Jonah 4:1-11 // Angry for All the Wrong Reasons

Jonah Series (1)

Text: Jonah 4:1-11

INTRODUCTION

In his book Fearless, Max Lucado writes about the power fear possesses to turn us into beastly people:

 

“[Fear] turns us into control freaks … [because] … fear, at its center, is a perceived loss of control. When life spins wildly, we grab for a component of life we can manage: our diet, the tidiness of our home, the armrest of a plane, or, in many cases, people. The more insecure we feel, the meaner we become. We growl and bare our fangs. Why? Because we are bad? In part. But also because we feel cornered.

 

Martin Niemöller documents an extreme example of this. He was a German pastor who took a heroic stand against Adolf Hitler. When he first met the dictator in 1933, Niemöller stood at the back of the room and listened. Later, when his wife asked him what he’d learned, he said, “I discovered that Herr Hitler is a terribly frightened man.” Fear releases the tyrant within.[1]” – Max Lucado, Fearless

 

Now, you might hear that and think, “What does that have to do with Jonah? He’s not a tyrant. He’s not a dictator.” That’s true, he’s not, but his worst fears did come true, and it made him angry. 

 

  • This morning, we’re going to talk about Jonah’s Prayer and Jonah’s Anger, and work through those ideas we’re going to see a deep-rooted insecurity about the fact that he had to preach in Nineveh. He was an Israelite. The Assyrians hated the Israelites, and you better believe that the Israelites had a built-in prejudice against the Assyrians because of everything that had happened between them. 

 

Now, we know from the last two weeks that Jonah has repented; he’s on the right track, but there’s a lesson for us here: we need to understand that, just like Jonah, just because we’ve repented and we’re on the right track now doesn’t mean that we’re not going to be tempted to fall back into old habits, old prejudices, and old insecurities.

 

In 1994, there was a Church of Christ minister named Roy Ratcliff who received a phone call from a gentleman who said that he knew of a prison inmate who had questions about the Bible and thought he might want to be baptized, and the man asked Pastor Roy if he would be interested in talking to this young man. So, of course, Roy Ratcliff obliged.

 

When he accepted the offer to help disciple this prisoner he didn’t think to ask who it was or what he had done, he just went. 

 

When he got to the prison, he saw that the man who wanted to be discipled was none other than Jeffrey Dahmer. For those of you who don’t know Dahmer, he was a serial killer who confessed to raping, killing, and eating 17 young men and boys. 

 

  • Roy Ratcliff had been watching the news, he knew who this guy was. Some preachers might have backed out of the deal at this point, but Ratcliff saw this as an opportunity to witness God’s grace at work in even the vilest of sinners. 

 

  • After meeting with Dahmer for a couple of months, he agreed to baptize him. After the baptism, Ratcliff started coming under attack from fellow Christians who told him that they couldn’t believe that he would “have the audacity to grant God’s blessings upon the devil,” and they said they didn’t want to be in a heaven that included the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer. 

 

My guess is that none of us are wrestling with whether or not to show grace to a cannibalistic murderer, but like we said in the first week of this series, we all have biases and prejudices. Jonah had a bias and prejudice against the people of Nineveh of because of how they treated Israel.

 

  • One of the major applications of this book is this: Like Jonah, we are called to be grace-filled, and merciful to people that we find hard to love.

    • The truth of the matter is that none of us are as cute, nice, and lovable as we would like to think that we are, and Jesus loves us anyway. 

 

After last week, you would think that the story would stop there. Everything seems to have a sense of closure. The sailors repent in chapter 1. Jonah repents in chapter 2. Nineveh repents in chapter 3, and everything seems to be wrapped up, and has a happy ending, but as it turns out, Jonah isn’t so happy. 

 

So, the first thing we’re going to look at is Jonah’s Prayer here in chapter 4. I want us to compare it to his prayer in chapter 2, and I want us to see what it says about God, and what it says about Jonah. 

 

JONAH’S PRAYER (v. 1-3)

“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.” – Jonah 4:1, NKJV

 

  • What displeases Jonah exactly? Look back up at Jonah 3:10, towards the end of the verse – “…God relented from the disaster that He had said that He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.”

    • Jonah is angry because God isn’t destroying his enemies [slow down] even after he spent this whole time going through the city proclaiming the judgement of God.

    • God isn’t concerned with how His decisions to spare Nineveh makes Jonah feel. It means the same for us. God is going to do what God is going to do. He’s going to show mercy to whomever He wants to show mercy regardless of how we feel about it.

      • Think about it like this: If God took the feelings of our enemies into into consideration every time He wanted to bless us, how blessed would we be? Not very. Especially if we’ve made a lot of enemies over the years.

Chapter 4, verse 1 – “it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.” God knew sparing Nineveh would make Jonah angry, and He did it anyway because how Jonah feels doesn’t make God insecure. 

 

  • Now that Jonah’s angry, what does he do? He prays. What should we do when we’re angry? Talk to God about it. He may not do what you want Him to when you want Him to, but I guarantee you, He will listen.

 

Now let’s look at his prayer in verses 2-3. For the sake of clarity, I’m going to read these two verses from the CSB.

 

“He prayed to the Lord: “Please, Lord, isn’t this what I thought while I was still in my own country? That’s why I fled toward Tarshish in the first place. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and one who relents from sending disaster. 3 And now, Lord, take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” – Jonah 4:2-3, CSB

 

There are two prayers in the book of Jonah. We studied the first one in chapter 2, and now this is the second one, and interesting to see how opposite these two prayers are. 

 

“For the second time in this account, Jonah prays, but his second prayer was much different in content and intent.

 

  • He prayed his best prayer in the worst place, the fish’s belly, and he prayed his worst prayer at the best place, at Nineveh where God was working.

  • His first prayer came from a broken heart, but his second prayer came from an angry heart.
  • In his first prayer, he asked God to save him, but in his second prayer, he asked God to take his life!

 

Once again, Jonah would rather die than not have his own way![2]” – Warren Wiersbe

 

I want us to notice something in verse 2. What Jonah says is really revealing about his own heart. 

