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Monday, February 27, 2012

“How to Tell the Righteous from the Wicked” - (02/26/12)

Malachi 3:13-18 (Message #7 in Malachi Series) 
February 26, 2012

            Scientists tell us that among the approximately 7 billion human inhabitants of Planet Earth there are no two people exactly alike.  Even those pairs that we call “identical twins” are, in reality, quite different one from another.  Oh yes, all humans share certain genetic and physiological similarities but in many ways each of us is unique.
            This fact sometimes creates problems.  For example, law enforcement officers always want to be sure that they have the right person in custody.  There are cases of people getting arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit, just because they bore such a striking resemblance to the person who did commit the crime.  To avoid such problems police investigators look for any DNA evidence, pore over fingerprints left at the crime scene, show comparative photos to the witnesses, and interview the possible suspects at great length.  They do all of this to try and sort out the good guys from the bad guys, the guilty from the innocent.
            Now on TV it has always been much easier to tell them apart.  In the old westerns, for example, bad guys usually wore dark colored hats, smoked stinky cigars, shaved only on rare occasions, and leered at the girls.  The good guys always dressed better, were clean-shaven, had smarter horses, wore white hats, spoke to the ladies politely, and sang songs on the trail.  But that’s television.  In real life, it’s not always so easy to tell the good guys from the bad.

            So then how can we do it?  How can we tell a righteous person from a wicked person?  Do they look differently?  Do they talk differently?  Are there any defining physical characteristics we should look for?  Oh, that it were so simple!
            Unfortunately, wicked people often look really good, and they try to pass themselves off as righteous.  Some of them even have religious titles and TV programs on Christian networks.  They dress nice, sing well, talk about Jesus, then lie and stick it to you to try to get you to send them money.  To use a biblical phrase, they are “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”  Moreover, they sucker many unsuspecting people into their evil, money-grubbing schemes because folks don’t know how to spot a phony.  In our text for this morning, the LORD tells us how we can tell the righteous from the wicked.  That may turn out to be a very useful skill, indeed.  Let’s look at Malachi 3:13-18.  

Verse 13: “Your words have been arrogant against Me,” says the LORD.  “Yet you say, ‘What have we spoken against You?’”  
·         You’ll remember that last Sunday we looked at verses 7-12 where Jehovah God invites the people of Israel to put His promises to the test to see if He would make good on them.  He accused them of stealing from Him by their unfaithfulness in giving the tithes and offerings they owed Him.  As a result, He warned them of what would happen to them if they didn’t repent of their waywardness and begin doing what He required of them.  At the same time, He promised to open up the windows of Heaven and pour out blessings upon those who repented and returned to love and serve Him with their whole heart.
·         Now the LORD brings up another issue.  They have been speaking evil things of the LORD.  But how did He know?  He knew because He knows everything.  The Word says, “Nothing is hidden from His eyes.”  What is done in darkness or in secret is laid bare before Him as though it were daylight.  That just means we can’t get away with anything.  You thought your mother had eyes in the back of her head?  God is way more perceptive than your mother.  He doesn’t have to guess.  He knows exactly what you are thinking and He hears every word you utter.  You can run but you can’t hide!
·         Here in verse 13 the LORD declares, “Your words have been arrogant against Me.”  The word arrogant means puffed-up, inflated.  We sometimes say that a person is “full of hot air.”  That’s the idea here too.  This is also the word for “proud.”  Their sinful pride is what has been driving them.  And right on cue, just like all the times before in this Book of Malachi, the people respond with, “What have we spoken against You?”  They plead ignorance.  They act like they don’t know what He is talking about.  So He lays it out for them.

Verse 14: “You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept His charge, and that we have walked in mourning before the LORD of hosts?’” 
·         Basically they have begun to view their worship and service of Almighty God in terms of dollars-and-cents.  They’ve been saying, “It’s not worth it to serve Him and to do the things He asks of us.  If there is no material prosperity coming from it, why should we keep doing what we do?  If we are not getting anything out of we might as well quit.”  That’s the kind of thoughts that were going through their heads, and God could hear those thoughts.
·         “We have walked in mourning before the LORD of hosts.”  The problem is that they had merely been going through the motions, showing the outward forms associated with repentance, without actually ever experiencing true repentance in their hearts.  Their religion was all on the outside.  And frankly, God has never been impressed by religiosity.

