Ministry Matters: A Prayer for Fruitful Ministry // Ephesians 3:14-21

Ministry Matters 4

Text: Ephesians 3:14-21

Introduction:

This title of this morning’s sermon is “A Prayer for Fruitful Ministry” because really this is what a pastor wants for his church. This is what an evangelist wants for the people that he witnesses to. This is what a Bible teacher wants for his Bible students. It doesn’t matter how much people give, it doesn’t matter how many people show up in the pews, it doesn’t matter how much your church cares about the community, if Christ isn’t dwelling richly in your heart by the Holy Spirit then none of it matters.

Another thing that I want to note just by way of introduction is that anytime Paul writes a letter to a church and he uses the pronoun, “you.” It’s always a corporate “you.” When he’s addressing a church, he’s addressing them corporately, he doesn’t address them individually unless he mentions people by name, but he talks about them as being one body, one unit.

So, when Paul prays for them to know the love of God in this manner, he’s wanting them to know that in the context of life together.

“Where is that love to be experienced? We experience it with all God’s consecrated people. That is to say, we find it in the fellowship of the Church. John Wesley’s saying was true, “God knows nothing of solitary religion.” “No man,” he said, “ever went to heaven alone.” The Church may have its faults; church members may be very far from what they ought to be; but in the fellowship of the Church we find the love of God.” – William Barclay, Daily Study Bible

So, as we look at the text, I want us to ask three questions:

  1. Who Is Included In This Prayer For?
  2. What is This Prayer For?
  3. What is The Result of This Prayer Being Answered?

Who Is Included in This Prayer? (v. 14-15)

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.” – Ephesians 3:14-15, NRSV

First of all, Paul mentions that every family in heaven and on earth takes it’s name from the very God that he is praying to.

  • When you’re born, you’re born with a family name. It’s your last name. It indicates your family and your lineage. And it’s the same when you become a Christian. You take Christ’s name on yourself by being identified as a Christian and you identify with His dead and resurrection in the waters of baptism. Colossians 3 says that your life is hidden in Christ.

And Paul says that this truth applies to people in heaven and on earth. So, I want us to think about this idea: our Christian family isn’t just made up of those with us on earth, it’s also made up of those who are in heaven, and we’re still a family. Death doesn’t separate Christians forever.

Hebrews 12:1 says that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. The saints in heaven are just as alive as you and I are. Who knows? They’re probably more alive than you and I are. In Heaven, they live to die no more, and we are identified with them as a family. So, in this prayer, Paul mentions the saints of the past as those that we are identified with.

Then, he prays for his people in the present.

  • My wife and I started reading 1st Thessalonians a chapter at a time together out of David Bentley Hart’s translation of the New Testament and we were talking about how most of the time Paul would let whatever church he was writing to know that he was praying for them and he was thankful for their service.

And in Ephesians, Paul has already done that in chapter 1:15-23, but he’s praying a slightly different prayer. This isn’t an “atta-boy, keep up the good work” prayer, this is deeper. Paul wants them to comprehend the love of God.

  • You might think, “Yeah, I know all that love of God stuff, I learned that in Sunday School.” If that’s your attitude, then you no nothing of the love of God, but we’ll get to that in a few minutes.

How do you wrap your finite minds around something as infinite as the love of God? You don’t. And I think that’s the point. You are supposed to live your life dwelling on the love of God. I think that’s what Jude means when he writes at the end of his letter in Jude 21, “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”

That’s the thing you should keep in forefront of your mind as you live the Christian life. Why do we need to always keep that at the forefront? Because God is the standard by which we should love, and He loves perfectly.

  • By the showing of your hand, how many of you love perfectly? None of us. That’s why we need this prayer.

In verse 18, Paul says that he wants this for “all the saints.” Maybe I’m reading too much into the text, but I think this is something that Paul isn’t just praying for in Ephesus at that time, but maybe it’s something that Paul is praying for for all saints in all of time. This is something that he wants for future saints to come.

In John 17:20, Jesus specifically prays for those who will believe later through the message of the disciples. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Paul had in mind future saints to come as a result of the churches that were being planted in that time.

So, we see that Paul mentions the saints of the past in heaven, and he prays for the present saints in Ephesus, and it’s possible that he’s including the future saints in his prayer.

What is This Prayer For? (v. 16-19)

“I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” – Ephesians 3:16-19, NRSV

Notice, first of all, the Trinitarian nature of the prayer.

Paul prays for us to be strengthened in our inner being by the Holy Spirit, then he prays for Christ to dwell in our hearts through faith, and in knowing the love of Christ, we are filled with the fullness of God the Father.

I’ve heard a lot of Jesus-lovin’ good ol’ boys tell me, “Preacher, servin’ the Lord just keeps gettin’ gooder and gooder.” And this is why! It’s Paul’s prayer being answered.

So, there’s three things that ultimately Paul prays for: power from the Spirit, love from the Son, and fullness from the Father.

And really when you look at this in the context of Ephesians as a whole, then Paul is praying for them to experience what he’s talked about up to this point. He wants them to personally experience the fact that they have been predestined to a salvation that is a result of grace alone through faith alone. He wants to them to personally experience the fact that they’ve been adopted into a family of people that’s made up of people not like them (we’re dealing with Jews and Gentiles here), and not physically with them (they are connected to all believers in Jesus across time and space.)

Paul wants us to be strengthened with power from the Holy Spirit. We need more power. We need more strength. Both of those things come from the Holy Spirit dwelling on the inside of us as believers.

Paul also wants Christ to dwell in our hearts. Dwelling doesn’t simply mean inhabiting, it’s means ‘to settle down.’ To make an abode somewhere.

In his book, Praying with Paul, D.A. Carson says, when Christ takes up residence in a believer, it is like a couple who purchases a home that needs a lot of work. Over time they clean it up, repair it, and eventually say, “This house has been shaped to our needs and taste and I really feel comfortable.”

Then Carson says, “When Christ by his Spirit takes up residence within us, He finds a moral equivalent to trash, black and silver wallpaper, and a leaking roof. He sets about turning this residence into a place appropriate for Him[self], a home for which He is comfortable. . . . When a person takes up long-term residence somewhere, their presence eventually characterizes that dwelling. . . . When Christ first moves into our lives, he finds us in bad repair. It takes a great deal of power to change us; and that is why Paul prays for power. . . . [God is] transforming us into a house that pervasively reflects his own character.” [1]
This isn’t just true individually either, this is true corporately. You remember last week we talked about how God is building us a church into His house.

And why does Paul want all of this for us? Ultimately, it’s so that we can be filled with the fullness of God.

The idea of spiritual fullness is a common theme among Paul’s writings. John Stott points our that, “In Colossians Paul tells us not only that God’s fullness dwells in Christ, but also that in Christ we ourselves have come to fullness. At the same time, he makes it plain in Ephesians that we still have room for growth. As individuals we are to go on being filled with the Spirit, and the church, although already the fullness of Christ, is still to ‘grow up into him’ till it reaches his fullness.” [2]

So, there’s a lot of paradoxical ideas about fullness in Paul’s writings, but the it all comes down to this: are you filled up now? Is there more room for God in your life?

I remember a few years ago my grandpa preached at a revival about being filled up with the Holy Spirit, and he might have even used this text. But as an illustration he got a water bottle and he filled it up with pebbles that he got out of the church driveway, and he asked the congregation, “Is this bottle full?” No one quite knew how to answer so he started his message, and then in a little bit, he put sand in it and asked again, “Is full now?” We all thought, “Yeah, that’s got to be full now.”

He said, “Nope.” So, he put water in there, and you could see the water filling up the bottle between the grains of sand, and he made the point that that was Christian life – getting more and more filled up with God. And that’s what Paul wants. He wants us to be filled with the fullness of God.

Finally, I want us to see the result of this prayer being answered.

What is The Result of This Prayer Being Answered?

Now, to look at this, we’ll have to go to the next chapter in Ephesians 4.

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” – Ephesians 4:1-3, NRSV

Notice verse 2 – There’s three things we all need more of: humility, gentleness, and patience. And we need those things if we’re going to bear with one another in love.

We need humility because we could easily be in someone else’s shoes and doing a lot worse than they’re doing.

We need gentleness because we’re all fragile really. We like to think that we have thick skin, but we get just as offended as everyone else does, our buttons are just in different places.

So, we need humility because we could easily be in someone else’s shoes, we need gentleness because we’re all fragile, and we need patience because we’re all still growing in Christ, and if we’re growing together, then we’re all going to experience growing pains.

And the only opportunity you have to express patience in when you’re annoyed.

As general rule, people make life more complicated. However, dealing with people is a necessity in life. So, it’s a double edge.

  • Jesus tells us to love our neighbor. Well, loving your neighbor would be a lot easier if you didn’t have neighbors, but at the same time you wouldn’t have anyone in your life to connect with.

So, I think Paul foresees all of this because let’s face it, people have changed that much over the last couple thousand years so he starts chapter 4 by giving us advice how to live with one another in love and unity. And then all of chapter is just him expounding on the idea of living the Christian life within the context of Christian community.

And then he ends chapter 4 with these words in verses 31-32.

“Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
– Ephesians 4:31-32, NRSV

See, this is where the rubber meets the road.

It’s easy to be bitter, it’s easy to have malice, it’s easy to be hurtful, and the reason those things are easy is because we don’t naturally drift towards holiness. Sanctification is a fight. A lot of us believe in progressive sanctification, but some days you’re going to feel like your sanctification is more regressive than progressive. And the reason you’re going to feel that way is because you’ve been hurt, and you’re angry.

But in the middle of your hurt, God is kind to you. God is loving to you, and God is faithful.

And because He has been kind and faithful to us, we should be kind and faithful to one another.

I’m going to pray for us, and we’re going to sing Great Is Thy Faithfulness, and we’re just going to use our voices.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, I thank You for being kind to us by sending Your Son to die on the cross for our sins. I thank You for raising Him back to life to declare victory over all of our sins including our bitterness, anger, and hostility. Lord, I thank You that Your Word is stronger than the walls we try to build around ourselves. This morning, I ask that You strengthen and renew our hearts by the power of Your Spirit, and that You would release us from every hindrance that stands in the way of us loving each other as You have loved us. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Ministry Matters: Realism & Optimism // 2 Corinthians 4:7-15

Ministry Matters 2

Text: 2 Corinthians 4:7-15

This morning we’re going to continue our series entitled, “Ministry Matters” by looking at the Apostle Paul’s perspective of his ministry.

Normally, I don’t like checklists, but I think the one we’re going to have this morning is going to be helpful. All I really want us to do is walk through the text and see what Paul says about his own ministry that he’s been given and I want us to apply that to the ministry that we’ve been given.

Ministry isn’t just for the pastor, it’s not just for those that have been ordained as elders. Ministry is for every single person that has been born again. Paul goes on to explain this later in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19.

“Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” – 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, NKJV

The word ‘reconciliation’ means ‘to bring together’ so our job is to go out and let people know that God has come down to where we are in Christ for the purpose of closing the gap that stands between God and man.

  • And according to what we just read, God has committed this task to us. So, God volunteered you for this work.

  • Don’t you just love it when people volunteer you for stuff? “I told [so and so] you’d be more than happy to so that for them.” Well, this is what God did when he saved you. He volunteered you for a work. He put you where you are (the neighborhood you live in, the job where you work, the people you interact with), God put you where you are so that you can improve the lives of others by telling and living out the word of reconciliation.

And I think our text this morning in 2 Corinthians 4 tells us how we should view that task.

Be Realistic About Who You Are, But Optimistic About Who God is (v. 7)

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7, NKJV

The Vessel
Listen, you are not that great… but God is.
You are weak, but He’s strong.
You are frail, He’s mighty.
In the places where you fail, God shows His power.

That’s what Paul is getting at.

“The pottery lamps which could be bought for a copper or two in the Corinthian market-place provided a sufficient analogy; it did not matter how cheap or fragile they were so long as they showed the light.”[1] – F. F. Bruce

“The marvel of Paul’s statement is not to be overlooked. The gospel minister is a vessel made of common, run-of-the-mill clay—fragile and easily broken. And yet God has entrusted the treasure of the gospel to such a vessel… Why does God do this? According to Paul, he does it to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. God uses what is fragile and yet serviceable so that there might be no mistaking the origin of the gospel minister’s power.”[2]
– The IVP New Testament Commentary

One of the most striking things to me about the commentary is where the author says, “God uses what is fragile yet serviceable.”

  • Other than God, no one knows your brokenness like you do.
  • You’re the one that has to live with your own dark thoughts.
  • You’re the one that really knows all the pain that you’re feeling.
  • You’re the one that knows your struggles with your own sinful nature, and even more so, God knows all of that too, and as long as you’re serviceable, God will use you, and He will use you to pour that treasure that’s in you into another broken and fragile vessel.

It’s okay to be honest about who you are. Paul was even honest about who he was. In Romans 7, he kept saying over and over again that the good that he wanted to do, he couldn’t do, and the evil he wanted to refrain from doing, he did anyway. And he didn’t understand it, but he finally broke down and said, “but thank God I have victory because there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ.” (Romans 7:25-8:1)

So, you have to be honest about who you are, but you also have to be optimistic about who God is. Paul says that the whole reason God puts His treasure in broken and fragile vessels is so that people don’t get confused about which is more valuable – the vessel or the content.

This is why John says, “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)

The Content
If you were to read and follow Paul’s logic, you would see that the treasure that Paul specifically says is inside of us is “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” mentioned in verse 6.

That’s what it all comes down to. God has given us the light of the knowledge of the Gospel and that’s what makes us valuable.

Last week when we looked at Nicodemus in John 3, he didn’t have this kind of knowledge that Paul talks about. He has his own knowledge based only off of what he could see. Remember, he said, “We know you are a teacher sent from God,” but what he didn’t know is that Jesus was the Son of the Living God, and that kind of knowledge can’t be seen by simply observing Jesus’ miracles, it has to be given to someone by the Father. That’s why when Peter gives his confession, Jesus tells him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17)

Peter had seen the miracles, but that’s not what convinced him, it was knowledge and faith that had been imparted to him by the Father.

And that’s the treasure that God puts inside of us, and that’s more valuable than anything this world can offer us.

Not only should we be realistic about who we are and optimistic about who God is, but we should also be realistic about our circsumstances and optimistic about the outcome.

Be Realistic About Your Circumstances, but Optimistic About the Outcome (v. 8-9)

Notice the things that Paul says, “We are hard-pressed… we are perplexed… we are persecuted…. Struck down.”

That’s real. He’s being honest. And I feel like sometimes we’re afraid to be this honest because if we do, we’ll have some prosperity-preaching evanjellyfish say, “Now, you can’t say that, your words have power and you have to speak life and think happy thoughts.”

Paul really was in trouble, he shipwrecked several times, people were out to kill him, he was imprisoned several times. But throughout everything, he could still say that he wasn’t crushed, he wasn’t in despair, he wasn’t forsaken, and he wasn’t destroyed.

It’s okay. We can be honest and say that we live in a post-Christian society. This might have been a predominantly Christian nation at one time, but it’s not now. We can admit there are Christians dying overseas for their faith, but we have to have hope and believe that it’s not always going to be that way.

  • We already believe that one day God will make everything new, but do we believe that God is already in the process of doing that? We should.

  • The end times didn’t begin when John Darby came up with that dispensationalism stuff, the end times began with the resurrection of Jesus because the resurrection of Jesus is God’s promise that everything will be made new, and death will not have the final word, but resurrection will.

“The resurrection of the Lord Jesus was no isolated event. His return from the dead brought with it, in principle, the resurrection of all things from the dead. The power of death, which had held the entire world in thrall, was reversed at that point, two millennia ago, and the power of His new life has since then been working through the world, the way yeast works through a loaf of bread. For this reason, we are children of hope.”[3] – Douglas Wilson, Heaven Misplaced

And so we are children of hope, and we are (or at least we should be) optimistic about the outcome of God’s work through us in the world, but in the meantime it looks dark, but the darkness is only temporary, and if you’re a Christian then things are already looking brighter.

It’s easy to see all the things that are wrong with the world, but if you can’t see that God is at work then you’re not trying to look hard enough.

  • One of the oldest abortion clinics in Ohio shut down this week, and it looks like more in that state may close down soon too. [4]

Clearly, we see God at work, and we don’t have to wait until the return of Christ to see things turn around. We can experience renewal now. It all starts with God opening our eyes to see the kingdom at work, and to see that we are the workers of the kingdom.

Be Realistic About Death, but Optimistic About Life. (v. 10-15)

Notice, what Paul says right after he says that we are struck down, but not destroyed.

“always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12So then death is working in us, but life in you.

13And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak, 14knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. 15For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.”
– 2 Corinthians 4:10-15, NKJV

Paul says that as we work for the Lord under these circumstances, then death works in us, but not only does death work in us, life is at work in those around us because as I mentioned earlier, death doesn’t have the final word, resurrection does.

Simply put: our suffering gives life to others.

Think about the suffering of Job. We just studied Elijah on Wednesday nights. Think about all the of the Apostles being slaughtered for the Gospel. I mentioned Paul’s sufferings earlier.

Why is it they suffered the things that they did? It’s so that we could recall their personal pain and glean life from it.

And since you’re a witness to Christ, your suffering can be a conduit of life for someone else.

    • But I’m going to add this as a caveat – If you’re going to suffer then do so for the right reasons. Suffer over the things that matter, and here’s what I mean by that.

    • I’m thinking of 1 Peter 2:18-20, and Peter is addressing people who are employed as bondservants.

 

  • “You who are slaves must submit to your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you—not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are cruel. 19For God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment. 20Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you.” – 1 Peter 2:18-20, NLT

 

To show you the modern application, imagine Peter is talking to you as an employee, and imagine the master mentioned here is your employer, and since your employer can’t beat you like a master could beat a bond-servant, imagine that he reprimands you.

So, Peter says, “If you’re suffering because you’re doing the right thing, then God is pleased, but if you’re suffering because you’re being stupid then you deserve it.”

