I have had the privilege this summer to speak to a group of men around a campfire. This has been something new from the men’s ministry at our church. The following is taken from my notes of preparation and somewhat from the discussion that ensued around the fire. ..
St. Augustine in the 5th century defined theology as “Rational discussion respecting the Deity”.
In the Gospel of John 21;9 we find Jesus cooking fish over a campfire, right before what we call “The Restoration of Peter.” Throughout Jesus’ ministry He brought theology, the study of God, out of the synagogue and into everyday life. Why would He do this? That is a very good question, that I hope will answer itself as we begin this study. Suffice it to say for now that is one of our goals as well, to move theology out of the sanctuary, or the Seminary, or the monastery, whatever you picture when you hear the word theology. We want to encourage you to move theology from that dry, disconnected place and let it invade your heart and your life. Theology around the campfire – as Jesus taught His disciples while they wandered the Judean countryside.
Malachi is a little book at the end of the Old Testament with a very big message. First to set a little bit of context. Malachi was a contemporary of Nehemiah. You can read the final events in chronological order of the OT time period recorded in Nehemiah, and Malachi was the final Prophetic word from God to close out the OT cannon of scripture. This all took place after the Babylonian captivity. The Jews had been allowed to return to their homeland, to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem and the temple. Now in less than 100 years after the return, depravity had returned to levels described in Nehemiah as worse than those that lead to the Babylonian captivity in the first place. Greek culture, along with remnants of Baal worship were digging their roots into the people, and they were forsaking God and His commands. Malachi starts with a reminder of God’s love for His chosen people and their special privilege to be His chosen ones.
Then, Chapter 1 and the beginning of Chapter 2 deal with the priests and their sin, both in offering polluted sacrifices, their own pollution of the sacrificial system, and their failure to rightly instruct God’s people.
In this next section, God begins to deal with specific issues from the people. The ones like us. There were many things happening in the culture at this time. Nehemiah mentions specifically things like treading the wine-press and running the markets on the Sabbath. Also, there was a phenomenon of Jewish men and priests divorcing their wives and getting younger “more exciting” foreign wives. Nehemiah 13:23 actually names some of them as the women of Ashdod; Moab and Ammon. Interestingly, those two people groups got their beginning from Lot’s two daughters and their incestuous relationship with their father. Then Nehemiah records that half of the children spoke only the language of Ashdod. They had even forsaken instructing their children in their native language.
Now, let’s focus on Malachi Chapter 2:10. The prophet is bringing a rebuke against the people of Judah in this part, and then against the men of Judah in particular.
Malachi 2:10-12 “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves and has married the daughter of a foreign god. May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts!”
Our first focus tonight is in the upcoming verses, but if we are going to examine a “second thing”, it is good to have read the first thing.
Malachi 2:3-16 “And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”
After the rebukes in Malachi, the prophetic voice of God fell silent for 400 years. In that time, the culture continued to sink into more depravity. There was for the first time a persecution against the Jews based solely on their ethnicity. Then came John the Baptist, a prophet had returned to Israel, the “Voice of one crying in the Wilderness.”
John was preaching a message of repentance for sin. Then came the Messiah, Jesus. However, the people were looking for a conquering Messiah, for they did not yet believe that they needed deliverance from sin more than national deliverance.
Now let’s take a look at what Jesus had to say in possibly His most famous sermon, one that He did not preach in a synagogue or the city square. Instead this famous sermon was delivered on a mountainside.
Matthew 5:27-30 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut if off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”
So before 400 years of silence, God issues a harsh rebuke to His people for their actions. Now Jesus comes, and when addressing something like adultery, He raises the standard by saying lust is the same as adultery. You see, for God it has never been as simple as a list of do’s and don’t s. God is not interested in how many boxes on a checklist of good or bad are checked in your life. God is interested in issues of the heart!
James 1:14-15 “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
Sin is always progressive, Always!
Look at the life of David,a man described as being after God’s own heart. But he gave opportunity to sin, then came lust of the eyes, then adultery, then murder. You can read the whole story in 2 Samuel 11.
Since God’s standard calls lust the same as adultery it is clear that you don’t need a physical action to be guilty of adultery before God. You don’t have to be downloading pornography to be letting the lust of the eyes ruin you. One of the most popular shows on TV right now, Game of Thrones, is setting new lows featuring nudity, orgies, and even rape scenes, all to great accolades in our culture. How about the shows that you choose to watch? Are you watching something because of a good plot, an intriguing story, or is it because you think the girl in the leather skirt is attractive?
In Malachi 2, the word faithless is the Hebrew word “bagad” which means “to cover, to act covertly, to pillage.” frequently this is translated as Treacherous.
It has a close synonym “Pesha” in many ancient texts they are used interchangeably. This word means to transgress, to apostatize, to quarrel.
You are trying to cover your sin before God.
After David was rebuked by God through Nathan the prophet, he wrote a beautiful Psalm. One that God used to speak to me when I was newly recovering from severe alcoholism.
Psalm 6 NIV
1 Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.
2 Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
3 My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?
8 Away from me, all you who do evil, for the Lord has heard my weeping.
9 The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish;
they will turn back and suddenly be put to shame.
God is concerned with more than hate/murder, lust/adultery. Malachi 3:5 gives another list of ones that God is against.
Malachi 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.”
Jesus again addresses were these things come from, and when one of my favorite disciples, Peter, asks Him, He then explains more clearly what is meant.
Matthew 15:10-20 “And he called the people to him and said to them, ‘Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.’ Then the disciples said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?’ He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.’ But Peter said to him, ‘Explain the parable to us.’ And he said ‘Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.’”
The Pharisees placed a huge importance on being ritualistically clean, but Jesus was pointing out that the issue is not outward conformance to a law, it is the heart. It is the heart that looks at a woman and undresses her with your eyes, or picks a tv show to watch because of the “eye candy” it offers. It is the heart that chooses adultery. It is the heart that longs to lash out in hatred or harsh words at someone that cut you off in traffic, or got the promotion you wanted. It is the heart that assassinates character when you laugh at crude jokes, but the character assassinated is your own and that of your witness for Christ.
Matthew 11:28 “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
The good news is that no matter what path your life has taken up to this point, you can choose to follow after Jesus. God calls men to be leaders, but before we can lead anyone, we first must deal with ourselves. You can choose today to draw closer to God, reject the lies of culture and live the life of a faithful servant. No matter the wreckage of your past, or maybe the hidden sin in your life that is seeking to destroy you, you can take a radical step of faith, confess to God, get the help of a brother in Christ, and start pursuing Godliness. Not as a box to check, but as a process of sanctification born out of love for our Savior.
Psalm 103:10-14 “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”