling adherence to any number of religious things. It looks like reading your Bible just to check off a box. It looks like gathering for church on Sunday with no eager expectation of communing with God. It looks like falling asleep in the sermon out of boredom because you are not listening for God’s voice in the Scriptures. It’s doing worshipful things without a worshipping heart. And God hates that kind of worship. According to verse 10, God would rather someone shut the doors then for that kind of worship to be offered. God does not need our worship or our service. He wants our hearts. He wants us to do things that make him look valuable because we actually believe him to be supremely valuable.
Psalm 51:15-17 O Lord, open my lips and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
The Israelites did not only need worship practice reform. They needed total heart reform. They needed a miracle of supernatural proportions. They needed the miracle that their sacrifices were supposed to be foreshadowing.
The Most Valuable Sacrifice of All
One of the reasons that the sacrifices of the people of Israel were supposed to be spotless, perfect, and chosen was that God was foreshadowing what he would actually do by sending Jesus Christ as the perfect sacrifice for sin. God was going to make the ultimately costly sacrifice of the most valuable proportions.
1 Peter 1:18 “Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”
Even when we refused to sacrifice anything for the Lord the Lord sacrificed everything for us. He died in our place to accomplish forgiveness for all of our failed worship and now through faith in him we not only are forgiven of our sins, but the Bible says that we are given a new heart. We are given a heart that is finally capable of genuine worship of God without it being wearisome! Look at the cross and see the depths of God’s love. Look at the cross and see the heights of God’s glory! Resolve not to give God your leftovers in 2018. Resolve to worship in ways that illustrate God’s infinite worth. Live under the influence of thanksgiving that God provided the most precious sacrifice for the salvation of our souls. Plead with God to give you a heart that is overjoyed with worship rather than overburdened with worship.
May we enter into 2018 with renewed resolve to offer God acceptable worship!
Romans 12:1 “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.