A Fearless Church?

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A Fearless Church?

Have you ever been the object of mistaken identity or even the subject of it? I remember when I first came to this church two and a half years ago. I remember, on the church weekend away, Kirstin telling how she'd recently got married and about her husband. The next time we were in church I introduced Kirstin to a chap serving the tea and coffee. I didn't realise the chap serving the tea and coffee was James – her husband! Perhaps I could claim some responsibility for having introduced them as a couple! But in truth I didn't realise who he was and I felt a right chump. I wonder if you've ever had an experience like that – not realising just who someone is. Well in our passage this evening God's people didn't quite realise who someone one was and that someone was God himself.

So please do turn back to that reading in Malachi chapter 1 p677 in the blue Bibles if you don't still have it open. We're going have brief look at some background and then this passage in two parts.

You may remember Nehemiah bringing some of God's people from exile back to Jerusalem and they rebuilt the walls of the city and rebuilt the temple but it was never as the first temple. The surrounding weren't exactly being very nice to them. And in this book, the book of Malachi, God reminds and assures his people that one day justice will be done. It's written by Malachi; a prophet which means he tells people things on behalf of God; from God. We can see that from the very first verse of the book: Malachi 1:1

"An oracle: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi."

So God is speaking through Malachi to his people Israel and the four chapters take the form of a series of arguments or disputes between God and his people who are not living right and need correcting.

God's people the Israelites were looking around at their circumstances, looking at their situation, and then deducing that God wasn't with them. Their crops weren't doing so well and the bad guys, the bad nations, around them were prospering.

In the first 5 verses of the book of Malachi they accused God of being absent - of not loving them. And God proves to them that he does love them by reminding them that justice will be done - the others will get what they deserve, and also and perhaps more importantly God's people were no more deserving but he chose them through no merit of their own. He chose them out of his mercy. God is a God of Justice and mercy. There's more to it than that but in our passage, v6 to 14, we see that God's honour is at stake. The way he's been treated, the respect that's due his name has not been forthcoming.

And God through Malachi begins this dispute by using a universal principle that all can understand. A simple principle of if something is true then something else should naturally follow; if something is true then something else should naturally follow. For example; if it is true that this building is on fire then we should all get out. It's black and white and it's obvious. And the principle that God uses is; if someone is a father or a master then respect is due, respect should follow. First part of v6

"A son honours his father, and a servant his master."

There's the principle – quite simple, quite straightforward. A son honours his father and a servant honours his master.

It's a simple principle but one which might be misunderstood today. In this day and age there is not enough respect for Fathers. There has been respect for Fathers since the dawn of time (and even before then if you look at the eternal relationship of God the Father and God the Son) but qualities of leadership, authority, wisdom and strength are no longer attributes that fathers are encouraged to possess nor work at having in our liberal 21st century English culture. Just look at the portrayal of the inept father figures in things like the Children's Peppa pig TV programme for those unfortunate enough to have seen it. It's shown even in the Les Mis musical in the satirical view of the Master of the house who isn't worth his wife's spit. In today's age we may struggle to understand the principle because the devil has eroded our understanding of the Father–child relationship. He's not only done that through the weakening of men's courage to fulfil their roles in our society but also through abusive fathers diminishing the respect that should be due.

But God also appeals to our understanding of the Master-Servant relationship. We don't have many of those around today especially with our effective welfare state but it's still easy enough to see – it's easy enough for those in Malachi's day and it's easy enough for us today to see that children should honour their parents and servants should honour their masters.

Well how does that relate to God? Well God is both our Father and our Master. God's people are his children and his servants – that is the relationship – that is the hierarchy and honour and respect are due to him.

Why does God have to start with this principle? Because if you don't realise who God is then you're not going to worship him properly. And that is what is at stake here. They don't fear God so they don't worship him properly. Where there's no fear there's no worship.


• NO FEAR - NO WORSHIP
And when I say worship I mean the correct term for worship. Worship includes praise but it is not just praise with words and music. It is using our lives; our whole lives – every second of our lives in worship of him – in humble obedient submission to him – FOR him – worshipping him rather than ourselves. God is great. God is awesome. God is majestic. He is glorious. If you we don't grasp how great God is then we won't worship him properly. And God's people in Malachi's day weren't. God's people in Malachi's day were not giving God the respect and honour he was due (Middle of v6)

"If I am a father, where is the honour due to me? If I am a master, where is the respect due to me?" says the LORD Almighty."

