Read Malachi 1:6-2:9
Many in the church have drifted from God. They believe in Jesus, go to church and maybe even serve in leadership. But the fire in their hearts for Jesus is little more than a pilot light. The flame is still there, but it gives off very little light or heat. They read the Bible—some, even regularly. But the time when they couldn’t wait to get into the Bible is long gone. In many ways, they are just going through the motions. They’re spiritually stagnant, running on cruise control. Today, I want us to first, take a close look at some folks in the Bible who are in this same place, or worse. Sometimes it’s easier to see clearly how far we’ve drifted from God--and how serious that is--when we see it in someone else. Second, we’ll look at God’s perspective on this condition—what’s his response to this and finally, we want to answer the question—how can I know the joy of the Lord again? How can the pilot light grow into a raging fire? This is something we all need to hear.
This morning, I want us to turn to Malachi chapter one. We’ll be looking at 1:6-2:9 that we read earlier, but first we need to establish some historical context. The events spoken of in Malachi occur sometime around 460 B.C. That’s about 100 years after King Cyrus of Persia decreed that the Jews could return to Israel after their 70 years of exile. The Jerusalem temple and probably the city wall had been rebuilt by this time. Haggai and Zechariah had appeared about 80 years before Malachi and, along with Ezra, had brought some significant reforms. The priests who worked in the temple had reestablished their daily offering of animal sacrifices to God and the Jews were once again celebrating their major religious festivals. But there was no heart for worship, no devotion toward God. Their political condition mirrored their spiritual one. During this time, Israel is no longer an independent state. They are one tiny little province within the vast Persian Empire and their human authority is not a Jewish King or high priest, but the Persian governor of their province.
The Jews had been waiting for God to pour out the great blessings the prophets had promised them before and during their exile. There would be national independence, prosperity, military expansion and the nations of the world would come to Israel to worship Yahweh. Instead, a century after returning to Israel, none of these blessings had materialized. Instead, they were met with political insignificance, economic deprivation, prolonged drought, crop failure and disease. As a result, there was some serious disillusionment among the Jews. God had not met their expectations. The priests and all the Jews were spiritually destitute and that manifested itself in many areas. In the second of six specific areas of rebellion addressed in Malachi, God through his prophet speaks to the Jews’ ragged and self-centered worship of Yahweh. Malachi paints a depressing picture of a thoroughly corrupt priesthood.
Let’s first unpack the text a bit. In verse six, God describes himself as the “Father” and “Master” of his people but they are not treating him like either one. The root cause of this failure is that there is no honor or fear of him among the priests. He asks the priests, “where is my honor…where is my fear says the LORD of hosts.” He charges these priests with despising his name by offering polluted sacrifices on the temple altar--animals that were blemished, blind, lame or sick. Leviticus 22, which they knew by heart, strictly forbids this. “20 You shall not offer anything that has a blemish, for it will not be acceptable for you... 22 Animals blind or disabled or mutilated or having a discharge or an itch or scabs you shall not offer to the LORD or give them to the LORD as a food offering on the altar.” Unblemished, healthy animals alone were to be offered as sacrifice to God. The priests had evidently assumed those laws weren’t terribly important. They doubtless had several actions.
First, they probably assumed that, although these kinds of offerings didn’t bring them “FULL credit” from God for their worship, he surely gave them partial credit. Second, their lower standards meant that there would have been a lot more animals being sacrificed because now the people had a place to dispose of their sick and lame animals which greatly outnumbered the ones without spot or blemish. They could dispose of these imperfect animals and worship at the same time! What they lacked in quality offerings, they more than made up for in quantity. Third, they saw no visible differences between the smoke, fire and aroma from these lame offerings than from the unblemished ones. Fourth, the people were able to keep the best males instead of sacrificing them, which (they assumed) would give them better breeding stock now that their best animals weren’t always being slaughtered for God. Perhaps most important to these priests was--because more animals were being sacrificed, there was more meat for them to eat. In their minds, this was a win for God—more sacrifices, a win for the priests—more meat, and a win for the worshippers—better breeding stock. With all these obvious advantages their plan had over God’s, he was surely just fine with this new arrangement.
