Malachi 3:6-18 ~ A New Year's Encouragement to Persevere
Please turn with me in your Bibles to Malachi. I thought for this, the first day of January 2017, I would give a word of encouragement from the Father. As we begin a new year of ministry and service toward King, I thought we should consider this text from Malachi chapter 3. Before we jump in I would like to just pray and ask the Lord to open our minds to see and understand what he is sharing with us, with his word this morning.
Father we do ask that you would open our minds. We pray God that your spirit would work in our hearts. We ask that you would show us the marvelous and wonderful things from your word this morning. We pray these things in Jesus name, amen.
As we begin a new year, as we start off into 2017, there are lots of exciting things that have been in the works and that we’ve been planning and have been working towards and we will begin to see some of those things coming to fruition in 2017. We are very excited to, hopefully in the next couple of months, be starting a bus ministry. We are excited to get that Van up and running and to begin giving rides to some of our senior folks on Sunday mornings who may not be able to drive anymore. As well, we would like to provide rides in the middle of the week for folks coming out for the 55+ luncheon. In addition to that, we are eager to begin reaching out to university students, to share our view, and give university students rides on Sunday mornings. There are a number of men who’ve committed and pledged themselves to driving the van and that is one new ministry that were excited and looking forward to this next year.
Ryan Bleyenberg, our youth pastor, has many plans he has set in motion for the youth group, as I announced last week, that are getting a lot of interest even though it’s a holiday season. Also, many of you have expressed interest and want to know more about these Tenant Talks that we’re hoping to start in March on Sunday mornings prior to the worship service which discusses the basic tenants and doctrines of the Christian faith. The men who are involved in writing that material, in putting together all those different courses that were going to be offering in March, they are very excited. The men who are going to be driving the van are very excited and there’s a lot of excitement and a lot of enthusiasm as we start 2017.
At the same time as I consider those individuals who are excited and passionate about the new things that we’re going to be starting 2017, I can’t help but also reflect on what was 2016. I can’t help but reflect on the fact that for some of us in this room, as we say goodbye to 2016, perhaps we are feeling a little bit discouraged. Perhaps we are feeling that we did not see as much fruit for our efforts, we did not see as much reward for our labors in 2016 as we would have liked to have seen. If you are of that particular bent this morning or you are feeling exhausted or you’re feeling worn out from serving the Lord or perhaps you find yourself this morning in the camp that is excited and ready to get going regardless of whether your worn-out or whether you’re excited. We all know that there’s going to be more disappointments, more difficulties and more obstacles that will come. If you’re excited, well I’m glad for your excitement. I’m glad for your enthusiasm. We will come up against the enemy again in 2017. If we thought 2016 was hard, you are going to find it even a little bit more difficult as we step forward into 2017.
So as we start this year what we really need from the father is a word of encouragement to us to persevere. Turn to Malachi where we look for that encouragement because what we find a Malachi is a letter written to a group of people who are doing the best that they can, but perhaps they could be doing it even better. Malachi is written sometime between 424 BC and 433 BC. We have that 7 to 10 year window where were not exactly sure when it was written. Malachi is contemporary Nehemiah. The situation is this, you are all familiar Israel has been dragged off into captivity, they’ve been to Babylon for many decades now and there’s been an initial return about 100 years prior to the writing of Malachi. About 50,000 exiles under the leadership and guidance of Sheshbazzar have returned from Babylon to Jerusalem. They’ve come home and in a lot of ways they’ve kind of begun to make a start in terms of their walk with the Lord. They’ve rebuilt the Temple, they have rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem, they’ve started to put into motion a couple of things that will lead to the security of the city and ultimately provide for the worship of the Father. At the same time, just 100 years in, they have gotten sidetracked. They’ve become discouraged. They’ve in some sense lost their way. They’ve begun to flirt with other temptations and they’ve begun to look at other passions. Their focus has kind of shifted a little bit from the Father.