Verse 15: “‘So now we call the arrogant [proud] blessed; not only are the doers of wickedness built up but they also test God and escape.’”   
·         Moreover, these religious hypocrites go on to allege that the wicked in their pride say whatever they feel like saying and God doesn’t punish them.  On the contrary, they claim, He blesses them all the more, in spite of their arrogance and sinfulness.  And they don’t stop there—they say that these evildoers deliberately do things to test God, and still they escape judgment and justice.  This is just a rephrasing of their earlier charge against God stated up in 2:17.
·         These guys are angry and they don’t care who knows it.  And as often happens, in their anger and frustration they misstate the facts and lose perspective about what was really going on.  They are spouting off, and saying all kinds of stupid things that are completely untrue about their own innocence and about God’s supposed injustice and unfairness.
·         Now I think it’s important to note that it’s not a sin to question God.  He’s not intimidated by our honest questions.  In fact, the Psalmist in Psalm 73 struggled with this same issue and questioned why the wicked sometimes seemed to prosper.  Listen to his words starting in verse 3:
I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  4They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. 
5They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills. 
6Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. 
7From their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits. 
8They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression. 
9Their mouths lay claim to Heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.  10Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.  11They say, “How would God know? 
Does the Most High know anything?”   12This is what the wicked are like—always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.
·         The difference between the Psalmist’s questions and those of the people of Malachi’s day was this—the attitude of the inquirer.  It’s OK to ask God hard questions in the genuine search to better know the heart and ways of God.  It’s not OK to murmur against God and accuse Him and impugn His motives and His character, especially His justice.  God hates men accusing Him of being unjust!  He will not tolerate that.

Verse 16: Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who esteem His name.  
·         But notice… all this badmouthing of God has now reached the ears of some of the godly people who have loved and served God all along for all the right reasons.  It says, “They spoke to one another, and the LORD gave attention and heard it.”  Not everyone in Israel had turned his/her back on God.  There was still a group of righteous people who had remained faithful to Him.  Moreover, that faithfulness was carefully noted by God.  “A book of remembrance was written before Him.”  Why would God need a written record?  Surely He doesn’t suffer from a bad memory like some of us.  No, He keeps accurate accounts so that for all eternity there will be a public record of the obedience and faithfulness of His people.  “…for those who fear the LORD and who esteem His name.” To fear the Lord means to hold Him in awe and reverence.  His name encapsulates all of who He really is, so that those who truly love and revere Him will be zealous for His holy name.  We learn here that God rewards people for that.
·         The last part of verse 16 reminds me of Jesus’ words to a group of His disciples recorded in Luke 10:20.  He had sent “the Seventy” out to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom and to heal the sick and they had returned with amazing stories to tell of what God had done through them.  That’s when Jesus said: “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in Heaven.”  But where are those names recorded?  The Book of Revelation speaks of “the Lamb’s Book of Life.”  That is the record of every true child of God, those who are redeemed and will be in Heaven.  If your name isn’t in that Book, it won’t matter how many times you’ve walked down the red carpet or been voted into “Who’s Who.”  When the time comes, if your name isn’t in the Lamb’s Book, the Lord Jesus will say to you, “Depart from Me.  I never knew you.” 
·         I believe that Malachi 3:16 also shows the value of Christians coming together to share openly and prayerfully with one another in the sight of the LORD.  When we come together and praise the LORD, and talk about all His benefits, and testify of His goodness, and bless His name He is right there in our midst, and He hears every word we say, and He takes notes!  Not one word is lost!  It does pay to serve the LORD.

Verse 17: “They will be Mine,” says the LORD of hosts, “on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.”   
·         “They will be Mine.”  The LORD says that in the Day of the LORD (cf. 3:1-2) He will claim for His own all those who have loves Him and faithfully served Him.  He regards them as His children, and will spare them the way a man spares his own faithful son.  You can actually hear the pride in God’s voice when He says this.  He is proud of His children. 
·         “…on the day that I prepare My own possession…”  I like the way this verse reads in the NKJV: “They shall be Mine,” says the LORD of hosts, “on the day that I make them my jewels.”  The Hebrew word here translated as “jewels” could be rendered “special treasure,” or “treasured possession” as we have it in the NIV.  This word is a beautifully endearing term that is used several places in the OT to describe the value that the LORD places on the people of Israel who have remained faithful to Him (cf. Exodus 19:5; Deut. 7:6; Psalm 135:4).

