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.

 

So, This is Christmas

stic-blog-graphic

At my home church, I preach on the third Sunday night of every month, and every other Wednesday. And since my pastor isn’t really the sermon series kinda guy (which is perfectly fine for his style of preaching), I’ve decided that I’m going to use my preaching dates as opportunity to try my first shot at preaching an advent series.

In case you couldn’t already tell my inspiration for the title “So, This is Christmas” comes from the opening lines of John Lennon’s 1971 Christmas hit, “Happy Xmas (War is Over).”

When this song came out it was an anthem for peace in the UK and eventually the song got more popular over the years, and The Fray has even recorded a cover of it (which is fantastic by the way, check it out here).

What I really want to do in this series is give us a reminder that Jesus really is the reason for the season. In reality, that should be the goal of every advent series. As a matter of fact, the goal of your preaching (regardless of where you are in the Church calendar) should be to exalt Christ and present the Gospel. I think so often we’re trying to come up with original ideas for our preaching. “Maybe I can present this new idea or that new idea.” “Maybe, I can try a different approach.” While creativity in a sermon series isn’t a bad thing, it can become a bad thing when we make the focus all about how ‘original’ we are instead of how good God is. In reality there’s nothing new under the sun, and if we think it’s new then it’s probably just an old heresy revisited.

But, in case you’re interested, here’s the basic outline that I’m thinking of working with:

Sermon 1: The ‘Who’ of Christmas
Text: John 1:1-5

Sometimes we just need to return to the basics. In the hustle and bustle of the busy Christmas we try to find the right gifts for our friends and family we must remember that God has given us the ultimate gift of His son, Jesus Christ.

Sermon 2: The ‘What’ of Christmas
Text: Hebrews 2:10-18

In this message we’ll look specifically at what Jesus came to do. In this message, we’ll cover the Incarnation, a brief overview of the life of Christ, and his death and resurrection. 

Sermon 3: The ‘Why’ of Christmas
Text: 1 John 3:8

Carl F.H. Henry said, “The early church didn’t say, ‘Look what the world has become!’ They said, ‘Look what has come into the world!” 1 John 3:8 clearly says that Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. That’s the ‘why’ of Christmas. So, what does that look like for us? What are the works of the devil and what does it look like for them to be destroyed in our lives and in the world?

I realize that these are not the traditional texts that one may use for their Christmas readings, but I believe that this is the guideline that I’m supposed to use in this advent season. If you like it, feel free to use it.

Sanctification in Community: Reflections on Philippians 1:27-30

sanctificationincommunity

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For He has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for Him as well– since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.  – Philippians 1:27-30, NRSV

I’m currently preparing to preach over this passage at my church as we continue our series in the book of Philippians, and the key thing that I see in this passage is Paul’s desire for corporate sanctification in the midst of suffering and persecution. That’s really a major theme in the entire book.

Notice first, Paul says that he wants us to live a life in a manner worthy of the Gospel. That sounds like the “Christian thing” to do, right? But what does that really look like? The first answer that comes to my mind (and it may come to your mind as well) is sanctification. But what is sanctification? The biblical definition of sanctification is ‘setting apart.’ But I feel like we, in the Church, have a distorted  view of sanctification. We’ve got it all boiled down to an individual moralism where we have to make sure we do all the things we’re supposed to as Christians and then we get to stand back, look at our giant pile of good works that we’ve done for the day, and make sure that those good things outnumber the bad things that we do. But the problem is that our giant pile of good works is just that – A GIANT PILE (of what, I’m sure you can figure out).

In his sermon on Galatians 1:1-10, Daniel Emery Price talks about how we often look at the free gift of Gospel and we might think that it’s too good to be true, so what we do is think to ourselves, “there’s got to be more to the Gospel than this, there’s got to be some rules and regulations.” So, we know that Jewish dietary restrictions and other certain laws are done away with in Christ, but we end up creating our own rules and regulations. We’re perfectly allowed to eat bacon, but God forbid we light up a good ol’ Marlboro Menthol cigarette or even better, a nice Oliva V cigar.

So then, we turn sanctification into something that we offer to God through obedience to laws that we’ve made for ourselves and in the process we deceive ourselves and others by believing and proclaiming that we’re following the law of God.

What then does the Bible actually say about sanctification? The Apostle Peter gives us this insight:

Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. – 1 Peter 1:14-19, NRSV

The word, “holy” means “other, set apart.” What Peter is telling us is that just as God is “other” or distinct from His creation so we should be “other” or distinct from those who do not embrace the Gospel of Christ. There is then a responsibility to conduct ourselves different from the rest of the world. And we often refer to this new conduct as holiness. One might be inclined to ask the question, “how does that not result in moralism?”

Imagine if you’re a father or mother and you’re teaching a child to walk. You’re not looking for any skills in the child that would contribute to him learning to walk, you’re simply trying to guide the child until it can walk on it’s own so it is with God who sanctifies us. He’s drawing us close to Him, and guiding us with His Spirit so we can walk with Him. Will that result in behavior modification? Maybe, but behavior modification isn’t the point, the Gospel of God coming to us and letting Him work in our lives is the point. When we understand this, we can then see that sanctification is process that we join and participate in with God rather than something that we contribute to our salvation.

