Malachi 3 – Ready or Not …

Mark Wheeler
November 16, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Malachi 3:1-10
Ready or Not …

God of all loveliness and beauty, even the humblest of creatures finds its home close to You. May Your Church be a place of safety to every wanderer who seeks You, to every believer who trusts You, to every disciple who follows You. We pray this in Jesus; name. Amen.

How many people in this room remember the “street lights rule”? Did you have this rule when you were a kid? “When the street lights come on, I want you in the house!”
That was kind of our regular rule. And since I did most of my growing up in southern CA, even the wintertime street lights came on late enough in the day to have enjoyed a good game of street football or hide ’n’ seek. I remember really not wanting to be “it” at dusk – b/c, you know, I’d still be “it” when the street lights came on. So if I was “it” at dusk, I would do my count to 100 in high speed and holler “Ready or not … here I come!”

We have invested September and October listening to the Old Testament prophet Micah and heard him remind us that even though there are so many ways in which we fall short of meeting God’s standards, we can always count on His unconditional love. Micah kept reminding us of God’s worthiness of our worship.
In November we have been in the book of Malachi. This is the very last book in the Old Testament, and it was written, probably, around the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, also among the final books written in the Old Testament. We know almost nothing about Malachi, except that his name means “My messenger” or maybe “My angel”. Malachi continues the theme of God’s worthiness, but his emphasis is on our responsibility to worship Him well.

Hear the Word of God from Malachi 3:1-10…. —-
1 “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.
2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.
5 “So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty. …
7 “Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
8 “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”

Ready or not … here comes God’s messenger. Who is God’s messenger?
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.” This book was written somewhere around 450BC , so who was this “messenger who comes to prepare for God’s arrival”? Let me start that conversation by reminding you that Malachi, who wrote this prophecy, his name means “my messenger”! Is this God’s way of saying, “OK you boneheaded priests – remember that that probably refers to everybody in this room, in the New Testament we are all called priests! – OK you boneheaded priests, pay attention to this prophet! He is telling you something you need to know!” God’s messenger could be Malachi!
Who else might this be a reference to? Any suggestions? – John the Baptist, we are told, was Isaiah’s fulfilled prophecy to prepare the way of the Lord! Elijah was supposed to come before the Messiah – and it looks like Jesus claimed that John the Baptist filled that role. God’s messenger could be John the Baptist!
Any other suggestions? Jesus Christ Himself! Yes, He’s coming to prepare the way for Himself – but, remember, when He came as a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes – and lived and preached and healed and raised the dead – and was killed and was resurrected for our sakes – He did all of that in His first coming – someday He is coming back! God’s messenger could be Jesus!
One more suggestion? Since Jesus did already come once – as is easily proven by radio stations already playing nothing-but-Christmas music! – maybe we can read this messenger as describing you and me! In Mark’s version of the great commission, He did, after all, tell us, Jesus’ followers, to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
God says in Malachi 3:1, “I will send a messenger to prepare the way before me”. Could that messenger be His Church? The next several verses look more like Christ’s second coming than His first – “Who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? A refiner’s fire – a launderer’s soap – I will put you on trial (Judgment Day!).” Can we be His faithful messenger?
Ready or not …

Next in this passage comes the topic of how we become faithful messengers. The wording in the passage is – we’re not faithful messengers … yet. But, when we return to God, God will return to us!
How would Malachi (My messenger) have us return to God? What’s the secret?
This is where Malachi enters the one subject of preaching that seems to be most offensive to Americans – it’s not sin – it’s not Jesus’ second coming – it’s not even hell. It is money!
The reason Americans get offended when the topic of money comes up in a sermon is that we have worshiped money more than any other idol or god, far more. And we don’t even think we do it!
There is probably no other thing in life that touches every area of life more than money – except God Himself. And there is little that Jesus talked about more than money!

Are you one who is now rolling your eyes? Seriously, Wheeler? “Money” again?!
Ready or not ….

The LORD asks “Will a mortal rob God? [The implied question is, do you really think you can get away with it?] Yet you rob me.”
Who here takes offense to that? Me too. And so did Malachi’s original readers. We’re supposed to take offense – because, in fact, God takes offense. How do we rob God? Malachi answers that question:
“In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—your whole nation [read that as family, church, denomination, etc] —because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.

We do not like it when we think God is withholding His blessings from us. We ask things like, Why would God allow that to happen? This is a good person.
But the truth is that we withhold our giving all the time. And we see nothing wrong with it. We defend it. There are lots of reasons why we withhold our giving, and they all make sense.
But God expects a tithe offering. In fact for New Testament people, it could be argued that God expects a full 100% offering – but He accepts a 10% tithe offering! What does “tithe” mean? 10%.
When we faithfully give a 10% tithe:
• It shows our submission to God’s ownership. Everything we have, and are, is God’s already! Are we willing to submit to Him as Lord and Savior? He says we owe 10%. Less than that is robbing Him.
• It keeps us humble. What I have is not mine – it is God’s, but put under my care!
• It prevents us from worshiping money! If I am willing to generously give it away, I am unable to worship it as a god! If I give it back to God, then God gets His rightful place in my life.

