|HOW HAVE YOU LOVED US?
Series: Questions People Ask - Part One
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
February 10, 2002
Please turn with me to the Book of Malachi, chapter one. This morning we’re beginning a new series of messages from the book of Malachi which we’ve entitled, “Questions People Ask.”
As you’re finding Malachi - and maybe having some difficulty - let me encourage you by saying that most people would have trouble finding Malachi. It’s a book that - unfortunately - is easily overlooked and seldom preached from. In fact I can’t remember ever hearing a sermon series from Malachi. Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament. It’s usually the book we run into because we didn’t turn far enough to get to Matthew. So, if you get to Matthew - go backwards a few pages and you’ll find Malachi.
While your turning I’d like to share some background on this book. Especially, why we’re looking at Malachi. As the Old Testament comes to a close, Malachi was the last of God’s prophecies given to His people for about 400 years. After Malachi the prophetic voice from heaven ceases - there are no more revelations from God - until the coming of Jesus Christ. Malachi - bridging this gap of silent years - at it’s core is a love letter from God. It’s a letter from God full of hope, encouragement, and love to sustain His people.
The reason for the title of our series - “Questions People Ask” - is that in the book of Malachi there are a series of questions that the people ask God. As we go along in this series you’ll find that these questions are questions that many people are asking today - especially as dramatic revelations and signs from heaven seem less common these days. Probably, if some of these questions are not questions that you yourself are asking I encourage you to follow God’s answers because there is probably someone around you who is asking these questions and you’ll want to be ready to encourage them with God’s answers.
Malachi 1:1: The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi. “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have You loved us?”
This is the first question. In response to God’s declaration, “I have loved you”, the people ask, “How have You loved us?” Put another way, “Where is Your love? We don’t see any evidence that You’ve loved us.”
Before we go on let’s make sure we understand the question and how the same question is being asked today.
Looking at the nation of Israel - at the time Malachi was writing - it’s easy to identify with the honesty and despair of this question. For 70 years the Hebrews had lived in exile in Babylon - as slaves of the Babylonian and Persian Empires. Then - returning from exile - for eighty plus years the Hebrews had been living in their motherland. Imagine - the glory days - the golden years - of the independent state of Israel were buried under 150 plus years of history - a myth passed down through the generations.
We hear about the Golden Age of Armenia - back when Armenia was an empire that stretched from the Mediterranean Sea at Jerusalem to the Black Sea and the Caucasuses - a time of great culture and advancement. We can only read about this and vaguely imagine some of what it must have been like.
Now these people had returned. Maybe as many as 100,000. Under Ezra they had rebuilt the Temple. But, it paled in comparison to what had been before. Under Nehemiah they had rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. But, they lacked the manpower to defend against their enemies - enemies which would have loved to have seen them wiped out. Living conditions were poor. Many were discouraged.
God - the God of their forefathers - had allowed them tragedy after tragedy - finally to be dragged off into exile. Their return, the Temple, the wall, whatever prosperity they had they believed was because they had made it happen - their strength - their abilities. Where was God was in all this? How arrogant was it for God to claim that He had loved them.
On May 26, 451 - on the plains of Avarair - Vartan stood with 66,000 Armenians - poorly equipped - with traitors on all sides - against a well trained - well equipped - army of 300,000 Persians. We know that the Armenians were soundly defeated and that over 1,000 Armenians - including Vartan - gave their lives. This rebellion against the Sassanids of Persia was of Christian brothers - who went to their martyrdom trusting in Jesus as their Savior - standing firm in their faith - trusting in the promises of God. How could a God of love allow such failure?
In 1915 - and in the years before and after - Christian Armenians were massacred by the Muslim Turkish government. Today we have the realized dream of an independent Armenia. Yet, this Christian nation is blockaded - economically fighting for its life - surrounded by enemies - who would love to see the Armenian Question finally answered with the annihilation of our people. Some have suggested that maybe we would have been better off if 1,700 years ago if we had not professed faith in Jesus Christ. Where is the love of our Christian God in all this?
In 1989 - after the earthquake in Armenia - I was on a Armenian television program that was trying raise money for relief work in Armenia. During the program a singer sang a song, "Oor eh Asdvadz?" “Where is God?” Where is this God of love that supposedly cares for His people?
Here, in the Diaspora, what we have achieved wealth and prosperity - a life that our forefathers could never have imagined - and our ability to support our motherland - there’s a temptation to consider that all these things have come because of our cleverness - our strength. “How has God loved us if we’ve done this for ourselves?”
We look at things that are happening today - 9/11 or when our health fails - we lose a job - marriages struggle. It’s easy to ask the question. “Where is this God of love? How have You loved us?”
God has an answer. Going on in verse 2: “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet, I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.” Though Edom says, “We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins”; thus says the Lord of hosts, “They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the Lord is indignant forever.”
Jacob and Esau are familiar figures. In reading verses 2 to 4 some of you are already thinking about the events in their lives. It’s important - in thinking through how God’s answer applies to us that we understand exactly what God is saying here.
First - we need to understand that God has made a choice to love these people - as He - God - made a choice to love Jacob.
Today we use the word “love” in a number of different ways. I love my wife - Karen. I love football. Obviously I don’t love football with the same passion and devotion that I love Karen. Given a choice between Karen and football - Karen wins every time. The Jews looked at love differently than we do. If you didn’t love someone with all your heart - even though you might like them - if you didn’t love someone with all your heart - then you hated them.