(For more information on this, I highly recommend Dallas Willard’s lecture on Spiritual Formation as Natural Part of Salvation.)

Now, when we get back to our passage in Philippians 1, we see that Paul wants that to happen in community. Notice verse 27, Paul fully expects them to be “standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.” When we consider this, we see that our sanctification isn’t a static, individual act, but it is an active community project that we assist one another in as God works in us to do so.

Sermon Notes: “Believing The Shepherd”

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(These are the notes from a sermon that I preached a while back. Feel free to use them for your own study. Note, this is not a manuscript so some of the thoughts may seem scattered.)

Text: John 10:22-30

Introduction
I like using the Lectionary when I’m trying to decide what passage I need to preach because it will force you deal with things in the passage you may not feel comfortable dealing with. In a way, I think we should all (preacher or layman) get on some kind of a reading plan that will force us to read the Bible as a whole because you will find yourself in parts of the Bible that you ordinarily wouldn’t read and you’ll end up learning some things you didn’t know before, and you end up in a situation where the Bible confronts you and begins to tear at the fabric of what you were always taught to believe, and when this happens we need to let the Bible drive any of our pre-conceived notions that do not line up with what we’re reading in Scripture.

“We must allow the Word of God to confront us, to disturb our security, to undermine our complacency and to overthrow our patterns of thought and behavior.” ― John R.W. Stott

So tonight, I’ll be using John 10:22-30 as my main passage, but I will be jumping around to different parts of Scripture so that I can show you what the Bible forces us to deal with as we read this passage and seek to understand it’s meaning.

At the beginning of this passage, there’s three things we need to notice about the setting. There’s an important place, an important person, and an important party.

Important Person – Jesus the Messiah, the Jewish leaders have been hounding Him to tell them plainly if He is, in fact, the Messiah. And if you are paying attention to the chronology of John, then you’ll notice that this actually one of the more humorous passages in the Gospels and you’ll see why in a little bit.

Important Place – The Temple, more specifically, Solomon’s porch. “This place is important; it was the porch or portico on the east side of the Temple and was called the “Porch of Judgment.” From this location, the King would make his judgments and exercise justice for those who were brought before him. And here is Jesus strolling through this historic location, physically embodying justice in this place of justice — something his life and teachings were all about.”

Important Party – The Feast of Dedication, sometimes called the Festival of Lights, and today this event is known as Hanukkah. The Jews celebrated (and still celebrate) Hanukkah to remember a time when God kept the lamps in the temple burning for eight days even though there was only enough oil to last one day due to an oil shortage because of war in the land at that time.

As we keep these things in mind, let’s also notice that Jesus has been in Jerusalem since the Feast of Tabernacles which you read about in John 7 and He has been periodically teaching in the temple and revealing Himself as the Messiah that was promised in the Old Testament.

Our 3 points will be the following:
The Reason for Unbelief (verses 24-26)
The Reason for Belief (verse 27)
The End Result (verses 28-29)

The Reason for Unbelief (verses 24-26)
Notice what verse 26 says, “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.” It doesn’t say “you are not of my sheep because you do not believe.” See, we can’t simply look at the passage and say, “Well then, their problem is that they simply do not believe. They’re just blatantly ignoring the facts.” While there’s truth to that, the problem isn’t simply unbelief, unbelief is only a symptom of a greater disease. The greater disease is deadness in sin. Remember what Paul says in Ephesians 2, “You were dead in your sins.”

We often like to imagine Jesus as a lifeguard that throws us a life saver as we’re drowning in the sea of sin, but that analogy wrong, because Paul says the wages of sin is death. So, if you’re not saved, then you’re not sick in your sins, you’re not the brink of death in your sins, you’re dead in your sins.

So then, Jesus isn’t some lifeguard that throws you a life saver, He actually swims to the bottom of the ocean and carries your corpse up out of the sea, and breathes into you, the breath of life. So, then the problem people do not believe what Jesus is plainly telling them isn’t simply unbelief, it’s unbelief as a result of dead men walking in their sin.

In another place, Jesus makes a clear distinction between sheep and goats, so if Jesus is telling these Jews, “you do not believe because you are not my sheep” then it must follow that they are goats. And Jesus says, there will come a day when He separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on His right hand, and the goats on His left hand.
“Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matthew 25:41 NRSV]

Jesus is making the clear distinction, unless you believe what He says about Himself in the Scriptures and follow Him, then you are nothing more than unbelieving goat.
“How do I know if I’m a sheep or a goat?” It’s simple. Do you desire to follow Christ and believe what He says? Then you’re a sheep. If you’re confronted with Scripture, and it doesn’t phase you or change you, then you’re a goat. Sheep love and follow Jesus.

The Reason for Belief (verse 27)

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” – [John 10:27 NRSV]

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” – [John 10:1-5 NRSV]

What is He saying here? When the shepherd calls, the sheep follow.

