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Return to Faithful Worship

Please read Malachi 1:6-14 in your Bible. I used the NLT to prepare these remarks.

https://www.behance.net/gallery/110813615/Sermon-Illustrations-2022

Though I don’t personally trust polls or CNN, here’s where I want to start: an article titled “10 reasons Americans go to church – and 9 reasons they don’t” by Daniel Burke, CNN Religion Editor, dated Thu August 9, 2018.

The article cites as study by the Pew Research Center, surveying 4,729 Americans to find out why they do (or don’t) attend religious services. In each case, respondents were allowed to give more than one reason. Here are the top ten reasons people gave for attending worship, listed in order of popularity.

1. To become closer to God.

2. So their children will have a moral foundation.

3. To become a better person.

4. For comfort in times of trouble or sorrow.

5. They find the sermons valuable.

6. To be part of a faith community.

7. To continue their family’s religious traditions.

8. They feel obligated to go.

9. To meet new people or socialize.

10. To please their family, spouse, or partner. (This was the number one answer among married men.)

On the other hand, here are the top reasons respondents gave for skipping regular religious services.

1. They practice their faith in “other ways.”

2. They are not believers.

3. No reason is “very important.”

4. They haven’t found a house of worship they like.

5. They don’t like the sermons.

6. They don’t feel welcome.

7. They don’t have the time.

8. Poor health or mobility.

9. No house of worship in their area.

The demographics suggests there is a group of who’d like to go to religious services – “if someone would help get them there and welcome them when they arrive.” Surprisingly, that group is 50+ suburban women who have a conservative view of life. When we pair this with the typical reason given by men, we might concentrate on 50+ suburban wives and get a “two for one” deal!

CONTEXT - A phrase that is often repeated in this passage is THE LORD OF HEAVEN’S ARMIES. This is God’s military title, a description of His power, because He commands the race of angels. He created them to serve Him. Malachi uses this phrase to remind his readers that the message he brings is not his own; instead, he speaks at the direction of the highest authority of all, THE LORD OF HEAVEN’S ARMIES.

Worship is crucial: only true worship pleases God.

1. Worship God because He deserves honor. (6-8)

False worship is actually showing contempt for God. (6-7) A FATHER and MASTER normally receive HONOR AND RESPECT. Part of that respect was fear of punishment. Another part was God’s command to respect persons in authority. This was common knowledge and was intended by God to be a common practice.

God is both FATHER and MASTER to His people to the ultimate degree, but they failed to show Him even that level of respect. They had no fear of punishment and no love for Him to motivate them to keep His commands. Worse, they were guilty of doing the opposite: they showed CONTEMPT for God’s name.

As he did in 1:2 and repeatedly in this book, Malachi wrote his teaching in the form of a dialogue between God and His people. In this case, God makes His accusation of CONTEMPT, and the people reply they don’t know what He is talking about. (7) God then explained they had shown Him CONTEMPT by OFFERING DEFILED SACRIFICES. The people claimed ignorance a second time. (7) God explained their CONTEMPT as saying THE ALTAR OF THE LORD DESERVES NO RESPECT. Their practice of worship fell short of the standard God had set.

The eternal principle at the heart of this teaching is that false worship offers God our least, not our best. (7-8) Their “least” in this case was offering DEFILED SACRIFICES on the altar. What’s a “defiled sacrifice?” Old Testament law required that an animal to be sacrificed to God had to be in perfect health, without anything like a blemish. For example, Deuteronomy 15:21 (ESV) says, BUT IF IT HAS ANY BLEMISH, IF IT IS LAME OR BLIND OR HAS ANY SERIOUS BLEMISH WHATEVER, YOU SHALL NOT SACRIFICE IT TO THE LORD YOUR GOD.

Things like blindness, lameness, and illness all disqualified an animal from being used as a sacrifice. To be a genuine sacrifice, the thing being given to God must be valuable to the worshiper. In the case of an animal, its blindness, lameness, or illness made it less valuable to its owner. While that made the animal easier to part with, it also disqualified the sacrifice.

God is apparently not above the application of a little sarcasm if it helps make the point. He said, “Give a worthless animal to your governor and see how he likes it!” Of course, they would not do that because they respected the governor or might want to hit him up for a favor.

2. God will not tolerate false worship. (9-12)

False worship does not merit His favor. (9-10) The people of Israel were just like us - more likely to cry out to God in a moment of trial than we are to offer a prayer of thanks when things are going well. V. 9 envisions just such a time, with them begging God for mercy when things go poorly. One consequence of their choice to cheat God was that they should not expect any divine mercy or FAVOR, even if they BEG for it.

God is so disgusted with them He wished the temple doors would be shut, keeping them out. It would be better that no sacrifices at all could be offered than to have hypocrites offering false sacrifices.

He made also made a pair of statements that flatly condemn their worship.

“I AM NOT PLEASED WITH YOU.”

“I WILL NOT ACCEPT YOUR OFFERINGS.”

True worship does not depend on location but has everything to do with actions. (11-12) In contrast to the fake worship offered by His own people, God was honestly worshiped by PEOPLE OF OTHER NATIONS! God chose to enter covenant relationship with a single nation, Israel, but that did not mean that peoples of other nations were excluded. God testified that His NAME was GREAT AMONG all THE NATIONS. Israel benefitted from that covenant relationship with God, the Law of Moses and the Scriptures were treasures God had given them. They had all the advantages and they wasted them on worldliness. They failed to do right by God.

