Because He's Great
Scripture: Malachi 1:6–14
Because He's GreatMalachi 1:6-14
Sunday, September 19, 2004
Pastor Randy Smith
As I rummage through family Christmas pictures from my youth, there seems to always be two items that are fairly consistent in each picture. One is the decorated Christmas tree in all it splendor and the other is a shiny new bicycle proudly displayed in front of the tree. Maybe it's just a guy thing, but there's something very American, very special about receiving a new bicycle on Christmas morning!
There's no way I'd wait for the spring. I'd ride my new bicycle around the house until I drove the family nuts. Then I'd head outside on a cold December morning for endless trips around the block.
I "worshipped" each of those bicycles, especially that first two-wheeler. It captivated my affections. It received my greatest care. It was the source of my enjoyment.
But then something happened. It didn't happen overnight, but gradually my interest in that bicycle began to fade. You see, Mike down the street got a 10-speeder this one Christmas. It had the curly handlebars. He could shift gears "on the fly." He could even brake with his hands! Stacked up to his bike, my little red two-wheeler with the chrome fenders wasn't as impressive. It no longer was the great bike I originally thought it was.
With the diminished interest in the greatness of my bicycle, my attitude toward that bike began to change as well. I quit using the kickstand. Even worse, I began to "ghost-ride" it down the street. No longer was it leaned up against the garage wall for quick assess, it now found its new home hanging upside-down from the rafters otherwise known as the graveyard for children's bicycles.
Unfortunately, I've seen many people approach their Christian life in the same fashion. Nothing is greater than God. There is a passion to be among other believers. There is a passion to tell every unbeliever about Jesus Christ. There is a passion to learn the Bible, repent from sin and spend extended periods in prayer. But then something happens whereby these desires are no longer as strong. Interest weans. Enthusiasm fades. Attitude toward the things of God become routine and flippant. Other things are prioritized and other Christians are challenged by way of self-justification that their view of God is too high and their pursuit of holiness too strong and their zeal for God's glory too great.
These are the symptoms that one no longer values the greatness of God. Not before long He takes a backseat to the idols we deem more important. He is hung on the rafters in some forgotten place of our heart like that old bicycle that has lost our affections.
And I ask you, is this attitude really acceptable to the living God?
This problem in the church is nothing new. God speaking through the prophet Malachi over two thousand years ago addressed the priests of Israel who had lost all comprehension of the greatness of God and were simply going through the motions. In this stinging rebuke, we'll see how God demands honor and reverence from all people, especially those who draw near to Him in worship. We'll see what happens to our worship when we no longer esteem God's greatness. This sermon is a wake-up call for all of us, to shake us out of any spiritual lethargy and remind us of the greatness of God.
1. GOD'S REQUIREMENT
Let's begin with God's requirement. Verse 6, "'A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?' says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name. But you say, 'How have we despised Your name?'"
God begins this section with two generally accepted facts that were beyond dispute. "A son honors his father" and a "servant (honors) his master."
Today we often measure a father's greatness by his tenderness. But back in the first century, a father's greatness was measured by the honor he was shown by his children. Proverbs 17:21, "The father of a fool has no joy." Proverbs 17:25, "A foolish son is a grief to his father." Using vivid imagery, Proverbs 30:17 says, "The eye that mocks a father and scorns a mother, the ravens of the valley will pick it out, and the young eagles will eat it." As you know, one of the Ten Commandments is to "Honor your father and your mother" (Ex. 20:12; cf. Dt. 5:16). One scholar said, "In the old Semitic world, even to the human parent, honor was due before love" (G. A. Smith, quoted in: Verhoef, The Books of Haggai and Malachi, NICOT, p. 212).
The attitude outside the family in the workplace was no different. Whether the servant was a free laborer, an employee or a slave, reverential respect was due one's master as well.
The call to honor and respect our parents and other authority figures is still expected by God, but unfortunately ignored by most today. However, the first century Jew would not deny these standards. And that's God's point! If the Jews were displaying this honor to their fellow man, how much more should it be displayed to God Almighty! In verse 6 God asks the logical question. "Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?' says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name."
