Text: Revelation 1:4-6; Malachi 2:1-17
Last week, we talked about what it means to honor God in response to His love for us. This morning, we’re going to talk about the idea of faithfulness, and we’re going to ask the question, “Where is our faithfulness?”
Now, you might be asking, “Where in the world did that Revelation passage come from?” I read that passage first because I don’t want us to make any mistake about who this word in Malachi 2 is addressed to. When we read passages like this we might be tempted to say, “That’s not for us today, that was for that group of people there in that distant place in time and history.” But, make no mistake that God’s word always has practical application for us.
It’s true that this was first addressed to priests who worked in the temple under the old administration of the covenant, but here and now, under this new covenant this word applies to us who are called to be priests unto God.
So, with that I want us to first examination, The Job Description or Occupation of Priests, and then I want us to see how the priests broke covenant with God, and broke covenant with one another.
The Occupation of Priests
In the Old Testament you had the High Priest, and then you have the priests who served under the high priest. The High Priest was the one who went into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled blood on the altar. Christ fulfills the office of High Priest for us, but we are like these priests that served under the High Priest. Priests had two main functions: they were to serve God, and they were to serve others by being the go-between point for God and man. They’re function was to draw near to God, and to bear God’s people before God.
So, what does this mean for us?
Over and over again, the Bible says that we are a “holy priesthood” and “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5-9). Revelation 5:9-10 says that Christ has purchased us and made us to be “a kingdom and priests serving our God, and [we] will reign on earth.”
Our ultimate function as the holy priesthood of God is to serve God, and serve others by doing what the priests of the Old Testament did and present others to God, and we do that with our witness, with our testimony, with the gifts that God has given us for the edification of the body of Christ.
We are the priests who point to our High Priest, Jesus Christ, as He bore the weight our sins on Himself. And so, that’s our job. We are priests unto God, telling of His goodness to others, and Malachi 2 deals with not only the failures of those priests, but our failures to be the priests that God has called us to be.
- As I stated last week, this is hard. This is weighty, but we shouldn’t hear the voice of condemnation because that’s not what God intends for us. Verse 4 even tells us, “I have sent this command to you that my covenant may hold.” Instead, we should hear the voice of conviction calling us to a higher and better standard of living.
Priests Who Break Covenant with God (v. 1-9)
God Deals with Priestly Failure
“And now, O priests, this command is for you. 2If you will not listen, if you will not lay it to heart to give glory to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse on you… – Malachi 2:1-2a, NRSV
So many times we come to church and we hear the Word of God preached, and we hear the Word of God taught in Sunday School, and it goes in one hear and out the other. We listen, but we don’t lay it to heart, and God is telling us that listening isn’t enough, the Word must applied to our hearts if it’s going to do us any good.
And then God goes on to tell us the details of the curse. This is how God deals with priestly failure. Keep in mind, we read in chapter 1 that God would rather close the doors on the temple, then to have them come in and kindle fire on His altar in vain. So, this how God starts the process of closing the doors on the temple.
“and I will curse your blessings; indeed I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart.” – Malachi 2:2b, NRSV
What do you think it means that God actually curses their blessings?
Numbers 6:24-27 is traditional priestly benediction:
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
25the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
26the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
27So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”
– Numbers 6:24-27, NRSV
If God curses the blessing of the priests when they give that benediction then it does the exact opposite, and they might as well be saying this:
May the Lord curse you, and abandon you!
May the Lord keep you in darkness, and hide His face from you!
May the Lord give you only judgement and torment instead of grace and peace!
And that’s what the priests brought on themselves by not taking God’s word, and laying it to heart. We would save ourselves a lot of trouble in life if we take God’s word and lay it to heart.
So, God deals with priestly failure by taking their blessings and turning them to curses, but He also takes their pride and turns it to shame.
“I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and I will put you out of my presence.” – Malachi 2:3, NRSV
God isn’t just saying this as a some kind of shock factor. By threatening them in this way, if God were to actually spread the dung of their offerings on their faces, this would disqualify them from priestly service in the temple. They’ve already disqualified themselves in ways that are less visible, but this would make it plain to the world that these men who made vows before God are shameful covenant breakers.
- This is why we must grieve over our sin. If you grieve over your sin, then you’re in a good place because that’s the place where God can show grace, mercy, and forgiveness, but if you’re like these priests who act as if they have no sin, then you make God a liar and the truth is not in you. That’s 1 John 1:8 – “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
By threatening to expose and disqualify the priests, God is saying on no uncertain terms that He would rather have no priests than unfaithful priests.