 

  • In verse 2 he says, “That’s why I fled… I knew you would forgive them, and I knew you would have compassion.” Why did he know that? Because He knows God. He’s familiar with God’s character.

  • One of the things I want us to take away from this series in Jonah is an awareness of God’s character. Over and over again God says about Himself that He is quick to forgive and slow to anger, and here he actually shows that by sparing Nineveh rather than destroying them.

  • Jonah knows this, as a matter of fact look at how Jonah describes God, “I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and one who relents from sending disaster.”

    • Now, if you know the Bible fairly well, then you know that that is a common description of God all throughout the Old Testament. (2 Chronicles 30:9; Nehemiah 9:17, 31; Psalm 103:8, 116:5; Joel 2:13)
    • The first appearance of this description comes in Exodus 34.

 

Now, to set the scene for you in Exodus 34. Moses has up to Mount Sinai to receive the law, and when he comes down he finds the children of Israel worshipping a golden calf, and he becomes so angry that he throws the tablets down and breaks them. 

 

  • Moses intercedes for the people, and then God commands them to leave Sinai, and then God tells Moses to make two more tablets. 

 

[Read: Exodus 34:1-7]

 

So, what we have here two major things that we need to tie back to Jonah. 

 

  • The Law of God (10 Commandments on the stone tablets)
    • What God wants
  • The Character of God (description of God in v. 6-7)
    • What God is like

 

We could get really into really in-depth conversation about what’s really going on here, but ultimately what it amounts to is that God wants Nineveh to repent, and in their repentance, He wants them to discover who He is, namely that He is merciful. 

 

And now, Jonah’s angry and then God asks him a question. 

 

GOD’S QUESTION (v. 4)

“Then the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” – Jonah 4:4, NKJV

 

He doesn’t answer God at first. He just walks away. 

 

“So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city. 6 And the Lord God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant. 7 But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. 8 And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

9 Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!” – Jonah 4:5-9, NKJV

 

This is almost a humorous picture. Jonah is moody and grumpy because God spared Nineveh, and then he had a plant that providing shade for him, and now the plant is gone. The wind drove the clouds away so now the sun is beating down on his head and he just wants to die. 

 

  • He’s pouting, he doesn’t get his way, and he wants to die.

  • What would have made Jonah happy? The destruction of his enemies. He would have been happy to see God reign down fire and judgement against Nineveh. You know why? Because that’s what he would have done if he could have. 

 

“You can be sure that you’ve made God in your own image when He hates all the same people that you do.” – Anne Lamotte

 

 

  • “He doesn’t vote my way, he obviously doesn’t love God like I do.”
  • “They’re not waving my flag they must not be a Christian like I am.”
  • “They believe what I believe. If only they were as spiritually mature as I am.”

 

 

There’s all kinds of pictures we can paint in our minds that make us look good and the people we don’t like bad, but the truth is that we’re all bad. Only Jesus is good, and He came to make all of us good even our enemies. 

 

Kevin Hale, a Presbyterian pastor in Conway, posted a statement on Facebook that I was relevant here. He says, “…if we follow the Lord we must be prepared for those we count as enemies to be counted as brothers.” 

 

One more thing I want us to take note of this morning. 

 

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY (v. 6-8)

Did you notice something in verses 6-8?

 

  • “God prepared” – 3x in Chapter 4

 

God was in control the whole time. God raised up the plant to provide shade for Jonah as a sign of mercy, and then God took down the plant and allowed the sun to beat down on Jonah as a small taste of judgement. 

 

  • What was Jonah’s response when the plant was destroyed? Even more anger. 

Why? Because he felt that he was owed something. He felt that he was owed some shade. After all, he went to Nineveh and told them that God would destroy them and He didn’t, Jonah should get something for his trouble. 

 

  • But then God destroys the plant, and God asks Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” What God is saying is, “Okay, Jonah, so it’s alright for me rain down fire and destruction from heaven on the city of Nineveh, but if you get a sunburn, then it’s not fair?” Of course that’s Jonah’s mindset. 

 

CONCLUSION

Fast Forward to the New Testament. Think about who else gets angry when other people are blessed. 

 

  • Luke 15 – The Older Brother gets angry because a party is thrown when the younger brother comes home.

  • Matthew 21 –  A man who owns a field agrees to pay everyone who works for him a full day’s wage for working in his field. So, he goes out, hires some workers at 6am, then he hires more at Noon, some others around 2pm, and then finally he hires more just before closing time. When everyone lines up to get their pay, beginning with the ones who were hired at 6am, they all get a full day’s wage. Everyone. Including the ones who were hired just before closing time.

    • The ones who were hired earlier get angry. They’re furious because they feel like they should be paid more than the people who got hired later in the day. The owner of the field says, “Listen, I didn’t cheat you. I offered to hire you for a day’s wage, you worked and I paid you. My money is mine to do with as I please. What business is it of yours if I decide to pay someone more?” 

 

What does this all have to do with Jonah? What does Jonah, the older brother, and the angry workers all have in common? They’re angry because someone else received mercy.

 

This morning, where do you find yourself? Do you think that you’re owed mercy? Or do you know that you don’t, and you’re grateful that God poured His mercy on you anyway? 

 

Let’s pray. 

Jonah 3:1-10 // A Crusade in Nineveh

Jonah Series (1)

INTRODUCTION

On New Year’s Day, 1929, Georgia Tech played University of California in the Rose Bowl. In that game a man named Roy Riegels recovered a fumble for California. Somehow, he became confused and started running 65 yards in the wrong direction. One of his teammates, Benny Lom, outdistanced him and downed him just before he scored for the opposing team. When California attempted to punt, Tech blocked the kick and scored a safety which was the ultimate margin of victory.

That strange play came in the first half, and everyone who was watching the game was asking the same question: “What will Coach Nibbs Price do with Roy Riegels in the second half?”

The men filed off the field and went into the dressing room. They sat down on the benches and on the floor, all but Riegels. He put his blanket around his shoulders, sat down in a corner, put his face in his hands, and cried like a baby.

