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Return and Remember | Malachi 1-4

As preached by Zach Thompson.

"Remembering is a covenantal activity."

1) God exposes sin because sin results in destruction (1:6-3:5).

2) And he patiently calls us to himself (3:6-12).

3) Because he is faithful to judge and show mercy (3:13-4:6).

Return and Remember

Call to Worship: Psalm 15

Middle Reading: 2 Peter 3:8-18

Good morning Christ Fellowship. If you haven’t already turned there, open up to the book of Malachi.

This morning, we will end our series through the Minor Prophets.

The book of Malachi is the last of the twelve minor prophets. And not only the last of the twelve–the book of Malachi represents the final prophetic writing of the Old Testament.

Malachi is the last of the post-exilic prophets. He is writing about 100 years after the people of Judah returned from Exile.

After the discipline of the Lord in the exile, the people seemed quick to respond to God’s calls to faithfulness. Haggai and Zechariah encouraged the people to dwell with God, to worship God, and to live in hope.

And the people seemed to respond, but by the book of Malachi, we see that their initial zeal for the things of God has gone cold in just over a generation.

The people of Judah had become a people who were willing to check off spiritual boxes but they didn’t really love God. The small comments they made and the way the lived revealed that they were hypocrites.

The book of Malachi is book for religious people. It’s a book for people who know the right answers and whose religion is part of their way of life.

And Malachi’s call is the same as the other prophets. Turn to God and find life. Dwell with God. Worship God. Live in Hope.

Specifically, there are two main imperatives in this book for us. Return and Remember. I’ll talk more about those in a minute.

For now, if you are able, would you stand for the public reading of God’s word?

Malachi 1:1-5

“The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. 2 “I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob 3 but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” 4 If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the LORD of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the LORD is angry forever.’ ” 5 Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!”

Let’s Pray.

When I was looking into purchasing the truck that I have now, I reached out to a friend of mine for advice. He worked at a big box dealership similar to the one where I got my truck, so I thought he might have some insight. And he did. He told me about a 172 point inspection that any pre owned vehicles subject to if they pass through a big dealership. They would inspect all of the most important parts of the vehicle, and if anything was wrong, they had to fix issue before the dealership was allowed to sell it.

The book of Malachi is like that inspection, and when the people of Judah were subjected to the test, they failed in every single point. Something was wrong.

The book of Malachi is structured in what are traditionally called disputations.

In each of them, God makes a claim, then the people will disagree or ask a question. Then God responds to the question.

I’m going to put it up on the screen for a moment just so you can begin to see the structure. If you want all of the information on this slide, you’ll probably want to take a picture, because we won’t be here too long. Also, just a note on that chart, I’ve colored each of the disputations according to how we will group them today.

But in each case, God makes the claim, and the people’s questions are always marked by the same phrase, “But you say…” fill in the blank. God says this, but you say that. Then God responds with a longer response. It’s all throughout the book. I’ll try to point it out as we look at the text today.

But by the end of the book, we have a fully painted picture of a people who seem like they don’t even know the God they are talking to. Something was desperately wrong.

Especially because these people seemed religious. They knew things about God, but they didn’t seem to really believe them. They offered sacrifices, but only when it was convenient. They knew things that God had promised, but their hope had turned to cold skepticism.

You can begin to see this in what we just read for our public reading. Look back in verse 2. “‘I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?’”

Can you feel the skepticism in the question? “Prove it God!”

Then God’s response. In verses 3-5, He tells them to think back to Jacob and Esau. How did Esau and his descendants turn out? They became a nation. They were known as the Edomites, but they were eventually annihilated while the descendants of Jacob were sustained. In fact after they moved out of their land, a tribal people moved in, and the identity of the Edomites was fractured beyond repair. The fact that the Israelites were in Jerusalem and were rebuilding was itself an answer to their question.

That’s the first disputation.

God’s claim. The people’s questioning response. God’s rebuttal.

There’s a direction to all of this today. God wants his people to return to him and remember the covenant.

As we meditate on the book of Malachi today, think about this as a time for an inspection of your soul. As I have meditated on this book, it’s been clear to me that this book is for us.

The questions that Israel is asking are the same questions that we hear in our day, and the answers will Lord willing, they will help penetrate our souls and be honest.

So let’s begin. Our first point is that

  1. God exposes sin because sin results in destruction (1:6-3:5)

We see this in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th disputes. These are from 1:6-3:5.

In each of these disputes, it seems like God’s chief aim is to expose their sin. There aren’t actually any commands in these sections. He is simply describing their sin and the consequences that will come if they don’t repent.

Let’s survey them together.

In the second dispute (1:6-2:9), God tells the people that they are sacrificing their sick and blind animals, when they should be using spotless and whole-bodies animals. They wouldn’t present something like that to their governor. Why would the give it to their God?

And God tells them a consequence.

Look in verse 14. “Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock and vows it, and yet sacrifices what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.”

He also speaks directly to the priests in this section, but we are going to move past that for the sake of time.