With that caveat in mind, make sure that you’re suffering for something that’s important because that’s the only kind of suffering that people can glean life from.

On my bookshelf, I have a two volume set of books about martyrs. It’s called, “Jesus Freaks.” And one of my favorite stories is about Saint Maria of Paris.

  • Mary Skobtsova (a.k.a. Saint Maria of Paris) made a rented house in Paris her “convent.” It was a place with open doors for people who were escaping from Nazi Germany and other refugees. It was also the center for service to the poor and needy, and theological discussion. In Saint Maria’s eyes theology and service went hand in hand.

    After the fall of France in 1940, many Jews came asking to receive baptismal certificates, but she and Fr. Dimitri Klepinin were eventually caught and arrested by the Gestapo. She was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. On Holy Saturday, 1945, she failed a selection and was sent to the gas chamber to die.

One of her last prayers was, “Lord, I am your messenger. Throw me like a blazing torch into the night.” That’s the kind of determination we need if we’re going to lights in the world.

I realize that it hasn’t been very long this morning, but I feel like we’ve been equipped. We’ve been fed by Jesus at His table, and we have read God’s Word. We’re ready to face the world until we meet again next week.

I’m going to pray for us, and we’re going to sing one more hymn.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, You are so kind to us. We are cracked earthen vessels and you fill us treasure from Your storehouse and then you tells us to out and pour into other earthen vessels the gift You’ve freely given to us. We ask You to make pliable before You so that You can use us to bring life to others and bring glory to Your name. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

_____

[1] Bruce, F. F. New Century Bible Commentary. Wm B Eerdmans, 1980.

[2] The IVP New Testament Commentary. InterVarsity Press, 1994.

[3] Heaven misplaced: Christ’s kingdom on earth Douglas Wilson – Canon Press – 2011

[4] “Ohio’s First Abortion Company Closing Columbus Facility After Long Sordid History – Standard Newswire.” Was Dorothy Day a ‘Dissenting Catholic?’ – Standard Newswire, standardnewswire.com/news/95261

Ministry Matters: Receiving Ministry From Jesus // John 3:1-15

Ministry Matters 1

Text: John 3:1-15

Introduction:

Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, opened blind eyes, multiplied food for hungry people, and the list could go on, but all of these miracles pointed to the greatest of miracles – showing people the kingdom. Because once someone saw the kingdom of God at work on earth then they were born again. Their blinded eyes were opened. Why do think Paul went blind for three days and had scales on his eyes after he saw Jesus?

Was it simply because the light from Jesus’ glory was so bright that it blinded and that’s just what happens when you see Jesus? Maybe, but I think it was more than that. I think it was so people could relate to Paul’s story more.

Everyone may not know what it’s like to have Jesus personally come down and knock you off your horse, but anyone who has been saved can say with a surety that they know what’s like for scales to fall from their eyes as a result of seeing the kingdom.

  • That’s why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4 that if the Gospel is hidden, it’s hidden to those that are perishing whose minds have been blinded by the god of this world. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)

This morning, I want us to start a new series called, “Ministry Matters,” and I want us to start it off by looking at this passage because you can’t give what you don’t have. You can’t really minister to people unless you’ve been ministered to. People can’t encounter Jesus through you if you’ve never encountered Jesus.

So, we have Jesus ministering to Nicodemus, and what is it that Nicodemus needs more than anything? He needs a complete transformation. He needs renewal. He needs regeneration.

  • If you don’t know what the word regeneration means, it’s a word that us stodgy Reformed use to describe what happens when Jesus comes in cleans house which is exactly what happens when someone is born again.

So, this morning, I want us to see that Nicodemus’ needs are our needs. His questions are our questions, and when we talk to other people, they’re like Nicodemus. They’ve got questions and Jesus has answers. They’ve got problems and Jesus has solutions.

It is no mere coincidence that this passage follows John 2:25 where John tells us that Jesus knew what is in the heart of man, then that is followed by this encounter with Nicodemus and this is followed by an encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.

We have in John 3, Jesus talking with one who represents the intelligentsia, the upper echelon of society. He’s a religious leader. He has money, power, prestige, but he does not know what it is to truly see the Kingdom of God.

We have in John 4, a woman who represents those in the lower class of society. She has had 5 husbands and now she’s shacking up with a man who isn’t even her husband. She’s broke, busted, and disgusted, all because she’s been looking for love in all the wrong places.

I think what John is doing here is illustrating his point in John 2:25. He’s essentially saying, “Jesus knows the very heart of man and if you don’t believe me, I recall a conversation He had with a man named Nicodemus, and then there was this other time with a Samaritan woman.” John is making it crystal clear that Jesus is looking beyond what we pretend to be, beyond what society says we are, beyond how everyone else sees us and He sees into our very soul and looks directly at our NEED FOR HIM.

So in this passage, we need to recognize the ways that we are like Nicodemus, and we need to see what it is exactly that Jesus is saying to us through this passage in John 3.

Ways We Are Like Nicodemus:
1. We Are Good At Being Religious
2. We Come to Jesus with What We [Think We] Know
3. We Must Listen to What Jesus Is Saying

We’re Good at Being Religious

We’ve got a lot in common with Nicodemus. First of all, we’re good at being religious. Let’s not get confused. There is a good religion and a bad religion. Good religion motivates us to serve God by caring for widows and orphans (James 1:27). There is a bad religion that even the best of us seem to fall into sometimes. It’s this kind of religion that Nicodemus is good at and a lot of us are good at. And it’s sneaky because it hides behind moralism so it looks good on the outside, but on the inside it leaves you full of dead men’s bones. (Matthew 23:27)

The good religion, the true religion that James mentions in James 1:27 is fleshed out more in the next chapter in James 2, and it doesn’t have to do with making sure your shirt is tucked in, or making sure you’ve not cussed, or making sure the Jesus fish on your bumper is on straight, it has to do with how you treat other people.

When we end up falling into Nicodemus’ religion instead of James’ ‘pure and undefiled’ religion, there’s some things that happen.

Church becomes somewhere we go, instead of who we are to be.
In the deep south, Bible belt culture of Arkansas, we’re good at being religious. Church is all most of us have ever known so we’re good at attending church, but we’re bad at being the Church. I know because I’m bad at being the Church. I’m going to be brutally honest. It’s much easier to ask someone where they go to church than whether or not they know Jesus as their savior.


Worship becomes the songs we sing instead of the life we live.
We always say, “Worship starts at 11 AM.” Now, we all know what that means. It means that the corporate worship service starts at 11 AM, but in reality, Worship starts when you become born-again and it continues all through eternity.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” – Romans 12:1, NRSV

The King James says, ‘reasonable service.’ Paul is saying that it only makes sense live as a sacrifice. Paul says earlier in Romans 8 that we are being killed all the day long (Romans 8:36). So, if you’re facing death, (and we all are because that’s what it means to be human) then you might as well live as a holy and acceptable sacrifice to God. You’re gonna die anyway you might as well lay yourself on the altar. 

  • That’s what it means to live a life of worship, but unfortunately we get in this habit of believing worship is simply what we do on Sunday morning.


Jesus becomes a good teacher rather than the God who saves.
So, when church becomes somewhere we go, instead of who we are, and worship becomes the songs we sing instead of the life we live, Jesus becomes a good teacher rather than the God who saves.

Nicodemus had no idea who he was talking to. “We know that you are a teacher sent from God.” He was right. Jesus was a teacher sent from God, but he was only half right. And that’s the only truth the devil likes, those truths that are half true, but they’re still whole lies.

Nicodemus was speaking to the very God who placed each star in the sky and called it by name. The same God that, by the Word of His mouth, called the universe in being, knew Nicodemus intimately, and knows us intimately inside and out, and He still loves us.

 

We Come to Jesus with What We Think We Know

Next, not only are we good at being religious, but we have a tendency to come to Jesus with what we think we know.

One of the most striking things about this passage is that the first things Nicodemus says is, “We know that you are a teacher sent from God.” And then Jesus proceeds to unravel everything.

“Nicodemus said, “We know.” Then he began to rehearse the things he knew (or thought he knew) and with which he wanted to begin the discussion: (1) that Jesus was continuing to do many miracles; (2) that these miracles were intended to authenticate him as a teacher sent from God; and that therefore, (3) Jesus was the one to whom he should listen. Unfortunately for Nicodemus, Jesus replied that such an approach to knowledge was wrong and that Nicodemus could therefore know nothing until he had first experienced an inward, spiritual transformation. “You must be born anew,” Jesus told him (John 3:7).
– James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith


Do you know what this means? It means that it’s not that tell you who Jesus is, it’s the Spirit. All throughout the Gospels, there were people who saw the miracles, and yet they still wanted to kill Jesus. Even though they saw the miracles, they were still blind. They’re the kind of people that Jesus talked about when he said, “Seeing, they do not see… hearing, they do not hear.”

There have been atheists who have said, “I’ve read the Bible cover to cover and I just don’t see any evidence for God. I just see a bunch contradictory fairy tales.” Why? Because they approach God with what they think they know because their eyes haven’t been opened to see the kingdom.

“Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
– John 3:3, NKJV

When you’re born again your eyes are opened and the whole world looks different, and you begin to see God at work. You wonder why people don’t believe in God, it’s because God hasn’t opened their eyes yet.

So far, what we have in common with Nicodemus is that we’re good at being religious, we come to Jesus with what we think we know, and finally, like Nicodemus, we need to hear what Jesus is saying.


We Must Hear What Jesus is Saying

As we go from verse 5 on down to the rest of the passage, Jesus starts alluding to some Old Testament passages that Nicodemus should know, but he’s not picking it up.

Jesus even tells him in verse 10, “How is it that you’re a teacher of Israel and yet you don’t even know these things?”

So, we’re going to see the first allusion to the Old Testament in verse 5.

Born of Water and Spirit
“Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” – John 3:5, NKJV

Jesus knows that Nicodemus had memorized the law and the prophets so He wanted to use imagery that Nicodemus would understand.

The only possible meaning is that Jesus has to be referring to the imagery of water found in Ezekiel 36 where God promises to vindicate his name and sanctify His people by sprinkling them with clean water.

“I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord. 24For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.

25“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.”
– Ezekiel 36:23-27, NLT

Jesus is taking Nicodemus back to this portion of Scripture because although the Old Testament never uses the words, “born again,” Ezekiel 36 shows us what it means.

  • When I was 15 years old I remember my grandfather, a Pentecostal evangelist, preaching a sermon from Ezekiel 36 entitled, “Open Heart Surgery.” As a prop, he had a Build-A-Bear teddy bear, and a rock that he had painted red to represent the heart of stone, and then he had a little plush heart to show the ‘heart of flesh.’ He spent an hour preaching faith and repentance to a packed house at a campmeeting in Reeds Spring, Missouri. 

The Son of Man Must Be Lifted Up
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:14-15, NKJV

Jesus alludes a second time to a passage of Scripture that Nicodemus should be familiar with, Numbers 21. As a matter of fact, “familiar” is an understatement. Nicodemus should be intimate with this passage because as someone who is a teacher in Israel he is required to memorize the Old Testaments scriptures front and back. Not only that, but these people being bitten by snakes were his people. His was immediately recalling this.

“Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. 5And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” 6So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.

7Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” 9So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.” – Numbers 21:4-9, NKJV

I imagine that when Jesus is saying this, that, at least for a split-second, Nicodemus is picturing this incident from the scroll containing the Book of Numbers. He’s had to memorize it, he’s had to hear it taught, it’s been passed down from generation to generation.

God’s people becoming rebellious and complaining and then they are bitten and killed by these snakes.

It’s passages like this that skeptics of the Bible look to and say, “If God is so loving, then why did he send serpents to bite and kill His own people?” When we approach something like this and say that God is not loving because he does something like this, then we start with the assumption that we, as mortal, finite beings, are the ultimate standard of what love and justice is.

That’s where we go wrong. We start trying to interpret the Bible with our own feelings and preferences. So, we must always start with God.

Sin offends God. It’s not about the offense or the sin, it’s about who’s been offended by this sin.

And ultimately, in spite us offending Him with our sin and rebellion, He gives us Jesus. Jesus takes our wrath on Himself, and if we look at our sin as it’s laid on Jesus’ shoulders, then we will live.

Think about the philosophical implications of that for a minute: The Israelites had to confront the confront the very thing that was afflicting them, but they couldn’t do it on their own terms. If they did it on their own terms, they would die, but if they just obeyed Moses, and ultimately God, and did things God’s way, then they would live. And what was required of them wasn’t hard, all they had to do was look, and that’s all you have to do. All you have to do is look at Jesus.

“Behold the man upon the cross, my sin upon His shoulders.
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice, call out among the scoffers
His dying breath has brought me life, I know that it is finished.”
– How Deep the Father’s Love For Us

“Just as the bitten Israelites were healed by a look of faith, so the sinner may be saved by looking to Christ by faith… The moment a sinner does that he is saved, just as God said to Moses, “It shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.” – Arthur W. Pink

Conclusion

How Do We Become Born Again?
Look to Christ in faith! In Isaiah 45, we have the most loving command that God has ever given humanity.

“Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” – Isaiah 45:22, KJV

All you have to do is look to Him and be saved!! Then God follows this command with, “for I am God, and there is none else.” He’s saying that there’s no one else who can save you! There’s nobody who can provide an atoning sacrifice!!

John never tells us the conclusion of Nicodemus’ story, but it does tell us the conclusion of the story those who have been born again and those who have not been born again.

“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” – John 3:36, NKJV

If you want life, eternal and abundant, then it’s yours in Christ.

I’m going to pray for us, and we’re going to sing one more hymn together, and as we sing, these altars are our open. Let Jesus minister to you this morning, and let us pray for you.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, we are Yours. As the old hymn says, “You have opened the life gate that we may go in” and we are grateful. This morning, I pray that You would grant us faith and repentance. Give us life and power by Your Spirit, and we’ll give You all the praise, glory, and honor. In the name of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Which Way Will We Go? // Malachi 3:16-4:6

MALACHI 4

Text: Malachi 3:16-4:6

Introduction

As I was reading over the text in preparation for this message, the words of Jason Upton’s song, “The King’s Way” kept coming to my mind:

“There is a road/That leads to peace that leads to life/But few will follow
We’re at the crossroad/Which way will we go”

This is where the title for this morning’s sermon comes from, and then the chorus says this:

“There is not today a more holy way/Than the steps that lead me to the cross
Where my will can’t be the priority/And these crowns I’ve gained I count as loss
When I hear the Spirit say/That this is the true King’s way”

As we come to the close of Malachi, God gives us another sign of grace by giving us an opportunity to aim for a higher standard of living. The priests have broken God’s commands, they have brought him blemished offerings, they have robbed and stolen from Him. Then finally God tells us in our passage the reward for the righteous and wrath for the wicked, but God doesn’t leave us there. He says, remember the law of Moses, and then he says, “I will send Elijah and he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.”

So God says, “Here’s what the end is going to look like, but before it all comes to a head, I’m going to send you a messenger and he’s going to preach repentance so that you’ll have an opportunity to repent.”

With that being said, we’re going to look at the text under three headings: the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, the reward for the righteous and the wicked, and then the invitation from Malachi to remember the law.

The Distinction (3:16-18)

“Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name. 17“They shall be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “On the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them
as a man spares his own son who serves him.” 18Then you shall again discern
between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.” – Malachi 3:16-18, NKJV

As I read this text, the main idea that I see here is verse 18. God wants there to be division between the righteous and the wicked. Is it because God Himself can’t tell the difference? No, He intimately knows those who are His and those who are not.

According to Isaiah 49:16, God has His people inscribed on the palms of His hands. God is intimately aware of who His people are. So, it’s not for God’s knowledge that there needs to be a difference, it’s for the world’s.

  • We are witnesses to the world of the love and the holiness of God, and when we are selfish like these priests have been it blurs the lines.

  • Think about all the things they’ve done: they dishonored God with their offerings by bringing him lame and blemished offerings that they wouldn’t even serve to their governor, they’ve despised God’s name, they’ve broken covenant with each other, and they’ve robbed from God.

  • As I said last week, it was selfishness that got them into this mess and it will be selflessness that gets them out.

Up to this point, the line between the righteous and the wicked have been blurred, but now that God is acting in judgement, and calling His people to repentance, we will be able to see which is which.

  • When we don’t live consistent with our calling as Christians, when we don’t live consistent with our baptism then we blur the lines, and we destroy the distinction that the world needs to see so that they can see that there’s a difference between the people of God, and everybody else.

So, What’s the standard to tell between the righteous and the wicked. Go back to Malachi 3:5. As you’re looking back to that verse I want you to think about this: every time you see a negative command like a “you shall not do x” then there’s always a positive inverse. For example, when the Apostle Paul says “Let him who stole steal no more” he follows it up with the positive inverse which is, “instead let him work so that he has what he needs.” (Ephesians 4:28)

So, as we look at Malachi 3:5, we’re going to think about the positive inverse of these things:

“And I will come near you for judgment; I will be a swift witness against sorcerers,
against adulterers, against perjurers, against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans, and against those who turn away an alien— because they do not fear Me,” says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 3:5, NKJV

Sorcerers – We have this image of what an actual sorcerer might look like. Someone dressed in all black, maybe wearing a funny hat, maybe he’s got a wand or something… but after all what’s a sorcerer? It’s someone that believes they can have a source of power outside of God.

  • To us, power is purpose. It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning. So, where does your purpose come from? Rick Warren wrote a book called, “The Purpose-Driven Life” and then he wrote another one called, “What on Earth Am I Here For?” I haven’t read either one of them. I’ve heard good reviews and I’ve heard bad reviews so I don’t know, but even with just those titles to those books Warren was on to something.

  • There’s something that drives and empowers everyone, and your drive, your purpose, and your power are not derived from your identity in Christ, then you’re not better than a sorcerer because you’re trying to seek fulfillment outside of God, and it will never work.

Adulterers – On the surface, I’m confident that no one here would fall into that category, but Jesus said that if you look upon a woman with lust in your heart, you’ve already committed adultery. That brings it close to home now doesn’t it?