God jolts these horribly deceived people back into reality by asking them if they would dare present these defiled animals to their governor. Would HE accept them as a tribute or as form of payment? God wants them to see that—though this arrangement may seem to have been benefitting them, at issue wasn’t what the priests offering the sacrifice wanted to give; it was about what the kind of offering God wanted to receive. People are deceived this way all the time. God calls them to do something very hard—to move somewhere or stay instead of running away or surrender a job, a habit, possession or relationship. THAT’S what God wants. But instead we bargain. “I won’t do that for you, (I’m sure you’re not really telling me to do THAT) but I AM going to start reading my Bible more and pray 15 minutes a day” or whatever else fits within our comfort zone. It’s not about what we want to give God, but what he wants from us. He tells these priests in verse nine that no matter how much they prayed, he would not grant them favor with these kinds of offerings and he just wants them to shut the doors of the temple. The Jews constantly believed a very common lie Satan spreads among God’s people. That is--offering something to God is better than offering him nothing. God rejects that lie and tells them that he would rather they give him nothing than receive their cast-offs. He said the same thing through Isaiah 300 years earlier. “13 Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.” [1:13] Their offerings are “vain”—a waste--he will not accept them because their hearts weren’t right.
In verse 11, in the first of several such statements, he explains to the priests WHY what they were doing was so wicked. The reason he will accept none of these offerings is, “11 For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.” God in effect is saying to these priests—“Do you know who I am? One day, not just you--a tiny nation of subjugated Jews, but ALL the nations from the least to the greatest will recognize me for who I am and worship my great name. They will make purified offerings from hearts filled with joy and awe.” To emphasize just how crucial this truth is about himself and how central this motivation for their worship should have been for them, he repeats this truth in the same verse, “For my name will be great among the nations.”
There are dozens of Old Testament texts promising that one day all the nations will come to worship the God of Israel. It begins back in Genesis 12:3. God told Abraham, “3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families [or nations] of the earth shall be blessed.” God through Abraham’s seed, Jesus Christ would bless all the nations. That was always God’s plan and he re-states it repeatedly in the Old Testament. Psalm 9:11 “11 Sing praises to the LORD, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples his deeds!” Psalm 47:1 “1 Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” Psalm 66:8, “8 Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard,” Psalm 117:1, “1 Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples!” Psalm 102:15 “15 Nations will fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory.” Isaiah 60:3, “3 And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” Psalm 72:11, “1 May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!” This is an absolutely enormous theme in the Old Testament---that the God of Israel is also the God of this world and one day—people from ALL nations will worship him—not just this tiny little province of Jews.
Every tribe, tongue and nation will worship the God of Israel as THEIR great King. His name will be great among the nations. When Paul is converted on the Damascus Road, God reassures a frightened Ananias, “15 … “Go, for he [Paul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” God has always been concerned that his name be great among the nations. Let’s focus this promise, “My name will be great among the nations.” Here are three truths I see implied in this phrase. First, God without fail is going to make his name great among the nations—ALL the nations. He promised these Levites that his name would be great among the nations and he keeps his promises. His name WILL be great among all people groups.
Second, this phrase speaks of how absolutely central to God this task is of reaching those who haven’t heard the gospel. Think about it. God promises these priests, “My name will be great among the nations.” In the midst of their indifference and self-centered worship he says, "THIS IS why you should be in awe of my name-this is the reason I am worthy of your BEST animals—because one day, worshippers from every people group in the world will bow down before me.” That means that, as we work to reach the nations for God, we are partnering with God to give everyone on earth a reason—HIS reason to worship him--that is—all the nations will recognize the greatness of his name. NOTHING is dearer to God’s heart than reaching the unreached, allowing his glory to be seen by all people groups—nothing! The utter centrality of this task should compel all of us to discover what our role in this is.
