There are some people, some groups, some churches who cannot imagine a God who is angry. For them, if there is such a being as God, all he can do is love, by which they mean that he is the most non-divisive, why-can’t-we-just-all-get-along, minds-his-own-business kind of God. They imagine God patting people on the head, telling them to be the best they can, not to worry about the details, to just follow their dreams. That is how some people imagine God.
And then there are some people, some groups, some churches who cannot imagine a God who loves. For them, if God extends any goodwill toward people it is only in the form of a transaction, because the people have kept the rules and paid their dues. They imagine God to be stingy, to be a helper of those who help themselves, who tells people just not to be lousy, to seek self-improvement, to go get a job. That is how some people imagine God.
And then there is God himself, who says in Exodus 34, that he is:
merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty… (verses 6–7)
This means that God is more a God of love than any of us could ever imagine. And God is more angered by sin than we could ever comprehend.
God is essentially a God of love, who drenches us in mercy that never runs out. And because of his love and holiness, he infuriates sin. To sin is to snub God, to spread lies about him, to exchange the gift of himself for the trifles of this world, and when that happens, when people made by and for him rebel against him like that, God responds in wrath.
God loves, and God gets angry.
And we have seen this in the Minor Prophets vividly. God is relentless to judge Israel for her sin. He will by no means clear the guilty. And he is relentless even more, over and over again, to show mercy — to rescue his people with a ferocious, stubborn love that will not stop. We see this throughout the entire Bible, and we’ve seen this in Hosea through Zechariah, and we will see this again today in Malachi.
So we are in Malachi — which means that after 11 weeks we have finally made it to this 12th book in this section called the Minor Prophets. And I’m happy to be here. I hope you’re happy to be here. This is has been a sweet study for our church, and I’m excited for what’s next. So what I want to do today is just show you two things that are happening in the book of Malachi that I think are an appropriate conclusion to this series. Here they are:
The people of God are in settled disarray. God is going to set things straight.
So we will look at these, and then I’ll close with my favorite part.
The Settled Disarray
So first, the settled disarray. This is what’s going on with the people of Israel. The context of this book is the same as Haggai and Zechariah. So remember, there is a shift that happens at the end of Zephaniah, and our focus as readers is turned to the coming restoration that God has promised. Historically, and we see the people have been in captivity, first, by Babylon, and then by the Persians, and in the Persian period, the people were allowed to return back to Jerusalem. In the books of Haggai and Zechariah (the two before this one) we see the people are back in Jerusalem and they are rebuilding the temple, and God reminds them of his promise to send the Messiah, the priest-king within the line of David.
But now, by the time we get to Malachi, the people are still back in Jerusalem, but they are pretty much disillusioned. The shabbiness of their new temple has set in. Cynicism has gotten a foothold in their hearts. And the people have settled into disarray. By that I mean that things are still in disorder. Jerusalem is not what it used to be. They are still ruled by a foreign king. But now the people are used to it. They have settled into it. They pretty much just sit around all day long in their pajamas and watch reruns of the Price Is Right . . . . and occasionally they complain about God.
There are four snapshots in the book that show us this, two of them are things the people do, and then two are the things they say. And I want us to see these to understanding what’s going on. These are snapshots of the people’s settled disarray:
1. The people offer God polluted sacrifices (1:8–14).
So in the history of Israel, in the Old Testament, before the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus, there was an elaborate sacrificial system. And there were specifications on the kinds of sacrifices that the people of Israel could offer God. And one of the simplest details in that system was that the people were to give God their best. The sacrifice communicated devotion to God, and therefore, God says very clearly in Leviticus 22:20, “You shall not offer anything that has a blemish, for it will not be acceptable for you.” In other words, God says, if you love me, don’t give me your scraps.
Look at Malachi 1:6. God says:
6A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’
7By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the LORD’s table may be despised.
8When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts.”
Now, this last sentence in verse 8 is important. God says, basically, what you are giving me is so shoddy that it would not even be accepted by your human governor, and you know that. In other words, Israel had more respect for the people in power over them than they did for God. They gave God an offering so blemished that they would not give it to their mayor. God calls it evil. That’s the first snapshot.
2. The people sin against one another (2:14–15).
There were probably all kinds of ways that the people mistreated and sinned against one another, but the one that God highlights in Malachi is the rampant unfaithfulness of Israel’s men to their wives. Look at 2:13.
And this second thing you do. You cover 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.” But you say, “Why does he not?” [God says that the people were confused that he didn’t accept their offering, and their attitude was like: Why doesn’t God just lighten up and accept our blemished offerings?]