In the next dispute (2:10-16), he tells the people that they have been faithless to their covenant with God because they are faithless in their marriage covenants. They marrying spouses who are worshiping other Gods (2:10-12). And men are divorcing their wives so that they can run after women who worship other Gods. In verse 12, God outlines a consequence. “May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendent of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts.”

So they are sinning with their sacrifices, and they are sinning with their relationships.

Next, the fourth dispute is in 2:17-3:5. Look in verse 17. You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”

They doubt whether God is really just because they haven’t seen the wicked punished. Isn’t that easy to relate to? We can look around and see people who hate God, and yet they prosper. And it can shake you.

A woman lives in open adultery and conceives a child only to kill the baby through an abortion. Then she goes on to have a successful career. While a righteous couple is unable to have children. A businessman utilitizes a manufacturing plant where the workers are slaves– people who are brutally beaten if they don’t perform. That businessman makes hundreds of thousands off of the profit, and you still clock in for a 9 to 5 without any light at the end of the tunnel.

There are a lot of examples we could point to here. But I want you to see that this same dynamic is all around us. If you haven’t already noticed it, then you will. But look at how God responds.

He points to the day of the Lord when he will judge the living and the dead. Look down in 3:2. “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the songs of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord.”

And every sin will be judged on that day. Look in 3:5. ““Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” (3:5)

When they accuse God of being unjust, his response is to remind them that there is a day coming when every single sin will be addressed. God sees all sin, and he will not forget.

They are complaining that God isn’t just because he hasn’t punished the people that they consider wicked, but they neglect to recognize that they too are wicked.

If God is going to be just and judge sin, why wouldn’t he judge your sin? That’s what they aren’t reckoning with. But God promises that every sin will be dealt with.

Do you know what fullers’ soap is? It’s a soap that isn’t meant for your skin. It would burn you or even cause problems with your lungs. It’s used with fabric. You rub it into the fabric, and then you beat the fabric to remove impurities. It isn’t a pleasant process. A refiners fire isn’t the picture that comes to mind when you think of relaxing on the beach.

These consequences are serious, and remember, he isn’t speaking to the nations here. He is speaking to the people who claim his name.

These are people who care enough to show up at the temple and offer sacrifices. They care enough to keep the form of marriage even though they are being faithless. They know enough about God to know that he is supposed to be just.

These are religious people. These are people who claim the Lord. And God is graciously exposing their sin because that sin will end in destruction if it isn’t dealt with.

I want you to imagine something with me. Joe and Jimmy are friends. Joe has a car with an engine that has literally exploded. It’s been sitting in his driveway for 8 months. His friend Jimmy walks up and says, “Hey! Look at this. Your wheels aren’t moving, and I know that they are definitely supposed to move. So we need to get you some new wheels so this will work properly.”

Jimmy has totally missed it. Putting new wheels on that car will do absolutely nothing because it won’t deal with the actual problem.

And God sees our hearts. He knows exactly what the problems are in your heart. By his Spirit and through his word, he can penetrate into the deepest chasms in our hearts. He can make it perfectly clear where surgery needs to happen.

Is God exposing some sin in you this morning? If he is, then don’t act like he isn’t, because he sees your heart.

Have you been doing something similar to offering a sick lamb? Are you withholding your best when God has called you to something more? Are you ignoring God’s will in your sexual desires? Are you angry with God because his timeline for justice is longer than yours? Are you greedy for a reputation or for security at the expense of others? Is there something else?

Listen, sin always has consequences. God may be using this time in Malachi as a light rebuke before he turns to more severe means of discipline.

Don’t delay.

This actually brings us to our next point.

God exposes sin because sin results in destruction

  1. And he patiently calls us to himself (3:6-12)

We see this in the fifth dispute. That’s in 3:6-12.

I love the way that this flows from that last dispute that we looked at. Look in verse 6. “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. 7 From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statues and have not kept them.”

God says, “Listen, you might question my love for you, and you might call me unjust, but the only reason that I haven’t destroyed you is because I don’t change.” God is faithful to his promises. He promised Abraham the offspring that would bless nations. He promised David that one of his descendants would have an everlasting kingdom. The Lord shows favor to his people because he is faithful. And look at what he says next. It’s the first imperative in the book.

Keep going in verse 7. “Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of Hosts.”

These people are living in thinly veiled hypocrisy, and God is still waiting with open arms. And don’t think that he is needy for approval or something like that. God doesn’t wait for repentance because he is lonely. He waits for repentance because he is patient and merciful and faithful.

Don’t “presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, . . God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” (Rm 2:4)

Don’t skim past the fact that God is patient and kind. When you think of God in the Old Testament, do you think of a harsh God? One who is just waiting for people to make a mistake so he can spank them or destroy them?

No. God is kind. With his children, he disciplines, but he disciplines from a place of love for their ultimate good. Do you think that God takes pleasure in chastising? When I discipline my children, I don’t take joy in their tears. It breaks my heart for them to be denied good things or to experience any kind of pain. But it’s for their good.

