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Home Sermons “God’s living, loving relationship with his people.” Text

“God’s living, loving relationship with his people.” Text

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“God’s living, loving relationship with his people.”             

Malachi 1:1-14   

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David Calderwood                            

Friends, allow me to put myself out there by saying –   “I love you!”     . . . . . .       “I love you!”

These three words are confronting because they are so powerfully emotional, so outrageous in their claim, and so challenging in the response they invite.

So how are you responding to me? Perhaps you are thinking:-

– This feels really awkward or even a bit creepy because the words seem out of place    OR

- Of course he loves me, how could he not because I am such a loveable person.   OR

- Yeah, right! That’s a joke. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even like me let alone love me.  OR

- You have just heard more words in another wordy sermon without any real response.

Perhaps mercifully for me, your responses have been in your mind. But I want you to imagine that all your thoughts and responses were suddenly made audible and displayed on the screen up the front for all to see. – That would make things interesting, wouldn’t it?

Well in a sense that is what God does through the prophet Malachi in about 430bc, his last words before the appearance of Jesus.

The structure of Malachi is God having a conversation with himself. In 47 of the total 55 verses, it is God who is speaking. Each time God says something, he then responds to himself by putting his finger on thoughts and responses in the hearts of his people.

It is God saying what he thinks about what his people think of him.

Friends, it doesn’t get any more confronting, awkward, and painful than to have somebody take up a response of mine and feed it back to me in a way that reveals how hopeless, defensive, or hurtful it is. But that’s what God does here. And it truly is awful.

Let’s look at the text. God puts himself out there, saying, “I love you” to his people (2a).

Last words are generally important words, and it is amazing that God’s last statement to his people begins with a strong declaration of his love. Three little words - all the more confronting because they are God’s.

God is both expressing his feelings and making a statement of commitment. The perfect tense highlights a consistent and unwavering love begun in the past, a reality in the present, and continuing into the future. What a wonderful affirmation of a living, loving relationship maintained by the Lord for more than 1000 years.

And this is shown to be even more amazing given God’s hurt and broken-heartedness, verse 6. God’s statement of love comes in the context of rejection. He has loved his people – generously and consistently, but they have not understood or appreciated his love.

His love is unrequited – surely the most painful place to be in is one who loves deeply and over such a long period of time. This broken-hearted father is expressing the same pain and hurt as in the opening words of Isaiah, more than 200 years earlier (Isaiah 1:1-4 ).

He has loved so generously, and at such great cost, but is forced to defend and define his love to his beloved (2b-5).

God knows the secret response of his people – “Really, that’s an interesting statement, how exactly have you loved us?”

Is it possible to imagine a more cutting, dismissive, cruel response? Not tears of appreciation and thankfulness and a joyful, loving embrace, but a cruel - Prove it!

We can feel something of God’s frustration and hurt – everything he has done for his people has been misunderstood, and seen in a different light by them.

Even more awful, their protest question is not posed to get information, but was an attempt to avoid responsibility for their response by suggesting God was at fault. In spite of their duplicity, God graciously provides evidence for what should have been so obvious to them.

God’s love was spontaneous and unconditional. It was not sparked by anything in them which was desirable.

God ignored the fact that Esau was the first-born and legal promise-bearer. He ignored the fact that Isaac had shown favouritism to Esau over Jacob. He ignored the fact that Jacob himself was a rat, a deceiver, guilty of the same duplicity as his descendants were guilty of.

God’s love was so very relational and generous. Clearly Jacob’s descendants had not deserved blessing. They could not claim their place in history was due to their own resources and struggling against God. Esau’s people tried that and came off second best. Their current place in history was entirely due to God’s gracious, loving commitment to their living, enduring relationship.

And quickly illustrates the true heart of the matter, urging repentance (6-14).

From time to time over 35 years of marriage, Alison has had to say to me – “Don’t say you love me, David, show me in your actions.” It always leaves me without anywhere to hide, exposing my sin and calling for my repentance, beginning with a whole new way of thinking on my part.

In the same way God makes his people squirm, facing the reality of horrible attitudes that lie deep within them, by nailing them on the actions which are the direct result of those hidden attitudes.

The big question is – how could God’s people have such poor responses to God’s consistent love?

Unbelief:- stopped taking God at his word (2).

In a sense this sin, this attitude leads to all other sins. Put simply they should have believed they were loved because the Lord Almighty was the one who declared this. But clearly they came to doubt or lose confidence in God’s word

Once they lost respect for the word of the Lord, they believed whatever their immediate feelings and desires dictated. If God has not made me healthy, wealthy and happy then clearly God does not love me. They choose to believe the lies of their own hearts over the word of God.

Friends, we face the same danger. We need to keep respecting and listening to God’s word. Throughout Scripture, God’s promises of a living, loving, personal, generous relationship were constantly expressed in clear words. God’s people were always encouraged to trust that in spite of blessings already received the best was still to come.

As Christians we know that to be true in Christ – Hebrews 1 tells us that Jesus was God’s clearest word delivering on his promise to deal with sin and bring people into a living relationship with him. We have already experienced that as Christians, but still the best is yet to come for us as we live with God’s promise of resurrection and being with Christ forever.

What would make us doubt God’s word or be disappointed with God?

Believing the lie that what the world offers us is a better life than we can have in serving God. In this head space we will never appreciate the blessings we already have in Christ.

