|WAITING FOR RELATIONSHIP
Series: Waiting - Part Five
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
December 17, 2017
Will you stand and read together with me our text this morning from Malachi 3 - beginning at verse 7:
From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from My statutes and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.
Malachi prophesied about 400 plus years before the birth of Jesus. In what was a very uncertain time for God’s people. They’d returned from exile with great expectations of what God would do. And, seemingly, He didn’t.
Malachi is a “discussion” - sometimes sounding more like an argument - a discussion between God and His people in which God is helping His people to get in sync with Him about what He’s doing and why. A lot of which is reflective of where we sometimes find ourselves in our relationship with God as we’re trying to move through our lives.
[The Question] This morning we are looking at the fifth of those “discussions” which begins with the question - verse 7: “How shall we return?”
Let’s make sure we’re together on what’s being asked.
God tells His people in verse 7: From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me - emphasis “return” - and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.
“Return? How can we return if we’ve never left?”
September 11, 2001 - Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi were the terrorist pilots who flew the planes into World Trade Center.
Six months to the date after September 11th, Rudi Dekkers of Huffman Aviation in Venice, Florida - Rudi Dekkers was going through his mail and received notification from the INS that Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi had been given student visas which would allow them to been trained as pilots
Dekkers said he was surprised to get the forms. The INS had a different reaction which included embarrassment - a lot of finger pointing - and a review of what went wrong. Ultimately - the workers at the INS were doing their job - exactly - according to the book - doing what they were supposed to do. Yet, they failed.
Question: Is it possible to do all the right things and still fail at doing the right thing?
God’s people didn’t realize that they had “turned aside” from God. According to them they were doing all the right things.
They’d come back to Jerusalem. They were rebuilding the walls. They were living in this ruin of a city regardless of what they were up against. They’d rebuilt the Temple. They were regularly going up to the Temple - bringing their tithes - doing all the required sacrifices.
From their perspective God’s people were working at doing all the right things and yet somehow God wasn’t pleased with that. So, what’s up with God? Return? We never left.
Which is a danger that we all can face. Yes?
We can grow up in a Christian home or come to Christ later in life - memorize a ton of Bible verses - participate in a Life Group - be reading our Bibles - be showing up for prayer - go on missions trips - live morally upright clean Christ centered lives - serving in church - helping with a luncheon - contribute financially - and so on and whatever.
All those things are not wrong. And we could add to the list. All those things have their place and value. They’re good things to value and have in our lives.
But - the warning here is that we could be doing all those things and still miss the heart of God’s call to His people - to us - to be living in a personal - blessed - relationship with Him. We could be doing all those things and still be missing out on what God desires for us.
Let’s be careful. Malachi is not writing about salvation here - ultimate forever destiny stuff. Malachi is writing about day-to-day living life with the living God stuff. God’s people are still God’s people. The Book of Malachi is God lovingly reaching out to His people to return to Him.
The danger is that we can be living comfortable in our Christian experience and not realize that we’ve moved away from God - from the heart of what life with God is intended by God to be.
The parable of the Prodigal Son. Familiar. Yes?
Jesus speaks of a son who takes his inheritance, leaves his father, and wastes this tremendous inheritance on activities which surely displeased his father. When the son hits bottom - alone in the ceremonially and physically unclean world of swine and pig slop - the son comes to his senses - and decides to return to his father. He changes his mind about the direction he had taken his life.
We know this parable. When the son returns - he has been and still is the son of his father - and the father welcomes him with open arms. (Luke 15:11-32)
“To turn aside” is a Hebrew verb that means to wander away. To the point where the wandering becomes a change of direction. Withdrawing from God. Even to avoiding God.
“Return” translates the Hebrew word “shub” which means to… “return.” It has the idea of turning around. To repent.
It means to be walking in a direction - wandering - and finding out that we’ve been going in the wrong direction and then choosing to make a 180º turn - to repent - and to head in the opposite direction.
That’s what God is saying to His people, “You need to change how you’re thinking about our relationship. You may be doing all the right religious things. But, you’re failing in your relationship with Me. Return to Me.”