There are times when I have to discipline my children before they go to bed. I put the to bed knowing that they are still unhappy because of discipline. But I love them. I delight in their hugs and when they sit on my lap just to spend time with me and when we wrestle together. It makes my heart swell with joy.

God delights in his people. He is kind. He wants our good. The heart of God for his people is more swollen with love and joy than any father on the planet.

That’s why he calls us to himself. That’s why he is patient.

It’s like what we read in our middle reading. God is patient because he desires that none should perish but that all should reach repentance.

Return to me, and I will return to you.

And he gives them a specific way that the entire nation can repent. The disputes we covered so far were large groups in the nation, but they didn’t affect every single person. But here, Malachi gives an example that applied to every single person.

Look at the end of verse 7. “But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ 8 Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you? In your tithes and contributions. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.”

Now, maybe you hear this, and you want to press the pause button. Is God punishing them because he wants more money? No. This isn’t about squeezing money out of oppressed people.

The tithe was God’s ordained way for the people of Israel to upkeep the temple and provide for the Levites. If the people didn’t tithe and sacrifice, then the temple went unmaintained, and the Levites went without food. It was literally their livelihood.

The tithe was a structure that God placed in the mosaic law to provide for the temple and its workers. And to be clear, it’s not mandated for the New Testament.

But God is looking at every single person among the people of Israel, and he is saying turn to me. Here is a specific way that you can repent.

God is speaking to an entire people. Repentance isn’t just for individuals. This was God calling an entire people to repent. There may come a time when the Lord reveals something to our entire church, and we realize that we have had a huge blind spot. And it may be that we need to repent in sackcloth and ashes.

Just look on the news. You’ll see entire congregations who supported a man as pastor who was disqualified and wicked. Or church leaders who had good intentions but just really screwed up as they handled a sensitive issue. Or systems in the church that didn’t protect children the way that they should be protected.

It may that an issue like that is somewhere down the line for us. May it be that we turn to God in humility on that day.

God exposes sin because sin results in destruction, and he patiently calls us to himself . . . Finally,

  1. Because he is faithful to judge and show mercy (3:13-4:6)

Why should they repent? Why should they care?

In these verses, the people despair about whether it’s even worth it to live as the people of God. Look in 3:13. “Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ 14 You have said, “It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? 15 And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.”

They seem like they’ve given up on living in the fear of God at all. And I wonder for you, is this where you are at today? When you look at your life, are you caught up in the cost and you just can’t see the profit? What’s the point of living a holy life? What’s the point of mourning over our sin?

Look in your workplace. You can probably see people there who are getting more than they should because they are willing to lie. Or maybe you have friends who are crossing boundaries that you desire to cross in your secret moments. Maybe someone is squeezing a bit of extra cash out of someone just because they can.

All of it is short sighted. Maybe there is real cash in that sin. Maybe it is a real pleasure. In the moment, sin usually feels good. It might even make you happy for years. But sin ultimately makes promises that it can’t keep. It will lead to destruction, even though the way is easy. In the measure of eternity, even a lifetime of bliss doesn’t compare.

We are promised an eternal satisfaction with an eternal inheritance. We will be among those who are spared what we deserve and given what we could never earn.

This is what God says down in 3:16 and following. The Lord makes a book of remembrance written. This was written to record those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. Look in 17 “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. 18 Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.”

God exposes sin because it leads to destruction, and he patiently calls us to himself. Why?

So that we would be among those who are spared on that day. “I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.”

And what are we spared from? Look in 4:1-3, “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. 3 And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.”

God is faithful to judge and show mercy, and he is at pains here to show the different outcome for the righteous and the wicked.

The righteous are like a man who sells everything he has so that he can by a field where he found buried treasure. The righteous are like a bride whose groom is away on a long journey, but his coming sure, and their reunion will be all the sweeter for the wait.

This scroll of remembrance is important. Remembering is a covenantal activity. Over and over, God “remembers” his covenant. He sees his people in distress and he remembers his covenant, then he acts. God doesn’t remember in the way that he forgets. It’s an intentional way of saying that God keeps his promises at the front of his actions.

And here, he is saying that he will remember the righteous, and that he will not forget the wicked.

But then we come to the last command in the book. 4:4-6. Look in verse 4. “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. 5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

This is the final word for Israel. These are the last prophetic words in the Old Testament, and after this, it is hundreds of years before John the Baptist comes on the scene.

It’s a final word and a warning. Remember the law of Moses and get ready to receive the one that I send.

That one has come. John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, and Jesus finished his work, and now we are under a new covenant.

This is what we remember each week as we come to the table. We remember that Jesus finished his work and established a new covenant with his blood. He lived a perfect life. He was the spotless lamb, perfectly faithful to the covenant. And he was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification (Rm 4:25).

I don’t know what’s going on in your heart this morning, but hear me on this. If you turn to God by trusting in Jesus, then you’ll find that he is already waiting with open arms. And he will remember you on that day, and you will come into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you (1 Pt. 1:3-5). So as we live together, let’s call each other to Return to the Lord and Remember his promise.

Let’s pray.


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