It's inconsistent. God's people are being inconsistent. Having God as Father and Master and then treating him with disrespect is bonkers! God is totally cross with them; and rightly so; "How dare you treat me like this? I'm your Father and your Master?! What on earth are doing?" Have you ever said to your kids or thought it of other peoples' kids, "How dare you be so rude and insolent"? Have you? Can you see how God feels. Can you feel that? How does God feel toward us right now? What is it that we're not doing? In what ways are we disrespecting God as Father and Master?

So what were God's people doing which was so insolent? They were basically Living as if God didn't exist. They didn't fear him. They didn't honour him. The priests show contempt for God and disrespect for his name. They look down their noses at God. And we see that in v6-10:

"A son honours his father, and a servant his master.
If I am a father, where is the honour due to me? If I am a master, where is the respect due to me?" says the LORD Almighty.
"It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name. "
But you ask, 'How have we shown contempt for your name?'
"You place defiled food on my altar. "
But you ask, 'How have we defiled you?'
"By saying that the LORD's table is contemptible.
When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong?
When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?" says the LORD Almighty.
"Now implore God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?" --says the LORD Almighty.
"Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar!
I am not pleased with you," says the LORD Almighty, "
and I will accept no offering from your hands."

They show contempt for God. They do so by bringing unclean sacrifices to him, saying his altar, his table is worthless and unclean. Basically they don't care. They don't really care about how to come before the Holy God. They bring lame sacrifices, blind and crippled and diseased; animals and meat that they wouldn't even give to an earthly ruler; perhaps even a secular ruler. (There may have even been a foreign governor ruling the land as they were still technically under the Persian empire.) But the point is they're bringing blind, lame and sick animals in their worship of God and they're not supposed to. It was specifically forbidden in the Old Testament law: e.g. Leviticus. 22:18–25;

"Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the Israelites and say to them: 'If any of you--either an Israelite or an alien living in Israel--presents a gift for a burnt offering to the LORD, either to fulfil a vow or as a freewill offering,
you must present a male without defect from the cattle, sheep or goats in order that it may be accepted on your behalf.
Do not bring anything with a defect, because it will not be accepted on your behalf.
When anyone brings from the herd or flock a fellowship offering to the LORD to fulfil a special vow or as a freewill offering, it must be without defect or blemish to be acceptable.
Do not offer to the LORD the blind, the injured or the maimed, or anything with warts or festering or running sores. Do not place any of these on the altar as an offering made to the LORD by fire.
You may, however, present as a freewill offering an ox or a sheep that is deformed or stunted, but it will not be accepted in fulfilment of a vow.
You must not offer to the LORD an animal whose testicles are bruised, crushed, torn or cut. You must not do this in your own land,
and you must not accept such animals from the hand of a foreigner and offer them as the food of your God. They will not be accepted on your behalf, because they are deformed and have defects.'"

They brought unclean sacrifices to a perfect God. They brought defiled sacrifices to a Holy God. And he won't accept them.There's no fear, there's no worship and there'll be no acceptance

• NO FEAR - NO WORSHIP - NO ACCEPTANCE

The book of Malachi is so densely populated with the words "LORD of hosts" more densely than any other book in the Bible. In our NIV Bibles it's translated as "LORD Almighty". The prophet has not used the term in his first dispute, with the Israelites, but at this point in the book he starts using the term. He begins to describe God as "LORD of hosts" the LORD Almighty. Why? Well 'LORD' in capitals means YHWH; God's name, and 'hosts' means armies or powers, particularly numerically. The stars are sometimes called the heavenly host. They're up there. They're bigger than we are and there's so many of them. The God of heaven's armies is the God of a vast and powerful army. Do you get the picture? The God of Hosts is a God with power at his command, power at his finger tips; a God to be feared. This God is almighty and powerful beyond our comprehension. And they come before THIS God with unclean sacrifices and half-hearted worship! Are they mad! I mean you've got to be really stupid to disrespect a Father or Master who's got the power to punish you. You've got to be a complete fool to do that to God. Can you see the stupidity of not fearing God?

