My Sunday sermons given at Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR, for those who missed church or just want to see what we're up to. You can also listen to these sermons if you prefer. Just go to our church website and click the "Online Church" tab. Here's the link:

Monday, January 16, 2012

“Cheap Sacrifices on Tainted Altars” - (01/15/12)

Malachi 1:6-14 (Message #2 in Malachi Series) 

            When I was a boy, living in a little place called Imbler in Eastern Oregon, I got my first job delivering newspapers for the La Grande Evening Observer.  At that time, according to the signpost at the outskirts of town, Imbler had a population of 98.  I delivered about 45 papers every night after school to folks in town and to farms around the valley.  I started that job when I was 7-years-old.  In fact, somewhere in my archives I have a newspaper clipping about me being the youngest paperboy in Oregon at that time.
            During the 3+ years that I had that job I learned some things about money that have served me to this day.  I learned how to keep track of income and expenditures.  I had to keep records and turn in a monthly report to the newspaper office.  I learned how to bank money and keep a savings account.  I learned how to make decisions about spending or not spending.  I learned about tithing.  And I learned about the value of money and gifts.
            Lots of people are confused about these things.  For example, they don’t know the difference between “cheap” and “inexpensive.”  A gift can be inexpensive but precious at the same time; however, “cheap” will always be just that and nothing more.  In the OT God made provision for poor people who could not bring a bullock or a sheep to offer up two little turtledoves as a sacrifice.  Their sacrifice was inexpensive but when offered to God from a heart of love and gratitude it was a sacrifice precious in His sight.  On the other hand, an expensive prize-winning steer, if offered grudgingly or of necessity, was a meaningless sacrifice and an exercise in futility as far as winning God’s favor.  

            In the Book of Malachi we have a description of what was going on in Israel 100 years after the captives returned from Babylon.  The people were comfortably resettled back on their land.  Things were going well.  They were prosperous once again.  Their Temple had been rebuilt and the priests were busy doing their religious stuff.  Everything was pretty much back to normal, which was exactly the problem.  They dropped back into their spiritual apathy and complacency, doing the right things but forgetting the WHY of it all.  Their worship turned into ritual.  Their service turned into religious habits.  Their sacrifices turned into castoffs good for nothing else.  They lost sight of who God was and what He had done for them.  They forgot all the pain and misery their sin had led to in the past when they strayed away from the LORD and got sent into captivity.  But were they really so different from us?

Verse 6: “A son honors his father, and a servant his master.  Then if I am a father, where is My honor?  And if I am a master, where is My respect? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name.  But you say, ‘How have we despised Your name?’”
  • This is the second dialogue of the Book of Malachi.  The first began up in verse 2 with the LORD saying to Israel, “I have always loved you,” and the people responding, “How have you loved us?”  Responding to their question the LORD explains about how He sovereignly chose them above all other nations to become His own covenant people.
  • Now here in verse 6 once again we hear the LORD’S voice.  He says, “A son honors his father, and a servant his master.  Then if I am a Father, where is My honor?  And if I am a Master, where is My respect?”   In the OT God referred to the nation of Israel as His son and while it’s true that individual Israelites did not consider God to be their Father in the personal sense, the people of Israel would regularly refer to God in their prayers as “Our Father,” and they would call Him, “Adonai,” which means lord, or master.  However, Yahweh is pointing out to them here that this is all just lip service if they don’t genuinely honor and respect Him in their hearts. (see Isaiah 1:2)
  • If I’m respectful to my boss when I think he’s watching or listening, but make fun of him and say horrible things about him behind his back, do I really respect him?  And if I call my dad “father” to his face but refer to him as “my stupid old man” when I’m with my friends, then do I really honor at all?

Verse 7: “You are presenting defiled food upon My altar.  But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’  In that you say, ‘The table of the LORD is to be despised.’    
  • Here the LORD gets down to specific things that reveal the rottenness and hypocrisy of their attitudes.  As you’ll notice on the outline I gave you last week, this section deals primarily with the defilement of the priesthood, but it applies to the people as well.  The priests offered the sacrifices that the people brought to them.  In many cases they should have refused to offer the sacrifices but they were more concerned with pleasing men than God.
  • “…presenting defiled food…”  Some versions say “bread,” which is a literal translation of the Hebrew word but Malachi is using it in the broader sense of food offerings, and specifically meat offerings as we see in the next verse.
  • The people’s response is angry and immediate.  Once again they act like they have been insulted, so God goes on to explain: “In that you say, ‘the table of the LORD is to be despised.’”  The “Table of the Lord” refers to the altar of burnt offerings in the Temple.  But did they ever actually say that with their mouths?  Probably not, but like we learned a long time ago, “Actions speak louder than words,” and this is what their actions were screaming in God’s ear.

