Readings: Malachi 3: 6 – 18, Revelation 3: 14 – 22
Malachi ( = “my messenger” ) is the last book of the Old Testament. It addresses the problem of a people who had grown weary in their faith and who were just “going through the motions”.
Like so many of the Minor Prophets Malachi speaks to us today. Have you ever stopped and asked yourself what you are doing when you come to church? Why are you here? Is it because you know and love the Lord, or is it just something you were brought up to do? To go to church on Sunday. Is it just something you do by habit? Do you sometimes feel that you are only “going through the motions”? Do you tend to think that religion is nothing to do with life – just pius words and phrases with no substance? If the answer is “Yes”, then listen to what Malachi has to say.
Or perhaps you have begun to think that there is no point in trying to live a good life, struggling to keep the commandments, to maintain Christian standards. “What’s the point”, you say. “Evil people seem to get on in life, good people get no reward”. If you are beginning to think that way then listen to the words of Malachi – God’s messenger.
Message of Malachi
Malachi was trying to waken the nation from their spiritual stupor. Many years earlier the nation had returned from exile in Babylon and rebuilt the Temple and the walls of the City. They did this with great optimism. The hardships of the exile had strengthened their faith. They now looked for God to do great things. He was going to fill the Temple with his glory and make their Nation the very centre of the world.
But it didn’t happen like that – not in Malachi’s time. The Messiah had not yet come. Israel’s hope had faded. The Jews felt that life had passed them by. They could not believe that God loved them:
“I have loved you,” says the LORD.
“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’
(Malachi 1: 2 )
They had all become lukewarm in their religion. They were not great sinners like those before the exile, who worshipped pagan gods and sacrificed their children to idols. No, the Jews now worshipped the true God, but they did so with no great devotion, no zeal. They had lost touch with their God.
“A son honours his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honour due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty. “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name. (1: 6 )
What they were doing was offering defective animals for sacrifice. Far from thinking that “only the best is good enough for God” they sacrificed any blind or crippled animals they had. These were animals they were going to have to cull anyway and they kept the healthy animals for the own use. “You try offering that kind of gift to your Persian governor”, Malachi says, “Would he be pleased? Would-be accept you?” Why give less respect to God.
“Why do you bother”, God says.
“Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands. My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty. but you profane it. (1: 10, 11)
It as if God were to say to us: “Lock the door to the Brecon Presbyterian Church. Cut off the electricity and water. Shut down the place. It you can’t worship worthily then don’t worship at all!”
God, through Malachi, was trying to shock the people into commitment.
I wonder what it would take to shock people out of their spiritual apathy today?
In Chapter 2 Malachi critcises the priests who have turned the worship of God into mockery by their careless attitude.
There were obviously many social evils as well. One of them was that the Israelites were breaking faith with their wives. They were divorcing them for no other reason than that they wanted to marry someone else. To make things worse, the women they were leaving their wives for were pagan women. They were bringing pagan gods back into the life of the nation.
Return to me
Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
“Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ (3:7 b )
“Stop cheating me”, God says. The Jews were supposed to give a tenth of their produce to the work of the Lord and to the poor. But they were robbing God. They were keeping back large amounts of it. God says, “Stop cheating me and see how I will bless you.
What’s the point of being good?
You have wearied the LORD with your words.
“How have we wearied him?” you ask.
By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the LORD, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?”
and (3: 14 – 15 )
“You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.’ “
But Malachi speaks of the coming of the Messiah who will judge the nation. He will punish evildoers. “Who can stand before him on the day he appears? He will be like refiners fire.” (3: 2)
Judgement on evildoers.
“So I will come near to you for judgement. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud labourers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty.
(3: 16 – 18 )
Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honoured his name. “They will be mine,” says the LORD Almighty, “in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.
God does not try to convince them that the godly will be better off than the ungodly in this life. But he tells them that he keeps a “scroll of remembrance”. He records those who truly are his people. They will get their reward when the Messiah comes to judge the world and the others will be punished.
This is the only answer we can give to this question of “Why bother to be good?” For that day will certainly come.
(4: 1 – 2 )
“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.
And so, 400 years before the time of Christ, Malachi concludes the Old Testament – looking forward to the day when the Messiah will come to redeem and to judge the world.