If you have played football, you know that a coach usually has a great deal to say to his team during half time. That day Coach Price was quiet. No doubt he was trying to decide what to do with Riegels. Then the timekeeper came in and announced that there were three minutes before playing time. Coach Price looked at the team and simply said, “Men the same team that played the first half will start the second.” The players got up and started out, all but Riegels. He did not budge. the coach looked back and called to him again; still he didn’t move. Coach Price went over to where Riegels sat and said, “Roy, didn’t you hear me? The same team that played the first half will start the second.”

Then Roy Riegels looked up and his cheeks were wet with a strong man’s tears. “Coach,” he said, “I can’t do it to save my life. I’ve ruined you, I’ve ruined the University of California, I’ve ruined myself. I couldn’t face that crowd in the stadium to save my life.”

Then Coach Price reached out and put his hand on Riegel’s shoulder and said to him: “Roy, get up and go on back; the game is only half over.” And Roy Riegels went back, and those Tech men will tell you that they have never seen a man play football as Roy Riegels played that second half.[1]

What I want us to do this morning is walk through Jonah 3, and I want us to think about what our passage says about Jonah, what it says about Nineveh, and most of all, what it says about God. 

Before we get too deep into the passage, let’s do some review.

  • In chapter 1, we started this walk through Jonah and we saw how God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, but Jonah didn’t want to go because Nineveh was a major Assyrian territory. We said that this would be like God calling one of us to go and preach the good news of God’s love in Christ to ISIS.

    • Jonah instead jumps on a boat to Tarshish and heads in the complete opposite direction. Meanwhile, a storm comes up, and a fish swallows Jonah. That takes us to chapter 2.

  • In chapter 2, Jonah is actually praying inside the belly of this fish, and we saw three specific things that Jonah remembered in his prayer. He remembered God’s Word, he remembered God’s temple, and he remembered God’s mercy. The big verse that we looked at last week was Jonah 2:8 where Jonah said that those who worship idols forsake the mercy that could be there’s. 

 

JONAH REPENTS (v. 1-4)

“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent. 4 And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” – Jonah 3:1-4, NKJV

 

We saw the beginnings of Jonah’s repentance in chapter 2. You can’t read Jonah’s prayer like we read last and not see that he has a repentant heart. 

 

  • The theme of chapter 2 last week was a prayer of repentance, but the theme this week is the evidence of repentance. We see this week that Jonah’s repentance is made evident by the fact that he’s obedient to what God has said. And, by the way, that’s always the evidence of repentance in our own lives. 

Repentance isn’t praying the sinner’s prayer. Repentance isn’t a one-time act that you do to get saved. Repentance is the foremost characteristic of someone who is a born-again believer. If you’re a Christian, then your life should be characterized by the fact that you are always looking to Christ for the fullness of your salvation, and the way that your repentance is made evident is the fact that you are seeking to obey God in what He has said. 

 

  • We need to understand God hasn’t saved us so we can sit around and wait for Him to come back. He has actually given us work to do in the world. I feel like a lot Christians have this idea that pastors are the ones who are supposed to be doing all the work while the rest of the Christian people just have to sit on the sidelines and cheer them on, but that’s not the picture that the Bible paints for us. The Bible tells us that we all have gifts and callings. We all have work to do. We all have things that we need to be obedient in doing for the Lord. 

 

In Ephesians 2:8, Paul tells us that we’re saved by grace and not by works lest any man should boast, and we like that, and we should. It speaks truth about the nature of our salvation, but what we don’t like so much is two verses later where the text tells us we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.

 

  • Why don’t we like that? Because it means we have to do something. 

 

According to Romans 1:5, we have received grace (that’s our salvation) for obedience to the faith. 

 

  • If what Paul is saying is true, and it is because it’s the Word of God, then we have been saved so that we can live in the world and show the rest of the world how to live as witnesses to the Gospel before the face of God. 

 

When you get over into Revelation, Jesus is talking to the Church at Ephesus, and He says, “You know what your problem is? You’ve left your first love.”

 

“Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Remeber therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent.” – Revelation 2:4-5, NKJV

 

Jesus doesn’t say, “Alright, I forgive you, let’s move on.” He says, “I forgive you now remember where you were before, repent, and do your first works again.”

 

  • I think some people believe that just because we’re not under the law anymore that means that there’s no place for obedience in the Christian life, and that’s just not the case. 

 

“Understand this matter aright: By His ascension and by the preaching of faith, Christ does not purpose to rear lazy and sluggish Christians, who say: ‘We shall now live according to our pleasure, not doing good works, remaining sinners, and following sin like captive slaves.’  Those who talk thus have never had a right understanding of the preaching of faith. Christ and His mercy are not preached to the end that men should remain in their sins. On the contrary, this is what the Christian doctrine proclaims: The captivity is to leave you free, not that you may do whatever you desire, but that you sin no more.” – C.F.W. Walther, quoting Martin Luther

 

In the first four verses of Jonah 3, we see that Jonah has repented, and his repentance is made clear by the fact that going back and doing what he should have done in the first place. Jonah doesn’t just blow it off by saying, “I’m sorry, God” and then doing whatever He wants to do. Jonah wants to make restitution because that’s what God’s people want to do. 

 

  • God’s people want to do what’s right. According to Ezekiel 36:26, one of the blessings of the New Covenant is that God gives us a new heart. He takes out the heart of stone, and replaces it with a heart of flesh, and then in Ezekiel 36:27, God says, “I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My ways.”

  • How we live and how we walk before God is evidence of whether or not God has actually given us a new heart. 

 

One of the most challenging parts of the Christian life is actually putting into practice what you know is good and right. I don’t think there’s a single person in here right now who would say cognitively that they didn’t want to obey God, but I also think every single one of us, including myself, have a hard time putting into practice what we preach. 

 

  • That doesn’t get us off the hook of obedience, instead it should drive us to look to Jesus and say, “If I’m going to obey it’s because gives me grace to obey. If I’m going to live the way He wants me to it’s because His Spirit empowers me to live the way He wants me to.”