Verse 8: “But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil?  And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil?  Why not offer it to your [Persian] governor?  Would he be pleased with you?  Or would he receive you kindly?” says the LORD of hosts. 
  • Long ago in Leviticus 22:17-22 God had instructed His people about what kinds of sacrifices were acceptable and those that were not: Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 18 “Speak to Aaron and to his sons and to all the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘Any man of the house of Israel or of the aliens in Israel who presents his offering, whether it is any of their votive or any of their freewill offerings, which they present to the LORD for a burnt offering— 19 for you to be accepted—it must be a male without defect from the cattle, the sheep, or the goats.  20 Whatever has a defect, you shall not offer, for it will not be accepted for you.  21 When a man offers a sacrifice of peace offerings to the LORD to fulfill a special vow or for a freewill offering, of the herd or of the flock, it must be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no defect in it.  22 Those that are blind or fractured or maimed or having a running sore or eczema or scabs, you shall not offer to the LORD, nor make of them an offering by fire on the altar to the LORD.” 
  • To offer cut-rate sacrifices and secondhand gifts to the Lord is an insult.  Again, this comes through clearly in Deuteronomy 15:21, “But if it has any defect, such as lameness or blindness, or any serious defect, you shall not sacrifice it to the LORD your God.”
  • Now I’m going to step on some toes.  Just like it was back in Malachi’s day, many Christians today think that they can bring their old castoffs to the Lord and that He will be thrilled with their “sacrifice.”  We’ll go through our cupboards and pull out all the old food that is near or past the pull date and we bring that for the church food closet, feeling good that we’re helping out the poor.  Or we’ll go through our closets and pull out our old raggedy clothes that we wouldn’t be caught dead in and we bundle them up and take them to Union Gospel Mission and get a tax write-off and feel very spiritual and generous.  We’ll buy a new 72 inch 3-D plasma TV for our living room and pack up our old ratty TV that barely works anymore and drop it off at the church, saying, “We want to invest this in the Lord’s work.”  We’ll spend thousands of dollars fixing up our own houses but whine and bemoan having to spend money on God’s House or even to show up for an all-church workday.
  • It seems to me that these are the same kinds of attitudes that the LORD was accusing the people of Israel of having.  Am I wrong?
  • I love the LORD’S suggestion to them: “Try doing this with your governor and see how he likes it.  Let’s just see how long it takes for him to throw you out of his office.”  Obviously, he would not be happy with their lousy junk and neither is God.

Verse 9: “But now will you not entreat God’s favor, that He may be gracious to us?  With such an offering on your part, will He receive any of you kindly?” says the LORD of hosts. 
  • People were bringing their old sick cows to offer to the LORD as sacrifices.  They were bringing their lame sheep and diseased goats that had no value in the market.  The LORD says, “Take your old sick cow and give it to your governor and see how happy it makes him.”
  • I’m sure that this observation from the LORD didn’t go over very well.  Those folks thought they were doing all the right things to keep God satisfied, and they thought that He should be happy with whatever they chose to give to Him.  They were having a hard time seeing their own hypocrisy and selfishness, but that’s a common ailment.  There are prominent wealthy Christians that are very willing to give away their money, as long as the new building gets named after them.  They will donate to a cause as long as it becomes the “So-n-so Memorial Fund.”  Do you really think that kind of thing makes God happy?  I don’t.

Verse 10: “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar!  I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD of hosts, “nor will I accept an offering from you.” 
  • This is an interesting verse.  We can hear God’s broken heart here.  “Isn’t there anyone among you who can see what you are doing and would have the courage to bar and lock the Temple doors to keep people from profaning My altar with these scabby sacrifices?”  Sadly, there was apparently no one with the gumption to see the problem here.
  • From God’s viewpoint no sacrifices would be better than defiled sacrifices offered from impure motives. (cf. Isaiah 1:11-15)

Verse 11: “For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD of hosts. 
  • Even though His own people were negligent in honoring Him, the LORD Jehovah here declares that the day will come when even the Gentiles will come to honor and revere His name and will offer pure and holy sacrifices to Him.  Twice in this verse He says: “My name will be great among the nations.”  That is both a statement of fact and of intent.  God says it so it will be so.  You can count on it!

Verse 12: “But you are profaning it, in that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is defiled, and as for its fruit, its food is to be despised.’” 
  • By “it” the LORD is referring to His sacred name, Yahweh.
  • I took the name of this morning’s message from this verse: They were offering “cheap sacrifices on tainted altars.”  Not only were the sacrifices themselves worthless, the attitudes with which they were given defiled the very altar itself.

