HOW HAVE WE DESPISED YOUR NAME?
Series: Questions People Ask - Part Two
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
February 17, 2002
Please turn with me to the Book of Malachi, chapter one. This morning we’re continuing on in a series of messages from the book of Malachi which we’ve entitled, “Questions People Ask.”
Malachi - unfortunately - is a book that’s easily overlooked, seldom preached from, and most people probably couldn’t tell you a whole lot about Malachi - who he was - what he said. I was reminded recently that the Italians have claimed Malachi as the great Italian prophet “Mah-lah-che”.
While your turning, let’s remember together - from last week - some of the background on this book and 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 - a letter of hope, encouragement - a letter in which God calls out to His people - calling them to return to Him.
The reason for our series - “Questions People Ask” - is that in the book of Malachi there are a series of questions that the people ask God. These are questions that many people are asking today. 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.
Last week we looked at the first of these questions: “How has God loved us?” This morning brings us the second question. Malachi 1:6 - God is speaking through Malachi: “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 - here’s the question - “How have we despised Your name?”
God is talking about the honor and respect that He - God - deserves. Respect and honor that He was not being given. In response the priests ask, “How have we despised Your name?” Put another way, “How have we not honored You? How have we not shown You respect?”
We need to understand the question that is being asked here.
God - through Malachi - addresses the priests. With the same words He could have addressed the people. Spiritually, they were all in the same condition.
But, the priests - by their position - had greater accountability before God. It was the business of the priests to represent God to the people and to present the people’s offering before God. That was their place in the community. And, they were doing their job. They punched in at the Temple at 9:00 in the morning and worked until 5. Bring wood for the fire. Chop this. Slaughter that. Wave this. Heave that. Day in and day out - doing the work of the Temple. They were doing what God had commanded them to do.
So, the priests ask the question. “What do you mean we’re despising your name? We’re doing the work of the Temple. What’s the problem?”
But, something was seriously wrong. Verse 7 - God identifies it. "You are presenting defiled - polluted - worthless - unholy - food upon My altar. But you say, “How have we defiled You?” In that you say, “The table of the Lord is to be despised.” In other words, you’re despising my altar by being indifferent to Me. You don’t care what you put on My altar. You don’t care if it honors Me or shows respect to Me or not.
Verse 8 - again God speaking: “But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, it is not evil?
In the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy God describes in detail the kinds and character of the sacrifices He desires from His people. What God wanted was the first and the best. But, they were keeping the best of the flock for themselves and only half-heartedly - going through the motions - presenting their offerings to God.
Going on in verse 8 - God asks, "Why not offer it to your governor?" Why don’t you give this kind of offering to the Persian Governor? It’s a sarcastic question. "Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?” says the Lord of hosts. Even the Governor - who was a nobody compared to God - even the Governor would reject the garbage they were offering.
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. And now - after you put all this worthless - unholy - garbage on my altar - you come and ask Me to listen to your prayers? To be gracious to you?
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."
“Someone please turn out the Temple lights - lock the door on your way out - leave Me alone. You’re wasting My time with all of this. I’m not pleased. I’m not going to accept this. So don’t even bother.”
Verse 11: "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.
God is worthy of more than this. He is worthy of honor and respect and offerings which demonstrate that honor and respect in our hearts.
How does this question relate to us today? How have we defiled the altar of God?
The counterpart of all these sheep and oxen and pigeons and doves is found today in the words of the Apostle Paul, in Romans 12:1: “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” The same verse that has appeared week after week in the bulletin just above our order of service. A reminder that what we do here on Sunday mornings is an offering to God. Offering our own lives to God - heart - soul - mind - and strength.
While we examine the lives of the men and women of Malachi’s day - it’s appropriate for us to examine ourselves on precisely the same issues. What is our motivation in worship? What brings here on Sunday mornings or keeps us away? Is our focus in worship on God - or elsewhere?
Too often we respond as the people of Malachi’s day responded - giving God less than the best. We take God for granted - our sacrifice too lightly - offering only a part when He deserves the whole. Going through the motions as a part of our tradition - our culture - our religion and practice as a people.
Do you know people like this? Who’s worship is simply a matter of convenience? Who go through the motions as a matter of obligation and routine? Who go on with it because they’ve always done it that way and are bored with the whole process? People who are indifferent to God? Who say, “We can wear what we want. We can show up when we want - late - or not at all. We can give what we want. We can serve when we want.” The whole focus becoming what works for us - what pleases us.
Turn with me please - forward through 400 years of history - turn with me to John 4:23,24. I like to share with you from an moment in life of Jesus that speaks to our reasons for being here this morning.
The setting of John 4 is familiar. Early in Jesus’ ministry He took a shortcut from Judea to Galilee - through Samaria. At six o’clock in the evening - Jesus - who is tired and thirsty from walking in the hot sun all day - sits down at a well - Jacob’s well - which is about ½ mile west of the village of Sychar.
While He’s sitting there by the well - a Samaritan woman comes to get water. And, they have a conversation about her life and her relationship with God. Towards the end of their conversation a question comes up about worship. The woman asks Jesus where the proper place is to worship God - Jerusalem where the Jew’s worshipped - or Mount Gerizim - where the Samaritans worshipped?
