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Breaking Sin’s Code (Part 3): The People

given on Sunday, March 3, 2013

Bible reference:  Malachi 2:17-3:19

Breaking Sin’s Code (Part 3):  The People

 

         What do you do when a boss or a leader tells you to do something and you know it is wrong?  As I read Malachi 3, I thought of all the leaders we watch and hear whether in business, in churches, or in government.  How many times do they announce some decision or ask somebody to do something and you know it is wrong?

On Friday, one of the world’s religious leaders retired—the Pope.  Can you imagine serving in that position and dealing with all the negatives within the church as a result of priests misusing or even abusing their position as church leaders?

Pope Benedict made a decision that might re-write policies for a pope’s term.  I feel he made a decision for the benefit of the church because he knew he could no longer fulfill the responsibilities of the position adequately.  He acknowledged his human weaknesses.

What do we, as the laity or as the worker or as the individual citizen, do when leaders mislead?  Maintaining our Christian principles challenges us in our daily lives without additional pressures from our leaders to do something against our beliefs.

Look at the verse, Malachi 2:17:  You have wearied the Lord with your words.—the NIV.   Malachi was prophesying to the people that they were not following God’s rules.  He was there to get their attention, to give them the strength to do what was right even if the priests were leading them astray—even if simply modeling inappropriate behaviors.

Now consider that verse in our current culture today:  You make God tired with all your talk. –the MSG   We all know that talk is not the only thing that makes God tired.  We are doing what is wrong.  We are thinking wrong thoughts.  We are even playing wrong.  With all the billions of people living around this globe making mistakes, God must be tired.

God must be tired.  Why we are tired!  We are tired of living in a world filled with greed, with violence, with abuse, with drought, floods, or other meteorological disasters.  We are tired of living according to society’s standards that clearly place us in a non-Christian position whether at work, in schools, in homes and even in personal relationships.

Just reviewing the negative possibilities wears me out.  How do we break sin’s code—or hold—when even the leaders are misleading?  Why should God protect and care for us when we fail to follow him despite the misleading of even the religious leaders?

Malachi knew the people needed to hear the prophecy just as much as the priests did.  He did not leave them out.  He warned the people that since God was worn out from their sins, he was sending messengers.  Not just one messenger, he was sending two!

Of course prophets sent messages for thousands of years as recorded in the Old Testament.  Still, Malachi added a different dimension to messenger than himself, a prophet, and the emphasis he places on the messenger indicates a closer relationship with God.

Look at Malachi 3:1:  The Lord who rules over all says, “I will send my messenger. He will prepare my way for me. Then suddenly the Lord you are looking for will come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant will come. He is the one you long for.” –the NIRV

The book of Malachi clearly presents the prophet Malachi as reporting God’s words directly.  The written rules of language show the quotation marks, the attribution of God’s words through Malachi’s reporting.  The messenger “will prepare my way for me” is God’s words.

Granted, the words do not say John the Baptist will prepare the way for me in the form of Jesus Christ.  But remember the times, the culture.  Malachi was a prophet, and the people understood that function.  It truly was an avocation, a spiritual gift, which was completely within the norm of the times.

In our culture, today, do we have prophets?  Do we have individuals who speak as though God has assigned them the responsibility of speaking for him?  I cannot think of any who have been identified as prophets since Paul established the church after the crucifixion.  Maybe this is a problem for the people.

What if our global society accepted the career of prophet and listened closely for the next announcement from God?  Would the people be following the prophet or would they continue to follow the wide range of leaders who do not follow the word of God?

Political leaders certainly are not prophets from God.  Business leaders follow the prophecy of economic gurus rather than God.  Community leaders frequently have hidden agendas that determine their announcements.  How, then, are the people, living their daily lives, raising their families, working to meet their personal needs and dreams suppose to hear God words?

The people, each and every one of us yet today also, are told so many different things that messages become confused.  The images that bombard people from all the various medias today cloud the simple words needed to follow God.  The news reports no longer report the news as a responsibility.  Even the news reports are colored by the popularity of names, events, and money.

God set a timeline in the words Malachi sharedYou have turned away from my rules. You have not obeyed them. You have lived that way ever since the days of your people long ago. Return to me. Then I will return to you,” says the Lord who rules over all.  There it is, when you return to God, God will return to you.

Amazing.  Such a simple timeframe.  Is this the reason God said he was sending a messenger?  Was Malachi’s prophecy strong enough that the people did begin to return to God?  Is the 400 year gap between Malachi’s announcement to the people how long it took for the people to return to God?

The verses in Malachi 3 answers the people’s obvious question, “How are we to return?”  There is no simple answer to that question, especially since the people were not following God’s original ten commandments, they were following all the minute, picky, self-serving rules the leaders kept adding in to the original ten.