The father encourages them in Malachi chapter 3 verse 16. Here’s what the text says, “Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them talking, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. 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. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.” I find that to be one of the most incredibly encouraging verses in the whole Bible because there is a promise that is there for you and for me, that if we fear the Lord and esteemed his name, if that is true of us then regardless of the results, regardless of how the situation looks despite our best efforts, if everything is still more or less in shambles, the Lord hears us, he sees us and he hears what’s going on in our hearts and he is right here with us.
Despite outward appearances he’s promising us there’s a day coming in which the whole world will see that we are his children, we are his people, there’s a promise that regardless of how things look, they look great to God if the condition of our hearts is to serve Him, to love Him, if we have a heart like the Father’s heart.
So I am going to give you that encouragement this morning. Again, there’s a condition here. There’s a promise but, that promise comes with a condition and comes with a warning. You’ll notice, as it says here in verse 16, “Then those who feared the Lord.” That “then” is a transitive verb. It means, now after what has come before something happens, some people who fear the Lord got together and they spoke together and the Lord heard that and made a promise. What does “then” signify? This signifies that there has been a development and something’s happened previously. In order to understand why these people are coming together and speaking to each other we have to look further back into the text. So, this promise really starts all the way back in verse 6. God makes a statement to the people of Israel “For I the Lord do not change;” he makes a promise to them; he says I’m a covenantal God, I won’t change, my promises will not change and as a result of that, therefore; you children of Jacob are not consumed. That’s pretty strong language. He is saying, I would permit you to be consumed except for the fact that I made a promise, except for the fact that I am a covenantal God keeping faith to all generations. It says here “From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.”
Now the nation of Israel was doing a number of things, you would have to go back and read the whole book of Malachi, so I will just give you a couple snapshots. Number one they are specifically intermarrying with women and engaging in relationships with other nations and they are compromising their worship. They are allowing influences into their lives through their marriages that will draw their hearts away from the Lord. That’s one of the criticisms that He has. Another criticism that He has is that the priests are not taking their job seriously in the Temple. They are not seriously trying to call the people together and they are not seriously trying to lead the nation of Israel to worship. The other criticism is that when they offer to the Lord, make sacrifices to the Lord, they are not really seeking to honor the Lord. They are sort of finding what is absolutely required, bringing a lamb to offer on the altar. They are thinking that while the Bible would have me to offer my very best lamb, maybe there’s a lame sickly lamb that I don’t really care to eat anyway. I’ll take that lame sick lamb and offer that to God. All throughout the book of Malachi, God is looking at these different practices and thinking, your sort of engaging in this formalistic ritual and you’re going through the motions but, your heart is far from me. You are not actually passionate for me. That criticism comes to a boil here as we enter into chapter 3. He says, you’re not consumed you’re not wiped off the map because I don’t change. You have abandoned the statutes and you’ve abandoned the Commandments but, I do not change. I draw encouragement from that verse by the simple fact if I were to present to you this question, where is Israel? You can all point to it on a map. There is Israel. If I say to you, where are the Philistines? They’re nowhere. Where the Canaanites? They’re nowhere. Where are the Hittites the Amalekites? They are nowhere. These people don’t exist anymore. Ancient civilizations have been swept aside by the sands of time, gone after a few centuries and yet this is very small dot of people, only 9 miles wide at one point, these people where are still there to this very day. This ancient of ancient civilizations, the Jewish people, still exist today when all other ancient civilizations dating back to that time have all been swept aside. We are not just talking about biblical civilizations that are in the Bible; consider the Aztecs and the Mayans. These were mighty, powerful civilizations that built powerful enormous structures in South America they are nowhere today. God is saying in his word that because of who He is these people persevere. Because of