Verse 18: So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him. 
·         At the beginning of this sermon I asked the question: “How do you tell the righteous from the wicked?”  The answer to that question is found in this verse.  The righteous can be recognized by their service to God.  Specifically that means loving Him, putting Him first, obeying His commandments, and finding one’s greatest joy bringing glory to His name.
·         The wicked, on the other hand, care nothing about serving God.  They are only concerned with what’s in it for them, as we saw up in verses 14-15.  They are not zealous for His name; in fact, it means nothing to them.
·         Notice that He says, “So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked.”  This implies that they used to know the difference but had perhaps started to confuse the two.  The fact is, we are not always good at telling sheep from goats, but the LORD never makes that mistake.  With a glance He can tell them apart.  Even if you take a goat and dress him up like a sheep, you still haven’t fundamentally changed him.  In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus told of a day yet to come when He will judge the nations.  He said: “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.  32 All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.”  In this word picture, the sheep are the righteous and the goats are the wicked.  The end of the story is in verse 46: “These [the goats, meaning the wicked] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” 

            When that great Judgment Day comes, which side will you be standing on?  Are you a sheep or a goat?  Will you go into eternal punishment or into eternal life?  For, you see, on that day God will act, and justice will be meted out.  For the wicked it will be a dreadful day (cf. Zeph. 1:15-18).  However, for the righteous it will be a glad day, because they have the promise of the Lamb that He will deliver all those who belong to Him (cf. Psalm 91:7).
            One more thing… the people that the LORD exhorts up in verses 13-15 were religious people who were just going through the motions.  Their hearts were not in what they were doing, so God had not blessed them.  In turn, they blamed God for not blessing them the way they thought He should.  There are a lot of professing Christians who walk around with the same attitude.  They say, “I’ve tried to do my best to please God but He’s just never satisfied, so now I’m just coasting.  It just doesn’t pay to go overboard on religion.”  They may attend church services but often they do it to criticize.  They have little interest in praising God, serving God, or worshiping God, because they really don’t love God.
            Religion for religion’s sake is a chore and a bore.  But when you have a close, intimate relationship with the Living God then worship services take on a whole new meaning.  When your heart is filled with gratitude to God for all His mercies, then service for Him makes perfect sense and presents no hardship.
            This morning, which are you more concerned about: What you are getting out of following after Christ? Or What Christ is getting from you?  If you are more worried about what’s in it for you, then you need to go back and truly get saved!

Monday, February 20, 2012

“Out on a Limb” - (02/19/12)

Malachi 3:7-12 (Message #6 in Malachi Series) 
February 19, 2012

            Are you a risk-taker?  Do you get a thrill from sticking your neck out and doing things that are a little bit dangerous?  I do.  That’s one of the reasons why I like riding my big, black motorcycle.  It’s a rush!  It’s also why I went skydiving a couple of years ago with one of my equally crazy preacher friends.  It was totally amazing and I will do it again in a heartbeat if I can ever come up with the money, because it was worth every penny.
            Going out on a limb, doing something that requires courage and that gets you out of your rut—is a good thing!  Life is short and we need to live it to the fullest rather than hanging back and living in fear and in the shadow of the “what-ifs.”  But sometimes that involves taking risks.  But when you think about it the most wonderful things in life involve taking a risk:
  • Asking a girl to marry you, knowing that she might turn you down
  • Having a baby, knowing that he/she might be born with Down Syndrome
  • Getting in the car and driving to grandma’s for Christmas, knowing that the roads are icy and that you might have an accident on the way
  • Applying for that new job, knowing that you might end up disappointed
  • Flying to Europe for the vacation of a lifetime, knowing that there might be a crazed terrorist onboard who will try to bring the airplane down
  • Buying your first house, knowing that you are now under the obligation to make the mortgage payments and to do all the upkeep on the place
            Sure, bad things can sometimes happen.  However, we take these kinds of risks because the outcome is worth the small chance that something might go wrong.  In our text for today, the LORD invites His people, the Jews, to go out on a limb and do something wild and crazy—namely, to trust that if they will be faithful to Him in their financial giving, He will bless them beyond their wildest imaginations.  God challenges them to test Him and see if He won’t open up the windows of Heaven and pour out on them blessings beyond anything they have ever seen.
            This text is very relevant to our day as well, because most Christians today give very little to the work of God.  Very few American Christians tithe or even give regularly.  Why is that?  What are we afraid of?  What does this say about our level of commitment to Christ and to His Kingdom?  And more importantly, what does God think about this?
            In the verses leading up to our text for this morning the LORD has announced to the murmuring people of Israel that the day is coming when He will suddenly draw near to mete out judgment upon the wicked.  Then He proceeds to explain the reason why He has until now withheld His blessing and His salvation of Israel.  He says that the reason why Israel waits in vain for the judgment of the wicked and the salvation dawning with it is not to be found in God, but in the Israelite people themselves, in the fact that for generations they have transgressed the commandments of God.
            He goes on to explain in 3:6 that while the world, including the nation of Israel, has continued to grow more and more wicked, He Himself does not change.  His character, His laws, His covenants, and His promises all remain unchanged through the years.  In fact, through His prophet, Malachi, He tells the people of Israel that His unchangeableness is the only thing that has saved their bacon up until now.  In spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness, God has remained faithful to His covenant.  If it weren’t for that He would have utterly destroyed them because they surely had it coming.