In Genesis we read that Jacob had two wives, Leah and Rachel. Jacob loved Rachel with all his heart. Jacob loved Leah too. He was tender and caring towards Leah. But Jacob didn’t love Leah with the same passion and devotion - not with all his heart. Genesis 29:31 says that when God saw that Leah was “unloved” - literally “hated” by Jacob - God opened her womb.
What appears to us as hatred is really a lack of love. It’s not that God didn’t love Esau - or hated Him. It’s just that God chose - in love - to pour out His blessings upon Jacob. God knows the heart - all our hearts - He knew how Jacob would respond to Him. He knew how Esau would respond to Him. God acted accordingly.
Second - we need to understand that God’s choice to love does not excuse Jacob from hardship. God’s love gives us hope in hardship.
Both Jacob and Esau had opportunities to respond to God’s love and grace. Despite Jacob’s struggles to trust God - throughout Genesis we read that Jacob had a heart for God. Through all those struggles Jacob learned to trust God - to turn towards God. Esau never had a heart for God. Esau despised his birthright - sold it all for some stew. The results of this choosing are seen through history - an illustration of it is here in verses 3 and 4.
Esau became the father of the Edomites. The Edomites - through out their history - the Edomites never chose to turn to God. They became the enemies of Israel - and God. No matter how much they tried to build up their country ultimately they failed. They were over run by the tragic - hopeless - events of their history. Where is Edom today? There’s no Edomite ambassador to the United Nations. God just wasn’t with them.
In contrast Jacob became Israel. That didn’t mean the end of hardship. Jacob faced heartache when faced with the alleged death of Joseph. His family faced famine and a struggle for survival that forced them from their homeland. But, God was faithful to his promises. Jacob’s 12 sons became the heads of the 12 tribes. God returned His people to the land He promised them. Through the descendants of Jacob came Jesus our Savior. For four thousand years - even in genocide - God has not forgotten His people.
This is the declaration in verse 5: Your eyes will see this and you will say, “The Lord be magnified beyond the border of Israel!”
Israel - you who are asking for evidence that I love you - look at what I have done even beyond your borders and you will rejoice in My presence within your borders.
Thinking through God’s answer for us today - it is an awesome fact - which should not be quickly passed by - that God chooses to love us. How do we know this? In the midst of everything where do we see God’s love?
Think with me about these familiar words from John 3:16: “For God so loved the world - we can put our own name there - Anoush, Aram - each of us is a part of that world - For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life”
I read a story of how a family was reduced to absolute starvation - and the only possibility of preserving life was to sell one of their children into slavery. The hunger was unbearable - and the children pleading for bread was tearing their hearts apart. So they considered it.
But which child? They had four sons. Not the first-born. And the second was too much like the father. The third was like the mother. And their youngest - the baby - how could they part with him? They concluded that it was better for all of them to die together than to part with one of their children. We can feel the struggle of this family.
What does it meant that God chooses to loves us? God so loved us that He seemed to love us better than His only Son, and did not spare Him that He might spare us. He permitted His Son to die so that “whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life”
God gave His Son to exile among men - to be born in a manger - to work in a carpenter’s shop - to be among scribes and Pharisees - and their cruel tongues and slander. He gave His Son to hunger and thirst - amid poverty and desire. He gave Him to be scourged and crowned with thorns. He gave Him to die on a cross - crucified. And on the cross - Jesus cries out “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani” (Mark 15:34) “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” - God hides His face from Him. God gave Him to be made a curse for us - gave Him that He might die, “the just for the unjust, to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
How many of us would give up our first born and only son for this? What was there in the world that God should love it? There is so much to warrant His displeasure - wrath - condemnation. Are any of us worthy of this love? Which of us could have ordered God to love us - to send Jesus to die on the cross?
There was a medieval monk who announced that next Sunday evening he would be preaching on “The Love of God”. That next Sunday evening, as the shadows fell and the light ceased to come through the cathedral windows, the congregation gathered. In the darkness of the altar, the monk lit a candle and carried it to the crucifix.
In the darkness - with this candle, he first illuminated the crown of thorns, next, the two wounded hands, then the marks of the spear wound. In the hush that fell, he blew out the candle and left the chancel. There was nothing else to say.
God has chosen to love us - you - me. It’s impossible to understand what this means. We see the example of it in Jesus Christ. And yet, we wonder at His love.
It’s this love that causes Moses to declare to the people of Israel, “The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8) God’s love from which Paul encourages Timothy, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful.” (2 Timothy 2:13) Or to the Romans, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” (Romans 8:35-39) With this love, Jesus - God - declares to us, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)
God’s love is not based on our circumstances or worth or value. But, on His choice to love us. God’s love gives hope. Despite circumstances He never leaves us. Despite our lack of faith God remains faithful to us. Even when we turn against Him God will always fulfill His promises.
This morning you may be wondering where God’s love is. God knows your questions. He knows your circumstances. God loves you. You may be a Jacob who struggles with God or an Esau who needs to turn to God. Maybe we cannot understand what it means that God loves us. His love is beyond our experience. Yet, we each need to accept His love.
_______________________Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.