For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that who ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life
Let us pray:
Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen
A year ago, I started planning this series, wondering what it would look like to talk about God all through scripture – through the story-telling histories and prophecies and law and poetry. This journey through the Old Testament, through the 39 books that comprise the law and the prophets that Jesus and his companions and rivals discuss in depth throughout the New Testament, has been helpful for me, anyway, and I hope that as we have encountered people and places, you have seen the reality of a God whose love is not new or built on something fragile or something that we have to earn or find for ourselves, but it is instead the whole reason of human existence and the answer, in the long run, to all that troubles and haunts and breaks us and the world around us.
That is not to say that we find the fix to the problem of the broken relationship here, although it is known that only God can fix it, the resolution to the challenges of humankind is not found by solely reading these 39 sacred texts: the sacrifices, the rules, the temple itself – none of these are finally effective in righting the relationship the people need and God wants.
In fact, here at the end of the Old Testament, in the book of Malachi, we find the people who have returned from exile, living in Judah. The temple has finally been rebuilt, they have resumed priestly duties and sacrifices and regular worship, but there is a problem: the hearts of the people are not yet right.
Malachi presents this problem to the people in a series of complaints that God has against them: God is annoyed.
God is annoyed because they are complaining about God’s justice but are not willing to be just themselves.
God is annoyed because they tithe, but what they bring in are the last and worst of what they have
God is annoyed because they see following God as a useless endeavor – since the people who aren’t following God are prospering.
Primarily – these are heart problems. The actions of the people make it seem as though they are faithful: they go to church, they throw a buck in the offering, they pray.
But in their hearts, they would rather be anywhere else. They would rather do something else, they would rather not give.
There is a series of Stephen King novels called the Dark Tower series. Stephen King is often a little profane in his works, but one of the things he usually extrapolates is the idea of good vs. evil. In the Dark Tower series, there is a country of very chivalrous people who have knights whose responsibility it is to protect all the people. Of course, knights are still human, so frequently they screw it up, and when they do they wind up in trouble. Because family lineage and pride is a big component of their world, they have a mantra they use when they are about to go into battle: “Remember the face of your father” and then when they have been in trouble, they will be told “You have forgotten the face of your father”. It’s mainly a turn of phrase meant to induce pride and confidence in those who are doing the right things and fighting against evil, and conversely, producing shame and guilt in those who have not lived up to their training. It fits very well with what has happened in Israel that Malachi is addressing – they have forgotten the face of their Father – the God who has given them much, who has provided for them, who has created, and loved, and protected them – who rescued them from Egypt and brought them into their own land, who warned them for hundreds of years before exiling them and then promised to bring them home – that God whose love for them has been evidenced over and over in the covenant providing for their redemption – this God they have forgotten. This God they have turned away from. This God they have continued to worship in name only, but they are not committed, they are not faithful.
So God is annoyed. And he basically says to them “you have forgotten the face of your father” and lists how this is true. They have forgotten justice in pursuit of gain. They have forgotten to give their best in pursuit of keeping what they have. They have forgotten to serve for God’s sake.
God also tells them that Redemption is coming. That the Messiah, the one they have been waiting for, will come.
And the people in this case, at least some of them, respond by writing what Malachi calls “a scroll of remembrance” - a list of the things they needed to pay attention to, things that would keep their hearts in the right place.
God calls the people to faithfully do worship but only if they are intentional and thoughtful about it, and when they do, God promises blessing. When they seek justice, God will bring justice. When they tithe, God promises an abundance. When they serve, God promises they will be a treasured possession. In all these things, God says turn your heart to me and I will reward your faithfulness with mine.
And for 400 years, they do all the right things – they follow the law faithfully as a people, they become very different than they were at the outset, making sure to do all the things – 613 mitzvot or ‘good things to do’ commandments, as they are called. Most of the Jewish people still follow these today. Keeping kosher, following rules about promises, business, criminal laws, etc. And Jesus comes in the midst of them following the rules to the tiniest degree – and some have their hearts right and some do not.
These rules are not bad things, in and of themselves. But Jesus tells the Jewish leaders in his day that while they should absolutely keep following those rules, they need to remember that they do them for the sake of LOVING GOD, not for the sake of being seen doing them. Luke 11:42 says Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.
And so we see that Jesus gives us the admonition that when we follow rules, whether set for ourselves or set by God, the priority has to be that our heart is right first. If we are going to church or giving or praying for the sake of doing the right thing but we don’t love God and love others, we miss the mark. We should do all those things, we should worship and give, but we should do it as a way of loving God.
God’s promise is always that loving God is rewarded. I encourage you as you think about how you love God to think about how you could do the things that God has asked better or more fully. How can you show God your love this week?
As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:
What does it mean to say God loves?
God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.
God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.
God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.
God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption
God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing
God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.
God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.
God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.
God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.
God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.
God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.
God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.
For God so loved the world…
God loves you.
God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.
God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.
God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.
So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.
God loves you. Go, love the world with him.