Experiencing God’s Love
April 27, 2003 | Brian Bill
A man was having a hard time getting out of bed one Sunday morning. “Get up. It’s time to get ready for church!” He just grumbled and replied grumpily, “I don’t want to go to church today. Those people at church don’t like me. I don’t want to go.” She persisted, “You have to go.” To which he responded, “Give me three good reasons why I should.” She answered, “Because it’s Sunday, I’m your wife, and you’re the pastor. Now get up!”
As we come to a brand new study from the last of the Old Testament books, I wonder if the prophet Malachi wanted to stay snuggled under his sheets instead of preaching to his people. Please turn in your Bible to the book that bears his name. If you’re having a hard time finding it, go to Matthew and hang a left. This short book is easily overlooked and seldom preached from. I can’t ever remember hearing a sermon series from Malachi.
The opening verse is packed full of information that will help to give us a framework for our study together: “An oracle: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi.” Let’s look at each phrase carefully.
An oracle. An oracle is actually a “burden.” Webster defines it as something carried that is difficult to bear. It has the idea of something heavy, a load to be lifted up. The words to follow in Malachi are not light or trifling but weighty and substantial. The prophet recognizes that what he is about to communicate to people is not fluffy stuff that will just tickle the ears but will ultimately trouble their souls. And that’s how it should be when we come to the Word of God. Jeremiah 23:29: “Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”
As we go through Malachi for the next seven weeks, I’ll make a promise to you. I will do my best to allow the burden of each passage to filter through my life first before I preach it to you. Will you commit to do the same when you hear His weighty Word? I’d like to encourage you to read through this short book at least once a week for the next two months. If you do, you’ll discover that while there are some challenging truths to ponder, at its core, Malachi is really a love letter from God, full of hope and encouragement.
The word of the Lord. These words are not just the musings of Malachi, but instead the revelation of Yahweh, the God of the covenant. God had something He wanted to communicate to His people 2400 years ago and He wants to use these same words to speak to His people today. That’s the beauty of Scripture. Hebrews 4:12 says that God’s Word is living and active. 2 Peter 1:20-21: “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
To Israel. While the Word of the Lord is heavy, notice that it is written not “against” Israel, but “to” them. God wasn’t out to blast them. He wanted to bring them back. Let me give a brief survey of Old Testament history so we can better place Malachi in context. In Genesis 12, God called Abram to leave Ur, which was located in modern day Iraq, and to follow Him to another land. As Abraham obeyed, his descendents multiplied. The Israelites were later enslaved in Egypt for over 400 years until God called them out under the leadership of Moses.
Eventually they were allowed to enter the land God had promised them. Hundreds of years passed during which the nation experienced struggles, faithlessness, and wrestling with God. The high point of Israel’s history came when David, a godly king, was called to sit on the throne. For forty years David expanded the nation in both breadth of influence and knowledge of God.
But things went downhill from there. After his son, King Solomon died; Israel was split into two kingdoms. The Northern Kingdom had ten tribes and was referred to as Israel. The Southern Kingdom had two tribes and was known as Judah. Because of their disobedience, the Assyrians conquered Israel and the ten clans were scattered and became known as the “ten lost tribes of Israel.”
Even though the southern tribes saw all this happen, they, too, continued to rebel against God. In 586 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian (modern day Iraq) army captured the Jews, Jerusalem was destroyed, the walls were knocked down, and the temple was burned. The people were deported and were forced into slavery again. Their history had come full circle.
Many of God’s prophets predicted that this captivity would not destroy the nation; it would eventually end and the people would be allowed to go back home. The last three books of the Old Testament – Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi – were all written after this return, in fulfillment of the prophecy found in Jeremiah 29:10: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.”