Verse 7: “From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from My statutes and have not kept them.  Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD of hosts.  “But you say, ‘How shall we return?’”
  • The LORD is saying that this is not a new problem.  This has been going for generations, since the times of their great-great-grandfathers.  Isn’t it interesting that evil character and wicked actions, as well as noble character and righteous actions pass on from one generation to the next?  That’s because our kids watch what we do and listen to what we say.  Moreover, they read between the lines to see what we really believe and feel about things.  They can usually tell whether or not we really love God and serve Him from right motives.
  • “Return to Me, and I will return to you.”  This is God calling the people to repentance, which is the real meaning of the word “return” used here three times.  The LORD makes them a conditional offer.  He says, “I’ll meet you half-way.  You turn around and move back toward Me [a 180 degree turnabout] and I will move toward you.”  But notice their response: How shall we return?  Return from where?  Repent from what?  We haven’t gone anywhere and we haven’t done anything wrong.  In fact, we’re still doing all the right stuff, for crying out loud.  What do You want from us, God?”  They certainly do not have a teachable attitude here.  They obviously regard themselves as righteous and refuse to acknowledge any wrongdoing on their part.  So the LORD gives them an example of where they have gone wrong.

Verse 8: “Will a man rob [defraud] God?  Yet you are robbing Me!  But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’  In tithes and offerings.” 
  • “In tithes and offerings.”  The LORD brings up the issue of the tithe, and also what was known as the “heave offering.”  “Will a man rob God?  Yet you are robbing Me in these things!”  Now you have to understand that the tithe (literally, “the 10th”) was not voluntary in the OT.  It was not negotiable—it was the LAW and had been since the beginning, clear back to the time of Moses.  God required that every Jew set aside 10% of every penny he made, every crop he raised, every vegetable in his garden, and every animal in his flock to be given over to the LORD.  It was that 10% that supported the Levites and the priests and their families (Num. 18:24).  It was that 10% that maintained the Tabernacle and later the Temple.  The tithe also supported widows, orphans, and foreigners (cf. Deut. 14:28-29).  The Jews had a theocratic government where God was their King, so in a very real sense that 10% was taxes owed to maintain the society.  God says to them that to withhold the tithe is the same as robbing from Him.  [For a complete explanation of the tithe see Lev. 27:30-33; Numbers 18:20-32; Deut. 14:22-29].
  • “In Tithes and offerings.”  This Hebrew word (terumáh) is used for freewill gifts, for gifts of the firstfruits, for the half-shekel sanctuary tax, and most importantly, for portions of sacrifices that were reserved for priests and their families (Num. 5:9; 18:19; Lev. 7:13-14, 32; etc.).
  • But again, when confronted with their sin they weasel and waffle and dissemble and play ignorant: How have we robbed You, LORD?”  As if they didn’t know!

Verse 9: “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you!” 
  • So God explains that the result of their sin is a curse upon their whole nation, because the practice had become so widespread.  It wasn’t just one or two, here and there, but apparently refusing to pay the tithe had become the norm.  As a result, God has already visited them with severe punishment, with the curse of barrenness and the failure of the harvest.  The people were cursed with poor production from their land and animals, just as had been predicted in the Law of Moses clear back in Deuteronomy chapter 28.  Yet now God promises to lift the curse if they will but repent and mend their wicked ways.  He is holding out to them His offer of mercy, grace, pardon, and restoration.

Verse 10: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of Heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.”
  • Here the LORD calls the people back to begin doing what they should have been doing all along—namely, “…bringing the whole tithe into the storehouse.”  The emphasis here is on the word “whole.”  Many of them were paying a portion of the tithe but were keeping back a portion for themselves.  But we can see here that by God’s definition, partial-obedience is just another name for “disobedience.”  By their actions they were defrauding the LORD.
  • Those who believe that the NT teaches tithing have to explain this “storehouse” thing.  In the historical context it makes perfect sense.  There were storage chambers established near the sanctuary where the tithed grain and other commodities were warehoused until they were needed.  These storehouses were maintained and operated by the Levites.  This same Hebrew word is elsewhere translated as “treasury” (cf. I Chron. 27:25; Psalm 38:7, etc.). 
  • However, like I said, those who teach tithing as a New Testament principle have to explain what the storehouse is in the modern setting.  Of course, they say that this is a reference to the local church, and that believers must bring a tenth to invest in the church’s ministry.  However, if we go down that road we will very quickly find ourselves coming under a heavy yoke of bondage of our own making, because God never commanded Gentiles to pay this tithe.
  • Notice that in the second half of this verse the LORD.  “…Test Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows [sluices] of Heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.”   Opening the sluices of Heaven is of course a figure, denoting the most bountiful supply of blessing imaginable, so that it flows down from Heaven like a drenching rain.  Remember, back in 2:17 the Jews were calling God’s character into question by saying that God rewards the wicked and withholds blessings from the righteous.  Now He challenges them to put His promise to the test.  This is not, as some have claimed, a contradiction in Scripture.  The LORD forbids us to “tempt/test” Him.  In Matthew 4:7 we hear Jesus in the wilderness temptation quoting Deut. 6:16 to Satan saying, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”  But this is different that what God is saying here in Malachi 3:10.  In this case Jehovah is encouraging His people to go out on the limb by faith and trust Him, and He promises that if they do they will not be disappointed but will find that He is always faithful to His word.

