Thursday, November 29, 2007

Battling Indifference While We Wait

Battling Indifference While We Wait
The Message of Malachi

What happens when a promise is made and it takes a really long time to fulfill it? If I were to make a promise to you today that our youth group will make a trip to Rome would you believe it? What if I told you of the plans, and hyped it up and told you about all of the stops we were going to make? You would probably start getting really excited—so long as you trusted my reliability. But what would happen if after a year of planning we began seeing the difficulties of making this trip? We would start getting bogged down with all of the finances. People would start to drop out of the trip, others would join. Year after year would come and there would be no trip—only disappointments. You have graduated and there is no trip. You are probably going to give up hope, call me a liar and want your money back. But, then a few years after your graduation you come back to the area and see that we still have this trip planned. It seems to be further progressing so you decide to join up again; maybe I’m not a liar. But again it gets bogged down and another class graduates; still no trip. Year after year the promise is not fulfilled—but I keep proclaiming that we are going to make a trip to Rome. With each year what are you going to think? Sure, Mike, whatever. You know we are not really going to Rome. People are going to be less and less enthusiastic, less and less money will go to the trip. And eventually you will become weary of hearing my promises. In many ways that is what the people of Israel are facing.

God made the promise to Abraham, “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”. He promised to give to Abraham and his descendants the Promised Land. But we go through year after year and the promise is not yet fulfilled. They even end up as slaves in Egypt. Talk about a bump in the road. Then they get hope in a guy named Moses. They evidence one of the most miraculous escapes of all history. The Red Sea parts and they go across--certainly now they will see this promise fulfilled. But, as they begin going into the Promised Land they see all the trouble it will be. They lose heart and shrink back. They wander 40 years in the desert, and even Moses is not allowed to go into the Promised Land. At this point we are at least 600 years from the original promise to Abraham. Finally they get into the Promised Land through the leadership of Joshua—but not without a fight. The history of Israel is marked by war, war, and more war. In fact they never quite got all of the Promised Land. God said in Genesis 15 that it would extend to the Nile but the most the nation ever owned was to the border of Egypt. The history of Israel is one of increasing land, losing land, gaining it back, schism’s, exiles, etc. etc. We know in 722 that the Northern Kingdom of Israel was demolished, and that in 586 BC Jerusalem and the Temple where destroyed. So, here we have some 2000 years without a fulfillment of a promise. Can you imagine the frustration? There had been moments of hope in this time. There were great seasons of blessing. But there were also difficult times when it seemed like the fulfillment was an infinite distance from fulfillment. In 586 and after when all the Jewish people were in captivity it would have seemed as if all hope were dashed. But then in the early 500’s the temple was rebuilt. The walls of the city of Jerusalem where rebuilt. It certainly would be a time of great hope. Fast forward again about 100 years and we have the prophecy of Malachi. The people are as we might expect—frustrated and indifferent. This is supposed to be the next golden era but it has not lived up to its potential. There are only 100,000 people in the land and the land it self has been ravaged by drought. This certainly does not seem like the Promised Land. Even though it seems like a time of great hope and a time when God is going to display His greatness the people are indifferent.

Now, perhaps you are wondering what this has to do with you. We are just like the Israelites in Malachi’s day. We are awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promise. Our promise is not so much land. In fact it is a promise that the Jewish people were also looking for--one of, if not the, first promises in the Bible. In Genesis 3:15 we hear God speaking to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” You may not have caught that but this is a reference to the coming Messiah who will crush the head of the enemy. It is this Messiah, this Promised King that we hope for. Now, we as Christians know that this Promised King came some 2,000 years ago. But, he did something unexpected. Rather than set up his kingdom he died. We would not expect the long awaited King to die, but he did. And so we are left waiting. We are waiting on the Messiah to come back and set up his kingdom. So you can see that we are in a historical situation somewhat similar to those in the day which Malachi speaks. And by way of side note we need to mention that it is quite possible that there is no prophet by the name Malachi. Malachi means “my messenger”. It is somewhat possible that the author is Ezra (the same Ezra who has a book that bears his name). Regardless of whom it is it is a messenger of God. And this messenger has a message for us, even today, concerning our indifference. That is why tonight we are going to look at six disputes throughout this prophecy—they are 6 things that happen whenever God delays. And then we are going to try to answer the question, what can we do to battle indifference while wait.