And maybe my favorite thing about this passage is God’s guarantee. This is a covenant agreement. This is not just a command. It is more than a mere challenge. And, I want to be clear that I am not saying that when we give the church more money we will definitely prosper financially – there are plenty of places in Scripture that argue that kind of theology down. But in this particular passage God goes so far as to dare us to not faithfully follow through with our side of the covenant.
He says, literally, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”

Without faith it is impossible to honor God’s name. That faith is shown in our trust. Will we trust God to take care of us? Do we trust God to see us through? Can we trust God to bless us beyond our blessing to God?!
On Thursday, Dale and Kathy Sandusky and I were at the Presbytery meeting, and the pastor from Clarkston preached from the passage that we will be reading on Thanksgiving day; and one of the things he asked was about how we bless God.
Do you all know the passages that say we are to bless God? Most of the time the Bible speaks of times and ways God blesses His people; there are prayers for God to bless us; occasionally there are phrases that say things like “Blessed is the Lord”; but sometimes, like Psalm 66:8, it is a command: “O bless our God, ye people, and make the voice of his praise to be heard.”
How do we do that? is a great question. Blessings travel from the bigger, greater to the smaller, lesser. How do little old us bless the God of the universe? Ready or not … by trusting Him!

This is what the whole tithe thing really is about. It’s about trusting God more than we trust money! God’s guarantee is that when we trust Him, His blessings will pour out so much that we will not have room to store it. I don’t know exactly what that means – but I want to be ready.

Ready or not … the streetlights are coming on! God’s messenger is here – and the day of the Lord is coming! Let’s trust Him with everything! Amen!

Resources:
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 501.

Smith, Ralph L.; Word Biblical Commentary 32; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1984; Pp. 325-334.

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Malachi 1 – Is It a Burden to Bring It to God?

Mark Wheeler
November 2, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Malachi 1
Is It a Burden to Bring It to God?

There’s an old story about a man on his deathbed who called his preacher, his doctor and his lawyer to visit him. “I have $30,000 left in the bank and I want to take it all with me when I die. So, I’m giving each of you an envelope with $10,000 cash in it. At my funeral, I want each of you to come and put your envelope in my coffin.” The man died, and each of the three did what he asked. Later in the week they met up with each other to talk about the experience. The preacher said, “I’m sure that if he’d thought about it more brother Smith would have wanted to help out with the new church organ. So I took $2,000 out of the envelope and put $8,000 in the coffin.” The doctor confessed, “Well, he complimented me on the care I provided him when he was ill and I knew he’d want to help fund my new clinic so I took $5,000 out and deposited $5,000 in the coffin.” The lawyer said, “I did better than both of you. I took the $8,000 you left preacher, and I took the $5,000 you left doctor. I also kept my $10,000. But to be fair I left behind in the coffin a check for the $30,000.”
John Piper in his book Desiring God writes, “money is the currency of the Kingdom of God. What you do with it—or desire to do with it—can make or break your happiness forever.”

One of the most important things we can gain from our worship together is the ability to grasp what the Bible has to say about stewardship and for us to begin to put a few simple, but important, principles to work in the way we look at and use our resources.

To that end we are investing the next four Sundays to the Old Testament prophet Malachi. This is the very last book in the Old Testament, and it was written, probably, around the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, also among the final books written in the Old Testament. We know almost nothing about Malachi, except that his name means “My messenger” or maybe “My angel”.
We just finished going through the Old Testament prophet Micah and saw how worthy God is of our worship. Malachi continues that theme, but his emphasis is on our responsibility to worship Him well.

A warning and a heads-up: This sermon will talk about money. For those who think that that’s all the church ever talks about – hang around for another month and you’ll see how wrong that assumption is; but the Bible does spend significant page-space on the topic of finances – so we are dedicating a few weeks there, too.