Wanting a benefactor rather than a saviour and Lord. Even as Christians we may want something totally different from what God thinks is best for us. We don’t want God to be a loving strong parent who corrects us, challenges us when we are wrong, and disciplines us into obedience. We want a weak grandparent who will give us what we demand and let us do what we please. And if we don’t get that, then it’s clearly God’s fault we are frustrated and feel unloved.

Loss of desire for God’s honour and respect for God himself (6, 12-13). Buried in their hearts was a growing contempt for God’s name or character.

God’s people tried to deny this reality and protest their innocence. But the plain truth was that they no longer thought of God as worthy to be served and honoured as Lord or a loving father.

Secretly they resented the demands of relationship with the Lord. Serving the Lord was tedious and boring to them. So worship was the cold, empty, formal, weekly ritual they needed to do to keep God on side, maintain respectability before others, and secure the sort of life they really wanted, thought they deserved, and expected God to give them for their efforts.

They no longer desired to give glory to the Lord because they no longer considered him glorious in himself.

Friends we need to reconnect with the Living Lord by remembering how incredibly amazing God is that he would love those who rebel against him constantly. In our world the love of God is seriously debased because God is not respected. God’s love is no big deal because we are so loveable and attractive to God in the first place and because it is his job to love people.

But we will never warm up cold hearts simply with greater willpower to serve him, or greater knowledge about him, or greater commitment to achievements such as reading the bible and praying and going to church and funding missionaries.

What we need is a new vision of his glory or worth. It is only as we see glory or worth within God himself that we will give glory or worth in our responses.

That is Paul’s argument in Romans. In Chapter 11:33-36 Paul sums up everything he has said about God and the gospel and concludes that God is worth glorifying forever. In the next sentence he appeals for whole-hearted, whole of life response called worship.

Seeing glory within God draws glory given to him. As one writer puts it, a true vision of God’s glory and a true hunger for it is both soul-thrilling and sin-destroying for us as Christians.

It is wonderful to be loved by another human being, but human love at its best is always going to be responsive to some aspect of the beloved. How much greater is God’s love for us, especially when that love was in the context of our enmity and rebellion to him.

What an incredible love that pursues and keeps on pursuing those who are enemies and does not stop until they are friends and family members with full inheritance rights.

That’s God’s love for Christians. Listen to Romans 5:6-8 . The best man who ever lived, Jesus has given up his life gladly to make you his friend and bring you to heaven with him.

And friend if you are not yet a Christian, if you have been careless about or oblivious to God’s loving offer of forgiveness from sin and new, loving relationship with him forever, then you should consider that the very fact you are hearing this invitation this morning is God’s love to you, with the promise of more to come.

God has brought you here this morning to hear about his love. Ask him to love you even more by opening your heart to hear and understand about salvation in Jesus.

But make no mistake, while God seeks, desires, and deserves honour from his people, he is not phased by a lack of it. Verses 10-11 are full of menace. If those with most privilege fail to honour him, he will simply sweep them to one side and continue to secure his own honour as planned. He does not need to beg or cajole people into honouring and valuing him.

He will do what he wants. We can be busy in religious acts, but unless motivated in a desire to glorify God, then he will simply ignore them and pursue his glory in other parts of his world. God is not a character we can fool into accepting our near enough is good enough attitude.

Loss of realisation of the sinfulness of sin (7-8, 10, 13-14). At the heart of the sacrificial system was the reality that it was very difficult for the Holy or clean God to be in relationship with sinful or dirty people.

God had graciously provided sacrifices as the way to ensure that his interactions with his people would be a living, loving personal relationship rather than judgment and condemnation for their rebellion and disobedience.

God’s word made it very clear that only the best was acceptable as offerings - the choicest portion of food, the best of the flock. Why? Because sacrifice was a picture of sin being dealt with and God could tolerate nothing less than perfection in the substitute.

But these people were putting the vegetables and bread that had gone off on the altar and sacrificing the runts of the flock, the diseased and anything they didn’t want. Worse than that the priests accepted such second-rate service as though it didn’t matter. It was like wrapping up the contents of their garbage bin as a present for the Queen.

But notice in verse 14, the brazen dishonesty and deceit – it wasn’t that they didn’t have acceptable sacrifices. They actually made a big show of promising the best for the Lord, but then gave him rubbish and kept the best for themselves. Sin wasn’t that big of a deal, and easily dealt with.

But that was not how God viewed sin and dealt with it. God always knew, and taught his people that an animal would never be adequate sacrifice for a person. Only a perfect, sinless person could substitute effectively for a sinful guilty person.

In other words, God knew it would require him sacrificing the very best for his people. And, of course that is what he did in the death of Jesus. God promised the best sacrifice as required by the awfulness of sin, and in spite of the appalling cost to him, he did not hold back. He gave the best to die that you and I would live.

Which makes our reluctance to respond whole-heartedly to God very ugly.

We need to ask ourselves – how do we hold back our best from God as Christians?

We are constantly guilty of promising God the best of everything – our time, our thinking, our energies, our lives, our money - but every one of us is guilty of duplicity because, in practice, we hold back the best of all these things, content to serve up to God the dregs or the left-overs that we don’t want or which cost us little to give over.

And worse still, we think that we fool God and that he should be thankful for this. How awful is that?

We so much need to repent and be so filled up with an appreciation of God’s generosity to us, that it overflows into obedience and praise and worship that is glad-hearted and does not rest until our best has been offered in his service.      

Amen

 

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