Verse 11: “Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes,” says the LORD of hosts. 
  • Notice, THEN I will rebuke the devourer for you.”  This is all conditional, predicated on their willingness to recognize their sinfulness and to repent and turn back to obey and serve God once again.  “The devourer” is a personification of the powerful curse that God has laid against them.  It probably took the form of ravenous locusts and devastating weather conditions that destroyed the crops.

Verse 12: “All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land,” says the LORD of hosts. 
  • He says that all the other nations will be jealous of Israel when they see God pouring out His abundant blessings on her.  They will come to recognize that those blessings come from the hand of Jehovah and are not just some kind of dumb luck.
  • “...for you shall be a delightful land.”  The Hebrew adjective indicates pure enjoyment and the things in life that are genuinely pleasurable (cf. 1:10, to be pleased; and 3:1, to be delighted).
  • This would be in fulfillment of the promise that God made to Abraham way back in Genesis 12:2-3, that the blessings on him and his seed would be so great that they would overflow to the nations roundabout them.  In fact, through Abraham’s descendants all the nations of the world would be blessed.

            So how are we supposed to apply this passage to our lives today?  You’ve heard very few messages from me about giving because fundamentally I believe that our giving should be between us and God.  However, the Bible talks A LOT about money and about its significance, and to be a faithful preacher of God’s Word I cannot shy away from certain subjects just because they make people uncomfortable or unhappy.  Of course, I realize that we are not Jews and the tithe was specifically mandated for them.  So what are the principles that apply to us?  Are there lessons about financial giving in today’s text that do apply?
            First, of all, as we’ve said before all Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for us, and that includes the Book of Malachi.  Even though we do not live as Jews under the Old Covenant we are still obligated to observe the spirit of the Law.  God is the Holy, Sovereign Ruler of the universe and we are His subjects.  All that we have comes from Him, even the air that we breathe.  He is the Lord and Master, and we are His stewards, entrusted with His things.  Nothing belongs to us—it all belongs to Him.  That is the starting point in building a Theology of Stewardship.
            Second, God does not need our money, but He asks us to give it because every time we do it reminds us that we are indebted to Him for everything we possess.  He could easily make $100 bills drop from the sky but instead He has chosen to do His work on earth through human instruments faithfully serving as His hands and feet and voice.  He cycles His money through our wallets and bank accounts but make no mistake, He still considers it to be HIS, and so should we.  The Bible says that it is “required of stewards that one be found trustworthy/faithful” (I Cor. 4:2).  That’s what God was looking for in Malachi’s day and that is what He expects of us, His servants, in 2012.
            The Bible teaches that our giving to God and to the support of His Kingdom is an accurate gauge of our love for Him and of our life’s priorities.  The Bible says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21).  Now does God still require a tithe from us?  I don’t believe so, but He does ask for our love, our faithfulness to Him, and our commitment to the cause of Christ.  He does still ask us to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33) and He promises that if we’ll do that He will “supply all our needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).
            As I said a moment ago, I don’t believe that the tithe, per se, is a NT obligation on Christians.  However, that doesn’t mean we are off the hook!  The Scriptures give us several abiding principles that should guide us in our giving.  Let’s look at them:

