Our reading today is from the last book of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi. Malachi is a Hebrew word that means ‘messenger’. We don’t know who wrote the book of Malachi.
The book of Malachi is a book of prophecy, or as its name suggests a message from God for the people of Judah. It is full of God speaking to his people.
Malachi was written roughly 400 years before Jesus was born. It was written 100 years after the people of Judah had returned from their exile in Bablyon.
Things were not looking too good in Judah and the people were not happy.
Although they had spent 100 years rebuilding their nation after 70 years of exile, Jerusalem was still relatively deserted. The temple had been rebuilt, but it was a poor shadow of Solomon’s temple and did almost nothing to lift the spirits of the people.
Farmland was largely barren and uncultivated. Recent harvests had been poor, food was in short supply and life was hard and precarious.
Although Nehemiah had repaired the walls of Jerusalem, the people still preferred to live in the countryside where they could more easily hide from attack. They had not built a palace because they had no king. God’s chosen people of Judah comprised a small hill town and some surrounding villages. How low they had fallen from the heyday of King David’s rule.
The people were disillusioned, dispirited, disappointed, and maybe even despairing. They were asking themselves whether it had been worth the hardship to return to Judah at all. They were saying in effect, ‘We’ve been back 100 years and where is this kingdom we were going to build?’
I suspect that some of you have felt the same way at times and had a similar complaint against God. Maybe you feel that God led you to a place and dumped you there.
It is not new to feel let down and abandoned. But is it right, and what is the answer?
One thing that the Hebrew people had learned in their many years of training since leaving Egypt with Moses was not to chase after other God’s or worship idols.
Although they had become faithful to their religion, the practice of their religion had sadly become a formality. Again, many of you can relate to this state of affairs.
The people attended the temple, but it was largely out of tradition. It was ritual without reality. It wasn’t a priority. They were asking what was the minimum amount of time they had to spend in religious activities, and what was the minimum amount of money they had to give to the church.
And the priests were like the people.
They did not care how many people attended the services as long as they got through it and made a living out of it. The services were second best and careless, as if any old thing was good enough for the God had created the universe and brought them out of slavery.
This attitude affected their moral life. That isn’t surprising really, is it? When people question the purpose of bothering about God, it’s not long before they stop bothering to be godly. When one generation is asking, ‘Why bother with God?’ It is natural for the next generation to ask, ‘Why be good?’
This also we can see all around us today. Just this month, for example, 100 people have been arrested for bribery and corruption with respect to selling and fitting fake items into the nuclear power stations of this nation.
For example, the Jews knew it was wrong to trade on the Sabbath. So they set up markets just outside the gates so they could open on the Sabbath. Consumerism took over. From asking, ‘Why be faithful to God?’ They had soon moved to asking, ‘Why be faithful to your wife?’
The men started trading in their wives who had lost their looks for younger women, but this was hindered by a shortage of young Jewish women. So they began replacing their wives with women from outside the faith, in a further contravention of the law of God. Soon all over Jerusalem there were abandoned wives, and without social welfare their lives were bitterly hard.
They didn’t have a government to blame, so they blamed God. Don’t we sink into this same trap sometimes and blame God for our situation.
‘God’s not bothered with us,’ they complained. ‘So we’re not bothered about him.’
‘We can’t believe in a God of love, just look at the mess we are in. He’s abandoned us and we need to look out for number one.’
God sent the message of Malachi to answer two basic complaints. One, God doesn’t reward good living. Two, God doesn’t punish bad living.
His answer to his people can also help us today when we have the same or similar questions.
God pointed out them the consequences when you marry a non-believer. Why would a Christian choose to have Satan for a father-in-law? He chastised them over their multiple marriages. And the people asked God, ‘How can we return when we have never gone away?’ and they said, ‘What do you mean? What have we said against you?’
They thought they were innocent. They didn’t like getting all this criticism from a prophet. When we hear general statements it is usually easy to agree with them, but when the words are particular to us it usually hurts.
Judgement will come, but maybe not immediately because God is being patient with us. And we should be grateful because when justice does come we will find ourselves in big trouble due to our current attitudes and behaviour.
You are crying out for God to deal with bad people, well watch out because you are one of the bad people he is going to deal with unless you change right now and repent.
When God does start to administer justice, where will he start? Watch out, because he will start right here in the church with us. He will start with those of us who stand up in front on a Sunday. He will start with me and the worship band, with the people who bring the prayers and Bible readings, then the rest of you.
Don’t ever accuse God of being unfair or unjust or of not caring.
Have you ever said, ‘What’s the use of serving God? What have we gained by obeying his commands or by trying to show the Lord of Heaven’s Armies that we are sorry for our sins?’
But God wants you to return to him. He is longing for you to change. He exists to have a dynamic two-way relationship with his people. As soon as we repent and turn back, he is there to accept us and embrace us.
God is not far away, he is here and now. He is responding to us as we change.
Malachi lays it all out, and we can read it as if God is talking to us today. Don’t think these are words for other people in another place and time. These are words for you today.
Did it work? Did God’s messenger bring a change in the land?
To a point, some people repented and their names were written down in a book. They took personal responsibility and made changes to their lives.
And 400 years later, when God fulfilled his promise, some of their descendants were ready to welcome the Messiah. But many of the religious people were still found to be falling short and they were judged first and hardest by Jesus.
How about you? Are you ready to welcome his next coming?