who He is, this nation continues. This means we have a wonderful encouragement right here that God is going to keep his promises even when we are faithless. The reason for that is because God is a covenant keeping God. This verse alludes to the idea of his covenant with Israel. It is a covenant with you and me today through his son Jesus Christ. This word “covenant” is kind of an unusual word. People have asked me, “is there a modern concept, a modern word that captures this idea of covenant?” And there really isn’t, because modern society and modern man doesn’t really appreciate the idea of covenant. I looked it up in Webster’s dictionary and this is the dictionary definition “covenant: a written agreement or promise usually under seal between two or more parties especially for the performance of some action.” Then it gives the example of the landlord tenant relationship. That is not a covenant. Are some of you a little bit surprised to see that example mentioned in the dictionary? If you sign a lease agreement you are renting. Inside a lease agreement with the landlord, you’re not in a covenantal relationship with your landlord. That’s obvious to some of us. You’re in a contractual legal relationship with your landlord; you’re not in a covenantal relationship with your landlord. This is an idea that is largely lost to us today. The idea of a covenant is that it is a careful mixture of love and law. It is a conjoining of those two. It is where we enter into a relationship that is binding, that has the force of law upon it but, it is a relationship that is defined by love. This is the relationship that God has said to have with us. It is a very powerful thing but, again modern society doesn’t really appreciate that. The modern understanding of relationships often is, I will enter into a relationship with you, I will get married to you and we will be together so long as you continue to be what I think you ought to be, what I understand you to be in this present moment. But, as soon as you change or as soon as you engage in something that I decide I’d don’t like, as soon as you fail to live up to my expectations of what you are and what you ought to be then I’m out here; because, fundamentally my rights, my happiness and my individual concerns take precedence and priority over you in this relationship. That’s the modern conception of what the marital relationship should be. That is not what the Bible’s understanding of a covenantal relationship is. God has instructed us in its proper use right here in this first verse. Though Israel has failed time and time again, God does not give up on Israel because even when Israel is faithless God is faithful. Even when Israel abandons the covenant God will be true to the covenantal relationship He is engaged in with these people. The covenantal relationship is not a landlord tenant relationship. If you have an agreement with your landlord to mow the grass or to shovel the sidewalks and to do basic maintenance around the house or on the property that you are leasing from the landlord, if you fail to maintain those obligations or you fail to pay the rent, which is at the heart of every basic landlord-tenant relationship, if you say I’m not paying my rent today the landlords going to say I’m going to evict you from this property and dissolve our relationship. Israel, in a sense, doesn’t honor God and yet God does not cast them out. God does not abandon them. God does not throw them to the sands of time and say I am done with you. This is because He does not change so Israel is not consumed. The covenantal relationship is when two individuals say to each other “I am committed to you and I’m committed to having this relationship with you regardless of what you do.” Now we need to make certain commitments and certain promises to each other. I promise that I will do this and the other party is making those promises as well. We are exchanging vows, were saying we’re going to love and care for each other and sacrifice for each other or take care of each other but, the most powerful thing about a covenantal relationship is that is not a quid pro quo. It is a statement that says “I will love you to the best of my ability. I will love you with all that I can, regardless of whether or not you reciprocate in the exact same way.” There’s the surrender of freedom too. This is the thing that makes covenantal relationships scary. It’s where we give up a portion of our freedom, we say no matter what happens here in this relationship good or bad, and specifically with the view of it potentially being bad, if it goes bad I still will not leave you. I still will not forsake you. Sacrificing a portion of our freedom, that is, the right to walk away if things don’t go the way we want them to go is a part of the gift of love that is unique to those that we enter into covenantal relationship with. Let me say it again, sacrifice of our freedom to walk away, sacrificing that reserved right to walk away, giving that to the other person that is a part of what makes a relationship covenantal.
