Protected from the Bible – is this your church?


“God still has a message of truth for people today. It is a message about human sin that calls for divine judgement. It is a message about forgiveness of sins through the redeeming work of Jesus. It is a message of enormous importance, but few seem to feel the weight of it. Sadly enough, even preachers often do not give the appearance of feeling the weight of truth. They breezily enter their pulpits to smile agreeably at their people and give them a few tips on this or that, making sure as they do so, that they generously sprinkle in words that are bound to get some chuckles. Who would guess that they have been charged to stand before an eternity-bound people on behalf of the eternal God with the express purpose of preparing the former to meet the latter!”  1)Ellsworth, Roger; Opening up Malachi

This is from a book about Malachi – the last book of the Old Testament..  The last one before Jesus arrived on earth.  

Before getting into this, let’s set some background from when the prophecy was given –

When we hear the name ‘Malachi’, many of us think of the last book of the Old Testament. Useful information for winning a point in a Bible trivia game! Few realize that Malachi conveys a message that is of critical importance.

The mood of Malachi’s time

… the temple had been rebuilt and the sacrifices had resumed before Malachi came on the scene. The walls of Jerusalem had also been constructed. Many good things had been achieved in the long, tortuous task of rebuilding the nation.

But while good things had happened, Malachi’s was not a good time. Miles Bennett describes the situation in this way:

A spirit of dull depression had settled over the inhabitants of Jerusalem; skepticism and spiritual indifference held the people in their grasp.… The flood of skepticism abroad in the land affected both the people and their religious leaders. Religion became largely a matter of ritual. Apathy and stinginess toward God prevailed.  2)T. Miles Bennett, The Broadman Bible Commentary; Malachi, Broadman Press, vol. vii, p. 368

How did the people get into such a state? Two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, had promised that the temple would indeed surpass Solomon’s (Hag. 2:1–9). The people concluded that the only way for this to happen would be for the Messiah himself to come and make the temple glorious by his presence. Years passed and the people had not seen anything that looked like a fulfilment of the prophecies of Zechariah and Haggai.

Joyce Baldwin writes: … the Temple had been completed, but nothing momentous had occurred to indicate that God’s presence had returned to fill it with glory.’  3)Joyce G. Baldwin, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, p. 211.

Consequently, in the words of Baldwin, ‘The round of religious duties continued to be carried on, but without enthusiasm.’  4)Joyce G. Baldwin, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, p. 211.

These people were called upon to live upon the bare word of God until he would again move mightily in their midst, but they were finding this to be very difficult. They longed for manifestations of God’s power and, when these were not forthcoming, they became weary of performing their duties.

The Book of Malachi is shocking. We are surprised to find the Jewish nation in such a terrible state after the Babylonian Captivity. By the time Malachi came on the scene, the captivity had been over for more than one hundred years. Although that is a substantial period of time, the captivity was such a traumatic event that we should think its lessons would not have been forgotten. But the people of Malachi’s generation were showing signs of doing that very thing. The nation began to disregard her special covenant relationship with God (1:1–5) as both priests (1:6–2:9) and people plunged into sinful behaviour (2:10–3:15).

While they kept up the various religious observances the priests and people quite obviously did not have their hearts in what they were doing. The priests brought defiled sacrifices to God and complained about how tiresome the religious duties were (1:7–8, 13). Meanwhile the people thought nothing at all about disregarding God’s laws regarding marriage (2:14–16) or about withholding their tithes (3:8–10). They also regarded service to God as vain and meaningless (3:13–15). Furthermore, the people seem to have all but lost faith in the coming of their Messiah (3:1).  5)Ellsworth, Roger; Opening up Malachi

Maybe not so different from today?

As I read this, I can’t help but feel the similarities to us – here – today.

Now!

Not surprising when so many generations have wanted it – all of it – and right NOW!

On a related note, as part of a series on The Lord’s Prayer, “Your Kingdom come on earth” – there was discussion about the implications of God’s kingdom coming to earth – of Jesus returning – right now.

From what we saw in Your Kingdom come on earth, there are consequences to getting it Now.  Both for ourselves and for others – including people we claim to love are care for.  But we’re so intent on having it Now.  Often times, we aren’t even ready – seemingly especially when we want it NOW!