 

A lot of Christians tend to think that living the way God wants you to is like walking on a tightrope and as long as you can keep your balance, you’re good, but if you fall it’s still okay because you’ve got a net below that tightrope called grace, but that’s not how it works. Grace is what gives you the power to keep your balance, and by God’s grace, you won’t need a net because by grace you’ll never fall!

 

  • At the end of Jude, Jude is ending his letter with a blessing to God, and He says, “To Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with joy…” (Jude 1:24)

That fact that Jonah gets another opportunity to be obedient is an act of grace. 

 

  • Don’t think that just because Jonah lived under the old covenant that God didn’t show grace to His people. 

 

Jonah states his repentance in chapter 2, and now in chapter 3, his repentance is shown by his obedience. And because Jonah repents, Nineveh repents. 

 

  • That’s practical in, and of itself because our repentance, our turning from sin and looking to Christ should cause others to turn from their sin and look to Christ.

  • That’s why God saves people. He saves people so that He can use those people to be key players in the salvation of other people. 

 

So, look what happens to Nineveh as a result of Jonah’s repentance. 

 

NINEVEH REPENTS (v. 5-9)

“So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. 6 Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes.” – Jonah 3:5-6, NKJV

 

  • Notice the progression so far: Jonah Repents, the people of Nineveh repent, and then the king of Nineveh repents when he sees what’s happening among the people.

  • I hear people all the time who say that they want to see America turn back to God. They want to see our politicians repent. If you want to see those changes, then you turn back to God.

    • My favorite psychologist Jordan Peterson said he used to hear his college students talk about how much they wanted to change the world, but they didn’t want to change themselves. He finally said one day during one of his lectures, “Do you want to confront chaos in the world? Then start with the chaos in your own life. Start by cleaning your room.” Set your house in order before your start getting on Facebook and talking about how the whole nation needs to be set in order.

    • Before you start telling people that they need Jesus you need to understand that you have a need for Jesus. 

 

“And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying,

 

Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?” – Jonah 3:7-9, NKJV

 

One of the questions that might arise in our minds is this: Knowing the history between the Jews and the Assyrians, why would they listen to Jonah? What was it that really caused them to listen to him? 

 

As I was studying for this message, one of the commentaries I was looking at said that the people in Assyria primarily worshipped a god named Dagon.

 

  • If know the Bible well enough, then you know that Dagon was the same god that was worshipped by the Philistines. In 1 Samuel 5, the Philistines stole the ark of the covenant and they took it into the house of Dagon, and the Bible tells us that when the priests of Dagon come into the temple the next day, they find the statue of their false god face down on the ground. So, they prop it up, leave and don’t think anything of it. The next day they come in, and they find that not only is the statue of Dagon on the ground, but it’s broken in pieces so that the head and hands are broken off.

  • What’s really interesting is that Dagon is a fish god. If you look up pictures of it, it looks like a reverse mermaid. It’s got a man’s body, but a fish’s head. 

 

Jonah is swallowed by a big fish, and then he gets thrown up onto the shore of Nineveh. 

 

When Jonah preaches and tells the people the city is going to be overthrown they believe him because, IN THEIR MINDS, this individual went into the belly of their god and he overcame. And the only way that Jonah can overcome is if he serves a God greater than their god. 

 

  • We see God proving Himself like this all throughout Scripture.

    • 1 Kings 18 – Elijah has a standoff with the prophets of Baal. And he says, “Let the God who answers by fire be God.” Elijah pours water all the altar that he built so that when God answers they know it’s God, and lo and behold, God shows up and answers by fire. 

 

God through delivering Jonah from the fish shows himself to the people of Nineveh to be greater than any of their false gods and idols. 

 

And then when they repent and see the greatness of God, God relents. 

 

GOD RELENTS (v. 10)

“Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.” – Jonah 3:10, NKJV

 

We’re going to see how Jonah responds to that next week when we look at chapter 4, but look at the mercy that God shows to Nineveh. 

 

  • God is not obligated in any way to save Nineveh. God was not obligated to send Jonah to Nineveh. God was not obligated to even save Jonah, but He does. Why? Because mercy is a part of God’s character. 

 

My question this morning is do we recognize that we have received God’s mercy? 

 

We’re always out to get our fairshare. We always want to get what we think we deserve, but according to Romans 6:23, the wages of sin is death. If we really want to get what we’re owed, then what we’re owed is death. But, if Jesus Christ grants us eternal life, then He does so not because we’re good enough or because we deserve it, but out of the abundance of His mercy. 

 

CONCLUSION

This is an excerpt from a Ray Pritchard sermon where he talks about when he read about a prayer for mercy called the ‘Jesus Prayer’ from one of Elisabeth Elliot’s books. 

 

“Several years ago I read Elisabeth Elliott’s fine book Keep a Quiet Heart. In one of the chapters she discusses the “Jesus Prayer.” It is a prayer that arose in the Orthodox tradition over 1,000 years ago. Though the prayer appears in various wordings, its most basic form goes like this: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” Ten short words, all of them simple and easy to understand. Sometimes the phrase “a sinner” is added to emphasize the petitioner’s deep personal need. When praying together, the word “us” is substituted for “me.” Orthodox Christians have used this little prayer as a central part of their devotional life for centuries.

 

It is easy to see why this prayer has endured. In a sense, it covers everything that we might pray for. It is a prayer addressed to the right Person-“Lord Jesus Christ,” in the right Position-“Son of God.” And its one request summarizes all that we might ask from the Lord-“Have mercy on me.” Since we are truly sinners before the Lord, anything he does for us must be an act of mercy. We have no claim on anything the Lord has, and if we approach God thinking that he owes us something, our prayers will bounce off the ceiling and hit us on the head. Do we need health or wisdom or guidance or strength or hope or do we petition the Lord on behalf of our children, our friends, or our neighbors? Whatever it is we need, no matter what words we use, it is mercy, the pure, shining mercy of God that we seek.[2]

 

My prayer for us this morning is that we would see that every day is an opportunity to be a recipient of God’s mercy. It’s not owed to us. God doesn’t owe us a chance. But, the truth of the matter is that God has freely opened our eyes to know the truth, and it’s only the truth that can set us free. 

 

Let’s pray.

