That Bible reading is set in the world of animal sacrifice which means it seems a bit remote. It's hard for us to relate to, to connect to. We don't have animal sacrifices today and hopefully most of you think that's a very good thing indeed.
Also what we're hearing in this reading from Malachi is the people of Israel of Malachi’s day getting a really good telling off by God. Before you decide to slightly enjoy listening to somebody else getting a really good telling off, which lots of people secretly quite enjoy the chance to do, we need to remember that the reason this has been included in our Bibles is because we need to take their warning to heart. God intends this warning to be for us as much as for them.
So what we're going to do this morning is look at their behaviour. What is it that God is telling them off for?
Then we're going to look at the problem that underlies that behaviour. What is it that actually is really at the heart of the problem here?
And then we’ll work out what the solution is that God offers to them.
And as we do this, we're going to learn lessons for our behaviour, and our problems, and the solution that God says that we need as well.
Their Behaviour: Defective Sacrifices
So firstly, then, what was their behaviour?
Their behaviour was they were offering defective sacrifices.
So verse 6, “‘It is you priests who show contempt for my name,’ says God. But you ask, ‘how have we shown contempt for your name?’” Answer: “By offering defiled food on my altar.”
What does that mean, offering defiled food?
Well, he tells us verse 8: “When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong?”
They were taking animals the sacrifices that had things wrong with them, that were blind, that were lame, that were diseased, that were blemished. That was something that the law of Moses explicitly forbade. So here's Leviticus 22 verse 20. God says: “Do not bring anything with a defect because it will not be accepted on your behalf.” Blind, lame, diseased.
Malachi compares this behaviour to the way that they relate to their fellow human beings. He says: You wouldn't do it for your governor. Verse 8: “Try offering them to your governor would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?”
This was set in the days of the Persian empire. Israel at this time was part of the Persian empire and the Persian king appointed a governor over each of the provinces of the empire to oversee things, and the governors were entitled (if they wanted) to request that the people provide them with a supply of food and drink between them throughout the year, to furnish the governor's table, and that of the governor's staff and servants.
Malachi is saying you wouldn't (if you were requested to bring your contribution to the governor's food) you wouldn't turn up with a sheep that had all of its wool dropping off, and three of its legs broken. You just wouldn't do that. Or if you wanted to make a voluntary donation of food above and beyond what was required, because you wanted to come and request a favour, so you turned up with a gift. You would not bring a chicken that was mauled by the foxes the night before and only just survived. You just wouldn't do it, and yet they're doing it with God.
Imagine that in your childhood you wrote a letter to the Queen at Buckingham Palace inviting her to come to tea at your house, and 20 years later one of her staff discovers this letter and to your surprise she decides that she does want to come to tea at your house, even though you're now a grown-up and 20 years have passed. So you get a letter on palace stationery to say that Her Majesty would like to come for dinner. She'd be delighted. “So now I’ve got to get some food. Now what am i going to do?”
Well, she comes, and you place the casserole on the table, and she says: “This is absolutely delicious. It tastes a little bit like chicken. Maybe it's pheasant. Tell me what is this?” You say, “Well actually, it's badger, Your Majesty.” She says, “Oh, I’ve never had badger before. I didn't know you could buy it in the country.” “Well, I was on my way to Tesco’s to pick up a turkey for you for dinner, but on the way as I drove I spotted beside the road what looked like a beautiful bit of badger. There were definitely a few really good fillets still remaining that hadn't been picked over. I knew you like game; I thought you'd quite like it.” You just wouldn't do it. You wouldn't serve roadkill to the Queen.
Yet that was what they thought was acceptable to God. They were offering animals that would have been worthless at the market; they cost them nothing to provide to God. That was what God was worth to them.
Now we don't offer animal sacrifices today. As I say, that's because Jesus death dealt with our sin once for all, so we have no need to kill sheep and goats. That problem has been solved.
But the Old Testament sacrifices weren't only to deal with sin. They were also a way of expressing our devotion to God, and a way of saying thank you to God when he's helped in a particular way. So it is that the New Testament also speaks of offering ourselves as living sacrifices, in response to God's mercy. So that as we serve God, and we serve other people, we're offering a sacrifice to God. Which means it is actually quite possible for us, in our own day, to offer defective sacrifices as well.
