Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Familiar Phrase of the Christmas Season...


This week we are looking at an echo of Christmas that is preserved and recorded for us in a section of a letter in the Old Testament of the Bible called the book of Isaiah. And it is in this event from history that we are reminded of an echo of Christmas that has reverberated throughout history. Yesterday we looked on and discovered that, as the united armies of the northern kingdom of Israel and Aram marched toward Jerusalem, the Jewish people were shaken with fear. Just like a tree that is pummeled by the winds of a monsoon storm, the Jewish people shook from fear at the prospect of being invaded and conquered by the invading armies of the northern kingdom of Israel and the nation of Aram.

And as the invading armies approached, King Ahaz and the Jewish people were faced with a choice. And that choice was this: who were they going to trust? Would they trust in the Lord? And it is in this context, as King Ahaz faced a potential invasion of the nation that shook him to the core of his being with fear, that the prophet Isaiah approached king Ahaz as the king was preparing for the defense of Jerusalem to deliver a message from the Lord.

Now the Lord’s message to King Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah, if communicated in the language we use in our culture today, would have sounded something like this: “Do not fear these two armies that are plotting together to conquer you and set up a puppet king in place of you, because this plan of theirs will never happen. This plan will never happen because the nation of Aram and the northern kingdom of Israel will soon be conquered themselves. As a matter of fact, within 65 years the nation of the northern kingdom will no longer be Jewish. So do not place your trust in the Assyrians, place your trust in me. But if you do not trust me, if you trust the Assyrians, understand this; you surely will not last”. And to make sure that King Ahaz understood how serious the Lord was when it came to His message and His promise, we see the Lord say that following in verse 10-11:

Then the LORD spoke again to Ahaz, saying, 11 "Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven."

Now, if Isaiah was writing these verses today, these verses may have sounded something like this: King Ahaz, the Lord, the God of the Jewish people who has made Himself known to the Jewish people throughout history and has intervened for the Jewish people in history. The Lord, who has entered into a covenant relationship with your ancestor King David so that the Jewish people would live in a special relationship with Him invites you to put Him to the test. The Lord invites you to ask for whatever sign that you would like the Lord to do to prove that He will do what I have told you He would do. King Ahaz, there is no limit on what you may ask for when it comes to a sign from the Lord to demonstrate to you that He will do what I have told you He would do. We see how King Ahaz responded to the invitation to put the Lord to the test in verse 12:

 12 But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD!"

King Ahaz responded to the invitation to test the Lord by trying to give the appearance of trusting the Lord by refusing to test the Lord. However, the reality was that King Ahaz refused to test the Lord because King Ahaz had already made up his mind to not trust the Lord. The king had already decided that he would place his confident trust in the nation of Assyria instead of the Lord.

In 2 Kings 16:7-11, we discover that King Ahaz responded to his situation by appealing and paying the nation of Assyria a great sum of money to come to their aid. The Jewish people broke their covenant with the Lord in order to enter into a covenant with the false gods of the nation of Assyria. However, such a short-sighted decision by King Ahaz failed to recognize that the nation of Assyria, and not Israel or Aram, were the real threat to the Jewish people of the southern kingdom. And it was this decision by King Ahaz that signaled the beginning of the end for the Jewish people of the southern kingdom. This was the turning point that would lead to the southern kingdom being conquered and led captive by the Babylonian Empire in 586 B.C.

However, while King Ahaz and other leaders of the Jewish people would continue to demonstrate a lack of trust in the Lord, that did not mean that the Lord was done with the Jewish people. Instead, it is at this point that the Lord, through the prophet Isaiah, made a proclamation and a promise that served as an echo of Christmas. And echo of Christmas that we see beginning in verse 13-17:

 13 Then he said, "Listen now, O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well? 14 "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. 15 "He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. 16 "For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken. 17 "The LORD will bring on you, on your people, and on your father's house such days as have never come since the day that Ephraim separated from Judah, the king of Assyria."

Now Isaiah’s words that are recorded for us in Isaiah 7:14 are some of the most often cited words during the Christmas season: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. However, these very familiar words are only a part of what the Lord had to say to King Ahaz through Isaiah.

The prophet Isaiah’s prediction and proclamation, if communicated in the language we use in our culture today, would have sounded something like this: “so, it’s not enough for you to test the patience of men. Instead you want to test My patience by refusing to place your trust in Me and in My promises to you. Well, I will give you a sign anyways, whether you want it or not. A virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. And before the child has reached an age that he can understand the difference between good and evil, both of these nations that you fear will cease to exist. And this child will eat curds and honey because I, the Lord, will deliver the Jewish people from the threat you face in spite of your unwillingness to trust in Me.”

And just one chapter later, we see the fulfillment of this prediction and proclamation in Isaiah 8:1-4:

Then the LORD said to me, "Take for yourself a large tablet and write on it in ordinary letters: Swift is the booty, speedy is the prey. 2 "And I will take to Myself faithful witnesses for testimony, Uriah the priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah." 3 So I approached the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. Then the LORD said to me, "Name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz; 4 for before the boy knows how to cry out 'My father ' or 'My mother,' the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria."

Here we see the Lord command Isaiah to take a tablet, and in the presence of two witnesses, Uriah the priest and a man named Zechariah, write the phrase “swift is the booty, speedy is the prey”. After following the Lord’s command in the presence of these two witnesses, Isaiah became engaged to a woman who was a prophetess and who was a virgin. Most scholars and historians believe that Isaiah’s first wife died after giving birth to his first son.