There were at least three groups of people, leaving at different times, who returned to the stricken city of Jerusalem. Zerubbabel led the first assembly back and under Haggai’s ministry, they laid the foundations of the Temple. The Temple was completed during Zechariah’s time and then Ezra the priest led another group back from Babylon. The last return came under the leadership of Nehemiah, who led the people to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem. By the way, you can access our sermon series on the Book of Nehemiah at: www.pontiacbible.org/sermons/archive/100_Sermons_V1/index.htm#ttb.
Through Malachi. God is choosing to bring his message through a man named Malachi, whose name means “my messenger.” We don’t know much more about him except to say that God raised him up with a specific task in mind. God’s people were disappointed and discouraged. They had returned to the Promised Land and had rebuilt Jerusalem, replanted their fields, and reconstructed the Temple but life was not going very well. Their zeal had fizzled and their faith had turned to an empty formalism. Their spirituality was sloppy and their religion was ritualistic and hollow. They were lethargic, lax, and lenient, excusing their exploits while accusing God of some pretty heavy things.
Malachi teaches us what can happen when we’re sliding spiritually – it’s easy to become apathetic toward the Almighty and justify our own behavior. God’s people had stopped going to the Temple to worship and those who did gave God the leftovers of their lives and love. Their lips formed prayers, but their hearts were hard. They blamed God for everything and themselves for nothing.
Malachi’s mandate was to call the people back to a vibrant relationship with the living Lord. Their problem, like ours often is, was not ignorance, but indifference. This book lets us in on a dialogue between God and His people. Malachi tackles seven topics by first making a divine declaration that is followed by a question or a complaint by the people introduced by the word how. This is then followed up with God’s answer to their sophisticated sarcasm. The format of Malachi 1:2 is typical of what is called the “didactic-dialectic” style.
God’s Declaration “I have loved you…”
The Question/Complaint “How have you loved us?”
God’s Response “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother…yet I have loved Jacob.”
Love Declared (2a)
I love how verse 2 begins. Instead of lambasting His people, God declares His love for them: “I have loved you,’ says the Lord.” He doesn’t say, “YOU are guilty of this or that.” Rather, He begins with relationship. The word “love” is in the perfect tense, indicating that God not only loved in the past but loves in the present as well. We could say it this way: “I have loved and do love you.” And the word He chooses for “love” is not the typical Old Testament term that describes “tough love” or “covenant love.” The word God uses here is more relational: “I have embraced you. I have expressed my affection for you,” says the Lord.
In his book called, “The Sacred Romance,” John Eldredge writes, “God is courting us, as He pursues us with His love and calls us to a journey full of intimacy, adventure and beauty. To ignore this whispered call is to become one of the living dead who carry on their lives divorced from their heart” (taken from back cover).
Sometimes we artificially separate the two testaments by stating that the Old is the Law and the New is about Love. We need to remember that God’s love is part of His character and therefore permeates both parts of the Bible. Listen to these verses from the older testament.
Isaiah 43:4: “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you…”
Jeremiah 31:3: “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With an unfailing love I have drawn you to myself” (New Living Translation).
Zephaniah 3:17: “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”
What does it mean that God loves us? There are at least three aspects of this love:
- His love is sovereign. He chooses to love us. 2 Thessalonians 2:13: “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”
- His love is unconditional. We have done nothing to deserve love and He is committed to us even when we mess up. I love Philip Yancey’s perspective in his book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace,” when he argues that, “There is nothing we can do to make God love us more and there is nothing we can do to make Him love us less.” In Malachi 3:6, God declares: “I the Lord do not change.”
- His love is personal. He knows your name. Max Lucado puts it this way, “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it…you are valuable because you exist. Not because of what you do or what you have done, but simply because you are.”
Love Disputed (2b)
In light of God’s love, it seems audacious to question His commitment, doesn’t it? And yet, that’s what they do in the second part of verse 2: “But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’” They wondered why they had to struggle so much. Ezekiel 34:27 said that the land would abound with miraculous fruitfulness; instead they had to deal with droughts. Isaiah 16:5 prophesied that the population would swell to a mighty throng and that all nations would come and serve them; yet they were still pretty small and were under the power of Persia. What they didn’t realize, and what the prophet Haggai pointed out, was that it was their disobedience that was keeping them from these blessings.
