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Offering in vain

A sermon on Malachi 1.6-14

by Tim Gallant

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Do you ever wonder what underlies our modern tendency to devalue the means of grace? What is behind the snorting in contempt at the preaching of God's Word - "oh, that's just a talking head"? What is behind the low view of baptism and the Lord's Supper which we often find promoted today? Why do so many prefer drama and musical entertainment and all manner of things to the Word and sacraments?

A careful consideration of Malachi 1:6-14, I believe, gives us a startling answer. The despising of these biblical means of meeting with God, these means of grace, means that we despise and dishonour our God. That's a startling statement, and we would, no doubt, be quick to deny it. "We don't despise God. We like church. We like Christianity."

But we despise God when we despise His table. We despise God when we make substitutions for how He wants to engage us as His people.

In Malachi 1:6-14, Israel despises the Lord's table, and the idea of despising God is the first thing we encounter. God says that the meaning of despising the Lord's table is at its heart dishonouring God. And what is the result of despising the Lord's table? Unacceptance by God. He does not receive this sort of approach to Himself. And then the text exposes the shame of despising the Lord's table. It proclaims the universal glory of God, and yet, here is God's elect people, dishonouring Him.

1. Israel despises the Lord's table. And the meaning of this despising of the Lord's table is that Israel is dishonouring God. We read again in verses 6-8[a]:

A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence? says the LORD of hosts to you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, "In what way have we despised Your name?" You offer defiled food on My altar. But you say, "In what way have we defiled You?" By saying, "The table of the LORD is contemptible." And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and the sick, is it not evil?

And again, when God goes through His assessment of the situation again in verses 12-14, He says in verse 12-13[a]:

But you profane [My name], in that you say, "The table of the LORD is defiled; and its fruit, its food, is contemptible." You also say, "Oh, what a weariness!" and you sneer at it, says the LORD of hosts. And you bring the stolen, the lame, and the sick; thus you bring an offering!

You see the first charge: "If I am your Father, where is My honour? If I am your Master, where is My reverence, My fear?"

You see what God is implying: He's saying, "You don't honour Me. You don't fear Me. You don't give Me the weight that is due to Me. No, you despise My name."

And what is the priestly response? Do they say, "No, of course not; we don't think You ought to be honoured. You're just an average Joe to us." No, they don't say that. They recognize well enough that God is to be honoured, that He is to be feared, to be reverenced, to be dealt with in gravity.

But they say, "We're not like that. What do you mean? How can you say that we don't honour you, that we are despising Your name?" It is as if they are surprised that God could say such a thing to them.

And God says, "Well, look here: you offer defiled food on My altar. You offer up the blind and lame and sick as sacrifices."

Did you ever consider what the priests could respond with? "But it's what the people want!" Whose sacrifices were these animals? They were the offerings of God's people. If the priests are offering up defective animals - the blind and lame and sick - that's what the people are bringing them. This is what the people are offering to God.

But you see, God doesn't even seem to take that into account. He doesn't say, "Now, look: I know that the people are dishonouring Me with these gifts, and you're forced to go along with them." No! He holds the priests responsible. They are in charge of the sacrificial table, and God has made it very clear what sorts of offerings He wants. It's not that hard to discover; just go back and read the law. For example, Deuteronomy 15:21 says that if there is any defect in an animal, whether it is lame or blind, or any other serious defect, it is not to be sacrificed to the Lord. To offer God that which is defective is to present Him with the defect itself as an offering. After all, that is why we needed Christ to die in our place, because He alone is not defective; He alone is perfect. He alone fulfills the full will of God.

So God says: "What have I told you? Why are you offering that which I have forbidden?" It always comes back to the authority of the Word of God over what we think is best, or what we think is appropriate.

We need to be told that again today. Church leaders need to hear it. We run church like a business; we're driven by a consumer mentality. "It's what the people want!" - and therefore our hands are tied. It's the TV generation; they need visual stimulation. We have no alternative but supply them with what they demand.

Wrong. God says to the priests - to the priests, not just the people - "You are despising My table. You are profaning My altar. You are profaning My name."

We are faced today with a massive temptation - massive because church after church has capitulated. The temptation is to say, "Let's come to God the way we want. Let's get comfortable with God." And then we look at our personal likes and dislikes, and conduct our worship accordingly.