After marrying this prophetess, Isaiah approached his wife, which is another way to say that he had sex with his wife. Isaiah’s wife became pregnant and subsequently gave birth to a son, who he named Maher-shalal-hash-baz. Because that seems like a natural name for a child, doesn’t it? Actually, this name literally means “quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil”, which sounds remarkably similar to what the prophet Isaiah wrote on the tablet before the two witnesses.

You see, Isaiah’s son would be the fulfillment of the sign that the Lord would give to the Jewish people. And before the child reached the age of two, in 732 B.C. the nation of Assyria plundered both the nation of Aram and the northern kingdom of Israel.  And ten years later in 722 B.C., the northern kingdom of Israel would be conquered and led into captivity by the Assyrian Empire.

Now a natural question that could arise here is “Well Dave, I was always told that this was a prediction about the virgin birth of Jesus on Christmas. But how can this be about Jesus is you are saying that this prediction was already fulfilled over 700 years before Jesus showed up?  So is this verse about Jesus or not?” If that question is running through your mind, I just want to let you know that you are asking a great question.

Friday we will answer that question and discover a timeless echo of Christmas...

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Experiencing the echoes of Christmas...


This week we find ourselves in the midst of the Christmas season. And as we find ourselves in the midst of the Christmas season, we can find ourselves reminiscing about Christmases past. You see, there is just something about the Christmas season the causes us to go back to recall our childhood and our favorite memories of Christmases growing up. There is just something about the Christmas season that echoes back to Christmases past.  And we can find ourselves in a place where the echoes of Christmas are all around us.

We can experience the echoes of Christmas as we put up the Christmas tree. We can experience the echoes of Christmas when we turn on the radio and hear a favorite Christmas carol. We can experience the echoes of Christmas when we are shopping for that special gift for that special someone. We can experience the echoes of Christmas when we gather around the kitchen table to make our favorite Christmas cookies. We can experience the echoes of Christmas as we smell the smells of our favorite Christmas meal cooking in the kitchen. And we can experience the echoes of Christmas as we gather together around a table to connect with family and friends and as we reflect on those who are no longer at the table.

You see, there is something about Christmas that powerfully echoes us back to Christmases of the past. And there is something powerful about the echoes of Christmases past the reverberate and impact our Christmas celebrations in the present. And for many of us, the powerful echoes of Christmases past will reverberate and impact our Christmas celebrations long into the future. Because, this morning, the timeless reality is that there are echoes of Christmas that have impacted humanity for over 2,000 years.

So in the weeks leading up to Christmas we are going to spend our time together at the church where I serve in a sermon series entitled "Echoes of Christmas". During this series, we are going to look at three different events from history that served as echoes that reverberated and impacted the very first Christmas. During this series, we are going to discover how these echoes of Christmas continue to reverberate and impact our lives today. And as we go through this series, our hope and our prayer is that God would move, by the power of the Holy Spirit, so that we would wrap our heads, hearts, and hands around these echoes of Christmas and the impact that they have had on Christmases throughout history, so that we would live lives that reflect these echoes of Christmas to those around us every day of every year.

This week, I would like for us to spend our time together looking at the first echo of Christmas that we will look at during this series. We find this echo in an event from history that is preserved and recorded for us in a section of a letter in the Old Testament of the Bible called the book of Isaiah. And it is in this event from history that we are reminded of an echo of Christmas that has reverberated throughout history. So let’s look at the context in which this echo of Christmas appears, beginning in Isaiah 7:1-2. Let’s look at it together:

Now it came about in the days of Ahaz, the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Aram and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not conquer it. 2 When it was reported to the house of David, saying, "The Arameans have camped in Ephraim," his heart and the hearts of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind.

Now to understand what is happening in this event from history, we first need to understand the context in which this event from history took place. During this time in history, the Jewish people were a nation that was divided into two kingdoms, the northern kingdom, which was referred to as Israel and the southern kingdom, which was referred to as Judah. This event from history occurred between 736 and 734 B.C. and is recorded for us in a section of another letter in the Old Testament of the Bible, called the book of 2 Kings, in 2 Kings 16:5-6. At this time in history, the southern kingdom of Judea was led by King Ahaz.

Now King Ahaz was one of the most wicked kings to ever led the Jewish people. The letters that make up the Bible tells us that King Ahaz embraced the idolatry that had previously consumed the Jewish people who were a part of the northern kingdom of Israel. King Ahaz worshipped the false gods of the nations that surrounded the Jewish people that the Lord had commanded the Jewish people to destroy when He delivered them from slavery at the hands of the nation of Egypt. As part of his idolatrous worship, King Ahaz burned incense to these false gods and even burned his sons in fire to these false gods.

With that background in mind, here we see Isaiah explain that the northern kingdom of Israel had made an alliance with the nation of Aram, which was located in modern day Syria, to attack King Ahaz and the southern kingdom of Judah. And as the united armies of the northern kingdom of Israel and Aram marched toward Jerusalem, the Jewish people were shaken with fear. Just like a tree that is pummeled by the winds of a monsoon storm, the Jewish people shook from fear at the prospect of being invaded and conquered by the invading armies of the northern kingdom of Israel and the nation of Aram.

And as the invading armies approached, King Ahaz and the Jewish people were faced with a choice. And that choice was this: who were they going to trust? Would they trust in the Lord? Or would they place their trust in the nation of Assyria, who were the Jewish people’s hated enemy. If the Jewish people chose to place their trust in the nation of Assyria, this would not simply involve relying of the military might of their army. You see, at this time in history, to enter in an alliance with another nation was to enter into a relationship with that nation’s gods.