  1. We should give freely and liberally (Matt. 10:8; II Cor. 8:2-5; 9:7).  God loves us to give cheerfully and generously to support His work, both in the local church, in our community, and around the world.
  2. We should give as an act of worship (II Cor. 8:8-9; Matt. 6:2-4).  Again, giving is an accurate gauge of our spiritual temperature.  When we give little it reveals that we love little.  When we give grudgingly it shows that our heart is not in it.  God wants our hearts and our undivided affection.  When He has that our wallet goes along for the ride.
  3. We should give proportionately (II Cor. 8:3; 9:7).  As God blesses us with more we should give more.  Unfortunately, what usually happens is that when we get that raise we run right out and buy a bunch more stuff for ourselves, never giving a thought to the fact that God might have given us that extra money so that we could invest it in a missions project.  The average American Christian lives in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, house poor, with no margin to invest in the Kingdom of God because we are spending every cent on ourselves, plus some.  We call it “embezzlement” when an employee uses company funds to feather his own nest, and it can get you 15-20 years in the state pen.  Yet that is what we do to God.  We use Kingdom funds as though they belonged to us, and they don’t.
  4. We should give sacrificially (II Sam. 24:24; Mark 12:41-44; Rom. 12:1-2).  If giving to God doesn’t sting a little then you aren’t doing it right.  If you don’t feel the pinch then you aren’t digging deep enough.  If your giving doesn’t cramp your style then it’s not a sacrifice, it’s just a tip tossed on the counter.  After looking at Christ’s sacrifice for us, is it so much to ask that we would make some sacrifices for Him?
  5. We should not give expecting commensurate physical or financial blessings in return.  Our giving should not be done with the idea that this now somehow obligates God to repay us in earthly currency.  This is the awful error of the “name-it-and-claim-it”, prosperity-gospel fake preachers and so-called televangelists on TBN and other religious stations.  They claim that your financial gift is “seed money” and that if you will send it in to them then God will repay you 30, 60, or 100-fold, depending on the quality and quantity of your faith.  That’s a lie!  If that’s your motivation, try the stock-market or the horse-races.  We give to God, not because it is a great financial investment but because it is “our reasonable service of worship.”

            I believe that God is still inviting believers to go out on a limb and trust Him with their finances.  I believe that His promise of blessings for those who take Him at His word is still in force.  I believe that you can’t out-give God, and that to be a faithful steward is a wise financial decision.  I believe that if you are unfaithful as a Christian steward you will find that God withholds his blessings from your life.  I believe that if you will begin to give according to Luke 6:38 God will open up the windows of Heaven and pour out blessings so great that you won’t be able to contain them all.  In that passage Jesus said: “Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Monday, February 6, 2012

“When God Get’s Wearied With Words” - (02/05/12)

Malachi 2:17-3:6 (Message #5 in Malachi Series)
February 5, 2012

            Have you ever been around someone who talks nonstop?  They hardly ever come up for air, and never let you get a word in edgewise.  Sometimes little kids are like this.  They just have so many things to say that they become little chatterboxes.  With children we have more patience.  In fact, with a little kid it’s kind of cute and we joke about it.  However, when an adult does this we get tired of them very quickly.  We’ll even try to avoid their company because they make our ears tired with the sound of their constant blathering about nothing.  They weary us with their meaningless words.

            Our text for this morning begins the second half of Malachi’s prophecy, which runs through 4:6 and speaks of God’s coming to His people, Israel.  The Israelites had sort of given up on God, and had grown cynical about His promises and lax in regard to keeping His commandments, including His laws about the kind of sacrifices they should offer, and about moral purity and intermarriage with unbelievers.  Through His servant, Malachi, God tells them that His coming will mean judgment and purification as well as redemption.

Verse 17: You have wearied the LORD with your words.  Yet you say, “How have we wearied Him?”  In that you say, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and He delights in them,” or, “Where is the God of justice?”
  • This section begins with Malachi speaking on the LORD’S behalf.  He makes a flat out statement: “You have wearied the LORD with your words.”  Isaiah 43:22-24 uses the word “wearied” in the same sense, of making a person feel drained, exhausted, and weighted down.  To be merely “tired” can be a satisfying feeling, like after a long hike in the mountains, or a hard day cutting firewood.  In spite of the physical exhaustion there is that positive feeling of accomplishment.  However, to be “wearied” as it’s used here is never a positive sensation.
  • Yet again, the people have no clue what it is they have done to make God weary of them.  Even though they know very well that their religion is nothing but empty form, they get all huffy when God questions their so-called “piety.”  How have we wearied Him?” is their question.  So Malachi explains it to them: “You say [i.e. keep saying], ‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and He delights in them.”  In other words they were constantly alleging, “God must love the wicked more than He does the righteous.  He delights in them and does nice things for them, and forgets us entirely.”  On top of that they said, “Where is the God of justice?”  He will address that question down in 3:5 but let’s just say that when His justice finally comes they will be sorry they asked.  You see, in essence they were saying, “God is not just as He claims.  In fact, He is unjust.”  That is an evil personal affront that God takes seriously because they were maligning His character.
  • And of course, God heard every word they spoke and every thought that passed through their heads.  The Word says that He knows the thoughts and intents of our hearts.  Their attitude was really a form of practical atheism, because they were assuming that if God really did exist He would have long since done something to judge the wicked, but it seemed like the wicked were doing just fine—thriving, in fact.  This is the issue that the LORD addresses in the next verse.