Why is God bringing judgement on adulterers? It’s because they’re not content with the circumstances that God has placed them in. God has given them a wife, and a family because, as Malachi 2:15 says, God desires godly offspring, and yet, when someone goes out and neglects their covenant vows they show their discontent with the good things that God has given them, and it’s not just their discontent with those things either, but they also show their discontent with God.

  • Ultimately, that’s why we sin. Regardless of any sin we commit, big or small, sin of omission or sin or commission, we sin because we’re not content with the boundaries that God has set for our lives and we think we’ll be free if we escape those boundaries, but really we end up enslaving ourselves.

Purgerors – These are people who don’t value truth. So ask yourself, “Do I prefer the truth over lies.” Last Sunday night we watched a video where Ray Comfort talked to random people on the street in an effort to evangelize to them, and he asked several of them, “Have you ever told a lie?” and the majority of them had said that they had. I mentioned earlier that if you’re a believer, and you live as if you’re not, then you’re living a lie.

  • In Psalm 51:6, David acknowledges that God desires “truth in the inward parts.” In 2 Thessalonians 2:10, the Apostle Paul speaks against those who do not love the truth so the positive inverse is that we should love the truth.

  • As Christians we should love the truth and value what is true even if it’s hard for us to accept. Truth is real, truth is tangible. You can hold on to what is true, but lies vanish and they disappear.

Then finally, notice the last group of people that Malachi 3:5 addresses: “those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans, and against those who turn away an alien— because they do not fear Me,” says the Lord of hosts.”

There’s four groups of people mentioned, the widows, the orphans, the foreigners, the workers.

Basically, this comes down to how you treat people who are not as privileged as you are. Most of us are working class citizens and we like the idea of helping widows and orphans, but what about foreigners?

  • Do you see people who come over here from other countries made in the image of God or do you see them as some insect that needs to be exterminated?

“How I treat a brother or a sister from day to day, how I react to the sin scared wino in the street, how I respond to the interruptions of people I dislike, how I deal with normal people in their normal confusion on a normal day may be a better indication of my reverence for life than the anti-abortion sticker on the bumper of my car.” – Brennan Manning

Think about the logic of the Apostle James. In James 1:27, he says that pure and true religion is to care for widows and orphans, and then he devotes the first part of chapter 2 to not mistreating those who are poorer in your community, and then he defends the idea that faith without works is dead.

So, what are the works that prove that your faith isn’t dead? Is little pinty-anty things like not cursing if you hit your hand with a hammer or is it feeding someone who is hungry? Is it not smoking or is allowing someone who is hard of hearing to have your seat on the front row?

The logic of James is this: if your faith is legitimate, then it will be expressed in how you treat people who also share the image of God.

  • Your faith isn’t determined by what party you vote for, but rather by how much patience you have for the elderly man in front of you at the gas station who has to have the cashier fill out his check for his gas because he can’t read.

That’s where the distinction lies between the righteous and the wicked, and when we faith to live out our faith then blur the lines.

The Reward (4:1-3)

“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” says the Lord of hosts, “That will leave them neither root nor branch. 2But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves. 3You shall trample the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I do this,” says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 4:1-3, NKJV

Society tries to tell us that it’s not politically correct to label people or categorize them, but the reality of the situation is that they’re already labeled or categorized by God based on whether or not they’ve repented and believed the Gospel.

There are those fear God and revere His name, but then there are those who don’t. There is no middle or neutral ground.

When Jesus was hanging on the cross, bearing the sins of the world upon Himself, He Himself hung there at the perfect spotless lamb of God who had become sin, He had become shame, He had become guilt, and in that moment He stood in the divide between those honor and serve God, and those who do not, and this was represented perfectly by the fact that on one side a man who had nothing to offer yet all he asked was that Jesus remember Him when He came into His kingdom, and yet on the other side was man who wanted Jesus to just shut up.

And so, Jesus being very God of very God, as one confession said; Jesus being God incarnate, taking the sins of the world on Himself has the right to cast judgement on those, like the one thief wanted Him to just shut up.

The Reward for the Repentant is God remembers them. The penitent thief asked that Christ remember Him when He came into His kingdom, and we just read in Malachi 3:16-17 that God remembers those who fear Him and revere His name. This very last act of His life was one of fear and reverence for Christ as the Living God, and Jesus remembered Him because He promised, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” And so on that day when God makes up His jewels, the thief will be there, but will we?

Another reward for the repentant is that they will be the ones that go forth and prosper as stall-fed calves, and they will be the ones who inherit the earth, and according to our passage, “trample the wicked.”

I think one commentator explained this beautifully when he talked about the picture that’s being painted in Malachi 4:1-3.

“God’s action in destroying the wicked in the day of judgment is pictured in the illustration of a farmer burning off his field after he has harvested his grain. The righteous are likened to the farmer’s calves, which were previously tied up in the dark stalls but are now set free. They burst forth to go leaping and skipping over the recently burnt-off fields. As the sun shines down upon them it brings healing and vigour into their lives of newfound joy and freedom (4:1-3).”[1]

This is an eschatological picture. This is what life will look like when Jesus comes back and makes all things right, and completely unravels all the evil and wickedness in the world.

The Reward for the Rebellious is that they will be the ones who will be trampled on. They will be the ones who will become ash and stubble.

There is coming a day where God will separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the chaff, and that’s when the real distinction will be made, and it’s up to God to make that kind of distinction, not us. We’re too biased and subjective to make those kinds of decisions. God’s judgement is always fair and judicial. Ours isn’t.

The Invitation (4:4-6)

But, here’s the good news, like any good preacher Malachi doesn’t just leave us with judgement. He presents us with a solution to the problem. The problem is that our sin and rebellion have separated us from God, but what’s the solution?

“Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. 5Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. 6And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.” – Malachi 4:4-6, NKJV

In this last group of verses beginning at verse 4, Malachi says, “remember the law of Moses.”

  • This is where it’s important to understand that Christ didn’t come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it. If Christ did away with the law, then we can just ignore this part of Scripture and go on with our lives.

  • Since Christ fulfills the law, then Malachi is actually pointing us to Christ.

“But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

37Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:34-40, NKJV

Telling us to remember the law points us to Christ as the Lawgiver, and to the summary of every law that was ever given – love God, and love your neighbor.

This is where the priests in Malachi failed. They failed to love God by dishonoring Him, showing contempt for His table, and profaning His name, then they failed to love each other by breaking covenant with one another, lying to each other, and divorcing their wives for pagan women.

So, when we remember the law we’re not going back to the judicial laws or the ceremonial laws, we’re remembering that we have a responsibility to love God, and love each other. And when we actually love God, and love each other rightly, we’re doing what the priests were not doing.

The next thing God says is in verse 5 – “I will send you Elijah the Prophet.”

What does Elijah do? He proclaims the word of God. Now, we know in the New Testament that this was fulfilled with the coming of John the Baptist.

  • Elijah and John the Baptist both stood before political leaders and held them accountable to God’s moral law.

  • Both of them were forerunners: Elijah was the forerunner of Elisha, John the Baptist is the Forerunner of Christ.

  • Both of them were discouraged: Elijah wanted to die when Jezebel came up against him. John the Baptist was in prison and questioned whether or not Jesus was really the Messiah or if he should look for another.

  • In discouragement both were encouraged: God sent an angel to Elijah to feed him and encourage him. Jesus said there was none born of woman greater than John the Baptist.

The similarities could go on, but if we’re reading this last part of Malachi, what’s the practical meaning for us, now in the 21st century?

Elijah represents the word of God proclaimed and applied. And according to this prophecy in verse 6, “he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, the hearts of children to their fathers.”

When the word of God is rightly applied to someone’s life it not only heals them internally and spiritually, but that internal healing manifests itself in restored relationships. When you see that God’s love for you is personal and that He is willing to forgive Your sin that you can be in relationship with Him, then that should motivate us to forgive the sins of others.

  • God doesn’t just ignore our wounds, He addresses them with the healing power of His word. That’s why Psalm 107:20 speaks of God acting on behalf of the children of Israel and it says, “He sent forth His word and healed them.”

Have you ever poured alcohol into a wound? You know how badly it stings? It stings because it’s working. Two illustrations come to mind:

  1. My stepdad is gone to be with Jesus now, but years ago I remember him telling me about living in Iowa and they would get 2 to 3 feet of snow and all the kids would get together and go sledding. Well, he gets on this sled that they had just threw together and made out of some old scrap metal, and as he going down hill picks up speed and he sees that he’s about to go into a fence, but he couldn’t turn it in time, and to make matters worse, the sled had hit a rock that was covered up by the snow so the sled hits the rock, and it threw him into this barbed wire fence.

    He’s got a few cuts and scrapes, so he thought he was okay until he looked down and noticed that a hunk of flesh had about 7 inches long had been ripped from his calf. The kids put him on the sled because he couldn’t walk, and they pulled back to his house.