That's what God is talking about here. He says, "You treat My table with contempt." In His Word, God has shown us how He wants to fellowship with us. He wants to spread a banquet for us, through the preaching of the Word of the gospel. And what do we do? We treat it with contempt. "I've got better things to do than sit in a pew for 30 or 40 minutes and listen to some guy spout off. Church should be more fun, more stimulating." And we cut the sermon down to 10 minutes to make room for the entertainment - or we scrap it altogether. Or we change its content, so that it's no longer a sermon at all, but a pep talk about this "topic" or that one. We want to hear about "mid-life crisis" or "five steps to preserve a romantic marriage" or "four golden keys to happiness" - but we don't want an exposition of the book of Malachi!

And then there's the sacraments. Christ ordained for us baptism and the Lord's Supper, and we say, "Aw, the really important thing is all inside anyway. Baptism is just water. You can get baptized, but it's no big deal." Contempt.

"The Lord's Supper takes too long. It is boring if we do it too often. Let's do it once a year, or at least, no more than once every few months." Contempt.

And the logical conclusion is followed by so many: "The Church is nice when you have the time, but it's not essential. In fact, I feel closer to God when I'm at the beach, or playing golf, or at the ski lodge." Contempt.

Of course, none of us here think that way. None of us here would ever dream of dishonouring God.

Or do we? God says to Israel [v 12], "You profane My table by saying that it is defiled and its fruit contemptible." Do we go out of church, saying in our hearts, "I didn't really get anything out of that sermon"? "Preaching doesn't really do much for me."

Or do we go into church as an afterthought? We make it, but we're not prepared. We went to bed late, because there was a movie we wanted to watch. We got up this morning, and the Lord's worship was the last thing upon our minds. We came into the building, and we saw so-and-so, and thought, "Aw, no - do I have to see him here? Does she have to be here?" "Aw, there's Dick. Do I have to see Dick?"

"Where is My honour?" God says! What are you doing here? Is this just some habit you got into when you were young, and you never broke it? Is it a nice custom your parents taught you, and you just can't conceive of doing anything differently? Where is My honour??

That's what's at stake. That's the meaning of despising the Lord's table. Insulting God; offending Him with our indifference, with our lack of respect for His Word, for His will, for His wisdom.

2. But then what is the result of despising the Lord's table? God says that He won't accept this sort of service. God says in verse 8, "Look at what you're offering Me - blind, lame, sick animals: try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favourably?" A little humour. Can you imagine that? A ruler of the people, and you give him something sick, something flawed? Would you dare do that?

No, He goes on: "But now entreat God's favor, that He may be gracious to us." You see, it's not automatic! "Oh, I can just treat God as I please, and He owes me His grace." We take it for granted - but here we're commanded: "entreat God's favour, that He may be gracious to us"!

And what does He say? "While this is being done by your hands, will He accept you favorably? says the LORD of hosts."

There's an unspoken answer there, isn't there, congregation? And it makes us uncomfortable. "While you're doing this, will God accept you favourably?" And the answer is NO!!

Oh, we don't like that. It doesn't sound pleasant. After all, doesn't Paul say that where sin abounded, grace abounded much more? Doesn't Scripture teach us that not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by His mercy God saves us?

Of course it does. But it never assures us that we can come before God with contempt and expect Him to accept us. We are taught by God's Word to come to the Father through Christ - but how do we come through Christ if we despise Christ? That's at the heart of Malachi 1:6-14. The table of the Lord is a table of grace. At the table of the Lord we partake of Christ. But what if it's not Christ we want? What if we prefer our substitutes, our moralism, our petty entertainments? What sort of view of grace says that we can come in the name of Christ and yet pay no regard to Christ?

No, says the Lord, while your hands are doing this, I will not accept you favourably. A literal translation would be, "while your hands are doing this, I will not lift up your face." While this lowness is done by your hands, your face will not be exalted. "If you will not accept My will for our meeting together, why should I accept you?"

Look how far God goes with this. It should make us sit bolt upright. Let's look again at verse 10: "Who is there even among you who would shut the doors, so that you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain? I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, nor will I accept an offering from your hands."

Why doesn't somebody shut the doors? You think God is just begging for some afterthought, some careless, contemptuous reference to His worship? He says, "Look, I would much rather you shut the church down than give Me your pathetic leftovers." In other words, "If you're going to be faithless, if you're going to play 'pretend church,' I'd rather that you don't worship Me at all."

You see, God doesn't treat contempt toward Himself as if it is of no consequence. It is worse than nothing. We heard that in our Scripture reading earlier from Isaiah 66. The wicked who offers the required sacrifice is like somebody who slaughtered a dirty dog, or a pig, and gave it to God. It's an abomination to Him. Instead of making Him turn His face toward us in favour, it turns our worship into judgment.