__________________________________

  1. Haddon W. Robinson, Christian Medical Society Journal
  2. Sinners in the Hands of a Merciful God.” Keep Believing Ministries

Jonah 2:2-9 // Things to Remember

Jonah Series (1)

Text: Jonah 2:2-9

INTRODUCTION

Two middle-aged couples were enjoying friendly conversation when one of the men asked the other, “Fred, how was the memory clinic you went to last month?”

“Outstanding,” Fred replied. “They taught us all the latest psychological techniques, such as visualization, association and so on. It was great. I haven’t had a problem since.”

“Sounds like something I could use. What was the name of the clinic?”

Fred went blank. He thought and thought, but couldn’t remember.

Then a smile broke across his face and he asked, “What do you call that flower with the long stem and thorns?”

“You mean a rose?”

“Yes, that’s it!”

He turned to his wife, “Hey Rose, what was the name of that memory clinic?”

 

We all have trouble remembering things sometimes. My wife and I have a white board that we have the wall on the way into our kitchen. 

 

Whenever one of us thinks of something that we need for the house, we write it on the board. When there’s an event coming up that we want to attend, we put it on the board. When we need to remember anything, we put it on the board. Why? Because there’s certain things that need to be remembered. 

 

This morning, as we go back over the prayer of Jonah, we see that Jonah remembers a few things while he is in the belly of this fish, and we talked about this fish means two things for Jonah: it means his discipline and it means his deliverance. 

 

  • We talked about how God often uses what we go through to discipline us and form us into what we should be, namely the image of Christ. Discipline is supposed to be formative, it’s supposed to form you into something. That’s why when parents discipline their kids they should be disciplining intentionally so that their discipline shapes them to be better in the future.

    • When you have kids, you have an idea of how you want them to turn out, and so what do you do? You form them in that direction. Through the love and discipline that you give them, you pave a road for them to walk down. Some of us might have had good parents that paved a good road for us to walk down. Some of us might have had not so good parents that made our lives more difficult, but what we always want to do is give our kids a straight road to walk down so that they grow up loving and fearing God.

    • When a baby is baptized, the main covenant that the child’s parents makes before God is to raise their baptized child in the fear and admonition of the Lord. When they agree to that, they’re promising to do their best to pave a godly path for their child to walk down.

  • And not only does Jonah’s experience discipline him, but it also turns out to be his deliverance. God will use the discipline that He places on your life as a vehicle to get you from the place where you are to the place you need to be.

 

As we read and study this passage, we see the things that we need to remember as well.

 

So, there’s three things that Jonah teaches us to remember: God’s Word, God’s House, and God’s Mercy. 

 

JONAH REMEMBERS GOD’S WORD

Last week talked about this idea before we heard from our Gideon so I’m just going to briefly cover this point. 

 

I mentioned last week that as I was studying for the message, I was able to take every verse of Jonah’s prayer and trace it back to certain passages in the psalms. 

 

As he’s stuck inside this fish, he essentially is praying the psalms back to God.

    1. Listen, when you don’t have the words to pray and you know you know you need to talk to God, you will find words to fit whatever situation you are in in the psalms.

Everything you need for personal worship and devotion is found in the psalms.

 

“Every Christian who would abound in prayer and piety ought…to make the Psalter his manual…everything that a pious heart can desire to ask in prayer, it here finds Psalms and words to match, so aptly and sweetly, that no man…nor all the men in the world — shall be able to devise forms of words so good and devout.[1]” – Martin Luther

 

Last week, we said that Jonah is in a situation where he needs stability. Where’s he going find stability? Where is he going to find the right words to say? The Psalms, God’s word. 

 

  • Historically speaking, the psalms have been the prayer book and the hymn book of the church.

Jonah is stuck in a situation where he is forced to remember. He’s got nothing to do, but think and remember. Based on what we read, we know that Jonah’s remembered God’s Word, but he also remembered God’s house. He remembered going up to Jerusalem with the people of God to worship in the temple. 

 

Listen to what he says in verse 4 and verse 7.

 

JONAH REMEMBER’S GOD’S HOUSE

“Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ … When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord; And my prayer went up to You Into Your holy temple.” – Jonah 2:4, 7, NKJV

 

Jonah, in his despair, remembers the temple of the Lord. 

 

    • The temple has always been the place where man and God commune together. Was it that God couldn’t be found outside the temple? No. It was just that the temple was where God designated worship among the people of God to take place.

    • We’ve been studying about the temple in Sunday School, and I feel like sometimes we’re not really getting the point. We might be going through this quarter like it’s just another ordinary quarter and then we’ll be off to something else, but we need to understand the significance of what we’re studying.

    • We’re not just studying about the temple so can get some Old Testament facts in our system and move on. We need to understand what the temple meant to God’s people so we can understand what the temple points to now under the new covenant. The Old Testament should never be disconnected or unhitched from how we understand the New Testament.

      • All throughout Matthew 12, Jesus makes one controversial statement right after another about himself:

 

  • “…in this place there is One greater than the temple.”
    – Matthew 12:6, NKJV

  • “…indeed a greater one than Jonah is here.”
    – Matthew 12:41, NKJV
  • “…indeed a greater [one] than Solomon is here.”
    – Matthew 12:42, NKJV

 

 

You don’t know what any of those statements mean if you don’t know what the temple means, if you don’t know what Jonah meant, if you don’t know what Solomon meant to the original audience. 

 

The temple was everything to Jonah since that’s how he met with God. 

 

  • How do we meet with God now? Jesus. In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” All throughout the Gospel of John you see Jesus saying over and over again “I and my Father are One, if you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father.” (John 10:30, 14:9)

  • Since Jesus is where we meet with God, the question we have to wrestle with now: Is Jesus everything to us?

 

Jonah could visualize to temple and think to himself, “This is the place I need to be. I need to be where God meets with His people.” 

 

  • When we are in a situation of suffering, we need to look to Jesus because when we look to Jesus we find God. 

 

Not only does Jonah remember God’s Word, not only does He remember God’s house, but he also remembers God’s Mercy. 