The "LORD of hosts" was not about to sit back and allow people to blaspheme His holy name. He will not be treated as insignificant. Just as the Psalmist declared, "Be exalted above the heavens, O God; Let Your glory be above all the earth" (Psm. 57:5) and Jeremiah said, "Give glory to the LORD your God" (Jer. 13:16). God is not only worthy of, but demands honor, respect, reverence, glory and holy fear.
I find God's remarks totally in line with His righteous character. I find it doubtful that the priest, of all people would have theoretically denied anything that I have said thus far. But what I find surprising is the utter blindness of the priests. After God's declaration, the priests confront God with the question contained at the end of verse 6. "How have we despised Your name?"
It humbles me to think how these men trained in the law and closest to the sacred things could be completely unaware of their spiritual failures. And if they were unaware, it humbles me to think how much I could be unaware of my own failings to magnify the greatness of God.
If God were to ask you if you revere and honor His holy name, how would you respond? Do you first of all know it is utterly essential to do this? And if so, do you think in any way you have been deceiving yourself? We just saw God's accusations against the priests and their self-deception by their response. They, of all people, were completely unaware of their sin! My friend, it's one thing to dishonor God and know about it. It's another to dishonor God and think we're doing OK. We need to be careful, very careful that we are not being deceived into thinking that our lifestyle honors the "LORD of hosts" when in actuality we are despising Him. The mere thought should make us tremble!
2. GOD'S REBUKE
Since their answer was - "what?"-God (as we move to the second point) will provide the priests with some specifics. The evidence is irrefutable.
According to the beginning of verse 7, God's says, "You are presenting defiled food upon My altar." In the beginning of verse 8 we read, "But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil?" According to verse 9, "But now will you not entreat God's favor, that He may be gracious to us? With such an offering on your part, will He receive any of you kindly?" says the LORD of hosts. The second half of verse 13 says, "'And you bring what was taken by robbery and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering! Should I receive that from your hand?' says the LORD." Finally, the beginning of verse 14, "But cursed be the swindler who has a male in his flock and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord."
The first problem, as we mesh these verses together has to do with God's displeasure in the sacrifices the priests were offering on the altar. If you remember your Old Testament history, God required Jews to offer blood sacrifices for the atonement of their sins. For example in Leviticus 17:11 we read, "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement." The people would bring these sacrifices to the priests as they were commanded in the law. The priests then would offer these sacrifices on behalf of the people.
It appears that much of this was being accomplished in Malachi's day. The temple was restored and sacrifices were being offered. However, according to verse 7, the sacrifices were not pleasing in the Lord's sight. On the contrary, they were "defiled." We could say they were "contaminated," "unfit," and "unqualified." Why were these sacrifices defiled? Because according to God's words in Malachi, they were "blind," and "lame," and "sick," and generally put, "blemished."
You see, according to the law, the animals to be sacrificed were to be without "blemish" and "defect" (Num. 19:12). Deuteronomy 15:21 could not be spoken any clearer. "But if it has any defect, such as lameness or blindness, or any serious defect, you shall not sacrifice it to the LORD your God." Or Leviticus 22 which says, "Whatever has a defect, you shall not offer, for it will not be accepted for you…it must be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no defect in it. Those that are blind or fractured or maimed or having a running sore or eczema or scabs, you shall not offer to the LORD, nor make of them an offering by fire on the altar to the LORD" (Lev. 22:20-22).
God does not pull any punches. In Malachi 1:8 He calls these sacrifices "evil" and in verse 14 He curses the one who brings them.
But we need to ask another question. What was so wrong with a blemished sacrifice? Is it really that big of a deal? And the answer is, absolutely yes!
First of all, it was disobedience to God's holy law. God has given us His word and He doesn't take it very lightly when we disobey. Disobedience and distrust dishonor God. Such irreverence fails to respect the One who said these things as our Lord and Master. It's the epitome of idolatry when we deem our thoughts wiser than His and our intentions superior to His.
Second, blemished sacrifices were no sacrifices at all.