Verse 1: “Behold, I am going to send My messenger [mal’akí], and he will clear the way before Me.  And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His Temple; and the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts. 
  • In this verse and beyond God speaks for Himself.  He speaks of a day yet future when He will send His messenger to prepare the way before the Messiah.  This verse is a little confusing if you don’t pay close attention because it mentions two different “messengers.”  Messenger #1 will come to prepare the way for the coming of Messenger #2.  The first messenger is a mere human; the second is called “Lord [Adonai].”  This second Messenger is none other than Jesus, the Messiah, called here the “Messenger of the Covenant.”  Indeed, He is the one who will fulfill the Covenant, to the very last detail.
  • The first “messenger” is, of course, John the Baptist, whose birth is recorded in Luke chapter 1.  According to Mark 1:2-3 it was of him the prophet Isaiah wrote 700 years before in Isaiah 40:3, saying: “A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.”  The LORD says, “He will clear the way before Me.”  John is called “the forerunner,” the one who runs ahead, announcing that the King is coming and warning that everyone should make himself ready.  Four hundred years or so after Malachi’s prophecy, John the Baptist showed up on the scene in Israel preaching the message, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”  He preached against every form of moral decadence, including in the King’s palace, and he hammered the hypocritical religious leaders for their hollow religious formality without any real regard for God.  He fearlessly proclaimed the Advent of Messiah, and he unmistakably identified Jesus of Nazareth as that Promised One.
  • “He [Messiah, the Messenger of the covenant]… will suddenly come to His Temple.”  In the OT God’s first sanctuary was the Garden of Eden, later the Tabernacle, and after that the Temple.  However, Jesus, the God-Man came to inhabit His People, the Church (cf. I Cor. 3:16-17; Eph. 2:21; I Peter 2:5, etc.).  We are the dwelling place that He came to establish.
  • However, God here is not really speaking about Jesus’ 1st Advent, when He would come to give His life as the Savior and Redeemer, but about His 2nd Advent, an event yet future when He will come back to judge the world.  The LORD here is looking ahead to that time, referred to in the Scriptures as the “Day of the LORD.”  We know that Malachi refers to the Second Coming of Christ because it is judgment that is in view here.
  • Notice, “…whom you seek…in whom you delight.”  Many of the Jews loved the idea of a Messiah.  Some had actually been looking for His arrival.  But the thing that got them excited was the idea that when He showed up He would destroy all their enemies.  In other words, they were not excited about Him, but about what they thought He would do for them.  The idea that He might come to judge them as well apparently had never crossed their minds, so this message must have come as quite a shock.

Verse 2: “But who can endure the day of His coming?  And who can stand when He appears?  For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap [i.e. launderer’s soap]. 
  • There is an old expression that says, “Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.”  The Jews were aware that God had promised to send them a Redeemer, the Messiah of Israel, but they had no clue that He might be mad when He finally showed up.  Here the LORD lets them in on the fact that wicked-hearted covenant-breaking Jews, as well as the idolatrous heathens, would find the “Day of the LORD” to be a terrible day of judgment indeed (cf. Zephaniah 1:17-18).
  • The LORD uses two word pictures here.  First, Messiah’s coming would be like “a refiner’s fire.”  In other words, all the impurities would be consumed—sin, injustice, iniquity, greed, impurity, etc.  The second word picture says that His coming would be like “fuller’s soap.”  You may remember that white clothes in the Bible often symbolize purity (cf. Mark 9:3; Rev. 3:5) but making things white back then was no easy job.  The launderer’s trade involved dying, washing, and whitening clothes and other kinds of cloth.  In ancient times the washing and whitening process involved some very caustic substances like lye, niter, potash, and various types of vegetable and mineral alkali.  This cleansing process required hot water, burning acids, pounding the clothes on a flat rock and beating them with a wooden mallet.  Here in verse 2 the LORD is giving the Jews a preview of coming attractions for when the Messiah shows up.  No wonder He asks the question: “Who can endure the day of His coming?  And who can stand when He appears?” 

Verse 3: He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness. 
  • The LORD continues with the metaphor of the refiner’s fire.  The LORD will come quickly, but then He will sit down as a smelter at His workbench, in order to meticulously and thoroughly refine the sons of Levi.  In other words, the priesthood would be the first object of the Refiner’s attention.  There is a principle in Scripture that “judgment always begins in the house of God” (cf. I Peter 4:17).  Notice that Jehovah’s goal is not to destroy them, something He could easily do with just a word, but rather, to purify them, to purge them of all sin and impurity so that they might once again be righteous in His sight and offer up holy sacrifices in His Temple.