Question: “How if we’ve never left?”
[The Answer] God’s answer is a real time illustration.
It begins with a rhetorical question: “Will man rob God?” Answer: “Yes. You all are robbing Me.”
The people’s question: “How?”
Answer: “In your tithes and contributions.”
Let’s make sure we’re on the same page here. We’ve already taken the offering. Lunch is free. God isn’t trying to guilt His people into giving more. That’s not God’s point when He’s talking about God’s people ripping Him off.
The Old Testament Mosaic Law required that a tenth part of all of someone’s produce, cattle, and flocks be given to God. All that was about what the land produced. The understanding of that was the God owns everything - including the land that produced all of that. So giving a tenth to God was an acknowledgement that all that was about God.
Contributions was basically everything else. What was brought to the temple as an offering - heave offerings - wave offerings - paying vows to God - even what was given for atonement. Offerings given in faith that God would forgive sin and restore their relationship with God.
Meaning that tithes and contributions - at the heart level - was an act of worship - a humble acknowledgement that all that I have and all that I am and even my relationship with God is because of God.
God’s people were making all the required tithes - the donations to the Temple. But according to God - something was missing. Something was being held back.
And God’s people were making all the required sacrifices. Although - what we saw when we looked at chapter 1 was that what they were offering was not up to the standard of what God required. Essentially they were bringing the second rate left overs and keeping the best of their flocks and crops for themselves.
Jesus said, “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21) Tithes and contributions are about the heart.
Wealth - have it or not - wealth messes with our hearts and minds before God. Too much of it and we start thinking we don’t need God. Like we’re in the driver’s seat. Too little of it and we start coveting what God hasn’t given us. Like we should be in the driver’s seat. Either way we can starting focusing on us and not heart level dependence on God.
When we bring an offering on Sunday morning the point of that offering isn’t about dollars and cents but about bringing our heart - our lives - to God Who alone is the source and sustainer forever of who we are for His purposes and His glory alone.
To rob” in Hebrew means to… “rob.”
In God’s answer - God’s taken from real life illustration - the tithe and contributions that were owed to God were not being paid. It’s possible to rob God when we don’t give Him what is His due.
We’re together? God telling His people, “You’re robbing Me” is how God points to what is seriously wrong in the hearts of His people.
You all have turned aside - wandered off - heart level - someplace else.
God goes on in verse 9 talking about cursing. Which is not about paint peeling language. But about being under a curse. Not being cursed out but being cursed. What it’s like when God purposefully withholds His blessing.
God describes what that’s like.
To be blessed by God means that God is virtually guaranteeing an incredible - over the top - return on their investment. His blessings being unlimited so that the only restriction on how much they’ll receive is their ability to contain it or use it.
But what’s described here - with God withholding His blessing - is the opposite of that. Pest are devouring their crops. Their grape vines are failing to produce. God’s people are in serious economic and basic sustenance of life trouble.
A result of that is that the other nations that are watching this - rather than seeing Canaan as a place of delight and blessing - full of good things and #1 on the list of top ten places people are moving to - they’re seeing Canaan as place of hardship and cursing.
Which is about God blessing His people with purpose.
God choosing Israel to be His people is God setting up His people to be a testimony to the nations of Who He is and what it means to live blessed by God as His people. Israel was to be a testimony to the nations that would attract the nations to God.
The Church is the visible day-to-day testimony of God’s Gospel to the world. Our purpose is to live to the glory of God by how we live together in mutual - heart level - submission to Him - and proclaiming His Gospel to the world.
God - responding to where His people have wandered - God withholding His blessing means that the very purpose of God’s people is not happening. How empty is it to go through life without having purpose and meaning to our lives.
Let’s be careful. God doesn’t get His jollies by cursing people - smiting them with plagues and pestilence. At it’s heart Malachi is a love letter with God reaching out to His people to return to Him - to the relationship of God’s blessing.
God’s people are depending on themselves for their relationship with God - not God. And, God’s wants them back.