Thus, an alliance with the nation of Assyria would require the southern kingdom of Judea to enter into a covenant commitment that involved a recognition of the Assyrian gods and an admission of their lordship over the Jewish people. In addition, King Ahaz would have to redesign the altar at the Temple in Jerusalem in order that sacrifices to the gods of the nation of Assyria could be made.  And it is in this context, as King Ahaz faced a potential invasion of the nation that shook him to the core of his being with fear, that the prophet Isaiah approached king Ahaz as the king was preparing for the defense of Jerusalem to deliver a message from the Lord. A message that is recorded for us in Isaiah 7:3-9:

Then the LORD said to Isaiah, "Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and your son Shear-jashub, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, on the highway to the fuller's field, 4 and say to him, 'Take care and be calm, have no fear and do not be fainthearted because of these two stubs of smoldering firebrands, on account of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and the son of Remaliah. 5 'Because Aram, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has planned evil against you, saying, 6 "Let us go up against Judah and terrorize it, and make for ourselves a breach in its walls and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it," 7 thus says the Lord GOD: "It shall not stand nor shall it come to pass. 8 "For the head of Aram is Damascus and the head of Damascus is Rezin (now within another 65 years Ephraim will be shattered, so that it is no longer a people), 9 and the head of Ephraim is Samaria and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you will not believe, you surely shall not last."'"

Now the Lord’s message to King Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah, if communicated in the language we use in our culture today, would have sounded something like this: “Do not fear these two armies that are plotting together to conquer you and set up a puppet king in place of you, because this plan of theirs will never happen. This plan will never happen because the nation of Aram and the northern kingdom of Israel will soon be conquered themselves. As a matter of fact, within 65 years the nation of the northern kingdom will no longer be Jewish. So do not place your trust in the Assyrians, place your trust in me. But if you do not trust me, if you trust the Assyrians, understand this; you surely will not last”. And to make sure that King Ahaz understood how serious the Lord was when it came to His message and His promise, we see the Lord say that following in verse 10-11:

Then the LORD spoke again to Ahaz, saying, 11 "Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven."

Now, if Isaiah was writing these verses today, these verses may have sounded something like this: “King Ahaz, the Lord, the God of the Jewish people who has made Himself known to the Jewish people throughout history and has intervened for the Jewish people in history. The Lord, who has entered into a covenant relationship with your ancestor King David so that the Jewish people would live in a special relationship with Him invites you to put Him to the test. The Lord invites you to ask for whatever sign that you would like the Lord to do to prove that He will do what I have told you He would do. King Ahaz, there is no limit on what you may ask for when it comes to a sign from the Lord to demonstrate to you that He will do what I have told you He would do.”

Tomorrow, we will see how King Ahaz responded to the invitation to put the Lord to the test…

Friday, December 7, 2018

A shallow and insincere relationship with the Lord dishonors the Lord...


This week we have been looking at a letter that is recorded for us in the Old Testament of the Bible called the book of Malachi. So far this week, we looked on as the Lord accused the Jewish people of refusing to show honor and respect to Him. The Lord accused the Jewish people of viewing the worship of Him as being something that was to be loathed and viewed with contempt.  The Jewish people were being accused of being so unimpressed with the Lord and thinking so lightly of Him that they failed to give any honor or respect to Him.

As far as the Jewish people were concerned, worship was a duty that needed to be done. There was no excitement about worship; there was no sense of expectancy when it came to worship; and there was no delight in worship. Instead, worship was done out of duty with loathing; worship was viewed with contempt as something to be endured. We looked on as the Lord made it abundantly clear that He would rather that we not worship at all than receive worship that makes light of Him. The Lord would rather that we not worship at all than receive worship that is out of duty and that gives Him less than our best. The Lord would rather that we not worship at all than receive worship that is driven by duty instead of delight. I

Instead Malachi predicted and proclaimed that in the future all of the nations would honor and make much of God. From as far as the east is to the west, individuals across continents and cultures would respond to who God is, what God has done, and what God has promised to do by worshipping Him. But not only were the Jewish people dishonoring and despising God through their words; they were also dishonoring and despising God through their actions. The Jewish people decided that the Lord was only worthy of their leftovers and had come to the conclusion that the Lord could be deceived into thinking that they were offering the best when in fact they were offering the worst.

Malachi then proclaimed that the person who attempted to deceive the Lord into thinking that they were giving Him their best when in fact they were giving Him their worst in worship would receive a curse from the Lord. And throughout the book of Malachi, the prophet continued to confront the Jewish people with their rebellion against the Lord and warn the Jewish people of the response that awaited them as a result of their rebellion. We see this reality revealed by Malachi in the conclusion of his letter, which serves as the second bookend of this letter, which begins in Malachi 3:13-15:

"Your words have been arrogant against Me," says the LORD. " "Yet you say, 'What have we spoken against You?'” "You have said, 'It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept His charge, and that we have walked in mourning before the LORD of hosts? 'So now we call the arrogant blessed; not only are the doers of wickedness built up but they also test God and escape.'"

Malachi begins by revealing another accusation which, if communicating in the language that we use in our culture today, would have sounded something like this: “You have used strong and harsh words against Me when you have talked about Me to others”. And once again, the Jewish people responded to the prophet’s accusation with a plea of ignorance. “What have we said about You that was harsh? We haven’t said anything bad about You.”