    The nearest doctor was 20 miles away in town and there was no way they could get to the hospital or that a doctor could get to them in that snow so his dad did the only thing he knew to do, he gave him rag to bite, and said, “Boy, I’m not gonna lie to you, this is gonna hurt.” and then he pulls out a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey and poured it in that gash.

    My stepdad said that it was worst pain he ever felt in his life, but he knew that if he didn’t go through it, then he probably would’ve gotten an infection and died.

  2. Good Will Hunting. It’s about a kid that’s been abused and Robin Williams is playing as his therapist, and as they’re speaking about all his relationships that have gone wrong, and how his dad abused him, his therapist says, “It’s not your fault,” and first he responds cooly and collectively, but his therapist keeps saying it over and over again, “It’s not your fault, it’s not your fault.”

    Finally, the kid breaks down and starts balling because the wound was opened up and someone finally applied some medicine to where it really hurt.

If you’ve taken nothing else from Malachi, I want you to understand this: God always pours His word directly into your wounds for the purpose of healing you, even if those wounds are self-inflicted. That’s why God says in Hosea 14:4, “I will heal their backsliding.”

I’m going to pray for us this morning, and if you need healing, God is waiting to heal you. It doesn’t matter if the wound is physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. God is in the business putting broken people back together.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, Your Word is a lamp to our feet, and a light to our path, it shows us where we are, and where we’re going. Your Word is sharper than any two edged dividing asunder between the marrow and the bone and even the soul and the spirit. Father, this morning I ask that You take Your Word and heal us with it. Apply the medicine where it hurts, and let us leave this place changed by Your love, Your goodness, and Your mercy. In the name of Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.


[1] Flemming, Donald C. “Commentary on Malachi 4:4”. “Bridgeway Bible Commentary”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/malachi-4.html. 2005.

Where is Our Trust? // Malachi 3:1-15

MALACHI 3.jpg

Text: Malachi 3:1-15

Mark Weathers, the pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in Concord, North Carolina was asked to come to a 6th grade class and speak about different world religions when compared to Christianity.

He said, “The first thing I did was make my own ruler. I called it Mark’s Reliable Ruler. Inches were 3/4th the length of the standard inch, I showed the class my reliable ruler and got volunteers to measure various objects. One student used a standard ruler. I used my ruler, and when the measurements didn’t match, I began defending my ruler. The students at first didn’t understand, but as a I continued to hold to my position they got frustrated. One little girl blurted out, “But you can’t do that! It’s not the right ruler.” That’s when I knew they got it. When we make up our own standard and leave the standard God has established, all hell breaks loose.” [1]

And that’s exactly what’s happening in Malachi. They have abandoned the standard of worship and the standard of living that God has set for their lives, and now they’re completely dumbfounded as to why things are going badly for them.

“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

As we said last week, they took the order that God established for their lives and they turned into a chaos of their own making, which is always what happens when we do the opposite of what God says. When we rebel against God we don’t establish a new order, instead we just create chaos. We don’t have the capacity within ourselves to create order, only God can do that.

This is what the priests did, and then when things went badly, they blamed God by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”

God is fairly logical. In the Pentateuch, God lays out His laws and commands and says, “Alright, this your order for living. If you do these things and follow these laws that I’ve set you’ll have life and blessing, but if you don’t, you’ll have death and curse.” And so, they break God’s laws and then point the finger at God.

  • It’s like that meme going around on the Internet of the guy riding the bike, and while he’s riding his bike he puts a stick in the spoke of his bike, and then when he wrecks and hurts himself, he grabs his knee and starts cursing at the sky. This is what the priests have done. They’ve hurt themselves by dishonoring God.

And so God promises to send His messenger to prepare the way for Him. He’s coming and He’s going to purify the sons of Levi so that they will proper offerings. 

So, as we walk through the text we have three ideas. We’re going to talk about Trusting in Christ’s Coming, Trusting in His Refining Power, and Trusting in God’s Promise for Blessing.

  • And really all three of these ideas are operations of God’s grace toward us.
    • He comes to us as the messenger of a covenant we don’t deserve to partake in.
    • He refines us like silver even though we deserve to be consumed along with our sin and our dross,
    • and God blesses us when we tithe in spite of the fact that we’ve robbed Him. He doesn’t continue beating us up for our robbery in the past.

Trusting in His Coming (v. 1-2)

“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap;” – Malachi 1:1-2, NRSV

If we look at verses 1 and 2 we see that there’s two messengers spoken of. There is “my messenger” and then there is “the messenger of the covenant.”

Now, here’s where we’re supposed to ask, “Whose the messenger and why is this important?” The first messenger, the forerunner we’ll call him, is a messenger of grace. Because he’s the one saying, “Listen, the king is coming so you should get ready.” This was common in these times. When a king would come, he would often send a messenger or two ahead to ready the people and prepare for the coming of the king.

So, who is the first messenger figure?

    • For the primary audience, it’s Malachi. His name even means, “My messenger” or “God’s Messenger.” He’s God’s mailman. He doesn’t write the mail, he only delivers it.
    • 400 years after Malachi, the messenger was John the Baptist. He was the forerunner of Christ. John the Baptist’s message was plain and simple.

 

  • “In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
    – Matthew 3:1-2, NRSV

 

    • This wasn’t a call to repent in light of kingdom that will take 2,000+ years to get here this was a call to repent in light of a kingdom that you can reach out and touch.

    • Jesus said, “if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom has come upon you.” (Luke 11:20) Then, earlier in Luke 10, Jesus says, “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” (Luke 10:8-9)

    • And so, Malachi’s message is for us, John the Baptist’s message is for us, and especially Jesus’ message is for us because it’s essentially all the same. “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, it’s within your grasp.” If you repent you’ll be refined and you’ll come forth as gold, but you don’t repent, if you remain stubborn and hard-hearted, you’ll be consumed, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

  • And so today, in our day, we’re the messengers, and we’re proclaiming the coming of Christ who is the messenger of the covenant so that people can repent and in their repentance, they make themselves ready for His second coming.

    • The goal of repentance is change. A change mind, a change of heart that leads to a change of attitude and behavior.

Trusting in His Refining Power (v. 3-6)

Back in verse 2, the question is asked, “Who can endure the day of His coming and who can stand when He appears?” And verses 3-6 stand as explanation of what will happen when He comes, but verse 2 is a rhetorical question because no one will be able to stand when He appears. And if you think you stand, beware lest you fall. That’s the warning the Apostle Paul would give in 1 Corinthians 10.

Let me be clear, that’s not to say that you can’t have assurance or certainty of your salvation, but your assurance and certainty can’t rest in you or in what you’ve done. It has rest somewhere else, namely on what Christ has done on your behalf. That’s where faith and repentance comes in.

  • Once you’ve repented. Once you’ve changed your mind about who God is, and who you are in relation to Him. Once you’ve realized that you’ve been wrong about how you’ve been living, and you start on your journey with Christ, then you’re in Christ, you’re not just with Him, you’re in Him.

  • When Moses was on Sinai and He asked to see God’s glory, God revealed His back to Moses and even then Moses had to stand within the cleft of a rock to keep from being consumed when God’s glory passed by God, and so it is on the day of the Lord when He appears we won’t be consumed because our life will be hidden in Christ. (Colossians 3:1-4)

Look at verses 3-6.

“he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. 4Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. 5Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. 6For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished.” – Malachi 3:3-6, NRSV

When we read this we’ve got ask, “What’s the goal?” What’s God’s end game? I think the answer to that question is in end of verse 3 and 4. God desires offerings in righteousness, and then when the priests begin to make offerings in righteousness those offerings will be pleasing to the Lord.

In chapter 1, we talked about how the priests were offering their lame, their blind, and their blemished animals to God, and what it all came down to is that their heart wasn’t in the worship. There was nothing wrong with the way God had ordered them to make sacrifices. There was nothing wrong with the traditions that had been passed down to them, it was them, it was their heart.

  • I think we get this way sometimes. If people aren’t responding in worship the way we want, then we must think that there’s something wrong with the way we worship. So, we might change the music, we might change the way do church so that we can be more seeker friendly.

  • Now, don’t think that it’s just ‘those people over there in that generic mega church down the road’ that does this. We may not be seeker friendly, but we’re in danger of getting in this mindset as well.

    • Think about it in these terms… what’s the biggest objection to churches having communion every week? “Well, if you do it every week, then it will lose it’s meaning?” Really? We take up an offering every week and that hasn’t seemed to have lost its meaning.

  • So, is it the tradition that’s really the problem or is it us? Of course, I’m just using that as an example. Tradition isn’t always the problem, but we like to point the finger at tradition because it’s easier for us to change external traditions than it is for us to confront internal sin and complacency.

    • The reality of the situation is that often we have a sin problem, and we like to say that in baptism the old man was buried, but the truth is that he can swim awfully well for a dead guy.

And so we see that God’s fire does two things: it refines the righteous, but it also consumes the unrighteous.

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. 11Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” – 2 Peter 3:10-13, NRSV

If we’re going by what Peter says here along with what we read in Revelation then we know that when the day of the Lord comes there will be a fiery blaze of God’s glory that overshadows the whole earth, that’s when the world as we know it will be dissolved with heat, and those who rejected the Gospel, who followed the course of this world will experience the second death, an eternity in the lake of fire.