Verses 13: You also say, ‘My, how tiresome it is!’  And you disdainfully sniff at it,” says the LORD of hosts, “and you bring what was taken by robbery and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering!  Should I receive that from your hand?” says the LORD. 
  • The priests had come to consider their work in the Temple as distasteful, monotonous, and burdensome.  They sniff at it in contempt, the way Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, did in I Samuel 2:17, “This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD’S sight, for they were treating the LORD’S offering with contempt.”  That which should have been a high honor and a privilege had come to be commonplace and meaningless.  This is the danger in ministry, both for pastors and for lay people.  We can get so busy doing religious stuff that we forget why we are doing it and WHO we are doing it for.  The holy becomes homely.  The righteous becomes only rite.
  • “Should I receive that from your hand?”  This question by the Lord is obviously rhetorical.  The answer is “NO!”

Verse 14: “But cursed be the swindler who has a [perfect] male in his flock and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished [literally, corrupt female] animal to the Lord, for I am a great King,” says the LORD of hosts, “and My name is feared among the nations.” 
  • Here the LORD pronounces a curse on anyone who knowingly withholds the unblemished male animal for himself, and instead, gives the diseased or blemished female animal to be offered unto the LORD.  This attempted deception is a double affront to Yahweh-Tzavaót, Lord Sabaoth, Yahweh Lord of the Armies of God. 
  • Again, the LORD declares Himself to be “a Great King.”  He is the LORD of the hosts of Heaven.  He is the King of kings and Lord of lords, and His great name is to be feared among all the nations.

            For the past 20 or so years there has been a great movement in America to liven up worship services and to make them more attractive to unbelievers.  This has been in response to surveys taken in which these kinds of questions are asked: “What is your general impression of church?” and, “What would it take to convince you to come to church?”  Many people respond to the first question with the one-word answer, “BORING!”  The second question evokes a variety of answers but they all ultimately fall into the “What can you do for me?” category.
            The problem is that many people, including many who identify themselves as Christians, believe that God exists to make us happy and to do nice things for us, and that worship is supposed to be fun and entertaining.  But that is the total opposite of the truth.  We exist by His choice, for His pleasure, at His service, owing Him everything.  And our worship is supposed to bring God pleasure.  It’s not about us.  Paul, in Romans 12:1 points out that to love, honor, obey, and serve Him is our “reasonable service of worship.”  He’s right.
            What’s more, God deserves our very best, not our old castoffs.  He, who gave everything for us, deserves our total allegiance.  And the very word “sacrifice” means that what we give to Him will be costly to us, just as the sacrificial gift of His Son was costly for Him.
            King David understood this concept.  In II Samuel 24 we read that at the prompting of the Lord’s prophet, King David made plans to build an altar to the LORD where they could offer burnt offerings.  Starting in verse 18 we read, “On that day Gad went to David and said to him, “Go up and build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.”  19 So David went up, as the LORD had commanded through Gad.  20 When Araunah looked and saw the king and his officials coming toward him, he went out and bowed down before the king with his face to the ground.  21 Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?”  “To buy your threshing floor,” David answered, “so I can build an altar to the LORD, that the plague on the people may be stopped.”  22 Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take whatever he wishes and offer it up.  Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and here are threshing sledges and ox yokes for the wood.  23 Your Majesty, Araunah gives all this to the king.”  Araunah also said to him, “May the LORD your God accept you.”  24 But the king replied to Araunah, No, I insist on paying you for it.  I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”  So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them.  25 David built an altar to the LORD there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings.  Then the LORD answered his prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.”
            David understood that to offer to God cheap sacrifices on defiled altars would be to dishonor God, and to dishonor His name.  He understood that a sacrifice that costs us nothing is no sacrifice at all, but merely a religious ritual.
Yet how many of us have learned these lessons?  All too often we want to give to God our leftovers, our castoffs, our leavings.  We’ll give Him a little bit of time, if we have any left over.  We’ll give Him a little bit of our money, if we have any left after buying all the things we want for ourselves.  We’ll give Him a little of our service, if we aren’t too tired after going out and doing all the things we love to do.  We’ll witness for Him, as long as we don’t have to go out of our way to do it.  We’ll serve others, as long as they are really nice to us and smell good, and if we can do it at a convenient time.
And what is really amazing is that we can’t figure out why God wouldn’t be overjoyed with these wonderful sacrifices that we bring to Him.  Sometimes He seems so unreasonable and so ungrateful for all we do for Him, don’t you think?

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About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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