In the verses 9-12, the key problem identified is the tithing and offerings.  The manner in which they were being handled demonstrated how God was not the first priority.  In the next few verses, harsh words against God, like the use of profanity and vulgarities we hear today, was a problem.  And there is the sharp statement in verses 14-15:

14 “You have said, ‘It is useless to serve God. What did we gain by obeying his laws? And what did we get by pretending to be sad in front of the Lord? 15 But now we call proud people blessed. Things go well with those who do what is evil. And God doesn’t even punish those who argue with him.’”

Those are frightening words today.  In the King James version even the words of verse 15 are clear:  15 And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.  It reminds us of the seven deadliest sins:  pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth.  This list was created by Pope Gregory of the 6th century. [This was not the last pope to resign although he did.  When Pope Benedict decided to resign in February, the news stated that the last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII in 1412 ad, according to CNN on February 2, 2013.  (Accessed on March 2, 2013 at http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/11/world/europe/pope-resignation-q-and-a)]

Despite what has transpired within the Catholic Church during the last month, the words in verse 15 identify the problems that keep the people separated from God.  Whether the word is proud or successful or leaders or prosperous, the problem boils down to the first of the Ten Commandments:  Thou shalt have no other gods before me.  –the KJV.

The exact words do not matter; the message of Malachi is the same.  Hope for those people who remained faithful is offered in the final verses of Malachi 3:16-18:

     16 Those who had respect for the Lord talked with one another. They cheered each other up. And the Lord heard them. A list of people and what they did was written on a scroll in front of him. It included the names of those who respected the Lord and honored him.

     17 “They will belong to me,” says the Lord who rules over all. “They will be my special treasure. I will spare them just as a loving father spares his son who serves him. 18 Then once again you will see the difference between godly people and sinful people. And you will see the difference between those who serve me and those who do not.

What does Malachi tell us today?  The very same thing.  We must keep no other gods before the Heavenly Father.  Despite all who are deemed leaders in our society, we are to follow God.  Hear those words again:   16 Those who had respect for the Lord talked with one another. They cheered each other up. And the Lord heard them.  . . . “They will be my special treasure. I will spare them just as a loving father spares his son who serves him.

Today, take Malachi’s prophecy and evaluate your life today.  Do you keep God your focus?  Do you follow the words of the Bible?  Are you one that God hears and treasures?  What started out weeks ago as an MRI of our own hearts continues today.  We must remember our covenant with God on a personal level.  We must live our lives following His commandment.  And as we renew that covenant with communion today, we must be strong enough to follow God even when the leaders in our society do not.

Dear God,

Thank you for the words of hope

     Malachi shares with us even today.

Thank you for the guidance

     of Your word.

Help us to be honest

      with our own evaluations.

Help us to be brothers and sisters

      in your Christian family.

Let us be the leaders who follow

      Your commandment.

Let us be the faithful

     that You declare as Yours

     now and forever.  –Amen

 

 

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Breaking Sin’s Code: The Leaders

given on 2nd Sunday of Lent, February 24, 2013

Let’s continue tackling the question of how to break sin’s code or, in a slightly different approach, figure why God decided to break sin’s code?  Unlocking the secrets or solving a mystery takes time, and we are now over 2,000 years since Malachi prophesied that God had run out of patience.

Last week the process began with a look at the chronological layout of the Bible.  In doing so, the timeline indicated that Malachi is indeed the last book of the Old Testament and Matthew/Luke have the first entries for the New Testament.

Malachi was written about 400 years before God sent the Messiah.  What happened in between Malachi’s prophecy and the birth of Jesus?  Did sin have such a grip on humanity that it took that long?  Or was there enough faithful people that God was not fully convinced that a Savior was the answer?  What clues are there to sort all this out?  Is there a secret to unlocking sin?  Is there a reason it took so long to prepare for the birth of Jesus?

Remember that Malachi has four chapters and four main points.  Last week the first point was made when Malachi said that God had loved his people even when they were disobedient.  In the first chapter, God explains his love is like that of a child to the parent and that the parents deserve respect.

As he states this, the chapter transitions into looking at the priests who were responsible for leading his children to live a faithful life.  The second major point Malachi delivers is God’s displeasure with the disobedience of the priests.

From Malachi 1:6-14, readers are given a clear example of how the priests have failed to show disrespect towards God:  making sacrifices using the worst quality of offerings rather than the best (sick, aged or injured animals).  The second chapter develops God’s displeasure with the priests as Malachi continues the prophecy:

“Now I am giving a warning to you priests. Listen to it. Honor me with all your heart,” says the Lord who rules over all. “If you do not, I will send a curse on you. I will turn your blessings into curses. In fact, I have already done that because you have not honored me with all your heart.”