[God answers:] Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.
So some of the men, a lot of the men, were abandoning their families. That is what is happening here in Malachi 2. The men, in this settled disarray, decided they wanted to ditch the wife of their youth and instead chase after other women. So they disregarded the covenant they had made to their wives, and they moved out, and left behind them, alone, were their wives and children stuck in the ruin of these mens’ sin. And you see what happens here. It just perpetuates the disarray: broken men make broken families who make broken culture which produces more broken men.
And let me just say to the men for a minute: we are all of us broken, one way or another. It’s not easy to detach ourselves from the culture of brokenness that, in many ways, has produced us. We’ve been breathing that air for so long, and what that means is that if we are going find the restoration and healing we need, it will have to come from something outside of us, something counter-cultural. Our culture, our society of brokenness, does not have the resources to heal the men it has ruined. That is especially true for a society who, as we saw in a story last week, celebrates a 46-year-old man who leaves his wife and seven children to become a woman and live as a six-year-old girl. Some of you may have read about this. A 46-year-old man had a sex change and now lives and identifies as a six-year-old girl. And when a society calls that courageous, that society can no longer help men — not unless you think helping men is telling them it’s okay to be six-year-old girls. This is where we are. We need help from the outside. If we are going to be healed, it must come from somewhere else because we live in a mess. [If you want to be a man, you need the church.] It’s a mess in Israel, here in Malachi 2.
There are two more snapshots to look at quickly, these are what the people think and say.
3. The people think God doesn’t care about evil (2:17).
Look at 2:17,
You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”
In other words, the people were so used to things being in disarray that they saw reality upside down. They were so used to the brokenness around them, and had seen so many evil things left unpunished that they thought God didn’t care. Or they knew, at least in theory, that God is righteous and he opposes evil, but when it came down to everyday life, to living on the ground where we live, they looked around and said: “Where the heck is that God? . . . because I don’t see him here.”
There are but so many terrorist attacks you can see on the news before you begin to think that God doesn’t care about terrorist attacks. There is but so much prosperity for evil people that we can handle before we begin to wonder if any of it really matters. And that is where the people actually take this. In 2:17 they say that God must not be righteous because evil exists, but then by 3:14, we see the fourth snapshot of their disarray.
4. The people think that God is just a big waste of time (3:14).
“You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts?”
Do see what they are saying here? They’re thinking: To serve God, to trust God, to do what God says, the whole category of God — it is just a big waste of time. What do does it do? What do we get from it?
See, there is but so much lack of change in our lives and in our situations, before we come to a point where we say or at least we think: What good is any of this?
We want things to be different. We desire good changes, but it’s goes so slow and it lasts so long that we wonder sometimes if we are just wasting our time. How does it profit us to trust in God?
That is the question, and you know what I mean. We’ve been there. We are there — in this kind of settled disarray. . . so much confusion, so many things backwards, that we wonder if it’s even worth it. That is where the people of Israel find themselves in the book of Malachi.
And it’s not hard to get where they are. It is actually pretty simple. And it happens in every case when other things become more real to us than God. . . . .
You know the reason Israel offered sacrifices to God they wouldn’t offer their governor? Because their governor was more real to them than God.
You know the reason the men left their wives to chase after other women? Because their sinful desires were more real to them than God.
Or know the reason Israel said God doesn’t mind evil? Because the things they saw around them were more real than God and what he says.
The reason Israel thought God was just a big waste of time? Because things had accumulated to the point that everything around them was becoming more real than God.
Their hope was being eclipsed by darkness, and reality as they knew it no longer had any space for God. They pushed him out. They could not see him any more. And when this happens, for them and for us, the only way out is to see through the darkness. The only way we get out of our settled disarray is to see that actually, although it may not look like it, or I may not feel it, God is more real than anything. And the only way we see that is if God says something to us.
And that’s what he does.
God Sets Things Straight
This leads us to the second and final point of the sermon: God is going to set things straight.
Look at his promise in Malachi 3:1,
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare 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.”
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
These verses are talking about the same person, this is about a prophet God would send to Israel. We learn about him in the New Testament as John the Baptist, and his job description was to set things straight.
John the Baptist was a fascinating person. He was basically an Old Testament prophet, a prophet like Elijah, that we see at the beginning of the New Testament. He is really the guy who sort of passes the baton from the Old Testament to the New. It’s like he steps off the pages of Malachi into the pages of the Gospels and bridges them together. And his mission was to prepare the way, to set things straight, to lay the runway for Jesus.