We’re so focused on Jesus’ return that we aren’t ready for it.  We don’t even know we aren’t ready.  And we’re so focused on Jesus’ return that we’ve totally ignored ourselves, let alone our friends and loved ones.

And too many churches are more than willing to feed this desire to talk about Jesus’ return.  They also ignore the needs of the people in that church.

It’s like a version of The Parable of the Ten Virgins – although probably not one you’ve heard in your church –

The Parable of the Ten Virgins

Mt 25:1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
Mt 25:6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
Mt 25:7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
Mt 25:9 “ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
Mt 25:10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
Mt 25:11 “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’
Mt 25:12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’
Mt 25:13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

Let’s look at this a bit differently.

What if the oil represented actually understanding and living out the things Jesus said?
That would mean the wise ones were the ones who took the time to listen to / study / understand / live a life that reflected what Jesus taught.
Then, the foolish ones would be the ones who didn’t do that – were pretty much clueless as to what / who they were waiting for – but waited anyway.

Then, when Jesus did return, they’d have to go find out what was going on.

And by the time they did that – it was too late.
They would hear – ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’

Notice how, in the last verse, Jesus says – “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

There’s an entire passage where Jesus talks about the time being unknown – even to Himself.

The Day and Hour Unknown

Mt 24:36 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
Mt 24:42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Mt 24:45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Do you see the parallels?
This view of the Ten Virgins Parable doesn’t seem so foolish.

Like the people in the time of Malachi – too many of us are focused on the second coming of Christ.
Looking for signs.
Trying to guess the time.
Trying to line up current events with those in Revelation.

But too many of those people are so intent on knowing what Jesus already said was unknowable, that they forget to actually do what He said we should do!
So when Jesus does return – they’ll hear something like a variation of the Parable of The Sheep and the Goats –

The Sheep and the Goats

Mt 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Mt 25:34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Mt 25:37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
Mt 25:40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Mt 25:41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
Mt 25:44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
Mt 25:45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
Mt 25:46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

… Except in this version – when those who waited, but learned nothing, when they are told – ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’  – they will respond  –

But Lord, we watched and waited for you constantly.  It’s not our fault if we didn’t do those things.  We waited.  We didn’t know anything else.  See – here are our T-shirts, decals, and bumper stickers to prove it!  We didn’t know anything else.

However – with all that waiting, and little to no learning, these people will be surprised – when they also hear the words that they could have studied – words the people of Malachi’s time heard before them –

The Day of Judgment

Mal 2:17 You have wearied the LORD with your words.
“How have we wearied him?” you ask.
By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the LORD, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?”
Mal 3:1 “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.
Mal 3:2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.
Mal 3:5 “So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty.

So be careful what you ask for.

And be careful what you do.
Be careful what you learn.

While you may be happy to hear of the glorious second coming of Christ –
and your church may be happy to have you sit in the pews (chairs?) and do good things on the church grounds and give your tithes –
consider that there’s a whole lot more than just those things.

Just doing those things – leads to just going through the motions while we do those things.
Because those things aren’t where we meet God.
BTW – in case you forgot – the objective was at least supposed to be to meet God.  Not to meet each other and have fun.

Jesus sent His people out.
Jesus told His people they would suffer hardships when they did what He asked.

Where is the going out when you’re doing those things mentioned above?  There isn’t any going out.
When you help only your friends … – does this sounds familiar –

Love for Enemies

Mt 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

or maybe this?

Giving to the Needy

Mt 6:1 “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
Mt 6:2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Those are the kinds of times when we actually meet God.

Those are the kinds of things that keep us from just going through the motions, like the people in Malachi’s time.  Like the people in our time.

Those are the kinds of things the wise ones will do.

Conclusion

Malachi – the last book of the Old Testament.  
Before the first coming of Jesus.  
Maybe it’s appropriate that the times are so similar –
as we wait for the second coming of Jesus.

Don’t just wait for the second coming of Christ.

Be prepared for it.

 


The quote and info on the book are available here — https://ref.ly/o/openup39mal/13747?length=764

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References   [ + ]

1, 5. Ellsworth, Roger; Opening up Malachi
2. T. Miles Bennett, The Broadman Bible Commentary; Malachi, Broadman Press, vol. vii, p. 368
3. Joyce G. Baldwin, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, p. 211.
4. Joyce G. Baldwin, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, p. 211.

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