GOD'S CHURCH - TO WHOM WE GO
Dear friends in Christ,
There is a part of the Bible that many Bible believing Christians don’t usually know as much about as others- the end of the Old Testament. Most know the names of Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and David, but when it comes to heroes of faith like Ezra, Nehemiah, Shealtiel and others that’s a different story. At the end of the Old Testament is where Malachi fits.
Because of apostasy, the Lord chastened Judah, God’s people. They were taken captive into Babylon for seventy years. When Babylon was crushed by the Persians, the Persian king declared that all Hebrews could return to their homeland. Relatively speaking few Hebrews returned. Those who did return faced all kinds of obstacles. The vacuum created when Judah was taken into captivity caused many others to move in. Those people didn’t take kindly to the return of the Jews.
The Jews found their cities and homes destroyed including the great temple. Those who returned got their homes in order and then lost momentum. The temple was put on the back burner. Ezra and Nehemiah were sent to inspire and motivate and lead. While the walls of Jerusalem and the temple were rebuilt and life returned to normal over a long period of time, so did the sins that Judah had been chastened for in the first place. That’s what Malachi addresses.
Today we continue to study the doctrine of God’s Church - To Whom Do We Go? We go to 1) Everyone needs a deep change of heart; 2) Everyone needs our great God.
Yes, everyone needs a deep change of heart. The Bible says that God creates everyone with natural Law, a sense of right and wrong. Even many jurists recognize that and call it natural law. That natural sense of right and wrong isn’t perfect. Adam and Eve had a perfect sense of it until they fell into sin. Yet there remains a certain sense of order. Children know it is right to obey their parents and fear their parents if they do wrong. Malachi says that even slaves knew they needed to respect their masters. “A son honors his father and a slave his master.” While that sense of right and wrong, even though now imperfect, is true, God registers a complaint against Judah, “’If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?’ says the Lord Almighty.”
God’s people had a serious problem. A child gives his father more respect than your nation give me says the Lord. He emphasizes that irony when he refers to himself as the Lord Almighty. The Hebrew says the “Lord of hosts” or the Lord of the army. He is the protector. He presided over their nation’s escape from Egypt. He presided over David’s battle with Goliath and all the other battles that were fought. He is the commander and chief against Satan’s evil troops. Yet Judah didn’t respect the Lord.
Where is the respect due me? In Hebrew there are two ways you can understand respect. It is often translated fear. There is a fear or respect of parents because you love them so much that you don’t want to disappoint them or shame them. Then there is a fear that comes from the dread of punishment. They didn’t fear him either way. They had no respect for him because they loved him. They didn’t even fear his punishment. They didn’t give much thought to the Lord. It seems that they thought he was a wimp and limp-wristed.
Not much has changed with the times. There is nothing new under the sun. Far too many show no fear of God. When wickedness occurs, nothing seems to happen to the perpetrators. People clamor, “Where is your God of fairness and justice?” Yet God is patient waiting for repentance. And when a powerful display of God’s power and justice is shown, people ask, “How can I believe in a God who shows no love?” The Almighty God gets blamed and is shown no respect.
Malachi tells us where this disrespect was shown in his day. It started with the clergy. “It is you priests who show contempt for my name. “But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ People have said if you want to win over a nation, influence the children by what you teach them. If Satan wants to take over God’s church, he will influence those who teach. He will go to the seminaries. When the clergy condones and approve the very words and actions that Scripture forbids or remain silent about them, Satan has gotten his way.
God, through Malachi, writes that Judah’s worship left a lot to be desired. He blames the clergy who did nothing to rebuke and correct. The priests and Levites accepted third rate worship. “But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ ‘By offering defiled food on my altar.’ “But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’ “By saying that theLord’s table is contemptible. When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong?”
As you know in the days of Malachi in the Old Testament there was a whole different way to worship. Sacrifices of animals, food and drink, were called for. Animals were to be without spot or blemish. Drink offerings and thank offerings were to be the best and first. Why? Because God doesn’t deserve junk; God deserves the best. When you give the best and the first, you show to God what you think of him and trust that he will provide more. Hey, does God give you leftovers?