But then what will be left? Are just left with charred remains? No. Peter tells us that after the fire of God consumes and dissolves everything that has been affected by sin, it will leave behind a new heavens and a new earth. For the old heavens and old earth will have passed away.

  • It’s both a consuming and refining fire.

And then finally in Malachi 3:6 there’s this statement – “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished.” But I want you to notice what the King James says.

“For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”
– Malachi 3:6, KJV

God is saying, “I’ve got a plan for you! You deserve to be consumed. Your sin has earned you death, but instead, I’ve got a plan for you!” That’s grace! That’s free grace! They’ve backslid, and God tells them that He hasn’t changed His mind about them, and the evidence that God hasn’t changed His mind about them is the fact that they’re not consumed.

  • The evidence that God hasn’t changed His mind about you is the fact that if you believe on Jesus then you’re no longer bearing the weight of God’s wrath on you!

  • I’ve heard people say, “Once you backslide there’s no coming back!” That’s not what Hosea 14:4 says. God speaks through Hosea and says on no uncertain terms, “I will heal their backsliding.” Translated in the ESV it says, “I will heal their apostasy.” God freely and graciously heals His sons and daughters of backsliding and apostasy, and its by God’s graciousness that you are not consumed.

Trusting in His Promise for Blessing (v. 7-12)

“Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, “How shall we return?”

8Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, “How are we robbing you?” In your tithes and offerings! 9You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me—the whole nation of you! 10Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts…” – Malachi 3:7-10, NRSV

As I said in our first sermon on Malachi, if you think this is simply about throwing your 10% in the offering plate, then you’re missing the big picture.

The goal behind tithes and offerings is so that there may be food in the storehouse for others to benefit from. God doesn’t need your money, He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He doesn’t need your crops. There is nothing that you could give to God that would add to His well-being. So, then why is God wanting us to tithe?

  • Giving your tithes and offerings takes the focus off of us, and it’s for that very reason that God says that this is how the priests return to Him. Selfishness is what got them in their condition in the first, and it’s selflessness that will get them out.

In the Old Testament a tithe was a tenth of the produce of the land, consecrated and set apart for special purposes. And, in fact, there were three tithes in the Old Testament.

  • The Levites weren’t given land so they weren’t expected to farm so they would take the tithe that was given to them, and then they would tithe to the priests off of that so that the priests could just work in the temple without worrying about whether or not they could provide for their families.

  • Then there was another tithe taken for work in the temple.

  • And there was a tithe taken at least every three years for the support of the marginalized and the needy in Israel. Ligon Duncan says, “scholars don’t know exactly how to put all these together but it is clear that at least 27% of the produce was mandated by God to be given back to the support of religion and worship in Israel. So the next time you’re tempted to complain about 10% plus offerings, remember that the mandate was a minimum of 27% in the Old Testament.” [2]

Finally, God says that if they will do this, if they will take the focus off of themselves. He will cause things to turn around for them.

“….see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. 11I will rebuke the locust for you, so that it will not destroy the produce of your soil; and your vine in the field shall not be barren, says the Lord of hosts. 12Then all nations will count you happy, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 3:10-12, NRSV

If you’ll quit being selfish, if you’ll realize that worship isn’t about you (because that’s what tithing is, tithing is a part of your worship), then God will bless you.

 

 

But then we have the response of the priests in verses 13-15.

“You have spoken harsh words against me, says the Lord. Yet you say, “How have we spoken against you?” 14You have said, “It is vain to serve God. What do we profit by keeping his command or by going about as mourners before the Lord of hosts? 15Now we count the arrogant happy; evildoers not only prosper, but when they put God to the test they escape.” – Malachi 3:13-15, NRSV

This is where we have a challenge before us. Are we going to be like the priests and look at the ills of the world around us, and say, “It is vain to serve God” or are we going to walk by faith, and not by sight, and trust that God is refining us and renewing the world around us?

God is in the process of making things right, and calling to account those who have been faithless, and the evidence that one day all things will be made right is the fact God raised His Son from the dead, and has given Him a name that is above every name. (Acts 4:12)

This morning we have to make a choice. Will we serve God by believing that He will provide for us out of the riches of His glory or will we scramble through life trying to keep all of our eggs in one basket trying to provide for ourselves?

Serving God isn’t in vain like these priests said, but serving yourself is.

I’m going to pray for us, and we’ll sing one more hymn. These altars are open. Don’t be afraid to come to the front or kneel at these altars if you need anything from God.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, I’ve done all I can do. This is Your Word, and it’s Your Spirit’s work to apply it to our hearts and lives. We are convicted of our sins and our hearts are heavy. Let us feel Your love and forgiveness today. Let us know Your kindness and Your mercy. We ask You to take the burden of self-reliance off of us, and let us take up Your yoke and Your burden because Your yoke is easy and Your burden is light. In the name of Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

_____

[1]  “Messages.” Providence Presbyterian Church, http://www.ppcnet.net/messages/.

[2]  “Robbing God.” First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi, 3 Nov. 2002, http://www.fpcjackson.org/resource-library/sermons/robbing-god.

 

Where is Our Faithfulness? // Malachi 2; Revelation 1:4-6

MALACHI 2

Text: Revelation 1:4-6; Malachi 2:1-17

Introduction

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

Conclusion

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.

Closing Prayer

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.

 

Where is God’s Honor? // Malachi 1

MALACHI 1

Text: Malachi 1:1-14

Introduction

Our passage isn’t easy to digest. It’s hard, it’s convicting, but it’s also necessary. It’s like in Revelation 10 when John takes the scroll from the angel and eats it, it’s sweet to his lips, but it’s bitter to his stomach. This first chapter in Malachi might be bitter when it’s applied because it’ll touch our sin on a personal level, but when it’s all said and done, it is sweet because it draws us closer to God.

We start out the passage by seeing that this is an oracle, but if you’re reading from the King James, then you’ll see that instead of the word ‘oracle,’ the word ‘burden’ is used, and I think this is significant because the interaction that follows between God and His people is weighty.

The entire book of Malachi follows a distinct pattern: there’s a declaration made by God, then there’s a question posed by the people – “How have we done x,” then God makes a defense and an explanation of his accusation against them. Almost the entire book follows this pattern.

As we look at the text this morning, I want to us to see two main ideas. We needs to first of all, God’s Abundance of Love, and Our Lack of Honor.

God’s Abundance of Love

In the first five verses there are three ideas in this section that I want us to see: first, God’s Love Declared, then we see that God’s Love is Doubted, and then we’ll look how God’s Love is Displayed.

God’s Love Declared

“I have loved you, says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” Is not Esau Jacob’s brother? says the Lord. Yet I have loved Jacob.” – Malachi 1:2, NRSV

What does this mean? The people whom Malachi is addressing is are descendants of Jacob. Jacob and Esau were brothers, and even though Esau was the older brother, God chose to set his love on Jacob. So, this is what God is saying:

  • My love for you is electing love because I chose you for myself above your brother Esau.
  • My love for you is unconditional love because I chose you before you had done anything good or evil—before you had met any conditions—while you were still in your mother’s womb.
    • “Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23The Lord said to her, “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.” – Genesis 25:21-23, NIV
    • “Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, 12not by works but by his call) she was told, “The elder shall serve the younger.” 13As it is written, “I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau.” – Romans 9:11-13, NRSV

 

 

  • My love for you is sovereign love because I was under no constraint to love you; I was not forced or coerced; I was totally in charge when I set my love upon you.
  • And my love for you is free because it’s the overflow of my infinite grace that can never be bought. [1]

All of these qualities of God’s love have bestowed to us freely in Christ.

And yet, in spite of all of this, in spite of the fact that God has divine purpose and plan for His people, His love is still doubted.

God’s Love is Doubted

They still say in the middle of verse 2, “How have you loved us?”

Think about all the ways in which we have doubted God’s love. He has blessed us. Listen, there are things in your life that you just don’t get a say in. You don’t get a say in what language you learn as a child. You don’t get a say in what country you’re born in, you don’t get a choice in what culture you get raised in.

And God has arranged all of these things in your life that you live in a relatively prosperous culture, you were raised learning to speak one of the most difficult languages to learn. You live in a nation with a relatively decent amount of personal freedoms compared to other nations.

  • You might say, “Well, our freedoms are slowly being taken away.” Who cares! Be thankful for what God has given you now, in the present. God didn’t promise you a bill of rights. He promised you blessing if you do what is right, and a curse if you don’t do what is right.
  • Rights or not, we can confidently say with the psalmist, “With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can mortals do to me? The Lord is on my side to help me; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.” (Psalm 118:6-7, NRSV)

Some of you have had really hard lives growing up, but it could have been worse, and the reason it wasn’t worse is because God personally loves you, and cares for you. I would even say that God actually likes you. He doesn’t just put up with you because of a contract that He has with Jesus. God has placed His love on you and one day you will be joyously brought before Him.

“Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing,” – Jude 24, NRSV

He rejoices to save us, to sanctify, and He will, with rejoicing, escort us into His presence.

Yet, in spite of all of this we still doubt sometimes.