To bring them to repentance at the heart level - to turn them back to Him. To living in faithful heart level obedience to Him. To God alone be the glory.
Processing all that…
Is it possible to do all the right things and still fail at doing the right thing? Yes. If doing all the right things is about us and not God.
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. For you. For me.
Scripture records a good portion of what Jesus went through on His way to His crucifixion. Along the way Jesus is beaten and scourged - flesh ripped from His body. Thorns driven into his head. Spikes driven into His hands and feat. The ultimate agony of crucifixion. He is disfigured - deformed - made unrecognizable. For you. For me.
Being born human - Jesus chooses to sets aside His rights as God - taking on what it means to be human - those who are created and called to serve - Jesus fully God - fully man - becomes a servant - humbling Himself by being obedient - submitting to the will of the Father - even to dying on the cross - sacrificing Himself in our place.
And on the cross - Jesus cries out: “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34)
Without severing whatever the intimate oneness of relationship that exists in the Godhead - Father, Son, Spirit - But in His humanity - bearing our sin - the Father abandons the Son. What is utter separation from God. Total abandonment and wrath. Rejection that we cannot even begin to process.
On the cross - in our place - Jesus experiences the full fierceness of God’s holy and justified wrath poured out against all sin - your sin - my sin. God takes all of our sin - in all of its horror and ugliness and depravity - and God places our sin on Jesus and then God throws the full weight of His holy and we justly deserved it wrath on Jesus.
Peter writes that God gave Jesus to be made a curse for us - gave Him that He might die, “the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
As Jesus nears the end of the crucifixion He is offered sour wine to drink. Then when He drinks the wine, John - in his Gospel account - John records as Jesus’ last words on the cross: “It is finished.” (John 19:30)
“It is finished” - is arguably one of the most significant statements in history - if not the most significant. Significant for every human who has lived - is living today - who will ever live - mankind past - present - future - forever.
“It is finished” describes a turning point in the history of history. The one moment everything changes.
Jesus said: “It is finished” - emphasis “finished.”
Can you imagine not having anything left to do? There’s always one more email to respond to - one more text - one more post - one more tweet - one more activity with the kids - one more meal to prepare - another load of laundry - something around the house that needs fixing - on and on. Right?
More than at any other time in history we live with a perpetual “to do list.” Nothing is ever complete - finished.
Which makes what Jesus says here even more astoundingly significant for us.
“It is finished” in Greek is actually only one word: “tetelestai” - which comes from the verb “teleo” - which has the idea of arriving at a goal - reaching the end - the purpose - for why something exists.
One of the meanings has to do with paying bills - making a final payment on an account. Archeologists have found papyrus tax receipts with “tetelestai” written across them - meaning “paid in full.”
It would be perfectly legitimate to think about Jesus’ “tetelestai” as Jesus emphatic declaration that the debt of sin has been canceled - completely satisfied. That debt paid - John then records - Jesus bowed His head and gave up His spirit. Willingly Jesus then gave over His spirit to death.
That’s huge. Isn’t it?
Jesus isn’t a martyr for a hopeless cause. An unwilling victim of circumstance. Jesus being forsaken - taking the full wrath of God on Himself - is our Savior choosing to give up His life at the time and place of God’s choosing for us.
Jesus told His disciples, “No one takes My life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” (John 10:17,18)
Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” (John 4:34)
Meaning that Jesus understood that the goal of His life - in humanity - was the doing the work that God had given Him to do. His whole life has been leading up to this moment. With this cry Jesus is declaring that He’s done it. He’s willingly - purposefully - accomplished everything the Father sent Him to accomplish. Its done. Really completely done.
“It” finishes what we have been studying since Genesis. God’s creation and our Fall. The terrible disaster of humanity entering into sin and the ongoing disaster we struggle with because we live in sin - because we sin.
And God’s relentless - purposeful - intentional - plan - working through history to restore what our sin has removed us from - the relationship that God desires for us to have with Him. God working through real people in real time in real situations - prophets and kings and queens and shepherds and basic ordinary people like us.