Here's how the Jew might have reasoned his decision. "I need to make this sacrifice to God. I know it needs to be without defect, but what's the difference. After all, the purpose is only to kill the animal. And whether it's lame or is missing an eye, why, its blood is just as red as any other animal's blood. And since I can't sell or breed this animal, I'm being a better steward by giving it to God and allowing the best animals of the flock to live for purposes that are more lasting than a sacrifice."
But since God is great, He has always required His greatness to be reflected in the gifts we offer. When the Jew brought God the worthless offering, He demonstrated that money was his true god. Though we do not offer animal sacrifices today, we bring to God our very lives, something Paul referred to in Romans 12 as a "living sacrifice." Our time, our talents our money that we offer to God will be an indication of His worth in our heart (Phil. 4:18). Since God is infinitely valuable, He expects something of value to express our devotion to Him. God doesn't need our gifts (Psm. 50:10-12; Ac. 17:24-25). He doesn't even need us. But our gifts are a reflection of our heart and our heart is what He wants to worship Him (Mic. 6:6-8).
A positive example of this is found in 2 Samuel 24. King David incited the anger of the Lord by taking a census of the people (verse 1). Because of his decision, a great pestilence was brought upon the land (verse 15). But after David was repentant he was commanded by the prophet Gad to build an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite (verse 18). However, when Araunah was asked for the site, he offered everything, including the oxen to David for no charge (verse 22). In verse 23 Araunah said, "'Everything, O king, Araunah gives to the king.' And Araunah said to the king, 'May the LORD your God accept you.'" However King David replied, "No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing" (2 Sam. 24:24; cf. 1 Chron. 21:24).
Third, animals without blemish were to foreshadow the One who would bring an end to all sacrifices (Heb. 10:12). The Apostle Peter said, "Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ" (1 Pet. 1:18-19). Jesus would be "an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma" (Eph. 5:2) because He was without defect. Animal sacrifices with defect not only misrepresented Christ to Whom all the sacrifices pointed, but they also minimized the extent of humanity's sin, which took a perfect sacrifice to atone.
A failure to comprehend the greatness of God leads to cold and careless worship. We cherish that which is great and we worship that which we cherish. When we esteem the greatness of God, we cherish Him; we love Him with all of our heart and present to Him our best. Yet when we do not esteem the greatness of God, we give Him our leftovers because other things of this world capture our affections.
Why were the Israelites giving insufficient sacrifices? Because it was a reflection of their heart which minimized God's greatness. Look at the second half of verse 7. "But you say, 'How have we defiled You?' In that you say, 'The table of the LORD is to be despised.'" We see this again in verse 12. "But you are profaning it (context-God's name), in that you say, 'The table of the Lord is defiled, and as for its fruit, its food is to be despised.'" The beginning of verse 13 reads, "You also say, 'My, how tiresome it is!' And you disdainfully sniff at it, says the LORD of hosts."
3. GOD'S RESPONSE
Well, as we move to the third point, what is God's response to the Israelites? I believe its found in verse 10. "'Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you,' says the LORD of hosts, 'nor will I accept an offering from you.'"
God is not interested in religious activity that defiles His holy name. He'd rather receive nothing than the leftovers from a hypocritical heart. His greatness is not honored if He does not receive preeminence in worship. He'd rather see the doors shut and the worship ceased. As tragic as it sounds, no worship is better than worship that fails to account for His greatness (see Isa. 1:11-15). God will not allow His name to be mocked. And if the people won't "shut the gates," God will do the shutting Himself. He closed the temple once in 586 BC through the Babylonians. Within 500 years, 70 AD, the present temple of Malachi's day would also be closed through the Romans.
4. GOD'S REMEDY
Finally, point 4. What is the remedy to offer God worship that is acceptable and pleasing in His sight? I've been saying it all along. It's a heart that understands and values His greatness and then produces actions that give indication of that reality. In verse 11 our Lord said, "For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name will be great among the nations," says the LORD of hosts." In verse 14 God also said, "'For I am a great King,' says the LORD of hosts, 'and My name is feared among the nations.'"
With the time that remains, allow me to show you how these verses from Malachi are so applicable for the church today.