After hearing the Jewish people’s denial, Malachi, provided four pieces of evidence of the Jewish people’s strong and harsh words against the Lord. First, the Jewish people were telling others that serving and following the Lord was foolish and worthless. Second, the Jewish people were basically saying “what do we gain by observing His commands? How does it benefit us to walk in His ways?”

Third, the Jewish people were painting a word picture of how a person conducted themselves at a funeral to communicate to others that they no longer found joy on following God. Instead, like attending a funeral, it was a dreadful duty that did not benefit them at all. And fourth, the Jewish people were telling others is that God blesses the arrogant. However, not every Jewish person held such a view of the Lord, as Malachi revealed in verse 16-18:

Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who esteem His name. "They will be Mine," says the LORD of hosts, "on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him." So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.

Here we see Malachi explain that there were some Jewish people who still held the Lord in honor; there were some Jewish people who still thought highly and made much of the Lord. And those Jewish people continued to gather together in community to encourage one another to remain faithful to living lives that honored and glorified the Lord. Malachi then explained that the Lord responded by leaning in to listen and that a book of remembrance was written before the Lord for those who fear the Lord and esteem His name. This book of remembrance was to serve as a memorial of the faithfulness of the Jewish people who did not buy into the lie that following the Lord was foolish and futile.

A book of remembrance would be written so that, at the end of God’s story here on earth, when every human being will give an account for how they lived their lives here on earth, the book of remembrance would provide the evidence of their faithfulness during their life here on earth. And on that day when the Lord establishes the kingdom of Heaven in its fullest sense, Malachi explained that those who were faithful to the Lord throughout history will be God’s possession. Just as a father has compassion on his faithful son who serves him, the Lord will have compassion on those who are faithful to Him.

And as a result of the Lord’s activity at the end of God’s story, the prophet explained that all humanity will be able to distinguish between the righteous and the wicked. There will be a crystal clear distinction between those are just and right when it comes to their relationship with God and those who are guilty of not being right when it comes to a relationship with God. Malachi then unpacked exactly how this distinction will become so crystal clear in Malachi 4:1-3:

"For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze," says the LORD of hosts, "so that it will leave them neither root nor branch." "But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.  "You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing," says the LORD of hosts.

Here we see Malachi proclaim that, upon the Messiah’s arrival at the end of God’s story here on earth, the Messiah will sift through all of humanity and gather all of those who reject the Lord and the word of the Lord to experience the eternal judgment that awaits those who reject Him. And that judgment, according to Malachi will be thorough and complete. However, for those who honor and glorify the Lord, they will experience the blessings that come from living faithfully and rightly with Him. Those who live in a right relationship with the Lord will experience justice and righteousness in the fullest sense. 

Those who live in a right relationship with the Lord will experience healing from the damage and destruction that selfishness and rebellion have wreaked on the earth. Those who live in a right relationship with the Lord will experience the joy that comes in living in the fullness of the relationship with God that they were created for. And those who live in a right relationship with God will overcome and dominate those who have received God’s right and just response to their selfishness and rebellion upon the Messiah’s coming. Malachi then concluded his letter by reminding the Jewish people of the Lord’s promise of the Messiah and His coming in verses 4-6:

"Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel. "Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. "He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse."

Malachi commanded the Jewish people to keep watch and make sure that they followed the Lord’s commands as given to Moses. The reason that they are to make sure to keep and follow the Lord’s commands was due to the fact that the Lord would send Elijah the prophet before the arrival of the Messiah and the ushering in of the kingdom of Heaven. Upon his arrival, Malachi explains that he will be used by God to “restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.”

Just as reconciliation within a family involves a turning toward one another to restore the broken relationship, the Lord would take the initiative to restore the broken relationship with humanity. And, it is here, when God speaks, that we discover a timeless truth about the nature and character of God and His activity in history. And that timeless truth is this: A shallow and insincere relationship with the Lord dishonors the Lord. Just as it was for the Jewish people of Malachi's day, just as it has been throughout history, a shallow and insincere relationship with the Lord dishonors the Lord.

You see, the point of the book of Malachi is that a shallow and insincere relationship with the Lord will lead us to give the Lord our leftovers in worship of the Lord. The point of the book of Malachi is that a shallow and insincere relationship with the Lord will lead us to view having a relationship with the Lord as a duty rather than a delight. The point of the book of Malachi is that a shallow and insincere relationship with the Lord will lead us to have a faulty view of how the Lord responds to those who rebel and reject Him.

And when we give the Lord our leftovers when it comes to worship, we dishonor the Lord. When we view a relationship with the Lord as a duty rather than a delight, we dishonor the Lord. When we have a faulty view when it comes to how the Lord responds to those who rebel and reject Him, we dishonor the Lord.

We dishonor the Lord because our view of worship reveals that we have a shallow and insincere relationship with the Lord. We dishonor the Lord because a life of duty to the Lord instead of delight in the Lord reveals that we have a shallow and insincere relationship with the Lord. We dishonor the Lord because a faulty view of the Lord’s response to rebellion reveals that we have a shallow and insincere relationship with the Lord.

So here is a question to consider: How do you view your relationship with the Lord? Is your relationship with the Lord driven out of duty to the Lord or delight in the Lord?  

Because, as we have discovered, a shallow and insincere relationship with the Lord dishonors the Lord...

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

God's response to a relationship with Him that is driven by duty instead of delight....


This week we are looking at a letter that is recorded for us in the Old Testament of the Bible called the book of Malachi, which is the last letter that was written by a prophet chronologically and is the last letter that is recorded for us in the Old Testament of the Bible. Yesterday we began  to look at the first section of this letter that serves as a bookend of the letter and that reveal the timeless truth about the nature and character of God and His activity in history.

