Home > Uncategorized > Sermon for Wednesday in Pentecost 18, 25 Sept 2013

Sermon for Wednesday in Pentecost 18, 25 Sept 2013

Malachi 1:1-14

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temple sacrifice

We’ve had three months of Old Testament readings that have ranged from the particular to the peculiar.  Tonight’s reading, by contrast, is relatively clear.  The Lord is calling His own to repentance for doubting His protection and love and calling them to task for what amounts to false worship.  False worship is a despising of God as the Lord makes clear through His prophet.  Tonight I’d like to talk a little about Old Testament worship practices but I hope not in a way you’ve maybe heard them before.

I know we usually think of the animal sacrifices of the OT as somewhat inferior to what we do now but it’s not the animal sacrifice, specifically, that the Lord is unhappy with; after all, He commanded the entire sacrificial system.  We have the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy that testify to that system coming from the Lord’s own lips.  So the Lord can’t be unhappy if the people are doing what He told them to do.  What He is furious with the Israelite priests about is their lip service, their false piety.  They acted as if they were making the proper sacrifices but were instead offering the Lord less than their best.  What can you do with flour of poor quality?  Well the priests can use it to make showbread for the temple.  What can you do with a lame animal?  Well sacrifice that one and sell the good one for a fine profit.  It’s not a matter of stewardship or thrift, it’s a matter of being cheap toward the Lord and of claiming for oneself what belongs to Him.

Clearly the honor and reverence due to God was lacking in the priestly service.  The Lord asks, “where is my honor?”  “Where is my fear?”  The Lord accused them of despising his name.  And with that, we’re already into two commandments, the fourth, “Honor your father and mother,” and the second, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord.”  And with the mentioning of the priests despising the Lord’s name, we land squarely into territory governed by the third commandment, “You shall remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”  Not sure how I got there?  What does this mean, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise the preaching and His Word…”  Clearly the worship in Israel was less than God-pleasing.  Remember, it is the Lord Himself who levels the charge against the priests.

And the priests react like Adam in the garden, “How have we despised Your name?”  And the Lord lays out His case against them in clear and unambiguous language.  They offered polluted bread and broke the Law in Leviticus 24.  They offered the sick and lame animals to the Lord in sacrifice, breaking the letter of the Law in Leviticus 22 and Deuteronomy 15.

Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand.”  “The point is clear:” as it read in one commentary on this text, “Empty religious formalism does not impress the Lord, nor does it bring blessing or satisfaction to those who engage in it.”[1]  Or as the prophet Micah put it,

 6    “With what shall I come before the Lord,

and bow myself before God on high?

     Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,

with calves a year old?

   Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,

with ten thousands of rivers of oil?

     Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,

the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

   He has told you, O man, what is good;

and what does the Lord require of you

     but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?  (Micah 6:6-8)

It’s budget time in the church, and how much and where to use those resources in the work we have been given to do is a matter of honest debate.  For most folks these days, the level of sacrifice today in the church is closer to the days of Malachi than what the Lord would have of us and we wonder why we are not blessed.  Talk to people who are truly wealthy, who have been blessed by God and they we will tell you the same thing the Lord Jesus told us, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.”  This is the differences between people who have a lot of money and are miserable and people who are wealthy and know the source of that wealth, the Lord God.

Even in terms of worship, how feebly we sing and how insincerely we pray.  How little we pay attention to the Word.  How little we tend to amending our life according to the Word of God even after we’ve heard it.  Our fallen human nature also makes us quick to serve our own interests by giving not much but our leftovers in service to God rather than firstfruits.  Why do we hold back from the Lord?

Was there any bit of goodness that God has held back from us?  Originally in the garden, that was Adam and Eve’s doubt, that God was holding something back, some bit of knowledge, some bit of Himself, something good, when in fact, He had not!  And thanks be to God that He did not hold anything back in redeeming us from our sins, from our despising of His Word.  He sent His own Son, to pay the price for our sin, not with gold or silver but with His holy, precious, innocent blood.

God is merciful.  He sent His Son to make the proper sacrifice for sin, for our sins of despising the Word of God, denigrating office holders, despising the name of the Lord.  Jesus Christ, our High priest, offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice for all our sins.  And by it, look what He has made you, a holy priest to offer the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to God the Lord for His mercy.  We gather together to worship God, not because we have to to prove our own faithfulness but because we get to worship a God who is faithful to us and holds nothing back of His good gifts.  Some folks are so completely enthralled by the mercy of God and His goodness, they have taken to setting aside time each morning and evening to worship Him with hymns and prayers.  This is the activity of the Gospel going forth and making great the name of the Lord.

I would probably also be remiss if I did not mention that this text tonight is quoted and commented on at length in our Lutheran Confessions precisely on the matter at hand, the right worship of God and what constitutes a pleasing sacrifice to the Lord.

“First, his words say this: the name of the Lord will be great. This is accomplished by the preaching of the Gospel. Through this preaching, Christ’s name is made known and the Father’s mercy, promised in Christ, is recognized. The preaching of the Gospel produces faith in those who receive the Gospel [Romans 10:17]. They call upon God, give thanks to God, bear troubles for their confession, and produce good works for Christ’s glory. So the name of the Lord becomes great among the Gentiles [Malachi 1:11]. Therefore, incense and a pure offering means not a ceremony by the outward act, but all those sacrifices through which the name of the Lord becomes great: faith, invocation, the preaching of the Gospel, confession, and so on… We include the preaching of the Word among the sacrifices of praise… So the reception itself of the Lord’s Supper can be praise or thanksgiving… Malachi speaks about all the services of the New Testament… He requires services of the heart, through which the name of the Lord becomes truly great” (Ap XXIV 32–33).

God is not pleased with mere lip service.  I can’t make it any plainer than that.  Those who worship Him in truth, worship Him because of His love and compassion, His grace and mercy in Christ Jesus. Let us join in the praise of Him who is the great King that we may serve Him with the first and best of all He have given us.  Amen.

[1] Eugene H. Merrill, “Malachi”, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8: Daniel–Malachi (Revised Edition) ( ed. Tremper Longman, III and David E. Garland;Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 848.

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