Monday, May 18, 2015

True Hope

My Sunday School lesson from May 17, 2015 ...

What's your favorite movie about love? "The Notebook?" "Titanic?" "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days?" "Star Wars?"

What's the same about all these lovey-dovey movies? To me it's that every one of them would be only 15 minutes long if there wasn't any conflict. They would "meet cute," fall in love and that would be it. But there has to be something unsaid, a dumb argument, or misunderstanding that makes the movie 90 minutes long.

Today wer'e going to talk about how God’s love has everything to do with His message to the Israelites through the prophet Malachi.

If the Israelites had just followed God’s will and if they’re hearts were pure in worship, their movie would have been 15 minutes long without conflict.

What really happened is that in their story, in spite of a history of disobedience and His need to correct their disobedience, God continued to be faithful to His people.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

*** Malachi is the last of the minor prophets and the end of the Old Testament canon (though not the last book written). Jewish tradition identifies him as a member of the Great Synagogue that collected and preserved the Scriptures.

*** It is unclear when Malachi was written. Clues probably put it around 450-430 B.C. during the times of Ezra's and Nehemiah's ministries.

*** The exiles returned 100 years earlier and rebuilt the temple, but in the decades since the people were slow to show faithfulness by embracing God's commands. The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah reveal that the people struggled with marrying pagans, violating the Sabbath, and many more issues (see Ezra 9:1-2; Neh. 13:15-27).

TRUE LOVE (MAL. 1:1-5)

1 An oracle: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi. 2 “I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you ask: “How have You loved us?” “Wasn’t Esau Jacob’s brother?” This is the LORD’s declaration. “Even so, I loved Jacob.” 3 “but I hated Esau. I turned his mountains into a wasteland, and gave his inheritance to the desert jackals.” 4 “Though Edom says: “We have been devastated, but we will rebuild the ruins,” the LORD of Hosts says this: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called a wicked country and the people the LORD has cursed forever. 5 “Your own eyes will see this, and you yourselves will say, ‘The LORD is great, even beyond the borders of Israel.’”

*** God’s love.

--- The history of Israel is important for understanding the Book of Malachi.

--- God promised great things to Abraham for his people, and delivered over and over again despite their unfaithfulness.

--- Even still, Israel is still not convinced that God loves them. These verses are His response to their doubts.

--- QUESTION - Why would the people doubt God's love?

*** God can also hate?

--- It's Biblical:

Psalm 5:5 - The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong;
Isaiah 61:8 - “For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them.”
Amos 5:21 - “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.”

The Scriptures teach us that God hates wickedness because it is against His nature - holy, pure and righteous. And yet He loves believers with the love of a father for his children, the love of a groom for his bride. "'As I live!' declares the Lord God, 'I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?'" (Ezekiel 33:11).

*** QUESTION: What is the difference between God’s hate and people’s hate? (Does it bother you to say that God hates?)

*** Jacob and Esau, a rivalry through the ages.

--- Jacob was chosen to be the ancestor of Israel while his twin brother Esau was rejected. (Before the twins were born, even, the Lord had revealed to Rebekah that her younger son would receive God’s covenant blessing. Gen. 25:23. Nevertheless, God did bless Esau with numerous descendants (see Gen. 36:1-30).)

--- God is not a fan of Esau's descendants. (“Hate” in this case could also have the sense of “second best” or “not loved as much.”) The context suggests it means active rejection and displeasure that demanded judgment.

--- Remember our study of Obadiah, when the prophet delivered the message to the Edomites warning of their destruction. Esau’s descendants were prideful and arrogant during the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and the exile of the people.

--- Therefore, although Israel has experienced the Lord’s wrath for just a little while, Edom is a “people with whom the Lord is angry forever” (1:4). Furthermore, while Israel is heir of the everlasting promises of their covenant Lord, Edom will never rise again. And it was indeed judged and wiped out.

*** “Beyond the border of Israel.”

--- The Bible asserts again and again that the Lord God of Israel is King of kings and Lord of lords (see Rev. 19:16). He is sovereign over the other nations whether they know it or not.

TRUE WORSHIP (MAL. 1:6-10)

6 “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. But if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is your fear of Me? says Yahweh of Hosts to you priests, who despise My name.” Yet you ask: “How have we despised Your name?” 7 “By presenting defiled food on My altar.” You ask: “How have we defiled You?” When you say: “The LORD’s table is contemptible.” 8 “When you present a blind animal for sacrifice, is it not wrong? And when you present a lame or sick animal, is it not wrong? Bring it to your governor! Would he be pleased with you or show you favor?” asks the LORD of Hosts. 9 “And now ask for God’s favor. Will He be gracious to us? Since this has come from your hands, will He show any of you favor?” asks the LORD of Hosts. 10 “I wish one of you would shut the temple doors, so you would no longer kindle a useless fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD of Hosts, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.”