Ask God if he wants you to GO to the nations so that his name can be great among the nations—is that part God’s mission for you? Maybe you aren’t called to go, but you can help send workers to the nations. As a person who just came from our Middle Eastern missionaries that our church has sent out, consider giving a special gift to them. They need $10,000 to complete an office complex for their ministry. Another family we send as missionaries to South Asia who are currently back on furlough will be going to a conference in Thailand in January where child-care workers are needed—a similar ministry to the one performed by team that recently returned from the U.K. These are other ways you can contribute to the greatest cause—of making God’s name great among the nations. Pray about what your role is in this.
God continues his prosecution of these priests in verse 12. They had been profaning the altar by saying, “what a weariness this is, and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts.” They had grown weary of offering sacrifices to God. They had zero passion for this and the main motivator for them was self-centered, not God-centered--the meat these sacrifices provided them. In response to this, notice how many times God refers to himself as “the LORD of Hosts” in this text. In these 18 verses, he uses “the LORD of Hosts” as his self-designation 11 times. This is one of the more exalted and intimidating titles for God in the Bible because it’s his militant title. This title connotes that he is the Commander of the armies of heaven. We don’t know how many millions or billions of warrior angels are under his command, but it is—by an infinite margin, the most powerful fighting force in the universe—with an omnipotent God as their Commander.
We get some idea as to the strength of this army in Matthew 13:40. Jesus is speaking of his return and says, “40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” D.A. Carson says this designation “all causes of sin and all law-breakers” includes both all human AND demonic enemies of God. We can only guess how many billions of godless creatures this round up will involve, but you’ll notice Jesus doesn’t mention even the slightest bit of resistance. His army takes not even one casualty in this operation, but will—in an unprecedented display of military might, effortlessly sweep away all moral evil—Jesus says, with no more effort than you and I exert pulling weeds. That’s what the host can do and he is Lord of hosts--this vastly powerful angelic army. He is a mighty warrior King!
These priests, who had been repeatedly profaning him needed to be reminded of how mighty was this Lord of hosts whose altar they had been polluting. In verse 14 he says, “…I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations. This term “Great King” is also rich with meaning. In the Ancient Near East, “great king” was a specific, technical term for a supernatural emperor who holds sway over all other kings—who serve him as his vassals. That’s what these priests understood when they heard that God, whose altar they had been polluting, was a “great king.” Again, the implication is clear. The main problem with the priests is--they had forgotten who they were sacrificing to. If they had known God, they would never have offered him a lame, sick or blemished animal.
Now, in chapter two we see God’s response to these apathetic priests. First, he tells them that he will send “the curse” upon them. When God is sending it, “the curse” simply implies: “you will pay for your sin.” Everyone who is cursed by God is destined for condemnation. He also promises to curse the blessings of these priests which means that all the blessings these priests gave to the Jews, God would turn into curses. The reason for this is that the people obviously encouraged the priests to defile God’s altar with their lame and sick animals. Now, God is going to use the priests to judge his people.
Verse three is the climax of God’s warning in chapter two as he promises to “rebuke” the priest’s offspring. The word “rebuke” literally means in this instance to “cut off.” God will cut off future generations of these priests from the covenant. He then promises something our teens might say is “TMI”—too much information. He promises to spread dung on their faces, specifically the dung of these blemished animals, and he promises that he will then carry away both the dung and the priests. The dung he refers to is also translated “the offal” which more precisely was the inedible animal guts—the contents of the stomach, intestines and the fecal material. This is the part of the animal that couldn’t be sacrificed so it was carried outside the camp and burned. Don’t miss this--God is telling these priests that they, with their dung-covered faces, would be carried away—that means, outside the camp for God’s judgment. In the Old Testament “outside the camp” is a place of shame, where carcasses were disposed of and criminals were executed. Also, it’s notable that the text says this was the dung of their “offerings” or more literally, their “festivals.” This picture is even more disgusting because during the three festivals—Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, a LOT of animals were sacrificed. God is telling these priests that he will rub ENORMOUS quantities of this “dung” on their faces and then carry it and them outside the camp. God is so enraged by these priests that he promises to publicly and revoltingly shame them.