Indifference is really the thing that will link all six of these things together. Throughout this book’s 55 verses 47 of them are God speaking. The other verses are Israel disagreeing with God’s assessment. He says I love you; they say how. He says you are robbing me; they say how. He says you are making me weary; they say why. It is like the stubborn kid to his parent’s cries of discontent. You ask the child how everything is going he says, “Everything is just great”. You ask the parents they say, “He needs lots of prayer”. So it is often in our relationship with God. We become indifferent and this indifference takes on many forms.

The marks of indifference and how to fight them

When you are questioning God’s love for you focus on His electing love in redemption. (1:2-5)

This is the problem in the first dispute in Malachi. God tells the people, “I have loved you”. If we want to use the original language God tells the people, “I have loved you in the past and I continue to love you”. What would you expect as the response? I mean don’t we all want to hear God say, “I love you”. Their response might sound familiar. “How”, they ask. Have you ever felt that way? You’ve heard it a million times. You sang it in children’s church; “Jesus loves me this I know…” But then life hits you hard. You notice the suffering around you. You go through a bout of suffering yourself, and you wonder—do you really love me God? How can God say that he loves me and let all of this happen to me? Would not a loving God want to shield me from harm?

And this is when God reminds us, as Christians, of His electing love in redemption. “I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated”. This is a very loaded statement. In fact it is something that has been debated for centuries. What I am referring to is God’s special electing (electing means choosing) love. One side of the issue says that God has elected the nations and not the individuals. And that this is not so much an election unto salvation but of blessing and favor. Others say that the reason why God hated Esau is that he hated him because of what he had done. He hated his sin. But this is inconsistent. This very verse in Malachi was quoted by Paul in Romans 9 when he says that God’s chose Jacob over Esau “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call.” Some even try to say it is because God foresaw Esau’s lack of faith/works and hated him and saw Jacob’s faith/works and chose him. But this too is inconsistent. With this text but especially with the entire history of what God means by election. It is never a foreseen work. It is just as it says in Romans 9, “not because of works but because of his call”.

We can really see this in Deuteronomy 7:6-11 that the reason why God chose Israel is not because of anything in them that was great but because he was keeping His covenant; a covenant which He initiated. What we are saying is what the Lord said in Ephesians 1:5 that God, “predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…” The text is simply stating this--that if you are saved the reason you are saved is because before the foundation of the world for no reason other than the Lord’s good pleasure he said, you are mine, I am going to redeem you.

So, whenever you are questioning whether or not God loves you focus on that. Focus on what God has done in saving you. It’s not that God loves you because you are so amazing. It’s that God loves you unconditionally. There is one sense in which the love of God is conditional. His love is conditioned upon our acceptance, our sin being atoned for, our being made righteous, our lives being filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit. But what is so amazing about God’s love is that what he requires he fulfills in Jesus Christ. That is what we are talking about. That God note only chose you before the foundation of the world but he at a specific time and place sent His Son to fulfill all those righteous requirements of the Law. And then at a specific time He brought His Holy Spirit into your life and preached the Word of God to you. He did what it says in 2 Corinthians 4; “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” He caused your heart to come alive and gave you new life. And at one point after He had regenerated your heart you repented and believed in the Gospel. And He causes the Holy Spirit to continue to live in your heart and bring about righteousness. And He will bring about your everlasting joy for all of eternity. So, Christian, do you really question God’s love for you?

When you are engaging in half-hearted worship focus on God’s awesome character

The second dispute that God has with Israel is that they are engaged in half-hearted worship. According to the Lord they had despised His name and polluted their worship. The Israelites, of course, respond with a resounding, “How so”. The Lord then points them to their sacrifice and asks them how that matches up with His character. The Israelites--actually more so the priests--had been bringing pathetic sacrifices to the altar. You can find numerous verses in the Old Testament that resemble Deuteronomy 17:1, “You shall not sacrifice to the Lord your God an ox or a sheep in which is a blemish, any defect whatever, for that is an abomination to the LORD your God.” What then are the people in Malachi’s day doing? God says that they “bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick and this you bring as your offering”. Or again, “When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil?”