In Malachi 1:6-9, we looked on as the Lord made an accusation against the Jewish people: “How could you honor and show respect to your earthly fathers and lords and not show honor and respect to your Heavenly Father and Lord?” The Jewish people’s response was one of denial: “How have we despised Your name”. But not only did the Jewish people deny the accusation; the Jewish people also demanded proof of the truth of the accusation: “How have we despised Your name”.

Malachi responded to the denial and demand by providing evidence to support his accusation in that the Jewish people were presenting offerings of worship to God that were contaminated, polluted, or desecrated in some way.  Malachi also revealed the reality that the Lord was accusing the Jewish people of viewing the worship of Him as being something that was to be loathed and viewed with contempt.  The Jewish people were being accused of being so unimpressed with the Lord and thinking so lightly of Him that they failed to give any honor or respect to Him.

Malachi then provided the evidence of this lack of honor and respect in that, as far as the Jewish people were concerned, worship was a duty that needed to be done. There was no excitement about worship; there was no sense of expectancy when it came to worship; and there was no delight in worship. Instead, worship was done out of duty with loathing; worship was viewed with contempt as something to be endured.

Today, we see Malachi provide the Lord’s response to their attitude toward the Lord in Malachi 1:10-11:

"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. "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.

The Lord’s response was straightforward and to the point: “Oh, I just wish that one of you would close the doors and lock them tight. If that is how you are going to approach worship, I just wish one of you would cancel church. I just wish you would cancel your worship services, because you acts of worship are useless to Me. I do not find any pleasure or delight in your worship. And I will not accept your worship of Me favorably.”

The Lord made it abundantly clear that He would rather that we not worship at all than receive worship that makes light of Him. The Lord would rather that we not worship at all than receive worship that is out of duty and that gives Him less than our best. The Lord would rather that we not worship at all than receive worship that is driven by duty instead of delight.

Instead Malachi predicted and proclaimed that in the future all of the nations would honor and make much of God. From as far as the east is to the west, individuals across continents and cultures would respond to who God is, what God has done, and what God has promised to do by worshipping Him. After predicting and proclaiming, the future, Malachi transitioned to reveal the present problem that plagued the Jewish people in verse 12-14:

"But you are profaning it, in that you say, 'The table of the Lord is defiled, and as for its fruit, its food is to be despised.'  "You also say, 'My, how tiresome it is!' And you disdainfully sniff at it," says the LORD of hosts, "and you bring what was taken by robbery and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering! Should I receive that from your hand?" says the LORD. "But cursed be the swindler who has a male in his flock and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord, for I am a great King," says the LORD of hosts, "and My name is feared among the nations."

Unlike the future, Malachi confronted the Jewish people with the reality that they were profaning the name of the Lord. In other words, the Jewish people were dishonoring and despising the Lord. The Jewish people were dishonoring the Lord by readily acknowledging that their worship was polluted and contaminated as the result of their failure to follow the very clear and detailed instructions of the Jewish sacrificial system.

Yet, in spite of that acknowledgment, the Jewish people still viewed the idea of even having to worship God with loathing and contempt. Their complaint, if communicated in the language we use today, would have sounded something like this: “What a nuisance it is to have to go to church this morning. There are so many things that I could and would rather be doing then going to church. I could be on the lake, I could be camping, in the fall I could watch football; I could be shopping, I could sleep in; this whole church thing is just so wearisome. Church just gets old, you know. What a drag.”

But not only were the Jewish people dishonoring and despising God through their words; they were also dishonoring and despising God through their actions. The Jewish people were stealing from one another, and then were giving to the Lord what they had stolen in worship. In our day, it would be similar to someone robbing a Circle K and then bringing that money to church and putting it into the offering as an act of worship. In addition, the Jewish people decided that the Lord was only worthy of their leftovers and had come to the conclusion that the Lord could be deceived into thinking that they were offering the best when in fact they were offering the worst.

Malachi then proclaimed that the person who attempted to deceive the Lord into thinking that they were giving Him their best when in fact they were giving Him their worst in worship would receive a curse from the Lord. And throughout the book of Malachi, the prophet continued to confront the Jewish people with their rebellion against the Lord and warn the Jewish people of the response that awaited them as a result of their rebellion.

We see this reality revealed by Malachi in the conclusion of his letter, which serves as the second bookend of this letter, which we will look at on Friday…

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

An accusation over an attitude problem...


At the church where I serve, we concluded a sermon series entitled when God speaks. During this series we spent our time together looking at these letters that we often have a tendency to skip over, which are referred to as the prophets. We discovered who these letters that we have a tendency to skip over were written to. We are discovered what these letters that we have a tendency to skip over reveal about who we are. We are discovered what these letters that we have a tendency to skip over reveal about the nature of God and God’s activity in history. And as we went through the series, our hope and prayer was that God would move by the power of the Holy Spirit in our heads, hearts and hands so that we understand and embrace the timeless and timely truths that these letters that we often skip over have for our lives.

Now this week as we conclude this series, I would like for us to look at a letter that is recorded for us in the Old Testament of the Bible called the book of Malachi, which is the last letter that was written by a prophet chronologically and is the last letter that is recorded for us in the Old Testament of the Bible. Unlike most of the rest of the prophets that we have looked at during this series, we know essentially nothing about the prophet himself. Malachi, in Hebrew, means “my messenger”.