The whole account of God’s working in history leads to this one moment. Jesus accomplishing - completing - finishing what God had already begun. What God had been about doing throughout history.
Jesus’ statement is the summary of where history has been going. It puts all of history into perspective. It is unanticipated. Imagine God allowing the crucifixion of the Messiah - our Savior - His only Son. And yet, here it is - the climax of history. In this one moment everything changes. The work of the Son is finished.
“It is finished” - emphasis “it.” What changed? What was “it” that Jesus finished on the cross?
To describe “it” theologians use the word “atonement.” The atonement is the “it” in “it is finished.”
Atonement may sound like a $100 word that only a theologian would love. But, most of us use the term - maybe not the word - but the idea - all the time.
Which means that hopefully - after our mutual food fest - many of us will cut back a tad on our food intake. Yes? That’s atonement.
Working to reverse the consequences of our self-gratifying semi-unrestrained bingeing on a really great meal.
When we drive over the speed limit and we’re blessed with a reminder from the police that what we’ve done is not right. When we write our check to the city we’re making atonement. Rectifying a wrong. Which is what Jesus does in our place on the cross.
Are we together?
We might think of atonement as “at one moment.” Meaning that “at one moment” - by Jesus’ atonement - at that one moment everything about the broken relationship between God and man changed. At that one moment - Jesus’ work of reconciliation - of restoring the broken relationship between God and us - that work is finished.
John Wesley said, “Nothing in the Christian system is of greater consequence than the doctrine of atonement.” (1)
Jesus Christ dying on the cross - in our place - taking our sin upon Himself - in all the horror of what that represents - reconciling us - our relationship with God - is at the very core of what we believe as Christians - at the very heart of Scripture.
Everything in history leads up to it. Everything since then. Everything that will be from now on - flows from it.
Which - coming back to Malachi that’s what God’s people - depending on themselves for their relationship with God - trying to do all the right things - at the heart level they didn’t get.
Which - we need to make sure that we get. That - at the heart level we really believe that “it” really is finished. That our relationship with God isn’t dependent on us but is solely because of Christ’s work on the cross.
Jesus told a well-known parable about a Pharisee had gone up to the Temple to pray. Standing alone by himself - meaning front and center and very noticeable - this Pharisee prayed: “God, I thank You that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” Do you hear “doing all the right things in that”?
This Pharisee was orthodox in his beliefs and 100% in on his commitment to his religious practices. He fasted twice a week which is about spiritual discipline. He wasn’t a robber or adultery or someone practicing evil. So He’s living in obedience to God. And - he gives a tenth of all his income - he’s serving God with his wealth. He had a level of discipleship that is exemplary - even for us.
Drop this Pharisee back into Malachi’s day and he’d be asking the same question: “Return? I never left.”
In the way Jesus tells the parable - in comparison - there’s a second man who’s also comes up to the Temple to pray. A tax collector who stands off to the side - not wishing to be noticed. He stands head bowed - unable to bring himself to look upwards to heaven - beating his chest in sorrow - painfully aware of his sinfulness. He doesn’t ask for forgiveness of specific sins. He simply pleads for mercy as a sinner.
His prayer - in the original Greek - has the idea: “God be merciful to me the sinner.” Emphasis “the.”
Meaning he’s not comparing himself to others and thinking he’s looking good by his own standards. He doesn’t even compare himself at all. He’s not concerned with how he measured up with respect to other people. He’s concerned with how he measured up before the holy and righteous God. He knew that he stands alone before God - condemned in his sin - and he pleads for mercy.
Drop this tax collector back into Malachi’s day and he’s not asking “Say what?” He’s crying out for God to allow Him to return.
Jesus’ told this parable to those who were confident in their own righteousness - those who were confident they were doing all the right things - tithing and contributing. Who felt good about their performance in their relationship with God. (Luke 18:9-14)
Before we come back to Jesus on the cross and Malachi - let’s push that parable idea a tad farther. What we’re talking about here is legalism.