How ridiculous is this of the priests to bring such pathetic offerings to the living God. He is calling for a sacrifice to show the brutality of sin and the greatness of God. By their sacrifice they are communicating that their sin is not that bad and that God is not that great. Their worship is so unbelievably half-hearted that they do not see anything wrong with what they are doing. In fact after God shows them the ridiculousness of this they say, “What a weariness this”. Their worship has not become vibrant and overflowing from a heart in love with a Great King. Their worship has become half-hearted (if even that) ritualistic garbage.

Are we not sometimes worse? The Israelites brought blind and sick animals we bring to God our leftovers as well. Does God get the first-fruits of your time, your resources, your energy, etc.? I think God really gets to the point when he says, “Present that (your crappy sacrifices) to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor?” Of course not! If you gave to your school work, your friendship, your job, your face, your room, your hobbies, your talents as much as you give to God it would not be pretty. If you came to your coach and told him that practice was wearing you out and that you only wanted to put in 15 minutes this week but you would promise to be at the football game and play really hard he would make you run laps. But we throughout the week do not even give God 15 minutes of thought or devotional time and then come to church as if that’s a sacrifice. We give God our leftovers all the time.

Why then is this so bad? It is bad because it goes against God’s character. Do you think God really needs sacrifices? Do you think He is not going to be able to put food on His heavenly table and all His holy angels will starve if these priests do not give God a sacrifice? Do you think God really is disappointed because He is getting a blind animal? No. God is not upset because they are not filling in something He is lacking. God is not upset with me when I give Him my leftovers because He is lacking something and I let Him down. God is upset because whenever we give Him our leftovers we are communicating to Him and to the nations that leftovers are all that God is worth.

This is why God says, “Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations”. So, whenever you are tempted to give half-hearted worship to God remember who it is that you are worshipping. Focus on His great character. Remember that He is a great King; greater than any governor, or prince, or ruler, or pleasure, or anything in the universe. If you want your worship to be vibrant then it must stem from having a really big view of God and melting before His character. That is what we see in Isaiah 6 when Isaiah worshipped before the throne. He was confronted with God’s holiness and He was undone. Oh, see that He is a great King. How then, Christians, can we worship our God as if He is nothing more than one who deserves leftovers?

When you are struggling with infidelity guard yourselves and do not be faithless

This third dispute could probably be an entire sermon. It is especially fitting for people your age but would also be relevant for married couples. It has to do with our faithfulness to the marriage covenant that God has designed. Perhaps you are wondering what this has to do with you but there is a very clear bridge between the Israelites struggle and ours today. They were breaking two of God’s commands. 1) They were seeking to marry unbelievers. 2) They were plagued by divorce.

Does that sound familiar? God had told the Israelite people not to intermarry with unbelieving nations. And let me be clear. God is not racist. He is not against a black man marrying a white woman or vice versa. God did not disapprove of the Israelites marrying within cultures because of the color of their skin. God disapproved because of their worship of foreign gods. If you marry a woman that bows her knee to some foreign God you are not going to be faithful to your God. Christian young people, listen to what God is telling you. This is a command this is not optional. Do not date (I could leave that sentence there and it still be accurate) an unbeliever. Do not court an unbeliever. Do not try to date them and convert them, to just help them out. And do not pull that well “I think she’s a Christian, or well I’m pretty sure He believes in God junk”. If you cannot tell young lady then this man is not at a spot to spiritually lead you—do not waste your time. If you cannot tell young man then this lady is not at a spot to follow you—do not waste your time, she will bog you down and distract you from worship. Scripture clearly says do not be yoked together with an unbeliever. I could give you 50 million reasons why this is a bad idea but one will suffice—God considers it an abomination. It’s not small thing.