Now I’m not suggesting all relationships need to be covenantal. Just down the street from where I live is Cooper’s Foods, my grocery store. I go there and I buy groceries. They have groceries there at a certain price; I consider whether or not I want to pay the price. If there’s another grocery store that opens up that is closer to me than Cooper’s and if their prices are better and if they have better food at a cheaper rate, then goodbye Cooper’s. I’m not bound to you, I’m not obligated to come here to shop. I know them to a certain extent and they know me but, if I say goodbye and that’s the end of it, I don’t care whether they’re upset or not. I’m going wherever the cheap food is and you should too. Not every relationship is going to be covenantal. But the relationship that we have with God absolutely is covenantal. Note this sets the stage for everything that’s going to follow because if we say we love God regardless of whether or not we think he’s living up to his end of the bargain, that changes everything about how we are called to serve Him and for how were called to love Him. We are going to see a case study of this. God transitions now into the next point in which He is going to talk about tithing and giving offerings and gifts to Him. He makes a statement here at the tail end of verse seven where he encourages them to return and then they say “How shall we return?” Verse eight: “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, how have we robbed you?” They were going through the motions and were putting the bare minimum into the offering plate. They were doing what they said they would do in a contractual understanding of the responsibilities to Him. In His statement “you are robbing me in your tithes and in your contributions,” you see previously in the book where He had talked about the fact that when they made offerings, when they made contributions, it wasn’t that they weren’t making them but, that they were giving the diseased and sick creatures. They were not offering the very best of the best, they were giving Him what was left over. God is saying that in doing that you are robbing me. Now notice God’s heart here. Don’t think for a second that what God is interested in is for himself to just to have the best animals and the best creatures. It is an act of worship that he is after and there is a goal in mind. The passage goes on, “In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.” He makes a statement in verse 10 “Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the 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, at this point you’re thinking that that sounds pretty good. This sounds very contractual it sounds like if we were to offer the very best to God then He will just pour down blessings from heaven. We give the best to Him and he gives even more blessings. It sounds like a quid-pro-quote, it sounds like a tit-for-tat and until you come to the very end of the verse. Look at what he says here, “You are cursed with a curse, for your robbing me.” “Bring the full tithes the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.” Put me to the test and I will pour down for you blessing until, look at this, there is no more need. Why did God have food in his house in the first place? What God was calling for was that there be a store of food in case there were any poor or any destitute among the people, that they could come to the temple and they could show they were in need of food. God then supplies that need as the priests were charged to administer this food, to hand it out if there were poor and starving people, they could come in and they could get fed. God’s statement is, if you would give me the rightful contribution I would pour down the blessings of heaven. Look at what the Father’s heart is, the blessings of heaven wouldn’t come to you as an individual as in I offer this and God blesses me with so much more. The blessings would come to the community as a whole where we put in an offering and God showers down his blessings upon all of us so that the whole purpose of why were giving the offering is to reach the needs of those who are starving. That would be taken care of. The reason why they were to be making offerings in the first place is so that we would be reaching the needs of those who are less fortunate than us. If you approach this text and you say “I put in $10 and according to this text as I’m reading it at the very surface level, God will pour back $100 dollars into my life.” Now many preachers have taken that interpretation but, that is not with the passage is saying. God is saying if you were to put your rightful contribution with the view towards what it’s supposed to accomplish, namely meeting the needs of those who are in desperate need and who are less fortunate, if you do it without focus on what you will get then God is saying, I will meet you there and pour out my blessing on the whole community so there wouldn’t be that need. As some of your thinking yes but I’m a part of that community, so would that not mean that as a part of that community his blessing would fall on me as well. Absolutely! But, if your focus is to say I put in this much and I ought to expect God to give me, as an individual, back this much more then you have fallen into the same pattern of thinking and the same form of relationship that God is condemning. It’s not a quid-pro-quo covenant. Meaning, we have the same love, we have the same passion, with the same desires; the people’s heart has to be with what God has a heart to do, to be a blessing to the community. But it’s not a quid-pro-quo.