And what's more; this is the system (this sacrificial system which they disdain is the system) by which they'll be accepted by God; forgiven and able to be friends with God - on the right sight of God. They needed a sacrifice to take the punishment on their behalf and if the sacrifice isn't good enough then they don't get forgiven and they stand condemned. Can you see the stupidity and the irony of trying to cut corners on the very thing that saves them? In case you're interested the sacrifices in the OT pointed to Jesus and God's people in those times were saved through his sacrifice. Through his grace. The sacrifices were supposed to ensure God would be gracious to them. They were supposed to gain God's favour. Verse 9:

""Now implore God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?" --says the LORD Almighty."

The sacrifices were supposed to gain God's favour not annoy him! And yet the very things they were saved through - the system they were saved by – they showed contempt for. It was their way of being saved and still they come half-hearted! And God is not going to accept them.

What about you and me? Do we treat our 'way of being saved' half-heartedly – with contempt? Do we take for granted Jesus's sacrifice? The sacrificial system was how THEY would be accepted before God. And they look down their nose at it! Do we look down our nose at God's grace – God's grace in Jesus saving us? Do we forget to fear God? Do we forget to give him respect that is due because of his grace to us? Have we taken our eyes off how great and mighty God is and have we taken our eyes off how merciful and gracious he's been to us in Jesus? Have we become over-familiar with how Almighty God is?

Have we become over-familiar with how gracious God is?

Well let's see if we can figure out a right fear and a right worship by reading on:

• RIGHT FEAR - RIGHT WORSHIP

In the next half of our passage God says he's not pleased with them and would rather someone had the braveness to stop the sacrifices. He says, 'I wish that there was one among you who had the guts to say, 'enough we're not going to give God rubbish' and show people that what they're offering is not good enough.' There was one man who did have the guts to do that; to stand in gap - one man who did know what a perfect sacrifice was - perfect and pleasing to God. Our Lord Jesus. Thank God for him.

And God says he will be respected, not just in Israel but, in all the world. God says he's going to get the honour he deserves, but it's also a kindness - a kindness in others coming to know him too. We see Justice and mercy meet.
We then see more of the contempt from the priests and it's not just the priests (who know that they're sacrificing dodgy animals) but it's the ordinary everyday folk who are lying, promise-breaking, keeping back and cheating. They'll be judged too. They'll be cursed as a result and again God will get the glory he deserves AND not just in Israel but the whole world

Let's have a read:

"Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar!
I am not pleased with you," says the LORD Almighty, "
and I will accept no offering from your hands.
My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations," says the LORD Almighty.
"But you profane it by saying of the Lord's table, 'It is defiled', and of its food, 'It is contemptible.'
And you say, 'What a burden!' and you sniff at it contemptuously," says the LORD Almighty. "When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?" says the LORD.
"Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king," says the LORD Almighty, "and my name is to be feared among the nations.

Is it burdensome to serve the Lord? Are you and I bored with God? Do we find hearing his word – having our own personal time to study the Bible or church too boring or difficult? Would we rather watch TV at night or have a beer or glass of wine and do other things at night rather than read the Bible and pray with our spouse or go to bed early enough to give God our best the next day? Do you believe God is good? Do you believe his ways are best – I mean actually believe they are best? Is our worship casual toward God? Do we find serving God wearisome? Are we half hearted? The sacrifices they were bringing were no real sacrifice at all. What sacrifices do we bring that are no real sacrifices? They brought, at best, half hearted sacrifices and they weren't accepted.

Why did they promise the best for God and then give him the worst? They wanted to keep the best for themselves. The best sheep sell for more money? So what were they worshipping more than God? Money. The best sheep have more meat? So what were they worshipping more than God? Their stomachs. What about you and me? What do we worship more than God? Money? Security – trusting in our own reliability rather than that of the Almighty God of Hosts.

Our stomachs, our food, having a full tummy? I don't know if you've ever had a stage of your life where you didn't know where your next meal was coming from. Getting the feeling of fullness is a luxury to be craved for. I bet so many of us take that feeling for granted.

