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Sermon preached on Malachi 1:6-14 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 10/23/2011 in Novato, CA.
“In Every Place”
Imagine a man who goes on a diet. He enrolls in one of those programs where you buy the food from them and they regulate what you eat. Well, he starts to eat their meals, and afterwards finds he is still hungry. What’s he do, he starts to supplement the meals. He goes to his cupboard and finds a bag of cookies or potato chips and polishes them off. This continues for several weeks. Finally at the end of this time he weighs himself and finds he has gained ten pounds. Frustrated, he goes on to the Internet, and posts a comment about their diet program. He says, “This program is worthless. I ate all the meals but gained ten pounds. Don’t waste your money.”
Well, this man held the diet program in contempt. He put the blame on the program. And yet he was the one really at fault. He didn’t follow the program, and so the program couldn’t be blamed. Well, there’s something of this kind of spirit in our passage for today. In this passage and this book, we see Israel seeming to be unsatisfied with the worship of God. Even the priests begin to stick their noses up at it all. And yet God points the blame back at them. They were really the ones to blame for how they approached their worship in both their attitude and their actions.
Let’s begin then by looking at the problem God presents here. Verse 6. The fundamental problem, God says, is that they had despised God’s name. He addresses the priest here most specifically, though later he’ll include the people in this too. But here he says that priests had despised God’s name. To despise something, is to think lightly of it; to treat it with contempt. In the context, God says that meant the priests had not honored and revered God’s great name. In verse 6 he gives two analogies. Two principles that would have been universally accepted. A son is to honor is father. A servant is to revere his master. God applies that to himself. He says there that he is the father and the master of Israel, and yet they do not honor and revere him. In the final verse, verse 14 God reminds them that he is a Great King. And so they should have honored and revered him. Instead, God says they had been despising him.
But the priests respond. They ask, “How?” “In what way have we despised your name?” They want details. God’s replies with a simple proof in verse 7. They’ve defiled the altar. In what way they ask? By the way they defile and despise the table of Lord in their offerings. In their attitude and actions toward God’s altar and offerings. Note right here before we go any further, their spiritual blindness. God saw a serious problem in their spiritual lives. He saw a fundamental problem with how they were relating to God. But they evidently were unaware of this. They express ignorance to this serious matter. This is something that each major section in Malachi reveals, a spiritual ignorance to their sin. You can recall that Jesus taught a lot about that. About spiritual blindness where men tend to justify their actions and think they are right before God when they are not. Jesus was all about taking away people’s spiritual blindness. John’s gospel talks about Jesus being the light that shines on us and exposes our sins. Jesus and the light of his word is needed to expose our spiritual blindness. To see our sins and our need for him. It’s the light of God’s Word that’s exposing to Israel right here the sins Malachi is describing. And for us that means we need to humbly seek Christ’s light all the time in our life, to make sure we are not harboring sins for which we are unaware.
Let’s dig in further now to the problem the priests were having. In verse 7, God quotes the priests as saying, “The table of the Lord is contemptible.” That’s an important idea here. The word for contemptible here is the same word in the Hebrew as the word “despised” in verse 6. They despised God’s name, they held it in contempt, and now they say that God’s sacrifices are in contempt and despised. Something similar is again reported in verse 12. This is at the heart of the problem here for Israel, especially the priests. Whether they actually said this aloud, or if this is what they were saying in their minds, we don’t know. But the idea is that the priests saw God’s sacrifices as something despised and contemptible, and so in turn that means they were despising God’s name.