 

JONAH REMEMBERS GOD’S MERCY (v. 8-9)

“Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy.” – Jonah 2:8, NKJV

 

Here’s where we can miss the full weight of what the passage is saying if we’re not careful. 

 

  • We think that because we don’t have a statue of a false god hanging around our house that we pray to and that we bring offerings to, we’re not idolators and so we think we’re good, but the truth is that we often take good things and turn them into god things.

Let me use Romans 1:24-25 to explain how this works. 

 

“…God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their heart, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who blessed forever. Amen.” – Romans 1:24-25, NKJV

 

“…idolatry is what happens when inversion occurs. Something created is essentially deified. It is glorified… It becomes the source of our identity and our joy, the object of our affection. It is literally the object of our worship. And here is the tricky part. Most of the time we do not worship things that are bad; we worship things that are good. What happens is we take good things, [our marriage, our career, our possessions] we make them into god things, and in so doing they become bad things. In addition, most people are blind to their own idolatry.” – Mark Driscoll

 

I want you to think about the story of the rich, young ruler in Mark 10:17-22. 

 

  • Most of us probably know this story. A rich young ruler comes to Jesus and he asks him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus basically lists off the ten commandments, and the guy says, “Well, I’ve done all that stuff since I was a kid.”

  • Jesus says, “Alright, go sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take your cross and follow me.”

  • And then the Bible says that the young man went away sorrowful for he had great possessions.

  • Jesus says in another place that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also, but this man couldn’t part with his stuff that’s where is heart was. Jesus doesn’t have a problem with our possessions as long as our possessions don’t possess us. When our possessions possess us they become idols.

 

In Psalm 115:1-8, the psalmist gives a description of what idolatry is and what it does to people. So, if you’re following along with me, then look back at Psalm 115:1-8. 

 

“Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your mercy, because of Your truth. 2 Why should the Gentiles say, “So where is their God?”

3 But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.

4 Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands.

5 They have mouths, but they do not speak; eyes they have, but they do not see;

6 They have ears, but they do not hear; noses they have, but they do not smell;

7 They have hands, but they do not handle; feet they have, but they do not walk; nor do they mutter through their throat.

8 Those who make them are like them; so is everyone who trusts in them.”
– Psalm 115:1-8, NKJV

 

The big universal truth is found here in Psalm 115:8 – “those who make are like them; so is everyone who trusts in them.” What does that mean? It means your life will always be shaped by what you worship. 

 

“What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or for restoration.” – G.K. Beale

 

  • What do you look like? What does your life look like? If you want to know in what condition your heart is in, then follow your treasure. 

 

If we back up to our passage in Jonah 2, we’ll see that this is why Jonah says in Jonah 2:8, “those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy.” 

 

“Those who worship worthless idols forfeit the mercy that could be theirs.”
– Jonah 2:8, NET Bible

 

  • With this one statement, Jonah draws a line in the sand. You can choose mercy or you can choose idolatry, but you can’t choose both. 

 

Listen to what he says verse 9.

 

“But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.” – Jonah 2:9, NKJV

 

Jonah has made his decision. He says, “If I have to choose between mercy and idolatry, I’m going to choose mercy, and the only place to get mercy is from the Lord.”

 

CONCLUSION

Here’s the deal – Jonah is an authority on this issue. At the beginning of the book two weeks ago, we saw him choose his own security, his own comfort, and his own preferences over the will of God. 

 

  • But here we see that he’s had a change of mind, and maybe a change of heart. He, in essence, says, “I’m done running. I will give him a thank offering. I will pay what I have vowed.” And then he finally finishes by declaring that salvation is of the Lord.

 

If you’re here this morning, and you’re done running, and you realize that your heart isn’t where you thought it was… or maybe you’re here, and you realize that maybe you can see yourself slipping. This morning, you can talk to the Lord. You can say, “My heart is not in the right place, and I need you to fix me.” 

 

I’m going to pray for us, and as we sing one last song, I or one of the elders will be more than happy to pray with you and pray for you. 

 

CLOSING PRAYER

Father in Heaven, Your Word is a sharp two-edged sword that divides the soul and the spirit. You see the truth about us. You see the truth that we might try to repress or hide, but Lord, You love us, and You care for us so much that You want us to come to you and unburden ourselves so that we can rest securely in You. So, Lord, would You send the Holy Spirit to apply this word to our hearts so that we would leave changed with our hearts and minds open to what You have to say to 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.

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  1. Luther’s Preface to the 1545 Edition of the Psalter

Matthew 21:1-17 // How Jesus Makes Things Right

Palm Sunday

Text: Matthew 21:1-17

PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION

Almighty and Everlasting God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. [1]

INTRODUCTION

This is Palm Sunday, and typically we read this story at this time of the year because, it marks, for us, the beginning of Holy Week. But, I wonder if it’s too familiar to us because we’ve spent so long reading the Bible with modern eyes that we are completely inoculated to the significance of what’s going on here.

Let’s say for example that you keep a journal of your life, and all throughout your journal are reference to places and political figures of the world in which you live, (you live in the United States and Donald Trump is your president) and somehow your journal is preserved for the next couple thousand years.

Well, in 2000 years the landscape of world can change a lot, and let’s say it changes so much that the USA is no longer in existence and the government is completely different from what it is now, and if someone found your journal and read it and didn’t know the culture in which you lived it would affect the way they read it. They don’t know who Donald Trump is. They don’t know what a President is or does. They don’t know about the USA. It’s the same way with the Bible.

Unless we at least have a general understanding of the culture in which the Bible was written, it’s hard for us to really wrap our minds around the significance of what really went on in Jerusalem on this day.

And what happens on this day is that Jesus declares that he a subversive king of a subversive kingdom.

  • He is not coming to be a political entity. He will not allow the people to use Him as a political pundit for their cause. We see this all the time now. Every time an election comes along someone always claims Jesus for their side and we get duped into voting for them every four years because we fear the people on the other side of aisle MORE than the consequences of supporting a candidate who uses Jesus as a pawn for their cause.