Do you remember that old song, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”? In the old school, when someone would make a decision for Christ, we would strike up the band and sing “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.” That’s all well and good as long as we understand we don’t make the decision on our own apart from the inward drawing of the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

“No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.”
– [John 6:44-45 KJV]

Let’s look at verse 45 in the NRSV just to good grasp of the meaning…
“It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” – [John 6:45 NRSV]

Notice, Jesus says, “It is written in the prophets…” Anytime you see that phrase mentioned, you need to look in the Old Testament to the passage that is being quoted and read it in context.

“And they all shall be taught by God.” – Although this is not a direct, word for word quote, Jesus pulls this from two passages in the Old Testament that speak of the same event – the promise of the New Covenant.

“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
– [Jeremiah 31:33-34 NRSV]

“All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the prosperity of your children.” – [Isaiah 54:13 NRSV]

Here’s the big question: What does all this mean for us? It means that God, in love, has brought us into His covenant and placed us in fellowship with a covenant community of believers.

It means that our belief does not come from within us, it comes from God who loves us, draws us, saves us, sanctifies us, and will one day, glorify us. God is the cheif operator in our salvation, not us. John makes that clear at the beginning of His gospel account in John 1.

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
– [John 1:11-13 KJV]

Prior to being born again, we were enemies of God without hope in the world, but the will of God intervened for us, and drew us to a point in our lives where we knew we had to come to Jesus or be lost forever.

The End Result (verses 28-29)

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” – [John 10:27-29 KJV]

Let’s think about John 3:16 for a second. We know John 3:16, we love John 3:16, we can all quote John 3:16. We don’t dispute it. Yet, when it comes to verses like John 10:28-29, we want to say, “God gives them eternal life, but…” or “I know it says no one can pluck us out of God’s hand, but…” There are no ‘buts.’ There is nothing in the text that indicates that Jesus DOES NOT mean what He says.

There’s only one condition here. The sheep must follow, and He gives them eternal life.

Here’s how it works.

The Shepherd calls, the sheep follow, He gives them eternal life.

The Shepherd ALWAYS calls. The sheep ALWAYS follow. The Shepherd ALWAYS grants eternal life to the sheep. This is the beauty of Unconditional Election. Our election in Christ is sure. Our salvation is secure. There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that can be done for our salvation to be lost.

I can hear someone asking now, “But what if the sheep ever stop following?” Then that’s not a sheep, that’s a goat. The sheep may stray, but shepherd always brings the sheep back.

“How do we know who is a sheep and who is a goat?” It’s none of our business, Jesus will separate them Himself.

Now, here’s the big question for you tonight? Are you a lost sheep? Do you need Jesus to find you? Do you need hope that only salvation can give? You may be here, and you may be saved, but you need the joy of your salvation restored. Jesus can grant you joy unspeakable and full of glory.

 

Homily: Ghosts in Church

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“And to the angel at the church in Sardis write: These are the words of Him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a theif, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. Yet you have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before His angels. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” – Revelation 3:1-6, NRSV

Flannery O’Connor once said that while the south is hardly Christ-centered, it is most assuredly Christ-haunted. I thought that that was such a profound statement especially considering what part of the south I’m from. I live close to Russellville, Arkansas where there are roughly 120 churches. There is practically a church on every corner, and yet our town doesn’t seem very Christ-centered.

Of course, it’s easy for us to look outside the four walls of our church and see how morally bankrupt the rest of the world is, but what would we see if we looked in our own hearts? Will we find that are hearts are Christ-centered or Christ-haunted? Are we actively living our faith or are we simply ghosts, remnants of what used to be?

For the last couple of months, I’ve been doing a slow read through the book of Revelation and every once in a while it seems like the Holy Spirit will poke me on the shoulder and say, “Pay attention, I’m talking to you” and when He does I soak in the passage and I am drawn closer to Christ through an outcry for repentance. And that sounds all warm and fuzzy, but it’s not. It’s painful. I think sometimes I make it more painful than it has to be. I don’t know about you, but I find myself in a rush trying to be holy NOW, and then I end up messing up again. I want to hurry to do enough ‘holy’ things to make up for the sinful things I’ve done, but the reality of the situation is that my sin was already paid for by the blood of Jesus. So, what must I do? Listen.

Notice the last words of Jesus in this passage, “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.” So, what will I hear if I listen? His voice telling me to “remember what I’ve received and heard and to obey it.” So, did I receive and hear? The Gospel. The good news that Jesus came to save sinners like me. How do I obey it? By repentance and belief. I must repent of my sins and believe that God raised Jesus from the dead to declare victory over all sin.

If I listen closely to what the Spirit saying, I can also hear Him telling me to wake up. One of my favorite passages is found in the book of Ephesians, and it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Paul quotes from an old hymn of the first century Church that alludes to Isaiah 26:19 which is a promise of God to His people that their dead shall awake from their slumber, and one stanza of that particular verse says, “O dwellers of the dust, awake and sing for joy!” The Holy Spirit is telling us that the time for taking a spiritual dirt nap is over! We must come alive, see the glory of God, repent and be saved, be sanctified, and be filled with the Holy Spirit!