In contrast to His condemnation of the worship of His people, God praised the worship of OTHER NATIONS (Gentile nations). Their worship was praised because it was continual - FROM MORNING TILL NIGHT. Their worship was praised because they honored God’s name, offering SWEET INCENSE AND PURE OFFERINGS, not the blemished ones the Israelites offered.

Israel dishonored God’s name with their fake worship. In verse eleven, God called their sacrifices CONTEMPTIBLE and said they dishonored His name. He called true sacrifices “food” for God. The animal carcass was burned on the altar as a symbol of God accepting their offering and eating it up. The word FOOD may throw a curve, but we need to remember:

Calling a sacrifice FOOD was never superstitious; it was understood as a symbol.

No one ever believed God depended on these offerings for His existence.

The purpose of animal sacrifice was as an act of worship and for the forgiveness of sin.

3. Worship God with your best. (13-14)

Let me say it again, it is that important: true worship requires true sacrifice. Instead of offering true sacrifices, His people offered excuses. For example, they said, “IT’S TOO HARD TO SERVE THE LORD.” Indulging in self-pity instead of engaging in worship, they complained that the requirement of a valuable sacrifice was just too much to bear. God called them to “THINK OF IT!” to reconsider the poor and faithless choices they’d been making. God was under no obligation to ACCEPT any of their offerings, especially not the disqualified ones that dishonored Him.

He added STOLEN to the list of disqualifiers of acceptable sacrifices. It’s incredible! Not only were these people offering CRIPPLED and SICK animals as illegal sacrifices, but they were also so low as to steal animals for sacrifice! They weren’t content with low-cost sacrifices, they had to have NO COST sacrifices!

God warned them that false worship is cursed. (14) In case anyone was not yet impressed by the seriousness of the charge of false worship, God went beyond withholding His blessing. He went all in and pronounced a CURSE on people who CHEAT in worship! A liar and a cheat promises a FINE RAM as a sacrifice but substitutes a DEFECTIVE ONE in its place. They should not mistakenly think they will get away with such a crime.

Our God is a GREAT KING and His NAME was FEARED AMONG THE NATIONS, it should be feared even more among His people. Instead, they acted with impunity, as if they had nothing to fear.

Worship is crucial: only true worship pleases God.

In the Old Testament Law, the priest was the one who was responsible to check each animal as it was brought to the temple to be sacrificed. If it was blemished in any way, the priest was supposed to refuse it. That would effectively bring the matter to an end.

Since these inferior, unworthy animals were being offered, we can assume the priests were accepting these sacrifices knowing full well they violated the law. The people of Israel could not have cheated God without the aid of the priests. It was a conspiracy of fake worship. In the next chapter we will see the priests become the focus of God’s condemnation.

How about today? Who are the priests that are supposed to check our offerings and stop the disqualified ones? The answer may surprise you.

Each of us is our own priest. 1 Peter 2:9 says God makes every believer a “royal priest.” This means that we are to check our own offerings. We are responsible for ourselves only - to see that our sacrifices are something valuable to us.

How about today? What are the sacrifices we make to God? Thankfully, animal sacrifices are no longer necessary for the forgiveness of sin; they were made obsolete by the blood of Jesus.

But worship is still a matter of sacrifice. We sacrifice other things, but they must still be things we value, or our worship is fake.

#1 = We sacrifice time to worship God, both publicly and in private. What is the value of the time we sacrifice? If we give God just a few moments at the beginning or end of our day and none of the more valuable time in the middle, we are guilty of dishonoring Him. Worship should not be at our convenience.

#2 = We sacrifice money to worship God. Are you a tipper or a tither? People who offer God the change in their pockets are tippers. People who offer a gift that might’ve been generous 50 years ago are tippers. Tithers are people who give a percentage of their income. They give with intention and keep their commitment. They don’t compare their gifts with anyone else’s, and they are happy to be God’s partner, supplying the needs of ministry in this world. Tippers cannot expect God’s approval. Their sacrifice is at their convenience and is therefore not a sacrifice at all.

#3 = We sacrifice ourselves to worship God. Worship is an emotional experience. True worship offers God our hearts. There is obviously knowledge involved and skills that we develop with repeated practice, but that’s only half of it. True worship holds nothing back but offers all I feel as well as all that I think. If worship is just a routine, something that I endure, it is fake. We should know that fake worship dishonors God; it will never produce the closeness to God we desire. It will never bring us closer together as believers.

God told Malachi that he’d prefer to have the doors of the temple shut and receive NO sacrifices than to turn a blind eye to false sacrifices. Wow! Would God say to us that He’d rather the doors of the church be shut than to receive superficial and fake worship in this sanctuary?

If you’re paying attention at all, you should be uncomfortable about the direction this passage is taking us. If you have ears for the Holy Spirit, you should have an appetite whetted for true worship, a growing desire to encounter God with genuine sacrifices in hand. If your eyes are open even a bit to see what’s truly in your heart, you should see the need for genuine sacrifice. Our God is not impressed with show. Image is nothing. What pleases God is a genuine sacrifice of praise. Worship that costs you nothing will prove to be worth nothing in the moment of your greatest need.


RESOURCES:

https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/09/us/pew-church-10-reasons/index.html Retrieved on 20jan22.

“Return to Faithful Worship,” Rev. Travis Peterson, January 11, 2009.

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