However, while we know nothing about the prophet himself, we do know a great deal about the circumstances that led Malachi to write this letter. As we have discovered during this series, while the Lord sent prophets to warn the Jewish people to return to Him, the Jewish people refused to return to the Lord. As a result, the Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrian Empire in 722 B.C. Then, in 586 B.C., the Babylonian Empire conquered the Southern Kingdom of Judea and destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the temple. Then, in 539 B.C., the Babylonian Empire was conquered by the Persian Empire. The next year, the Persian Emperor Cyrus began to allowed the Jewish people to return back to Jerusalem and rebuild their city. By 536 B.C., the Jewish people had rebuilt the altar and began to worship God again through the Jewish sacrificial system.

However, while the Jewish people were building their own houses, they failed to rebuild either the rest of the Temple of the walls around the city of Jerusalem. As we discovered the past two weeks, the Lord responded by sending the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to call the Jewish people to rebuild the Temple. In 515 B.C., the temple was completed. In 458 B.C. a man named Ezra returned from Babylon to Jerusalem and led the Jewish people to repent from selfishness and rebellion that had once again arisen among the people, which is recorded for us in the book of Ezra.

14 years later, in 445 B.C. Nehemiah traveled to Jerusalem and led the Jewish people to rebuild the walls around the city, which is recorded for us in the book of Nehemiah. After traveling back to Babylon, Nehemiah ended up having to return to Jerusalem in 427 B.C. in order to, once again, confront the continuing selfishness and rebellion of the Jewish people.

So, 150 years after being conquered and carried into captivity by the Babylonian Empire,; after being allowed to begin to return to Jerusalem as a result of God’s activity through the Persian Empire; after spending over 100 years rebuilding the Temple and the city of Jerusalem; the Jewish people were still selfishly rebelling and rejecting the Lord. And it is in this context that the Lord sent the prophet Malachi to the Jewish people with a message.

Now the book of Malachi is written in a unique question and answer format, as though Malachi is being asked questions by an audience of the Jewish people. I would like for us to look at two sections of this letter that serve as bookends of the letter and that reveal the timeless truth about the nature and character of God and His activity in history. So let’s look at the first bookend of this letter, which begins in Malachi 1:6:

"'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.

Now Malachi’s statement, if communicated in the language we use in our culture today, would have sounded something like this: “It is common knowledge that a son normally shows honor and respect to his father. It is common knowledge that a slave normally shows honor and respect to his master or lord. Well if it is normal to show honor and respect to your earthly father and earthly master or Lord, then why are you not showing Me the honor and respect that I rightly deserve and should receive as King and Lord of all?”

Here the Lord is making an accusation against the Jewish people: “How could you honor and show respect to your earthly fathers and lords and not show honor and respect to your Heavenly Father and Lord?” Malachi then revealed the objection that the Jewish people would have to the Lord’s statement at the end of verse 6. Let’s look at it together:

But you say, 'How have we despised Your name?'

The Jewish people’s response was one of denial: “How have we despised Your name”. The word despised, in the language that this letter was originally written in, literally means to think lightly of. The Jewish people denied that they were making light of God instead of making much of God by bringing glory and honor to God.

But not only did the Jewish people deny the accusation; the Jewish people also demanded proof of the truth of the accusation: “How have we despised Your name”. We see Malachi respond to their demand by providing evidence to support his accusation in verse 7:

"You are presenting defiled 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.'

Now to understand the evidence that Malachi is presenting here, we first need to explain how the Jewish people worshipped God in the Old Testament and then define some terms. When Malachi refers to presenting defiled food upon My altar, he is referring to the Jewish sacrificial system.  In the Jewish sacrificial system, there were two times every day that sacrifices were made to God for the sins of the people, one early in the morning and one in the in the late afternoon at 3 p.m.

The sacrificial offerings involved animals who were offered as a substitute to pay the penalty for acts of selfishness and rebellion that had been committed against God. There were also burnt offerings that were offered as an expression of worship and thanksgiving to God. These sacrifices and offerings were to be made on the altar at the Temple in Jerusalem. In the Old Testament, God provided the Jewish people very clear and detailed instructions when it came to when sacrifices and offerings were to be offered and what was to be offered in those sacrifices.

However, the Jewish people were presenting offerings of worship to God that were contaminated, polluted, or desecrated in some way.  Malachi then recorded the objection that the Jewish people would have to God’s accusation-“How have we defiled You?”  This response, if communicated in the language the we use in our culture today, would have sounded like this: “how have we shown contempt for You and Your Name?”

Malachi, anticipating this response, replied with a powerful statement: in that you say 'The table of the LORD is to be despised.”  Malachi is revealing the reality that the Lord was accusing the Jewish people of viewing the worship of Him as being something that was to be loathed and viewed with contempt.  The Jewish people were being accused of being so unimpressed with the Lord and thinking so lightly of Him that they failed to give any honor or respect to Him. Malachi then provided the evidence of this lack of honor and respect in verse 8-9:

"But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?" says the LORD of hosts. "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.

Now this evidence, if communicated in the language we use today, would have sounded something like this: “Don’t you think it is dishonoring and disrespectful to offer up to God that which God has specifically said was not to be offered to Him in worship? I mean, do you hold animals that are blind, handicapped, or weak and sickly as being very valuable? No, you consider blind, handicapped, and weak and sick animals as being of little value and worth. So do you think that giving those animals to the Lord in worship shows that you honor and respect the Lord? Would you take animals that were blind, handicapped, sick, or weak and give them to any political leader that you wanted to honor? Would any earthly political leader and ruler be pleased with you and accept them favorably? No, of course they wouldn’t. They would feel dishonored and disrespected because you are giving them less than your best, you would be giving them your leftovers. So what makes you think that giving the Lord, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, your leftovers would result in a different response? If such an offering would not earn the favor of an earthly ruler, what makes you think that such an offering would earn that favor of the King and Lord of all?”

