And Malachi speaks particularly clearly of one who will come as the Lord’s messenger, who will prepare the way for the coming of the Lord himself.
God says through Malachi (my messenger) ‘See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way’ (3.1).
1. THE BACKGROUNDThe people of Israel have returned from exile. They have settled again in the land. They have rebuilt the temple. They have seen amazing answers to prayer. But now the people have become complacent. They think that God does not really matter; they take him for granted
They have forgotten that they have been called to be God’s holy, chosen people. They have become self-indulgent.
And they question the love and justice of God.1.1: ‘I have loved you, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’
2.17: Malachi accuses the people: ‘You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say, ‘How have we wearied him?’ By saying, ‘All who do evil are good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them’. Or by asking, ‘Where is the God of justice’? (2.17)
3.13-15: You have spoken harsh words against me, says the Lord. Yet you say, “How have we spoken against you?” You have said, “It is vain to serve God. What do we profit by keeping his command or by going about as mourners before the Lord of hosts? Now we count the arrogant happy; evildoers not only prosper, but when they put God to the test they escape.”
2. THE RESPONSE OF GOD THROUGH THE PROPHET
i. God amazingly reaffirms his love for his people.The message begins with the words: ‘I have loved you’, says the Lord
And in ch 1.2-5, he shows them what that means.
God tells them to look at the distinction between Esau and Jacob. If you want to see an example of what it means to be rejected, cast off by God, look at Edom (Esau was the father of Edom).“I have made his hill country a desolation and his heritage a desert for jackals.”
It is a warning.
The reason that Esau (Edom) was rejected was because he rejected and despised the tokens of the covenant relationship. He took the ring that God offered to him, the ring that says that God loves him and that he can belong to God, and he cast it away. And God’s judgement is pretty devastating. When Edom says, ‘We’re shattered, but we will rebuild’, God says, ‘They can rebuild, but I will tear down’!
For those who reject the love of God, there really is no hope.
ii. God charges them with faithlessnessHe has an indictment against priests and people.
The people despise God. They would never say that they are doing that, but it is what they have done. They have taken him from the centre and put him on the edge. They are going through the motions but their heart is not in it.
And the evidence is that they are giving him derisory offerings (1.6-14).
Religious duty requires them to offer a sacrifice. God has given them everything, so as a response they give back to him some of what he has given them. But they are offering the worst and not the best; they’re offering the bare minimum that they think they can get away with.
So the animal that they give is not the best in the flock, but the weakest and most deformed. God says to them, ‘Try giving that to your Governor as part of your taxes. He won’t accept it. And yet you are giving it to me. You are taking the mick. You might as well not give anything at all. ‘
It is the person who receives £200/week, who thinks they ought to put something in the collection plate, and who gives 50p a week. Is that really all that God means to them, because if it is they are doing exactly what the people of Israel were doing in the time of Malachi.
And God hates it. In v10, God says: ‘If only someone would lock up some of these churches. I don’t want them open. You are going through the motions, but your heart is not there. It is more than a waste of time. You are spitting in my face’.
And the priests despise God (2.1-9). They are not in the business of seeking God’s glory. They show no reverence for him. If they showed reverence then they would listen to him, and they would teach and give instruction according to the word of the Lord. They would try to practise what they preach.
Compare yourselves with the first priests, says Malachi. ‘True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in integrity and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity.’ (2.6)
God hates it. Very strong language is used here. God says, ‘I am going to take s***, and I am going to rub your face in it’ (2.3)
And the accusation continues.
God charges them with being faithless to the covenant. In the days of old their ancestors had recognised that God was the only God and they pledged that they and their offspring would serve God, would love God and put him first in their lives. But, he says, you have been faithless to them and to me.
And God charges them with being faithless in marriage. Just as they have been faithless in their covenant, their promise, to God, so they have been faithless in their promise to each other. On Wednesday we heard that the names of 20 million people who have signed up to cheat on their partners have been published on the internet. 1 million of them are from the UK. The company involved said that publishing names was not a moral thing to do! Quite rich coming from them. But it is not a joke. God says that he hates divorce.