C.J. Mahaney defines legalism as this: “Legalism is seeking to achieve forgiveness from God and justification before God through obedience to God. A legalist is anyone who behaves as if they can earn God’s forgiveness through personal performance.” (2)
Legalism claims - at its practical core - legalism claims that the death of Jesus on the cross was either unnecessary or insufficient. Meaning not integral to what God is doing in history and not a completed finished work.
We need to be careful. We like to identify with the tax collector. But when we do, we’re in danger of acting like the Pharisee. We get the prodigal son but we miss our having attitudes like the “good” son who stayed and refused mercy and grace to his brother.
Legalism can creep into our lives - we can accommodate the attitudes and actions of legalism - for so long that after a while we don’t realize that we’ve moved away from God - so that when God might point out to us that we’ve moved and that we need to repent and return - we might just ask, “Return? I never left?”
I’m doing all the right things. What do you mean that isn’t what you really want from me?
The obvious sins are there. Just listen to the Pharisee. Extortion, adultery, injustice… And from our current list of obvious sins for today - drunkenness and abortion and homosexuality and murder… Obvious sin - easy to identify - especially in other people..
But deep down we’ve got our own less noticeable sins - that maybe we even know are there: resentment, bitterness, an unforgiving spirit, impatience, irritability, lust, anger… and you can add whatever fits your list. Or maybe we’ve just slacked off in our relationship with God and we know that our commitment isn’t where it once was or where God would have it to be but we’re going through the motions convincing ourselves that it is.
The point is that when we make comparisons like what we do is not as bad as what others do then we’re reducing our relationship with God to a matter of how well we perform.
Or if we base our relationship with God on whether or not we’ve measured up spiritually - we haven’t lusted too badly today or flipped off the jerk who cut us off - then we reduce our relationship with God to matter of how well we perform - doing all the right things.
Are we kind of together? Tithing and contributions isn’t the issue. Our hearts repentant and surrendered to God is.
Throwing ourselves down before the foot of the cross - crying out for the mercy and grace of our loving God - has nothing to do with performance - but welcoming what God has already accomplished - the finished complete - there is nothing to add to it - couldn’t even if we tried - work of Christ on the cross.
Our relationship with God is based on the complete atoning work of Christ on the cross. Period. Not on how well we perform.
The people of Malachi’s day missed that. Because even in their day their relationship with God was to be based on faith in God and not themselves. Always our relationship with God is based on what God has done for us not on us. Salvation is always by grace through faith.
Thinking about that for us. Question - in your life today - where is “it” not finished?
What confessed and repented of sins are you still feeling guilty about? Like you can’t move on. Or you’re still feeling like maybe God really hasn’t forgiven you. Or, you’re still condemning yourself for what God has already forgiven.
Maybe you’re hearing voices in your head. Voices from the past - or present: “You’re worthless.” “You’re a failure.”
Maybe you’re tempted to listen to what others say about you or what others may think about you rather than what God knows about Who you are.
Or maybe you’re comparing yourself to others - maybe comparing lifestyles or obvious sins with people in the community. Or even in the church. Maybe dwelling on how much you give or how much you sacrifice or serve. Or how regular you are at praying and Bible reading. Or you’re focusing on where others are falling short.
Paul writes in Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Emphasis “no” - none - not even a little - because all our condemnation has already been borne on the cross by Jesus.
Hear God speaking to you this morning. “It is finished.” “Return to Me.”
May that truth - that invitation - be hugely freeing for you this morning. And as we head out of here into what God has for us this week may we remember that our relationship with God is not about our measuring up - but about our bowing down - the surrender of our lives to God - welcoming and living focused on the completed work of Jesus on the cross.
1. Cited by Paul Taylor: John 19:30, “Completion of the Cross”, 03.25.12, Discovery Papers
2. C.J. Mahaney, “Living The Cross Centered Life” Sovereign Grace Ministries, 2006, page 112.
General Reference: Jerry Bridges, “The Discipline of Grace” NavPress, 2006.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.