You see, as far as the Jewish people were concerned, worship was a duty that needed to be done. There was no excitement about worship; there was no sense of expectancy when it came to worship; and there was no delight in worship. Instead, worship was done out of duty with loathing; worship was viewed with contempt as something to be endured.

Tomorrow, we will see the Lord’s response to the Jewish people’s attitude toward Him…

Friday, November 30, 2018

In the midst of our rebellion, the Lord offers the hope of a rescuer...


This week we are looking at a letter that is recorded for us in the Old Testament of the Bible, called the book of Zechariah. We looked on as the Lord proclaimed to the Jewish people who had returned from captivity to the Jewish nation “What I have to say to you now that I have brought you back into the land that I promised you is the same thing that I said to your parents and grandparents before I removed them from the land. As I have always said, what I require of you is to demonstrate your love for Me by how you love and treat those around you. You are to demonstrate your love for Me by promoting justice and kindness towards one another. You are to demonstrate your love for Me by refusing to exploit the poor and marginalized among you. However, your parents and grandfathers refused to listen to my spokesman the prophets who I sent to warn them. Instead, the hardened their hearts and refused to listen to Me or obey Me. Therefore, I treated them in the same way that they treated Me. Just as they refused to listen to Me, I refused to listen to them and instead exercised my right and just response to their rebellion by sending them into captivity in Babylon.”

However, in the midst of the rebellion of the Jewish people; in the midst of the Lord exercising His right and just response to the selfishness and rebellion of the Jewish people by sending them into captivity in Babylon, the Lord still had a plan for the Jewish people. A plan that Zechariah reveals in Zechariah 8:1-8:

Then the word of the LORD of hosts came, saying, 2 "Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'I am exceedingly jealous for Zion, yes, with great wrath I am jealous for her.' 3 "Thus says the LORD, 'I will return to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of the LORD of hosts will be called the Holy Mountain.' 4 "Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'Old men and old women will again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each man with his staff in his hand because of age. 5 'And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets.' 6 "Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'If it is too difficult in the sight of the remnant of this people in those days, will it also be too difficult in My sight?' declares the LORD of hosts. 7 "Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'Behold, I am going to save My people from the land of the east and from the land of the west; 8 and I will bring them back and they will live in the midst of Jerusalem; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God in truth and righteousness.'

Here we see the Lord proclaim to the Jewish people that there would be a day in the future when the Lord Himself would return and dwell in the city of Jerusalem. There would be a day in the future when the city of Jerusalem would be recognized as a bastion of truth. There would be a day in the future when the Temple of the Lord would be viewed as set apart to the Lord.  There would be a day in the future where the young and old would dwell in safety and security in the city. There would be a day in the future when the Lord would bring the Jewish people from across the planet to dwell in the presence of the Lord in the right relationship with the Lord that they were created for. And just a few verses later, we see the Lord continue to proclaim His promises and plans for the Jewish people in Zechariah 8:14-17:

"For thus says the LORD of hosts, 'Just as I purposed to do harm to you when your fathers provoked Me to wrath,' says the LORD of hosts, 'and I have not relented, 15 so I have again purposed in these days to do good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. Do not fear! 16 'These are the things which you should do: speak the truth to one another; judge with truth and judgment for peace in your gates. 17 'Also let none of you devise evil in your heart against another, and do not love perjury; for all these are what I hate,' declares the LORD."

Here we see the Lord remind the Jewish people of Zechariah’s day that He was a promise maker and a promise keeper. The Lord reminded the Jewish people that just as He fulfilled His promise to exercise His right and just response to their past selfishness and rebellion if they continued in that rebellion, He has promised to bring good upon the Jewish people. The Jewish people were not to look back in fear of their past. And the Jewish people were not to live in fear in the present.

Instead the Jewish people were to live in the land that the Lord had returned them to in a way that promoted truth, justice, and peace with one another as they lived in community with one another as the people of God. The Jewish people were to reject the selfishness and falsehood that marked the lives of the Jewish people prior to being conquered and led captive by the Babylonian Empire. The Jewish people were to move away from their past rebellion and opposition against the Lord and one another and move towards a life that trusted in the promises of the Lord so as to obey the Lord and represent the Lord to the nations of the world. We see this reality revealed to us in Zechariah 8:18-23:

Then the word of the LORD of hosts came to me, saying, 19 "Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'The fast of the fourth, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth months will become joy, gladness, and cheerful feasts for the house of Judah; so love truth and peace.' 20 "Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'It will yet be that peoples will come, even the inhabitants of many cities. 21 'The inhabitants of one will go to another, saying, "Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the LORD, and to seek the LORD of hosts; I will also go." 22 'So many peoples and mighty nations will come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the LORD.' 23 "Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, "Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you."'"

The Lord proclaimed to the Jewish people “you know those four days of sadness and fasting that you have done to commemorate the major disasters connected with the fall of Jerusalem that came as a result of your selfishness and rebellion: Well, in the future those days will become times of joy and gladness for the Jewish people. So make sure that in the present you are leaning into lives that love what is true and what promotes harmony with one another as you live in community with one another. You are to live such lives, understanding that there will be a day in the future when the nations of the world will come to Jerusalem to seek the favor of the Lord.