A. WE MUST BE COMMITTED TO MISSIONS
Twice in verse 11 God speaks in the future tense. He says, "My name will be great" (NASB, ASV, NIV, KJV). Currently, the greatness of His name was not appreciated in Israel, much less was it appreciated by the heathen and pagan nations in the world. I believe God is speaking of a time in verse 11 when His name will be great among the nations in the future. When would this happen? Answer, it will happen when He calls the world to Himself through a relationship with His only Son, the perfect sacrifice, Jesus Christ. It will happen in the age of the church.
In the Old Covenant God primarily worked through Israel. We have already learned that they were a chosen nation (verse 2). They had the royal priesthood (verse 6a). They were to be a holy people for His possession (verse 6b). However in the New Covenant, these blessings apply to the church. 1 Peter 2:9 is breathtaking! "But you (the church) are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION." What's the purpose of all this? The verse continues, "so that you may proclaim the excellencies (His greatness!) of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." Why? So the Lord's name will be great among the nations! The nations' worship can only be found acceptable in God's sight through the forgiveness of sins offered in Jesus Christ. Without their worship, they will not honor God's greatness. Conclusion, for the greatness of God's name we must be committed to telling the world about Jesus.
B. WE MUST BE COMMITTED TO TEACHING THE GREATNESS OF GOD
Regardless of the setting, every lesson will either extol the greatness of humanity or the greatness of God. This is a good way to evaluate our own teaching. And this is a good way to evaluate the teaching we place ourselves under. Between God and us, only one can be truly great. In Psalm 50:21 God said, "These things you have done and I kept silence; You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes." When we exalt our greatness and fail to understand the greatness of God or allow ourselves to grow weak in this area, our worship will be no different than the Israelites, who were rebuked by God Almighty and who let God take a backseat.
Therefore, we must be a church that is committed to learning and growing in our knowledge of the character of God. And the more we see and love God's greatness, the more we will desire to grow in that understanding. The more we proclaim God's glory (and not man's) in our lessons, the more God will remain preeminent in our affections. There can be no doubt based on our text this morning that God is pleased when His greatness is exalted!
Teachers, please remember, it is your responsibility to teach God's Word. If you teach His Word, you will teach His greatness. There is not one verse in the entire Bible that extols the greatness of humanity. And if you teach His Word, some within the church will take offense with you. But remember this, their offense is not with you but with the God who spoke these words.
Parents, are you teaching your children about the greatness of God through your words and actions. What does it say about God's greatness when athletics take a greater priority than Sunday morning worship? We saw God's rebuke this morning. Is there anything more unloving than to set our kids up for this encounter with their Creator?
C. WE MUST BRING GOD OUR BEST IN WORSHIP
When we love God's greatness it will be reflected in our worship. Because He is a great God, He will receive our best gifts. It was along these lines that God rebuked the Israelites for their inferior gifts in verse 8. "Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?" says the LORD of hosts" (Mal. 1:8b).
Here's an exaggerated modern day illustration of what I'm talking about:
"Around Thanksgiving a few years ago, radio commentator Paul Harvey shared a true story of a woman and her frozen Thanksgiving turkey. The Butterball Turkey Company set up a telephone hotline to answer consumer questions about preparing holiday turkeys. One woman called to inquire about cooking a turkey that had been in the bottom of her freezer for 23 years. That's right-23 years. The Butterball representative told her the turkey would probably be safe to eat if the freezer had been kept below zero for the entire 23 years. But the Butterball representative warned her that even if the turkey was safe to eat, the flavor would probably have deteriorated to such a degree that she would not recommend eating it. The caller replied, 'That's what I thought. We'll give the turkey to our church'" (Harvey daily radio broadcast, 11-22-95).
The conclusion to all this? God expects our best because He is the best! Sloppy, flippant, erroneous, man-centered, and shallow worship are unacceptable because they do not reveal a heart that honors His greatness. When you stand before the judgment seat of God, I promise you that He will not rebuke you for thinking He was too great. But as we saw this morning in Malachi, He will rebuke many for hanging Him up in the rafters like an old bicycle