Now we see the next accusation that God has against then. He says in verse 13 “Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, how have we spoken against you? You have said, It is vain to serve God.” It’s pointless. There’s no purpose in serving God there’s no purpose in worshiping God. How do you come to that conclusion? The very next statement, “What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in morning before the Lord of hosts?” Notice what they’re saying to each other, where is the financial profit in doing what God would have us to do. Their goal is not clearly to have a heart for the things that God has heart for or to take care of the needs that God is passionate of taking care of. They’re thinking about themselves. They’ve spoken against God and they have asked the question what is the profit, what is the financial benefit of doing any of this? Notice, that he makes a statement, “it is vain to serve God” for walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts. That’s an interesting reference. There are numerous passages in Isaiah but, I’m going to refer you to Matthew chapter 6 where Jesus condemns this. Apparently in Israel they are putting on a show of worshiping God. They are walking around saying look at us; we are worshiping God as they are walking around as hypocrites in mourning. Jesus sheds some light on this when he rebukes the Pharisees and the priests and religious establishment of his day for walking around as in mourning. He makes a statement in verse Matthew chapter 6 verse 16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others.” What God is referring to here in Matthew is that the people of Israel were putting on a show of their religion and their fasting. They are engaging in your typical religious practices but, they’re doing it in such a way that everyone knows that they’re doing it. They are walking around gloomy or walking around saying I’m fasting and I’m hungry today. They wanted everyone to observe this. Notice that even though they’re doing this, even though they are putting on a show of their religiosity, there are no financial benefits. They are coming together to say, we are doing all this stuff, fasting, acting gloomy, we are walking around as though were mourning before the Lord and really what’s the profit of it any of it. God is saying to them, your heart is wrong. Look at verse 16, those who feared the Lord spoke together in the midst of these two stunning rebukes. Number one you’re interested in your own benefit, you are interested in your own financial prosperity and you don’t have a heart to meet the needs of the needy. Number two, because your main concern is your own financial benefit, because as you’re going through all of these things you’re not after what God is after. There were some who were after what God was after. It says “Then those who that fear the Lord spoke with another.” What you think they said? This text doesn’t say exactly. I imagine that they encouraged each other. I have long thought, as I have pored over these texts, that perhaps a companion text to this one is found in Hebrews chapter 10 where the writer of Hebrews encourages the Christian community and one another. Later Malachi is going to reference the Day of Judgment and the day of the Lord’s return. So, here it says that these people who fear the Lord, who esteemed his name, they got together and they spoke to each other. It doesn’t say exactly what they said; maybe they confessed. Maybe they said, you know what, I actually have been in this for the wrong reasons or maybe they were just trying to encourage each other and say we live in a land full of hypocrites but, I know that you are seriously after what the Lord is after and I know that you seriously want what the Lord wants, me too. I noticed that and I just want to encourage you. Maybe they’re just encouraging each other. We don’t know exactly what was said but, it is clear that in their speech there is couple of things that were obvious. Number one, look at verse 16, “those who feared the Lord spoke with one another.” At the tail end of verse 16 “and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name.” That is their number one concern in life; whatever God was concerned with. They feared him. They had respect and reverence for whatever it was that God had respect and reverence for and they esteemed His name. His name should have been known in all the earth. There are all sorts of pagan gods. The nations all around Israel all have their pet gods, all have their pet idols that they bow down to and that they worship and these people were concerned that the name Yahweh, the name of the Lord, the one true Lord should be esteemed and should be exalted and lifted up. They are speaking to each other and we don’t know exactly what it is that they’re saying but, there are two things that are inherent in their speech. Number one, I care about what God cares about and number two, I care about making God famous. For those people, God hears their speech and he says they’re going to be mine. You’re saying, that’s all well and good preacher but, how am I supposed to gain any encouragement from that? If you’re posing this question then my suggestion to you is that you are not concerned about what God is concerned about. God has just said to you here that if you have a heart for things that he has a heart for he sees it and it doesn’t matter what ramshackle community you live in and it doesn’t matter how badly the situation is. Whether the wall that you build looks like a ramshackle wall or whether the Temple that you built looks shoddy compared to the Temple that Solomon had built, God is saying it doesn’t matter how things look and it doesn’t matter how dire the situation is and it doesn’t matter how sorry or pathetic it feels, if you fear the Lord and you desire to esteem his name and to see his name lifted up in all the nations, he sees that and he says there’s a day coming in which I am going to exalt you because you exalted Him. That you were his treasure, his possession; if you’re sitting here today and saying to me “how’s that supposed to encourage me?” you should feel the conviction of scripture in this moment. If all you care about is God then the only thing that should matter is what he thinks and what he has just said to you is that he sees you, that he is with you and he promises you he will lift you up at the proper time.