An interesting question here is who the priests thought had despised God’s table. The word despised is in the passive. Are they the agents of the despising? Are they saying the table of the Lord is despised by us, the priests? That seems hard to imagine that they would say or even think this. Many commentators take this as simply God commenting on their actions and attitudes. That their actions and attitudes speak for themselves – that they show that inwardly they had come to despise these offerings. Another way you could take this is with the divine passive. That they priests are complaining that the table of the Lord is held in contempt, by the Lord. In that God doesn’t seem to bless the people for their offerings. Well, no matter the specific nuance of this exact phrase, all of these ideas can be found here in this passage. The priests in both their actions and attitudes had begun to despise the offerings to God. And the priests in their attitudes toward the offerings reveal a doubt that God really receives these offerings as they think he should. And so let’s look now at first the actions then the attitude of the priests, to more fully understand the problem God was bringing to their attention.
Their actions are pretty straight forward. They were offering bad sacrifices. Verse 7 and 13 identify this as their failed actions. They were bringing blind, lame, sick, and stolen animals before God. This of course was not acceptable to God. A number of Old Testament passages specifically forbid this. The law said they needed to bring unblemished animals. Animals that were blind or lame, for example, were specifically named as invalid sacrifices. No, sacrifices to God were to be of the best quality. A perfect unblemished sacrifice. Something worthy to be presented to the King of kings and Lord of lords. Of course, this implicates the people as well, not just the priests. The priests offered to God what the people would bring to them. Verse 14 brings the people into this, calling them deceivers when they essentially vow one thing and bring instead a blemished sacrifice; as if you could pull the wool over God’s eyes! And so the people are not innocent here either. Yet the focus of blame especially falls on the priests here; they were not only to teach about these right sacrifices, but they should have rejected the blemished offerings in the first place. God says here that their actions have defiled and polluted the table of the Lord. Verse 8 twice comments on it, clearly implying that this is evil.
The priests attitudes are also seen here. Look at verse 13. Oh what a weariness. They sneer at it; literally, they sniff at it; it’s like they are turning their noses up at it. They had grown weary at all the priestly service. They didn’t see the value in it. Note the question asked in response to this, in verse 13. Should I accept this from your hand? That was likely part of how they had grown weary. God had not been accepting their offerings. He hadn’t been blessing them in return, and so they had grown weary. They likely were thinking, what good is it to offer these things to the Lord. He never acts in return. The poor attitude of the priests are seen in the people too. When verse 14 called the people deceivers, surely that’s getting at their attitude. They were trying to deceive God by giving an offering of less value. That reflected their attitude toward God. They didn’t want to give the best to God. No, they wanted to keep the best for themselves. They were trying to get by giving the bare minimum to God, and of course they didn’t even accomplish that. But God saw their heart and their faulty attitude. That’s not the kind of sacrifice that God wants.
So this is the problem presented here. Israel and especially their priests had been despising God’s sacrifices. In turn God says that they had not been honoring him or revering him. All of this had a very immediate result for them. The ramification was that God did not accept this kind of worship. The priest’s attitude was one of getting weary with all the sacrifices; they were not seeing God answer these offerings and acts of worship. And yet God says here that the fault lies not in him, but in them.
You see, the priests and the people would have expected God to have shown them favor and his good pleasure because of the offerings. They were an act of worship, and we see that such acts are typically met with divine favor and blessing. Look at verse 9. Verse 9 shows what the people might have expected from God. They might have expected his favor. His grace. Verse 9 puts this a bit rhetorically. Some translations take this first part as a sort of question. But now will you entreat God’s favor and seek his graciousness? With such offerings as these that you are bringing? The answer is obviously no. God would not accept such offerings, and so the people should not expect his grace and favor in return.
God brings this out with an analogy in verse 8. He tells them to offer these spoiled offerings to their governor. See how he’d respond. See if he’d appreciate it. See if it would solicit his good favor toward you; marching up your sickly animals to him. The governor example is especially helpful because the governor was their master and had a certain demand upon them for their gifts. How much more did God have an even greater demand upon them! And yet in terms of the value of a gift, think about this in the most basic terms. You call a friend over to enjoy a brownie together – a little gift to them. You sit down with them, and set before yourself the most beautiful pristine looking brownie. And you set then before your friend a smashed brownie that upon closer inspection has hair, and sand, and grit all over it. You dropped one of them on ground on the way over, and gave that one to your friend and kept the good one for yourself. What would your friend think about your gift?