This warning leaves no room for misunderstanding.  God is not happy and he blames the priests for not preserving the behaviors his people who were to be obedient and respectful children.

The prophecy is a warning, but it can also provide clues to unlocking sin’s code.  Malachi certainly does not sugarcoat the warning, as the description of the priests’ curse is graphic:

“Because of what you have done, I will punish your children. I will smear the guts from your sacrifices on your faces. And you will be carried off to the dump along with them. You will know that I have given you a warning. I have warned you so that my covenant with Levi will continue,” says the Lord who rules over all.

Pretty nasty, but look at that last verse again.  There is another clue—the covenant with Levi.  What is the covenant with Levi?  That started a new search to find what that covenant entailed.

Breaking codes is not easy and this clue seems to be a mystery even to the theologians and Bible experts.  Covenants are not unfamiliar because the Old Testament uses them in a variety of settings.  The most familiar is the covenant with Moses as God delivers the Ten Commandments.  In the New Testament, the old covenant is replaced with the new covenant—simply to love one another.

Yet beginning with a Biblical concordance, the covenant with Levi is not listed.  Instead the explanation can be found only by looking up Levi, which leads to Levites.  Complicated.  Therefore, to simplify the mystery, one might be tempted to say there is no covenant with Levi.

Unfortunately the covenant is complicated and not stated in concrete terms.  The experts indicate that something happened in which the tribe of Levi was originally given land, but in a takeover, they lost the land.  Levi and his subsequent offspring became known as Levities and were given the responsibility of serving as priests.  No longer did they have dominion over land, instead they were assigned cities over which they were to serve as the priests.

Reading the Old Testament book Numbers gives more insight into the covenant with Levi, and if looking through the genealogy of Jesus, as listed in Luke, the Levite relationship is maintained.  The connection was important to the Jewish people, even though our culture may not see it as a key to maintaining a relationship with God.

Regardless of the ancient history, the Levites were assigned to maintain the religious teachings, the worship, and the sacrifices at the temples in the Jewish territories.  They became the defenders of the relationship with God, the peoples’ faith, and even the tabernacle itself.

When Malachi shared that God was displeased with the priests, he was displeased with leadership, with education, and with preservation of faith.  No wonder God was angry.

Malachi 2:5-7 explains God’s relationship with Levi, therefore his offspring the Levities:

“My covenant promised Levi life and peace. So I gave them to him. I required him to respect me. And he had great respect for my name. True teaching came from his mouth. Nothing but the truth came from his lips. He walked with me in peace. He did what was right. He turned many people away from their sins.

“The lips of a priest should guard knowledge. People should look for true teaching from his mouth. After all, he is my messenger.

When God saw that the priests were not fulfilling their responsibilities correctly, His anger surfaced in the next verses:

But you have turned away from the right path. Your teaching has caused many people to trip and fall. You have broken my covenant with Levi,” says the Lord who rules over all. “So I have caused all of the people to hate you. They have lost respect for you. You have not done what I told you to do. Instead, you have favored one person over another in matters of the law.”

Sin was winning!  God was angry.  Malachi was making sure that everybody knew what was going on and what needed to be done!  If the leaders could not keep sin away, how could the people?  Maybe another example could help.

The responsibility of the priests is to maintain the purity of the sacraments.  Certainly the manner in which they handled the sacrifices was wrong, but another issue shared in Malachi deals with marriage.

The men of Judah (a territory) were divorcing their Jewish wives and marrying pagan women.

Why?  A touchy question, but as always, the issue needs to be viewed through the filter of culture.  The Jewish marriages were sacraments.  What was happening was men just tired of their wives and divorced them and married pagan women–ignoring commitments within the Jewish faith.

God’s anger was first directed toward the priests as they were not maintaining the covenant with Levi, not preserving the sacraments as they were trained, not leading the people to preserve their commitments within the faith.  What a mess!

Have we broken sin’s code?  Not yet.  Maybe we have cracked open the problem, but we have not found the solution.  Malachi has more to share with us.  There is more to explore and to understand.  And there still is the 400-year delay before God’s savior will be born.  Sin still is winning, and now, 2,000 years later we confront sin, too.  Is sin still winning even today?  We need more work to break sin’s code.

Dear Patient Father,

We hear Malachi’s warnings.

We read to understand the warnings.

We evaluate the message in his prophecy.

 

Speak to us today.

Use words we know well.

Make sure we understand.

 

Lead us with Your commandment.

Let us model our faith in You.

Open others’ eyes, hearts, and minds

to Your endless love.  –Amen

 

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