What Jesus tells her - His answer - is a powerful statement about what worship is. Jesus says to her, “an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23,24)
Jesus says two remarkable things about worship.
First: We worship God in spirit. Jesus is talking about how we worship God.
In Ezekiel chapter 11 the prophet Ezekiel was taken by the Spirit to the east gate of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Spirit showed Ezekiel the priests and spiritual leaders of Judah - men of sacrifice and devotion - men who worshipped God - men who - in the middle of a very difficult time for the nation were crying out to God in prayer - devoted and devout men.
God speaks to Ezekiel and tells him to speak out against these men - much as Malachi did - because they didn’t know God. Let me emphasize that. Outwardly they appear very religious. But God says, inwardly they’re spiritually dead because they don’t know Me. Whatever acts of worship and devotion they may be practicing are worthless. In fact, God says, while they’re worshipping they’re sinning - and devising new ways to live in sin - and leading the people away from God. Sound familiar?
In contrast - later in Ezekiel 11:19 & 20 - God describes the people who have turned to Him - those who have a relationship with Him. God says, “I shall....put a new spirit within them....that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and they will be my people and I will be their God.”
We’re spiritual beings. Outwardly flesh. But, inwardly spiritual. When we come to God through Jesus - He changes us inside. He puts His spirit within us. So we can really worship Him. Without His spirit working within us it’s impossible to really worship God.
It’s so tempting for us to get hung up on all the outward things of worship. We come and have this Service of Worship - the hymns are moving - the choir sings beautifully - the instruments are played well - the sermons are good - we even follow the order printed in the bulletin. Which is all good. But, are we really worshipping?
Jesus says to this Samaritan woman - your question about where to worship is irrelevant. Geography - temples - buildings - the outward symbolism is not what’s necessary to worship God. Your own heart - your own person - surrendered to God - is the place where God wants worship to spring from.
The Apostle Paul writes, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in you?...the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.” (1 Corinthians 3:16,17)
In every congregation God is looking for those whose focus is not on the outward signs of worship - but on what the spirit of God wants to do in their hearts.
Jesus said, we are to worship God in spirit. The second remarkable thing Jesus said was that: We worship God in truth. Jesus is saying that we need to be honest about who we are before God.
In Isaiah 6 - we read that the prophet Isaiah had a vision. He saw the Lord sitting on an elevated throne in a Temple - and the Temple was filled with God’s glory. There’s incense rising before the Lord from an altar. The whole Temple is filled with smoke.
Hovering around the Lord were powerful angels that each had six wings - with two wings they covered their faces - with two wings they covered their feet - and with two they flew. These angels were singing - singing so powerfully that the very foundation of the Temple was shaking - “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Hosts - the whole earth is full of His glory.”
Imagine being before God - the sovereign God of creation - all powerful - all knowing - the God who is everywhere present - and everytime present - not limited by time and circumstance - God who by His word brought everything into existence and sustains creation by His word. God who is holy - and justified in His wrath against sin and sinners - like us.
Isaiah says, “Woe is me - for I am ruined! I’ve had it. I’m a man of unclean lips - a foul-mouthed sinner - and I live among a sinful people. And I’ve looked upon the King - the Lord of heaven’s armies - I’m finished.”
Then one of the angels flies over to the altar and with a pair of tongs picks out a burning coal. He takes the coal and touches Isaiah’s lips and says, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your guilt has been taken away - your sins are forgiven.”
In worship - we should be overwhelmed by who God is - and humbled by His graciousness. We worship the holy God who is loving and gracious and merciful - who has saved us through His Son, Jesus Christ.
If we come - focused on Him - because we’ve surrendered our heart before Him - because His spirit is freely working within us - and in honesty consider who He is and who we are before Him - then real worship takes place.
If you read on in Malachi, chapter 2, there are three statements made which warn us about what happens when we get our focus off of God in worship. Briefly - in Malachi 2:12 - the priests tell God that His altar should be defiled. I’m serious. It’s hard to imagine. But they said this to God. “We don’t see any significance in our lives in all these acts of worship. We don’t see any reason to honor and respect You.”
In verse 13, the statement is made - again the attitude of the priests - worship of God is boring. It’s tiresome. It’s routine.
Then in verse 14 God replies - “I will punish you for this, because I am the great King, the Lord All-Powerful, and I am worshiped by nations everywhere.” (CEV)
There’s nothing worse than being locked up in church having to worship God when your heart isn’t in it. And, there are few things more odious to God.
Praise God that He allows Himself to be known and worshipped. The Westminster Shorter Catechism of Faith states, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” To glorify God - that’s worship. To enjoy Him forever - that’s the all encompassing reward of worship.
In worship we’re reminded of God’s forgiveness - we recognize His holiness and accept His forgiveness. In worship we experience God’s love. God - in the Bible - promises that if we honor Him first in our lives - worship Him alone - He will give us wisdom and guidance for our lives - He will meet our material needs - He will watch over us in all of the circumstances of our lives - He will enable us to do the things He requires of us. In worship we are reminded that one day we will inherit a new heaven and new earth and join the company of believers and angels in perfect - eternal - worship.