God wants us to give of our best to him. Look next at verse 10. Their actions were so despicable to God that he makes a wish that someone would close the temple doors. He puts out the wish that someone would stop all the sacrifices there. Why? Verse 10 says because they were done in vain. He says he has no pleasure in them. He says he won’t accept those offerings. These are strong statements. But this is the ramification I’ve been saying. God was not accepting their worship. He was not accepting their sacrifices. They could slaughter all the sickly animals they wanted. They could offer them on the altar all day long. God would not accept them. He’d not be pleased with them. All their sacrifices were indeed for naught! They had treated them with contempt, now God would treat them with contempt in return. Their worship was so worthless, God would rather they stop that worship, than keep doing what they were doing!
And yet in the midst of all this, there was great hope given. God gives hope for them, though whether they fully would recognize that hope yet is unsure. By the end of this book, this hope will become all the more clear for them. And yet it’s a hope that is very clear for us, who are Gentiles. I’m referring to verse 11. It’s a message that right worship will again resume. Most specifically, it’s a message that one day even the Gentile nations will offer this right worship. Verse 11, “’For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; In every place incense shall be offered to My name, And a pure offering; For My name shall be great among the nations,’ Says the LORD of hosts.”
And so this is a prediction by God. It’s a prediction by God that the problems presented in this passage will one day be reversed. The problem with the Jews here is that they did not honor God’s name. Twice in verse 11, God says that will be reversed among the Gentiles. All the nations will one day do what Israel wasn’t doing in this passage. The Jews also had the problem in this passage of not offering proper sacrifices. They were offering defiled sacrifices; impure ones. Yet, here in verse 11, God prophesies that one day the nations will offer pure sacrifices. I love how it says it – in every place! In every place the right worship of God will take place.
I mentioned this is hope for the Gentiles for sure. But Israel should have found hope here for them too. In every place, would include Israel. In every place pure offerings would be offered to God. This implies that the whole world will one day perform this, Israel included. The scope of it is far reaching – from the rising of the sun to its setting. From one end of the earth to the other. Jews and Gentiles rightly worshipping God. Not impure, but pure sacrifices to God. If this verse only hints at the Jews’ involvement, later in Malachi 3:4 it’s said explicitly. That when God comes to his people, he will be as a refiners fire. Then it says in Malachi 3:4 that the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasant to the Lord. In other words, then it will be rightly offered again, and then it will be accepted by God. Malachi 3:4 is part of the fulfillment of verse 11 here. In every place, there will be a right worship of God. In every place, every knee will bow.
Saints of God, this has come to pass and is coming to pass, in Jesus Christ. Verse 11 is the hope in this passage. And it looks forward to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It looks forward to that one pure sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The Lamb of God who was sacrificed to take away the sin of the world! The sacrifice of Jesus Christ was without blemish or stain or sickness. For he came as the sinless son of Man and Son of God. His was the most infinite worth. Jesus was the best offering. An offering we didn’t possess on our own. God gave to us of the offering we needed but could not bring. This offering is accepted. Now we can entreat God’s favor. We can ask for his grace. We can do this, if we come in our hands with the offering of Jesus Christ. By placing our faith in him as the sacrifice we needed. Jesus freely offers this. As we come to God in Christ, we come in his sacrifice. This sacrifice is not in vain. God now finds pleasure in us, because of this unblemished, perfect, sacrifice.
But that’s not all. The hope of verse 11 is not just that Jew and Gentile would be forgiven by the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That’s here. But even more, the hope of verse 11 is to see that throughout the world God’s people would be worshipping him rightly. The language of the old covenant is used to express that. The language of incense and sacrifices are used to express that. But the New Testament helps us to see beyond the old covenant and into the new. The New Testament helps us to see that what’s anticipated here is found in the new covenant. The fulfillment was seen from a distance; a fulfillment now come and coming in Jesus Christ.