  • And it’s the same voice that told Eve, “you will not die” that tells us, “God doesn’t love you, God didn’t really save you.” “It doesn’t matter how much you ask for forgiveness, you will die in your sin.” It’s that condemning voice that causes us to doubt.

So, God goes on to explain in more explicit terms exactly what He means.

God’s Love is Displayed

“but I have hated Esau; I have made his hill country a desolation and his heritage a desert for jackals. 4If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says: They may build, but I will tear down, until they are called the wicked country, the people with whom the Lord is angry forever. 5Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the Lord beyond the borders of Israel!” – Malachi 1:3-5, NRSV

We see passages like this, and first inclination is to say, “That’s not fair.”

Why does God place this kind of love and care on Jacob and his lineage and not on Esau and his people? Paul gives a commentary on this passage when he writes Romans 9.

“It is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, 7and not all of Abraham’s children are his true descendants; but “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” 8This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants. 9For this is what the promise said, “About this time I will return and Sarah shall have a son.” 10Nor is that all; something similar happened to Rebecca when she had conceived children by one husband, our ancestor Isaac. 11Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, 12not by works but by his call) she was told, “The elder shall serve the younger.” 13As it is written,

“I have loved Jacob,
   but I have hated Esau.”

14What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

16So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy.”

– Romans 9:6-16, NRSV

When we look at Malachi 1 and Romans 9, and we say, “It’s not fair. God should show this kind of mercy to everyone,” what we’re saying is that God owes it to them. No one is owed mercy.

Remember 2 Corinthians 4:1-6. I won’t read, I’ll let you look it up on your own. But when we say, “It’s not fair.” We’re saying that someone who chooses to be blinded by the god of this world deserves sight, and that’s not the case. When God gives sight to blind, when God gives life to the dead, when God grants us repentance and faith, it’s not because He owes it to us, it’s because His grace is more powerful than our sin.

His kindness to us is more more powerful than our desire to rebel against Him.

God displays His kindness in His electing love that He has placed on us by the atoning blood of His son. And so, we see God’s abundance of love, but what about our lack of honor?

Our Lack of Honor

If we continue on in Malachi 1, we’ll see that there’s three ways that God is not shown the honor that’s due him:

God’s Name is Despised

“A son honors his father, and servants their master. If then I am a father, where is the honor due me? And if I am a master, where is the respect due me? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. You say, “How have we despised your name?” – Malachi 1:6, NRSV

What’s the accusation here? God is actually accusing them of breaking the 3rd commandment.

“You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.” – Exodus 20:7, NRSV

If you think this is simply an issue of saying God’s name when you curse, you’re not going deep enough. God’s name is His identity. So, taking His name in vain isn’t necessarily about taking the verbal usage of His name lightly (although we shouldn’t do that either), it’s about taking His character and His identity lightly.

  • See, now the 3rd commandment isn’t so manageable when we see it like that, and that’s good because it’s opportunity to see God’s grace and forgiveness at work in our lives.
  • We have a problem of not seeing the big picture when it comes to the Bible. We’ll get into Malachi 3 later, but if you think Malachi 3 is simply about giving your 10% to the church, you’re mistaken. The big picture of Malachi 3 is giving to what God what’s due, and what’s due to God is honor, not in the form of lip service, but in the form of tithes that go into the storehouse to feed the hungry, and clothe the naked.
  • God’s law always has a big picture application to our lives, but we want to break it down into manageable pieces so that we can have checklist, mark off the things we’re supposed to do, and make sure we don’t do the things we’re not supposed to do, but the problem is that if you can manage God’s law, all of it, then you don’t need Jesus.

  • This is what Paul says in Galatians, if righteousness could come through the law, then it would, but it doesn’t, so it can’t. Righteousness comes by grace through faith in Christ apart from works of the law. (Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16)

So, what does it mean that they have despised God’s name, and what does it mean when we despise God’s name? Now, that the 3rd commandment isn’t as manageable as we thought it was, what are the ways that we despise God’s name? How do we doubt His character and His identity?

If we keep going in Malachi 1, one of the ways that God’s people despised His name was through their offerings. So, they ask, “How have we despised your name?” And this is the answer God gives.

God’s Altar is Polluted

“By offering polluted food on my altar. And you say, “How have we polluted it?” By thinking that the Lord’s table may be despised. 8When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not wrong? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not wrong? Try presenting that to your governor; will he be pleased with you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 1:7-8, NRSV

God’s people had the audacity to come into God’s house and bring their lame, their broken, and blemished animals to God.

You can’t give your leftovers to God, and think He’s going to let you live in His favor. We don’t do animal sacrifices anymore. So, what does this mean for us as the New Testament church? It means that we’re the offering.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” – Romans 12:1, NIV

This is about your attitude in worship. This is about your attitude in service to God. Do you give yourself wholeheartedly to God, and to the service of His people or do you give the bare minimum of yourself?

We can’t separate our attitude toward God from how we offer ourselves to Him.

“Contempt for the Lord’s Table is contempt for the Lord of the table.” [2]
– Peter J. Leithart, Blessed Are the Hungry

So, what this means is that everytime we refuse God the wholehearted worship that He deserves we actually show contempt for Him. That’s not an easy thing to come to terms with, that there’s actually a part of you that wants to rebel against God, but it’s the flesh, it’s the sin nature. It’s why the writer of the hymn says, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it, seal it to thy courts above.”

  • This is where we need to pray, “Seal my heart, Lord.” Because if God seals our hearts with the seal of the Holy Spirit, then we’re never going to wander so far that He can’t bring us back.

We’ve seen how God’s name is despised, and God’s altar is polluted, but here’s where we finally see that our godless, ritualistic service is denounced.

Godless Service is Denounced

“And now implore the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. The fault is yours. Will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts. 10Oh, that someone among you would shut the temple doors, so that you would 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 hands. 11For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. 12But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and the food for it may be despised. 13“What a weariness this is,” you say, and you sniff at me, 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. 14Cursed be the cheat who has a male in the flock and vows to give it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished; for I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name is reverenced among the nations.” – Malachi 1:9-14, NRSV

I just read that from the NRSV, but I’m not sure if you can really see the meaning of verse 9. So, I’ll read verse 9 again this time from the New King James.

“But now entreat God’s favor, that He may be gracious to us. While this is being done by your hands, will He accept you favorably? Says the Lord of hosts.”
– Malachi 1:9, NKJV

There are severe consequences for believing that you can flippantly ignore God’s call to repentance.

Malachi wants us to call on God because he encourages us, “entreat God’s favor because He will be gracious,” but the prophet also wants us to understand what that means because he says, “While this is being done, will He accept you favorably?” Saying, “God, I’m sorry” while your fingers are crossed behind your back doesn’t work. The New Living Translation says, “when you bring that kind of offering, why should he show you any favor at all?” (Malachi 1:9, NLT)

God actually goes on to say, in verse 10, that He wishes that someone would shut the door of the temple so that they would not kindle fire on His altar in vain.

  • God would rather us close doors at Mount Carmel than to have us come in here and think that we can slide by on half hearted worship.

The close of this chapter ends with God reminding us of who He is. Notice the end of verse 14, “…I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name is reverenced among the nations.” God made a promise that He would always have a remnant. He would always have a people that worshipped Him in Spirit and truth. Even in the midst of a great falling away, there would still be a people who loved God, and worshipped Him with their whole heart. The question is: will it be us or will be those give God what’s left?

Conclusion

If you go back to verse one, you’ll notice that Malachi doesn’t get the traditional introduction to prophetic office, “The word of the Lord came to Malachi…” Instead, we get simply, “An oracle.” But the King James calls this a burden. It’s a heavy word that’s been given to Malachi, and like all heavy things, to carry it you have to get completely under it. But, unlike a couch or a heavy box, there’s no way you can lift with your legs to avoid hurting your back. There’s no easy way to take a word from the Lord that says, “You have despised my name, you’ve polluted my altar, and you have shown me no honor.”

It’s going to be heavy on your heart, it’s going to pour over your soul like any a burden should, but there’s good news. Jesus has taken your faithlessness, your rebellion, and your lack of honor, and He has nailed those things to His cross, and they did rise from the tomb with Him. And He did it, not because you’re good or because you’re worth it, but because He desires for you to become His righteousness.

“For our sake [God] made him [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV, brackets added

I know that every week I say that these altars are open, but I really mean that. These altars aren’t just a place where we come and pray gently for our prayer needs for 3-5 minutes every Sunday, this is a real place where you can approach a real God with your real sin, and in exchange for your sin, He will give you His righteousness.

In the Book of Common Prayer, there is a prayer for confession of sin, and I want to pray that prayer over us today, and as we sing, know that the gifts of faith and repentance are yours in Christ.

Closing Prayer

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. [3]

_____

[1] “The Greatness of God’s Electing Love.” Desiring God, 24 May 2018, http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-greatness-of-gods-electing-love.

[2]  Leithart, Peter J. Blessed Are the Hungry: Meditations on the Lord’s Supper. Canon Press, 2000.

[3] Book of Common Prayer, Evening Prayer: Rite Two, pg. 116-117