God then references Levi, with whom he made the original covenant with the priests. This is back in Numbers 25 when God was punishing the Jews with a plague in response to their Baal worship at Peor. In their pagan debauchery accompanying this Baal worship, some blatant immorality was going on between a Jewish man and a Midianite woman. In his zeal, Phineas, Aaron’s grandson bursts into their tent and skewers them both with a spear which triggered God to halt his plague. In response to that, God tells Moses in verse 11, “11 Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. 12 Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, 13 and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.’ ”
Malachi cites that initial covenant for at least two reasons. First, by recalling the zeal of Phineas, he is implying—“this is the kind of ministry befitting my priests—this kind of zeal for me and my holiness.” Second, he reminds his covenant with Phineas that promised life and peace—shalom. Because they had corrupted the priesthood and broken the covenant, they had forfeited this life of shalom. Verse 8, “You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the LORD of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people…” The people whom they serve will no longer honor them, because God will make them despised and humiliated before the Jews.
This is a withering rebuke that would have absolutely devastated these priests--shaken them to their core. Their sins were really in two classes—their outward, behavioral sins and the internal, heart sins that underlie their behavior. They were lazy in not following God’s laws stipulating temple offerings. They were indifferent to God—they didn’t care that they were profaning what he had ordained to be sacred. They were deeply self-centered because ultimately, they were “serving” God as a way to get meat for themselves—their ministries weren’t ultimately for God, but for what they could get out of it. And what motivated their sin was their failure to recognize God’s holiness, majesty and power. Their cold hearts produced their indifference to God.
We mustn’t think this text doesn’t apply to us because we aren’t part of the Levitical priesthood. Peter tells us, “9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Paul describes the context of our entire life as believers within the context of sacrificial worship. “1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” That means that for us—everything we do, everything we say, everything we think, every attitude and every desire is an offering to God. As living sacrifices, all of our words, thoughts, desires, attitudes and actions are to be lifted up to God as expressions of worship. And God expects from us New Covenant priests at least the level of zeal Phineas displayed in his white-hot devotion to God and his holy name.
I want us to think about the quality of our priestly offerings to God on a day-to-day basis. We are so busy with life’s activities and trying to meet our wants and needs, it doesn’t occur to us to offer our moment-by moment words, thoughts and actions to God are to be a sacrifice to him. A couple of weeks ago I worked at doing this as I cleaned my garage. I wanted to make cleaning my garage not just a necessary evil, but an act of worship. I was convicted that I needed to do this with all things.
In our preoccupation with ourselves, God is diminished—shoved aside by our responsibilities, needs and wants. Also, we can easily think that we ARE serving God when we’re really serving ourselves. All ministries return some sort of blessing(s) to those who do them. We feel a sense of accomplishment, feel good about ourselves, perhaps receive some respect or admiration from others. That’s all good, but the danger is that we start to do the ministry NOT primarily for God, but for the blessing we receive from doing it and that absolutely marginalizes God. As priests of God who have continual access to the most holy place--we are called to live with a sense of awe and wonder in his presence. Hebrews chapter 12 tells us, “28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.” How does your level of passion for God compare to Phineas and his white-hot zeal for God’s name to be vindicated? Do we at times feel weary because we’ve lost sight of just who it is we are serving? What about laziness? Do we work hard to do our best in all things—because we are offering them to God as an expression of worship?
Finally, these priests weren’t relating to God from the heart—they were just going through the motions disconnected from any passion for God? Sound familiar? We must see how our lives intersect with these priests—When we’re not zealous for God, or are feeling weary because we’ve forgotten who it is we are serving—when we’re indifferent to God—too often just going through the motions—when we’re lazy—we must see that as the equivalent of offering sick, lame and blind animals to God. We are offering to God far less than our best—often less than what we offer our teachers, professors or bosses. Don’t misunderstand. We must never allow our sin to bring us into self-pity or self-condemnation. Acknowledging our sin is the first step back to a dynamic walk with Jesus. Remember, we big sinners have a big Savior!