And what is especially important about John the Baptist is that he is God’s grace to Israel, not God’s wrath. John the Baptist is coming to look Israel in the face, to put his hands on Israel’s shoulders, and to say: “Hey, snap out of it.”
That how he prepares the way for Jesus. He comes to Israel and he helps them see, he helps them remember that God is more real than anything else. You can and should do what God says because God’s voice is more real than all the other voices around you. You stay faithful to your marriage, and to all your commitments, because the grace that fuels your faithfulness is greater than the sin tries to ruin it. You are not ultimately the product of your culture because the gospel of God is more real than your culture, and it touches areas of your soul that only it can. You are not wasting your time by trusting in God because no matter what you see, no matter what happens around you, God really is sovereign over it all, and one day that will be clear, just hang on. Hang on. Hang on. That is what the prophet, John the Baptist, is doing.
But how do we know God will do what he says? What if we’ve ruined things too badly? What if God looks at us and changes his mind and thinks that we are a lost cause? What if our settled disarray is too messed up for him to bother setting it straight?
God’s Electing Love
This is the part I’ve been trying to get to. The reason that God comes in grace to his people, no matter what, is found at the beginning of this book, in Malachi 1:2, in the words:
I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated.
God loves Israel. God loves his people. That is the reality that hangs over the book of Malachi, and over the whole Minor Prophets. It’s that God loves his people, and he loves them not because of who they are or what they’ve done, but he loves them because he loves them.
That’s what the whole “Jacob I have loved but Esau I have hated” part is about. The apostle Paul talks about this passage in the New Testament and says that the truth in it, the truth of it, is that God’s love cannot be deserved. God loves Jacob, not Esau, not because Jacob is better than Esau, not because he made better grades, or because he was a standout athlete, not because he could play the piano. Go back and read the story in Genesis 27 — Jacob was not very lovable. But God loves him because God loves him. In the Bible, this truth about God’s sovereign love is called election. It means that God has chosen to love his people not because of who they are, but because of who he is.
We see this in the Old Testament, when God tells Israel straightforwardly in Deuteronomy 7 and 9 that he loves them in spite of who they are. He says it’s not because they were a mighty nation — they weren’t. It’s not because they were a virtuous people — they weren’t. But he loves them because he chose to love them. We see the same thing in the New Testament, when Paul talks about God’s electing love for his church. In Ephesians 1 Paul says that for everyone who trusts in Jesus, you were chosen by God before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3). It was before you were born, before you had done anything good or bad, before you were a broken man living in a broken world, before you had settled into disarray, God chose you in Jesus. God set his love on you then, and connected your story to his story then.
God’s love comes from his own sovereign, prerogative, and that means something really important that I hope you never forget. It’s that . . .
because God’s sovereign love cannot be deserved, it also cannot be lost.
You didn’t make God love you, and you can’t make God not love you. His love is that ferocious, that stubborn. It doesn’t matter how bad things get, it doesn’t matter the kind of disarray you find yourself in, or the questions you might have, or the brokenness, or the confusion. God loves you because he chose to and that means that he’s not going anywhere. [He’s not. He’s there. Right now. He’s there.]
That is what’s happening in Malachi. The whole reason God ever made a promise to Israel, and then promises on top of promises, goes back to him choosing to love them. That’s the only way he endures their years of recklessness. . . . That’s the only way that he, even in this midst of their settled disarray, can say I’m not done with you. I’m sending somebody. He’s going to set things straight and pave the way for the ultimate grace, because hey, Israel, world, if you think I’m merciful and gracious and abounding steadfast love, you haven’t seen anything yet.
And that is what brings us to the Table.
This Friday is Christmas, the most wonderful time of the year, with parties for hosting and marshmallows for roasting, and for us to remember, as Pastor David said, that Christmas morning is always connected to Good Friday. Jesus came to die for us, and it was in his death, that God’s showed his sovereign love to us most vividly. That’s how he says it. That while we were ungodly, when we were still sinners, when we were our most unlovable, God showed his loved for us by Jesus dying on the cross for us.
And we remember that now, at this table. If you’re here and you rest in his love, if you say, “Yes, he loves me and that’s my only hope.” If you can say that this morning, we invite you to eat and drink with the members of Cities Church. If you are here, and you can’t say that yet, if you still don’t see it that way, if you have more questions, then you can just pass the bread and cup down the row. And I’d love to connect with you and hear where you’re at with Jesus.