We could start with our worship in church. Now that that's not the sum total of our sacrifice for God by any means, but it is part of it. All too easily we come to church only when we haven't got anything better to do, or we yawn our way through the talk or the prayers or whatever. We didn't really want to be there. Well, that's offering defective sacrifice.
But actually, as I say, our worship, our sacrifice for God is much wider than what we do in church. Everything that we do with our time and our money should be done for God. And yet how easily we just give God the leftovers, and when we have to give something up for God we resent it.
So i think this passage forces us to ask each of ask ourselves the question: What does following Jesus actually cost you? Defective sacrifices, sacrifices that cost them nothing: that was their behaviour
The Problem: Disregard for God’s Name
What's the problem then that lurks behind it? Why are these sacrifices such a big problem?
The answer is: Disregard for God's name. Disregard for God's name.
Verse 6: “How have we shown contempt for your name? By offering defiled food on my altar.” Or verse 12. Well, verse 11 ends “My name will be great among the nations.” Then verse 12: “But you profane it by saying the Lord's table is defiled, and its food is contemptible, and you say “what a burden”, and you sniff at it contemptuously, says the Lord Almighty.”
God's name is a much bigger thing in the Bible than just the label “G-o-d”. It stands for his whole character, his reputation, who he is. And so to disregard God's name is a much bigger problem than just saying “Oh, God!”, and then realizing you're not supposed to say that. I mean, that's not great, don't do it, but it's much bigger than that.
It's to say that who God is is just not that important for you. Their sacrifices showed what they really thought of God, and again he compares this to just the ordinary way they treat their fellow human beings. We’ve had the food offered to the governor. Now verse 6: “‘A son honours his father and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honour due to me? If I am a master, where is the respect due to me?’ says the Lord Almighty.”
So in that day, as today, broadly speaking, the way relationships worked was children treated their dad with some respect. Now I mean, of course, you get wayward and disrespectful and outrageously scandalous children who go completely off the rails. You have that problem today, and you had it then. But that's not the norm. The norm is dad gets at least some respect. Then you have masters with slaves or servants. So, it could be slaves that were his property, or it could be servants who are in his employment and he pays them to do a job. But, by and large, the boss at work gets treated with some respect. If you're aware the boss is wandering through the office and looking over your shoulder you want the boss to think well of you and you work accordingly. That’s just broadly the way it works.
Well God is so much greater than any human father or master. In fact, some people think of God more like a father, some more like a slave master. But whichever it is, the problem here is they are not giving God even the basic respect that we extend to human fathers and human masters.
It’s the same for us today. If we serve God half-heartedly, the reason for that is because we don't think that much of him. He’s not that important, and he's not someone we regard with great honour.
So defective sacrifices, triggered by a disregard for God’s name.
What's the solution?
The Solution: The love of God
The answer is the love of God.
The answer to this is to be gripped by God's great love for us.
So if you were here last time, I said that the book of Malachi is very striking, because it starts not with a huge list of all the people's failings. It starts by God telling them that he loves them. And if they are weary in serving God, it is because they don't really believe this. They don’t actually believe that God has loved them.
And so for us: The only way back to wholehearted devotion to God is to be gripped by God's love. If we don't have that, we will not fix the heart of our worship. All we will do is get better at faking being a true worshiper of God.
But if we are gripped by God's love for us, then we are transformed into people who love him, who honour his name. And from that flows costly sacrificial living.
In particular, we need to rediscover God's love for us in the Lord Jesus Christ.
You see, they had flawed and hypocritical priests; we have the Lord Jesus, who is the perfect priest, with no sin of his own. They offered as sacrifices roadkill at the temple; Jesus offered himself and he is the perfect sacrifice for sin.
Their worship was cheap, because their love for God, their view of God, was cheap.
We will look at this same passage some more next week, and see just how serious the problem is. But for today, just to say this: We have the same problem. We have a small God. Therefore our worship, in church and in life, brings him no honour.
The solution is not try harder. The solution is recognize the real problem. We are not as gripped by God's love for his people as we should be.
Then the solution is to ask God to show us his love in fresh ways.
And so the solution then is to gaze at the Lord Jesus, as he is revealed in Scripture, where that love is most seen. And especially at his death on the cross.