“Do you love me?”
It’s a question we sometimes ask of each other. We question the way someone acts towards us. Does this person really love me?
We ask it of God as well. When life takes a sour turn, or is just plain flat. When tragic illness strikes, or you lose your job. “God, do you love me?”
That’s the question we’re asking this morning, as we look at the opening verses of the book of Malachi.
Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament.
Last week, we heard the story that sets the scene for Malachi. The people of Israel rebelled against God and ignored the warnings. So Babylon destroyed the city, burnt the temple, and took the people into exile.
But then, 70 years later, the new Persian king Cyrus allowed them to return, and to rebuild their temple.
Malachi is set in that era. The people are back. The temple is built. He’s about the same time as Ezra and Nehemiah.
God’s people have grown tired. They’re half-hearted in their worship of God. Malachi is God’s man for the moment. God needs to use Malachi to shake his people out of their complacency.
But the book of Malachi does not start with a string of demands. God doesn’t start by telling them what they’re doing wrong. As always in the Bible, God leads the dance. He moves towards us in love, and we respond to his love. We don’t earn it.
So Malachi starts with assurance. With a proclamation of God’s love for his people.
Let’s look at these opening verses. There’s a question, and God gives two answers.
The Question: Where is God’s Recent Love?
Here’s the question: Where is God’s recent love? Where is God’s recent love?
Verse 2: “I have loved you,” says the Lord.
And then often in Malachi Gods reads his people’s minds. Voices what they’re thinking. And we get that here:
“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’”
It’s an odd question. Where do you start? God rescued them from Egypt, gave them a land to live in, gave them good kings to rule them. He’s brought them back from exile, and given them a new temple.
So what’s the problem?
The problem is that’s all ages ago. The Exodus was 1000 years earlier. They’ve been back in the land for a century. The temple may be built, but God’s glory has never inhabited it like it did the first one. The prophets said the nations would stream to Jerusalem to worship God. But they’re nowhere. In fact, Israel is still under foreign rule.
They don’t want to know where God’s love was. They want to know where God’s love is. “Where is God’s love, today?” Where is God’s recent love?
And it’s easy for us to feel the same. We ask if God loves us, and you get pointed to the death of Jesus. That was 2000 years ago. You ask why life is so tough, and you get a thousand qualifications: “God does love you, but you mustn’t think that means this, that or the other”, until there’s nothing left of God’s love.
Life is often unimpressive at best, or even downright difficult.
So we ask the same question: “How have you loved us?”
Where is God’s love today? Where is God’s recent love?
The Answer: In the past, I chose you
God’s answer is surprising. He points to the Old Testament story of Jacob and Esau.
God has two answers for them.
Number 1: In the past, I chose you. In the past, I chose you.
So: Abraham had a son called Isaac. Isaac had twins: Esau and Jacob. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, and produced the Israelites. Esau’s descendants were the people called the Edomites.
Normally, privilege would pass to the eldest, to Esau. But God chose Jacob to receive his special blessing. It was through Jacob’s offspring that God’s plan to save the world would come true.
Did Esau mind being passed by? Not at all. He didn’t care.
When he had the chance, he sold his privileges as the firstborn to his brother for a bowl of stew. They wouldn’t let Israel pass this their land when they fled Egypt. They helped the Babylonians ransack Jerusalem.
God passed Esau by. God hated Esau. But it’s also true that Esau made a choice. A choice to oppose God rather than be on his side.
Look back. “In the past, I chose you”. There was nothing special. God just chose them. Free love, to give as he chose. God’s free choice.
People read this passage and ask how God can hate Esau. Better to: how God can love Jacob. Jacob, thrown that love back in God’s face, and yet God has committed himself, chosen to love Israel.
The people need to be a little less jaded, open their eyes, and look. Look wider than their disappointment. Look back. God freely set his love upon them, to be the most blessed people on earth.
And we need to do the same thing. We need to look back.
We’re going to read together from Ephesians 1 in a moment. Those of us who are in Christ were chosen by God to be adopted as his children, freed from our sins, in on God’s plan, and much, much more.
“How have you loved us?” In the past, I chose you.
The Answer: In the future, I’ll deliver you.
The second answer looks forwards. In the future, I’ll deliver you. In the future, I’ll deliver you.
Edom’s land has been decimated. Verse 3: “I have turned his hill country in to a wasteland.” Invading Arabs from the desert drove Edom out of their homeland.
At this point, Edom may look at Israel. Israel went into exile, and have managed to rebuild their country. “We’ll do the same,” they say. Verse 4: “Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.”
Oh no, they won’t. Israel only got to rebuild their land because God said so. Verse 5: “But this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord.’”
If Israel look in the present, they’ll see their cousins, Edom, having an easier time. They were the ones laughing at the exile. But now they’re experiencing the same judgement as Judah. In the future, God will deliver Judah. But Edom will never recover.
You see, again, it’s so easy to look at our present troubles and conclude that following Jesus makes no difference.
There’s no evidence God loves us.
But when you look to the future things look very different.
In the here and now, you may have the same troubles as your friends who don’t know the Lord Jesus. But the beauty of following Jesus is that one day God will deliver us from all of our troubles.
God says to his people Israel, and he says to us: In the future, I’ll deliver you.
God wants to say to every Christian here this morning: “I have loved you”.
But he knows what we’re thinking. “How have you loved us?”
And we wonder that, because we look at what life is like in the here and now.
We need to look backwards and forwards.
Back to God’s free choice to bless us.
Forwards to the day when he delivers all of his people from all of their troubles.
Then we’ll see that God loves us.
Step number 1 for half-hearted Christians is not for God to brow-beat us with our failings.
Step number 1 is to show us that we’re loved.
If we lose sight of the reality of God’s love, then of course our worship, our lives, and our devotion will be half-hearted.
But recover God’s love for us, and we have the key to unlock our love for him.