In 1995 I was in my first year at SMBC, we had a volleyball court and a heap of us would play volleyball in breaks from lectures. I was playing in bare feet and I stepped on a bee and got stung in the toe! It hurt like crazy. Somehow, it got infected and I started to get sick.
After a couple of days I had a pretty high temperature and there was this weird red line going up my right leg. I didn’t think much of it, men don’t like going to the doctor, we think everything will be ok without medical attention.
A couple of days later I was worse, my temperature was higher and the weird red line had now gone down my left leg as well and had also spread up both of my arms. Plus I had this rather large lump in my groin, about the size of half a tennis ball, which was a weird thing!
One of my mates at college was a bloke named Sam Chan and he’s a doctor, and some of you have probably heard Sam preach and he’s amazing! Anyway, I got Sam to come and see me and he took one look at me and saw the red lines all up my legs and arms and had a feel of the lump in my groin and just shook his head. ‘What are you doing, Steve! Why haven’t you gone to the doctor yet? You’ve got a massive infection in your lymph system, bro! You have to go to a GP now!’
I couldn’t walk by this stage so a couple of my mates carried me to a car and gave me a lift to a doctor near college. I was carried into the waiting room and as you can imagine, that caused a bit of a fuss and after I told the receptionist what was wrong, she sent me into the doctor immediately.
The doctor took a look at me and said, ‘Crikey mate, you’re sick, aren’t you?’ I nodded. He took my temperature and I was over 40 degrees. He asked what happened, I told him and he examined me properly. He got to the lump and swore – which I figured was a bad sign. But then it got worse, there was a door adjoining the other doctors room next door and he walked over, opened it and said, “Hey John, you’ve gotta come and look at this clown!” The other doctor came in and after giving me a brief examination said something worse than the first doctor did.
I was rushed to hospital and by the time I got there my temperature was 41.9 degrees and I was dead-set hallucinating! They put me on the strongest intravenous antibiotic they had and it took a full week for the infection to go away.
Here’s the thing, unless you looked at me closely, you couldn’t tell I was sick. From a distance I looked fine. If you got closer and had a good look you’d have seen the big red lines up and down my arms and legs and you’d have known there was something wrong on the inside. And only if you were a doctor would you have known my whole lymph system was infected and if I’d left it much longer, I could have died. But from a distance, I looked OK.
When Malachi started speaking to God’s people they were a lot like me. From a distance they looked fine. They were still going to the Temple and making sacrifices. They were still married and had families and all that sort of thing. They were still putting money into the Temple offering. But if you got a bit closer you’d have noticed there were some serious problems. They were making sacrifices all right but the animals they were using were damaged, or blind, or had three legs! And they were married all right but just to women who weren’t Jewish, they were from foreign countries so they worshipped foreign gods who were not gods at all which means their kids were growing up confused and with divided allegiances. They were still putting some money into the Temple offering boxes all right but they weren’t putting in what they owed to God they were just putting in some loose change. And once you figured all that out you’d have realised that there was a serious problem on the inside, their hearts were far from God. They were sick, and like me, if Malachi would have left it any longer it would have been fatal.
We’re in the back end of Malachi 3 today and this is the turning point of the book. Up to now we’ve heard 5 conversations between God and His corrupt people, individually, those conversations are pretty bad but when you put them together you realise man, their hearts are about as far from God as they can possibly be.
So, when we get to verse 13 of Chapter 3 we hear God’s verdict on His wayward people.
“You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the Lord. “Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’ “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly, evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’” (NIV)
Now, it’s important we understand this, there’s nothing wrong with asking God questions. When things are hard in your life, for any reason be it illness, grief, betrayal, trauma, relationship breakdown, mental illness, whatever, there’s no problem crying out to God and telling Him your problems and asking Him to do something about it. The Psalms are full of God’s people doing exactly that over and over again. So, what’s the problem here? Well, it’s the heart, isn’t it? It’s always the heart!
See, in the Psalms, the people who are crying out to God are doing so because they trust God, they love God and they know God is good, they know God is on their side and that God is for them, because all of that is true, they just don’t understand why things have gone so bad so they’re asking God to intervene and help them. My guess is that nearly all of us have done exactly that at some point and that’s ok. God doesn’t mind our honest questions and blunt conversations with Him. He’s a big God!
But here in Malachi that isn’t what’s happening. Here are people speaking totally arrogantly to God, they’re accusing Him of wrongdoing and they’re criticising Him. They aren’t driven by a heart that’s devoted to God, they’re driven by their own pride and self-importance!
See what they say in verse 14
‘It’s futile to serve God! What do we gain by carrying out His requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty?’ (NIV)
Their hearts are in the wrong place. Listen to what they’re really saying: “It’s all about me!”
They’ve forgotten God’s character! They think God is the fun police! That He wants them to walk around looking depressed like they’re walking home from a funeral. These are the sort of people who think, ‘If it’s fun it must be wrong because God doesn’t want me to have fun!’ But knowing God is meant to give us joy! When Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians the second one he mentions is ‘joy’ the Christian life is meant to be something that puts a smile on our face.