Malachi issues a challenge. “Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty.” Go to King Darius and tell him you will bring dinner. When you go you, show up with a three legged, lame, flea infested whose coat is crusted in its own waste. What kind of reception do you think the governor is going to give you?
When I was a kid, to show you appreciated teacher you took her a nice piece of fruit. What would she think if you took an apple with a worm in it? You want to show your boss how much you appreciate him or her? You’re your boss a TV dinner instead of a gift certificate to Stoney River and see what happens. Or how would you like it if that happened to you?
The Bible says, out of the overflow of your heart, your mouth speaks. The same is true of your actions. Thoughtless worship preparation, thoughtless worship with minds wandering and contempt for being here come from an evil heart and are not hidden from the Lord. Sleepy worship and offerings given grudgingly all need to be repented of
Malachi says something here that is scary. The problem was so widespread, God couldn’t find anyone who saw their worship was wrong. “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.
Do these words hit close to home? How do you worship? Because Mom and Dad make you? Or you spouse will make you feel guilty if you don’t go? Do you wonder when this is finally going to be over? Are we really going to sing the fifth verse?
What does this all have to do with our service theme today “God’s Church – To whom do we go?” The church is here for those out there for sure, but the church is also for all who are in here too. The Lord doesn’t deserve an attitude in his house where he deserves to be honored. Frankly, if we have an attitude here, don’t you think it will show up out there when we are among those who don’t know him? What happens if they see that bad attitude? Is that going to impress people enough to want to be in here with us?
I like a story about a chaplain who was speaking to a soldier on a cot in a hospital. "You have lost an arm in the great cause," the chaplain said. "No," said the soldier with a smile. "I didn't lose it--I gave it." Jesus did not lose His life; He gave it purposefully for you, not so you could have a bad attitude about him and life, but to change your attitude to serve him and love others.
There are certain things a pastor loves to hear because a pastor knows the Lord loves them too. A pastor was once talking to a mission prospect. In the get to know the person part of the conversation the pastor asked where the prospect worked. She named a company that had a substantial employee base. The pastor said that there was a member who worked there. When the name was shared, she smiled and said, “Oh yeah, everyone knows him as the Bible man!” That brings smiles to pastors and to God.
The Bible man was reaching out but he could reach out only because in his church, he was being reached out to. He was learning. He was learning to witness. Jesus told his disciples to go to Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth. To whom shall we go? Everyone! To those out there and to those in here!
Don’t take for granted that when someone comes to know Jesus that person will always stay. We don’t subscribe to the teaching of “once saved always saved.” If that were true why do the apostles and prophets keep warning people about falling away? We need to nurture each other, because spiritual life can be snuffed out.
Jesus told Peter, “Feed my lambs.” Paul tells us about what is to happen in the local churches, “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers,older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need.” We need to comfort those who are troubled. The Bible says, “Carry each other’s burdens and in this way and you will fulfill the law of Christ.” The Bible says, “Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” Everyone needs a deep change of heart; everyone needs to know our Great God.
The Lord speaks through Malachi, “My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord Almighty.
There are a couple of points in this verse that I want to share with you. Over the years of Bible study I look for names for God in the verses. He has literally hundreds of names in the Bible. Each tells us about himself. They describe his characteristics or describe his character. He calls himself capital
L-O-R-D. That means he is the “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
While we certainly fail to be the kind of eager and loving and committed followers that God deserves, repent. He does forgive. He forgives wickedness, rebellion and sin at great cost to himself. Because of Christ, God blots out ours sins from his memory.
To all who despise the truth about sin and remain oblivious to their need for God’s mercy, “he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” That promise is serious.
He is also called the Lord Almighty. Remember, the Lord of the armies! He opposes all who oppose him. That’s why the church must reach out to make those who have faith strong and to reach out to those who need to know that we have a God who is strong to save.