The people may have thought they were just complaining to Malachi, but they were demonstrating their utter disbelief in God, and they thought they could get away with it. I read about a college student who made a similar mistake when he arrived at his college chapel service. He looked at the order of service and groaned out loud. The middle-aged woman next to him asked him what was wrong. The student replied, “It’s the preacher. I have him for a class and he’s the dullest man alive. He’s totally boring.” The woman looked at him and said, “Young man, do you know who I am?” The student looked at her and said he didn’t. “Well,” said the woman, “I’m that man’s wife!” To which the student said faintly, “And do you know who I am?” “No,” said the preacher’s wife. The student exclaimed, “Hallelujah,” as he got up and ran out the door.
Did these people really think they could get away with disputing God’s love? Before we get too tough on them, let’s remember that we do the same thing. When things get tough, when someone hurts us, when we get sick, when someone close to us dies, when things don’t go as planned, it’s very easy to question God’s love. When we’re wiped out we wonder if He even cares.
Basically, they were saying, “God, we don’t think you love us because if you did we wouldn’t be struggling so much.” Do you ever think something like that? It’s almost as if they were saying, “What have you done for us lately?” They had become so indifferent and so unresponsive to God that they questioned one of His core attributes.
I remember reading a Peanuts cartoon strip in which Lucy comes up to Charlie Brown and says, “I love you.” Charlie Brown answers, “No you don’t.” This goes back and forth a few times, but each time Lucy says it louder: “I REALLY LOVE YOU, CHARLIE BROWN!” But, because he’s been rejected so many times, he dares to dispute her affection. In the last frame, Lucy has reached the limit of her patience as she screams out in a loud voice, “Hey, stupid, I love you!”
God’s love for us has always been a burden to Him because of our rebellious nature, our hardness of heart, and our ingratitude. He would have every right at this point to call His people stupid and pronounce judgment on their lack of faith. But He doesn’t. Instead, He gives them a history lesson to demonstrate His love.
Love Demonstrated (2c-4)
Look with me at the last part of verse 2 through verse 4 for God’s answer to their question: “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.’ Edom may say, ‘Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.’ But this is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the LORD.’”
We don’t have time this morning to go into a detailed description of the relationship between Esau and Jacob, but I do want to hit a few highlights. Turn in your Bible to Genesis 25.
Isaac married Rebekah and when she became pregnant she realized that she had twins within her. Even before they were born they started fighting. Rebekah wanted to know why this was happening so she went to the Lord for the answer. Listen to God’s response in verse 23: “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”
God is establishing that even before the twins were born, the younger was elected to be exalted in order to promote God’s purposes. He could just as easily have chosen Esau over Jacob. They were twins and Esau was older, which means that by all customary rights and privileges he should have been the main heir of the father’s blessings. But God chose Jacob, and because He did, the people in Malachi’s day were chosen people as well.
They would not even be alive were it not for His electing love. Deuteronomy 7:7-8: “The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you…” Remember this. God always chooses in order to promote His purposes, whether we understand them or not. Those whom He elects, He also protects. Their very existence was evidence of God’s love.
Many people have stumbled over verse 3: “But Esau I have hated…” Here are a few things to remember that may help us understand the meaning of this strong statement.
· In his heart, Jacob hungered after God. Even though he was a schemer and a scoundrel, as he matured in his faith, he grew to trust God.
· Esau, on the other hand, placed no value on spiritual matters. He despised his birthright and treated God with utter indifference. We see this in Hebrews 12:16-17: “See that no one … is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.”