Now, two things. Firstly, life isn’t always joyful of course. All of us have experienced really hard times, some of us are in the middle of them right now, there are times when joy isn’t really high on the agenda. Secondly, it must also be said that there is a time and a place for mourning. When we’ve fallen into some dreadful sin it’s appropriate to quieten ourselves and reflect on what we’ve done, or failed to do, as the case may be. But, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 7:
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (NIV)
So Malachi isn’t telling us that God expects us to walk about grinning like lunatics all the time, but he is telling us that faking repentance and pretending you’re sorry for something isn’t going to fool God, that’s what Paul calls ‘worldly sorrow’ and it brings death. Real repentance that’s driven by the Holy Spirit takes us back to Jesus, who forgives our sin and restores our joy in the Christian life and that same Holy Spirit can and does give us joy, sometimes, miraculously, even in the middle of our suffering but He most certainly turns our sorrow back to joy when the hard part is over.
Come back to Malachi, because he isn’t finished with the hearts of the people. It gets a step worse again before it gets better. Verse 15
‘…they call the arrogant blessed; evildoers prosper – and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’ (NIV)
They’re looking at their society, with all the problems Malachi has raised over the past 3 chapters, and it would seem that deep down, they know a heap of people are doing the wrong thing. But they think God isn’t doing anything about it so their diagnosis is that God is blessing the arrogant and when people do really evil things, their diagnosis is that God must be powerless to do anything about it. That’s about the worst diagnosis of a serious problem you’ll ever hear and it’s as dumb as me sitting in my room getting sicker and sicker and not going to the doctor!
I tell you the one thing that’s worse than God’s swift judgement on sin, both personal sin and national sin, the one thing worse than God’s swift judgement on sin is God’s silence. Think about this personally and nationally. Personally, if we did the wrong thing and God immediately judged us for it in some way and we knew that for certain, we’d be a lot slower to do the wrong thing again.
Nationally, imagine a nation that sinks into deep moral sin, pick any nation. Declining morality, sexualisation of females of any age, greed, social injustice, racism, whatever, all the stuff we know is just plain wrong with our culture. Imagine if God saw it and then sent His judgement on us straight away and we were totally certain of it, we’d change what we were doing on a national scale pretty quickly. But what happens when God doesn’t seem to notice or doesn’t seem to do anything about it. Personally, we do the wrong thing and nothing happens, so we do it again and nothing happens, so we do it again and again and again. God’s silence means that our hearts get harder and harder and we are less and less likely to recognise that we’re even sinning at all. That’s far more terrifying than God’s swift judgement.
On a national level it’s the same thing. We live in a fairly morally bankrupt society and yet we’re one of the richest countries on earth with one of the highest standards of living, one of the best health care and hospital systems in history and free public education, we’re livin’ the dream, baby! God’s poured out His blessings on us and yet as a culture, we’re doing our best to remove any thought or talk of God from the public square. And God seems silent on our moral decay and our multitude of sins of every imaginable description, but you mention the idea that maybe our country has gone off the rails and you get hammered.
Nonie found this through the week, listen to this:
First we overlook sin.
Then we permit sin.
Then we legalise sin.
Then we promote sin.
Then we celebrate sin.
Then we persecute those who still call it sin.
And that happens when God is silent about sin and doesn’t bring His swift judgement. I tell you the truth, God’s silence is far, far worse than His clear judgement because without quick judgement from God sin continues, hearts get harder, people get further away from God. That’s what’s happened to Israel in Malachi’s day. And, if I might, it’s also what’s happened to us as well, and yes, OK, to every other country on the planet as well! We desperately need God to intervene and soften our hearts! Because, it’s always about the heart.
All the issues Malachi raises with God’s people through his book are symptoms of the real problem: the state of their hearts. See, all the way through the Old Testament, God tells His people how they should live, what sort of sacrifices they should offer when they sin, what yearly festivals they need to keep, how they’re meant to live with each other, what they’re meant to do as His people, but He constantly warns them of the danger of doing all those things on the outside but having hearts that are a million miles from honouring Him. Isaiah says it best: Isaiah 29:13
“These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (NIV)
The heart of the human problem, is the human heart. Up to this point in Malachi there’s been almost no good news at all. But then you get to Malachi 3:16 and the picture changes. It’s amazing how many times this happens in the Bible, but sometime have a look at all the cool verses that turn up in Chapter 3 and verse 16 of so many books of the Bible. Max Lucado wrote a beautiful book on this a few years back and it’ll send shivers up your spine. Anyway look at Malachi 3:16, this is fantastic!
Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honoured his name. (NIV)
After all the doom and gloom of the people saying God doesn’t love them, offering dodgy sacrifices, robbing God, marrying people who worship other gods and all the rest, suddenly you realise that not everyone in Jerusalem had lost the plot. There were still a bunch of people who feared the Lord, that means they treated God with the respect and honour that is rightly His. They knew God loved them, they stayed faithful to the Jewish people they’d married, they were giving generously to God’s work, they were sacrificing their best animals to God when they’d sinned…and God noticed. They’d been talking together about the state of their nation, their hearts were broken because of the sin of their neighbours. They weren’t self-righteous about it, they weren’t judging other people, they were just so distressed at the widespread corruption, they couldn’t believe what was happening at the Temple. Israel was a mess.
Now, notice they aren’t isolated, they’re not trying to live as people who trust God on their own. They talked together, they met together, they encouraged each other to persevere in their devotion to God and living His way. Folks, it’s impossible to do the Christian life on your own, we need church. We need to be in a growth group. We need to meet together and talk together and encourage each other to persevere. The Bible knows nothing of solitary Christianity.
These Old Testament believers had been praying about what was going on and asking God to hear them and act. And, like He always does, God heard the cries of His people, He wrote their names in this Scroll of Remembrance, which is probably the same thing John refers to as ‘The Lamb’s Book of Life’ in Revelation, this is the list of people who have turned to God in repentance and faith and have trusted in Him for their salvation. If you’re a Christian here today, your name is in this scroll of Remembrance as well, your name is in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
And it gets better. Verse 17
“On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not. (NIV)
There are two things here we need to see and we’ll look at them in reverse order, so we’ll start with verse 18.
On the Day when God acts, when He intervenes and rights all the wrongs, all the ambiguities and blurry lines of this life will be brought into sharp focus. The people in Malachi’s day couldn’t tell the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between those who trusted God and those who didn’t, we have the same problem most of the time, don’t we? It’s often so hard to see the difference between Christians and people who don’t yet know Jesus. Sometimes it’s easy, of course, but often it’s not. On the Day God acts and brings history to an end all that ambiguity vanishes.
In Matthew 25 Jesus phrased it as separating the Sheep from the Goats, the sheep being the people are saved by faith in Jesus and the goats being people who end their lives not trusting in Jesus. It’s the same idea as here in Malachi, there will be a clear distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not. The message for us is to make sure we are included in the first group who have been made righteous by God and who serve Him.
But let’s finish with what Malachi says in verse 17, this idea of being God’s treasured possession.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever thought of yourself as someone’s treasured possession, so let’s just pause a moment and let it sink in. Treasured possession.
You might be married or in a relationship and you would hope that you are the treasured possession of your wife, or husband, your boyfriend or girlfriend. Not in a forceful, stalker kind of way that means you need an AVO, but in a loving way where you feel cherished by your partner. All of us long for that feeling whether we are in a relationship or we’re single. It’s a fundamental human need. Sometimes we have it and it feels fantastic, doesn’t it? But sometimes, things go wrong, we hurt the ones we love or we are hurt by them and that feeling of being someone’s treasured possession disappears. Not every Christian marriage is a bed of roses, my Christian parents divorced when I was 26, so I know what that mess does to you. On a human level, being someone’s treasured possession can fade away to nothing.
But Malachi is telling us something vastly different. He’s telling us that those who fear God, those who trust Him, those who love Him, those who give Him the honour that rightfully His, this God calls those people His ‘Treasured Possession’. This is a declaration of God’s unending, unconditional, never-failing love for His people and you and I need to hear this, often. If you’re a Christian, you are God’s Treasured possession.
We’d all love to be more consistent as Christians, we’d love to be less hypocritical, we’d love to be more obedient and less prone to giving in to temptation and sinning but until we get to Heaven, you and I are going to be fighting a battle with our old sinful nature, some days we’ll win that fight but some days we’ll lose it.
Sometimes, life is just really hard. We all suffer, we’re all betrayed at some point, many of us have had traumatic experiences and we feel distant from God, as if He’s stopped caring for us.
The overwhelming tendency for all of us is to think that our circumstances or our sin means that God withdraws His love from us for a time. It’s a natural human thing because so many of us are so used to love being conditional. This is what’s so different about God, His love for us isn’t based on our performance or our obedience or our anything, it’s based on His character which never, ever, changes.
You don’t need to answer out loud, but, are you a Christian? Do you know that you’re a sinner who needs a Saviour? do you know that Saviour is Jesus? Have you trusted in His death and resurrection for the complete forgiveness of your sin? If you can say yes to those questions, even if that ‘yes’ is a bit hesitant at times, you need to hear that the God of Heaven and Earth, the Almighty God who formed you in your mother’s womb, that God, the only God says: “On the day when I act, they will be my treasured possession.”
Life throws all sorts of horrible stuff at us from time to time, sometimes it can feel more like a continuous barrage and that stuff can really undo our faith and unsettle our trust in Jesus and leave us feeling like God has turned away from us, it happens to all of us at some point and it’s one of the loneliest places on earth when it does.
If that’s you right now or if it is you at some point in the future you need Malachi 3:17, where the God who will one day gently and lovingly wipe every tear from our eyes, looks at us with all our brokenness, all our despair, that longing ache all of us have to find our true home, that God says, “Christian, you are my Treasured Possession.”