Hear the Word of God from Malachi 1:1-14…. —-
1 A prophecy [oracle, revelation, burden]: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi [My messenger]. 2 “I have loved you,” says the LORD. [Even with all of Israel’s unfaithfulness, infidelity, God still loves them.]
“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’
“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob, 3 but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” [The words Malachi uses here are “covenant words”. What “loved” and “hated” mean here is that God freely chose Jacob, the younger brother, without Jacob doing anything to deserve it; and He did not choose Esau. We can ask “why?” but we won’t get a clear answer. The point of this “oracle” is that God loves His chosen people. We New Testament people get the same revelation when we read John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son …” – Why? Beyond our ability to comprehend, but it’s true!]
… 6 “A son honors his father, and a slave his master. 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. “It is you priests who show contempt for my name. “But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’
7 “By offering defiled food on my altar. “But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’
“By saying that the LORD’s table is contemptible. 8 When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty. [Did you catch the language used here? It sounds like the fifth Commandment – to “honor your father and you mother”. And while the opening verses are directed to all Israel – God loves you; these verses are directed at the priests – who do not properly “honor” God. I would submit that since we believe in the “priesthood of all believers”, this exhortation is directed at me, yes, but also at all who claim to follow Jesus. How have we not honored God appropriately? Verse 8 says, “you offer blind, lame, diseased animals” (read that as “sacrifices that are not ‘sacrifices’ at all”). If what we offer is anything other than our best – our best time, our best ability, our best tithe, our best attention – then it isn’t really a sacrifice; it’s just left-overs, extras. So Malachi brings it home, “Just try offering those ‘sacrifices’ to your governor! I dare you!”] …
[and then Malachi closes chapter 1 with the great proclamation that Paul made clear in Philippians – that at the right time, “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord”. Listen to Malachi:]
… 11 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.
12 “But you profane it by saying, ‘The Lord’s table is defiled,’ and, ‘Its food is contemptible.’ 13 And you say, ‘What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously,” says the LORD Almighty.
“When you bring injured, lame or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?” says the LORD. 14 “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the LORD Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.

The question this Bible passage forces me to ask is, “Is it really a burden to bring my best to the Lord?” If it is such a burden, a hardship, how much do I really love God?
The scriptures teach us that excellence, our very best, always honors God. Colossians 3:23 reminds us, “Whatever you do, work it with all your heart.” This is the opposite of doing just enough to get by; mediocrity seldom honors anybody – it never honors God.
God considers “lukewarm” offerings, half-hearted service, service that demands credit, service with a grumbly spirit, as cheating Him!

We are a pretty creative lot, we Christians are. I’ll bet if I were to ask for reasonable excuses why we might not be willing to give God our best, we could come up with a pretty creative list. Here’s the list I came up with – see if you agree with any of these, or maybe your list is even better:
• Giving our “best” takes a real effort. I already take care of my family, or my job, or my hobby – giving to God would be a real burden, and since God is in the forgiveness-business, I’ll be alright.
• I already give more than the guy sitting down the pew from me. Compared to what she gives, I’m golden. So, yeah, I know God “gave His only begotten Son”, but I’m faithfully giving what’s readily available.
• I read that the average American church-goer gives between 2% and 3% of their total income to their church; I give almost 3-½%. That’s gotta be good enough!
• Do you realize how much 10% is?! Do you know that I’m saving for a new car? If God wants to bless me, maybe He’ll bless my lottery ticket this month! Then I’d up my giving! [Did you hear about the newly ordained pastor, preaching for his first stewardship drive, he challenged the congregation: “I upped my giving! Up yours!”]
Things haven’t really changed much. These are the same “creative excuses” given throughout time. The difference between Cain’s offering and Abel’s? Abel gave the best of his flock; Cain gave what was handy. Abel wanted to honor God, Cain wanted to appease God’s righteous wrath. Luke (9) tells the story of the rightful cost to be a follower of Jesus: 57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 59 He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” 62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Even more important than what we offer God is our heart, our attitude, when we bring our offering to God. Over and over in the Old Testament we hear God say that it is not sacrifices that are meaningful, it is the heart of the believer. In the New Testament Jesus points out the widow who gives a tidbit into the offering, and she is praised because her tidbit was everything she had, but the large sums of cash offered by the wealthy were condemned because they were giving of their leftovers, or to show off.
If it’s a “burden to bring to God” what He deserves, maybe our heart isn’t right, maybe our faith needs a realignment.
Have you heard the story about the very wealthy man who came to his pastor asking for prayer. He confessed that when he was poor he was a faithful tither; when he made enough to pay all his bills, he still tithed regularly; when his earnings surpassed his dreams, he still gave pretty generously; but now when his annual income was in the 100s of 1,000s, he was the largest giver in his community but it was only 2% of his income. He asked his pastor to pray for his soul. So the pastor held his hand and bowed his head and prayed, “Dear Lord, please make this man’s salary what it was when he used to be a faithful tither.”

Chuck Swindoll has said, “Excellence is a difficult concept to communicate because it can easily be misread
as neurotic perfectionism or snooty sophistication. But it is neither. On the contrary, it is the stuff of
which greatness is made. It is the difference between just getting by and soaring – that which sets
apart the significant from the superficial, the lasting from the temporary.”
II Timothy 2:15 – “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

Today we come to the Table of the LORD – yes, to receive from Him the gift of Life through His Son’s death and resurrection – but also to offer Him our very best. God has offered His Son for our sakes – what are we offering Him today? Is it a burden to bring it to God? Or is it a privilege?

Resources:
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 496.

Smith, Ralph L.; Word Biblical Commentary 32; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1984; Pp. 296-317.