· Many commentators suggest that the words love and hate should be used in a relative sense. In the Hebrew idiom, if a father had two sons and gave one the inheritance it was said that he loved one and hated the other. God loved Jacob so much that, in comparison, it seemed as if He hated Esau, or loved him less. Jesus presented this same idea in relation to following Him. In Luke 14:26, He states that in order to be His disciples we must “hate” our family and self. He’s not saying that we should actually “hate” family members but that we should love them less as clarified in Matthew 10:37: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
· We must avoid accusing God of injustice. The love/hate contrast is used to illustrate God’s sovereign election and we can’t get away from the biblical doctrine that He elects and chooses in order to carry out His plans. Paul picks up on this theme in Romans 9:11-15 when he quotes from Malachi 1: “Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad-in order that God’s purpose in election might stand…Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’ What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’”
· God’s purposes always promote His glory, even if we don’t understand what He is doing. The real question is not why God rejected Esau but why he chose Jacob. He elected to lavish mercy on the deceiver Jacob, even though he deserved justice. Esau simply received what was coming to him. Without mercy Jacob would have been passed over as well. Likewise, we are all born objects of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3). It’s only through His electing love that we receive mercy. Everything comes back to God. In Rick Warren’s excellent new book called, The Purpose Driven Life, his very first chapter begins with these words: “It’s not about you…If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose” (Page 17).
Esau’s descendents were referred to as Edomites, from a land called Edom. In verse 3, God declares that He has “turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” There are several reasons why God judged the Edomites.
· They refused to allow Moses passage after the Israelites left Egypt.
· Many of Israel’s kings fought against the Edomites over the years.
· Edom did not offer to help Judah when the Babylonians invaded them and they looted Jerusalem after her destruction.
Psalm 137:7 sums up the feelings of the Israelites toward the Edomites: “Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. Tear it down,’ they cried, ‘tear it down to its foundations!’” The Edomites were an arrogant, immoral and godless people who continually oppressed Israel. Because of this, God judged them. In verse 4, they naively claim that they will rebuild. They just don’t get it. It’s like the Iraqi Information Minister who said that Iraq forces were in control of the Baghdad airport when it was surrounded by coalition forces! God says that the Edomites are “a people always under the wrath of the Lord.” I guess that’s why you don’t see Edom on a map today.
Israel questioned God’s love because He had allowed the Babylonians to take them captive and permitted the Edomites to add to their sorrow. Here is God’s answer to their complaint: I have proved my love for you by choosing Jacob over Esau, I returned you to your land and destroyed the Edomites. What more evidence do you need?
Love Diffused (5)
God declares His love and then demonstrates it when we dispute His devotion. He goes out of His way to let us know how much He loves us, and yet He doesn’t want us to keep that love to ourselves. Look at verse 5: “You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the LORD-even beyond the borders of Israel!’”
Israel was indifferent and insensitive to God’s love but a day is coming when they will be forced to acknowledge it. Likewise, if you have not experienced God’s love yet, get ready, because He is going to diffuse His love to the nations! God’s goodness and love transcend national boundaries. Will you allow Him to break through your heart? And when you do, will you be a conduit so that His love can be shared with others?
We want God’s love to be diffused, whether that’s through our cutting-edge children’s ministry, through the “Ultimate Reality” student ministry outreach next Sunday night, through the outreach of our 5-Day Club team, through the ministry of our missionaries strategically positioned around the globe, or through you and me as we mix it up with those who are still doubting the divine declaration of love.
Responding to Love
Did you know that there is something about love that urges us to respond? Maybe you’ve been blaming God for some pretty tough stuff that has happened to you. Perhaps you just aren’t sure if God really loves you. Will you respond to Him today?
I love the progression that David went through in Psalm 13. He starts off by being brutally honest: “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” Maybe that’s where you are right now. You’re filled with questions and complaints. If so, you don’t have to stay there. Take a step toward love. That’s what David does at the end of the psalm: “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.”
I want to give you an opportunity to trust right now while Jeff and Dan come to sing a love song from the Savior. As you hear these words imagine that Jesus is singing directly into your discouragement and disillusionment.
Just to be with you, He would do anything
There’s no price He would not pay
Just to be with you, He would give anything
He would give His life away.