Or are we bored with God – do we crave the things of this world? Do we find them more exciting? Most of will have seen star wars and know that the good side of the force involves peace and calm whereas feeling the dark side gives a sense of quickening – a raised heartbeat – a racing. And it's that raciness we find so alluring from the world. Not that all things involving a raised heartbeat are wrong , not at all, but we so easily want more of the excitement . We want to worship the created things rather than the almighty God who created those things.

So they put other things first and God was way down the list. What are we putting first? What are we worshipping that leads us to hold worship of God in contempt – that treats him with disdain? Are we spending our money on things which excite us or on God's Kingdom? Are we spending our money on things on things which please us or on things which will bring his name honour and respect and glory – things which will lead to more people hearing of his Gospel of Grace? Does our worship of God cost us anything? Is there any real self sacrifice in our worship of God? The cheat in v14 didn't want to foot the cost.

"Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord"

He didn't want to lose out.

You know it really is costly to put yourself out for someone else who's struggling or in need and miss out on a trip to the cinema.

You know it really is costly to put yourself out for others to hear the gospel.

You know it really is costly to put yourself out to become a school governor when you already very busy with other things.

You know it really is costly to put yourself out to stand for parliament to be an influence for good.

You know it really is costly to join a club or something so you get to meet more non-Christians who don't know about God.

You know it really is costly to put yourself out when you've come home tired from work and you have to be extra patient with your spouse or firm in disciplining the kids when all you want to do is rest.

You know it really is costly to put yourself out and put God first and his wants and worship him.

But should we not be willing to pay that cost - to give him our best?

Let's not be half-hearted and give him our lame sacrifices. Let's give him our best.

This passage is a warning and we read another one in our New Testament reading earlier. James 1v22-27:

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror
and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does.
If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

What is our religion like? What is our worship like? Is it heartless treating God as if he doesn't really exist? Is it worldly as if God isn't to be respected? Is it contemptible - looking down our noses at God and his commands?
James 1:22

"If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless."

It's worthless! Worthless! How were those sacrifices they were making described? Malachi 1:10

"Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar!
USELESS! Useless – There's no point!

Is our religious activity worthless or useless? Is it not putting God first? Is it not actually obeying his Word? Does it actually take to heart what God is saying through his word? Do we act on it? Does it result in a changed heart and changed behaviour or do we forget what it says?

This is a warning. This is a wake-up call. God is calling his people back to faithfulness; to a right fear and a right worship and also to a right world

• RIGHT FEAR - RIGHT WORSHIP - RIGHT WORLD

God is not going to accept their offerings because they show contempt for him and don't treat him according to how great he is but notice this; he is not going to accept their offerings because they don't notice how greatly God IS GOING TO BE TREATED:

God is going to be rightly feared and God is going to be rightly worshipped.
v10&11 and then v13&14

"Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar!
I am not pleased with you," says the LORD Almighty, "
and I will accept no offering from your hands."


And at the beginning of v11 there's a word "FOR" correctly in other translations - FOR

"My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations," says the LORD Almighty."

And v13-14

"And you say, 'What a burden!' and you sniff at it contemptuously," says the LORD Almighty. "When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?" says the LORD.
"Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king," says the LORD Almighty, "and my name is to be feared among the nations."

The great God is going to be treated greatly and not just treated greatly but by whom? By other nations – by non Israelites! They don't realise just how gracious God is – that his salvation is not just for them but for the people of every nation tribe and tongue. Hallelujah!

So there's another thing, you Israelites (and perhaps us Christians), the name you hold in contempt will one day be known among the nations. Then who's going to look stupid? Who's going to look like a chump? When Jesus comes back – every knee will bow. How stupid you'll look if you know that and yet haven't bowed the knee in this life. How stupid you'll look if you haven't given him all your worship; even though all along you've know how great and gracious he is.

So what should our worship look like? From this passage we see it should involve a healthy, right and due fear of God – knowledge of God's almightiness and knowledge of God's grace. Is our worship putting the Great and Gracious God above all else? What is a cure for our half-hearted worship – remember how great God is; in particular how great AND gracious he is. Praise God we are accepted on the basis of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. Are we going to fear God in response to his grace?

To end with; we began by considering the principle; the honour due to a Father and master, and the honour due to our heavenly Father and Master but God's not just a father or master. He's more than that. Let us close with this from v14

"Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king," says the LORD Almighty, "and my name is to be feared among the nations.
He's a king! And a great one at that!"

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