- God doesn’t need us. You’ve heard me say before that God isn’t like Greek gods of the pantheon that required worshippers to stay in existence. All men can be liars and deceivers and yet God will still be true. His word will still be the standard of truth and morality, even if every individual decides to follow the course of this world all the way to hell in a handbasket.
God turns their blessings into curses, and He turns their pride into shame, and He does the same thing with us. No one ever really prospers without God. We catch people like King David and the prophet Jeremiah saying all through the Scriptures, “Why do the wicked prosper?”
- “For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.” – Psalm 73:3, NLT
- “LORD, you always give me justice when I bring a case before you. So let me bring you this complaint: Why are the wicked so prosperous? Why are evil people so happy?” – Jeremiah 12:1, NLT
The truth is that the wicked only look like they’re prospering. They might have houses, and cars, and land, but they’ve always got to have one more car, one more house, just one more piece of land. It’s never enough. And one day, God will call them to account.
If you look verses 4 through 7, we’ll see God’s standard for priestly success.
God’s Standard for Priestly Success
“Know, then, that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may hold, says the Lord of hosts. 5My covenant with him was a covenant of life and well-being, which I gave him; this called for reverence, and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. 6True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in integrity and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. 7For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 2:4-7, NRSV
I think verses 4 and 5 are profound.
In verse 4, God explicitly states that the whole reason for this command is that His covenant would hold, and then God goes on in verse 5 to tell us what the covenant means. He says, “My covenant with him was a covenant of life and well-being.”
- This is God’s intent every time He chastens us. The end of Hebrews 12:10 tells us God disciplines us for a time “that we may share His holiness.”
- “Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:11, NRSV
Every time you read the word and it convicts you, every time you hear the Word taught or preached and it convicts you, it’s for the intention that you would see fruits of righteousness in your life. And This is what God is doing here in Malachi 2. He’s not being mean and spiteful. He’s disciplining the priests so that they meet the standard that God sets for them. He’s wanting them to fit this picture of priestly success in Malachi 2:5-6:
- He revered me and stood in awe of my name.
- True instruction was in his mouth, no wrong on His lips.
- He walked with me in integrity
- He turned many from iniquity.
If you’re keeping your Bible open and following along, I want you to notice that these things that God is saying that makes up a good priest, these things follow a pattern.
- He revered me, stood in awe of My name (relationship to God)
- True instruction, no wrong on his lips (relationship to others)
- He walked with me in integrity (relationship to God)
- He turned many from iniquity (relationship to others)
What does tell us the two greatest commandments are: Love God, love others, in that order. That’s where moral failure begins to be formed. Moral failure is always birthed in the place where we fail to love and honor God the way we should. So, when the Hebrew priests start breaking the marriage covenant with their Hebrew wives so that can marry idol-worshipping Palestinian wives, it’s not because one day the priest woke up and said, “Today, I’m going to leave my wife and go find a nice looking pagan girl,” it’s because they began being unfaithful to God, and when you’re relationship with God is terrible your relationship with others will follow.
- When you start loving God for what He can give you, you’ll start loving others for what they can give you.
- If your relationship with God is centered around you (your wants, your needs, “me, me, me”), then your relationships with others will be the same way. That’s not the way a priest unto God is supposed to act.
And this is how the priests break covenant with each other. Notice verse 10.
Priests Who Break Covenant with One Another (v. 10-17)
“Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our ancestors?”
– Malachi 2:10, NRSV
Notice that Malachi is trying to reason with them. He’s says, “Listen, we’re all sons of God here. We’re in the family, and if we’re in the family, then why are we faithless to each other? Why do we not keep our covenants with one another?”
“And this you do as well: You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor at your hand. 14You ask, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was a witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.”
– Malachi 2:13-14, NRSV
Remember last week, we said that there were severe consequences to half-hearted repentance. And this is what Malachi 1 was saying. Jesus even tells us in Matthew 5 that if we have ought with our brother we give our gifts at the altar. We have to leave our gift there, patch things up, and then give our gift.
- It’s not that you don’t have the ability to repent until you make your relationships right, it’s that you have to demonstrate that your repentance is genuine. If you’re repentance is genuine, you’ll want to be faithful in your relationships to others because God has been faithful to you.