As we close, let’s think about how we can by God’s grace begin to fan into flames our flagging devotion. In Romans chapter two, Paul tells us that it’s the kindness of God that he intends to lead us to repentance. So let’s shine the light on God’s greatest work of kindness…the gospel—and it’s all over this text. Paul says it’s the gospel that is “the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes.” He doesn’t say the gospel is the power of God for conversion—the one-time act of turning in faith from our sins to Jesus. The gospel is what savED us, IS saving us and WILL save us in the future. Paul tells the Corinthian believers in First Corinthians 15:1-2, “1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you…” The gospel Paul preached is the power of our salvation by which believers are being saved—present tense--and the condition is--if we are holding fast, treasuring the gospel. The gospel is saving me NOW. First Corinthians 1:18 says the same thing. “For the word of the cross [the gospel] is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The gospel is the power of God for us NOW to create and turbo-charge zeal for God in our hearts.
Here are seven ways this text points to the gospel. As we meditate on these, these truths can release the power of the gospel to increase our zeal for God. 1. Through our laziness, indifference and lack of zeal for God, we’re not consistently offering up our bodies as living sacrifices and are therefore unfaithful priests much of the time. But we can repent as we remember and meditate on God’s kindness to us in Jesus, who came as the perfect High Priest and perfectly fulfilled the responsibilities of our priesthood. That means--when God looks at our life of ragged and inconsistent lives of worship, he sees the priesthood of Jesus-- no laziness, indifference or self-centeredness. He always did what pleased the Father and his perfect priesthood is copied and pasted onto ours. 2. Like the priests in Malachi who do not know God, we also serve him in many ways that are not at all fitting for a God of majesty and glory. But we can repent as we reflect on the truth that Jesus came and died on a cross for us so that we might know God—have a day-to-day experience of his majesty and glory and love.
3. Our spiritual lives are so ragged at times; like these priests in Malachi, we deserve to have God shut the door on our lives so he doesn’t have to look at us and our often half-hearted service anymore. But we can repent in response to God’s kindness in the gospel as we internalize the truth that Christ permanently opened the door for us to the most holy place where God dwells because HE was shut off from the Father in our place when he offered up his body as a living and unblemished sacrifice in our place on the cross.
3. Because our spiritual lives are so often marked by sloppiness, laziness and a lack of passion for God, we deserve the curse of God—a promise from God that we will pay for our sin. But we can instead be renewed in our love for Jesus as we remember that Christ became a curse for us paying for our sin so we wouldn’t have to bear God’s condemnation. 4. Christ, through his blood cleansed the sins, not only of the Jew, but also of his elect in all the nations, so that one day soon, sinners from every people group in the world will recognize that HIS NAME IS GREAT!—that HE is the LORD of hosts—the Great King of all kings. That promise should bring joy to any believer’s soul! 5. Like those ragged priests in Malachi, we too deserve to be despised and humiliated for our often ridiculous indifference to God. But Jesus, publicly hung naked on the cross and was despised and humiliated for us.
6. As self-centered priests who so often serve God for what we can get out of it, we deserve to have our offspring cut off, but we can repent of our self-centeredness as we remember God’s kindness in that he will never cut off believers because he cut off his Son… by having him carried outside the camp…to the cross… where he was covered, not with dung, but something infinitely worse—your sin and my sin which brought on him the Father’s holy wrath that we deserved.
Beloved, to the degree that we internalize those gospel truths; we will serve much more zealously as priests. As we see our Great High Priest high and lifted up as we just have, by God’s grace we’ll increasingly be changed from glory to glory to be like him. This is how we change—really change in our hearts as the gospel, the power of God for salvation comes into the believer’s life in Holy Spirit-driven, fresh ways and repeatedly brings us to Jesus--as we see the greatness of our sin and the greatness of our Savior—as the kindness of God leads us to repentance. May God give us the grace to receive the gospel and then live out the radically changed life it produces here and to the nations.
Page last modified on 9/9/2012
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