*** Corrupt spiritual leadership.

--- These verse concern God's rebuke of the priests.

--- Here we go again. During the time of Malachi the people became complacent again. They thought their relationship with God could be maintained by formal ritual alone, no matter how they lived.

--- Apparently the people weren't bringing their best animals for sacrifice, and the priests were allowing it. This is a big-time offense to the Lord and showed that their hearts were impure.

--- The Lord says that if they won't bring that mess to their governor, why with Him? If your boss is coming over for dinner, do you give him the juiciest steak or do you give him pig lips and whatever potato chips were at the bottom of Aldi's bargain bin?

--- In verse 10 God even says that the priests might as well just shut the doors to the temple rather than burn another lame sacrifice.

*** QUESTION - How might we feel today if God closed the doors of the church because He longer respected our worship? What are some evidences that a person has fear and reverence for the Lord?

*** When we come to worship and we don't bring our best - whether it's our tithes, time or talents, then we're not doing any better.

--- 2 Corinthians 9:7, Paul sums up our attitudes of giving: Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

*** QUESTION - Why do you suppose the Hebrew people showed respect to one another—a son to a father and a servant to a master—but God, who is also the Father and Master of the Hebrews, received no respect?

TRUE GREATNESS (MAL. 1:11)

11 “For My name will be great among the nations, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Incense and pure offerings will be presented in My name in every place because My name will be great among the nations,” says Yahweh of Hosts.”

*** His name is great!

--- Worship of God is useless if it is not rooted in humble adoration of God, who is our source of all things great and small.

*** QUESTION - How does God want to be worshiped?

--- John 4:24 - God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.

--- Years ago, Henry Ward Beecher, was one of the most famous preachers in America. People from all over the nation came to worship at his church. One Sunday he was absent, and a visiting preacher substituted for him. When the visiting minister came to the pulpit the people realized that Henry was gone. Some of the people started for the doors. The minister said, "May I have your attention. All those who came this morning to worship Henry Ward Beecher may now withdraw from the church. All who came to worship God may stay."

People may come to a worship service for many superficial reasons: to hear a certain preacher, to watch their children perform, to visit with their friends, to fulfill an obligation, to enhance their business opportunities, to see what everyone else is wearing. But only one reason is acceptable - to give honor and praise to God. Worship is not an attempt to entertain worshipers or to stir their emotions. Worship is not an attempt to manipulate minds and hearts. Worship is not an attempt to indoctrinate. Worship is, first of all, an attempt to focus our attention on God, to honor Him.

Would that describe our worship today? Do you come to church and say: "How long is this going to last? Do we have to sing so much? Why is the preaching so long?" Do you come to worship and make a mental list of what you're going to accomplish when you get home?

What can you do to change?

*** The new covenant.

--- If the priests and the people of Israel would not worship God in spirit and truth, then God would find His worshipers among the Gentiles, beginning 450 years later.

--- Jesus first came to secure our salvation through His death and resurrection. He will come a second time to establish His kingdom over all the earth.

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Think of when you grew up and your parents took you to extracurricular activities. We, as our parents were then, are their coaches, teachers, mentors. The emotional connection is important to how kids grow up into well-adjusted adults.

All too often we have a sentimental grandfatherly view of God. We think He winks at our sins, and no matter what we give Him He says, "Oh, that's great. Thank you so much."

But God doesn’t deserve our leftovers, the time we only give when we feel like it.

What does it mean to give less than the best?

--- It's when I spend an hour in an evening playing Words With Friends on my Kindle Fire and then in the five minutes before I fall asleep I read God's Word.
--- It's when we focus on our careers and think nothing of working overtime, but when it comes to serving in the church we either sit on the sidelines or look for something that requires the least amount of energy.
--- It's when we spend a lot of money on ourselves for a summer vacation, but when it comes to giving God an offering we look at the budget and say the cupboards are empty.
--- It's when we watch Memphis score a touchdown and jump up and down to celebrate, but in worship we sit passively.
--- It's when we love our kids so much there is nothing we wouldn't give them, but if we're honest our heart doesn't beat that fast for God.

*** Think of any part of your worship that is lacking before God. Find what you need to change to be pleasing to Him.

*** Read Psalm 96 this week, a joyful song of how great it is to worship the Lord.

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