    • “Well, we have to choose the lesser of two evils!” Spurgeon said that if you have to choose between two evils, you should choose neither one of them.  Imagine if Christians chose sin like that, “Well, I could either pickpocket someone or play with Ouija board and talk to demons. Which one is it going to be?” How about you do neither one? …But, I digress…

Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, and the people greet Him waving their palms at Him and crying, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” In their language this means, “Save us!”

When people cry out, “Save us!” They’re communicating two things:

  1. They’re either being oppressed or in danger of being oppressed.
  2. They can’t save themselves.

And what Jesus comes to save them from is not necessarily what they think they need saving from.

In Mark Dever’s book on Substitutionary Atonement, he notes one of the stark contrast between Christianity and Islam like this:

“Perhaps the contrast is best symbolized by the way Mohammad entered Mecca and Jesus entered Jerusalem. Mohammad rode into Mecca on a warhorse, surrounded by 400 mounted men and 10,000 foot soldiers. Those who greeted him were absorbed into his movement; those who resisted him were vanquished, killed, or enslaved. Mohammad conquered Mecca, and took control as its new religious, political, and military leader. Today, in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, Mohommad’s purported sword is proudly on display ….Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, accompanied by his 12 disciples. He was welcomed and greeted by people waving palm fronds—a traditional sign of peace. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because the Jews mistook him for an earthly, secular king who was to free them from the yoke of Rome, whereas, Jesus came to establish a much different, heavenly kingdom. Jesus came by invitation and not by force.” [2]

They believe that Jesus as the Messiah is going to save them politically. They’re looking for someone like Mohammed. They believe that he’s going to overthrow the Roman government, and put the Jewish people back into power. And that’s we want too.

  • Every four years we want Jesus to put “those people” out and put “our people” in, and we’re just as misguided as they are because we are wanting power over a temporary piece of dirt, and when Jesus physically returns, it’s going to be His anyway. Jesus isn’t going to be powerless mascot monarch like they have in the UK where He’ll sit on a throne and do nothing while we vote in some real rulers.

  • Jesus is a REAL king with REAL authority, and His message is simple, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is so close you can touch it!”

    • Do you want power that matters? Then be a king and priest in God’s kingdom!

What Jesus primarily comes to save them from is the sin that separates them from God because even though they want a kingdom, there is no kingdom without a relationship with the King.

  • And once they realize that their sin is the problem, then they’ll realize that the kingdom that they should be looking for is not an earthly kingdom that can be established with their political agendas.

  • So before He saves them from their sin, He has to save them from their expectations of Him, and of His kingdom.

Peter even misses the point. In Acts 1, when Jesus is getting ready to ascend to the Father, Peter asks, “Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Peter wants to talk about power over a temporal piece of dirt, and Jesus wants to empower him to do things that actually matter!

So, when Jesus comes into Jerusalem, he declares His kingship, not by going to the Roman senate and assuming power, but by going straight to the temple.

The title of the message this morning is “How Jesus Makes Things Right.”

  • But before we can see how Jesus makes things right, we have to see what’s wrong, and in order to do that we have to take in everything that’s going on.

So, there’s three phases to what’s going on here and we’re going to break it down piece by piece:

  • Phase 1: Jesus Enters Jerusalem
  • Phase 2: Jesus Cleanses the Temple
  • Phase 3: Jesus Heals the Blind and Receives Children in the Temple

Phase 1: Jesus Enters Jerusalem

Before Jesus comes into Jerusalem, he tells the disciples to go into the next village get a donkey, and if they are asked why they’re taking the donkey they are to say, “The Lord needs it.”

Kings sometimes come in and requisition things when they’re in the process of conquering, and so by requisitioning some person’s donkey Jesus is clearly stating that He is the only king that the owner of his donkey needs to be concerned with.

  • But why is he getting a donkey? If He has the authority to requisition animals, then why not a warhorse? That’s more befitting of a king, right?

  • I remember watching some action movies where a cop would be chasing a criminal on foot, and the criminal would get away in a car, and the cop would have to requisition a vehicle, and how odd would it be if you had a cop that had to chase a criminal, and he’s got his choice of any vehicle to use, and he chooses an old, beat up, Ford Pinto.

  • That’s the equivalent of what’s going on here. He should be coming in in the driver seat of a Cadillac Escalade, and instead he’s rolling up in a Taurus. Why? What’s the point? What is Jesus communicating?

He’s communicating that real power isn’t pompous. Real power doesn’t need to demand respect because it’s already respected by those who recognize real power.

“Victors in battle do not ride into their capital cities riding on asses, but rather they ride on fearsome horses. But this king does not and will not triumph through force of arms… this king triumphs not through violent revolt, but by being for Israel the one able to show it that its worship of God is its freedom. He is Israel’s long-expected priestly king whom the prophets said would come. His entry into Jerusalem is, therefore, rightly celebrated by those who are not in power.” [3] – Stanley Hauerwas

Jesus comes into Jerusalem and he is met with a large crowd of people, and it’s important to note that not everyone in Jerusalem is here. The only ones here are people who are on the bottom in society.

The people on top are the ones looking to kill Jesus and get Him out of the way because Jesus is disrupting people’s plans. That’s what John’s account of this event tells us in John 12:17-19.

“Meanwhile, the crowd, which had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify. 18 This is also why the crowd met him, because they heard he had done this sign. 19 Then the Pharisees said to one another, “You see? You’ve accomplished nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!” – John 12:17-19, CSB

We know from what happened at the end of John 11, that the Pharisees are plotting to kill Jesus, and now he’s coming into Jerusalem and people are cheering for him.

  • In the Pharisee’s minds, he’s supposed to be dead. He’s not supposed to be walking around. We’re going to see that next week too.

  • Jesus has risen. In their minds, He’s supposed to be dead, but no, He’s still walking around throwing a wrench in the plans of those hate Him. Psalm 2, “Why do the heathen rage? Why do the people imagine a vain thing?”

“The one enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord ridicules them.” – Psalm 2:4, CSB

The laughter of God against His enemies is heard in every testimony and witness to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And surely, God laughed as His Son rode into Jerusalem at the chagrin of the Pharisees, and the celebration of the people whom the Pharisees had oppressed.