There will be a day in the future when the nations of the Lord will seek you as a people because they recognize the reality that I am present with you as you live in a right relationship with Me. There will be a day in the future when your right relationship with Me will cause the nations of the world to recognize My presence with you so that they would desire to seek and know Me as well. Then, just a few verses later, we see Zechariah proclaim one of the clearest promises of the Messiah that has been fulfilled by Jesus in all the letters that make up the Bible. So let’s look at that promise together, which is found in Zechariah 9:9-10:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim And the horse from Jerusalem; And the bow of war will be cut off. And He will speak peace to the nations; And His dominion will be from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth.

And a little over 500 years after proclaiming this promise, we see Jesus fulfill this promise in Matthew 21:1-11:

When they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to Me. 3 "If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord has need of them,' and immediately he will send them." 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 "SAY TO THE DAUGHTER OF ZION, 'BEHOLD YOUR KING IS COMING TO YOU, GENTLE, AND MOUNTED ON A DONKEY, EVEN ON A COLT, THE FOAL OF A BEAST OF BURDEN.'" 6 The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them, 7 and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their coats on them; and He sat on the coats. 8 Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. 9 The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David; BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Hosanna in the highest!" 10 When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, "Who is this?" 11 And the crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee."

Now you might be here this morning, and at this point a question or objection has been raised in your mind. And if we were to have a conversation in the courtyard coffeehouse, the conversation would sound something like this: “Well Dave, what about all the stuff that Zechariah said in verse 10. I mean, if Jesus actually fulfilled this prediction and promise, then all of the things in verse 10 should have happened too. But they haven’t happened. So how can you say that Jesus actually fulfilled this prediction and promise and is the Messiah?” 

If that question or objection is running through your mind, I want to let you know that you have a fair question. And my response to your question and objection is this: The reason why what is predicted and promised in verse 10 did not take place is because the Jewish people rejected Jesus as their Messiah. And because the Jewish people refused to place their confident trust in Jesus as their Messiah, because the Jewish people continued to rebel and reject the Lord, verse 10, like the previous promises and predictions that we have looked at this morning are for a day in the future. And in that day in the future, the Jewish people will recognize the gravity of rebelling against the Lord and rejecting Jesus as Messiah. We see this reality revealed for us just a few chapters later, in Zechariah 12:10:

"I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.

Here we see Zechariah proclaim that, on that day in the future, the Lord will, by the power of the Holy Spirit, pour upon the Jewish people His grace and compassion. And in His grace and compassion, the eyes of the Jewish people will be opened to see that Jesus was the fulfillment of His promise to send a rescuer, a deliverer, a Messiah, to bring the Jewish people, and all people, back to God. And on that day in the future, when Jesus returns to earth to usher in the kingdom of Heaven in its fullest sense, the Jewish people will see Him whom their forefathers wrongly rejected and handed Him over to be pierced by crucifixion.

Now remember, this was written over 500 years before Jesus entered into humanity to live the life humanity refused to live and die the death that humanity deserved to die. And on the day in the future, as the Jewish people see Jesus, they will weep bitterly like the bitter weeping over a firstborn. The Jewish people will recognize that they missed and rejected Jesus and will weep over the loss of the blessings that their ancestors missed as a result of that rejection. However, upon Jesus return, Zechariah reveals the promise of what is to come for the Jewish people and all humanity in Zechariah 14:9:

And the LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be the only one, and His name the only one.

Upon Jesus return, Jesus will defeat selfishness, sin, and death and will usher in the spiritual and the earthly blessing of the kingdom yet be fulfilled for the Jewish people as well, which is referred to in church mumbo jumbo talk as the Millennial Kingdom. During the time of the Millennial Kingdom, the Lord will dwell with the Jewish people who placed their confident trust in Jesus, and who will experience the fulfillment of the promises that the Lord made to the Jewish people. During the time of the Millennial Kingdom, Jesus will rule and reign as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Jesus will rule and reign as a result of being the One True God and the One True King.

And, it is here, when God speaks, that we discover a timeless truth about the nature and character of God and God’s activity in history. And that timeless truth is this: In the midst of our rebellion, the Lord offers the hope of a rescuer. You see, the point of the book of Zechariah is that the Lord is just and will execute justice upon the wrongdoing and injustice of those who rebel and reject Him. Yet in the midst of the Jewish people’s rebellion and rejection of the Lord, the Lord offered hope in the promise of a rescuer, a deliverer, a Messiah, who would bring the Jewish people back to the Lord.

And just like the Jewish people, all of humanity has done things that hurt and wronged the Lord and others as a result of our rebellion and rejection of the Lord. And just like the Jewish people, in the midst of our rebellion and rejection of the Lord, the Lord offered hope in the promise of a rescuer, a deliverer, a Messiah, who would provide all humanity the opportunity to experience forgiveness and the relationship with God that they were created for. In the midst of our rebellion, the Lord promised that whoever responded to that hope by responding to the claims of Christ and the message of the gospel by believing, trusting, and following Jesus as Lord and Leader would be rescued from God’s right and just response to selfishness and rebellion to live in relationship with the Lord as part of the people of the Lord.

So here is a question to consider: How will you respond to the reality that, in the midst of our rebellion, the Lord offers the hope of a rescuer?  How will you respond to the offer of rescue that the Lord extends through the fulfillment of His promise of rescue through His Son Jesus?

Because, in the midst of our rebellion, the Lord offers the hope of a rescuer…