Here's some of the Old Testament background to Paul's thought in 1 Corinthians 11. "You're eating and drinking judgment upon yourselves," Paul tells the Corinthians, "because you're breaking the covenant, you're dividing and destroying the Church, and then turning around and eating this sacred meal." It's worse than nothing.

And that's what God is saying here. "Shut the doors! Don't put useless fire upon My altar when you don't mean it, when you don't care for it."

Here's what God says toward the end of our text. In verse 13, He again decries the fact that they are bringing Him the stolen animals, the lame and the ill, and dare to call it an offering. And He says, "Should I accept this from your hand? says the LORD. But cursed be the deceiver who has in his flock a male, and makes a vow, but sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished."

You hear that? "Cursed!" Not just: he's going to miss out on some of the benefits! No, the table of the Lord is turned upside down, so that the blessings become curses in the mouth of the worshipper! It's worse than nothing!

This thought is probably also present in the first part of verse 13. The NKJV reads, "You also say, 'Oh, what a weariness!' and you sneer at it." That last phrase, you sneer at it, is better translated, "You weary it," or "You enrage it." Weary what? Enrage what? Read verse 12: the table of the Lord. By coming with contempt, and disgust, God's priests are wearying God's table, they are making it mad. In other words, they are angering God. Worse than nothing? Oh, you'd better believe it! "Shut the doors! This is not worship I accept."

3. Israel despises the Lord's table. And that is profoundly sad. It's ironic. We see here the shame of despising the Lord's table. You want to know what it consists of?

Look closely at what God says. Right at the beginning of our text, God says, "If I'm a Father, where's My honour? If I'm a Master, where's My fear?"

A Father to whom? Remember verses 2-5. To Israel. He is speaking to His elect people, to the ones whom He has loved, generation after generation. And He says to them, "Where is My honour from you?" But what really ought to prick their conscience further is what He says in verses 11 and the end of verse 14.

Verse 11: "For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts." And again in verse 14: "For I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and My name is to be feared among the nations."

Here's God speaking to Israel, to the people whom He chose, and to whom He gave His law, and He says, "You don't fear Me, you don't honour Me - but the nations are going to fear Me." That word nations is "goyim" - the Jews still use the term today to describe us Gentiles. "The Gentiles," God says, "are going to offer Me incense and pure offerings in every place, and here you are with this chosen city Jerusalem and the temple I mandated, and you can't even offer Me pure offerings." "The Gentiles," God says, "are going to fear Me from the rising of the sun to its going down, from east to west, and yet here you are, My chosen son, and you don't fear Me, you don't honour Me, you despise Me. You don't even give Me the honour due to a petty master, and yet I am the Great King!"

What an embarrassment, what a shame! God is going to display His universal glory, He is going to be adored by all the families of the earth, and yet, here is the family of Abraham whom He has chosen - and they treat Him, not as an exalted Father, but with contempt, with despite, with haphazardness.

And we say, "Silly Jews. Why were they so careless, so profane toward their God?"

Who are we trying to kid? Isn't it true that day after day, thousands of pagans stream into the Christian Church, and we who grew up in it are put to shame by their zeal, by the extent to which they honour God their Saviour? Isn't it true that there is a glaring contrast, because we have learned to take everything for granted, and so often we walk about in a daze, half-listening to the sermon, and with the other half of our attention, we're going over the plot of that movie, or the line of that song, or the plans for the week? And that fresh-faced convert sits there, not understanding everything, but hanging on every word, because he loves the Word of God, and doesn't want to miss a thing.

You see, one thing is very clear here. The Lord will have His offering. He will have His people. The Jews in Malachi 1 are profaning the worship of the Lord, but the Lord says, "Look, there's a whole world out there that is going to fall before Me in worship and reverence." And congregation, if you and I, God forbid - if you and I are profaning the worship of the Lord, He is not out of options. There's still a world out there that He is conquering day by day, and from the rising of the sun, from east to west, His name will be praised.

That ought to do much more than instill guilt in us. It ought to inspire awe. Our God is not some private territorial deity who rules over a handful of Dutch and Scottish Reformed Christians. He is the Lord of the universe, and He has promised that there will be pure worship offered to Him in every place. What a privilege it is to serve the God whose name is destined to be great among the nations, whose glory will be over all the earth as the waters cover the sea!

And so, with Israel we are called back as the elect people of God to offer Him honour, to delight in His table, to seek His favour by coming to Him in the name of the Christ who has bought our position with His own precious blood. Let's do that, congregation. Let's offer God our best, our whole hearts. Let's do it even now, as we sing to Him. Amen.

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