Verse 4: Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing [sweet, pleasant] to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.
  • “Then the offering…will be pleasing to the LORD.”  The LORD will once again take great delight in their sacrifices when the ones offering them have been cleansed and purified, and are offering the sacrifices with right motives.  Transformed, righteous priests will offer up righteous sacrifices once again, like it was in the beginning, before the rot set in.  He’s referring back to the times of Moses and Phinehas, right after the Levites were first honored and singled out and the priesthood was first established.

Verse 5: “Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,” says the LORD of hosts.
  • In this verse the LORD mentions several things that were symptoms of the spiritual disease that had taken root all across the country.  He says that He has been a “witness” to these things:
    • Sorcery and all manner of occult practices and idolatry
    • Sexual impurity, including adultery, intermarrying, and divorce
    • Lying, bearing false witness, dishonesty
    • Injustice against wage-earners, withholding their paychecks
    • Not caring for widows and orphans as God had always commanded
    • Mistreatment of foreigners which was strictly forbidden
    • Having no fear [awe, respect] for God, His Word, and His laws
  • As a result these things, Yahweh says that He will be a “swift witness.”  That means that though He might delay His coming, when He came He would come suddenly, unexpectedly, with no warning.  He will “draw near to them for judgment.”  In other words, He is going to lower the boom on them for these sins that He here enumerates.  When He comes He’s going to purify the Levites, and judge the people, and it won’t be pretty!

Verse 6: “For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.”
  • “For I, [the] LORD, do not change.”  This is best translated by leaving out the definite article before the word, “LORD.”  What He actually says is, “For I, Yahweh, do not change.”  You’ll remember that the root of His sacred name is the Hebrew verb “I AM,” which by its very meaning includes the idea of immutability (i.e. unchangeableness).  Now this can be both positive and negative for us sinners.  On the one hand, His love toward us endures forever.  On the other hand, His unchanging holiness and justice demand that sin be punished.  Because He is a righteous God He will never change His attitude toward sin, and thus, though judgment may be long delayed it will eventually be carried out.
  • You and I change all the time, every day.  We are in a constant state of flux—physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc.  Nothing about us stays the same.  We can’t comprehend a God that never changes because we can’t begin to envision such a thing.  However, the Word declares that “God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
  • Hearing the LORD say this, the Jews should have breathed a big sigh of relief.  In essence God was saying, “If you weren’t my kids I’d burn you up and wipe you out in a heartbeat.  But because I love you I won’t destroy you, even though that’s what you deserve.”  Here we see that the unchangeableness of Jehovah is also the guarantee of His grace.  He promises that the refining fires will not completely destroy His people.  He gives them His assurance of His continuing mercy.

            So in the Day of Judgment who will be able to stand before God?  Is anyone good enough to be acceptable to Him?  The psalmist asks this same question in Psalm 24:3-4, Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD?  And who may stand in His holy place?” Then he answers his own question: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart.”  But wait, that sounds like David is offering us salvation by works!  But David is not talking in absolute terms here, or else no one would ever be able to be saved.  We certainly cannot clean our own hands or purify our own heart—only God can do that, when we humbly come to Him and confess our sins and receive His grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
            Notice again that this passage begins with the LORD saying, “You have wearied Me with your words.”  I can’t help but wonder if we too weary Him sometimes, with our pious sounding prayers that are more for the sake of men than for His ears, with our mouthing of the words to praise songs while our minds and hearts are miles away, and with our sometimes hypocritical service done out of obligation rather love for Him.  When we are just going through the motions, does that weary Him?  When we show up for church because we don’t want people to think we are backsliding, but in reality we’d rather be anyplace else, does that tired Him out?  Are we really all that different or that much better than the people He is planning to take to the woodshed in this passage?
            I think that the church in America could use some of that “refiner’s fire” and that “fuller’s soap.”  We need a revival in our land too.  We need what the songwriter, Bessie Porter Head, was asking God for in 1914 when she penned these words to the hymn, “O Breath of Life”:
1. O Breath of life, come sweeping thru us; revive Thy church with life and power.
O Breath of life, come cleanse, renew us, and fit Thy church to meet this hour.

2. O Wind of God, come bend us, break us, till humbly we confess our need;
Then in Thy tenderness remake us; revive, restore, for this we plead.

3. O Breath of love, come breathe within us, renewing thought and will and heart;
Come, Love of Christ, afresh to win us; revive Thy church in every part.

4. O Heart of Christ, once broken for us, ’tis there we find our strength and rest;
Our broken, contrite hearts now solace, and let Thy waiting church be blest.

5. Revive us, Lord!  Is zeal abating, while harvest fields are vast and white?
Revive, us Lord, the world is waiting.  Equip Thy church to spread the light.

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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