Furthermore, the Israelites are plagued with divorce. They are “covering the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand”. “Why won’t God accept me” they are wondering. It is because they are plagued by divorce. It is very interesting what type of divorce this is. It is the same type in our culture. “For the man who hates and divorces…” They were “getting sick of” or putting it in Oprah terms, “falling out of love, no longer happy” with their wives so they were ditching them. God hated it. There are two ways in which God permits divorce but it is never required. 1) For adultery 2) For neglect and abandonment (which abuse problems falls in this category). But falling out of love is never a valid reason to get a divorce. This is it. These two.

We are actually going to deal with this one a little more fully in the coming weeks when we talk about biblical manhood and womanhood. But for now let me make this application. For those of you who are dating unbelievers if you care about your relationship with God you need to break up—and keep it that way. Do not date unbelievers! And let me extend that as far as Scripture does. Ladies do not date a young man that is not able to spiritually lead you. Men do not date a young woman that is not willing to spiritually follow you.

What do you do in the meantime as you struggle to find a spouse, or maybe even later on when you struggle to keep one? “Guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of his youth”. That means simply this—stop flirting with this stuff. Do not be stupid and date. Do not be ignorant and flirt with a bunch of guys or girls. Guard yourselves from this stuff. It is serious. What you do now will have a bearing on your future marriage. Be careful. More on this in January and February…

When you are questioning God’s justice focus on His past fulfillments and future promises

For the sake of time we will not go in depth on this point either. We have dealt in detail in the past with God and His justice. For now I want to turn your attention to 2:17-3:5. Here the Israelites are complaining that God is not bringing evil doers to justice so why not do evil. It seems like God delights in evil more than good so why not just be evil you will get more blessings. And God points to the messenger that He will send. This is certainly a reference to Jesus. As we have talked about in the past if you begin to question God’s justice then turn your eyes no further than the Cross. It is where we see that justice has been poured out. It is what causes us to be pure and it is what brings sinners to judgment. But we also know that there will be a future day when those who trust in Jesus will be restored and those who do not will be judged ultimately.

When you are selfishly giving half-hearted devotion focus on the storehouse of God’s pleasures.

We have somewhat dealt with half-hearted devotion when we dealt with half-hearted worship. It’s much the same. Here it manifests itself in a different form. It is not their sacrifices that are tarnished it is their tithes and offerings—their giving. Apparently the people were not only giving blind animals but they were at times totally withholding their tithes. What is a tithe? It is actually a required wage in the Old Testament. It means tenth. The Jewish people would give a tenth of what they had. Does it carry over to the New Testament? I would actually say that it does, but I think 10% is setting the bar too low. The New Testament seems to challenge us to give as high of a percentage as we can. So, because of my uncertainty I would encourage you to at least give 10% of your wages to your local church but challenge you to see how much of your income you can actually give. Can you give 20%? Can you give 40%? What can you give?

This is talking about struggling with giving devotion to God and if you desire to withhold something from God. Maybe it is part of your heart. Perhaps it is your time. It could even be a sin you are holding on to. Look at this way: In Mark 9:34-36 Jesus says this, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” When Jesus says things like that, and calls for such a radical commitment what do you want to cling to? What comes to your mind of, “you’re going to have to give this up”. What does “deny himself” mean in your own life?

When you are struggling with a half-hearted devotion (or putting that another way—giving up everything to God) then the key is to focus on the storehouse of God’s pleasures. In Malachi 3:10 God says, “Bring in the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” Now, health and wealth prosperity preachers love this verse. They like to say, plant your seed give your tithe (aka all your money to me) and see if God won’t bless ya’ back with all kinds of money and a yacht and a car and a really nice shiny watch like me. And you know what, maybe God will bless you with that. But that’s not what I want. When I hear God say he’s going to open up heaven and lavish upon us blessing I’m not thinking of gold. I’m thinking of Jesus. Jesus is more precious than gold. He is finer than diamonds. He is the treasure that was hidden in the field that the man sold everything just to have Him. So, whenever you are struggling with half-hearted devotion fix your eyes upon the wonders and majesty of Jesus Christ. Fix you’re thought upon the blessing that is going to be given you; namely God Himself.

And by way of warning, if that does not stir you. If you would rather have money, or fame; and if your love and passion for God is not enough to sustain you then you really need to ask yourself if you know Him. The picture of the Bible is that God is the greatest treasure and that those who know Him want little else and is continually growing in their satisfaction with Him alone. If Christ is not your treasure it is quite possible that He is not your Christ.