I think that one of things that we should be careful to do here at First Baptist Church in 2017 is to encourage each other forward in the fear of the Lord and in the esteeming of his name. How do we do that? I want you to take a look around and I want you to see those who are serving him. I see things, I’m just an ordinary guy I don’t see everything but, there’s a lot of things I do see. When I walk around I noticed people who are serving. I think of people like John and Dale Dijkstra. I think of guys like Gordon Tomm. I think of our wonderful and talented worship team that comes on a Friday evening to practice to be ready for Sunday morning. I think about the Christmas banquet. I walked back into the kitchen I see Jill Ewanyshyn and I see Line Dijkstra back there. I see those things and I know you see them too. We all see people serving and we all see people sacrificing in order to establish this house of worship to live in the name of Christ. We see those things don’t we? Notice again what verse 16 says, “Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another.” One of the reasons why we may feel discouraged, one of the reasons why we may feel like there’s not any profit in serving the Lord is because we do not receive the proper encouragement from each other that we ought to. If you see someone sacrificing and serving the Lord, what I’d like for you to do in this next year 2017 is to be a person of encouragement. I want you to keep your eyes open and I want you look around as they’re not hard to see. I see them all the time and I know you do too. I want you just write a little note their mailboxes. I would like to encourage you in 2017 that if you see someone serving, let them know that you see them. I want you to write them a card and I want you to say you saw them serving the Lord in this way on this day at this time and if you saw, God also saw. You can quote this verse, Malachi chapter 3, verse 16.
A number of years ago in Texas, my wife and I were in this little town called Independence, Texas. It’s about halfway between Brenham and College Station. Near there is a little town where Sam Houston was leading the revolution against Santa Anna and the Mexican government and secured independence in this little town called Washington-on-the-Brazos. The Texas state flower is the Bluebonnet and in that little town near where independence was secured, as an act of celebration on Independence Day, they would sprinkle Bluebonnet seeds. Now if you go down to the small town there are fields and fields of these pretty blue flowers along with another flower called and Indian paintbrush which is the same kind of flower as the Bluebonnet but, it’s red. It is a beautiful site, a sea of blue and red swirled together as far as the eye can see. One time my wife and I went hiking through these fields and wanted to see where the blue and red end and the green grass start. We found it. We hiked a little further along and we came down to a bubbling brook that feeds into the Preserve River and there was one blue flower, one single solitary Bluebonnet. We were talking and I just kind of whispered to my wife and myself “God, this is a beautiful flower.” In fact, as we looked at all the other flowers, they were pressed together and the blowing the wind tore their petals. It looks beautiful at a distance but, if you get really close you saw they were kind of beat up because of how they were all smooshed together. Then there was this one flower, it was perfect and symmetrical and there wasn’t a pedal off of it. I wondered how many people other make it all the way here to see this one flower; probably no one. In that moment, in my heart I was praying to the Lord why did you put this little blue flower all the way up here where no one can see it? The Lord said, I see it. We came back the next year and hiked all the way out there to that same spot and this time we found two little flowers. If you’re feeling alone, know that the Lord sees you. If you’re feeling alone, I want you to try and encourage the flowers around you and start 2017 knowing that all of your efforts to honor are recognized by Him and remembered by Him.
Let’s pray, Father we thank you for your word. We thank you God for the promise that we have. That you see us, that you remember us. We thank you Lord that there is no good deed that we do for the esteeming of your name and for the lifting high of your son in all the nations that you do not remember and keep before you for all eternity. God as we gather together this morning to worship, we pray Father that you will keep that in our minds and our hearts as we move forward into the New Year. We ask that you encourage us by your spirit with every received card this next year from individuals noticing the good things that we’ve done. We pray these things in Christ name, amen.