 

Phase 2: Jesus Cleanses the Temple

“Jesus went into the temple and threw out all those buying and selling. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. 13 He said to them, “It is written, my house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves!” – Matthew 21:12-13, CSB

In a single statement in verse 13, we hear Jesus make a two-part declaration.

  • What God’s house is supposed to be
  • What the people have turned it into

From the beginning of the year where we walked through the Seven Churches, then walked through 2nd John and then over the last two weeks we read part of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus condemns hypocrisy.

These are the passages that make us uncomfortable in the best way possible, or at least they should. The question for us is, “Is the church a house of prayer?” And when I talk about ‘the church’ I’m not talking about a physical building, I’m talking Christ’s building, Christ’s bride, Christ’s body.

  • Are we a people of prayer?

Because if we’re not a people of prayer, then we can easily turn into a den of thieves – people who are consumers.

  • That’s essentially what these money-changers are. They’re consumers. They’re using God’s house of prayer as a place to profit from God’s people.

Micah Fries preached an excellent sermon a couple of weeks ago where he talked about lots people look for a church with a consumer mindset the same way that someone might shop for a pair of jeans.

  • They want the best fit for them from a store that looks cool, and doesn’t demand too much of a price.

That’s how some people look for a church. They’re consumers that want something that looks, it’s a great fit for them, and demand too much. That’s fine when you’re looking for jeans, but that doesn’t fly when you’re looking for a place to worship God.

  • If we approach church that way, then we’re not better than the money-changers that use God’s house for filthy lucre.

So, the first step that Jesus takes in making things right is that He cleans house.

Do you know why some people don’t stick around in a church that proclaims the whole counsel of God’s word? It’s because God cleans house. That’s what John says in 1 John 2:19 when he says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” (1 John 2:19, KJV)

But look at what happens after Jesus cleans house.

Phase 3: Jesus Heals the Blind and Receives Children

“The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 When the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonders that he did and the children shouting in the temple,”Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant 16 and said to him, “Do you hear what these children are saying?”

Jesus replied, “Yes, have you never read:
You have prepared praise
from the mouths of infants and nursing babies?”

17 Then he left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.” – Matthew 21:14-17, CSB

One of the things that I think is most interesting about this passage is that after Jesus cleans house he starts healing people and blessing children. It’s almost as if he’s saying, “Here. Let me show what God’s house is really for” and then He proceeds to go and do what they should have been doing the whole time.

Another thing I find really remarkable is that if you go back to the Old Testament and read Leviticus 21, where God is giving instructions regarding the holiness of the priests, God specifically said in Leviticus 21:17-18 that no one blind or lame, or anyone with a physical birth defect may come to the temple and offer sacrifices and David reiterates that law in 2 Samuel 5:8.

Now, if Jesus were just letting people in and letting them have their run of the place, then we could see why the Pharisees would be upset, but He’s healing them. He’s making it so that nothing can stop them from participating in the worship of God.

  • Notice the stark contrast between the money-changers and Jesus. While the money-changers are taking advantage of people, Jesus is healing people of the things that cause them to be disadvantaged.

This message is for us. We need to be doing God’s work in God’s world and people after they encounter us need to be better than when we first meet them.

Notice also, that the children are praising Jesus. They recognize who He is by how they’re addressing Him – the son of David. That’s Jesus’ messianic title.

Matthew Henry notes, “This they learned from those that were grown up. Little children say and do as they hear others say, and see others do; so easily do they imitate; and therefore great care must be taken to set them good examples.”

Because we are Presbyterian, there are two things that happen in this church that do not happen in other churches – infants and children are baptized and infants and children partake of the Lord’s Supper.

  • In other churches, there’s this unbiblical idea that you won’t find anywhere else in Scripture called “the age of accountability” and you have to wait until the church believes that you are accountable for your actions before you can receive baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

In our church, we believe that Jesus is present and at work in these practices so we offer them to children because Jesus loves children. Jesus says, “Let the little children come unto me” so we’re not going to stop infants and children from meeting Jesus in waters of baptism and in the Lord’s Supper.

  • I know of a man right now pastoring a Cumberland Presbyterian church who refuses to practice infant baptism because he’s into that “age of accountability” stuff.

  • Listen, I’m glad Jesus didn’t wait until I came to my senses to offer me salvation.

  • Jesus’ offer of salvation was on the table for us long before we were born. When Jesus died on the cross and rose again that was us dying with Him and rising with Him.

So, we offer baptism and the Lord’s Supper to everyone including children because that’s who Jesus offers Himself to.

  • Some of you who let your children or grandchildren partake of the cup and bread may do so because you think that to them this is just a snack and they might feel left out if they didn’t get a little cup and a cracker too, but this is too important for us to leave our children’s understanding at that level.

  • We need to communicate to them that Jesus offers us life in the partaking of the bread and the wine, and when they, as children take the bread and the cup in faith, then that’s one of the ways that they are participating the perfect praise that Jesus talks about at the end of our passage.

Jesus makes things right by throwing out the people that He knows will not want anything to do with the life that He offers. He throws out the ones that don’t want to give up what they have, and instead invites people who don’t have anything to hold on to.

Do you want to come to Jesus? Then, come empty-handed.

Is there something in your life that you can’t let go of? Do you feel like you can’t come to Jesus empty handed? Then, come with what you have and lay it at His feet. He’s waiting to heal you just like he’s healed others.

Let’s pray.

Closing Prayer

Almighty and Everlasting God, You meet us where we are. Sometimes we are the Pharisees who have plans of our own and we want anything other that for You to come along and ruin our plans. Sometimes we’re the money changers that use people and love things when we should be using things and loving people. But today, we want be children for You said, “to such belong the kingdom of heaven.” We don’t want to Pharisees or money changers anymore, we want to be children who approach you in faith believing that You are all we need. Please grant us this kind of faith. 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. Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, pg. 219
  2. Dever, Mark, and Michael Lawrence. It Is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement. Crossway, 2010.

  3. Hauerwas, Stanley. Matthew. Brazos Press, 2015.

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 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

So, This is Christmas

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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.