When you lose hope and feel like giving up look to your future redemption or judgment

The last thing that we see is that the Israelites were giving up hope. They have gone so far as to say, “It is vain to serve God. What profit of our keeping charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts?” In other words, this is not working. I’m giving up on this God-stuff. It’s profiting us nothing. God responds by pointing them again to future redemption or judgment. Certainly he is pointing us to Jesus when he says, “They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.” Christ has bought us, the Church, with his own blood. And God is pointing to that great day when He will make everything right. Either you will be redeemed because you are part of those who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ or you will be as Malachi 4:1 says, “…stubble”. “The day that is coming shall set them ablaze.

When you are struggling with indifference and wanting to give up hope then look backwards at the Cross and look forward to the Day of Judgment and what will happen to you in light of the Cross.

I understand that you have been bombarded with many points and quite a bit to chew on. But let me sum it up quickly. Malachi is the last word spoken to the people of Israel for 400 years. There is not a prophet on the scene until a man by the name of John the Baptist comes. He is the Elijah spoken of in 4:5-6. He is the one who is going to prepare the way for the great messenger. The messenger spoken of in Malachi 3:1-4, the one who will purify and refine like fire; the one who will make us righteous. He is the one that we know by the name of Jesus.

We have looked at some of the fruits of indifference. It can be difficult sometimes to keep the faith. It can be challenging to fight the fight of faith. It is this fight that we must labor with all of our might. Following Christ is not easy. But it is worth it. All of these points have one thing as their anchor to hold them together.

Whether you are questioning God’s love, engaging in half-hearted worship, struggling with infidelity, questioning God’s justice, selfishly giving half-hearted devotion, or losing hope and feeling like giving up—the rock on which each of these are answered is the person and work of Jesus Christ. Focusing on God’s electing redeeming love is merely another way of saying look to the Cross of Jesus Christ and what He has done. If you are an unbeliever the Cross is where you need to look. Telling you to focus on God’s awesome character is merely another way of saying look to Jesus—for it is He who has revealed to us God’s character. He has made Him known. Look at the beauty and loveliness of Christ. Telling you to guard yourselves and not to be faithless is a meaningless exhortation if it is not married to the Cross; because no man can conquer the desires of lusts without a superior pleasure. No young lady can squelch her desire to be loved and cared for by a man unless she has a greater shepherd. That superior pleasure and greater shepherd is Jesus. So, you too are exhorted to look to Jesus. When we speak of focusing on God’s past fulfillments and future promises, they reach their climax in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Exodus means nothing if not for the Cross. All of the Old Testament promises are naught until we see them in light of the Cross. So what we are really telling you to do is to look to Jesus. If you want to see justice, look to Jesus. Encouraging you to focus on the storehouse of God’s pleasures is simply another way of saying focus on the excellence of Christ. He is the treasure. When you want to stop being selfish and want something greater then look to the great King who is the fountain and source of all pleasure and joy. And finally when we tell you to look to your future redemption or judgment the answer to which of those you will face is found in the Cross.

If you are to face future redemption it will not be because of your works or even because of your faith or repentance. If you are to have future redemption it is to be because of the great and awesome work of Jesus Christ and because the life and righteousness of Christ Jesus has been given to your account. It will be because He has taken the punishment for your unrighteousness. It is true that repentance and faith is what linked you to Him but you cannot take credit for that. Faith itself was a gift of God. So, your future redemption is owed completely to the Lord. Therefore, if you are to look to future redemption then you are looking at the great and mighty blessing of God. If you are to face redemption it is because by your stubborn heart you have decided to not honor and treasure the Cross. You have decided to give your life for that which is perishable and because of that you too shall perish. You do not see Jesus Christ as the great treasure that He is. You are not trusting in the Cross but trusting in yourself. Therefore, you are not honoring that which God has most honored and you are not trusting in the only name under heaven by which men might be saved—the name of Jesus Christ! That is what tonight is about. That is what Malachi is about. It is about Jesus. Can you really be indifferent in the face of this Great King!?!?

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