This is what Malachi is saying in verse 13. We’re good at being religious and playing the part, and we wonder, “Why isn’t God blessing us? Doesn’t He see us sit in the pew on Sunday morning, doesn’t he see how many chapters I write down on the little piece of paper that gets passed around in Sunday School? Doesn’t God see how much I put in the offering plate?”
- Sure, God sees all of those things, but He also sees the grudges we’ve held, he sees the covenants we’ve broken, he hears the lies we’ve told, he hears the rumors we’ve passed around. So, we might ask like the priests, “Why does he not accept our offering?” It’s because he was a witness to all the covenants we‘ve made, and not fulfilled.
“Did not one God make her? Both flesh and spirit are his. And what does the one God desire? Godly offspring. So look to yourselves, and do not let anyone be faithless to the wife of his youth. 16For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless.”
– Malachi 2:15-16, NRSV
This is the passage where a lot of preachers will get off on a tangent about divorce, but the problem is that while yes, God hates divorce, you have to keep two things in mind:
- God hates divorce, but He does not hate those who divorce. There are sometimes legitimate reasons for a divorce. Jesus says in Matthew 5:31-32 that sexual immorality is a legitimate reason for divorce.
- The other thing we have to realize is that this passage isn’t primarily about divorce. It’s about breaking covenants with God, and with others. Ecclesiastes 5:5 says that it is better that it is better to not make a vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it, but when other people are involved with the vow, like in the case of a marriage, and you break that marriage vow, you have broken covenant with God as well as your spouse.
Your sin doesn’t just affect you, it affects others. Divorce in biblical times was a lot different than it is now. Women now have opportunities available to them that they didn’t have in biblical times. They didn’t have the opportunity to work like men did. When woman was married she was taken out of her home, and her husband to provide everything for her, but if her husband divorced her, and it put her out of his home, it was a sentence of death. She had nowhere to go.
She had to go into prostitution or die, those were her options. So, divorce means, “I want you dead.” And so, what would lead a priest to do this?
“The practice of deserting and divorcing Hebrew women for the purpose of marrying non-Hebrew women was probably motivated by economics, since intermarriage was a requisite for entering the well-established mercantile guilds of postexilic Palestine already in place when the Hebrews returned from exile.” – NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible
The motivation was money, power, and not even that much money and power. It was just enough so that they could do business. They compromised. And in Revelation, that’s what the mark of the beast is about. If you don’t have this mark, you can’t buy sell, or trade.
- And you might say “Well, we don’t live in those times, yet.” I would argue that we do. It may not be a literal mark that we’re dealing, but does the phrase, “Bake the cake” sound familiar? It’s the same thing.
- Unless you compromise your covenant with God, you can’t do business in the economy of the world. We have these temptations all around us. We don’t’ have to be business owners to see the kinds of things that await us when we get out of bed every morning.
Verse 17. We’re about to wrap it up.
“You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “All who do evil are good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”
– Malachi 2:17, NRSV
This is the last accusation in this chapter. Many commentators and preachers connect this to chapter 3, and I suppose you could, but I feel like this is a big picture summary of the whole book of Malachi.
This is not just a big picture summary of Malachi, but it’s root of all of our problems. When we try to bless what God has cursed, and curse what God has blessed, then we take the order that God has established and turn it to chaos.
We weary God when justify our sin. The way we justify our sin is by putting it on the back burner and saying that it’s no big deal. We minimize it. When we see that we have sin in our lives we know we have to deal with it so that it puts the balance of our lives back in order, and we can deal with it two ways: we can justify our sin or God can justify us.
- If we justify ourselves, then we end up just minimizing our sin. We never actually get rid of it. We can never actually separate ourselves from our sin, we only try to control it, and contain it.
- But if God justifies us, he can actually take our sin and separate it from us. And when He does that, He lays it on Christ, and in exchange for your sin you get righteousness.
So, ultimately, when we justify ourselves, not only do we weary God, but we weary ourselves. We wear ourselves out trying to control and contain something that we can’t actually get rid of. When you have a disease would you rather just get rid of the disease or would rather treat the symptoms until the disease finally kills you?
If God justifies you, then your sin is somewhere else, and you have Christ’s righteousness in its place. Today, faith and repentance are yours. The righteousness of Christ is yours. The bread and the fruit of the vine that we took earlier are yours. So, I’m going pray for us the same prayer that I prayed over us last week, and if you need prayer for anything, these altars open and our elders are here to pray with you.
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.