Think of the tension of this verse 11. It would beg for something beyond the old covenant. In the old covenant, sacrifices would be done only in Jerusalem by the Levitical priests. Not in every place among the Gentiles. But as God predicted in Exodus 19:6, that his people would be a kingdom of priests, so now in the new covenant there is a universal priesthood of all believers. All in Christ are priests and able to come before God. And as Jesus said in John 4, there was coming a time, and now was, that the true worshippers of God would not worship just in Jerusalem or any one place, but they’d worship in spirit and truth.
And so as the gospel goes forth now to all the nations, verse 11 is being fulfilled. We’re being brought into his kingdom through the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But then we are being made to rightly worship God. Revelation 5:8 talks of our prayers as being incense before God. Hebrews 13:15-16 talks of our praise as being a sacrifice. Philippians 4 speaks of our financials gifts to God’s church as a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing in God’s sight. And the best of all, Romans 12:1 calls us to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service. And so now, Jew and Gentile can worship God together. Ephesians 2 says that the dividing wall has been broken down. We now can all together, throughout the world, worship God. The kinds of offerings and sacrifices just mentioned from the New Testament can take place every day throughout the world. And they especially are offered here on Sundays, when the assembled people of God gather in holy, corporate, worship. Today, on the Lord’s Day, in all sorts of places throughout the world, Christians worship is being offered up to God. The result of all of this is found in verses 11 and 14. It’s there reversal of the problem from verse 6. God’s name is honored and feared as great among the nations. Today we honor his name and fear it as great!
And so brothers and sisters, having this reminder of the gospel should also remind us that God has a heart for right worship. The gospel is concerned not just with our forgiveness of sins. It’s also concerned with converting God’s people to be people that rightly worship him. Thus, God would have us to be reminded today of these exhortations in this passage concerning our worship. He would have his Word be used to shine into your lives that you could reflect on how you worship him. Are you just going through the motions? Have you found worship and offerings to him to be a burden? Have you struggled to see these bearing forth the blessings promised for them? Use the Word today to reflect on your worship and your offerings to God.
How easy it is to not give God our best when it comes to worship and the sorts of sacrifices we offer to him. I’ll give some examples now – Not all of these are going to apply to each of us – but think through these as examples and ask what ways you might struggle to honor God’s name in worship and through what you offer him? One example, someone could grudgingly give him two or three hours of their time a week on Sunday, as long as it didn’t cut into something else that they’d prefer to do instead. How many of have skipped the Lord’s Day worship at some point in our life when found something “better” come up. Is God honored when we find something more special to do than go to worship him at church? Another example — what about when someone gives a financial offering to him of whatever may be left, if there’s something left, after they’ve paid for all their needs and wants. The principle of giving to God, is radical, cheerful, giving of the first and best of our income. Another example would be a convert being baptized, without real heartfelt repentance. Or taking the Lord’s Supper without the proper examination called for. Or offering an offering of prayer while doubting its efficacy, rushing through it, or seeing it as a waste of time. Or singing praises mindlessly and heartlessly. The examples could go on and on. Spend time reflecting this week on how you worship God and the offering you bring. Think of those offerings especially as it pertains to the worship service, but also of your private acts of worship all week long.
And in all of this, make sure we never come to God with a sacrifice of imperfect righteousness and expect to be justified by that. No, come with the sacrifice of perfect righteousness – the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Never give something to God thinking you can merit his eternal favor by it. No, always come to him in Christ and his righteousness. Come to him in Christ’s sacrifice and find your justification in that way. Always have that attitude when you then respond to God’s grace in worship and with your offerings. That you have not saved yourself. But God has saved you in order to make you a right worshipper of him. See God’s grace working today as he calls you to reflect on how you worship him. Amen.
Copyright © 2011 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.