The past is the past. Whatever has happened in our story, wherever we are now, we can repent and God is more than merciful. But in the state that we find ourselves now, can I urge us to be faithful to the promises that we have made to each other. At most wedding services I will speak of the commitment of love, and say that there may be days when we do not delight in or desire our partner, and there may even be days when we delight and desire another. But that makes no difference to our marriage. Because it is about a commitment. And I know it is painful, but we can work these things out together, and as a result our love will grow deeper and stronger and richer.
iii. God says that he will send a messenger (3.1-2; 4.5-6)
The messenger will prepare the people for the coming of God himself.
The messenger will purify God’s people.
How? Through speaking the truth of God. Through declaring the judgement of God, and calling people to repentance.
3.5: ‘I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.’
Sorcerers: those who think that they hold power over power in their own hands.Adulterers: people who break the covenant that they have made with God and one another
Those who swear falsely: God hates it when we lie
Economic injustice and the exploitation of those who work for us, or of those who are most vulnerable
‘Those who thrust aside the alien’: that is mildly relevant and quite challenging today!
And this messenger will call people to repent and to come back to God – to offer right offerings. So in 3.8-12 he speaks about tithing, giving one tenth of what we have to God in our offerings. Do we really take God seriously? Well one of the simple tests is whether we trust him by sacrificially giving. And God says, ‘Test me and see’ (v10).
And the testimony of many people is that when they begin to tithe, they find themselves materially poorer but in the things that really matter, infinitely richer.
It is something that I have done from the very first days from when I started having an income. And actually for the Christian, I would say that tithing is just the beginning. Those who have a high income, if we really take God seriously, should be giving far more than a tithe.
It must have been a very hard message for Malachi to preach. It is not easy to tell people that we are under the judgement of God. It was not easy then. It is not easy now: people accuse us of being judgemental and intolerant.
But Malachi did listen to God and Malachi was faithful. It wasn’t just a negative message. Malachi longed, in the words of one commentator, for “a righteous nation, a pure and devoted priesthood, happy homes, God fearing children, and a people characterized by truth, integrity, generosity, gratitude, faithfulness, love, and hope.”
3. THERE IS THE RESPONSE OF THE RIGHTEOUSMany ignored the message and continued to carry on living in the way that they had always lived. But there were some who did hear the message. They realised that God was speaking to them, and that they needed to do something about it.
3.16: ‘Then those who revered the Lord spoke with one another.’They came together! It is what happens when people hear God speaking. They come together – to worship and to pray.
3.16f: ‘The Lord took note and listened, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who revered the Lord and thought on his name. They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, my special possession on the day when I act, and I will spare them.’
4. THE LOVE AND JUSTICE OF GOD ARE REAFFIRMEDThe book begins with people accusing God of turning a blind eye to evil, of turning his back on justice; they say that being loved by him is of no advantage.
But the book ends with God saying that, on the day that the Lord comes to the temple, on the ‘great and terrible day of the Lord’ (4.5), there will be justice and there will be judgement
3.18 “Then once more you shall see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.”
Then you will see what it means to be loved by God.
There is a circle here. The book begins with God speaking about his devastating judgement on Edom, because Edom rejected the tokens of the love of God
The book ends with God speaking about his devastating judgement on those who reject the tokens of his love.
4.1: ‘See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.’
But for those who have heard the message of Malachi (my messenger), for those who have looked for the next messenger, for the one who God says is ‘My Messenger’ – there is hope.
4.2: “But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.”
There is one final thing that I need to add.
Christians believe that the messenger has come. He was John the Baptist. He is described in the gospels as ‘the Elijah who is to come’. He came and he called people to repent. But he also said that he came in order to prepare the way of the Lord. He came to prepare the way for God himself, Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God.
And when Jesus did come, it might not seem that it was ‘a great and terrible day’ when God dealt with injustice. But there was a day when the sky turned black and the earth shook, when God stamped on evil. It was the day that Christ died on the cross. And because of that there is forgiveness and there is mercy for all, not just for Israel, but for Edom and for you and me. And all we need to do is to turn to our God, to put him in the centre of our lives and to receive his love.